A Herbert West Series Supplement
A VISIT TO LUXOR
Published by Audrey Driscoll at Shakespir
Copyright 2016 by Audrey Driscoll
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
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Cover art by Audrey Driscoll, using Canva
Cobra image courtesy of Pixabay
Papyrus of Ani excerpt image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
A VISIT TO LUXOR
Who he was, none could tell, but he was of the old native blood and looked like a Pharaoh. The fellahin knelt when they saw him, yet could not say why.
H.P. Lovecraft “Nyarlathotep”
January 23, 1935.
The Doctor and I, we are West of Suez now. We stayed for a few days in Cairo, Egypt and saw the Pyramids and the Great Sphinx. I had a ride on a camel. The camel did not like me, but I did not fall off, and now I have been on a Ship of the Desert as well as many ships on the ocean.
Four days ago, we took a train to this place – Luxor, the Winter Palace Hotel. A very nice hotel, I can’t complain about anything. The next day we saw temples and stone statues and pillars. Many big pillars. Luxor Temple and Karnak Temple. Big statues of Pharaoh Ramses the Second. Today I am writing this down, while the Doctor is resting. His ankle is better now, but not enough so he can walk around and see more sights. Tomorrow we are taking a boat to Alexandria, and then we will sail to Marseille.
Now I will write about yesterday, while I remember it all. The Doctor, he says it’s important for my memory to write things down so I can think about them later. Ever since he saved my life in the Great War, he has been helping me get better at thinking. I am not good at writing things, but I will try to do it like I am telling a story.
“We are going to the West Bank today,” the Doctor said at breakfast. “That’s where the tombs are – kings’ tombs, nobles’ tombs, the tombs of the workers who built the tombs.”
“Are they full of dead bodies?”
“From what I’ve read, no. The bodies – mummies, of course – have mostly been removed, one way or another.”
I did not know why the Doctor wanted to see empty tombs. Dead bodies, even mummies, perhaps he might find those interesting, but if there weren’t any… then why? Ever since we left Bellefleur Island, he has been “searching for my true path in life,” he says – and that has certainly taken us to some strange places – so maybe looking at tombs is part of that search. He doesn’t explain these things to me, of course. “You do not need to burden your brain with subtleties.” That’s what he says, but my brain is burdened anyway. Thinking about this kept me busy until we finished breakfast and went out.
We strolled down to the corniche and waited with other tourists for a boat to the West Bank. It took quite a while before the boat had enough passengers to make the boatman happy. Then we zigged and zagged slowly across the Nile River, with the big white sail pushing us along. The river was wide and quiet, but there was a current, so the man sailing the boat had to know what he was doing to get us to the dock on the other side.
We had barely got off the boat when a man came over like he was looking for us. He was dressed like most Egyptian men, in loose clothes that look like extra-long nightshirts, and a turban. “Valley of the Kings, gentlemen?” he said. “Taxi and deluxe tour, this way.” He held out his hand to the doctor. “I am Mahmoud, the best guide on the West Bank.”
I couldn’t figure out whether he really knew us or just thought if he acted that way, the Doctor would hire him. And he did. No one asked me, but I thought it was just as well I had my pistol in my pocket. There was a sign in our hotel warning about robbers and pickpockets.
We got into Mahmoud’s taxi, and he drove us past green fields and palm trees. Then we started to go uphill, and there were no plants at all – just rocks and dust. The road narrowed to a path into rocky hills, and Mahmoud stopped the car. A signpost said “This Way to Tombs.”
“All right, gentlemen,” said Mahmoud, opening the car door. “First the Valley of the Kings, and then the Tombs of the Nobles.”
“What is that mountain?” asked the Doctor, looking up past the other tourists, who I figured were heading to the tombs.
I looked up too, at a high hill (well, maybe you could call it a mountain) behind the Kings’ Valley. It was made of layers of loose rocks with solid rocks in between that were probably cliffs. The top came to a point a long way from us. I hoped the Doctor was not thinking of climbing it.
