cryptic hieroglyphics writhed

February 22, 2020

Hour of Dragon

The long tapers flickered, sending the black shadows wavering along the walls, and the velvet tapestries rippled. Yet there was no wind in the chamber. Four men stood about the ebony table on which lay the green sarcophagus that gleamed like carven jade. In the upraised right hand of each man a curious black candle burned with a weird greenish light. Outside was night and a lost wind moaning among the black trees.

Inside the chamber was tense silence, and the wavering of the shadows, while four pairs of eyes, burning with intensity, were fixed on the long green case across which cryptic hieroglyphics writhed, as if lent life and movement by the unsteady light. The man at the foot of the sarcophagus leaned over it and moved his candle as if he were writing with a pen, inscribing a mystic symbol in the air. Then he set down the candle in its black gold stick at the foot of the case, and, mumbling some formula unintelligible to his companions, he thrust a broad white hand into his fur-trimmed robe. When he brought it forth again it was as if he cupped in his palm a ball of living fire.

The other three drew in their breath sharply, and the dark, powerful man who stood at the head of the sarcophagus whispered: ‘The Heart of Ahriman!’ The other lifted a quick hand for silence. Somewhere a dog began howling dolefully, and a stealthy step padded outside the barred and bolted door. But none looked aside from the mummy-case over which the man in the ermine-trimmed robe was now moving the great flaming jewel while he muttered an incantation that was old when Atlantis sank. The glare of the gem dazzled their eyes, so that they could not be sure of what they saw; but with a splintering crash, the carven lid of the sarcophagus burst outward as if from some irresistible pressure applied from within, and the four men, bending eagerly forward, saw the occupant—a huddled, withered, wizened shape, with dried brown limbs like dead wood showing through mouldering bandages.

‘Bring that thing back?’ muttered the small dark man who stood on the right, with a short sardonic laugh. ‘It is ready to crumble at a touch. We are fools —’

‘Shhh!’ It was an urgent hiss of command from the large man who held the jewel. Perspiration stood upon his broad white forehead and his eyes were dilated. He leaned forward, and, without touching the thing with his hand, laid on the breast of the mummy the blazing jewel. Then he drew back and watched with fierce intensity, his lips moving in soundless invocation.

It was as if a globe of living fire flickered and burned on the dead, withered bosom. And breath sucked in, hissing, through the clenched teeth of the watchers. For as they watched, an awful transmutation became apparent. The withered shape in the sarcophagus was expanding, was growing, lengthening. The bandages burst and fell into brown dust. The shrivelled limbs swelled, straightened. Their dusky hue began to fade.

‘By Mitra!’ whispered the tall, yellow-haired man on the left. ‘He was not a Stygian. That part at least was true.’

Again a trembling finger warned for silence. The hound outside was no longer howling. He whimpered, as with an evil dream, and then that sound, too, died away in silence, in which the yellow-haired man plainly heard the straining of the heavy door, as if something outside pushed powerfully upon it. He half turned, his hand at his sword, but the man in the ermine robe hissed an urgent warning: ‘Stay! Do not break the chain! And on your life do not go to the door!’

The yellow-haired man shrugged and turned back, and then he stopped short, staring. In the jade sarcophagus lay a living man: a tall, lusty man, naked, white of skin, and dark of hair and beard. He lay motionless, his eyes wide open, and blank and unknowing as a newborn babe’s. On his breast the great jewel smoldered and sparkled.

The man in ermine reeled as if from some let-down of extreme tension.

‘Ishtar!’ he gasped. ‘It is Xaltotun! — and he lives! Valerius! Tarascus! Amalric! Do you see? Do you see? You doubted me—but I have not failed! We have been close to the open gates of hell this night, and the shapes of darkness have gathered close about us — aye, they followed him to the very door — but we have brought the great magician back to life.’

‘And damned our souls to purgatories everlasting, I doubt not,’ muttered the small, dark man, Tarascus.

The yellow-haired man, Valerius, laughed harshly.

