• Writing

    Do Not Disturb

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    So, I don’t consider myself a Horror writer. Science Fiction and Fantasy usually fall into my keyboard. My heart belongs to them, reading and writing.

    It’s not that I have anything against Horror, because I don’t, and not solely because it’s not my way to piss on other people’s art. Although that’s a nice rule to add to your personal book.

    But I don’t enjoy being disturbed by my entertainment. I get enough of that from my reality, thanks.

    No, I should correct that. I’m not interested in being disturbed by my entertainment when that’s its sole or primary purpose. There’s nothing wrong with having disturbing situations in a story to advance the story or particularly having your villains do disturbing things. The first can do wonders for your characters’ development. The second can do that, and may your readers cheer when the villains get what they deserve. (And they should get what they deserve. I have a personal preference for happy endings, but it’s more important that they be satisfying endings. If you can save or redeem the villain, that can be okay, too.)

    When the primary purpose of the disturbing situation is to disturb your reader, I have to ask, what’s the point?  What do you get out of it as a writer? What does your reader get out of it? What is the message you’re trying to give?

    Because there’s always a message, whether you intend to give one or not. And people will read things into it that you didn’t put there. That’s one of the beautiful things about being a writer: not everyone sees or reacts to things the same way.

    I have written Horror, and I have sold a couple of Horror stories. I may do both again. In fact, I’ve got a couple of submission out right now to Horror markets. But I don’t read it much and I don’t watch it much. When I do, it’s because I’ve been promised by sources I trust that there’s more to the story.

    On those rare occasions I’m writing in Horror mode, I don’t promise not to disturb you, but I do promise there’s a reason for it. For my part, when I’ve written Horror, the character(s) learn something or figure something out. At least the ones who survive. And maybe the ones who don’t, as well.

    My own published examples, I think, back me up. First, three stories I’ve published that have been classified as horror (mostly by someone else, but remember that labels are personal), along with my intention when writing it:

    “Searching for the Sea Monster”, published in the Dead Bait anthology from Severed Press in September 2009 (Amazon.ca listing). Not so much horror as suspense.

    “Absence of Garlic”, published in the October 2009 issue of Bards & Sages Quarterly. Sort of Vampire Noir.

    “Common Ground”, published in Alienology: Tales of the Void by Library of Horror Press in May 2011. Deep space SF action on a derelict alien space ship.

    These next three, I did intend to be Horror when writing writing them. All are weird (one is icky). All might be disturbing, depending on your experience and perspective. But all were written with the intent to be something more than that. Of course, your mileage may vary. I’m just the writer. It’s the reader’s impression that really matters.

    “The Bacon Cometh”, published in Baconology by Library of Horror Press in September 2011. (Amazon.ca listing)

    “Worm Bait”, published in the Dead Bait 3 e-anthology from Severed Press in June 2012.

    “Mummy Powder”, posted as a 7-part serial here in 2012. Still completely free and a good read, if I do say so myself.

    (With the exception of “Mummy Powder” and Baconology, everything here also has an e-book version on Kindle and Nook, if you’re interested.)

    So that’s my perspective as a writer, backed up with my own examples. Anyone else have any thoughts on horror for horror’s sake? Agree or disagree that there needs to be more?

    Be well, everyone.

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  • Fiction

    Mummy Powder, Part 7

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    The renewed hollow grinding sound startled me.  I didn’t know how long I’d lain there, but I must have been asleep.  Falling asleep in a sarcophagus, wrapped up like a mummy.  No point in struggling.  They’d wrapped me too tight.  Nightmare faces jumped out of my memory.  Mummies, the old Pharaoh and the young one, Bruce.

    Ah hell.  Bruce.  No tears, but I felt his death again.

    Grinding.  I knew the sound.  Someone had started to move the sarcophagus’ lid.  Was it opening?  Had Pharaoh changed his mind?  A chill ran through me.  I’d be fodder for his restored youth after all.  Or could I be so lucky that the mummies were gone and someone had come to rescue me?  Was there a Van Helsing for mummies?

    Voices.  Muffled, but definite voices.  I tried to say something, but my lips locked shut.  Talking right now might not be the best idea I’d ever had.  I didn’t know if I wanted to be discovered yet.  Only a few words reached through the mask, not enough to make sense of anything except that there was more than one voice.  Accented English but not Egyptian-flavoured, or even anything from America.  A couple more words, and I pinned it to the British Isles, probably, but couldn’t do better than that.  Mediterranean accents were more my specialty.

    Fingers wrapped around the mask’s edge and lifted it away.  I wanted to close my eyes, but needed to see what was going on.  When the mask had risen far enough to be clear of the edge of the sarcophagus, it moved aside and Doctor Harold Witkinstein held it.  That didn’t make any sense.  I’d seen his body, or parts of it at least.

