The cover illustration features a mummy with red eyes.
The tagline on the front is "What will wake the dead?" and on the back, it saids "Something dead has been here".
Twelve-year-old Gabe Sabry is spending Christmas vacation in Egypt with his parents. Gabe's parents own a refrigeration company, so they are in Egypt for business. However, their relative Uncle Ben is working at the pyramids and so they take the opportunity to see him.
Back in al-Jizah (Giza), Gabe tries to relax in the hotel room, but the television does not show anything in English. Gabe's parents get a call-- there is a refrigeration emergency in Alexandria, they have to rush out on a airplane that leaves in an hour! They give Gabe an option: He can go with them to exciting Alexandria, or stay in boring Cairo with Uncle Ben. Gabe elects to stay with the archaeologist, even though he does not get along with Ben's twelve-year-old stuck-up daughter, Sari.
Since Uncle Ben is on his way to pick up Gabe, Gabe's parents leave him alone in the hotel so they can catch their airplane. As he is waiting, Gabe removes a mummy's hand from his jeans pocket that he had bought at a garage sale several years ago and carries around with him. He hears someone breaking into his hotel room: it is a mummy! Gabe throws the mummy hand at the mummy, who is revealed to actually be Uncle Ben in a mummy disguise! His cousin Sari and Uncle Ben start cracking up.
Uncle Ben reveals that he is in such a good mood, because he and his team have just discovered a secret burial chamber inside one of the Great Pyramids. And the best news of all is that both Gabe and Sari get to accompany him into the tombs.Uncle Ben treats the children to dinner in the hotel lobby. As they eat, Uncle Ben prepares the children for their adventure by giving out facts about the pyramids.
The next morning, the three trek down to the pyramid. Uncle Ben flashes a guard his badge and the three prepare to head inside, but first Ben poses the following question to Gabe: "You don't believe in curses, do you? You know-- the ancient Egyptian kind."
Ben alerts the children that his workers may have violated an ancient Egyptian decree and unleashed a curse. He also warns the two about getting lost in the tunnels several times. Each of the three are armed with halogen flashlights and the temperature drops significantly once inside the giant stone building.
As they walk along the dark corridor, Uncle Ben gives even more Pyramid facts. Since his crews just cut holes from one room to the next, there are not any accessible stairwells that lead to the new chamber, so the only way to get to the room below is via a rope ladder. Ben goes down first so he can shine his light up at the entrance, and Gabe, wanting to show off for Sari, jumps confidently onto the rope ladder. However, he was not expecting the rope to be coarse and he draws his hands away in pain. Gabe falls down to his doom until Sari saves the day by grabbing his hand and guiding him back to the rope ladder. Uncle Ben tells Gabe to take his time and eventually all three make their way down the lower part of the pyramid.
Gabe's shoelaces keep coming untied as the three trek through a downhill passage. This passage leads to a forked passage and Uncle Ben leads them through a tight, claustrophobic passage that they have to walk through sideways. This leads to the Northwest Passage. Eventually they find themselves in a large, cavernous room with a high ceiling. Spotlights hooked up to generators hang from the walls, revealing four of Uncle Ben's workers excavating the tomb, plus one noticeably non-helpful Egyptian dressed in all white with a red handkerchief. Uncle Ben introduces this quiet pony-tailed figure as Ahmed, a man from "university" there to serve as a consultant on ancient curses.
Uncle Ben turns his attention to his workers and Gabe directs Sari's attention to the dirt inside the pyramid. Sari yearns for more excitement and talks Gabe into exploring the pyramid. She insists that it is safe, because she did it yesterday and all the passageways eventually lead back to the main room. Of course as soon as they make their way down a passage and Gabe turns around, Sari disappears.
Gabe continues walking down the tunnel, convinced that Sari is playing a trick on him. He comes across a small square room with a stone casket inside. Slowly the painted lid of the case slides off and Gabe sees the eyes of the creature within. Sari throws a fit of hysterics at spooking her cousin. Uncle Ben barges in and yells at the two about wandering off in the pyramid, only to join in the laughter when Sari fills him in on her prank. Gabe sulks and follows Ben and Sari out of the tomb.
