by Byron Bailey
Having my brain scrambled into mush until it flowed from out of my skull didn’t hurt. Neither did the removal of my intestines, liver, stomach and lungs. In fact, the absence of most of my internal parts only eased my discomfort — I only wish they would have yanked my heart and kidneys, too! No, it wasn’t until the embalmers buried me in the naturally occurring salt compound known as natron, shriveling and drying my flesh, did I first feel the burn.
Considering the searing agony, my entire body constantly ablaze with pain, it is ironic that there isn’t an accompanying bonfire of light surrounding me. Instead, the darkness in my tomb stretched blacker than the bowels of Anubis. I could not even read the inscriptions on the wall wherein lie my only hope. They weren’t exactly the complete text of The Book of the Dead. Still, they were supposed to aid those such as I in the major tribulations of the afterlife. No tribulation could ever be more major than that of the burn, not even Osiris finding one’s heart heavy and flinging it to that devouring freak of a crocodile Ammit.
At last, torchlight flickered within my tomb and I could read the inscriptions on the wall. With the torchlight came the thieves. They took far more than the golden bangles around my biceps. They stole my beer mistress statuette as she brewed, her naked body designed to fulfill more than one of my needs. (The heat of the burn should not be the only heat in the beyond). They also stole my amulets — may the thieves receive as much protection from them as I did! Worst of all, they stole my hope. I read every inscription on the wall and not once was the burn or its semblance mentioned.
I can forgive all the thefts except for that of my beer mistress and my hope. For the sake of them, I invoke the mummy’s curse. May the treasure stolen by those shiftless sons of jackals sparkle so brightly that it pays for the best mummification process available! No curse could be more vicious, for it is the inability of the flesh to decay and disperse which causes the burn.
It is true. The most important rule of the afterlife is that consciousness clings to flesh. At first, the euphoria of dying banishes pain, giving the flesh the chance to decay or disperse with comfort. Once the initial euphoria wears off, the burn commences. At first the discomfort merely stings like a rash from a day spent in the sun. As the flesh continues to decompose, the burn decreases until finally the last shred of flesh is gone and then... and then what? I really don’t know. Oblivion? Paradise? I’ll gladly take either. However, if the flesh is preserved, the burn never ceases. Instead it increases, the result of consciousness thrashing to burst the bonds of flesh.
I am in a new tomb now, a place called a museum, where many dead are kept and where Nubians and pale-skinned barbarians come to stare and chant, “Ewwww! That’s gross.” The bones of the true dead gleam peacefully in the dim lighting. They don’t scream. They don’t wail. They don’t even cry. Then there are the rest of us, those still possessing flesh.
The cat, mummified to honor Bastet, is the worst among us. It keeps yowling without pause until my very heart, still in my chest, vibrates in tune to its agony. I can only fantasize that the mummified crocodile next to it will someday gulp it down. Crocodiles are much better companions in the afterlife than cats and even people. They can’t yowl and they can’t wail.
Unfortunately for the mummy, the past was better than the present. The lazy peasants of my native land used to burn us to cook their food. May the gods bless them for their sacrilege and slothfulness! During the so called Middle Ages, ground-up mummy even became a cure-all of choice. I can only hope that all those who consumed mumia vanquished their nausea and eradicated their ulcers. Regrettably, I was not tossed into the cooking fire or ground up for medicine. The prospects for the mummy in today’s climate-controlled museums looks nothing but grim.
At least I am not one of those unfortunate enough to be cast into a peat bog. Even more disturbing is this thing called ice. When water gets cold it turns to rock. Imagine the entire Nile flowing solid. That is a glacier — a truly frightening image! I know of this man far older than I who drowned in ice and was buried by glacier. The ice and wind mummified him better than any natron. He wails louder than the cat yowls.
Even in this age, potential mercy glimmers on the horizon. Nuclear power plants can sometimes burst in a great flood of fire. One of them is not far from the museum. If it should ever explode, I will be incinerated. Even more promising are these nuclear missiles that can rain fire down from the sky. Finally, if worse comes to worst, the sun will eventually expand, swallow the Earth and then die — Re is ultimately merciful! My greatest prospect for release, though, is a secret.
Yes, I have a secret that the caretakers of the museum do not know. A speck of mold grows between the two biggest toes of my left foot. All it would take is a power outage or a war for dampness to descend. Then the mold might spread, covering my flesh like the coolest of salves. Oh merciful mold, please eat my flesh and end this mummy’s curse.
Copyright © 2005 by Byron Bailey