Category Archives: Issue 5: The Historical Undead
The undead are with us.
They have clawed their way across the face of human history since the ancient times, and have left their mark upon the eons.
We have here for your perusal, twenty-two accounts of how the undead have gnawed across the pages of history from Ancient Egypt to Marquis DeSade. From the the Book of the Undead to the Necronomicon. Famous events, like the Beatles on tour, the Lizzie Borden case, and JFK in Dallas; to more recent events have been visited by our alternate zombie history authors.
There’s something here for all fans of zombie fiction. Past, present, and even some future history collide with the flesh and brain consuming undead hordes.
And Happy Halloween from The Were-Traveler.
“Magister Titus, we may have a small problem,” said the little man in the simple gray robe and sandals. He carried a pile of books under one arm. Titus appreciated books as much as the next soldier, but to the people in this library, knowledge and science were more religion than anything else.
“Caesar is on his ship in the harbor and intends to tour the Mouseion this day. The Philologoi assured me there would be no problems,” Titus said, struggling to maintain his patience. He had dropped less sweat in preparation for month-long campaigns than he had getting this library prepared for Caesar’s visit.
He clenched the hilt of his Gladius, a Pompeii-style one made by a friend back home, a home he might not see again for years. He had learned to squeeze his sword hilt to suppress the urge to punch irritating little busybodies and administrators.
The little man looked scared, opening his mouth to speak twice and both times deciding against it.
“Out with it, I don’t have all day. If this is a security matter you will tell me now,” Titus demanded, longing for the days when he didn’t have to deal with people like this and instead spent his time on the battlefield.
“Well, some of the Philologoi found a previously untranslated copy of the Book of the Dead in the archives,” the little man’s fear disappeared and a light filled his eyes and face as he talked about his deity, knowledge. “This was an original and we think the spells were actually written in blood of some kind. The binding was magnificent.”
“Skip to the part where this is relevant to me,” Titus said through gritted teeth, his knuckles white as he squeezed his hilt.
“Oh, yes, of course, sorry,” he stammered, “they started translating it. One of them read it aloud while the others transcribed it in different languages. That’s when it started.”
“What? Out with it you annoying little bookworm. I have things of real import to deal with,” Titus snarled.
“Bodies from the nearby mausoleum, they,” the little man paused again and Titus lost his patience.
He grabbed him by the shoulders and lifted him so he could look him in the eye, “They what?”
“They came alive and broke through crypt walls and made their way here, into the library,” the man sputtered. Titus heard water dripping, looked down and saw that the little bookworm had pissed himself.
“Dead bodies came alive and broke through the clay walls?” Titus said, dropping the man, who crumpled into a heap on the floor, sobbing and clutching his books like a child’s safety blanket.
Titus turned down the corridor toward the common room, the area with all of the viewing tables with massive shelf-lined hallways spreading out from the center like spokes on a wheel.
“Don’t go down there, they’re in that room,” sobbed the librarian.
Titus ignored the whimpering man, drew his Gladius and continued down the hallway until he stepped out of the dim torchlight and into the brightly lit common room. What he saw there was worse than the carnage of any battlefield he had ever survived, and he had been through some terrible ones.
Hunched on all fours like rabid animals on the tabletops, terrible semi-human creatures with decaying flesh, exposed bone and torn burial robes feasted on the fresh corpses of librarians and scholars alike, thick pools of blood gathering beneath the tables and all over the ornate marble floor.
“By the gods,” Titus gasped in shock, almost losing the grip on his sword.
“The gods had nothing to do with this abomination, unless this was Pluto’s doing,” came a voice from the hallway behind him. Titus turned to see his second in command, Agrippo, and five of his best legionnaires, each sharing the same shocked look.
“Those things, they’re eating the Philologoi,” Titus said.
“Over there, look,” Agrippo said, pointing. One of the formerly dead library members was struggling to stand up amid a slippery pool of his own blood. His neck and arms had been chewed to the bone and there was a fist-sized hole in his gut.
“They are rising from the dead,” Titus whispered as a few of the creatures looked up from their fresh kills, inspecting the new arrivals as though they were nothing more than prey.
“Can they be killed…again?” asked one of the legionnaires.
“Only one way to find out,” Titus said and charged into the common room.
He only partially heard the other men charge into the room behind him. Titus reached the first table, a long finely carved piece that, underneath all the blood and torn flesh, contained a dozen rare maps.
The creature looked up from his kill and snarled, a blackish ooze dripping from between gaps in his bottom teeth, only some of the undead thing’s original flesh remaining.
It was no wonder the little bookworm had lost control of his bladder.
Titus bit back his first instinct, to run as fast as he could and get out of this terrible place, and swung his sword. It cut clean through the thing’s neck, sending the head bouncing across the marble floor, its body flopping around like a headless chicken until finally dropping.
Encouraged by how easy the first creature went down, Titus leapt the table and ran for the next one. Two rotting corpse-things feasting on scholarly flesh looked up just in time to see Titus ram his blade through both of their chests, skewering them like a kebab.
When he pulled the blade free and started for the next table, he stopped. The creatures behind him hadn’t dropped to the floor. He turned just as they reached out for him, grabbing his neck.
Titus grabbed one arm, ripping it clean out of its owner’s shoulder. Using that same arm, he slammed it over and over into the creatures’ heads until they relented and let go of his throat.
Once free, he chopped their heads off.
“Sever their heads,” he shouted, “anything less isn’t good enough.”
“Don’t let them bite you,” shouted Agrippo from across the room, fending off a pair of creatures with his sword and a massive kite shield.
Titus, Agrippo, and the other soldiers waded into the carnage from one end of the common room to the other, slashing their way through the undead, cutting off the heads of their victims to make sure they would stay dead.
Resting his hands on his knees, Titus took a deep breath and surveyed the carnage, making sure that nothing moved.
“Bring me the bookworm,” Titus said, leaning against a bloodstained shelf.
A moment later, the little librarian was escorted into the room in the arms of two soldiers. They dropped him on his knees, still weeping, in the center of the room on one of the few remaining spots of clean floor.
“What sort of black magic calls the dead back and turns them into… into, whatever these things were?” Titus asked, still not sure he could believe what he had just survived. Up until that moment, he had little use for superstition, tales of dark magic, or religion at all for that matter.
Now he wasn’t sure what to believe about any of it.
“It must have been one of the spells from the Book of the Dead.”
“Is there a spell to undo this? Are there more of these things coming?”
The librarian shrugged. He had no idea, and the people who read the original spell were likely among the headless victims nearby.
“Can you read the book?”
“All right then, you will come with us to the book and you will fix this.”
Titus signaled for his men to follow, two of them taking up the rear with the librarian. They had only gotten to the far end of the room when they heard it.
At first it sounded like a stampede of horses, echoing in the small space of the hallways connected to the common room, but the noise grew louder and higher pitched until the beating hooves sounded like feet stomping.
A high-pitched wail sounded their arrival.
Like ants streaming from their hills, the undead poured out of the hallways and into the room.
Titus and the others backed up toward the way they came as the undead slowed, again eyeing them more like a meal than a foe.
“Agrippo, run to Caesar’s ship and have him set the docks ablaze. No matter what else you do, this place must be razed. Destroy the library entrance.”
“What about you, sir?”
“If we get out in time, we get out. If not, these dark things must not be allowed to leave the library.”
“Sir, I won’t leave you here.”
“Agrippo if you don’t get out of here now and we lose this fight, nothing will be able to stop them once they get outside. They will wash over Cleopatra’s empire like a plague. Now run!”
Titus took Agrippo’s shield and watched him run down the hallway. He had to buy him enough time to get to Caesar’s ship to start the attack on the library.
Gods willing, he would live long enough.
Backing into the hallway with the little librarian in tow, Titus took up the first position, his shield nearly covering the entire opening.
The creatures had waited long enough. Like a pack of hungry wolves, they howled then charged Titus’ group, their bent and broken limbs barely slowing them down, some even dropping to all fours and loping forward on stumps.
“Stand fast!” Titus shouted, dropping to one knee to give his men room to attack over him in the narrow hallway.
