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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

"The Art of Death": Another Chapter

Just days away from the release of my horror-action novel, The Art of Death.  Simply put: a museum curator conducts an evil, ancient ceremony to sacrifice the lives of hundreds in exchange for eternal life.  To kill them, he raises spirits and creatures from artifacts gathered from all over the world.

Read another chapter from the book after the JUMP.


The curator held his golden artifact and again repeated the Babylonian incantation, "Father Nanna, dark Su'en.  I bear the symbol of your temple and hold it.  I dwell within the temple and hold spirits to your bidding.  Grant me sway over this being.  You shine anew and I with you.  You live again and I continue."

Immediately, Abigail stepped forward and handed a small gold staff to Dr. Karlow.  He rotated it so the simplistic falcon headpiece would be facing the sarcophagus.  Frye, meanwhile, carefully lifted the ancient wooden lid from its place above the casket.  With clear plastic stands, the lid was visible to visitors and mirrors allowed the mummified corpse inside to be seen.  She set it on the floor gently and looked back at the curator.  "I suppose my caution isn't required."

"Not required," he answered, "but appreciated." 

Abigail reached into her pocket and removed a palm-sized alabaster figure.  It was a scarab, the symbol of a beetle holy to ancient Egyptians.  After she placed it on the chest of the mummy, she removed a pocket knife and sliced the few bandages between the mummy's legs.  Each leg was individually wrapped, but now they were free to move.  She stepped away from the sarcophagus and behind her employer.  Karlow adjusted his grip on the staff and raised his left hand, aiming his empty palm at the body.

"Hail, Amun Ra.  Lord of thrones of the Earth, the oldest in existence, the ancient of heaven, the supporter of all things.  Chief of the gods, lord of truth, maker of all things above and below."  He licked his lips and continued to speak the tongue of ancient Egypt.  "Priest Namurot, scion of Ra on Earth, your heart must be weighed.  Your heart, whereby you came into being.  May none oppose you at judgment and may there be none to oppose you in your remaining duties."

The lights around them seemed to dim but Karlow ignored it.  He blinked twice and continued, "Khepri calls unto you.  There are those who bear his sigil whose hearts have not been weighed and whose hearts are not worthy.  Call upon Serket and the aid of her siblings that you may sting those found unworthy."

The glass of the case shook and the lights again dimmed.  Abigail looked around and Mason grinned.  "Priest Namurot, warrior Namurot.  The doors of heaven await you."  The sarcophagus lid shook and fell over.  "Hail, Osiris.  Hail, Horus.  Return the servant of the gods to Earth."  Two nearby lights brightened and brightened until the bulbs burst.  "Rejoice and return, o Namurot.  I bid thee approach."  The glass around the sarcophagus shattered and the bandages on the corpse's chest parted.  The stone scarab slowly submerged and was then covered again in the mummy's wrappings.  "Hail, Namurot.  Counterpart of the gods.  Your brethren.  Your son.  You are endued with the fluid of life in the Earth.  Attire thine body and come into their presence."

The air pressure in the room shifted.  Abigail flexed her jaw but Karlow didn't move.  He stared at the sarcophagus.  A distant rumbling which he hadn't noticed before seemed to subside.  Then, in a single fluid motion, the body of the priest rose up from its slumber and stood before Mason Karlow, towering over him.

The director beamed and he shook his head.  He spoke in Egyptian again, "Namurot.  Are you ready to purify the symbols of Ra?"

The mummy didn't speak.  Instead, a deep exhale puffed the bandages at his mouth outward, causing centuries-old dust to billow forth. 

Karlow looked back and saw Abigail staring at the creature, wide eyed.  Her mouth was agape.  "Miss Frye."  She blinked, looked at Mason, and then handed him the plastic rectangle.  "In this temple, you will find people bearing this symbol."  He held up a guest ID badge.  The decoration around its perimeter included a gold-foil scarab.  "They are the unworthy."

The mummy's arms flexed from its chest and the strands of wrapping began snapping as it reached for the shape.  It held the guest badge awkwardly, crumbled it, let it fall, and began to stagger away.

It was dark.  Few lights remained on along the ceiling. Some spotlights shone on exhibits.  The walls reflected some of the light from the bright walls of the atrium ahead.  Terry Lyons slowly raised his head above the edge of the ancient Korean vase.  Without turning, his eyes looked around the gallery.

"Anything?" Millie Reed asked.

He didn't answer.  Terry aimed his ear toward the open space and squinted.  There was a scream, far away.  He heard something that sounded like a growl, but that, too, was distant.  He moved forward and the metal clasp on his lanyard clinked on the ancient porcelain.  Lyons jerked away from the vase, grabbed the ID card, and whipped it over his head.  He knelt next to Millie and tossed the badge aside.  "It think we're good."

