by E. W. Bonadio
The attack was swift and sudden leaving twenty-two members of the Islamic terrorist group killed by strategically placed cruise missiles fired from a missile frigate in the Arabian Gulf. Those that survived the early morning onslaught, managed to slip away from the ruined camp. Now, all that remained for Major Jonah Diggs was the insertion of his Ranger team. He was there to clean up, document the kills, collect intelligence, and then move back to the U.N. camp.
"Not long now, Nazir," Diggs yelled over the roar of the turbine driven blades, "just a few hundred meters to the west."
While holding onto his loosely fitting helmet, the Egyptian beside him nodded in agreement. He pointed with his other hand to the remains of the camp. "There it is Major, just in front of us now." The smoldering ruins sent up rich plumes of black smoke towards them. It dissipated quickly as the choppers approached the landing zone.
The two U.N. support helicopters swooped down and landed on the desert floor between two ridges. Diggs's small force was in Egypt, just a few miles from an ancient ruin near the western bank of the Nile River. The Major knew that this mission would be a slam-dunk, and was thankful for the Egyptian scout team under the command of a well qualified professional soldier, Captain Nazir El Ghaza.
"OK, everybody out," Diggs commanded. Nazir's men were the first to clear the landing zone, running over to a small roofless mud brick hut, the only visible structure still standing. As the helicopters dashed away from the field, the American Rangers set up a temporary fire zone. Minutes later the Egyptian returned to Diggs with his report.
"No one left alive, I'm afraid. They took the wounded and left the dead. My men will gather them for identification and disposal."
"Too bad," Diggs said. "I was hoping to catch one still alive. We need INTEL." Leaving the Egyptian's side, he barked out an order to the Ranger team leader, Sergeant Pennington. "Get a few men to search the area near that vehicle." He pointed to a partially wrecked red Toyota truck sitting a few yards from the camp's ancient cistern. With a half hearted salute the soldier turned and jogged away. Arriving at the truck, the sergeant and two of his Rangers rummaged through the cab, and then proceeded to the ancient watering hole.
Pennington returned shortly, carrying a satchel under his arm. "Jones retrieved this from a spot near the well, sir... Bet one of their leaders dropped it during the missile strike." Immediately Diggs grabbed the bag and investigated. Opening the flap, he peered in. "Shit son, all you brought me was stone tablet with some pictures on it. What the hell is this stuff?" Pennington shrugged. Looking back to the Egyptian officer, Diggs hollered, Nazir, come over here." As he approached, Diggs threw the package over to him. "Got any ideas what this is, Captain?"
Nazir blinked quickly, brushing the dry Arabian sand and dirt from his face, and then pulled out the tablet. "It's hieroglyphics, Major, ancient Egyptian writings etched into stone."
"Well, what do you suppose the terrorists want with it" Diggs queried?
Nazir shook his head slowly. Then a thought came to him. "Mohammad, come over here," he shouted in Arabic. A young Egyptian soldier helping with the collection of the dead dropped his end of a badly burned body and raced over to his superior. With a sharp salute, he clicked his heals saying, "Reporting as ordered, sir."
"Mohammad, what do you make of this?"
The young man took the satchel and pulled out the stone tablet. He then shook off the dirt and sand covering the inscriptions and studied the pictures. "Oh, Allah be merciful," he declared, "It is a part of the Book of Regeneration."
Nazir shook his head. "You meant to say the Book of the Dead."
Mohammad did not want to counter his superior; however, he knew that Nazir was wrong. "No sir, not quite. This is a banned spell, purportedly used by a high priest who rebelled against the Pharaoh Ankhenaten. It was created for the reincarnation of the priest's personal army. He was executed before an army of the dead could be raised to challenge the Pharaoh. That was over three thousand years ago. Only the myth of that particular priest existed...until now."
"That doesn't make any sense," Diggs said. "How'd you know that anyway? Can you read this stuff?"
Mohammad smiled shyly, "Yes sir, I was a university student but I got called into the Army last June. My specialty in school was ancient Egyptian mythology and writings."
Nazir bit down hard on his lip. "Major, I have heard stories about a cult in this region of Egypt. It's headed by an imam who wants to bring back the dead to help fight off the invasion by Westerners. It could be that..."
Diggs stopped Nazir in mid sentence. "Now hold on, Captain. You mean to tell me that they were trying to raise the dead to fight us?" That's ridiculous... I'll bet those dead corpses over there would like to be the first ones brought back." He pointed to the mud brick structure where the bodies of the dead terrorists lay.
Nazir was not laughing. "I tell you Major, if the spell of the ancients is spoken properly and the power of the one that controls this spell is strong, there are those of our kind that believe they might rise again to fight."
Diggs grabbed the stone from Mohammad. "What's it say son? Just read it out for us."
The young Egyptian looked over to his leader for help.
Nazir reluctantly nodded his approval and Mohammad began to translate in Egyptian. After a few words, Diggs stopped him. "No son, in English; say it in English. I want to understand the words."