    “What did I tell you, guv?”  A broad grin showed several missing teeth and half of the rest were crooked.  His bushy eyebrows jumped up and down at someone I couldn’t see.  “Look at the preservation on this one.  Why, three thousand years old if he’s a day, but he doesn’t look a day over three hundred.”

    Not the accent or the dental work I expected from a member of the modern German upper class.  The second voice, belonging to someone I couldn’t see, fit a little better.  Cooler, even, and with the barest touch of an accent.  Probably still British.  “Indeed.  It appears well preserved.”

    Witkinstein reached into the coffin and slapped my stomach.  I didn’t have time to flinch, but the touch was weird, hollow, and didn’t carry a lot of sensation with it.  It didn’t feel much like a slap, but more like remembering what a slap to the stomach might have felt like.  It wasn’t worth a flinch or even an ouch.

    And I couldn’t say ouch, anyway.  I tried opening my mouth to say something, anything and couldn’t feel my lips move, couldn’t make my lips move.  Breathing deep, I found I couldn’t breathe and fought down a sense of panic.  What had they done to me?  Why didn’t Witkinstein and his unseen friend see me?  They acted as if I weren’t present.  Thoughts tumbled in my head, coalescing and shattering again.

    Three thousand years old if he’s a day, but he doesn’t look a day over three hundred.

    “As well preserved as you can get, guv.  So, is it worth a few pounds to you?”

    “Yes.  Yes, I think so.”  A sniff.  “I’m quite willing to pay a few coins above the current market rate.  You can keep the stone box, though.  I’ve no need for that.”

    “Of course, of course.  The customer’s always right, isn’t he?”

    “Indeed.  I understand you have the ability to powder them?”

    Sleep now, if you can, though when you wake, you will wish you had not.

    Witkinstein bowed.  “Aye.  We grind the mummies to order for a nominal fee.  It’s all about what the customer wants.  There’s them what want the whole thing shipped back home, box and all, but those in the medical profession, such as yourself, usually want just the powdered remains for treatment and whatnot.”

    “Exactly.  The grinding will be fine.”  A short pause as a shadow shifted just out of my sight.  “Just be sure you don’t cut it with anything.  My master treats a higher class of patients than most.  Only pure ground mummy will do.  Anything else, aside from being less efficacious, would be insulting to his patients.”

    Look at the preservation on this one.

    The look of shock on Witkinstein’s face, so obvious, so expressive, belonged to an earlier age when haggling was part of every transaction, as much friendly banter as driving the price up or down.  “Certainly not, guv.  You’re in Egypt, the land of mummies.  That kind of thing might go on back home, but there’s no need for it here with a nearly limitless supply at hand.”

    “See that it doesn’t.”

    You will suffer the indignity of the New Kingdom’s dead.

    If I could feel the cold, it would wrap around my heart.  If I had a heart.  I wondered where the jars holding my organs were.  And shouldn’t my brain be in one of them?  How could I be aware and thinking in my present state?  Why should I expect any kind of logic to hold sway in my present state?

    Money changed hands.  The clink of metal coins in a leather bag.

    “How soon can I expect delivery?”

    Witkinstein bowed and bits of dandruff rained down over my face.  “We’ll have it rendered down for you and packaged by lunch time tomorrow, if that’s acceptable.”

    “Quite.”  Departing footsteps.

    Tucking the small bag of coins into his shirt, the old Doctor, if he was a doctor any more, looked down at me and smiled.  He reached into the sarcophagus and patted my cheek, not using enough force to give any sensation to my preserved flesh.  “Alas, it’s the grinding mill for you, my lad.  I don’t know if it’ll hurt much the first time, but the Holy Master assures me you’ll come back in every mummy that goes through the rods.”

    You will suffer the indignity of the New Kingdom’s dead.

    Witkinstein chuckled and dropped the mask back onto my face.


    The Beginning * Previously

    Note: “Mummy Powder” is released on lanceschonberg.com under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 Unported License. It can be shared, copied and distributed in its current form, but not changed or sold.

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  • Fiction

    Mummy Powder, Part 6

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    We stopped five or six feet from the sarcophagus, my feet still dangling above the floor.  A slightly more mobile mummy stepped into view, bits of its exposed flesh a little lighter, a little less like leather, and the rags covering its chest stained red.  The red of fresh blood.  I closed my eyes for a moment.  Fresh blood could only have come from one place.