“That is el-Qurn, which means “the horn,” said Mahmoud. “You see it is shaped like a pyramid. The tomb-builders thought it was the home of the goddess Meretseger, who protected the tombs from robbers. Of course, the men who built the tombs sometimes robbed them. The goddess punished them for that, but she would forgive and cure the ones who were sorry and prayed to her.”
“Is there a path to the top?” asked the Doctor. “I would like to climb it. The view from there must be spectacular.”
“Oh yes, there is a path,” Mahmoud said. “Many paths, for those who know them, but for travellers such as you, there are two paths.”
“There are always two paths,” said the Doctor, with a little laugh. “Which would you recommend?”
“The one that starts at the tomb-workers’ village by Deir el-Medineh, where the archaeologists are working, is by far the best. I will show you where it is. There is a shrine to Meretseger near the top.”
“That is interesting,” said the Doctor, and I told my feet to get ready for a hard day.
Well, we did a lot of walking. My feet still feel it, and the Doctor's leg, of course. First, the Kings' Valley, where we went in and out of many tombs. There were no kings in any of them, just people looking at the pictures painted on the walls -- of kings and queens and gods with animal heads, standing or sitting very straight holding things in their hands or walking over their enemies. Lots of hiéroglyphes – a kind of writing like little pictures – telling who they were and what they did, but I couldn’t read it. Then we followed Mahmoud along more dusty roads and found ourselves in a village. Roosters crowed, goats baaed and children came running over to look at us.
“Are the tombs of the nobles nearby?” I asked. If we were going to climb that mountain (it was starting to look like one now, instead of just a hill), we had better get going soon. The day was getting warmer too.
“They are all around you,” said Mahmoud, spreading his arms out. “These people live among the tombs. Inside them, even. Each tomb has its guardian. They will show you. But look out for snakes. They live here too.”
That was not something I wanted to hear.
The guardians did show us their tombs, for a fee – not much, but each one held out a hand, and we put money in it. The children followed us and held out their hands too. The Doctor gave each of them a coin.
These tombs were smaller than the ones for the kings, but just as full of pictures. They showed people doing things like fishing and working in fields, or having parties and dancing. They were more interesting than the kings’ tombs, but after three or four I was starting to think I had seen enough. And I was tired of watching for snakes. Assez vu. Allons-y! But I didn’t say it.
We had just come out of a narrow passageway into the sun, when I noticed a couple of men following us. After a while they were gone, but the children gathered around us again, chattering and smiling. They reminded me of my little daughter, so far away. The Doctor and I put more coins in their little hands and they ran off.
An old woman was selling food from her house, and we bought some spicy beans and vegetables rolled up in pieces of thin bread, cups of mint tea, and dates to take with us. While we ate, Mahmoud found someone who sold us a couple of rusty canteens full of water. I hoped it would be enough for our climb and not make us sick.
We followed Mahmoud to another dusty path that went along the lower parts of the hill we were about to climb. After a while we came to a place where people were working, both Egyptians and Europeans. There were tents and piles of dirt and, of course, lots of rocks.
“Those people are archaeologists from France, doing an excavation of the tomb-workers’ village.” Mahmoud waved at them and they waved back. I took special notice of this place; if we got into some kind of trouble, they might be able to help.
We came to a spot where another path started, this time going uphill. “This is the way to the peak of el-Qurn,” said Mahmoud. “ It should take you no more than two hours each way. Do you still want to go there?”
Well, I did not, but it was the Doctor’s idea, so I waited for him to say.
“Yes, of course. But you aren’t coming with us?”
“I am sorry, but no. I have another group I must meet at the ferryboat. Make sure you stay on this path. It is the widest, with signposts that say ‘To Summit.’ There are many other paths, small ones. Do not turn off on any of them, because they will not take you to where you wish to go. And when you return, Sirs, I will see you in the village by the Tombs of the Nobles.” He looked quickly toward the place where the archaeologists were working, and then back at us, and smiled. I wondered what that smile meant.