The surge of dead hit them full force, the creatures mindlessly bouncing off of Titus’ shield, hurling their bodies at the soldiers. As each got close enough to a blade, their head came off clean.
But there were just too many of them.
Slowly, they retreated further and further back into the hallway as the horde pressed in on them. The pile of corpses was so high it was hard to tell the difference between the bodies they had killed and the ones they hadn’t.
The deafening echoes of the creatures’ shrieks and gurgling roars filled the hallway and the men with terror. Titus had spent his entire life fighting his nation’s enemies, but nothing had prepared him for this.
Before he could react, the creatures swarmed over his shield and swallowed it up within the floor-to-ceiling pile of squirming rot advancing toward them. Just as he managed to stand up to retreat, the pile overwhelmed him.
Dead flesh and bone surrounded him and pressed in on him from all directions. He gasped for air, sucking in only the smell of decay. The enemies’ teeth were just inches from his face, the only thing saving him that they were pressed so tightly into the tunnel they couldn’t move to strike.
Neither could he.
Claustrophobia took hold and Titus could feel his sanity slipping away. He couldn’t see any of his men. Standing there, smothered in crawling death, his sword pressed against his leg with no room to maneuver, Titus prepared himself for death.
Just before he closed his eyes to succumb to his fate, he pictured the beautiful city outside, pictured it being overrun by living corpses eating women and children alike and turning them into even more foul creatures.
He couldn’t let that happen.
Titus let out a primal roar, his muscles pushing as hard as they had ever pushed. Finally, just before he thought his arms might break, he heard bones crack and the sea of bodies gave way, freeing his arm.
Swinging in short, narrow arcs, Titus sliced through the pile and stepped back, letting the bodies spill further into the hallway.
“I can’t get a clean strike,” shouted one of the soldiers pressed up next to him.
“Thankfully neither can they,” Titus replied. “We need to open this up. Fall back!”
Titus and the others backpedalled down the hallway, making short slashes and stabs at the undead as they went. It felt more like swatting at gnats than a battle.
Once at the end of the hallway at an intersection, they spread out and waited for the enemy to stream out of the opening where Titus’ group could take full, measured swings at their necks.
Just as Titus thought they were regaining the advantage and pushing back the horde, a loud whistle accompanied by the deep sound of rushing wind came from beyond the hallway and the common room.
“What was that?” asked one of the soldiers.
Titus said nothing, still hacking and slashing at the attackers. A moment later a wave of heat blasted through the corridor and hit them head-on.
“Caesar started the attack, the library is burning!”
“Run for the exit!” Titus shouted, ushering his men out first and then charging after.
They ran as fast as they could, staying just ahead of the horde, dodging wall sconces and skidding around corners, charging through the insufferable maze of books and scrolls and experiment labs.
Titus risked a glance over his shoulder only to see a raging fireball consuming the horde from behind. In just moments it would be upon them too and they would all die a fiery death.
Finally, after a seemingly endless set of turns and corners, the library entrance appeared before them, the blue-gray afternoon light spilling onto the stone floor.
Titus pumped his legs and arms as fast as he could, dropping his sword to sprint even faster. Somehow the bookworm overtook him, the awkward little man able to run without the burden of boots or armor.
Fear could make people do amazing things.
As they grew closer to the entrance, Titus could see a group of soldiers at the ready, each leaning back, holding taught a rope tethered overhead.
Titus could feel the searing heat of the flames behind him, the roar of the fire swallowing the air as loud as the call of a dragon, stifling the piercing screams of the burning undead.
Just as he crossed the threshold, he leapt between two of the rope-bearing soldiers, crashing into a stack of barrels on the dock. The flames erupted out of the library’s mouth and the soldiers let go of the ropes, dropping an avalanche of boulders over the entrance.
Titus struggled to his feet and watched as the soldiers beheaded the few undead still moving among the rubble.
“Make sure you burn them all to ash,” he said.
As thankful as he was to still be alive and not some half-dead rotting corpse, Titus couldn’t help but feel a pang of sadness at the loss of his favorite sword.
Agrippo stepped out of the group of soldiers and saluted his commander, “And you thought Museion security would be boring.”
Kevin Hoffman is a Fantasy and SF author who has been writing for as long as he can remember. He pays the bills while writing by creating software, and has managed to work writing into that career as well, writing and contributing to over 16 computer programming books. While a fantasy author, he loves a good zombie story and has one published in an anthology, Dead Worlds 5. He is currently working on an epic YA fantasy novel and can be found blogging at http://www.kshmusings.com, Tweeting at @kshmusings, and Reading on Goodreads at http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/96017.Kevin_Hoffman.
“Captain. Go in. Mop up Bingo Island.”
“You’re shitting me, Sir,” I said. “How could the Japanese Imperial Navy slip a transport into the Solomons? Did they get tired of dying on Okinawa?”
General Waverly poured me a shot glass of scotch. I held the glass in my hand, fighting to keep it still.
“They’re slippery bastards. Probably some Hail Mary maneuver. They’re getting desperate. We’re one island away from Hokkaido Island, from marching onto the Emperor’s palace. They know they’re licked. Their culture just won’t let them lay down their Samurai swords. Not before they’re all dead and they take us with them.”
Something about his good eye threw me. I’d known Jack Waverly since the day I was born, a friend to my old man. He’d lost his right eye during an air raid in Italy before being transferred to the Pacific theater. Now when he talked, his left eye twitched. His skin bore an ashy gray.
“What’s really going on, Sir? There can’t be anything more than a bunch of corpses rotting in the sun. MacArthur bypassed that island, cut it off. The enemy starved. And I doubt we took the time to bury the dead.”
“Some must have survived, eating bugs and grass soup.” When he patted my shoulder, I nearly resigned my commission. I should have. “I know you’re supposed to be on leave, resting up after the news about your brother. I’m asking you to swallow it down and choke on the bitter.”
I stood up and set the drink on his desk.
“We’ll send ‘em to hell, Sir.”
“Transport leaves from Manila at 0500. And Captain. You’re under orders to keep this to yourself. Morale, you know. A lot of our boys dying on Okinawa. Dying for nothing.”
I slipped the mission briefing under my arm, fixed my hat, and walked away from his office. I spied him picking up my shot glass and throwing back the scotch. He poured another.
* * *
From the transport we watched American B-25s make sweeping bombing runs over Bingo Island, softening up the defenses for our landing. Several bombers swept over low, and my company tensed up, bracing ourselves for the explosions, the shockwaves and dirt fog that wafts out from the beach over the bay. The sun rose over the ocean, and somewhere far away they were burying Bob. The mortician charged me for a lead-lined coffin, but some Lieutenant out at that camp, Los Alamos, where Bob was doing secret research told me they’d pick up the tab. I set my mind to the task ahead. The planes dropped their load, but the island never croaked, didn’t pop. We listened to the steady choir of waves rushing on the beach.
“Ready,” I yelled to my company. We sailed to the beach alone, not one tin can to guard our landing. The navy must have needed every destroyer for the battle on Okinawa. Now those boys knew hell. I grabbed my BAR, popped in a clip. I made sure I had extra ammo in my belt. I checked my canteen. I shoved gum into my pockets. My company loaded their M-1s. I didn’t know them, looked green. Sergeant Garcia shook his head. The scar down his cheek had healed into a groove hardened by scar tissue like a canyon.
“Sending us here on this fairy tale mission with a bunch of virgins,” he said. “Any idea what’s in the brass’ heads?”
“Above my pay grade,” I said.
The landing craft approached the beach. We ducked down, and the hatch fell. Water rushed in over our boots. I kissed my Saint Christopher’s medal and led the march, chopping through the waves. The sand ground under my boots. We rushed the beach, guns pointed, waiting for the swarm of hot lead and shrapnel. We took the beach standing up then strolled about, looking over the palm trees that lined the sand.
“Bullshit,” Sergeant Garcia said. “Command has us out here chasing our asses.”
We scanned the beach. Even though we couldn’t find any sign of the enemy, I still had the men do it by the book. We checked out a fishing shack on the beach with a rotting dock and rowboat. Crabs picked at the corpse of a dog leaning against the hut.
“Smell that?” Garcia asked.
“Sweet. Rotting. It’s the dog.”
