HUNDREDS OF BATS FLEW LOW to the sand, fully sated after a night of foraging and eager to sleep. They skimmed over the Valley of the Kings, then banked hard to the left, finally whooshing down into the tomb where Howard Carter lay resting peacefully.
Echolocations guided them through the hieroglyph-covered hallways, then the bats burst as one into the main chamber and roosted on the ceiling, just feet above Carter’s cot.
The adventurer barely stirred. Carter now had a home near the river, complete with an enclosed garden and a small menagerie of animals that included a horse named Sultan; a donkey, San Toy, who wandered freely through the house; and two gazelles.
But his home in Medinet Habu was miles from the valley and his work, so Carter often slept inside the tombs.
He had ceased worrying about the bats long ago and was slightly comforted by their presence. They were “strange spirits of the ancient dead,” to his way of thinking.
The bats’ arrival also meant sunrise, and sunrise meant another day full of the promise of discovery.
Suddenly, bare feet could be heard sprinting down the tomb’s entry corridor. Carter recognized the anguished voice of a young Egyptian digger whose name he couldn’t immediately remember. In part, this was because Carter wasn’t a friendly man. He didn’t socialize with staff or anyone else, except for the occasional female tourist.
“Inspector? Are you in there?” the young man yelled in Arabic. “Sir? Sir?”
“What is it?” Carter sat bolt upright and reached for his lightweight trousers.
“Come quickly, sir. There’s been a break-in. Someone came during the night!”