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   Chapter 4 The Curse

The Curse of Kalaan By Linda Saint Jalmes Characters: 22712

Updated: 2018-05-18 10:13

As Kalaan seized the stone, he felt an intense pain in the palm of his hand and was carried off to ... the doors of hell!

Not the hell we, mere mortals, know — a place of eternal damnation with burning fires and where sinners are tortured and receive never-ending punishment, not a lava-filled underworld where souls are devoured by flames and suffer atrocious agonies as told in the Bible. No, it was nothing like that.

The place where Kalaan found himself was cold and enveloped in shadows with hundreds of dark, emaciated human-like shapes shrouded in fog. The antechamber with its gold covered walls had disappeared in the blink of an eye and so had Champollion. Kalaan began to call out to Jean-Fran?ois and search frantically for him left and right. The ground was spongy and covered in swirls of a chalk-like substance. He stopped one of the silhouettes thinking it might be his friend, but found himself facing a deathly-pale emaciated creature with blurred features, glassy eyes and thin stringy white hair — a dead man, a moving cadaver.

"No, no, " Kalaan intoned spinning around, like a possessed man. His hair, no longer attached, danced freely in the icy wind, whipping his face. A few strands were stuck to his cheeks, and caught in his eyes. The air was vile and damp, soaking his white linen shirt and light suede trousers, chilling him to the bone even more. It was as cold as the North Pole.

"I must be losing my mind; this place cannot be real!" he said to himself through his chattering teeth as he set off again in search of Champollion. It was so dark that he shouldn't have been able to see anything; and yet, Kalaan could see everything around him very clearly. Soon as he realized that the cadavers were moving in his direction, Kalaan grew more agitated. The dead were becoming more and more aggressive and their moaning began to sound menacing. The young man realized he was in great danger; and he had no weapon with which to defend himself — neither sword, nor pistol!

But how could he defend himself anyway? The deceased cannot die again! For the first time in his life, before he could be completely surrounded, Kalaan took to his heels, and ran as fast as he could weaving through the zombies, avoiding as best he could their long bony hands and claw-like fingers.

So this was the lamenting and moaning that he had heard on the other side of the wall, the cries of the living dead! Kalaan, having woken them, was now their prey. He had to find a way out, and quickly!

In the distance, he could make out a building through the icy fog and he tried to make his way towards it. One minute he was running quickly, but the next he was wading through thick mud while his pursuers got closer and closer, showing their teeth like rabid dogs. He had to reach the building at all cost.

As he got closer, he realized the building was in fact a very bleak looking manor of sorts. Its door slowly opened making a horrible grating noise. Without even thinking, his pursuers so close he could smell their nauseatingly foul breath, Kalaan ran with all his strength towards what he thought was his last chance at salvation, stumbling over what he presumed was the root of a very old and unidentifiable tree and almost lost his balance.

This slowed him just enough for one of the creatures to reach him and scratch him deeply on his right shoulder. His shirt and flesh were torn and as he felt his warm blood trickle down his skin numb with cold, he let out the long moan of an injured wild animal. Kalaan clenched his teeth; this was not the moment to waiver so he compelled the powerful muscles in his legs to carry him forward towards the door, which seemed to disappear every time he got close.

Finally, he leaped up the three steps and entered the manor. As he did so, the door slammed shut behind him in an infernal racket. He leaned against the cold wood of the door and bent forward, placing his hands on his trembling knees, trying to catch his breath. His open lips let steam escape from his mouth in rapid wisps and his heart felt as if it would leap out of his chest.

Behind the door, his assailants were furiously scratching at the wood with their long nails. They were becoming increasingly agitated and began pounding on the barrier. Kalaan pushed against the door with all his strength to resist the onslaught. He had no idea how much time had passed before silence returned, but when it did, he carefully inspected his surroundings.

Strangely enough, it was just as he thought. There were no evil beings in the place. After a moment's rest, he would be able to think clearly and try to understand what was happening. For there had to be a logical explanation; and the most likely one is that he was probably in the throes of a fever and in reality still lying down in the antechamber. His friends would soon come save him. It would also explain why Champollion was not at his side in this hellish place.

However, for the moment, everything seemed all too real and Kalaan's instinct told him to keep moving. Oddly enough, he could still see perfectly well in the darkness so he went up to a tall mirror covered in spider webs. He could hardly recognize what he saw. In the mirror a tall strong man with pallid features looked back at him. His long hair was a mess, his cheeks stained with mud and his clothes were in a sorry condition. Yet it was his own reflection.

"Kalaan, count of Croz, Egyptologist and buccaneer, fearing neither God nor man, especially when it comes to giving the English a good flogging!" Kalaan's deep baritone voice was loud and clear and as he spoke, for added effect, he clicked his heels in a military style salute.

