IN THIS EPISODE: …Vincent takes his killer mummy out for a test drive…
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CHAPTER 24 – The Mummy Walks
Vincent Duprix – The Chamber of Horrors
That Same Night
“Is that all there is to it?” Vincent asked. Somehow, he thought raising the dead should have been more complicated.
Sethotep merely chuckled telepathically in reply.
The reanimation spell had proven quite easy to execute.
Vincent simply followed Sethotep’s instructions—as dictated from the Book of Thoth—saying the right incantations at the correct time, burning the incense, and brewing the proper noxious potions. Some of the ingredients had been tricky to procure—the tana leaves hardest of all—but Vincent had managed it over the past week via discreet visits to several out-of-the-way occult shops.
Thank goodness that Crowley nonsense is still popular in some circles!
The task of drawing the precise hieroglyphs on a papyrus scroll had been somewhat more difficult than the rest of the ritual. Formulating the period-appropriate pigments had required careful measurement and grinding of charcoal, oils, and iron oxides, and using the reed brush took some mastering as well. But eventually the inks were properly prepared and the images of the necessary hieroglyphs came clear in Vincent’s mind, projected directly, he assumed, from the genius brain of the mummified architect.
Vincent had never been as proficient at drawing or calligraphy as he was at sculpture, but he was a good artist and rose to the occasion.
Burning the resulting scroll to activate the spell had been the simplest of all; even a child could have done it.
As Vincent watched the last of the smoke drift up to the ceiling, he felt momentarily overwhelmed. Is that all I am to Sethotep—a child? Merely a set of hands to carry out his plans?
The notion worried Vincent, but then something astonishing happened:
The mummy moved!
It actually moved!
Nekure, the queen’s bodyguard, still stood in the upright, painted sarcophagus that served as his display case, but his mold-encrusted fingers had twitched! Vincent had not imagined it.
As the sculptor watched, eyes wide, the ancient guardsman’s arms unfolded from over its desiccated chest and slowly slipped down to hang limply by the thing’s side.
Vincent expected the guard’s first real movement after millennia to make a creaking sound, like a rusty door opening, but the reanimation caused barely a whisper—like leaves rustling across the grass in autumn. The air smelled of ancient spices and mildewed linen.
The expression on the cloth-wrapped skeletal face did not change, but a dim red light shone within the mummy’s empty eye sockets.
“We’ve done it!” Vincent cried, momentarily forgetting all caution.
“Did you doubt me, mortal?” The telepathic voice of Sethotep sounded annoyed.
“Of course not,” Vincent replied, this time remembering to whisper, so as to not rouse the handyman (presumably) sleeping on the second floor. “It’s just that this is so far beyond anything I’ve ever experienced—anything I ever dared to believe might be possible.”
“With my power, all things are possible.”
Staring at the reanimated mummy, Vincent could almost believe it. Yes, the creature’s bandages were moldering, and its skin had the appearance of shriveled leather, but it was tall—taller than the Queen or the architect by at least half a foot, taller even than Vincent—and, despite its mummification, its chest and shoulders remained broad, like the physique of a weight lifter or a wrestler. Before that ages-old finger twitched, Vincent had thought of the guard as just another dusty display, but now that he knew it could move, the creature looked… dangerous.
“What do we do next?” Vincent asked eagerly.
“It takes an actual voice to command, and until I, too, am reanimated, you must speak for me.”
Again, a sliver of worry wheedled into Vincent’s mind. Am I Sethotep’s puppet, as Nekure is to be mine?
“I sense your doubts,” the dead architect hissed, “but remember, this is merely the first step to revive my… our queen.”
The thought of Bastiti, in all her loveliness, alive and breathing once more, drove all qualms but one from Vincent’s mind.
“But when we bring her back…” Vincent said, voicing his misgiving, “she won’t be like this, will she? She won’t be some crumbling husk.”
“No,” Sethotep replied. “This is why you are practicing on this worthless one. You must learn your craft if you are to be worthy of Bastiti. When she revives, she will be as lovely as the day I first saw her along the banks of the Nile, lovely enough to stop the sun and moon in their paths, the most beautiful goddess to ever walk the sands of Egypt—or anywhere else. She will rule this new world as she rules my heart… and yours.”
Vincent nodded, his mouth suddenly dry; the love in the architect’s telepathic voice came through so clearly that it was nearly overwhelming.
“Now command him! Command him by name.”
“Nekure, rise from your sarcophagus,” Vincent said, his voice low and grave.