    They flew open again when something grabbed my foot.  I kicked and squirmed even before I looked down to see the stained mummy grasping for the other.  It straightened its arm, locking my knee while taught fingers snatched at air.  The mummies were strong, but not very fast and I didn’t see any reason to make it easy for them.  Pharaoh’s voice floated through space from somewhere behind me.  “If you struggle, you will only add to your suffering.  I leave the choice to you.  Perhaps you may enjoy a few broken bones, though I doubt it.”

    “Fuck you.”  I kicked harder.

    Something smashed the back of my head and the world went very dark for a moment.  I didn’t lose consciousness, but I stopped struggling long enough that the newest arrival caught both of my feet and I felt something pressing them together.  By the time I could open my eyes long enough to focus on anything, my legs had been wrapped in linen nearly to my crotch.  Before I managed to pull one coherent word out of my head, they had me wrapped to the waist.  After tilting me back, something braced me from below and the wrapping continued.  Slow, but somehow their extreme age had only built their strength and the hands that held me still could have been carved from the same limestone as the coffin.

    They bent my arms into the classic mummy pose and wrapped my chest so tight I had to work to draw breath.  When only my face remained free of the bandage, the hands tilted me back further until I rested flat in the air.  I hung suspended for several seconds before they shuffled to the side and lowered me directly into the sarcophagus.  Even through my wrappings, the stone felt cool, cooler than I’d felt since coming to Egypt.

    I tried to flex my arms, to move any muscle, but they’d wrapped me too well, too tightly.  A slow suffocation instead of a quick knife to the heart.  I wasn’t sure which would be worse.  How long did Bruce’s death last from his perspective?

    Pharaoh leaned over the edge of the sarcophagus and smiled.  “I hope your discomfort is not too great.”

    Not too great?  Wrapped like a mummy and stuffed in a coffin?  God, were they really going to leave me in a stone box to die?  I wished I could come up with something clever to say, or just something, but my brain refused to cooperate.  All I could manage was a weak glare.

    “Your thoughts are plain enough, if simple.  Sleep now, if you can, though when you wake, you will wish you had not.”  With both hands, he lowered a mask over my face.  I wondered what it looked like, if my features were worked into the surface.  From my side, without holes or even slits for my eyes, it served only to block out the light, to leave me in darkness.

    I felt as much as heard the thud of the limestone lid and then the low, steady grinding as it slid into place.  After that, nothing but hollow sound of laboured breath and my own heartbeat.  Would even loud noises come through the stone walls?  The coffin was pretty thick so I doubted I’d hear anything.  I didn’t think it could sealed completely, but I might easily use up the air faster than it could be replenished.  Horrible as the thought was, I decided that would still be better than slowly starving to death.

    No, don’t think about that.  Focus on breathing and think about options.  There had to be a way to survive, but how the hell could I get out?  Unwrap myself from the ridiculously tight cloth, push the lid from the stone coffin, and fight my way through a horde of mummies into the streets of Cairo without my bodyguard.

    My dead bodyguard.

    I tried to wiggle my toes.  Inside my shoes, the circulation to my feet hadn’t quite been cut off but they already felt a bit numb.

    I wasn’t going anywhere.


    The Beginning * Previously * Continue Reading

    Note: “Mummy Powder” is released on lanceschonberg.com under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 Unported License. It can be shared, copied and distributed in its current form, but not changed or sold.

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  • Fiction

    Mummy Powder, Part 5

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    Looking up into the puckered eye socket of my guardian mummy, I watched as its hand came down in slow motion to smash against the side of my face, flipping me over to lie in a still-spreading pool of my own vomit.  A deep chuckle, filled with amusement and contempt, pulled me back to what I’d given up hope of being reality.  How could it be?  Ancient mummies walking around and Bruce dead, being sawed open and having his heart ripped out?

    Bruce.  Tears burned from the corners of my eyes, just missing my ears as they ran to my jaw.  More harsh words in ancient Egyptian.  I closed my eyes and tried to close my ears so I couldn’t hear Bruce being dragged away.  He’d worked for me for almost four years.  If we weren’t friends, at least we’d understood each other, more or less.  I owed him grief, at least.

    The floor boards shifted near me and a shadow fell across my face.  I squeezed my eyes shut so I wouldn’t see it.

    “Open your eyes.”  The voice was the same, but not.  Thicker, heavier, even more suited to command, and it forced my eyelids apart so I had to look into the backlit face of Pharaoh.  Whatever his name and title in life, he could only have been royal.  I had no idea who he’d been and didn’t really care, but I could see now the perfect, living image of the face on the sarcophagus.  He gave me a slow smile and it showed his complete understanding.