A little humor couldn't hurt, no matter how paltry and Lil' Louis would have laughed at hearing him being so boastful with his usual composure.

Kalaan turned sideways, using the mirror to inspect the wound on his shoulder. Blood was still flowing from it, but had slowed down. He placed a few strips of cloth on the wound and applied as much pressure as he could with his left hand. It looked as if he'd been attacked by a bear, and not a cadaver.

"A cadaver, " he repeated with some bitterness. "God, release me from this fever induced nightmare and I promise to behave properly in the future! I will be more merciful with the English and I will not throw their vile boiled beef and mint sauce overboard."

Despite his good intentions, Kalaan could not help the disgusted expression on his face.

Suddenly, a flash of movement behind his reflection startled him. Once more on his guard, he turned quickly, but there was nothing, not a sound, not a soul, even damned. It must have been a hallucination.

"You fool! You are already in a hallucination. Nothing here is normal!" Kalaan spoke out loud sounding annoyed, before rapidly looking around him.

He was in the entrance hall of an abandoned dwelling. It was furnished and decorated in the style of post revolutionary France. Everything was in a sorry state. The furniture was falling to pieces, the tapestries and rugs were worn thin, and the dirty floor was strewn with broken crockery. Everything was covered in dust and hundreds of spider webs that danced in the slightest breeze.

"What strange disease could cause such hallucinations?" Kalaan forced himself to speak out loud, finding the sound of his own deep voice reassuring.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw something move in a doorway, and heard a high-pitched cackling.

"Who goes there?"

In response to his question, he heard laughter, without a doubt a woman's laugh.

"A woman... just my luck, " Kalaan bravely headed towards the door, while the throbbing pain in his right hand returned.

He paused for a moment, raising his right palm to eye level so he could see it properly and freed his other hand from holding his wounded shoulder. No matter what, it was all just a nightmare and the bleeding had been staunched.

The pain in his hand came from a strange triangular shaped burn and Kalaan realized immediately where he had got it.

"The black stone!"

"The stone, the stone, the stone." It was a woman's jeering voice, followed by more mocking laughter.

"Oh, just shut up!" The young man lost all sense of gallantry as he stomped angrily towards the room the sounds were coming from, kicking everything in his way. He was sick and tired of this grotesque nightmare!

Suddenly, he was surrounded by hoots of laughter coming from all directions. The high-pitched strident jeering made Kalaan cover his ears with his hands.

Then they appeared, moving like processional ants. They swarmed in from all the rooms on that floor as well as down the staircase. Kalaan had no choice but to beat a retreat and soon his back was to the entrance door again, and he was surrounded by a battalion of women in petticoats.

These were not young ladies, but terrifying creatures. Never would Kalaan have given way to members of the fairer sex, if they didn't look like a horde of she-devils.

They were dressed in cumbersome hoop petticoats and yet they moved with a disconcerting grace and fluidity. The tight-fitting bodices highlighted their round breasts, which could have been attractive, if their skin wasn't marbled with dark creases and pustules. As for their faces, they would have rendered even the friskiest of rakes impotent. They were absolutely hideous, long and smeared with white paint, which brought out their red lips and sharp teeth. As if this sad and frightening spectacle was not enough, the harpies wore ridiculous powdered wigs with little hats perched on top, as was the fashion in 1778. Some of those wigs could measure over two feet high!

Oh, what lovely looking wenches! Kalaan, thought to himself. His broad back was still leaning against the door frame and the women were closing in on him slowly and insidiously.

How many were there in this place? It was of no importance really, for wherever he looked, the young count's eyes came to rest on the grotesque creatures. They were laughing and sizing him up with their dark beady eyes, watching every movement he made. They were almost like snakes. In fact there was nothing very human about them, except for their apparel.

"I have never struck a woman, but if you come any closer I will not hesitate." Kalaan's warning, made with his fists clenched and muscles tensed, was met with laughter. The high-pitched sound of it was sheer torture. A few of the harpies narrowed their eyes and raised their long claw-like fingers towards his face.

Walking dead, they are just like the specters I encountered outside, he realized.

"Oh, isn't he adorable, " said one of the harpies, teasingly. She was far too close for comfort.

"Mmm, I just love the smell of fear on him, " murmured another, while sniffing at him and licking her lips as if he were an enticing meal.

Kalaan was going to have to start punching! This had gone too far, and he was ready to hit out, when, he heard Champollion's voice far away, cold and distorted, interspersed with the women's responses.

"Woe to those who profane the den of fear…"

"Oh, yes, fear!"

"On you the stone will unleash your worst terrors..."

"Your terror, my lovely, will be our feast!"

"You will suffer, you will become…"


you will become one of us."

"You will beg for the deliverance that only death can bring you."

"I cannot wait to hear you beg."