He sipped from his canteen and nipped on some crackers from a ration’s pack. “I’ve been whiffing it since we landed. Whole island smells of roadkill.”
“They never buried the dead, just left them to rot.”
I ordered the company to push into the jungle, to secure the island. I kept them jumping. I didn’t expect to find any of the enemy, but something didn’t feel right. We’d push uphill, check the jungle for any resistance, then we’d radio for pickup.
We tripped over the vines, moving into the fathoms of green fronds, over the exposed roots. What had my brother been working on? Every time I made inquiries, I got cold warnings to stop. My mother wrote me and told me some of Hoover’s boys had come around asking who I was talking to. I wrote my dad, and he told me it was a tragedy and my brother’s work would win the war. He’d taught physics at Berkeley, and in his censored letters, he talked a lot about some guy, Oppenheimer. He sounded like a wizard. They were building something there in the desert in New Mexico, something terrible. We were fighting for the darkness, for a future dominated by terrible weapons, a world of Gods and Monsters, like from the old Frankenstein movie.
We moved through a clearing, a field of flowers. Hardly a breeze blew over the glade. Caves ripped open the rocky hills to the north. I tripped over gear: old rifles, cartridges, boxes, helmets, boots. I slipped in a puddle of ooze. It stank sweet. Birds filled the clearing, pecking at the soiled grass.
“Dios mío!” Garcia said. “No bodies. Where are the bodies? Something ate ‘em up.”
One of the lads kicked a stainless steel canister at the edge of the clearing. Its parachute silk spread out over the trees, flapping in the light breeze. They must have dropped it from the bombers. A valve on the side had released, and the air around it reeked of bitter chemicals.
“Leave it be,” I ordered. “Some kind of gas weapon.” But it couldn’t be. Gas had been outlawed by the Geneva Convention, though the Japanese didn’t abide by its accords. Still, we didn’t use gas. Not even the Nazis did, at least on enemy soldiers.
* * *
We made camp on a plateau further uphill. We feasted that night on C-rations and didn’t see much. The whole mission was a major fuck-up. They sent us out here to feed mosquitoes while our boys died on Okinawa—the dress rehearsal for the invasion of mainland Japan. They’d never surrender, not unless we had something to shock them out of their cultural chains. The whole population would die for their emperor. We weren’t much better, demanding unconditional surrender to satiate our honor, to avenge for Pearl Harbor. In twenty years, who would care?
I drifted off to sleep against my pack, thinking of my brother. I wondered if he felt anything when he died. Garcia poked me awake.
“Captain. We got something. Looks like Command was right.”
The reek of hot rotting flesh burned my eyes from downhill. I grabbed my BAR and ordered the men into a defensive position around the camp. We didn’t see the enemy, but we heard them. Usually they moved silent as ants, but they must have been sick ‘cause they moaned, groaned like they were sick, maybe starving.
“Should we invite them to surrender?” one of the men asked.
We opened fire on the line of shadows stumbling towards camp. My BAR ripped open, and I fed it another clip, slowing my fire. Some of the shadows stopped, others stumbled but kept moving. The men unloaded their rifles into the night. In the combustion light of the gunpowder, I caught glimpses of the enemy. Their burned skin hardened, and black pools oozed up from under their flesh. Some of them had gaping wounds, and clumps of blood dropped like rotten crabapples. I spotted what had been an officer, still clutching his sword but dragging it behind him in the dirt. He missed his left eye.
“Dios mío!” Garcia said.
“Is it plague?” I yelled over the gunfire. We sprayed bullets into the mob, but relentlessly they surged forward, stumbling into camp. I unloaded into one of their guts, but all it did was knock it back. It fell upon one of the men, clawing at his chest, gouging down his cheeks. The young man grappled him, struggling against his arms while it raked. Finally, it lunged forward and bit a chunk out of the soldier’s neck. Warm blood sprayed the camp from his artery, staining my shirt. He gurgled, trying to yell, his throat in its teeth. Two more of them broke into camp and jumped a few privates.
“The seventh seal,” Garcia said. “They broke the seal. God forgive us.”
“Sergeant,” I yelled. “We need to pull back.”
The enemy stirred into a frenzy, mobbing on the camp. The men laid covering fire, which only hindered the enemy, slowing them.
“Move your ass,” I yelled at the Sergeant. “Pray on your own time. Your ass belongs to me.”
We retreated down the hillside, running blind into the jungle. We’d abandoned most of our equipment on the hill, including extra ammo and rations. Mosquitoes swarmed on us, and I worried about leaving the quinine up on the hill.
“They didn’t even use their guns. They ate Bubba. Jesus Christ. I shot that son of a bitch six times, and he chewed him up like an Easter ham.”
Only four of my company made it down the hill. We heard their cries in the night, but they soon silenced. And then the howling called through the jungles.
“It is judgment day,” Garcia said. “I have no faith. I should have let them take me. They walk for Jesús. They are soldiers of the Lord.
“Would a God let this happen? This war? It’s an empty sky, Sergeant.”
They stumbled down the hillside, locked onto us like bloodhounds. They had our scent, and the flesh of the men didn’t satiate. We had to get off the island. I looked around. Our radio man wasn’t with us, probably still up the hill with his gear.
“It is men like you who led me from my faith,” Garcia said. “And liquor. And fast women, women with curves and fat thighs. My mother was so ashamed. I buried my mother in a pine box.”
The Imperial Japanese soldiers lurched forward, some falling in the grass. They got up and kept coming. One snapped his leg on a branch, and the bone pierced his thigh through his uniform. He didn’t notice any pain. Only the dead knew no pain, and I envied them for it.
“We need to get to the beach,” I said. I turned to run, and one the walkers jumped me. I wrestled with the body. It snapped its teeth at me, cracking like a whip. One of the soldiers grabbed him and pulled him off of me, and it turned on the boy. It bit a chunk from his shoulder and chewed on the fabric and flesh. “Sergeant. We’ve got to go, now.”
Garcia made the Sign of the Cross, set down his rifle, then he walked into the arms of two Japanese walkers. They grabbed each arm. One gnawed his shoulder, and the other walker dove into his stomach. Garcia prayed as they devoured him, but he lost his faith and screamed. I ran to into the wood towards the beach and turned back to see him. I raised my BAR and shot him in the head. He dropped to his knees then toppled over. The rest of the pack fed on him.
A walker in the dark leapt and bit my hand, and I knocked him back with the butt of my BAR. I ran through the wood, making it to the beach and got to that rotting rowboat. I pushed off and rowed from Bingo Island. Until the dawn, I heard their moaning, the longing, moving over the water like a choir.
* * *
General Douglas MacArthur sat at his desk, cap on, sunglasses covering his empty eyes. He chewed on a long corncob pipe. General Waverly stood in the corner of his office and poured drinks.
“You sure you’re alright, son?” MacArthur asked.
“In the green,” I lied. The bite on my hand throbbed. I’d stolen a slug of morphine from the medic’s kit and hoped it would keep me coherent until I turned. I dried the sweat from my neck with a rag. It wouldn’t be long now. I could feel the cold creeping up from my arm into my chest, my neck.
“Hell of a thing,” MacArthur said. “Now I want to know everything you saw, every detail.”
I filled in the General. He nodded, chewing on that pipe.
“You’ve served your country, Captain. I’m going to put you in for a citation.”
“Skip the medal, Sir,” I said. “But I’d like something else.”
My mouth watered. I could smell the general’s warm flesh like a roast on Sunday. I gripped the chair, holding myself back.
“The truth? You can’t judge men in war. We’re facing a determined enemy, and if we don’t come up with new weapons to break his resolve, he’ll kill himself and take a lot of American boys with him. Nazi scientists first developed the weapon. Rumor is they found it up North in the Arctic. Some kind of disease going back to Neanderthals. Bingo Island was a test.”
“Those canisters were dropped on the Japanese dead? Brought them back somehow?”
He nodded. He lit his pipe.
“Your men died to make a better world, a better future. Their sacrifice will be honored.”
“Sir. You know what you are?”
Before he responded, my thoughts, my rational mind, everything that made me human sucked down a black hole. My humanity evacuated. Only the hunger remained.