The next morning, the three are eating breakfast in their hotel room. Uncle Ben has to conduct a little business inside the Cairo Museum. But he proposes the two children tag along, so they can wander the museum while he works. No sooner is this mentioned than it is dashed away by a telephone call. Apparently two of Uncle Ben's workers have fallen mysteriously ill and he has to go visit them in the hospital. He sternly tells the two children to stay put in the hotel (they can leave the room if they want but not the hotel itself) until he gets back. As soon as he is gone Gabe tries to show off for Sari by proposing they go to the Cairo Museum on their own. Gabe writes a note for his uncle and the two head out.
Inside the giant museum, Gabe teaches Sari about the grotesque methods the Egyptians used to prep a dead body for mummification. Gabe describes the process of first inserting a hook into the eye socket or nostril of the corpse and then stirring the brain around until it is pliable to be scooped out with a spoon. Gabe starts to embellish around the time he gets to the part where the Egyptians would occasionally cut off a head and let the brains drain out through the neck.
Ahmed shows up at the museum and spooks the children. They run away from him but he catches up with them and claims that Uncle Ben sent him to take them back to the hotel. Even though they walked only two blocks to the hotel, Ahmed insists they drive back in his station wagon. Ahmed drives away in the opposite direction of the hotel, kidnapping the children.
Inside the car, Gabe signals to his cousin to run out whenever Ahmed stops. The plan works and the children run into the busy streets of Cairo, eventually seeking solace in a department store. The two are relieved to have escaped Ahmed's clutches but begin to panic when they realize they are lost in Cairo. They hail a cab and tell the driver to go to the Cairo Hotel but the driver doesn't pull out. He just sits in the front seat laughing at the children. Not quite getting the joke, the children begin to panic, fearing that the driver is in cahoots with Ahmed. Still laughing, the cab driver points through the windshield at the Cairo Hotel. Sari and Gabe trot up to their room and make it inside just before Uncle Ben arrives.
Ben's clearly distraught over the mysterious illness of his workers-- they will not reveal anything to him, leading him to suspect something wicked is afoot. He tells the children that he gave the rest of his workers the day off but he simply must go back to the pyramid and investigate. He proposes the children wait for him inside the hotel room but they fear Ahmed might return. Uncle Ben reluctantly agrees to take the two children with him.
Outside the pyramid, Uncle Ben clips special pagers to their belts. In case the children get lost, they can press a button on the beeper and the device will transmit a homing device for their uncle. Before entering the pyramid, Gabe pauses to make sure he has the mummy hand.
Shortly after entering the pyramid, Gabe gets lost. He stops to tie his shoe and then when he looks up the other two are gone. He resists hitting the panic button because he thinks he can catch up with them. He comes across the fork in the path from earlier and he enters the wrong passageway and falls through the stone floor, crashing into a hidden burial room. As he looks up from the rubble he spots a mummy standing at attention, motionless against the opposite wall. Gabe gets up and shines his flashlight around the huge room-- the auditorium-sized room is at least twice as tall as the tomb being excavated by Uncle Ben's team.
Inside there are dozens of mummies in various positions and a table with the tools used to prepare the mummies. Gabe shines his light on a dark square in the floor the size of a swimming pool. He walks closer and discovers the dark spot is a pool of molten tar. Gabe questions how the tar could possibly be soft after all this time locked away in the crypt. Finally he has had enough adventure and decides to beep his uncle. Unfortunately, the fall crushed the pager. Gabe is on his own. It gets worse for Gabe as he becomes aware that parts of the room are moving. It's not the mummies though-- it's scorpions. A wave of the dangerous insects convenes across the floor and rushes towards a frantic Gabe. In his panic, Gabe trips and falls headfirst into the pile of scorpions.