Slowly, the mummy of Nekure put both hands on the rim of its upright mummy case and tottered forward. Small puffs of dust crumbled off the thing’s ancient wrappings and fell to the floor. Its empty eye sockets burned brighter.
“What can it do?”
“Anything you command. It is strong as a hippopotamus and feels as little pain as a crocodile.”
“Take that knife,” Vincent commanded, pointing at a nearby small table. Atop it rested the iron blade he’d used to chop the tana leaves and other ingredients for his potion.
The mummy picked up the weapon.
“Stab yourself through the heart with it.”
Without hesitation, the mummy plunged the dagger into the center of its chest.
Vincent winced at the impact, but Nekure didn’t seem to feel the wound at all. More dust fell to the floor, and the air smelled of ancient embalming spices.
Eucalyptus and cloves? Vincent wondered. Then his mind returned to the task at hand.
“Now remove the knife and put it back on that table.”
The mummy did as he commanded.
An irrepressible look of glee broke over Vincent’s face, and his heart pounded with joy and anticipation.
Now came the exciting part:
Exacting his revenge!
The Streets of London – Later That Night
Victoria’s coachman lover hadn’t been too difficult to track down. Horse carriages had become largely extinct in London by 1920, having been replaced by the ubiquitous London Taxicab near the start of the petrol car era.
A decade later, a few of the antique modes of transportation still hung on, catering to hopeless romantics (like Vincent’s wife) as well as to tourists, newlyweds, and certain members of the upper class who liked to show off their wealth by emulating the long-gone Victorian Era.
There was little wealth or romance evinced in the ramshackle Vauxhall neighborhood where Ralph Quarry, the coachman, lodged. He lived in a dingy flat above the weather-beaten stable that housed his horse and cab.
A few discreet inquiries and small bribes over the past week had led Vincent right to the door. Getting himself and the mummy there tonight had been only slightly trickier.
Luckily, Vincent had found a snoozing cabby neglecting his rounds while sheltered under the boughs on the edge of Olde Kennington Park. That hadn’t been difficult, especially at this late hour. Vincent had observed the phenomenon before; some drivers just couldn’t resist a little nap before the long-past-midnight crowd drifted out of the local bars.
Vincent had been proud of himself for not killing the fellow. He’d knocked out the driver personally, not trusting that the mummy Nekure could do so without crushing the unfortunate man’s skull. He’d left his victim slumbering on a park bench, after pouring a bit of whiskey on him and tangling him in his own clothes—effectively tying him up without actually doing so. Vincent thought that improvisation quite clever.
If the driver was lucky, Vincent might even get the car back to the park before his dupe awoke.
After securing the taxi, Vincent had returned to the waxworks and loaded the mummy aboard, disguising the thing with an oversized coat and hat.
Dressed up that way, Nekure would still give a severe fright to anyone who got a good look at him, but in the dark, the big, lumbering figure might pass for a tottering drunk. Vincent had disguised himself similarly.
Now he and the mummy sat outside the coachman’s stable-flat, Vincent in the front and Nekure in the back, as though the undead thing were an ordinary cab passenger.
Vincent’s heart pounded with anticipation, and his knuckles went white as he gripped the wheel.
Dim lights burned in the flat above the tiny stable, and the sounds of music drifted out from inside. Occasionally, a shadow or two moved behind the curtained window.
He couldn’t tell whether Victoria was inside or not; he checked his watch. Certainly, he’d given her enough opportunity to make her little rendezvous.
Part of him couldn’t imagine his wife coming to this squalid hideaway to conduct her love affair, though perhaps the very shabbiness was part of the attraction. Lowering herself to the coachman’s level might have given his wife an extra thrill, as would knowing the revulsion Vincent would feel if he were ever to find out.
Of course, she never thought he would find out—but he had.
Now the time had come to make her pay!
Vincent got out of the stolen cab and opened the rear door.
“Come, Nekure!” he commanded in an urgent, low voice.
The disguised mummy shambled out of the taxi and followed Vincent toward the meager stable. The massive creature moved silently, save for the faint rustling of an ill-fitting coat and millennia-old linens.
The wooden steps leading up to the second-story apartment creaked under the furtive visitors’ weight, but the music inside the flat easily drowned out the noise.
Vincent paused on the landing outside the apartment door. Sweat beaded on his forehead, and his breath came in excited gasps. He licked his lips; he could almost taste the sweet revenge already.
He took the mummy’s hat and coat, so as to not get any blood on them. No sense making their escape any more difficult than it needed to be.
