The Tomb of Amoratrix

by James A. Ford

The tomb sat undisturbed for almost four thousand years, buried deep in the sand.

When the great doors had last stood open, Europe was a huge desolate forest; the advanced societies of both Greece and Rome had yet to arise; much of Asia was an unexplored wilderness inhabited by nomadic tribes. Africa, though the most populous region, was sprinkled with only a few settlements that could be termed civilizations. The most advanced by far were the ancient Egyptians, the builders of the tomb.

Professor Carl Richardson stooped his tall, gangly frame as he entered the chamber, though the doorway and ceiling were several feet above his head. It was simple force of habit. He had entered hundreds of ancient tombs and usually he was forced to stoop. This tomb was unlike the others he had explored. This one was built more like a prison.

He peered into the vast chamber, squinting through his glasses, following the beam of his flashlight as he swept it back and forth in slow steady arcs. Everywhere he looked there were ancient artifacts.

“Magnificent,” he whispered.

“What was that?” asked a gruff voice from just behind him. Carl knew it could only be Professor Eric Canterville, his friend and business partner.

“I said it is magnificent, and when you see it, Eric, you’ll heartily agree.”

The lost chamber of Amoratrix. They had actually found it when few other archeologists believed it was any more than an ancient legend.

“Not a legend now,” Carl said under his breath. “Now it’s damn well real,” he added, and squinted over at his partner.

Eric smiled back, his sharp gray eyes full of excitement. He knew what he and Carl had done was like an adventure novel come true, so gloriously true after so much time, effort, and pain. The hieroglyph on the door had all but confirmed that.

Somewhere in the recesses of the chamber lay the real prize: the desiccated body of Amoratrix, most likely in an unmarked sarcophagus, his burial team assuming, as was common at the time, that grave robbers should not be aided in their unholy pursuit by an overly elaborate sarcophagus that stood out like a beacon.

This find was not like any other. The rumours and hushed legends of Amoratix were the stuff of nightmares. Of course neither of the professors believed any of it. Curses and monsters and the mummy’s revenge were all the grist for horror movies and comic books, not real archeology. Nevertheless, the specific myths surrounding Amoratrix were still unsettling, even if not believed.

As they delved deeper into the chamber’s first huge room, neither Carl nor Eric noticed the demeanor of the six porters who had accompanied them. The professors could be excused for their oversight. The overwhelming excitement and vindication of the find had momentarily blinded them both. The price for their neglect would nevertheless need to be paid.

The porters, instead of displaying their usual eagerness to serve European explorers, were standing outside the chamber, too frightened to venture within. As Carl and Eric explored the huge chamber, the forgotten porters moved as one body slowly backwards, towards the steep stone staircase leading up to the surface some eighty feet above.

The porters had sensed danger from the start, a feeling of foreboding missed entirely by the two archeologists. An intuition of dread as real as a slap had hit the porters the second they had opened the huge double doors that led to the main chamber beyond. Dread had covered them like a cloud of rank slaughterhouse stench. The two scientists, however, sensed no more than a whiff of musty air that soon dissipated.

A deep rumble sent sand streams cascading from the ceiling beams. The porters’ slow drift now became a headlong run up the stairs.

“What the hell was that?” Eric asked Carl. Neither man moved, afraid the least vibration would retrigger the sound, a sound that they did not want to hear again.

“No idea, Eric, but I can say for a fact that I don’t at all like it.” The rumble came again, much louder, and this time it was unmistakable. All the dirt of the last few months that had been so painstakingly excavated was now plunging back into the staircase outside the doors, which had somehow become closed. In the light of the flashlights, the doors could be seen to bulge inward with the pressure. Thick brown dust seeped through the cracks around the jamb and flooded into the chamber.

They were trapped eighty feet below the desert surface. The realization was a physical shock, like jumping into a pool of cold water. Neither explorer said anything for several seconds.

Carl finally spoke. “There must be some other way out.”

“We would have found it in our study of the ruins,” Eric replied.

“Maybe not. Somehow we missed it. They never had just one entrance... There was usually...” Carl Richardson had forgotten what he was trying to say. “Usually an... uh.... emergency exit. Yes! That’s what we must find. The emergency exit for workers in case of a cave-in.”

“Of course, Carl, we’ll look for it,” Eric agreed. “In any event, it will keep us occupied until the porters can dig us out.” He smiled then and that smile felt as fake to him as the Sphinx stone-chip souvenirs on sale in east Cairo.

Carl slowly shook his head. “Eric, a dig-out could take weeks and we don’t even know if the porters made it up.” There was no need to say any more. Despite Eric’s forced optimism for a rescue, both men knew the options were extreme. They had no food, and their supply of water was limited to their personal canteens. Either they found another way out, or they would die here.

* * *

Further in the depths of the tomb, down a long snaking corridor, lay a small room. It was purposely nondescript. The builders had wanted anyone who found it to think it a storage area and pass it by. One of the walls was false. Behind it was a small alcove. It contained a plain brown sarcophagus. Only the tiny golden emblem on the exact centre of the lid gave any hint as to the importance of the contents.

