Friday, August 18, 2017

Free Fiction Friday: Amun's Curse

Happy Free Fiction Friday! Last week, a lot of weirdness happened in the real world and things slipped away from me. This week's humble offering is a mummy story of mine that appeared a few years ago in The Scroll of Anubis which, I believe, is now out of print.

When I was young, one of my brothers was obsessed with ancient Egypt and I learned all about the pyramids and pharaohs through him. I can remember watching Abbot and Costello Meet the Mummy and The Curse of King Tut's Tomb and being frightened of the idea of a pharaoh's curse. I still love a good mummy movie and think Boris Karloff may be my favorite mummy of all. I hope you enjoy Amun's Curse.

Amun’s Curse
Copyright 2009 Carey Burns

            The sun had barely sunk below the horizon as Amun watched the six dark-skinned slaves heave the massive slab of limestone over the tomb entrance.
“Your duty to the Pharaoh is fulfilled.  You are free,” He said, offering a wine jar to sate their thirst.  They took it, drinking greedily, wine spilling down their mouths and smearing the dust on their skin.
            The poison worked quickly and soon they all lay dead at Amun’s feet.  He dumped the tainted wine in the sand and shattered the jar, the lingering heat of the day evaporating the liquid until there was not a trace.  Now he was free to start the last phase of his mission.
            With careful, elegant moves, he hefted a corpse over his shoulder and plodded through the sand fifty paces to the south.  Stopping, he laid the body out with care in a shallow pit the slaves had dug earlier.  He muttered prayers to the gods so that the slave would be at peace in the afterlife.  Amun carefully covered the body with a mound of sand before returning for the rest.
            Through the night he worked, carrying or dragging the bodies fifty paces in random directions away from the tomb.  Once he finished his task, he said a final prayer and plodded through the desert back to the temple.
            The last year had not been kind to Amun.  He was born into nobility, destined to be a priest and not meant to labor like this.  Killing and burying the dozens of slaves that had worked on the pharaoh’s tomb had sapped his strength and now the sand sucking at his feet strained him even further.  He fell to his knees, panting against the clenching pain in his chest.  Eyes squeezed shut in agony, he muttered a prayer to Ra, the creator, to preserve his life and give him strength before he collapsed into the sand.
            The full moon lit up the desert while Amun lay unconscious, cheek resting on the sand.  He lay dying when a falcon landed, and began picking at Amun’s side as if seeking out a tidbit of food.  He stopped for a moment, but when Amun still showed no sign of life, the bird shrieked in his ear.  Amun stirred, eyes lolling in their sockets until they focused on the bird staring at him.
            The falcon clicked its beak and bobbed its head as if nodding at Amun then took flight, its large wings fanning his face with cool air just for a moment.  Amun took a deep breath.  The stabbing pain in his chest had gone and he felt better than he had when he was a young boy.  He rose to his feet and praised Ra as he strode the last few steps to the city.
            He entered the temple, tired, but filled with the pride of conquering death.  He saw the new pharaoh approach and beamed a smile.
            “Have you taken care of the workers, Amun?”  He asked.  He was just a young boy, this new king.   Amun did not trust his youth.
            “Yes my King.  No one will know where pharaoh rests.  Amun is powerful.  The gods love him best.”
            The young king’s brow arched.  “That is prideful talk.  The gods love the king best, Amun.”
            “Ah, but they obey my every word, my King!  I told Ra to protect me from certain death and he appeared in the desert and saved my life.”  He continued to boast to the king, both of his death and of how the way Ra saved him.  As he did this, his chest puffed with pride.
            Pharaoh studied Amun, a sour grimace on his face.  “The gods may love you, but remember they love the Pharaoh best.”  He stomped away, leaving the priest to bask in his own self-importance.
            Weeks passed and Amun’s story of conquering death spread throughout the land.  The young king grew tired of Amun’s fame and decided to make an example of him.  He called in his most trusted vizier, Baruti.
            “He must be punished for his prideful ways, my King.”
            “If the gods do love him best, they will protect him once more.  Do what you must but be discreet.”  He dismissed the vizier with a wave of his hand and smiled for the first time in weeks.
            Later that night, Baruti stopped Amun’s servant.  “Is that wine for the great priest Amun?”
            The frightened boy nodded.