“A son of a bitch.”
In my last aware moment, I felt my body, now just a mechanism, leap from the chair. General Waverly jumped to stop me. Then I felt no more.
T. Fox Dunham resides outside of Philadelphia PA—author and historian. He’s published in over 150 international journals and anthologies, and his first novella, New World, will be published by May December Publisher. He’s a cancer survivor. When he’s not writing, he’s catching trout with a black lure or play D&D with his mates. His friends call him fox, being his totem animal, and his motto is: Wrecking civilization one story at a time. Blog: http://tfoxdunham.blogspot.com/. http://www.facebook.com/tfoxdunham & Twitter: @TFoxDunham
Given the choice, I’d prefer the company of zombies to hippie protesters. Zombies smell better and there’s no law against shootin’ ‘em. – Governor George C. Wallace
The zombie epidemic will not hinder our efforts in Vietnam. America will prevail at home and abroad. – President Lyndon Johnson
Zombies are the ultimate Commies. – Governor Ronald Reagan
“Hunter Stockton Thompson.” The fat cop reads my name aloud like a mad mother about to smack her child.
“You the fellah that wrote that book on the Hell’s Angels?” he asks me as he inspects my driver’s license, holding it at arms length, his expression the pained look of a man in need of a good bowel movement. He’s looking at my ’67 Chevy Impala, the Great Red Beast, and I bet he wants to check the car for marijuana, but if he does the pig is going to be disappointed, because I smoked the last of my grass somewhere north of Shreveport.
“The one and only, sir,” I say with a sarcastic flourish.
“What brings you to Louisiana, Mr. Thompson? We don’t have no Hell’s Angels around here.”
“I want to see some of that southern hospitality I’ve heard so much about. I’m on vacation.” I don’t tell him that I’m on my way to New Orleans to check out the hippie scene down there for a piece for Rolling Stone. With the West Coast under marshal law, Haight-Ashbury has lost its buzz, and word is that the Big Easy is the new place for free love and psychedelic drugs.
The cop lets me go with a warning about my speed – “You ain’t ridin’ with the Hell’s Angels no more, Mr. Thompson” – and tells me about the wildlife.
“We got it good in these parts compared to a lot of other places, but we still got zombies walking around the hills here. Be careful. And keep your car doors locked.”
I see the fat cop grinning in my rearview mirror as I drive away. I light up a cigarette and dig out the Colt handgun that I hid under the seat. Louisiana’s Highway 1 stretches before me like a long asphalt snake and I point the Great Red Beast south and hit the accelerator, Nawlins or Bust.
My windows are rolled down and Conway Twitty is playing on the radio. It’s a hot August day and I’m in the middle of enemy territory, not Vietnam but the crazy world of Old Dixie. George Wallace’s political signs are everywhere along the highway, and it’s a sure bet he’ll carry this state, along with the rest of the Deep South in this year’s Presidential election. Was the Summer of Love just a year ago? And now Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King are dead, most of America is under martial law, and Wallace looks like a real contender.
The old lady sitting in the rocking chair in front of the gas station is holding a double barrel shot gun in her lap while she fans herself. Pretty much everybody in these parts is packing a gun. It explains why this part of the country isn’t as infested with zombies as the rest of the nation. America, take note – the Second Amendment saved the South.
A skinny teenage redneck comes out to pump gas into the Great Red Beast. I walk into the station and buy a Coke to cool off. Stuffed zombie heads are mounted on the wall, and for a dime you can buy a genuine zombie tooth necklace.
“I think Wallace has the right idea,” I hear the bearded man behind the counter tell his customer. “Just round up the damn things and drop them on Hanoi.”
His rotund customer agrees and adds a fresh insight. “Yep, he should do the same thing with the hippies and the coloreds.”
I hate to interrupt heady political conversation, but I need to empty my bladder so I ask about the restrooms. The bearded man looks at me with suspicion. I’m sure his cognitive gears are turning, trying to determine whether the foreign invader that stands before him is worth the cost of a bullet, but as I don’t look like a zombie, a hippie or a colored he relents and points me outside in the direction of a nearby outhouse.
As I finish my business in the outhouse, I ponder the irony of a culture able to hold back a zombie epidemic but unable to install indoor plumbing. Last year’s zombie outbreak shut down most of America, with the Army coming in to keep things running, but Old Dixie just broke out the guns and held its own. The rest of America may be going through a new Dark Age, but Old Dixie never left the old one, so praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.
Walking away from the outhouse I expect to smell the fragrant north Louisiana pine, but the outhouse smell lingers longer than it should, and that’s when I notice the smell isn’t coming from the outhouse.
My heart kicks up the beat like a drummer on speed when I see the zombie. Judging from his movements and the fresh blood stains on his shirt, the black teenage boy is a fresh one. The older zombies are pretty slow, but the fresh ones can sprint. The zombie teenager might be able to catch me if I start running but I don’t have a choice. The Colt and the Great Red Beast are about 70 feet away, and I’m back here alone.
The zombie starts running for me. His eyes are blood red and his teeth are stained with the blood of his last victim. I turn and run towards my car as fast as I can, screaming like a maniac the whole time. I’m praying to God and promising Him that if he gets me out of this jam I’ll always bring a gun with me when I go to the toilet.
I fly past the store and see the Great Red Beast. The teenage redneck has finished pumping gas and is wiping the windshield. He sees me and the zombie coming towards him and he starts running. I don’t dare look back but I know the zombie is right behind me. This is going to be a photo finish.
I reach the car and pull the lever on the car door. I don’t even make it inside the car when I hear the shotgun go off. I turn and see the zombie on its knees, with the old lady out of her rocking chair, holding the double barrel to her shoulder. She moves in closer, points the shotgun at the zombies head, and with a trigger squeeze Granny puts the monster out of its misery and saves my life.
The bearded man and his customer come running out of the gas station.
“Momma, you got you another one,” says the bearded man.
“It’s a zombie and a colored,” says the customer. “Good shootin’.”
The bearded man asks me if I’m all right. I regain my composure and light a cigarette. I tell him I’m fine. He offers to give me the zombie’s teeth if I want them as a souvenir. I pass on the offer, and thank the old lady for saving my life.
“These are the end days,” she responds with a crazed look in her eyes. “God is coming to judge us. The Devil is walking the Earth, and only the righteous will be saved.”
I can’t disagree, so I politely nod and excuse myself to pay for the gas. As I drive off, I think about Granny’s words. Everybody has their theory about what caused the zombie epidemic. Mutant virus. Communist plot. Wrath of God. The last one is just a valid as any of the others, because nobody knows the answer. It’s heavy stuff to think about when you’re driving alone on a long southern highway towards the New Sodom, and I wish I had some grass to smoke.
After years of hunting monsters and fighting ninjas, globetrotting adventurer Reed Beebe has retired to a quiet Kansas City, Missouri neighborhood to write fiction and poetry. This is his first published work. He is still trying to figure out Twitter, but if you’re patient and forgiving, you can follow him at http://twitter.com/ReedBeebe.
Lt. General Hood surveyed the battlefield, swallowing a lump.
“So many men…”
Try as he might, he’d been unable to overcome Sherman’s army.
While tallying the dead, Hood saw movement twenty yards away: a soldier, trying to sit up.
“Good God!” Hood yelled. “Medic! Soldier–”
Hood felt the blood rush from his head. He tried to make sense of the gaping hole in the man’s chest.
“Cannon fire,” Hood thought. “How in God’s name?”
Hood tripped, scrambling away from grasping hands.
“God in Heaven, deliver me!”
This prayer, too, went unanswered, as fallen soldiers closed in, devouring their defeated commander.
An excerpt from the Introduction of Revenants in Warfare by Jorge Roman, Professor of History at Bradford College, Haverhill, Massachusetts, Commonwealth of New England
They work in our factories. They repair our roads. They mow our lawns. They do the work we avoid. They were friends, neighbors, grandparents, parents, siblings and spouses.
They are the dead.
Our society depends on their ceaseless toil and they are a common part of life, but we have forgotten their violent birth. We ignore what is underneath our feet. Deep underground an army of cryogenically preserved nightmares silently awaits the last argument of kings.