“All right,” said the Doctor. “Well, Andre, let’s get going.”
“One more thing, Sirs! Meretseger, the goddess of the mountain, is sometimes in the form of a cobra. So be careful!”
“Are there really cobras here?” I wasn’t sure if he was trying to be funny with us.
“Yes, sometimes. Most of the time they stay where there are things they can catch and eat – rats or birds. But sometimes people see them on the mountain.”
Dust. And grit and pebbles and rolling rocks. Sun glaring back from the grey-white dust, and my feet roasting in their shoes, and my white trouser cuffs turning brown. Why brown, when the dust looked white? That was what I thought while I put one foot in front of the other.
The path wasn’t too steep, because it went across the side of the mountain, back and forth, with slopes of sand and gravel above and below. The tricky parts were the stone cliffs, where we had to use our hands to climb. And the climbing made me feel hot.
After an hour or so we stopped for a rest and a drink of water. I figured I needed to know more about why we had to do all this climbing. The Doctor does not always tell me everything, but it does not hurt to ask. “Is this why we came to Luxor, Doctor? To climb up here?”
He put the top back on his canteen. “Not really, but I thought since we were in Egypt, it was a good opportunity to see this place. The temples and tombs are quite famous. And when I saw el-Qurn, standing like a pyramid over the necropolis, something said to me, ‘Go there.’”
I was still thinking about this when he started talking again.
“Do you remember Captain Liadov?”
“Of course! How could I forget him? He was a very good man.”
“And a learned one,” said the Doctor. “On our voyage with him, he and I had many conversations. It turned out he was acquainted with one of my old professors. He told me they met here in Luxor once, many years ago.” He picked up a rock and threw it down the slope, watching as it landed a long way down and slid to a stop. “They came to a congress, a meeting of scholars who wanted to share their knowledge in the pursuit of truths and revelations.” He turned back to me and smiled. “Some of these scholars were eccentrics. Lunatics, even. But I wanted to visit the place where they met.”
“Up here, on this hill?”
“No, of course not! I don’t know exactly where they met, which is why I thought it would be useful to see the whole place at once, from up here. Come along, Andre.”
He had not really told me anything. Maybe all he wanted was to see the view from the top. Why not?
We came to what I hoped was the last really steep part, where I had to hold on to sticking-out pieces of rock with my hands while I found places to put my feet. Halfway up, my canteen slipped off my shoulder, so I had to climb back down and get it, and then back up again. By that time, the Doctor was way ahead of me and I did not see him until I went around another turn in the path. There he was, standing in front of a place where a doorway and some picture-writing had been carved into the rocks around what looked like a cave.
He was holding his hands up in front of him, like the people in those tomb-pictures, and he was talking, but not to me. Then he bowed down, as though he was going to touch the ground, and I saw it – a cobra, coiled but with its head raised. Only a few feet from him.
“Doctor! Watch out!” I pulled my pistol out of my pocket and fired at the snake. The bullet hit the rock with a cracking sound. Dust flew up.
“Andre! What are you doing?” He looked confused and angry.”
The snake was gone. I went over to the spot where I saw it, but there was nothing.
“There was a cobra! Right there! I thought it was going to spit at you.”
“Egyptian cobras don’t spit their venom. But it’s possible that wasn’t a cobra, but the goddess. This place is her shrine.”
This couldn’t be caused by not enough good air, like on really high mountains. It was something else. Sometimes the Doctor has these fits of bizarrerie, or maybe craziness, when he says and does things that don’t make sense. I never know what to say to him then, and now I did not want to waste any time.
“Come on, Doctor, let’s keep going. We are not at the top yet, and soon we will have to go back.”
When we finally got to the top of the hill, the sun was going down all red behind brown hills far away. To the east, the river reflected light back toward us, but the valley was in the shadow. Yes, it was a beautiful sight, but the Doctor and I did not have time to stand and look at it. I didn’t have an electric torch with me, and I did not think he had one either. The last thing I wanted was to blunder around up here in the dark.
