By Scott Michael Hutchings

From the August 2021 edition of Cosmic Horror Monthly

Of all the substances that men have believed to hold aphrodisiac properties, the strangest was certainly the dust of millennia old corpses, but such was the case in my youth. During the reign of our Queen Victoria, the young rakes and their young ladies attended mummy unwrapping parties, ostensibly to further their scientific and cultural education, but the stimulation they sought was not of an intellectual nature.

I’ve read that the majority of arousal occurs in the mind. So, if you believe that something is an aphrodisiac, it will suffice. Still, I remember those days, and when the lecturer opened the case and began snipping the wrappings, the room filled with scents of exotic spices and ancient decay, the nostrils tingled, the heart quickened. You could see young women’s breasts rising and falling beneath their gowns. We knew in our souls it was a violation, a crossing of forbidden boundaries that only added to the thrill, the illusion of danger when we were perfectly safe. After all, how can the dead punish our transgressions?

Following just such an exhibition, I escorted a certain young lady home, and in the closeness of the cab we gave in fully to our passions. The marriage was a happy one, if hastily arranged, and Egyptian Studies lost all interest for me while she lived. I lost contact with most of my old associates, put my misspent youth behind me, and established myself in medical practice.

A year after my wife’s passing, I was up past midnight, reading and sipping brandy, when I heard a faint, erratic knocking at the front door. Having no idea who it could be, I grabbed a cane from the umbrella stand before opening. I recoiled and raised my stick as a haggard looking man, wrapped in a tattered blanket, stumbled into my hall.

“Thank God you’re up,” he gasped. “I couldn’t have knocked loud enough to wake you.” He dropped to his knees, the blanket fell away from his head, and I recognized the face of one of my oldest friends, Roger Updike. We’d had lunch only two weeks prior, and he’d been hale and hearty, rich and scandalous as ever. Now his hair was matted with sweat, his skin pale and clammy, his hand trembling as it clutched the ragged blanket around his shivering frame. His eyes, wild and reddened, darted about the entry hall.

I helped him to his dirty and bloodied bare feet, and into a chair by the fire in my study, giving him a snifter of brandy to calm his nerves. When he’d composed himself, save for his left hand which twitched unseen under the blanket, he looked more steadily around the room, almost as if he was assuring himself, he was there. He turned to me. I looked into his pale face, his reddened eyes, and understood that some men are truly damned.

He spoke softly, haltingly, quite unlike his old, snappy patter. “Is… anyone else here?”

 “Brinson, of course, asleep in his quarters.”

He smiled ruefully. “I don’t know why I should care, but the old habits die hard. Something horrible happens and our class is more concerned with gossip than tragedy.”

 “What’s happened?”

He stared at me, wide-eyed, “What’s happened? Oh God… What’s happened? …No, I must tell someone, even if it means Bedlam… Wait, let me back up a bit.”

He paused for a gulp of brandy, sat up straighter, arranged his blanket like a Roman Senator smoothing his robe, and once composed, began, “You must remember David Scofeld, do you not?”

“How could I forget,” I nodded. “He was the most decadent rogue I’ve ever known.”

Roger smiled wryly,” I bumped into him last week and he invited me to a special party he was having, a mummy unwrapping. I asked if that sort of thing wasn’t somewhat out of fashion, but David laughed and said this was more than just the dusty corpse of some ancient Egyptian bellhop. He claimed to have laid his hands on the mummy of a Pharaoh. Oh, but not just any old Pharaoh, the legendary Black Pharaoh himself.”

He held out his glass and I splashed more brandy in. He gulped some down and continued. “I was interested, of course. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the legend.” I shook my head. “Well supposedly, at the end of the First Dynasty, the Black Pharaoh, Nyarlathotep, came out of nowhere and seized control of the whole Nile valley. He ruled bloody-handed for nearly a century, perverting the religion of Ancient Egypt to some twisted worship of dark Elder Gods, performing unholy rites, and siring monsters with the daughters of slaves and nobles alike. When he was finally overthrown, he was buried in an unmarked tomb in the trackless desert and all formal records of his rule were erased. David believed he’d obtained the mortal remains of an unholy demigod.”

“Sound like one of Scofeld’s flights of fantasy,” I said.

“Yes…” His face twitched and the hand under the blanket spasmed oddly. “Pretty fantastic stuff, I agree, and certainly not accepted in serious archaeological circles. I was quite certain poor old David’d been swindled. Still, I was intrigued and promised to attend, warning him that I might be late. In fact, I had arranged for a most interesting assignation for the hours before his party and intended to make the most of it.

He drained his glass, held it out for a refill, poured some more down his throat, and stared blankly into the fire. From the movement of the blanket, his unseen hand positively squirmed, but he paid it no mind and went on with his story.

“When I arrived, no one answered my knock, but the door wasn’t latched, not even fully closed, so I just let myself in. The scent hit me immediately, like any mummy, but more so. It was the very essence of ancient Egypt; exotic, ancient, and carnal. Even after my lascivious afternoon, I was instantly aroused. The sounds of pleasure wafted into the hall, and I followed them to the drawing room and into a scene from my most fevered fantasies; torn clothing scattered everywhere, naked flesh writhing on the floor in every form of sexual congress, a sweating, moaning mass of raw passion.”

Roger stared into his drink, then looked up at me with an ironic smirk. “Yes, a roman orgy in a London townhouse.” He laughed, bitterly. “Be careful what you wish for. The dust—God—the dust drifting like a faint cloud over the room. The dust stole my will and I ripped at my clothes, flinging them aside as I rushed to join the orgiastic spectacle. Madeline Chancellor was at the front edge of the tangle of flesh, her hair undone, her bare skin flushed and glistening with perspiration. She was so beautiful in that moment. I grabbed her arms, yanked her partially free of the tangle, and kissed her, pressed her hot, glowing flesh to my own. I don’t believe I’ve ever known a more perfect moment of physical pleasure.”