‘What purgatory can be worse than life itself? So we are all damned together from birth. Besides, who would not sell his miserable soul for a throne?’

‘There is no intelligence in his stare, Orastes,’ said the large man.

‘He has long been dead,’ answered Orastes. ‘He is as one newly awakened. His mind is empty after the long sleep — nay, he was dead, not sleeping. We brought his spirit back over the voids and gulfs of night and oblivion. I will speak to him.’

He bent over the foot of the sarcophagus, and fixing his gaze on the wide dark eyes of the man within, he said, slowly: ‘Awake, Xaltotun!’

The lips of the man moved mechanically. ‘Xaltotun!’ he repeated in a groping whisper.

‘You are Xaltotun!’ exclaimed Orastes, like a hypnotist driving home his suggestions. ‘You are Xaltotun of Python, in Acheron.’

A dim flame flickered in the dark eyes.

‘I was Xaltotun,’ he whispered. ‘I am dead.’

‘You are Xaltotun!’ cried Orastes. ‘You are not dead! You live!’

‘I am Xaltotun,’ came the eery whisper. ‘But I am dead. In my house in Khemi, in Stygia, there I died.’

‘And the priests who poisoned you mummified your body with their dark arts, keeping all your organs intact!’ exclaimed Orastes. ‘But now you live again! The Heart of Ahriman has restored your life, drawn your spirit back from space and eternity.’

‘The Heart of Ahriman!’ The flame of remembrance grew stronger. ‘The barbarians stole it from me!’

‘He remembers,’ muttered Orastes. ‘Lift him from the case.’

The others obeyed hesitantly, as if reluctant to touch the man they had recreated, and they seemed not easier in their minds when they felt firm muscular flesh, vibrant with blood and life, beneath their fingers. But they lifted him upon the table, and Orastes clothed him in a curious dark velvet robe, splashed with gold stars and crescent moons, and fastened a cloth-of-gold fillet about his temples, confining the black wavy locks that fell to his shoulders. He let them do as they would, saying nothing, not even when they set him in a carven throne-like chair with a high ebony back and wide silver arms, and feet like golden claws. He sat there motionless, and slowly intelligence grew in his dark eyes and made them deep and strange and luminous. It was as if long-sunken witchlights floated slowly up through midnight pools of darkness.

Robert E. Howard
The Hour of the Dragon

This church felt wrong. I do not say this lightly. Dealers are undertakers of a sort. When a man dies, the undertaker comes for his body, and quite often the dealer comes for the rest. How often I have been left alone to break up the home a man has built up over fifty years, and sell the pieces where I can. As I break up the home, I know the man. I have known a cracked teapot yield enough evidence of adultery to satisfy ten divorce-court judges. I learn that he was mean from his boots; that trapped for ever inside the sepia photographs are seven of his children. From his diary, that he believed in God or the Devil or Carter’s Little Liver Pills. I deal in dead men’s clocks, pipes, swords and velvet breeches. And passing through my hands, they give off joy and loneliness, fear and optimism. I have known more evil in a set of false teeth than in any so-called haunted house in England.

….I couldn’t keep still in that place. It wasn’t just the cold. I thought I’d come prepared for that, with a quilted anorak and three sweaters. No, I kept having, not delusions, not even fears, but odd little anxieties . . . preoccupations. I had the conviction the walls weren’t vertical . . . or was it the floor, that seemed to slope down towards the middle of the nave? Certainly the floor was hollow; no one could walk on it and listen to the echo of his footsteps without realizing that. Then . . . the windows didn’t seem to be letting in as much light as they should. I kept going outside to check if the sky was getting cloudy, but it was still bright and sunny, thank God, and I went back feeling the better for it.

Then I stared at the cross in a side-chapel. It just looked like two bits of wood nailed together. I mean, it was just two bits of wood nailed together; but though I’m not a religious sort, I tend to see any cross as a bit more than two bits of wood nailed together.

