by J.G. Grimmer
Emrail Ibn Aziz glanced forlornly from the shimmering stars in the
night sky and their promised warmth, to the glowing lights of the round
city of Baghdad the Abbasid Caliphate of his Sultan Haroun al-Rashid;
where the real warmth of a woman and a fire beckoned like a cruel
harlot, offering then denying her services.
He and his men had been tracking a band of Banu Sasan at the behest
of his Sultan; who for many nights have been physically assaulting and
robbing the Sultan's friends. Once a poet, Ibn Aziz found his services
were suddenly no longer appreciated by his patron. He turned rogue and
now made a fine living through his other natural gifts, as spy and
sahib ba 'j--killer.
He'd prepared camp; saw to the camels and the fire at which he was
rubbing his smooth hands while his three cohorts Al bin-Shil, Hamad,
and Abu el Jawb scouted ahead on foot. Hamad, the best tracker he'd
ever known believed the Banu Sasan band to be close--very close. Even
better, Ibn Aziz thought; a prolonged chase over the sands of this
accursed wasteland would take him farther from the comforts of home,
and possibly displease his Sultan who charged him with the apprehension
of the brigands, as well as their swift and bloody end.
"Bring their heads to me," Ibn Aziz recalled his Sultan saying in
all his perfumed finery surrounded by the comforts of his palace.
"After all, an example must be made to discourage this kind of
Informant and eyewitness reports agreed that the band was made up of
no more than four individuals--all very professional, in some cases
polite yet having no scruples or hesitation in the use of brutality. Men after my own black heart,
Ibn Aziz thought, his storm cloud gray eyes searching the darkness
beyond the glow of his fire, hand on the hilt of his sword awaiting his
companions' return. The exception of course being, he thought, that a man makes many more dinars in blood work than in thieving.
The desert winds which at high sun shrieked across the blistered
barren ground with a velocity that could scrape the beard from a man's
face had abated with the darkness. Now all was still. His fingers
tingled with the first nips of chill that would soon become icy bites
penetrating to the bone. The desert was closed on all sides in the
frozen grip of Shaitan. Ibn Aziz moved closer to the fire that despite
a fire's appearance gave off all the warmth of a painting of a fire.
The camels huddled close together against the cold made indecent
disgusting noises downwind of him; mere shadows now except where the
feeble light of the fire managed to illuminate a patch of tawny hair,
or reflected dully off black long lashed eyes. Ibn Aziz longed for a
cup of his favorite mint tisane, while turning the plain copper and
iron band round and around the small finger of his left hand. He
wrapped the tail of his turban about his face until only his eyes were
visible beneath his helmet.
The crescent moon hung low over the horizon. It was intensely
bright, like a blade reflecting the sun, its sharp wickedly curved edge
poised as if to disembowel the Earth itself. Emrail Ibn Aziz
shivered--a combination of the hunger for battle, the cold and the
unnaturally bright moon. One of the camels produced a series of noises
that Ibn Aziz immediately recognized as an alert call. Then he heard
Their unnerving cackling like that of a desert hermit mystic
deranged by the crushing solitude emanated just beyond the firelight.
Drawing his sword and commending his soul to the Prophet, Ibn Aziz
Ready for silence.
The hyenas fell silent. The camels settled down, undisturbed,
unconcerned as quickly as a maiden closing a shutter to discourage
prying eyes. Ibn Aziz stood sword ready, dumbfounded yet still
expecting an attack by snarling hyenas.
"This is how you greet your brothers?" Hamad asked, stepping into
the fire glow, clutching by the hair the head of one of the Banu Sasan
band which he casually swung like a pendulum at his side. "Sword ready?"
"I should feel insulted," said Al bin-Shil, also carrying a severed
head, "however with the reward surely awaiting us for the heads of
these bandits I shall let it pass--for now."
"Not I," proclaimed Abu el Jawb sarcastically, his hands holding two
heads. "For behold we have done all the work while our leader sits with
the camels." he said, smiling broadly.
Emrail Ibn Aziz attempted to maintain a stern expression, but could
not. "All the work? From where I'm standing, it is obvious the three of
you took them by surprise. Not one of you has a scratch," he said,
returning his sword to the baldric strapped about his waist.
The three regarded the severed heads in their hands, each other, and
then Ibn Aziz. "It is true my lord," Hamad admitted sheepishly. "We
came upon their camp..."
"And found..." Al bin-Shil said, then turned to his companion.
"The bandits sleeping," Abu el Jawb said taking up the story, then
burst out in equal measure laughter and spittle. "The numbskulls did
not even post a guard!" he exclaimed, tears in his eyes. All started
"Come let us warm ourselves by the fire," Ibn Aziz said jovially.
"Regale me with the account of your 'Raid on the Camp of the Sleeping
Dunces' before we return home."
The scimitar moon hovered just above and behind the heads of the
three "raiders," its sun-like brightness sharply silhouetting their
forms against the flickering firelight, casting strange shadows. Ibn
Aziz felt strangely lulled, then suddenly profoundly sleepy. What
appeared to be sooty black smoke as from an oil lamp puffed up
intermittently from the shoulders of the three men facing him. Each
face in turn warped and distorted grotesquely as they engaged in a
conversation Ibn Aziz could not make out, although he thought he heard
the hyenas again.