"By the light of RA and the staff of Anubis, I call upon the gods of our forefathers. My brother; rise up to live and fight again." Mohammad fell silent, and then suddenly, as if in a trance, he began to collapse. The Egyptian captain held him by the shoulders, keeping the boy from passing out. Mohammad was not aware, but he had properly chanted the spell of awakening. Nazir, shaken by the words and the boy's trance-like state, commanded Diggs. "I want my people out of here by nightfall. You may stay here if you wish, but I would not trust this place now that we have dishonored the one that controls the spell of incarnation."
Major Diggs laughed. "So you are afraid of a little ancient hocus pocus are you? Ok, I'll have your men extracted within the hour. My team is staying tonight. We'll show you that your ancient rites don't scare American Rangers. Besides, we have to RECON the area and finish the mission."
An hour later, Nazir and his team was on a chopper heading back to base. The Egyptian took the stone with him, promising Mohammad, "You are not to blame for the words you spoke, but I fear that we have inadvertently awakened a terrible thing, an evil hidden for centuries. The stone will go back to the authorities. I will make a report and see to it that the tablet reaches the museum of antiquities in Cairo."
Mohammad agreed, "There is no other choice but to place it into the hands of our learned men and I am glad to have retrieved such an important artifact." Nazir gave Mohammad the task of protecting the tablet on their trip back to base. However, the boy refused to remove it from his backpack, afraid to speak the words again in any language.
That evening, the Major set up a perimeter around the destroyed terrorist camp. The bodies of the dead Islamists lay stretched out in front of the abandoned brick hut. Diggs let some of his men stay inside the hut but stationed two on the eastern perimeter and four more to the north and west sides of the camp. There were thirteen U.S soldiers on the team and Major Diggs took up residence in the bed of the Toyota truck at the southern edge of camp.
At midnight, the carnage began. As each terrorist body came to life, they waited for the unspoken command of their master. When all became fully reanimated, on his command they turned their revenge on the unsuspecting souls in the hut. Without much of a fight, six Rangers in the structure were beaten and hacked to death. No shots rang out, but their muffled death throes alerted those on watch at the edge of the camp. The Ranger sentries stared out from their positions searching for invaders but they were next to succumb, their lives snuffed out from behind by unseen hands wielding large rocks, shovels or other makeshift weapons. Major Diggs lay asleep in the back of the Toyota unaware of the ongoing mayhem, but something stirred within him, a result of bad dreams and the premonition of doom channeled by Nazir's fears. The Major awoke in a puddle of sweat, just in time to hear the muffled screams from the last of his Ranger scouts. Feeling that something was terribly wrong, he dared not call out -- any sound could give away his position to the intruders.
Nearby, strange sounds emanated from the well. Something was crawling out from the darkness of that ancient pit. Its opening echoed from the sound of falling debris and the occasional splatter of mud chips plunking into the dark water. The entity was alive and ascending from his grave. The evil priest had festered for centuries in his watery prison and the incarnate soul longed for his day of reckoning. His remains, thrown into the cistern by Pharaoh's soldiers, had long ago decayed until nothing was left but minute particles of dust and mud. It was an unfitting end to the human form, a body that could be reconstituted only by the spell that the young Egyptian soldier spoke. Pharaoh's soldiers foolishly threw the stone tablet down in the well along with his body. How stupid, he thought, to have left him the means of his own regeneration. All he needed was someone to retrieve the stone and speak the words properly. Now the priest was back and there would be hell to pay. However, by the time he reached the lip of the well his form was still only partially reconstituted. He needed a donor, someone whose life essence could bring his body completely back to its original form -- this time as an immortal champion of death.
Diggs locked and loaded his weapon, a trusty .45 automatic pistol that had served him well in previous action. Reaching over the side of the truck bed, gently lifting his head above the rail, he looked for signs of life. Through night vision goggles he spied the shadowy forms moving forward towards him and peering over to the hut, he saw the bodies of six Rangers. The regenerated attackers placed their victims exactly where they were deposited that afternoon. Diggs squinted in the darkness as the faces of his assailants, the now undead moved forward. Each of the walking re-animated killing machines had one purpose, dealing death to the last of the infidel intruders.
"Goddamn zombie bastards," he shouted. Instinctively, he aimed and fired his pistol -- bam, bam, bam...one by one they dropped in a heap. When his magazine emptied, Diggs drew another clip and quickly shoved it into the firearm. Again, shots rang out in rapid-fire succession. The zombie attackers continued their slow assault against Diggs's well-placed fire until the last of them hit the ground, dead for the second time that day.
Drained by the experience, the Major fell back into the Toyota's bed. Diggs mind raced uncontrollably as he tried to understand what had happened. Rolling over onto his belly, he grabbed for his Ranger field phone and whispered. "May-day, may-day, come in GREEN DRAGON 4, this is BRAVO DELTA 6, over?" There was no answer. After a short silence, he called out again, this time louder, "GREEN DRAGON 4, this is BRAVO DELTA 4, we have multiple casualties. Request a transport and support, over?" This time they answered. It was night-time in the Egyptian desert and help would not come until morning.