“How quiet it is!” he said, staring out over the land. “I can feel the power of this place, rising like a mist from all the tombs and temples. And there’s something else too, a kind of… tension between forces, between light and darkness, change and eternity.” He moved his arm like he was opening a curtain.
Well, for sure I did not want him to start talking like that again. “Doctor, listen – we’d better get going now, back down. It’ll be dark soon, and we don’t want to get lost.” I was thinking I should have said right from the start that we come back early the next morning to do this climb, if he wanted it so much. But it was too late for that now.
The Doctor just stood there, feeling whatever it was he felt. I was about to say again that we had to go, when he sighed. “You’re right, Andre. Let’s go, then.”
Going down was harder than climbing up, harder to see and easier to slip. The steep places were specially tricky. We had just climbed down the second one (and I was trying to remember if there was one more), when I heard the Doctor, who was ahead of me again, trip over something and swear.
I rushed over to help him get back on his feet. He groaned and nearly fell down again. “I’ve done something to my ankle – just a sprain, I hope.”
He hobbled over to a rock, and sat down to feel over the ankle. “Not broken, fortunately, but I don’t think I can walk properly. I’ll need your help.”
He strapped up the ankle with his necktie, and after some testing, we found he could walk slowly, with his arm over my shoulders. It’s a good thing, sometimes, that I am a short man.
“You know, Doctor,” I said, “those rocks weren’t on the path like that when we came up. Either someone put them there after we went by, or we’re on the wrong path.”
Before he could answer, I heard running feet – thud, thud, thud – and felt hands grab my arms. Four men, one with a rifle. One of them tied my hands behind my back and stuck his hands in my pockets. He pulled out my pistol, showed it to the others and said something that made them laugh. Then they started to hustle us along, but the Doctor almost fell down again. That must have tipped them off about his injured leg, so a couple of them grabbed his arms and held him up. It did not help at all that neither one of us could understand their language or talk to them.
We didn’t go back down the way we went up. These men knew other ways and other paths. A lot sooner than I expected, we were back in the village by the nobles’ tombs, or another one that looked just like it, except now there weren’t any chickens or children running around, or people selling food and souvenirs. Dim lights shone through some of the doorways.
Someone pulled aside a piece of leather that hung in a doorway and pushed us inside. The place looked like a tomb, but one that never got shown to tourists. The ceiling was covered in soot. There was a table and a couple of benches. On the table stood a lamp, and on one of the benches sat “the best guide on the West Bank,” Mahmoud. He looked like he wanted to be somewhere else.
“Good evening, gentlemen,” he said, with a silly smile. “My apologies.”
I was about to tell him what I thought about that, when the man with the rifle said something to him, short and sharp. “He wants to know where these came from,” Mahmoud said, pointing to a little pile of gold coins on the table.
All I could do was shake my head, but the Doctor said, “Those coins? I have no idea. They are gold? I have never seen them before.”
“He says you gave them to the children,” said Mahmoud. “When you were here earlier today.”
“We gave them coins, certainly,” said the Doctor, “but they were ordinary small denominations – copper and bronze. I have more just like them in my pockets. I can show you if you free my hands.” I nodded to show it was the same for me.
Mahmoud must have translated, but no one untied us. They searched our pockets again, more carefully than on the mountain path. They took out our wallets and watches, the Doctor’s notebook and all the coins they could find. There were no gold ones; anyone could see that.
Everyone started talking at once, including Mahmoud. A couple of times he looked at us, rolled his eyes and spread out his hands like he was saying, “What can I do?” Me, I was wondering what he had already done to get us into this mess.
The arguing got louder, everyone shouting, sometimes pointing at us. Mahmoud seemed to be trying to convince them about something, and even though I couldn’t guess what it was, I had a bad feeling. The leader pointed at us again and said something that sounded like an order. Everyone got quiet. Then two of the men grabbed our arms and started to pull us toward the door.
Just then, someone yanked the covering from the doorway and came in. Another man, dressed Egyptian-style, but taller than everyone else; he had to duck to get inside.