One of the harpies cooed gently in his ear, just as the others started showing their teeth and then, all at once, they jumped on Kalaan.

Thus began the most horrible battle of the young count's life. He punched and kicked and even lashed out with his head, anything to free himself from the claws and teeth that were tearing his flesh. He never would have thought it was possible to die under attack by women! And yet, seriously outnumbered, he was pinned to the ground, prisoner, of hoops and petticoats.

Females! I always knew they would be the death of me, was Kalaan's last thought before losing consciousness. He had dreamed of dying on his ship, sword in hand, but it seems his destiny was to die at the hand of these evil damsels. Oh, the disgrace!

After waiting outside the edifice for what seemed an eternity, and after hearing screams of terror echoing in the tunnel, Salam, Lil' Louis and a dozen of the count's sailors grabbed some torches quickly lit by the local workmen and rushed into the entrails of the earth to find their friends. The locals, scared out of their wits, were too frightened to follow. They swore however that they would wait at the entrance for everyone to return.

Kalaan had never before screamed in terror. The man was fearless, except, perhaps, where women were concerned, as he led us to believe, but that was most certainly a joke.

The group descended rapidly, just barely avoiding running into the wall where the passage turned sharply to the right, and five minutes later they found themselves in a dark gloomy chamber.

The walls were blackened and cracked by fire, the sandy floor was a dull sooty gray and there was a strong, distinct smell of sulfur in the air. Not far from what had once obviously been a pedestal, lay Jean-Fran?ois and Kalaan, their bodies twitching and agitated. They were writhing as if in agony, screaming and moaning incomprehensible words.

"Light up the floor, look carefully everywhere. They may have been bitten by snakes or scorpions!" ordered Salam as he went towards the injured men.

He knelt at Kalaan's side and signaled that Lil' Louis should do the same with Champollion, thinking the scholar would be the easier of the two to control in this state. Salam thought he would be a better match for the count than the old seaman, and he was not mistaken. As Salam leaned over the count, Kalaan swung out at him. The man was so strong he could have knocked out a camel! The Tuareg barely managed to dodge the first attack, but couldn't avoid the second one and received a deep bite on his forearm. Clenching his teeth in pain, Salam managed to break free and, because the young count was becoming far too dangerous, he knocked him unconscious before throwing him over his shoulder to carry him outside. Meanwhile Lil' Louis grabbed Champollion by his feet and a hardy sailor picked up the other end.

"Let's get out and fast!" barked Salam who had noticed that the heavily cracked walls were on the point of collapse, was but kept this to himself, not wanting to frighten the men more than necessary.

His silence was unnecessary, however. Lil' Louis, like the other men, was far from stupid and realized the danger they were in. Keeping cool heads, they calmly but quickly made for the exit, kindling Salam's admiration.

The minute they were out, Salam shouted orders in Arabic and the Egyptian workmen hurriedly stretched canvases over the bodies of the two friends, still held by the men, but now lying outside on the sand. The sun was going down, but its rays were still strong.

"Hold him Genaoueg1!" Lil' Louis shouted to his companions who were doing their best to keep the delirious Count of Croz under control.

"We must find what put them in this condition. Look for the slightest sting or bite mark on their skin!" As Salam shouted this order, the fabric of his clothing grazed Kalaan's contorted face. The young man's reaction was surprising, and he began struggling even more.

"Get me out from under these petticoats, " he screamed like a lunatic. "They're suffocating me!"

Lil' Louis' eyes opened wide in astonishment. "Oy'd like t'know wot he's goin' on about. Petticoats? He's dreamin' o' lassies agin!"

"No, no... not the teeth, not the teeth..." Kalaan chanted, his face tense with pain or fear.

"Petticoats, teeth, women, it dinna seem a nightmare." The old man trying to joke had a bawdy tone to his voice. He turned to Champollion who was muttering something about scythes and black-caped skeletons.

"He is pursued by Death, " murmured Salam in reply to Lil' Louis' unvoiced question. His examination of Kalaan's body showed no evidence of wounds inflicted by snakes or scorpions.

Jean-Fran?ois' body was the same, no bite nor sting; however the bridge of his nose was swollen and the palm of Kalaan's right hand had a triangular shaped burn mark. Even so, these injuries could not logically be the cause of their delusional state.

"Lack o' oxygin?" Lil' Louis was trying to find an explanation.

"Most likely." Salam nodded his turbaned head in agreement. "Or noxious air in the tunnels. There have been cases of that before. It is most definitely not a disease as neither of them have a fever."

"Champollion is waking!" one of Kalaan's sailors called out.

Indeed, the Egyptologist was looking around him, a haunted but alert expression in his eyes, his body no longer trembling. It was not the same for the young count who was still fighting off the "filthy petticoats" as he called them while crying out in his agitation.