I have always been fascinated by the revenants among us. Knowing there is an afterlife, even if it is not what the mythologists predicted, is something we accept, but fail to understand. While there are volumes of material behind the science of death, little has been written on its history. The darker aspects are rarely covered and realizing this I took it upon myself to shed some light on a past most would like to forget.
This book begins at the dawn of human civilization. The original spell of reanimation, anachronistically referred to as the “Ishtar Incantation”, was first written down in ancient Mesopotamia. The myth of the original copies being made with human skin has been dispelled by modern historians by pointing out more readily available, and cheaper, materials.
For millennia the secrets of reanimation remained isolated in the dark corners of humanity. Occasionally some inept conjuror would perform the incantation without the proper precautions and unleash a minor outbreak. Some Norse gothi experimented with the incantation creating a draugr, a creature with increased strength, intelligence and could turn humans into them through bites.
Humanity realized the true nature of death when Toussaint Louverture, the first Lich King of Haiti, performed a revised version of the incantation. In 1802, with an army from Napoleon Bonaparte coming to restore French authority in Haiti, the then governor-for-life allied himself with a rogue houngan who experimented with the incantation in an unprecedented manner. With his help Louverture created an army of the dead which drove the French into the sea.
Europe reeled from this onslaught of “black magic”. Copies of the Ishtar Incantation found their way into the hands of those resisting European domination. Emperor Simon I of Gran Colombia used his hordes of undead to drive the Spanish out of the Americas. Lakota medicine men prevented further American expansion into the west with their “ghost dance”. The slave revolts which destroyed southern American society would not have been successful without the angry dead who carried out their master’s revenge for centuries of bondage.
Thanatology spread across the world. Governments fell, scapegoats were persecuted (Jews and witches mostly) and the mythologists preached a coming apocalypse. Nevertheless, even at the height of the Age of Terror, the brightest minds of 19th century Europe labored to discover the secret of the Ishtar Incantation.
These early thanatologist believed “magic” did not exist and a rational explanation could be found for “revenants”, the animated corpse from British folklore. They refused to use the popular name for the creatures, zonbi, since those who had torn their great empires asunder used the name. Not held to the rules and traditions of the mystics and mages, they pushed human understanding of death to its limits. Byproducts of their research helped advance our understanding of medicine and create life-extending procedures, but their true goal was to discover a scientific substitute to replace the incantation. Research into the draugr myth birthed a new type of revenant.
These “artificial” revenants were more violent than their more docile cousins. Once they solved the issues of control, a new generation of solider entered the battlefield, modified to make them better suited for battle against the shambling, decayed zonbis. Bayonet fingers ripped through flesh, hammer arms pulverized bones and walking cannons tore down walls of the rebels and usurpers. The short-lived golden age of magic came crashing down as the native empires crumbled underneath the boot heels of steel plated revenants. With the coronation of King Victor I of Britain in 1839, the Gothic Age had begun.
Nations continued to push revenant warfare to new heights in the late 19th century. Steel struts replaced fragile human bones to create frames to support larger guns. Sensor packages featuring wireless communications and miniature cameras replaced eyes. A thanatologist’s imagination was limited only by the raw material available.
Even with strict criminal codes, the supply of condemned criminals could not adequately feed demand. Previously dead were too decayed to be useful, except for suicidal drones packed with explosives. At the height of the Gothic Age, nations passed the “Final Breath” laws, giving the government ownership of the recently deceased. Although unpopular when introduced, even with exceptions for mythologists or those wealthy enough to afford the tax, any riot could easily be quelled with a battalion of war revenants.
As a new century dawned, a radical movement challenged the ruling aristocrats. Known as “cosmicism” and founded by Howard Lovecraft, it holds that humans are insignificant creatures in the greater scheme of the universe. Though denying the existence of a divine being, cosmicists believed unimaginably powerful forces existed, neither benign nor malevolent, and could wipe humanity out without remorse. Cosmicists felt the old morality of good vs. evil prevented individuals back from their full potential. Cosmicism found favor among the poor who lost work to surplus revenants who could work longer hours without pay, food and rest.
The Gothic Age ended in 1936 with the Great War. Popular unrest led to cosmicist governments coming to power in the United States and Prussia. The old order, fearful the blight of cosmicism would spread to their people, went to war to stop the spread of cosmicism. The Philadelphia-Berlin Axis, however, had prepared for the coming conflict with new, unforeseen weapons.
Rejecting the earlier divorce from magic, thanatologists in both nations combined the old mysticism with modern science. In the dark New England woods, scientists developed a new breed of revenant known as “corpse gods”. Newly dead bodies became as malleable as clay and shaped into giant forms and armed with claws, tentacles, wings and talons. In the ancient abodes belonging to the junker ruling elite, the Prussians developed an even more hideous weapon. They discovered how to take the energy needed to raise a revenant and store it for later use. Manufactured deities trampled armies of war revenants, while the most ancient cities of Europe disappeared in a blinding flash of light.
Though the Grand Alliance emerged victorious, the devastation wrought by these new weapons of mass destruction scarred the globe and humanity’s conscience. Meanwhile, some cosmisicists survived and remained a threat to civilization. The Sibiu Accords of 1946 halted thanatological research and weapons and required nations across the world to liquidate their armies. Empires crumbled without the war revenants necessary to keep the native population in check. The global community created sovereign havens for the decimated cultures harvested by the cosmicists to feed their creations.
The Technocratic Revolution of the 1960s ensured a well-ordered society led by those with the knowledge, expertise and skills to govern humanity. They rose to their rank based on merit and not by birth or ideology. Thanatologists diverted their attention to civilian uses of revenants, ranging from household servant and industrial workers, to deep sea miners and outer space probes. The United Technates, however, remained on the lookout for the hidden cosmicists.
To aid them in this quest, a new strain of revenant came into being known as “hounds”. The most intelligent and life-like revenant ever created, they would relentlessly hunt their target across the world and would not stop until it neutralized their target. Sadly these fearsome predators could not stop one cosmicist from uttering the Ishtar Incantation in 1968 near Pittsburg. Failure to contain the outbreak led to the collapse of the United States in 1978 and forced the United Technates to order the use of war revenants to contain the threat.
Even with the threat of zonbi outbreaks, most humans live in a near state of utopia. A peaceful army of revenants is tasked with making our lives as easy as possible, giving us the chance to pursue more noble quests. Yet we all must surrender to the inevitable. Rich or poor, strong or weak, genius or dunce, we all will serve in the pale legions. Meanwhile, snug securely in their vaults, the ultimate back-up plan waits if things fall apart. These beings are the parents of modern society and their contributions should not be forgotten.
Bernard Réné de Launay peered out of the comté tower of Bastille prison at the hordes below, writhing and seeming to multiply like maggots. They formed a ghastly syrup of limbs and flesh, viscous and vicious, pouring towards the prison as though it were some fancy sponge pudding soaking up custard. Occasionally a lone creature would break away from the crowd, arms flailing as his stumble became a lopsided run. Inevitably he would either fall or be pushed into the moat, only to reappear soaked but alive, staggering as shots from the invalides blew off his arms and legs or tore chunks from his body. Only when the head was blown off, de Launay noted, did the creature finally give in to death.
The pervert, de Sade, had warned him this would happen.
“I must thank you, Bernard,” he’d said to him, “for releasing me into madness. Charenton will keep me safe, a high priest among holy fools. A dark tide is coming, you see, to sweep your little sand-castle away. Before the fortnight’s over the dead shall walk the earth, eager to piss all over your self-righteous ambitions. They’ll come for you and they won’t leave a stone of this cess-pit standing.”
“And what makes you think we’re a likely target for your walking dead, noble marquis?”
“A kindly fortune teller – a sweet young girl with an innocent, golden smile – actual gold teeth I tell you – told me so not three nights ago. Between gulps and yelps of course. So much wisdom from one so very very young.”
“I see. So she came to see you, did she? Walked right into our most fortified prison?”
“All my daughters have been coming. Your men can be so kind when it comes to family visits. And my girls can be so persuasive. So generous. I’ve been attending to them quite meticulously you know, night after night after night.”