“Nekure,” he said, pointing, “the door! On my command, kill everyone you find inside!”
The mummy lumbered past him, its arms outstretched. It struck the portal with the force of a charging bull, shattering the frame and knocking the flimsy door back into the one-room flat beyond.
Vincent grinned with glee.
The handsome young man sitting on the worn couch sprang to his feet as the door burst in. He barely held onto the bottle of 100-proof vodka he’d been drinking. “What the—!”
Even discounting the splintered door, the room wasn’t very well appointed; it featured the couch, a sagging bed (more a cot, really) with stained sheets, a round table with a single candlestick in the center, a sink and a small gas stove, some cabinetry without doors, a set of stairs leading down (presumably to the stable), and two curtained portals, one obviously leading to a closet, and the other a loo. The room smelled like horses.
Victoria’s really lowered her standards, Vincent thought. “Good evening, Mr. Quarry,” he intoned from the doorway as the mummy towered just inside the portal.
Quarry stared at Nekure, his eyes filled with a mixture of fear and anger. “Who the bloody hell are you?” the coachman demanded. “What do you want?” He brandished the liquor bottle as if he might strike someone with it, though he couldn’t seem to choose between the mummy and Vincent.
Vincent eyed the small table, set for one, with the remnants of beef gravy clinging to the dinner plate. The candle on the table was lit, though; apparently, Mr. Quarry was something of a romantic, even when dining alone.
“I’m Victoria’s husband,” Vincent announced almost proudly. “And this is my friend, Nekure, guard to Her Royal Highness Queen Bastiti.”
Quarry had paled slightly at the sound of Victoria’s name, but his anger quickly returned. “And what’s this guard bloke? Some kind of circus freak? Or are ya plannin’ to stop by a costume party after breaking up my place? Well, all right… You’ve had your fun… Get out now, and I won’t call the police.”
Vincent ignored the threat. “Is Victoria not with you tonight?” he asked. “How inconvenient, I thought she’d have dumped our friend Lily and made her way to you by now. Such a perfect night for a bit of adultery, wouldn’t you say, Mr. Quarry? Oh, well. I’ll just have to kill her later—along with her new lover, whomever he may be.”
Quarry raised the bottle and charged toward Vincent. “Son of a—!”
But the mummy stepped between them.
The nearly full bottle shattered against Nekure’s skull, drenching the monster’s head and shoulders.
The mummy didn’t even blink; with one enormous hand, he grabbed Quarry by the throat.
Vincent’s eyes sparkled with glee; it was all he could do to resist applauding, as his creature picked the coachman up off the floor.
Quarry gasped for breath, kicking and flailing wildly as the mummy choked him.
“Kill him, Nekure!” Vincent commanded. “Kill him now!”
The mummy bore forward, and put his other bandaged mitt around the man’s throat, strangling his victim with both hands now.
The coachman’s kicks and blows had no effect on the monster, but Quarry’s groping hands chanced upon the candlestick on the table behind him.
Quarry seized it and smashed the candlestick, butt first, into the mummy’s face. Nekure’s shriveled nose broke with a soft crunching sound.
The mummy didn’t seem to care, but the candle in the holder broke and caught in the creature’s chest wrappings. The still-burning wick set the vodka-drenched bandages alight.
With a resounding CRACK! the coachman’s neck broke.
As flames licked up the mummy’s torso, Nekure dropped Quarry; Victoria’s lover slumped to the floor, lifeless.
“Excellent!” Vincent enthused. Then he noticed the mounting fire. The mummy didn’t seem to mind the blaze any more than it did its broken nose, but the conflagration worried Vincent.
“Let’s do something about those flames, shall we?” the sculptor said.
He grabbed the stained blanket from Quarry’s shabby bed, and threw it over the mummy’s head to smother the fire.
Whatever the blanket had been made of, it went up like a tinderbox.
The mummy, now blazing like a torch, began stumbling around the room. The flames quickly licked up to the flat’s ceiling; everything the mummy touched caught fire.
“Put yourself out!” Vincent cried. “Extinguish the blaze!”
But if the mummy understood him, it couldn’t seem to figure out how to follow the command. Instead, it kept shambling around the small apartment—and now, the flaming creature was blocking the door through which they’d entered.
“Get out of the way!” Vincent shouted.
But, again, Nekure either didn’t hear him or couldn’t fathom how to obey. Vincent couldn’t get past the blazing monster to reach the exit.