Of course, that was absurd.
Hamad in the center silenced Al bin-Shil and Abu el Jawb with a decidedly hyena-like snarl. "Enough sisters, I am the eldest and I have decided!" he said, decidedly unlike Hamad, and then turned his bald head and wild black bearded face to stare at Ibn Aziz. "This one is mine!" His eyes, the color of lapis lazuli, which had overcome the inhibitions of many women, shimmered as he smiled.
Until they began to melt.
The whites ran down his cheeks in milky rivulets followed by the
rest revealing black orbs that reflected the firelight. Then Hamad's
skin began to droop like pulled taffy until it hit the sand with wet
sounds, there to mingle with clumps of beard.
Likewise the faces of Al bin-Shil and Abu el Jawb dissolved away in
the same manner. Their skin hitting the sand sounded like roasting fat
on a spit, until they not only cackled like hyenas, they took their
form, and then darted off like shadows. The startled, panicked
bellowing and bleating of the camels was soon replaced by sounds of
Mesmerized by the black eyes flecked with orange fire-glow, the
terrible sounds of what was befalling the camels seemed far away; much
like a forgotten memory triggered by an aroma, or color, or landmark.
Emrail Ibn Aziz felt embraced in the depthless, lightless void.
The face around those obsidian eyes no longer Hamad's was obscured
by oily black smoke which dissipated slowly, like veils taken away one
by one to reveal a beautiful woman. She stood up and casually kicked
aside the body-less head. "Now my sweet, let's have a look at you." She said and proceeded to walk into and through the fire which rippled slightly, but did not affect her in any way.
How often does one find a beautiful woman out in the middle of
the desert, let alone one who sounds like a hyena and walks through
fire without injury? The voice of his better judgment cried out
softly, somehow penetrating the abyssal depths he found himself in.
Although the words made sense Emrail Ibn Aziz found himself unable to
The woman clad just below bare shoulders in the puffy black smoke
gave tantalizing glimpses at the form beneath knelt before him, her
face inches away. Delicate fingers with long dangerously sharp nails
worked nimbly to remove the turban tail he'd wrapped around his face.
As her fingers brushed his iron-bronze helmet there was a sharp intake
of breath followed by a cobra-like hiss of pain. She looked at him and
smiled, her perfect ruby-red lips parting to reveal horrible
bloodstained arrowhead teeth, studded here and there with bits of gore.
He shivered as she caressed his smooth cheek with her fingernail,
and then carefully removed his helmet in a flash of her talons,
exposing his bald head. Sitting back the woman cooed. Completely
hairless from birth Ibn Aziz had always thought himself apart from a
world that equated masculinity and virility with flowing locks and
The woman's gaze crawled over him like a dozen spiders. "You will do nicely," she said still cooing, "husband." Her black eyes glittering like onyx.
"Oooh he is pretty, sister." The poser of Al bin-Shil
said suddenly on his left, her chin wet with blood. Casually she tossed
a camel eye in the air than caught it as if it were a coin.
"Pretty, yes," the third sister imposter of Abu el Jawb whispered in Aziz's right ear, startling him. "Presentation is important, but I am more interested in how good
he tastes." The camel eye sailed by him in a graceful arc landing
squarely in the third sister's mouth, which closed around it with a pop.
Free of the helmet and its' self imposed constraints, Aziz's mind
cleared, no longer subject to the hypnotic thrall of the ghul;
blissfully unaware of the change in their situation--Soon, ignorant creatures,
he thought, the fire inside him building. Even though his every move
was noted none of them saw him surreptitiously remove the last
impediment--his ring, so quick was he.
The third sister who was lightly raking his scalp with her long
fingernails was the first to notice. Her pitch-colored eyes widened in
alarm, but as her mouth opened to alert the others, a thin line raced
across her neck. The same line appeared on the neck of the second
sister--both sat mute as if frozen until their heads rolled at his feet.
The eldest sister tried to snarl at him, but only a feeble fleeting
gurgle escaped as he held the tip of his scimitar to her throat. The
blade reflected the intense light of the moon into her face casting
away the glamour magic and revealing her true hideous nature, the
mottled gray face of a corpse come to life; gaping hole in place of a
nose, hollowed cheeks, mostly bald except for a few strands of
spider-web-like hair, prominent well-used teeth, and those soul
suffocating black eyes--the skeletal body.
"I have been charged by the Lord of the Kaf, Ruler of the Realm of
the Emerald Mountains to end your reign of terror in this realm." Aziz
"You are Aziz, the One who Walks Between Both Worlds--the High
Executioner of the Lord of the Kaf." The ghula said, her voice
trembling. "But what wrong have we done, you would kill us for acting
as our nature dictates?"
"You and your sisters have become wild, feral--threatening the Kaf
Lord's designs for the Human Realm." Aziz replied, and then removed her
head with the slightest effort. He placed the heads of the Banu Sasan
band on pikes for the Sultan discharging his duty to the Humans and
then carried the heads of the ghula like a shadow, bound for the Realm
of the Emerald Mountains.
Longing to return home.
© 2015 J.G. Grimmer
Bio: Mr. Grimmer has previously appeared in Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine.
E-mail: J.G. Grimmer
Comment on this story in the Aphelion Forum
Return to Aphelion's Index page.