    Somehow, no blood stained his chest or face even though it must have fountained from Bruce’s heart as he bit or sucked or whatever he’d done to it.  Pharaoh held up a hand, a tiny brown thing between thumb and forefinger, wrinkled like a crushed soda can.  “Your slave gave his life for mine and so his name will be sung down the ages.”  The brown thing dropped and my eyes followed it as it fell through the air between us and bounced off my chest.

    Bruce’s heart.

    “What remains of him will feed my minions, give them strength to do my bidding.  But you.”  Pharaoh leaned forward, wrinkling his royal noise and allowing something like a sneer to grace his lips.  “You did not hold still as I bid, and would have raised my own tool against me.  This I cannot abide.  You might have been a servant of high order, perhaps even one of the heralds of the new age.  Instead, I fear I must punish you.”  English.  How was he speaking English?  I never understood that in movies or on TV.  Ancient menaces and aliens always managed to speak modern English with no more than a slight accent and sometimes not even that.

    I only just found the strength for speech, wishing I could find enough to be an asshole.  “How can any punishment be worse than what you did to Bruce?”

    Pharaoh smiled almost kindly.  “Ah, but slave Bruce lives on in me and his spirit rejoices in the living.  You.”  He shook his head; the eyes and smile turned cold, calculated for fear.  “I see into your soul now.  You are kin to the rapists of my kingdom’s history and heritage, and that takes you past forgiveness, I think.  Your transgressions are doubtless numerous and legendary, and so I pronounce sentence.”  He raised his voice as if speaking to a crowd, spreading his arms to lift his hands in front of his shoulders.  “You will suffer the indignity of the New Kingdom’s dead.”  Pharaoh clapped his hands together once and a pair of mummies appeared to either side of me, hoisting me up much as they had with Bruce, but where his feet dragged, mine dangled.

    I cleared my throat and spat, hoping to hit him in the face as he turned away, but the blob of phlegm and saliva flew over his shoulder.  “Screw you.”  He didn’t abandon enough dignity to acknowledge me as his two hideous minions carried me out of the hidden office and into the warehouse.

    Dim as they might have been, the scattered overhead fluorescents had been turned on and while Pharaoh refreshed himself on Bruce, his undead minions had been busy.  They’d opened every crate, every sarcophagus, every box, and decorated the warehouse interior in an ancient Egyptian motif.  I couldn’t see how they’d done it all without some noise reaching into the office.  But then, I didn’t really understand how most of the last few minutes could have happened.

    While it didn’t surprise me, the open sarcophagus in the middle of a clear area scared me, enough that I started to shiver.  I knew that stone coffin was my final destination.  Were they going to embalm me?  Or just seal me in to starve to death?  What had Pharaoh meant with his pronounced sentence?

    At least twenty of the desiccated walking corpses wandered around the inside of the warehouse, but they all turned to focus on me as I struggled in my captors’ grip, desperate to escape the stone box.  Dark grey stone, not wood, and not inlaid with gold or anything on the outside at all.  The coffin’s top leaned lengthwise against its side.  I could see the remains of a carved face there, worn away by dozens of centuries.  Eyes, nose, and mouth were all present, but they were smooth and nearly hidden in the stone, like an old photograph faded by too much sunlight.  My adrenaline-enriched brain tried to see my own face in the carving.

    The Beginning * Previously * Continue Reading

    Note: “Mummy Powder” is released on lanceschonberg.com under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 Unported License. It can be shared, copied and distributed in its current form, but not changed or sold.

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  • Fiction

    Mummy Powder, Part 4

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    He smiled, one side of his mouth tipped higher and crinkles deepening next to his eyes, and there was knowledge in that smile.  Either I’d somehow broadcast my thoughts or he’d just pulled them out of my head.  I shivered, my heart back under control but the beat echoing in my ears.  Fear seemed like a permanent friend now.

    He spoke, not to me but still looking at me, complicated words rolling off a tongue that had obviously seen recent use.  I didn’t catch any of them, couldn’t even decide what language they’d been in, though it seemed obvious.  My own tongue felt like lead or a dried stick, so I couldn’t answer if I’d known what to say.  A hand lashed out toward the other mummies, or maybe the door.  My eyes followed the commanding motion, and I watched as the visible mummies creaked and bowed.  The closest, who’d dragged Bruce in, grunted and growled, then stepped aside as the old pharaoh moved forward.

    I registered motion beyond the door and something glittered in the darkness, barely touched by the light.  One of the mummies in the doorway turned and reached behind to grasp something and my heart started again when it passed a shining gold knife to the mummy standing over Bruce.  With a stiff bow, that one held the knife out to Pharaoh.

    Finding a bit of will, I started to get up.  “No, wait.  Leave Bruce—”

    Pharaoh cut me off with a slashing gesture, knife in his left hand.  One of the mummies shuffled to put itself between us.  “I do not wish to hear your voice again.  Be silent and still.  If you disturb me, your fate will be far worse than that of your minion.”