De Launay had dismissed de Sade’s words in the same way that he’d dismissed the rest of the man’s nonsense. Now, even as he stood there in his tower, watching re-animated corpses scratching at the wooden gates to his fort, he could scarcely believe it was happening. It seemed as though the whole huddled mass of the Parisian poor had determined to throw itself at his little prison, like ants upon a bowl of sugar, but to what end.
Not for the first time, it occurred to de Launay that he had a big part to play on the stage of history. Like Caesar or Charlemagne, he knew it would be his to tame the barbarian hordes. France needed a man like him. For although he’d never left the Bastille for longer than a day, and didn’t much like what he saw out there, he had the ambitions and pretensions of an emperor.
His reveries were broken by a knocking at the door.
“How goes the fight?” De Launay asked the captain of the Swiss mercenaries.
“Not good… It’s horrible… Those eyes!”
“One of my men sir… He got bit guarding the wall. They’d stuck a ladder up and he tried to unhook it. And he did unhook it. But he got bit first.”
“So he’s injured?”
“He’s not injured sir. It’s worse. His eyes gone all milky, and his mouth gone all dry and he was like trying to bite us all when we tied him up. He became one of them.”
“And where is he now?”
“The men are restraining him, he should be…”
But a hideous sound of groaning was coming from the courtyard. The two men looked down to see their own defenders, all decked out and decaying in their Swiss uniforms. They were drinking deeply from barrels of rainwater, punching bricks loose from the wall, gnawing at each other’s heads then spitting in disgust. Some of them seemed to be trying to work out the route to the tower.
“We don’t have much time. I want you to follow my orders exactly.”
“I want you to go down and open the gate. Let every monster in Paris into the Bastille. Give it enough time so that the whole flotilla of scum can drift here. Stay alive as long as you can; run if you have to.”
“Ok sir, but what will you do? If I can ask that sir?”
“This fort contains thirty thousand pounds of gunpowder and I’m going to set it off when the time is right. We’ll go down in history, you and I, as the men who saved Paris. The men who saved France. We’ll be remembered forever for our noble sacrifice,” de Launay assured the captain, whose name has long since been forgotten.
The captain scurried off down the stairs and de Launay followed more cautiously. He drank half a bottle of brandy, smoked a pipe then took his time in lighting a torch. Amber light danced around the stairwell as he descended, taking slow steady steps. He carried a loaded pistol in his right hand and the torch in his left. When he reached the bottom of the stair, the courtyard was empty. He wondered for a moment whether the dead had walked away from his prison in search of some other, more twisted amusement. Encouraged by this fancy, de Launay was shocked when he found that the door to the cellar where the gunpowder was kept was hanging open.
He had no idea what the monsters would want with gunpowder, but it wouldn’t be good. He imagined them trying to eat it, or pissing on it, or pouring it on each other’s heads, like children bathing. He really hoped they hadn’t compromised his noble plan of destroying all of them and himself. Another staircase and he was down near the cases of powder. He kicked hard and heavy at the side of one of the cases until powder poured out. It was at that moment that a sound caught his ear, a brutal unholy sound like the sound of deaf children crying. A doorway was visible where he’d never seen one before – boxes had been smashed up, beams torn down to reveal it. Curious, de Launay stepped through.
He came upon a dreadful scene, quite the most grotesque he’d ever witnessed. He saw the bodies of women, girls and boys; on racks, hanging from chains, pilloried or staked. They’d been mutilated beyond recognition; the devices through which this was achieved lay all around: hammers, knives, paddles, thumb-screws, choke pears and breast rippers. He knew straight away that this must be de Sade’s work, the work he’d alluded to so gleefully, so convincingly, that de Launay had declared him insane.
Moving round the room with their clumsy jerky motions, a small group of the Parisian undead had found their way in. Dressed in grocer’ aprons and butcher’s outfits, soldier’s uniforms and tailor’s garb, they were opening cages, lowering chains and cutting bodies loose. De Launay expected them to fall upon the dead and devour them, but instead they laid them carefully, ceremoniously, onto the dungeon floor. The wails of despair were louder in here and whenever one gargling, rasping voice stopped, another began. De Launay knew he had a duty: to ignite the powder with his torch and eradicate these monsters. He stepped back through the secret doorway and into the cellar, torch in hand. He lowered the torch towards the pile of powder, ready for his blaze of glory. But then he hesitated. It was the last decision he’d ever have to make. He would have to try to get it right.
Kenneth Shand is a writer from Glasgow, Scotland. He writes short stories and occasional poems. He has an MSc in Creative Writing. He owns a tea shop. He likes puffins. His favourite colour is teal. He has difficulty with words that don’t sound like the thing they describe, like “emancipation” or “pulchritudinous”.
‘Please Please Me’ had ridden the top of the charts for its thirtieth week and once again there were several hundred bodies outside the hotel; moans of “Beeeaaaattttlllleeeesssssssss” and “Braaaaiiiiiiiinnnnnssssss” reached the window of the boy’s suite. It was hard work being the biggest band in England, having to sneak out back doors of venues and being chased through the streets by the shambling corpses of rabid fans.
But there was a show tonight…
“Once more into the breach…” said John as the fab four forced their way out through the hotel door, swinging guitar cases and dodging biting cadavers.
Tom Ward is an aspiring writer from Liverpool where he enjoys comic books, reviews unsigned punk bands on his blog http://freepunkrock.tumblr.com/ and complains to anyone who will listen how all the best tv shows get cancelled.
“This is your office for the summer. You are expected to keep it useful and you are expected to keep it tidy. As it is now yours, it will belong to another after you leave.”
“I understand,” said Sarah. She resisted the urge to check if she had tracked any desert dust in on her shoes.
“Welcome to Cairo Museum.”
“Thank you, I’m really thrilled to be here.”
The wraith of a smile faded into and then out of the face of Anit el-Masri, Sarah’s supervisor. The air conditioner rattled as it cycled on and struggled to cool the little office.
“I have work to do.” Anit turned and left the intern to become acquainted with her new office space. Her footsteps clacked down the long hallway until finally they faded away.
Sarah Linstrom relaxed as she felt the grip of first-day tension release ever so slightly. She dragged her finger across her phone to unlock it, and sent a message to her friend Kate, “I’M HERE! IN CAIRO! IN _MY_ OFFICE!!!” Deep within her office, it seemed. The long connecting hallway and lack of windows gave it a cavernous yet confined feel.
She flopped into the black leather of her wheeled office chair and kicked to the side, spinning around in celebration. The high back of her chair whirled around and plowed into the lamp on the desk, sending it flying off the edge and into the wall.
She slammed her feet downward. Her chair, breath, and heart all stopped.
Her phone buzzed. Kate had responded “its 330 in the morning but yay dont break anything”.
Sarah felt the tears burning in her eyes.
The lamp smashed unbroken against the wall. The wall, thinner than it appeared, had a huge gash punched through. She replaced it on the desk and tapped a message back to Kate.
“I’m sorry, I was excited. And now I broke the wall.”
“What the heck wall how did you break the WALL never mind” then “Whats inside the wall” and “Can you see anything”.
Sarah’s thumbs hammered on her phone “Yes, Lord Carnarvon, wonderful things.” Then she clicked her phone off and shoved it into her pocket.
She buried her head into her folded arms on her desk and stamped her feet, then sighed and peeked at the hole; still there. She leaned over the edge of her desk, and with the lamplight over her shoulder, looked into the hole.
There was, in fact, something there.
The thin wall proved easy to push through and to widen. Inside, Sarah could see the end of a weather worn wooden crate. She dragged it out and placed it on the opposite side of the room where the rest of her office contents had been delivered and stacked.
Her desk was heavy, but she managed to shove it against the wall and forward inch by inch until it hid the hole.
The side of the crate was lettered in a roughly hewn “WADI AL MULUK”. It was hinged and latched but not locked, and all the metal parts had rusted fast. She pulled at the latch and was at length able to wrestle it free from the hasp. Her face scrunched into a mass of wrinkles as she strained against the top of the crate on its protesting hinges. As the top lifted, a small fly flew out on an odd and wandering path, unnoticed.