The men who had been searching us backed away from him, and even the leader looked nervous. The new man said something in a quiet voice. Right away, the ropes around our wrists were untied, and after another couple of orders our watches and other things were given back. Even my pistol. The villagers’ leader pointed to the gold coins and started saying something to the tall man, but he just waved his hand – obviously meaning, “Enough out of you!”
“Gentlemen, this has been a mistake,” he said, in perfectly good English, with no more accent than I have. “Please forgive these men for the way they have treated you.”
“The mistake appears to concern those gold coins,” said the Doctor. “Since they are not ours, they must belong to these people. And we are unharmed, apart from a twisted ankle due to my own clumsiness.”
Mahmoud must have translated that, because the villagers’ leader looked at the Doctor, nodded and almost smiled.
The tall man did smile. “You are generous. But then, perhaps you can afford to be. I live nearby. I hope you will accept my hospitality for the night.” It came to me then that he was not one of the people of the village. They looked ordinary, if you know what I mean. But him – even though he was dressed like them, he wore his clothes like a costume.
He told someone to fetch a donkey so the Doctor would not have to walk. When we got to what I thought was the place where we left the taxi that morning (and how long ago that seemed now!), there was a car sitting there, waiting for us. I know all about cars, and I knew I’d never seen one like this. It had wheels and running boards and other things you see on a car, but it also had wings. Things that looked like wings, anyway. The tall man opened doors and I helped the Doctor climb in. The man with the donkey made a sign with his right hand, stretching out his fingers – at our new friend? at the car? – and ran away, with the donkey running after him.
That car made no noise at all. It took a while before I could tell we were moving; and another strange thing – there were no bumps in the road, even though I remembered thinking how rough it was on the trip in Mahmoud’s taxi that morning. And then I realized there were no headlights, just a kind of reddish glow that didn’t light up the road – if there was one. I looked behind, but all I could see was blue and purple sparks following us.
Only a few minutes after we got in the car, we were getting out, in a place paved with flat stones and surrounded by cliffs, just like some of the tombs we had visited in the Valley of the Kings.
“Come this way,” our host said. He had a light of some sort in his hand – the same reddish glow the car made. That light was all we could see, so we followed it to a doorway cut in the rock.
Going in felt like being swallowed up. Inside, it was dim and quiet. Two man-size statues stood on either side of a wooden door. Our host went ahead of us and a gold-coloured light grew brighter, until I could see floors made of black and white stone in squares, and rugs, tables and couches. On one table stood a thing made of glass and metal that reminded me a little of things in the Doctor’s laboratory, back in Arkham. The light seemed to come from it. On the walls were pictures and writing just like the ones in the tombs we had visited. I could not see any windows, and the place smelled like dust and stone.
I wanted to leave, but instead I helped the Doctor to one of the couches. On a table nearby, cups of tea and plates of food sent up steam and a good smell that made my stomach rumble.
“Well, Doctor Francis Dexter,” said our host, sitting down in an armchair and smiling like someone who is running the show, “once known as Herbert West – this mishap aside, how are you and Mr. Boudreau enjoying your visit to Egypt?”
He knew our names! Even the Doctor’s old name! Who was this man? His face reminded me of the statues of Pharaoh Ramses in the Luxor temple – the same kind of nose, and lips that looked like they had secrets behind them. He even had a beard trimmed and shaped to look a bit like the Pharaoh’s fake one.
The Doctor looked bothered. “I’m sorry, but we haven’t been properly introduced. I must have missed hearing your name in all the confusion back there.”
“My name does not matter,” said the man. “But to see the son of Lawrence Dexter sitting here in my house, more than sixty years after the Congress of Luxor – that is something.”
“You know of Lawrence Dexter?” The Doctor leaned forward, looking interested.
“Not only of him; I knew him. And Quarrington, Liadov, all of them. The Congress met here, in my house. As near as may be to the Royal Necropolis.”
“But how did you recognize me?”