            “I am to meet with him tonight.  I shall take it so that you will not interrupt us.”  He took the jar from the boy and waited until the servant had left, poured a potion from a small faience bottle into the jar, then entered Amun’s chamber.
            “Is that you boy?”  Amun called from behind a screen.  “You may leave the wine.”
            Baruti set the wine on a small table and strolled out of the room.  It was easier than he had thought.
            Amun strode over to the table and drank, wine dribbling down his chin.  He drained the jar and retired to his bed, a sudden drowsiness taking him.
            He lay staring at the ceiling when a strange tingling sensation worked its way from his toes up to his chest.  He struggled for each breath and felt his heartbeat slow.  He tried to open his mouth to call for help, but his muscles did not respond.  In a few moments his eyelids closed and Amun’s body lay still.
            The priest heard footsteps and hushed voices outside his chamber but couldn’t call to them.  The voices drew closer and he knew it was the vizier talking to one of the king’s guards.
            “I came to meet with him and he lay dead on his bed.  See?”  Baruti shook Amun’s shoulder.  “The great priest is dead.  Send for another to take care of his body.”
            The soldier left and the vizier leaned over Amun’s lifeless body.  “I know you can hear me, Amun.  If the gods love you as much as you claim, they will save you again.  If not, you will suffer for your prideful ways.”
            He left the room as two lesser priests entered.  Amun prayed to Ra to preserve him as the priests shifted him onto a bier.  He hoped they might notice the imperceptible rise and fall of his chest, but they saw only a dead man.
            They carried him to a small room and lifted him onto a raised wooden board, then fetched the scribe and the cutter to oversee their task. Amun prayed and prayed to Ra and the gods to save him, but the more he prayed, the more hopeless he felt.  His boasting had angered the gods.  This was his punishment.
            The priests returned with the elderly scribe.  Then, when the cutter arrived, they began their somber task.  Amun knew what to expect.  He had embalmed the pharaoh himself, and he tried like mad to move his eyelids or even a finger, anything to let them know he was not dead.
            The priests stripped him naked, muttering the funeral prayers.  They washed his body with perfumed water and dried him carefully with soft cotton cloth.  All while Amun silently begged for salvation.
            The cutter drew his blade and pierced Amun’s left side, enlarging the incision.   Amun felt everything yet could not move.  He was in such agony, he wanted to scream or cry.
            The cutter reached into the opening and grasped a slippery organ.  With a well-practiced flick of the blade, he freed it from the body and inspected it.  The spleen was slightly larger than his fist.  A deep, dark purple and still warm, he laid it in a small basket and continued his grisly work.
            Amun felt his blood pooling beneath his body.  His wounds throbbed.  He pleaded with the gods to end his suffering, but they turned their backs on him.
            The cutter wriggled his hand into the incision again and seized the stomach.  His fingers traced the organ up as far as he could reach and sliced it free.  He pulled it through the opening and tugged carefully until the pinkish intestines followed.  The cutter sliced the intestines free, letting them slip into the basket and Amun wanted to cringe when he heard the wet, slopping noise.
            With more space, he could squeeze the liver and lungs through the incision, much to Amun’s despair.  He prayed for quick death but knew it would not come quick enough.  He was in such pain that he almost felt numb, almost.
            The cutter wiped his hands on a cloth.  Amun knew what was next.  He could hear a soft clank as the cutter plucked a long metal hook off a stone table and hoped his torment would be over soon.
            He felt the cold hook inside his nostril and heard the crackling pop as the cutter forced it through hard, resistant bone.  First there was a blinding pain as it pierced his brain, but then Amun’s thoughts and emotions became murky as the cutter moved the hook back and forth.  Little by little, he drew out Amun’s brain giving him sweet relief.
            The priests began the task of washing Amun’s body.  He knew that he was dead,  How could he not be?  But his thoughts had cleared and he could still hear the noises that surrounded him.  Ra had exacted yet another punishment, preserving him from death by imprisoning his soul in his body forever.

            Amun listened to the priests pray over his body as they stuffed his torso with natron and filled his skull with dark resin.  They sealed his organs in natron-packed jars and left the room, singing prayers for his eternal soul.
In forty days they would return to finish their work.
Amun would be waiting.