    I bit back a smartass comment as my guard leaned forward, brittle fingers creaking as they flexed.  I pictured those fingers wrapped around my throat, crushing the life out of me.  Certainly just what I was supposed to think, but how do you appeal to a nightmare you never knew you had?

    Another mummy stepped into the room.  With the first, it bent down and the pair of them lifted Bruce together, hauling him up by the arms.  His head fell forward, lolling, and my eyes focused on a sudden droplet of drool that fell from his lips, slowed from gravity’s grip by stretching for a moment to hang by a long strand that snapped back when the drop’s weight finally became too much for it to bear.  My eyes followed it only to the point it passed the knife in Pharaoh’s hand.

    The knife that suddenly reared back and plunged into Bruce’s chest.  Blood soaked his white cotton shirt, spilling over the leather vest.  So much blood.  I thought for a moment the blow hadn’t struck anything vital, but Bruce’s head snapped up, his eyes wider than I’ve ever seen them, and his mouth opened in a soundless scream that seemed to go on forever.  He surged against his captors but might as well have been held in concrete.  Blood continued to drain from his body.  Seven or eight percent of body weight, that’s how much blood we have.  How much in someone Bruce’s size?  It just kept coming.  The whole shirt turned red and I could see darkness spreading to his pants now.  Wide blue eyes found mine, mouth still frozen wide as Pharaoh sawed the knife down through ribs and cartilage.

    I jumped up, intent on grabbing the old man from behind and wringing his neck, but a stiff, cloth-wrapped arm flew out into a barrier as solid as a crowbar, catching me across chest and shoulders.  Most of the air flew from my lungs with the impact and the rest followed as I slammed to the wooden floor to lay gasping on my back.  By the time I could lift my head again, Bruce’s chin bobbed against his chest as his head rocked back and forth.  He couldn’t still be alive.

    Pharaoh yanked the knife free and tossed it behind him.  The blade spun through the air, throwing tiny globs of blood in every direction.  It hit the floor with a clang and a smear of red.  The mummies holding Bruce each reached in with their opposite hands and jammed fingers into the jagged incision.  Without a grunt or any other sound, they pulled outwards and a series of wet cracks and pops sprayed gore far enough I feel tiny impacts on my cheek.  They kept pulling until Bruce’s chest hung open like a kitchen cupboard for me to see his heart and lungs and a bunch of other things I couldn’t name.  Nothing moves.  Shouldn’t I have been able to see his heart beating?  Terror speaking.  I don’t know why I thought he could still be alive.  No one could survive being ripped open like that without a horde of doctors around to keep things under control.

    Damn.  I’m sorry, Bruce.

    I dropped to my knees, not wanting to see what would come next, but couldn’t pull my eyes away as Pharaoh wrapped his hands around Bruce’s heart and yanked it free in a spray of brilliant red.  He raised the steaming organ over his head, blood raining down over him, and spewed a long stream of syllables before lowering it back to what I think is eye level.  After staring at it, I think, for a long moment, he pressed it to his face.

    Before I could swallow, the taste of bile in my mouth became puke and I threw up all over the floor, again and again.  In between retches, a deep sucking sound absorbed anything else I might have been able to hear.

    Acid dripped from my lips and my eyes slipped from the floor to my dead bodyguard to the weapon that killed him, a knife that looked to be cast from pure gold and lying no more than a foot or two out of reach to my right.  I lunged for it and my fingers closed around the hilt at the same instant a foot slammed down on the blade.

    The Beginning * Previously * Continue Reading

    Note: “Mummy Powder” is released on lanceschonberg.com under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 Unported License. It can be shared, copied and distributed in its current form, but not changed or sold.

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  • Fiction

    Mummy Powder, Part 3

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    It felt like a long time before Bruce found whoever it was.  After several soft blows, a crate fell over someplace, hopefully not damaging whatever was inside, and then the silence returned.  For the length of time the struggle took, I decided there had to be more than one.  I started to stand up, ducking back down when I heard the thud of something heavy on the wooden floor.  Not like Bruce to be careless and I thought it might be better for me to hide a little longer, maybe even until he got back, so I stayed down and kept watching the door.

    I heard a footstep, heavy on the floor boards out in the warehouse.  After what seemed like a long time, there was another.  Was Bruce hurt or just carrying two people back to the treasure room?  The next footstep was closer, but the one after had an echo, almost like another footstep.  I resisted the urge to call for Bruce, demand some bit of information about what was happening, but the chilling thought ran through my head that maybe what I heard was someone else, and maybe more than one, hauling Bruce back here instead of the other way around.  That thought worried me more than anything had in years.