“There is a resemblance. But even without it, I would have known you. Precisely how does not matter. What does is this – why did you give gold coins to the children of Qurna?”
“I did not give them gold coins,” said the Doctor, “only bronze and copper ones, like these.” He put his hand in his pocket and brought out a few coins, their metal dull in the lamplight.
“You saw the pile of gold coins they had there. The children said they got them from you. There is only one way that could have happened.” The man looked steadily at the Doctor as he spoke.
“I know nothing about that.”
“Do not deny your abilities. But I wonder why you choose to use them for such cheap tricks.”
I was so hungry I forgot to be polite and wait until our host invited us to eat. I reached out and took from the plate nearest to me a piece of thin, flat bread and some bits of roasted meat. It was delicious, but as I chewed, it began to taste like electricity, sharp and dangerous. I could not spit it out, so I swallowed quickly, washing it down with tea.
“Why did you climb Ta Dehent?” asked the man. “Or el-Qurn, as it is now called.”
“Why not?” said the Doctor. “I wanted to see the view from the top.” He was looking at the man, and I guess he did not realize that something strange was happening to me.
“And is that all you saw?” The man stared back at the Doctor; it was like they were fencing with their eyes.
The light got brighter, glaring and hurting me. And the painted walls began to spin, the pictures whirling past me. The tall man and the Doctor did not notice. They just sat and kept talking. I could see them through the lights and colours, but when I put my hand out toward the Doctor, I could not touch him. It was like he was far away and I was in two places at once.
The Doctor sat up straight and looked hard at the man. “I saw the Goddess Meretseger. She spoke to me from the small wind that whispered among the stones of her mountain. Is that what you wanted to know?”
Our host nodded. “I suspected something of the sort. I am aware that the land of the dead is not unknown to you. But Meretseger is a dead goddess. Her worship ceased when the royal tombs were abandoned, and the diggers of the present day have not revived it. ‘She who loves silence’ has been left to silence. And she has never had power in the greater world.”
“What of it?” said the Doctor, and I could hear a smile in his voice. “I stood in her place today, and I spoke to her. I felt her presence, and I believe she offered me peace and protection.”
“Peace! You have much to learn, Doctor Dexter. But tonight you are my guest. Please, eat and drink, as your servant has already.” The tall man looked at me, and started to laugh.
No, Doctor, don’t do it! Don’t touch that food! It’s poison! But I couldn’t make my tongue work to say the words.
“Thank you, but we will not stay.” The Doctor’s voice was clear and firm. He turned to me. “Andre, let’s go.” At least he could see me, but did he know I could not move?
The Doctor stood up. It hurt him to do it, I could tell. I wanted to get up and help him, but I was frozen. And between me and him were those rooms and rooms painted with pictures and filled with stabbing light.
The man without a name looked angry – an angry pharaoh. He was even taller now, with a high crown on his head and gold at his throat and wrists. The Doctor, in his dusty, wrinkled linen suit looked small and weak compared to him.
“You do not realize what perils await you, Doctor Dexter. If you accept my protection, you will be safe, and as my servant you will achieve all you desire. If you refuse, you go into the unknown.”
“Nevertheless, I choose to leave this place,” said the Doctor. “And my friend Mr. Boudreau will go with me. You will release him immediately from the artifice you have worked upon him.”
“You dare to command me in my own dwelling?” The pharaoh’s eyes blazed with rage. He made circling movements with his hands and began to say words I could not understand.
The Doctor stepped back as though he felt a hot fire, and raised his hands in front of him, like when he was by the shrine on the mountain. “Lady Meretseger!” he cried. “I beg of you – free us from this peril. I refuse his invitation and utterly reject his temptations.”
And then I saw it again – a cobra, but huge this time, and with a woman’s body, standing behind the Doctor. She raised her arms. The air sang in my ears, a high, steady note, and there was a loud crack, as though a huge sheet of glass broke in two.
I could move again! The flashing lights and whirling pictures were gone. I was in the same room as the Doctor, but now the man without a name was imprisoned in himself. Linen cloths wrapped him round, and his arms were bent over his chest. In his hands were the Crook and Flail, but he could not move. Only his eyes were alive, glowing like hot copper. His voice spoke as though from far away.