Diggs sat up in the bed of the truck, listening for sounds of activity. Instinctively, he felt an evil presence in the darkness near the ancient well. He pointed his pistol, ready to shoot at anything that moved, but the blackness of the night left him unsure of whom, or what was still out there. It could be one of my men, he thought. Diggs hoped desperately that he was not alone, that another Ranger had survived the zombie attack. "Hey out there...Bravo team...is that you?" A low grunt, followed by a wisp of shadowy movement made Diggs realize that something was heading in his direction.
"Hello, Bravo team, report or be shot," he challenged. Still, there was no answer, just the sound shuffling forward in the desert night. Sweat poured down his cheeks as Major Diggs drew a bead in the direction of the noise. Then he moved it off-center and fired two rounds. POW – POW!
The ploy did not work and the phantom intruder edged closer to the truck. Fear gripped at Diggs and he hyperventilated, close to the point of blacking out. Catching his breath, he dropped down into the truck's bed and fumbled nervously with his Ranger flashlight. Pulling it free from the webbing, he pressed on the rubberized switch – nothing. "Goddamnit," he exclaimed. Banging it twice on the rail, he clicked again and the light flickered on. His next move was both daring and tactical. With his 45 automatic in his left hand and the illuminated flashlight in his right, Diggs pulled himself up over the truck's railing.
The flashlight focused on the grotesque form of the mummy priest and Major Diggs screamed, the noise reverberating among the ridges ringing the camp. It was a hideous monster, a demon from that ancient well of time reeking of pure hate and malice. For over three thousand years the creature waited patiently for freedom. Now, because of a chance encounter between a few misguided Islamists and the unsuspecting foreign infidels, it was back among the living; back to seek revenge.
The mummy's human form, now partially restored by the words of Mohammad, was still regenerating. Confronting Major Diggs at the truck, it regarded the unbeliever. The terrorist leaders were useful servants, digging up the tablet in an attempt to use it for their own evil purposes. He gave back the lives of those killed by the Ranger team, their reanimated remains providing the muscle needed to rid the camp of the intruders. Now only Major Diggs remained, and the mummy made quick work of him.
The next morning two Army helicopters arrived, bringing in twenty-six additional soldiers from the U.N. base camp near Cairo. They found nothing but death and destruction. During the search the soldiers found Major Diggs sitting up in the bed of the truck, his lifeless eyes set deep into hollow sockets. The Major's desiccated body barely filled out his once proud uniform. The essence of his body was gone, replaced by a shallow shell of clothes, bone and skin. He looked like a three thousand year old mummy. No other sign of life remained in the ruins of the terrorist camp.
Miles from the neutralized terrorist camp, the regenerated form of the priest rested among an outcropping of rocks near the Nile River. Wearing garments taken from the dead body of his latest victim, a Bedouin sheep-herder, he watched as small sailboats navigated the Nile River off in the distance. The stone tablet of regeneration was north, safe in The Cairo Museum of Antiquities. Soon, he vowed, I will recover the tablet of awakening and finish my work. The incarnate reveled in his nearly re-formed body and now more than ever, he was determined to reclaim his rightful place as ruler of the dead.
Two weeks later, after nearly a dozen regenerative killings, the master of the tablet of awakening strolled casually through the Cairo museum. Now dressed in the garb of a distinguished Egyptian academic, he walked up to an unsuspecting museum guard and flashed his credentials. "Yes sir," the guard said, "it is a pleasure to have such a distinguished guest from the Ministry of Antiquities." Smiling, he breezed past the young man. The entrance to the artifact storage area was two floors below the main exposition gallery. He had waited thousands of years; just a few more minutes and the prize would again be in his possession. Breaking open the padlocked door to a room marked -- NOT FOR DISPLAY -- he chuckled to himself, "Such sloppy security from the descendants of kings. They shall soon learn a hard lesson."
© 2008 E. W. Bonadio
Bio: E.W. Bonadio is the author of numerous short stories, essays, and books. His first fiction novel, (Voices), a supernatural thriller, was published in 2001, followed by a book of poetry, a children's adventure book titled Marin and the Dragon's Golden Treasure. Bonadio's latest novel, a mystery / thriller titled The Masada Stones was published in 2008. Other works by E.W. Bonadio are posted in the ezine, Tales from the Moonlit Path. Another of his short stories received honors in a 2006 international short story contest.
Born in Baltimore, Maryland (adopted home of Edgar Allen Poe) Bonadio receives his inspiration from that master of the macabre and among others, Stephen King, D. Koontz, and Wilbur Smith. He presently lives in Arizona and is a professional member of the Society of Southwestern Authors.
E-mail: E. W. Bonadio
Website: E. W. Bonadio
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