She turned her head to listen more closely.  The entire museum seemed to have gone quiet.  There had been a thousand people here less than an hour ago.  Now, it sounded like none were left.  The air felt thick and close.  The hairs on her neck stood up and she blinked.  "We move to the atrium and see what's up there."  He nodded and she continued, "If we're able, we go across to the south side and then up to the offices."

"Sounds like a plan."  Terry started to stand and she grabbed his hand.  He looked down at her hand and then into her eyes.  He fought the urge to say something just then.  Not now.  "Are you ready?"

"Let's go."

The couple quickly walked from the Ancient East Asia gallery toward South Asia.  They darted behind a large dark gray schist statue of the seated Buddha from the first century and peered around its shoulder.  As they did, they noticed a smell.  Terry recoiled but Reed leaned forward and tried to identify it.

"Like … bad meat." 

Lyons' eyes widened and he said, "Death."  Millie's expression went blank.  She stood up and began to pull Terry with her.  Reluctantly, he followed, and they soon entered the Ancient Middle Eastern gallery. 

The bodies of eight people were scattered around.  Swords had been pulled from their displays on the wall and now lay on the floor.  A couple of them were covered with a dark, almost black blood.  A puddle of that same color sat in the center of the gallery.  It contrasted with the bright redness from the other victims slumped against the walls, display stands, and works of art. 

"What the …" Terry whispered and then covered his mouth.  He moved forward while Reed remained and examined everything in sight.  He stood over one woman and said, "I knew her.  She was on the board."

Millie blinked and moved toward his side.  She looked down at the victim and said nothing.  Then she cast her eyes around before they lit upon the crushed body of a man several paces away.  She took a step in his direction and stopped.  Heat flashed through her body and a chill raced up her back.  Her stomach lurched and she managed to say, "Daddy?"

Terry turned and saw her run across the gallery, slide onto the floor, and scoop up the lifeless head of the man there.  "Shit."

"Daddy!"  Millie screamed and began to rock back and forth.  Blood was soaking into the fabric of her seafoam green dress and her hands trembled as she brushed his hair.  "Daddy!"

Lyons was shaken from his stupor by her volume and he quickly ran to her side.  "Millie, stop."

She slammed her eyes shut and threw her head back.  "Daddy!"

"Baby, stop."  He pulled her away and her bloodied hands wrapped around his arms.  Her legs kicked out and she struggled to get back to her father.  "We have to get out of here.  Something might have heard us."

Tears covered her cheeks and her breathing became erratic and staggered.  She looked at Frank Reed's body and then pawed at Terry's shirt.  "My mom.  We have to find my mom!"

"OK.  We will."  He looked around but didn't see anyone wearing a dress of the same green as Millie.  "We'll find her."

From the gallery exit nearest the atrium, they heard a deep, guttural moan.  The rotund, red-skinned and black-furred creature stood there, with one hand on the wall.  It opened its mouth and hopped toward them. 

Terry stood and began to run.  Millie stood, too, but her feet slipped in her father's blood.  Lyons pulled her along and she quickly managed to catch up.  They ran out of the Ancient Middle East gallery and into the hall of Roman artifacts.  They turned toward the atrium, but a giant Black Widow ran into view.  It reared up its front two legs and stretched its long fangs outward. 

He turned and ran back into the Roman gallery.  The spider was close behind and Millie ran to one side.  She jumped up onto an ancient Roman pillar and began to pull on it with all her might.  Just as Terry turned to see where she had gone, the pillar toppled and fell.  It landed directly on the spider, splashing its guts around it and onto the adjacent wall.  While he stared at it, Reed ran past him and said, "C'mon."  He didn't move until the red-skinned creature hopped out of the other gallery.

The couple ran into the Greek section, past ancient wine vessels and household items.  There was a scream behind them and they turned in time to see the frog-beast devour someone who had been hiding near a large Etruscan vase.  After they passed a marble depiction of Dionysus, they ran around the end of an Egyptian ceremonial barge and saw someone staring into a display case full of canopic jars.

Namurot felt empty.  The act of breathing, while he could do it, held no pleasure for him.  His chest did not swell nor could he smell flowers or perfume.  He had a sensation of hunger, yet there was no stomach to digest his food.  No liver or intestines, either.  He did not feel his heart beat, though he knew it was there.  He felt the coldness of the stone shape his body absorbed earlier in the evening.  He knew his was a hollow shell of what he had once been. 

Thus he was tempted by the promise of canopic jars.  They contained organs.  Not his, most likely, but that may not be an obstacle.  His desire to breathe would be sated by the contents of the baboon-headed vessel.  The jackal sat atop the stomach.  He looked at the jars with falcon and human headed tops when he sensed another presence.  Namurot turned and saw two young people running toward him. 