The dry dusty smell of old wood and books and dusty sand surrounded Sarah as she looked into the crate. Inside she found an odd assortment of papers, notebooks, and sundry other objects. She took out the top notebook and sat next to the crate to read.
“I am a man of science,” she read from the diary. The paper was crisp but not brittle, and the script was drawn with the faded strokes of fountain pen ink. “And, as such, not one given slightly to whim or to fancy, or to coincidence or such concepts borne of an unobservable or unproven nature. However, I am a man of open mind and of considered skepticism, and so, refuse to discount the possibilities afforded to one by the careful employ of imagination. My experienced life has brought to me answer upon answer with regards to the mysteries thereby encountered, and yet, as time advances, I find myself continuing to return to a single moment of indecision, which, despite concerted effort, continues to elude my efforts of conclusion.”
Sarah flipped quickly through the book. The diary went on for many pages and she thumbed through until she discovered the identity of the author, one Alfred Lucas, who had dated most of the entries during the years of 1943, 1944, and 1945.
She slid her phone open and searched for entries about Lucas. An image search showed gray scale photos of the dapper scientist, whom she learned to have been a chemist that worked with Howard Carter in the early 1920’s during the excavation of tombs in the Valley of the Kings.
“Well that explains the crate,” she thought to herself, absently waving off a fly, which swirled lazily around her.
Lucas, it seemed, was key in the recovery and preservation of artifacts, and credited with ensuring the preservation of a vast majority of the objects discovered.
One website stated, “Though the motives and intentions of many of the individuals associated with the excavation of the tomb of Tutankhamun were often called into question, Lucas’s were always beyond reproach. In a recent historical account of the excavation of the tomb, Lucas was portrayed as probably the only truly honest person associated with the project.”
She smiled at the notion of an honest man of integrity and looked into the crate. Had Lucas preserved more about this project than anyone ever knew?
A scattering of two-holed lined papers had been thrown into the crate. They lacked enumeration, but she stacked them somewhat neatly. Some appeared to be terse phrases of notes, as if to document an inventory of items bearing no organization or order themselves apart from being noted in order of discovery.
One of these sheets read “Tutankhamun excavation – The Small Chamber” and listed:
carved stone plate, stained color, figures rank and file
carved stone plate, stained color, figures, chiseled gouges, nearly destroyed
gold plate, hammered or pitted, black figure central
small box of various glass and metal items, nothing of this era
six spheres, hollow glass, various size
blown glass bent object, six inch span, unknown purpose
blown glass bent object, elongate, metal contrivance attached
metal device compatible with contrivance, elaborate, intricate
metal contraption or instrument, pipes, actuators, musical or medical?
book, thick, bound brown leather, hasp, Arabic script? not of this era
sculpture, green stone, aquatic and human, wings, crouching, unfamiliar inscription, not of this era
“Not of this era.” Sarah read the phrase over silently to herself.
She flipped the diary open again and leafed through, looking for mention of any of these artifacts specifically until she came across an entry in early 1943.
“Professor Carter, typically level-headed and careful in action was entirely outside of his senses that night. We had gone back and forth for hours at one point about the nature of the contents of the small chamber, and his anger with me over the matter escalated to madness. His point was that if Carnarvon directed that we destroy the artifacts, then, there is no discussion. Mine was that, regardless of rank or employ, we are preservationists, a stance with which, normally, Carter agreed with without exception, and, I said to him, he knew it. At length, the anger took him over and he hurled his arm against the glassware we had recovered, which raked it all from the table, and smashed to shards on the stone floor.”
The air conditioner went silent as it cycled off. Sarah’s fingers felt stiff and cold and she flexed them to warm up. She read on.
“He went so far as to grind the metal contrivances under his heel before leaving. It was immediately that night that I carefully wrapped the tablets and other items from the small chamber and stored them away in a location unknown to him.”
“Lucas hid these things,” she whispered aloud.
Deeper in the crate, Sarah found, layered with soft cloths, several tablets or panels of stone, each about a foot or so on the side and heavy, but thin enough to be lifted. They appeared to be portions of larger works that perhaps were removed from a larger wall of similar carving.
All were in the Egyptian style typical for the artwork found inside the tomb of Tutankhamun. The tablets depicted scenes she was unfamiliar with, despite her studies. They showed armies, presumably slaves, in rank and file, perhaps engaged in laborious tasks. She could not discern from the scenes exactly the intent of the gathering.
One of the tablets showed an army upright in the front ranks, then progressing in stages to lying in stacks of bodies near the rear of the group. Were they bodies prepared for burial? Were they an exhausted workforce being revived? She was unsure.
Heading the group was a figure carved larger, more ornate, and godlike. He, or it, was dressed in the typical manner with skirt-like garment and crooked staff. It’s headdress, though, did not fit. That was constructed of round-ended and straight-edged wings with angular ribs, like that of a housefly. Its legs were articulated in the reverse, and covered in short spikes or thick sparse hairs. All of the plates showed stories of this god.
She felt somehow uneasy looking at him, or it.
At the bottom of the crate, Sarah found a final plate wrought in pure hammered gold. This plate featured this same fly-god in various poses encircling a central figure painted thickly in a matte black all but for the eyes, which were left to shine through in gold.
The circle of carved figures all seemed to be aspects of this same winged god in different poses, arranged in supplication to itself, this central black figure. The black god was somewhat human in form, most of the time. It seemed to shift, to crawl around chaotically as she gazed at it, making it nearly impossible to describe. At any one time, it appeared insect-like, or globular, or tentacled, or wholly amorphous. She blinked, and it was mostly human again.
Beneath the depiction of the black god was an oblong cartouche of figures that were much like the typical script she had studied, but, and every attempt she made to translate didn’t result in anything readable. The glyphs too seemed to crawl around and look differently with each glance.
She re-packed the plates carefully into the crate.
Then, there was the book. “Not of this era,” as the notes of Lucas described.
Hasped and brown, the thing seemed to ooze a stench that was choking and oppressive, giving a sensation of pressure or insistence. Sarah carefully opened it and looked through the pages.
Inside, the script was familiar in a vaguely Arabic way, but still unknown to her. It was filled with diagrams of beastly creatures, some formless and some terrifyingly precise. Some bulbous and gelatinous, while others were odd blends of crustacean or ichthian with suggestions of possible human shape.
One creature was almost entirely formless, but then seemed mound-like, or somehow flowing, yet unmoving. In the margin next to this creature was a hurried sketch that looked remarkably like the cartouche of the black fly god on the tablets she had just examined.
As she leafed through this book, her senses became occupied and engulfed as the world around her drained tenuously away from her consciousness.
She was only snapped back to her normal sense of awareness when the fly startled her by flying almost directly into her eye, causing her to wave it away in a fit of flailing exasperation. This book she closed and set aside.
Perhaps strangest of all, Sarah found in the create a copy of a magazine of amateur fiction. For some reason, Lucas saw fit to include the November 1920 issue of The United Amateur, a small press publication of short stories. Flipping rapidly through the page edges, she noticed one had been folded down as a bookmark. She pulled the pages apart at the fold, page 128, which was a story by H. P. Lovecraft called “Nyarlathotep”.
Could fiction and fact have collided this way? The tablets, the book, the story; could this all be the same Nyarlathotep?
She quickly read through the story.
“Makes no sense whatsoever,” she slammed the United closed, “This was written in 1920, and Carter didn’t even enter Tutankhamun’s tomb until late 1922. If Lovecraft invented this pharaoh, there would be nothing in the tomb that would reference that as a historical figure.” The fly droned by Sarah’s head again and she sprang to her feet, rolling and wielding November’s United Amateur.
“GET BACK HERE YOU LITTLE…” She swatted at the bug a few times before it circled upward and stuck itself to the wall just out of reach of the Amateur.
Sarah sat back down next to the crate and sorted through the stack of loose papers she had previously assembled. They all were notes from the months Lucas spent restoring and preserving artifacts with Howard Carter at the Tutankhamun tomb site.