Sari also got lost and also made her way into the cavernous room. She grabs onto Gabe just as he is falling into the scorpions. The two make their way to a new area of the tomb and Sari explains that she got split up from her father too and that he was so mad at Gabe for getting lost. Gabe reasons that she is lost too and that Ben will get over it once he sees the tomb. Sari directs Gabe to the tunnel entrance in the corner of the room that she came through and the two make their way over. Gabe makes Sari page for her father so they can be saved. Shortly after beeping her father, Sari sees a light coming through the tunnel.
Ahmed tells the children that he tried to warn Sari's father about the curse, but he just would not listen. The children have violated the Sacred Chamber of Priestess Khala, and violating a sacred chamber comes at a price: death. Ahmed reveals that he tried to scare Uncle Ben's workers to prove that the curse was alive by showing them what it would feel like to be boiled alive in the tar pit. Ahmed in his duty as the descendant of Khala has punished all who entered the tomb. He reveals that the dozens of mummies inside the tomb consist mostly of recent violators of Priestess Khala's chamber-- and they were mummified alive.
Ahmed draws a dagger and makes his way towards the children. Gabe suggests making a run for it when a rope ladder drops from the ceiling. Uncle Ben swoops down and confronts Ahmed. Ben tries to reason with Ahmed: "Ahmed, you are a scientist, and so am I." Ahmed declines Ben's offer to handle the situation "scientist to scientist," opting instead to hit Ben in the head as hard as he can with his torch.
Sari runs over to her father's bloody body and pleads to Ahmed to let them go. Ahmed pulls the torch back and swings it behind him, letting it drop into the tar pit. The pit bursts into bright flames. Ahmed turns around and tells the children they are going to have to wait for it to heat up.
Ahmed hoists Uncle Ben's body into a stone sarcophagus and closes the lid. Gabe worries that if he is still alive, Ben might not have enough air inside the coffin. He and Sari get shoved into a rotting, wooden coffin. Gabe notes that the coffin he is sharing with his cousin is filled with gross bugs. Sari and Gabe hear a rustling inside their coffin. It's Uncle Ben.The Egyptians built their caskets with escape hatches in the bottom so the soul can escape. Ahmed is so wrapped up in chanting an ancient spell that he did not even notice Ben slipping out the hatch and into the other coffin. Ben tells the children that Ahmed has slipped out of the tomb and the three slide out the secret coffin passage. They trot across the tomb and almost make it out when they spot Ahmed's torchlight. Ahmed draws his dagger and forces them backwards towards the tar pit. Finally he has them lined up with their backs facing the bubbling pit. He tells the family that they will have to jump one by one into the pit, which is still burning with a low flame over the boiling surface.
In a moment of panic, Gabe pulls out the mummy's hand from his jeans and lifts it above his head. Ahmed flips and cries out that it is the Hand of the Priestess. Ahmed starts chanting in a foreign language. Behind him all of the mummies in the room begin to move. They slowly scrape their way towards Ahmed. Ahmed circles around and cries out in horror. He throws the torch at an advancing mummy. The mummy bursts into flames but keeps walking towards Ahmed. A group of mummies hoists Ahmed over their heads and lift him above the tar pit. The family looks away, as the mummies drop Ahmed into the pit. Strangely, when they open their eyes, the mummies are back to their original positions and they spot Ahmed running through the tomb's exit in terror.
Back at the hotel, Gabe is toying around with his mummy's hand. Jokingly he cries out to the ancient spirits, summoning them to life. Sari and Gabe hear a knock on the hotel door. When they go to answer, they discover... Gabe's parents are back!
- It also had a sequel, the 23rd book, Return of the Mummy, which was made into a television episode, and is one of the most popular books.
- This book was never made into a television episode for the Goosebumps television series, although its sequel was.
- This was inadvertently the first Goosebumps book to feature a character with a widowed parent, because it was mentioned later on in Return of the Mummy that Sari's mother passed away when she was five.