Salam squatted down near Champollion.

"Do you recognize me?"

"Sa... Salam, " murmured Jean-Fran?ois. His hair was disheveled and he spoke with difficulty as he tried to raise himself on to his elbows. "Where… where are we?"

"Outside the building. You are safe now."

"What building? We were supposed to... a discovery... a tomb... Kalaan wished to show me…"He was very confused and to Salam and Lil' Louis' astonishment, he seemed to have forgotten everything that had happened.

"What is my friend suffering from?" the stunned Egyptologist stammered as he sat up to gulp down some water from the goatskin he'd been handed.

What could they possibly say in response?

"You don't remember anything? Not the building, or the hieroglyphs, the door that turned to dust under Kalaan's touch, nor the tunnel or anything that happened afterwards?"

"No... no, nothing." Jean-Fran?ois was babbling, his eyes bulging. "We were on the dune, we were to see a tomb and, and then… nothing. Death was pursuing me swinging his scythe above my head."

A very loud rumbling followed by strong tremors caught them by surprise and they all retreated as fast as they could, carrying Kalaan and Champollion with them. In no time at all, the structure caved in completely while emitting one final agonizing lament. The sand from the tall dune where they stood buried it completely before turning into a powerful maelstrom2 twisting and swirling down into the depths of the earth.

"Everyone back or we will be sucked in!" Salam had to shout in order to be heard above the deafening noise. He knocked Kalaan out again so that he could move freely without worrying about his friend.

"Ma Doue"3, whistled Lil' Louis breathlessly, "Oy have only seen the like at sea! Oy dinna know the sand did the same."

"It never does, " muttered Salam in his strong accent.

The strange phenomenon stopped as suddenly as it started and where there once stood a building, there was nothing more than an immense cone-shaped hole. They had to leave this place as quickly as possible!

Which is exactly what all the local workers did, running as fast as they possibly could, screaming like madmen. This time Salam could not hold them back. All the pandemonium alerted the members of Jean-Fran?ois' expeditionary team and the agitation even reached the other side of the river. Many of the men were already boarding feluccas to cross to the other side of the Nile as quickly as possible.

"I do not understand, " Champollion managed to say. He was slowly regaining strength and managed to walk. "What is happening here?"

Then, an idea struck him and he pulled out his notebook, but ... nothing. The last words he could read had been written when he was visiting Tell el-Amarna. This came as an enormous surprise to Lil' Louis and Salam, because they had seen him take notes when he was deciphering the inscriptions on the wall. Even more disturbing was that there were no missing pages! Here was another new and very particular mystery!

"The heat." Salam said quickly, ignoring Lil' Louis' bewildered expression and before he could open his mouth to say something, Salam intervened again, glaring darkly at the old man. "I said the heat!"

Lil' Louis understood this was not the moment to discuss what had happened. They were surrounded by too many curious ears. The very inquisitive Nestor L'H?te and Ippolito Rosellini, were with them now, as well as the men in arms and the chaplain that accompanied their expedition and who would not have hesitated to mention heresy in his report.

"Yes, well, you are probably correct, " exclaimed Champollion who was not taken in, but was trying hard to put this whole nightmare behind him; the nightmare and hallucinations must have been caused by sunstroke. Yes, well…

Moments later, as he boarded a felucca, he reassured his comrades about his health and then told them the story of the sand maelstrom. They quickly arrived on the east bank of the Nile and took leave of Kalaan's group. Despite his many unanswered questions, Champollion headed up the river to Thebes to continue his journey. Before leaving though, he did express his concern for Kalaan who was still unconscious. Salam and Lil' Louis promised to keep him informed as soon as possible and Kalaan's group boarded the Horus as night set in. As for the local laborers hired by the Count of Croz, they had disappeared into thin air.

"What do we do now?" Lil' Louis was very distraught and obviously worried about Kalaan. He should have come to as Champollion had, but instead he remained in the throes of his delirium and the old seaman was worried for his life.

"The workmen will spread the story of the curse and the edifice swallowed by the sand." Salam said with conviction. "In this country, Kalaan will soon be given the role of a demon and will have to be punished for unleashing the fury of the ancient gods. His life is in danger and we must leave Egypt as quickly as possible!"

"We? Ye'r comin' with us?" Lil' Louis could not hide his surprise.

Salam nodded."Yes, you will need me. And I owe a life to Kalaan. I will be in his debt until he is out of harm's way."

"Then let's go home!" the old man shouted before giving the crew their orders. He was immensely relieved by Salam's decision. It was high time they said goodbye to Egypt and returned home to Brittany.

"Oy hope the lad can hold on 'til we get te France. Oy wouldn't want him to die before seeing his mama one last time." Lil' Louis could not hold back a solitary tear that trickled down his chubby cheek and into his graying beard.

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