“Again today I find myself at odds with Carter on the same topic, the only topic of contention between us as of late. I have reaffirmed my insistence that we take the stance of completion, for we, as historians, must report, in whole and in full, everything we find, without bias and without filter. Carter, for as much as I admire him, rests steadfast on his decision. Carter insists that to reveal the contents of the cache of the small chamber is to reveal secrets to mankind that are better left forever forgotten to history. In this, I find myself infuriated. We must be complete in our task, or we will craft our own fate in forever having been dishonest.”
Another sheet of paper was folded in half by length, which she carefully unfolded and read. “I broached the topic of Nyarlathotep to Carter,” Sarah stopped there and read the name again. Lucas did think this was the black god.
“I showed him the story of this dark pharaoh, this character of crawling chaos. To my surprise, he bore the patience to hear me out. Carter is a man of no leisure reading, and so, finds nothing of merit in the reading of texts failing to relate directly to matters at hand. Being a chemist and student of experimentation, I am not so rigid in my partaking of reading pass time. In that, my curiosity wanders, and so has alighted upon a piece of fiction by an author named Lovecraft, which having been published recently, I was able to read and become quite excited by, for it mentions the story of a pharaoh of Egypt who possessed qualities of horrible malevolence that have been mentioned heretofore in no books of history with which I have become acquainted. Indeed, this matter made no impact upon me until Carter and I first took stock of items stored in the small chamber. It was at that moment, upon seeing the hammered gold plate depicting the black god, did it strike me that this was much more than coincidence. Carter rejected this all outright.”
Sarah suddenly noticed how cold she felt, as if all the blood had retreated from her extremities, collecting in the core of her body.
On yet another leaf of loose diary page, Sarah read, “‘Destroy it.’ he insisted. But Carter, listen to your self, I told him. History is sacrosanct but for the ravages of time and of the elements. The work we do, the work of preserving these artifacts, is duty on the honored level of that the ancient Egyptians themselves held godlike; preserving and protecting the course of human knowledge against the realm of the forgotten.”
She hugged her knees and tried to relax her jaw from clenching as she read the secrets forgotten to the world.
“’Destroy it all.’ he repeated, almost in anger at me. ‘You know as well as I that among the concepts that every generation of Egyptians held dear was the act of destroying a history they felt should never had existed. It was part and parcel of the culture to chisel away and erase entire courses of history from walls to artwork to legislation as balances of power shifted. This is no different. I’m not to say their myths and legends are real or fabricated, but, if they wiped out Nyarlathotep for a reason, it seems to me, there must have been a very good reason.’ Carter finished his drink in one hefty gulp and stood, ‘Carnarvon ordered it destroyed,’ and he left, saying nothing more. He never mentioned Nyarlathotep or the small chamber to me ever again.”
Sarah felt a cold stone knot in her abdomen and tried to breathe deeply to release the tension. She stacked the loose sheets together and flipped back through Lucas’ diary once again.
“October 15, 1944. I’ve had years to mull over the cache of items unearthed in the small chamber, and yet, I remain unsure as to what to do from here. I sit amid the horrid objects that have evaded for centuries the efforts of many attempts to destroy them, and these terrible things; they compel me to protect them.
I am convinced that several entirely unbelievable and assumedly unconnected things are in fact chains of interwoven events. I am convinced of the truth of these accounts and of the truth that this pharaoh not only was a god among men, but an evil one. Furthermore, as little sense as this makes to the scholarly nature of my studies, I am convinced that certain connections existed, certain deeply psychic connections, which linked artists and poets at the time to the opening of the tomb.
Nothing else could explain the linking of the truths of the objects found in the small chamber of Tutankhamun’s tomb with the fictional writings of Lovecraft, and, for that matter, perhaps uncounted others yet undiscovered.
Throughout the years following the opening of the tomb, I continued to follow the stories of Lovecraft, beginning with his accounting of Nyarlathotep, and I have connected other threads of truths that have to this day gone undiscovered by others. Some compelling spirit, perhaps the same compulsion that called to Lovecraft, spurs me to record these things, and I can fight them no longer.”
Sarah jumped, startled, as the air conditioner cycled on in its rattling manner.
“Above all other mysteries, is the oddness that the contents of the small chamber, with the exception of the tablets, were of a manufacture style and material whose era of origin was a time after that of Tutankhamun. This mystery, too, I believe is solved by way of my studies and readings.
It was Nyarlathotep, the crawling chaos, who ruled over Egypt in different and uncharted eras throughout the course of eons. It was by his horrid and powerful influence that masses of people were enslaved, murdered, and re-animated as mobs of will-robbed souls to do his bidding as countless armies of zombies.
It is thus no further wonder how massive works of construction were undertaken. The blackest of gods, the general of undead armies, the puppet master of the populace commanded hundreds, thousands of people in a walking slumber, no doubt each in their own full awareness and terror, into cruel and endless tasks of laborious aspect.
Nor is it any wonder that, once he wandered away from the region in boredom, that the Egyptian people remaining scrubbed him from their history and from their memories with such complete and faultless finality.
It is also no small wonder that the brains of the dead were liquefied and drained from their very skulls and stuffed into jars, for the undead could be at peace by no other methods.
The mercilessness of Nyarlathotep was to be forever expunged.”
A tight sensation in Sarah’s throat made her feel nauseous. She swallowed hard and inhaled deeply to steady herself.
“And yet, something survived. Some scrap of this history, which should have been erased, which should have been destroyed, remained. That scrap which I now have studied and by which all these forgotten things have been learned, again, by me, God help me.
The final mystery is revealed as Lovecraft wrote of the Arab, the mad Arab, Abdul Alhazred, in his fiction. Yet, I hold before me a book, the book, the book of the mad Arab, the Necronomicon itself, which we retrieved from the small chamber within the tomb of Tutankhamun.
Is he so much fiction now? This Alhazred? I have his book! There can be no doubt whatsoever. There is only one conclusion that can be drawn.
The non-fictional and very real mad Arab had somehow become the caretaker of the devices, the glass and metal contraptions of Nyarlathotep, and he kept them, forgive me for knowing, forgive me for remembering the forgotten, forgive me for explaining it again.
Alhazred had become the custodian of the last tablets, which had escaped destruction, the only Egyptian record of rule of the black god.
It was Alhazred, don’t you see, it was he, who first found the tomb, not Carter. It was Alhazred who broke into the tomb of Tutankhamun, full centuries before Carnarvon employed Carter for the task, and it was Alhazred who left behind the tablets, the artifacts, and the Necronomicon, there to survive, there to persist, to become immortal, within the small chamber.
It was me that completed his design, me that stared into the empty gaze of the memory of Nyarlathotep. It was me that carried this knowledge onward. It was me that could not do what the Egyptians had thought they had done, that could not do what Carnarvon had thought he’d done, and what Carter had insisted be done.
It was me that did not destroy these things to erase the power of Nyarlathotep for all time. And now that it’s remembered and known, it is possible that incantations rendered in the Necronomicon could be recited, inviting the black pharaoh back to his throne.
I, for my success of what I do, have doomed us all.”
Sarah shivered; her entire body shuddered.
“Destroy it all. If you find it, destroy it. Do what I could not. Do not let anyone else know the truth. Kill this memory. Kill the ability of anyone to revive this nightmare and allow the king of zombies to breathe again. Kill this demon of limitless malevolent power.”
The fly tucked back its wings and folded its legs tightly as it dove onto Sarah’s arm. It bit into her skin deeply. She swatted at it, but it was gone, her arm stung where she had slapped it. The bite burned and she felt dizzy.
“Must hide it… no one else can know…” she said, and crawled her way clumsily to the desk so that she could push it away and open the hole, to shove the crate back inside.
She leaned on the desk to push it inch by inch, and the light grew dim as she collapsed, unmoving, onto the floor.
Daniel Ritter is an I.T. Manager at Penn State University. His first play, “Within Confines of Likeness”, a musical fantasy redemption story, was produced and performed in 1994, and he’s been writing short-form science fiction in recent years. He has contributed to online writing communities such as Friday Flash and Tuesday Serial, and has had works appear in Maria Kelly’s Were-Traveler magazine. He is currently writing the novel “Grounded”, a nanotechnology-fueled post-apocalyptic love story. He can be found on Twitter as @reginaldgolding and his fiction can be read on his website athttp://www.groundedstories.com.