And that smell. Or niff, as Henry would have it. It wasn’t strong, but it was everywhere; you never got it out of your nostrils. The only thing I can liken it to was when I got in a new lavatory-bowl at the shop; it had to be left for the sealant to dry overnight, so the builder stuffed wet paper down the hole, but the biting black smell of the sewer filled my shop and dreams all night.

Robert Westall
The Last Day of Miss Dorinda Molyneaux

Darkness

October 25, 2019

Darkness doesn’t necessarily equate to something evil. It could be someone has just turned the light out.

Monday Morning Good Read

September 2, 2019

The Bad Guy

August 20, 2019

We are told in fairy tales that evil always loses and good eventually will triumph. That is what makes those stories so desirable to the general population. They want to believe that karma works and the bad guys are always defeated in the end. But in a world where no one thinks they are the bad guy and everyone plays the victim, it is harder and harder to find the black and the white of a situation. We are all the hero, and we are all the monster.

John Goode
Maybe With a Chance of Certainty

 

Writers like to play around with the concept of evil. Think of some of the great antagonists: Sauron and Voldermort in their quests for total power and dominance; the criminal mastermind of Professor Moriarty; even the endless hunger and carnage of Benchley’s Jaws. Most definitions of the word evil state immorality and wickedness as the main concepts. But is it for the writer to deem if a character is wicked…or the reader?

After a few of my writer friends had a mini tirade regarding the shallowness of the Friday the 13th franchise, I set out to write a short story that played with the concept. A masked psychopath hacking apart teenagers at a campsite…clearly an evil character, right? By the end of the story, I wanted the reader to question to their original position on the motivations and morals of the killer, and through this, I saw the concept of evil becoming more flexible, like a lump of clay forming various shapes. Take something one considers evil, alter the perception just a little, and you have the possibility to create something entirely new, perhaps something good and noble.

Or not.

Daniel I. Russell
Entities of Modern Evil

The truth is that the witch is a descendant of ancient goddesses who embodied both birth and death, nurturing and destruction, so it is not surprising that she has both aspects. But when religions decay and gods are replaced, there is a consistent dynamic: the gods of the old religion inevitably become the devils of the new. If serpents were once worshipped as symbols of magic power, they will later be despised as symbols of evil. If women were once seen as all-powerful, they will become relegated to obedience to men and feeling pain in childbirth. The symbols remain but their values are reversed. The snake in Genesis is now the devil. The first female, Eve, has gone from being a life-giver to a death-bringer. Good and evil are reversed. This is the way the politics of religion work.

The contemporary image of the witch incorporates detritus from many religious sects over many millennia. Like the wall of a Crusader castle in the Middle East, it rests upon a foundation of remnants from a variety of periods. Like Hecate and Diana, the witch is associated with the moon and lunar power. Like Aphrodite and Venus, she can make love potions and fly through the air. Each attribute of the witch once belonged to a goddess.

Erica Jong

Witches   

Good read for Halloween

October 31, 2018

I am Herne

The evil influence of the fairy glance does not kill, but it throws the object into a death-like trance, in which the real body is carried off to some fairy mansion, while a log of wood, or some ugly, deformed creature is left in its place, clothed with the shadow of the stolen form. Young women, remarkable for beauty, young men, and handsome children, are the chief victims of the fairy stroke. The girls are wedded to fairy chiefs, and the young men to fairy queens; and if the mortal children do not turn out well, they are sent back, and others carried off in their place. It is sometimes possible, by the spells of a powerful fairy-man, to bring back a living being from Fairy-land. But they are never quite the same after. They have always a spirit-look, especially if they have listened to the fairy music. For the fairy music is soft and low and plaintive, with a fatal charm for mortal ears.

Lady Francesca Speranza Wilde
Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, and Superstitions of Ireland

offering herself

October 14, 2018

She was beautiful when she suffered; her eyes were deeper, her voice warmer, fuller; her dark beauty was simpler and more human. Her suffering had a quality of saintliness. It was her way of offering herself. I couldn’t see her suffer without telling her I loved her, as if love was the negation of evil.

Elie Wiesel
Day