    Mimicking Bruce’s earlier gesture, only with a hat in my hand, I crossed my arms over my chest and tried to shrink further into the shadow while still keeping my gaze firmly locked on the door.  My heart began to pound and I worried about my own safety for the first time in a long while.  The footsteps continued coming closer, each louder than the last, and I broke into a sweat.

    A shadow moved just outside the light, big and broad, and I inhaled to call for Bruce to stop messing around and get back in here, but then the shadow took another step forward and the words never made it out of my brain, much less my mouth.  It lurched toward me, coming into the full light.  Bruce had been right after all.

    Rags wrapped the creature, long strips of cloth in places so bonded to the ancient flesh beneath it would take surgery to determine where the boundary lay.  In other spots, the ages had worn away whatever had glued the fabric down and it hung loose, exposing the preserved leather beneath.  One side of its face lay exposed to the air, showing me a puckered eye socket and lips so receded, brown and black teeth grinned in the light.

    I swallowed a scream, but then let it out when I saw the mummy—god, the mummy!—had a hand wrapped around Bruce’s foot, dragging him farther into the room with each slow step.  Behind them both, more shadows moved.  More mummies?  Wasn’t one enough?  How many could there possibly be?  I remembered the stacks of crates and sarcophagi.  Dozens.

    Two more steps, and it let go of Bruce.  His leg dropped to the floor and I wondered if he were still alive.  With his arms crossed, fingertips touching opposite shoulders, I couldn’t see his chest moving, but then he groaned and one arm flopped over, knuckles cracking against the bare plank.  Relief poured through me, lessening the fear a little, but far from quenching it.  I had to wonder if he might be better off dead.  Or if I might be.

    The mummy’s head turned in my direction and its jaw worked like a slow ventriloquist’s dummy.  Sounds fell from its mouth but I couldn’t tell if they were even meant to be words.  My ancient Egyptian was limited to working out hieroglyphics with a dictionary.  Egypt was mostly outside my normal stomping grounds, had been for years, but Witkinstein had been a rumour too beautiful not to chase.  King Tut big.  Now I wished I’d stayed on the other side of the Mediterranean.

    A stone on stone grinding noise from the sarcophagus I cowered beside pushed me further into the corner.  God, wake up Bruce.  Wake up and save me.  Never mind that he’d already been taken down by the mummies once.  What good would being awake do?  Better he should sleep through whatever they were going to do to us.  What were they going to do to us?  Why was Bruce still alive?  Why was I still alive?  Panic started to rise in my chest again.

    The grinding went on long enough I had to look at the sarcophagus to see it was opening from the inside, fingers wrapped around the closest edge of the gold-coated stone box.  They didn’t look like they’d been preserved chemically for several thousand years, or preserved at all.  A little wrinkled, a little dry, they could have belonged to anyone over seventy, or even sixty.  But since they belonged to someone pulling himself out of a stone coffin they might as well have been wrapped around my neck.

    The head appeared first, wearing a headdress more or less like anything you’d see in a movie set in ancient Egypt.  But its, his, skin had a much paler tone than seemed likely for a more or less desert nation, not that I could find the voice to question that or anything else at the moment.  He lurched out of the sarcophagus wearing the stereotypical ancient Egyptian outfit, meaning not much beyond the headdress.  Naked from the waist up, and a short white, well, skirt lacking a better word, trimmed in blue and gold.  Some small part of my mind hoped he wore a loincloth underneath.  Sandals on his feet.  I’d say flip flops, but they probably had a legitimate ancient Egyptian name, especially studded with rubies.

    His glance roamed over the room and I could see hints of the man whose face had been carved in gold on the cover, but much older.  A man still vital in his seventies where the face on the sarcophagus reflected, well not youth and beauty, but the height of strength and power.  His nose pushed me in the direction of belief, but the eyes, when they met mine, gave it away.  The sculptor knew those eyes so well, their shape and tilt and expression, that I couldn’t doubt it.  Somehow, the ancient pharaoh, thousands of years dead, had not only been resurrected but given a new lease on life, a body that seemed to live and breathe.  His gaze held me so well I forgot to be afraid and had to fight the urge to lean over and press my head into the floor.

    The Beginning * PreviouslyContinue Reading

    Note: “Mummy Powder” is released on lanceschonberg.com under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 Unported License. It can be shared, copied and distributed in its current form, but not changed or sold.

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  • Fiction

    Mummy Powder, Part 2

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    We found the secondary security system next to a thin door hidden behind an upright wooden sarcophagus.  Not exactly high tech for the modern era, but I’m sure the early 80s keypad seemed pretty impressive in this neighbourhood.  Whoever had been through the Doc’s stuff hadn’t been too thorough, I guessed.  Or the keypad didn’t look tampered with at least.  For our purposes, Bruce’s fist took care of all the tampering necessary.  His foot dealt with the door in a similar manner, and just as effectively.