Smoke filled the entire room now, and flames had engulfed the mummy from head to foot.
Fire threatened to surround Vincent, but through the conflagration he spotted the stairway leading down to the stables.
Coughing from the smoke, he stumbled down the stairs. “Follow me!” he told the mummy, but he couldn’t tell if the creature either heard or understood.
The single horse in the livery neighed and whinnied with fear as smoke filled the stable.
Vincent tarried long enough to loose the animal from its stall, then he and the frightened horse both fled into the night.
Vincent leapt into his stolen cab and started the engine. Flames had begun licking out of the apartment’s front window now, and he knew that he couldn’t wait any longer for his undead compatriot.
Heart pounding, Vincent pulled the cab away from the stable and drove toward Olde Kennington Park and home.
Fortunately, the cab’s owner remained asleep on the bench where Vincent had left him.
Heart still racing and drenched with sweat, the sculptor parked the taxicab nearby, dropped the keys on the floorboards, and crept back to 1951 Fisher, unseen.
Once inside the manse, he made his way downstairs into the mummy exhibit.
The blood was pounding so loudly in his ears that he could hardly think. A mixture of fear and elation filled him. He’d killed Victoria’s lover! That was thrilling, but somehow, also, sickening.
It wasn’t you that killed him, Vincent reminded himself. It was the mummy.
“Don’t deceive yourself.” The voice of Sethotep seemed to echo out of the darkest recesses in Vincent’s mind. “Yours was the command that did the deed. Revel in your enemy’s death. Enjoy your victory.”
Vincent wanted to, but part of him remained repulsed. Perhaps it would have felt different if he’d caught Victoria in the act and killed her, too.
“Plenty of time for that,” Sethotep assured him.
“But the mummy is destroyed,” Vincent said aloud. At least, he felt pretty sure it had been. It would be better if it was, better if Nekure burned to dust so that the police would never find any trace. Quarry would just be another drunkard who’d had an accident with a burning cigarette, or some such. At least, that’s what he hoped the police would think.
But what if they don’t? What if the mummy survived, somehow, or they manage to trace its bones back to here? His eyes lit upon the guard’s now-empty casket. And how would he implement his revenge on Victoria without Nekure to carry it out?
So many conflicting thoughts and emotions swirled through Vincent’s head. For a moment, he thought he might swoon.
“Calm yourself, sculptor,” Sethotep intoned. “The second murder is always much easier than the first.”
“But how can there be a second?” Vincent whispered urgently. “Nekure is gone—perished in the flames. At least, I hope that’s what happened. I hardly want him returning here and setting the whole manse ablaze.”
“Bastiti’s guard is destroyed; that I assure you. Nothing remains of him on this mortal plane save ashes. But he was never important anyway.”
“Never important?! How am I going to explain a mummy missing from our exhibit? The Cushings are bound to notice.”
“No. They won’t.”
A chill ran down Vincent’s spine. “You’re not suggesting I kill the girls, too!”
“Of course not,” Sethotep’s voice in Vincent’s mind purred. “Not right now, at any rate. Rather, I suggest that you use all the craft that your art possesses, and do it quickly. Make a replica of the worthless guard you’ve lost, before anyone can notice that the real Nekure is missing.”
A light came on behind Vincent’s blue eyes. “Yes, of course! I can sculpt a replacement!” Those pretty little waifs would never notice the difference. “But… What about my revenge?”
“You’ll have it, in due time.”
Vincent’s feverish worries had broken, now that he had a plan. Despite the near-disastrous outcome of his first foray into murder, perhaps things could be set to right after all. Although…
“I must say,” he commented, turning away from the mummy cases and running one long-fingered hand over the sculpted form of Bastiti nearby, “I’m a bit disappointed in the results of your magic, Sethotep. Yes, the mummy was reanimated, and did my bidding well enough… but a simple flame set him ablaze like a petrol-soaked cloth. When you’d proposed resurrecting the guard, I’d imagined that the instrument of my revenge would be somewhat more… durable.”
Vincent could almost feel the gaze of the dead architect burning into his back. He’d touched a nerve, it seemed. That pleased Vincent. Too often, Sethotep seemed to treat him as a minion, rather than an ally.
“As I told you,” the mummified advisor hissed, “the reanimation of Nekure was merely a trial run. When I… When we revive our queen, it will take the fires of the gods themselves to destroy her! Now, you’d best get to work. There’s much to be done, and the dawn will be upon us sooner than you think.”
TO BE CONTINUED…
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