“Go, then, Francis Dexter, under the protection of the Lady of Silence. For my purposes, you have shown yourself to be an empty vessel. I think I would have had more success with Herbert West. But remember, she may turn on you in the end and spit you blind for your sins.”
“I know that,” said the Doctor. “I accept it. Goodbye to you.”
"One more thing -- I will outlast you, and some day another of your blood will come to me here. Then we shall have a different ending."
The light faded and we found ourselves in total darkness. I reached out my arms, and the Doctor must have done the same, because we bumped each other.
“You don’t happen to have a torch, do you, Andre? No, of course not; I would have seen it when those men searched our pockets.”
I was busy searching my pockets, and I was lucky. “Just a minute, Doctor.” I fumbled with the box of matches I had put in my trousers pocket only that morning at our hotel. “This is better than nothing,” I said, and struck one.
It wasn’t much better than nothing, because the head fell off and the flame went out before it could get going. I tried another one, and this time we could barely see for a few seconds.
We were in an empty room that looked just like a tomb. The floor was plain stone, not black and white. No furniture, no food, no apparatus and no Pharaoh, except one painted on one of the walls, staring at us. I saw him only for a second, and I did not want to see any more.
I lit another match. “There’s a passage over there,” said the Doctor, and we shuffled toward it, holding hands like a couple of scared kids. Match number four lit up the two statues I remembered from when we came in, but the wooden door was gone.
We got out of there so fast it was as though the statues kicked us out, and found ourselves at the foot of a rocky cliff. No doorway, no car, only rocks.
“Let’s go, Andre, quickly. I don’t know how long the goddess’s spell will hold.”
Together, we hobble-ran as fast as we could, following narrow stony paths in the dark. The Doctor’s ankle must have hurt a lot, but he made himself keep going. Or maybe that goddess was still helping us.
Finally, we came to a road. A car stood there, a regular car, not the strange one that took us to the stranger’s house. Someone got out and flashed a pocket torch at us. I reached for my pistol.
Whoever it was put up his hands and shone the light on himself, to show he wasn’t armed, or maybe as a greeting. It was Mahmoud the guide. “There you are, gentlemen!”
“Mahmoud! I didn’t expect to see you again.” I could tell the Doctor was just surprised to see him as I was.
“I am waiting for you gentlemen, just in case. How did you get away?”
“We declined his offer of hospitality,” said the Doctor.
“Good! That’s very good!” He looked back and forth at the two of us, as though making sure we were the same.
“Who is that man?” asked the Doctor.
“He has many names,” said Mahmoud. “Some call him ‘Alzzahuf Alfawdaa .' That means 'the crawling chaos.' Others say he's the Black Pharaoh. He has lived here a very long time and knows everything. Sometimes he goes away, but always he comes back. The people of the village do what he tells them. The tombs are their business, you see -- showing them to people like you and selling things they find there or make – antiquities, you know."
“You mean they steal things from the tombs and sell fakes.” I forgot to be polite.
“If you say so. But I, Mahmoud, I must work with them if I want to keep my business.”
“So that’s why you told them which path we took up the mountain,” I said. “And they put rocks on it so we would fall over them coming back in the dark, in that place where they jumped us.”
“They thought you had much gold. That’s all they wanted. But when he came and took you away, I did not think I would see you again. You would be called ‘lost,’ like other travellers who went with him. The police would say you had been killed by robbers. The village men would say you had fallen down a tomb no one knew was there. But everyone would know you went with him and did not come back.”
“Well, we did come back,” said the Doctor. “And now we want only to go to our hotel.”
“Of course! There is a boat waiting. I made sure.”
“Why? Why are you helping us now, when you helped them rob us before?” I had to ask this and get an answer before I would trust him again.
“You paid me to show you the West Bank. I must finish my job. Mahmoud at your service,” he said, bowing and opening the taxi door.