    “Very nicely done, Bruce.”  Always give compliments where and when they’re due.  In Bruce’s case, I also enjoyed the bashful ‘aw shucks’ look on someone his size.

    I groped inside the door for a light switch, finding it at about the right level on my left.  The room blazed back like standing next to the sun.  For a moment, I wished Witkinstein had installed a dimmer switch.  The effect would have been nearly as impressive, just less blinding.  “Wow.  How much ancient Egyptian bling does one man need?”  Tablets, statues, jewellery, urns and pots and tools I couldn’t even begin to identify, all carved from gold and all polished to within a millimetre of being hazardous to vision.  The collection’s centrepiece lay in the middle of the floor.  Yeah, King Tut big all right, but he’d already found it.  Still, the old man wasn’t known for field work.  His reputation was as someone people brought stuff to so he could work things out.  He never went out looking himself.

    “Um, maybe we should think about the curse a little more.  This guy looks like he was kind of rich to me.”

    Even with a twinge of guilt in my gut, I had a hard time tearing my eyes away from the sarcophagus to look at my assistant.  “I’m sorry, Bruce.  I was just teasing you about the curse.  Every one of the famous mummies has had a curse attached, but nothing has ever come from any of them, despite what some Egyptophile conspiracy nut might tell you.  You’re right, though.  This guy looks pretty rich.”  Rich like a king.  King Tut?  Somewhere out there, someone was looting the tomb of an undiscovered pharaoh and bringing the stuff to the Doc.  Either my informant held out on me or there was a lot more going on here than an old archaeology professor taking up artefact collecting in his retirement.  Where had he gotten the money to cover the goods in this room?

    “There’s no curse, boss?”

    “No such thing.  Never has been.”  I took a couple of steps forward and put a hand on the sarcophagus.  My fingers trailed up the side as I moved to look into the face of a king.  Cool to the touch, I marvelled at the hundreds of hours that must have gone into its working.  The blue and gold design with black lines and highlights reminded me very much of the King Tut death mask, but whoever had modelled for this face was much older, much more experienced, much more a king.  Killed or murdered as a teenager, Tutankhamen never had a chance to rule.  Whoever lay in this sarcophagus reigned over his world absolutely, had been good at it, and knew it.  Just a few inches under my hand lay the wrapped remains of a divine king of Egypt, chosen of the gods, lord of all he surveyed.  You could see that even in the gold carving.  Well, I could see it.  Bruce wouldn’t come close enough to look.

    “But you said—”

    “I’m sorry, Bruce.  I know what I said and I shouldn’t tease you.  It’s not very nice.”  Not that I’m always, or even often, very nice, but it’s better to keep Bruce happy.  Sulking, he’s less alert.  “Everything you’ve ever heard about a mummy’s curse has been made up by someone, right down to anything written on the tomb itself.  That was just to try scaring away superstitious grave robbers, or find a way to make money.”

    “You’re sure?”

    I tore my eyes away from the sarcophagus to look back at my sidekick.  Worry lines creased his face and eyes that normally seemed just a little too small for his head didn’t suffer from that problem right now.  He’d folded his arms across his broad chest, tucking fists into his armpits and dropping his chin until it almost touched his ribs.  Bruce actually looked scared and that worried me a little.  As far as I remembered, Bruce had never been scared of anything, ever, but some tiny memory of something must have pulled the strings of childhood fear.  Did he watch a bad horror movie at a very young age?  Read a scary novel involving mummies?  Buy into a campfire story?

    Wrong time to dwell on that.  I was sure I’d hear all about it later, anyway.  “Of course I’m sure.”  I smiled, trying to be comforting.  “It’s pretty well documented.  Mould spores, bad air, primitive medicine, that sort of thing.”  I didn’t really feel like making up some references he wouldn’t remember, but I needed him to be Bruce not some giant cowering child.  I needed him to watch my back so I could figure out why old Witkinstein hadn’t announced his discovery, whatever it was, to the world.  It was only a matter of time until one of his contacts or suppliers showed up with something to share with him, or, knowing how fast word travelled, looking to take something back and sell it to someone else.

    A muffled thud out in the warehouse told us that time might already be up.

    The flash of fear on Bruce’s face worried me for a split second, but he clenched his jaw and unfolded his arms, turning for the door.  I opened my mouth but he nodded.  “I know, boss.  No permanent damage.  You need info.”  How had I ever gotten along without him?  And he moved so quietly, had such a light step when he needed it.  Thinking about it always made me glad I hadn’t met him by chance somewhere dark and secluded.  The man could sneak up behind you and rip your arms off before you knew he was there.