Millie and Terry slid to a halt just a few paces ahead of the mummy.  It turned from the display case and reached toward them.  Its face was totally obscured by bandages, leaving no visible mouth or eyes, though depressions in the wrapping gave an impression of them.  Terry pushed Millie behind himself as he straightened and slowly backed away.  To his surprise, the mummy moved toward him for a moment and then turned in Millie's direction

The scarab on her chest glowed like the sun.  It reminded him of the shape the Master raised him with, the medallion that hung about his neck.  The beetle, however, was sacred.  She was a non-believer yet she bore its shape.  If he did the bidding of Khepri, his heart may finally be weighed against the feather of truth in the presence of Anubis.  Then, and only then, would he be allowed into heaven.  He lurched forward and stretched his arms toward the girl.

Terry watched the mummy move away from him.  Only then did he notice that Millie had backed away and was now slowly moving across the room.  "What are you doing?" he said in a loud whisper.
Her eyes were wide and she stepped backward.  She shook her head and said, "Help me."

Lyons looked at the mummy and watched it slide toward her again.  He stepped forward and tentatively raised his hand.  He started to swipe at the mummy's arm, paused, and finally followed through.  When his palm slapped the creature's elbow, a bandage tore and dangled while a small puff of dust clouded around.

Namurot stopped and turned.  The young African man was frightened but he was in a warrior's stance. 

The mummy seemed to look down at Terry's chest.  Then it looked at him directly in his face, exhaled a deep breath, and turned back toward Millie.  The air reeked momentarily of stale air, dust, and mold.  Lyons blinked and looked at her as she backed into another display case.  "I don't understand."  He wasn't whispering.  "Why isn't it attacking me?"

Millie didn't answer.  Her fingertips touched the glass first and she pressed her sweating palms against the pane.  Her head thunked backward and she turned her face away from the creature, though she couldn't stop staring.  Then, the bandages on the mummy seemed to lift off its arms and they moved toward her like long pennants in a breeze.  The wrapping around its torso parted and scorpions and scarabs emerged.  The tip of a bandage wound about her wrist and then it tightened like a rope.  She gasped in pain.

The insects and arachnids moved along the tendrils as they began to bind the girl.  And then they stopped.  The creatures quivered and moved back along the wrappings and into the chest of their host.  Namurot was confused and tilted his head.  The scarab still glowed hot on her chest but, above her head hung the crown of Isis.  The headdress was a wide circle with long horns on either side and this non-believer appeared to be wearing it. 

The bandages loosened and withdrew from Millie.  Her head remained contorted against the glass, but her eyes darted around.  "What's happening?"

Namurot raised his right hand and lowered his head.  A deep draft emerged from his mouth, and though he had little volume or voice, he spoke, "Mighty mother Isis, daughter of the Nile, consort of Osiris."  The bandages puffed lightly and he continued, "She who is mother of the universe, I beg for forgiveness.  Go in peace, go in beauty.  All praise to you.  All praise to you."

The mummy lowered its arm and turned away, walking toward the Greek and Roman sections of the gallery.  Millie started to pull herself off the glass but Terry raised his hand.  "Stop!"  He ran to her side.  "Don't move."

They watched the creature shuffle along amd listened to the linen scrape on the tiles.  It then turned into the room where her father lay.  She swallowed hard and asked, "What happened?"

He pointed above her head.  "The crown of Isis."  She turned and looked at the information panel inside the case and then stared up at the large bronze disc and horns.  "It thought you were Isis.  Or a priestess or something."

Her mouth hung open and she turned toward him.  "Is any of this real?"

Terry shook his head and then put his hand on her shoulder.  "I don't know." 

She leaned forward and hugged him.  "Why didn't it go after you?"

He shrugged and looked into the display case.  His eyes fell onto a limestone engraving and then he drew in a sharp breath.  "Hang on."  Terry pulled away from her and looked at her chest.  She was still wearing her guest ID lanyard and on the white rectangle, there were several symbols from ancient cultures in gold foil.  Including the scarab.  "This."

He pulled the badge over her head and held it in front of him as she asked, "The beetle?"  Lyons nodded and Millie said, "But everyone is wearing one of these."  He threw it down.

Terry sighed and said, "Where should we go now?"

Reed straightened up and looked through the gallery toward the atrium.  As she did, a shoulder-high wolf walked nearby.  It didn't see them, but the couple backed against the display case again.  "We make for the offices upstairs.  We need to go through Africa."

They slowly moved by a couple of Egyptian steles and then into a small corridor that connected to an adjacent gallery.

And that's it.  Read more next week when the whole thing is released!

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