There was a boat waiting, just like he said. Before we climbed aboard, the Doctor handed Mahmoud a handful of coins. “Thank you for waiting for us, Mahmoud.”
Later, sitting down to a very late supper at our hotel, the Doctor said,
“It’s a good thing you didn’t eat or drink any more than you did, and I nothing at all. That must be his way of rendering his victims helpless.”
I stopped with a spoon halfway to my mouth. “He is that bad?”
“Yes. Yes, I think he is.”
“But who is he?”
“An ancient and evil entity. That name Mahmoud said – the one that means ‘crawling chaos’ in Arabic – I’ve heard it spoken with dread by students of the occult. Refusing his offers was crucial, because once enmeshed with him, one is doomed. We were lucky, Andre. This time.”
“And those coins – what about them? Were they really gold?
“It appears so,” said the Doctor, busy with his knife and fork and not looking at me.
“But we didn’t have any gold coins. I didn’t, I know that.”
“Neither did I.” He took a drink of wine and smiled at me the way he does when he’s finished talking about something. But I wasn’t ready to give up. I put down my fork and looked right at him.
“Doctor, did you make those coins turn into gold?”
“Not consciously, Andre. If they did, it was not by any intention of mine. Those children and the other people of the village, they were lucky, that’s all.”
“And Mahmoud – was he lucky too?
“Maybe yes, maybe no.” He held out his empty palms. “It’s out of my hands.”
If you enjoyed this story, you may wish to read the rest of the books in the series.
Book 1. The Friendship of Mortals
Herbert West can revivify the dead – after a fashion. Librarian Charles Milburn agrees to help him, compromising his principles and his romance with Alma Halsey, daughter of the Dean of Medicine. West’s experiments become increasingly dangerous, but when he prepares to cross the ultimate border, only Charles can save his life – if his conscience lets him.
Book 2. Islands of the Gulf Volume 1, The Journey
To Andre Boudreau, Herbert West is The Doctor, who saved his life in the Great War. Andre will follow him into Hell if necessary. Margaret Bellgarde knows him as Dr. Francis Dexter, attractive but mysterious. One day she will be shocked by what she is willing to do for his sake. But who is he really? She doesn’t know – and the possibilities are disturbing.
Book 3. Islands of the Gulf Volume 2, The Treasure
Abandoned and abused, young Herbert West resorts to drastic measures to survive. At Miskatonic University, he becomes a scientist who commits crimes and creates monstrosities. Decades later, haunted by his past, he finds safety as Dr. Francis Dexter of Bellefleur Island, but his divided nature threatens those he loves and forces him to face the truth about his healing powers.
Book 4. Hunting the Phoenix
Journalist Alma Halsey chases the story of a lifetime to Providence, Rhode Island and finds more than she expected – an old lover, Charles Milburn, and an old adversary, renegade physician Herbert West, living under the name Francis Dexter. Fire throws her into proximity with them both, rekindling romance and completing a great transformation.
Supplement 1. The Nexus
Nearing the end of his long life, Miskatonic University professor Augustus Quarrington retraces the path to his entanglement with one of his most interesting – and dangerous – students: Herbert West.
Supplement 2. From the Annexe
Miskatonic University librarian Charles Milburn was Herbert West’s assistant and closest friend. He has already revealed much about their association in The Friendship of Mortals. But not everything. This is the part he left out.
Supplement 3. A Visit to Luxor
Reformed necromancer Francis Dexter (formerly known as Herbert West) and his servant Andre Boudreau visit Luxor, Egypt in the year 1935. A climb up el-Qurn, the sacred mountain behind the Valley of the Kings, leads to an encounter with bandits, and with one who “was of the old native blood and looked like a Pharaoh.”
Supplement 4. One of the Fourteen
Dr. Francis Dexter arrives in London intending to atone for wrongs committed by his former self, Herbert West. A chance meeting in a pub leads to disturbing revelations by a veteran of the Great War, and forces Dexter to relive a terrible journey in the black region between death and life.