    But it seemed a sensible precaution to hide, at least.  If there happened to be more than one intruder and one of them got by Bruce for a moment, however unlikely that was, it would be safer for me to be hidden for at least a few seconds when they came into the room, give Bruce that little bit of time to catch up and take care of business.  Too late to turn off the light, I squeezed into the shadow beside the sarcophagus and took off my fedora, keeping one eye high enough to see the door in case anyone came through.

    The BeginningContinue Reading

    Note: “Mummy Powder” is released on lanceschonberg.com under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 Unported License. It can be shared, copied and distributed in its current form, but not changed or sold.

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  • Fiction

    Mummy Powder, Part 1

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    Mummy Powder, Part 1

    What if?

    Through the ages, so many horrible things have sprung from those two small words. The darkest imaginings and depravities of mankind all began with that simple question.  A multitude of sins and evil events.  This is one of them.

    When I began my quest, so many years ago, I had in mind certain experiments to test the validity of legends of and relating to

    “That’s it?”

    Bruce nodded twice, his shaggy hair bouncing between.  “Except for the blood smear.  Did you want to see?”  He held out the journal, open to the last entry, the only entry.  I waved him off.

    Geez, who kept a paper journal anymore?  Hadn’t old Doc Witkinstein heard of computers?  “Blood smears are nothing exciting.”  And they didn’t really tell us anything, anyway.  Witkinstein had been dead for days.  We’d already seen what was left of the body and a few dull red smears wouldn’t bother either of us.

    “What legends do you suppose he meant?”  Bruce squinted at the journal as if that might make the meaning sink into his brain.

    I sighed.  “Sorry, was that you in the next room or do you have a twin brother I should know about?”

    “Oh, the mummies then.”

    I had to stop myself from mimicking him.  Bruce was not on my payroll to be smart.  That was my job.  His was to open doors, break legs, remove obstacles, and as frequently as possible tell me how brilliant I was.  Some things you just had to let go.  “Yes, the mummies.  Archaeologists may have tried for a couple of centuries to strip Egypt bare, but the country is still lousy with mummies.  Thousands of years of embalming your dead can cause a bit of build up.  Still a pretty good black market, I guess.  Doesn’t tell us how he could afford several dozen of them, though.”

    Bruce put the journal back down in the splintered remains of the desk, as close as he could manage to the spot he’d picked it up from.  “But what good are they?”

    I shrugged, pushing at some spilled paper with one foot.  Paper!  Sure we were in Egypt, but paper?  I’m not asking for the twenty-first century, but join the 1990s at least, Doc.  “Depends on who you ask.  Cultural and historical research, Egyptian heritage, and so on.  Lots of things.”  Something sparked in my memory and I snorted.


    “Up to a couple of hundred years ago, doctors used to prescribe powdered mummy for everything from head colds to a severe case of limp dick.”

    “How would you use a mummy to cure anything?”

    I tried not to laugh.  Sometimes it wasn’t easy to get him to accept serious explanations.  If he thought I thought it was a joke, the words would just bounce off his forehead.  “They’d pulverize them, sell it to doctors for medicine, and the doctors would prescribe it to make a tea that would supposedly cure pretty much anything they thought the patient had.”

    “Tea?”  Bruce wrinkled his fat, several-times-broken nose.  “That’s gross.”

    “Yeah, well, I won’t tell you how they stretched the supply when actual mummies were harder to come by.  Ground mummy would be better for you, in spite of the embalming fluids.  Couldn’t let a whole industry fail, though.”  I sighed again, a different kind of frustration.  Some things never changed.  “What was the old man working on that could possibly have been worth killing him over?”

    Bruce shrugged.  “Guess we’ll have to look.”  He leaned down toward the desk debris then straightened and glanced nervously from side to side.  “You don’t suppose it was a curse, do you?”

    I closed my eyes and pinched the bridge of my nose.  He made it so easy, I just couldn’t help myself.  “Well, pretty much only royalty or really rich people could afford curses.  We’ll have to go through things in the loading bay to see if anyone here qualifies.”  Or to see if anything obviously important is missing.  Or not missing.  Or not obviously.  Careful or you’ll think yourself into a corner.  Experiments, whatever they were, notwithstanding, my information said the old guy was onto something really, really big.  Big like King Tut big.  Maybe even worth killing over.  There had to be some clue lying around.


    Continue Reading

    Note: “Mummy Powder” is released on lanceschonberg.com under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 Unported License. It can be shared, copied and distributed in its current form, but not changed or sold.

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