He looked down at his unseen hand, crawling beneath the blanket, drained his third glass of brandy, and carelessly set it down on the edge of the lampstand. His hand, now free, clamped down on the blanket, pinning the one underneath. It subsided to a feeble twitching. He looked up again, face pale and stretched, his voice cracking.

“Then, I saw, over her shoulder, what I’d been too besotted to see before; the mummy was standing up in its case, shriveled arms spread wide, head back, leather face stretched in ecstasy over its half-exposed skull. A whirlwind of dust surrounded it, stretching out gritty tendrils to obscenely stroke the skins of the fornicators.”

He clenched his eyes shut. “I tried to pull away, but Madeline was clinging to me. Behind her, moans turned to shrieks, erotic motion to desperate struggle, lustful, blissful expressions to pain and terror. Madeline pulled back from me, her face twisting in ecstatic horror, staring downward. Her leg melted as I watched, like wax, flowing into the flesh of a man dissolving beneath her. Obscene tendrils crawled up under her skin. I threw myself away from her as she was sucked into a Hellish mound of twitching flesh. I fell back against the door as the thing began to surge forward, parts of its flesh taking on half-formed shapes of faces, limbs, torsos, but all sliding across the floor towards me. Over its heaving bulk, the mummy stared at me with eye sockets of empty blackness. I could feel the infinite, empty, cold of its soul, the cruel mockery directed at mankind. Its laugh pierced me like daggers of ice.”

He shuddered violently. “I ran from the house, naked as the day I was born. Out in the street, three matronly ladies screamed when they saw me. I was about to seek cover when I realized they were staring at this.”

He pulled back the blanket and I shuddered. His arm looked quite normal down to the elbow, but the forearm was drawn out to a point like warm taffy. The end slowly squirmed like a searching tentacle while strange throbbings pulsed redly up the shaft.

Roger covered it quickly and looked up, “I must’ve pushed away from poor Madeline a little too late. I have no idea where this blanket came from, or how I made my way here, but I can feel this thing spreading under the skin, growing, trying to claim me. You have to help me, you’re a surgeon, you have to cut it off.”

I nodded, the whole story was too fantastic, but the thing on his arm was real and had to be dealt with.

Let me wake Brinson, he can assist. Just wait here while I make the preparations.”

He looked up at me, shaking, “Please hurry, I… think I can feel it, that thing, that horrid mound of flesh from that awful room. It’s moving under the city, through the sewers maybe, searching for me, searching…” He grimaced at his arm. “…for its missing flesh. Part of me wants to go to it, meet it, wants to… oh God… join with it.”

I promised I would hurry, then roused Brinson and told him to prepare the treatment room for an amputation. He seemed befuddled but dressed and headed to the back of the house. I headed to my own chamber, not wanting to perform surgery in my dressing gown. I was just pulling on a shirt when I heard a scream. Running into the hall and down the stairs, I heard a horrendous banging and clattering from the back of the house, where the treatment room was. A crack of splintering wood like the door to my office bursting, which meant the source of the disturbance—I refused to think about what that might be—was one flimsy door away from the study, where Roger was waiting. I ran down the lower hall and into the room, grabbing my shotgun from over the mantelpiece and fumbling in the desk for shells. Roger was slumped in the chair, looking resigned, or maybe expectant.

Just as I loaded the second barrel, the door from the office exploded in a spray of splinters, and a deluge of flesh cascaded through, rising into a wave of melting limbs, twisting torsos, and writhing faces. I fired both barrels, tearing a gaping hole in the hideous flesh that melted together before it could bleed, if it could bleed. Roger rose from his chair with an unholy craving on his face and it poured itself over his naked skin, engulfing him in a fraction of a second. I backed into the hall, desperately trying to reload, but the thing just quivered for a few seconds, strange emotions flashing across the half-formed faces thrusting out of its mass, then slid back through the office door. I hesitated then followed to see the last of its horrid bulk disappearing down the ruptured floor drain. One of Brinson’s slippers lay, stained and crumpled, under the examination table. I could sense the thing moving through the sewers under the house, felt it pass under the street as it crept down the lines towards the river.

There was a clunk as my gun hit the floor. I could feel that thing, feel it moving in the distance. My hand tingled strangely, and I held it up to the light. A single pink speck pulsated on the back. It must’ve splashed there when I shot the thing. By all that is Holy, I felt the monster turn back, felt it coming for me. I fumbled for my surgical kit, grabbed a scalpel and hurriedly slice the alien flesh from my hand. With a hast bandage in place, I picked up the tiny, throbbing mass with tweezers and held it over a lamp flame. It squirmed and released a horrid stench, but was incinerated to black ash in seconds.

I could still feel the thing coming nearer. I emptied my safe and bolted from the house. A few days later, in Paris, I felt the creature crossing the Channel floor. Pink tendrils of infection were crawling under the skin of my hand. I paid a back-alley surgeon to amputate it, made him promise to burn it, and took the Orient Express to Istanbul. It was still following, so I took ship for India, then Singapore, where I had my arm removed above the elbow. I’m in San Francisco now. It’s followed me two thirds of the way around the globe. I’m sitting by a dirty window in a rat-infested hotel room I rented with near the last of my life’s savings. The rest went for a beer and a roast beef dinner and a gun. It can have my flesh, I won’t be needing it anymore. I should do it now. Why the hesitation? Fear? Or desire?

A scream just echoed from downstairs. It is here.

End.

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