Inside lay the body of Amoratrix, his eyes wide and staring, his body no longer a body of life as in the past but a body of animated vengeful wrath. With the fire that doesn’t burn, they had hounded him and chased him into this rotting tomb, nothing but a dirty little hole in the ground. So long ago, but he could still smell their fear, a fear they had controlled just long enough to put an end to his reign.

A smile, or more accurately, a rearrangement of his lipless mouth, played across the wreckage that once was his face. Oh yes. He would get them. Even now he sensed their presence, closer, closer. He had waited for eons of time. The time for rest was over. He must make haste. They would be no good to him if dead. And if they found the magic, they would not last long.

But far worse in his mind, they might destroy his chances of ever leaving this accursed tomb. Their bodies would then serve as nothing more than food. And he wanted more. He wanted escape. He needed sacrifice. A living sacrifice.

* * *

“Over here, Carl,” Eric shouted. “I think I found something.”

Carl ran towards the voice and found Eric standing at the entrance to a large room. On a stone slab in the middle of the room stood an array of six canopic jars, pristine in appearance, all in gold with various inscriptions and cartouches. One other jar, the seventh, was tipped on its side a few feet from the dais, its ornate lid off and lying in a cover of dust.

Eric examined the jars and attempted, with Carl’s help, to decipher the inscriptions. It was slow going as the inscriptions all matched but were in forms neither man, both experienced in Egyptian hieroglyphs, had ever seen before.

“I just don’t get it, Carl,” Eric said, looking up from the first jar. “It’s almost like they were being purposely vague and confusing.” Carl nodded his agreement.

“Why?” Carl mused and reached down taking hold of the first jar.

“Perhaps...” Eric started.

“Perhaps what, Eric, huh? Perhaps the legends are true? Man, listen to yourself. I admit being temporarily trapped down here is unnerving, but it is no reason to start fearing the hobgoblin.”

“Yes, I suppose you’re right, Carl. It’s just... well, these are the jars mentioned in the legends. The size, the colouring, the inscriptions — it all fits.”

“Of course they are, Eric. All myths, all legends are based on some partial truths. So the jars exist. That doesn’t mean they can do what is attributed to them.” Carl paused for a moment then continued. “In fact, they’re all probably just full of air.” As he spoke he twisted off the thick cork lid. Carl immediately noticed a harsh chemical odor.

“What the hell!” Almost as the words left his mouth, Carl started to cough violently.

“Are you all right?” Eric asked. As he did so, Carl pitched over and blood started seeping from his mouth.

“Oh my God!” Eric saw the blood.

Carl was trying to speak. It was no more then a slurred whisper, “Sick ... sick.... soon as I opened....”

Eric’s eyes found the jar. He held his breath, grabbed the cork, and forced it back on tight. The chemical odor had faded, but still lingered in the air.

“Ahhh.. Ehhhrg.”

Eric turned toward Carl but was too late. He could tell with a glance that his friend and long time colleague Professor Carl Richardson was no more.

“It must have lived inside the jar,” Eric said. “Christ, it’s resilient... to live in there with nothing... nothing to feed on for thousands of years... How is it possible?”

He bent down and closed Carl’s awful, pitiful staring eyes. How could it have come to this? How could they have been so unprepared for the reality of this tomb? They had too quickly dismissed the rumours of evil and death. It was all true, so horribly accurate.

If this part was true, then that meant... “Oh My God,” Eric whispered.

“Cough... cough.” Oh no! The EYES, Eric thought, I shouldn’t have touched Carl’s eyes. The disease was so virulent, that even as he thought this, he collapsed in the sand.

Eric Canterville was a dead man the second his friend had opened the jar. Blood was already seeping from his mouth, and his lungs were rapidly being eaten away. The decreasing oxygen in his blood caused his eyesight to fade. As he lay there panting feebly, he had what he thought was a hallucination: a huge bandage-wrapped creature stood, then knelt beside him. As Eric’s eyes faded to black, he felt a sudden pressure on his chest, then knew no more.

Amoratrix stood up from the body of Eric Canterville. It had been a close call but the prophecy had been completed: the man had still been alive when Amoratrix stopped his heart. The disease that had stricken the man was safe inside the jar once again, the same disease that had weakened Amoratrix so long ago, allowing the priests to wall him up down here under the spell which now was broken.

He had no fear of the disease that had killed Carl and almost killed Eric. His unnatural body had long ago developed immunity. Unfortunately, no one else on the planet had. This thought made him smile. How they would all pay.

A living sacrifice was needed for him to return to the world above. It had taken so long for men to find their way to him. The priests, damn them, had done a thorough job, erasing all records of him. These men, thought Amoratrix, had probably either followed rumour alone or found some obscure reference that the priests had missed. They found much more then they expected.

Amoratrix moved towards the remaining canopic jars and selected the fourth. He twisted off the top and looked inside. It was still preserved. He then poured the substance over his head. An observer might have thought he was anointing himself with dirt but they would have been very wrong. Amoratrix stood concentrating on one word, and as he did he started to change. His appearance grew more and more normal with each passing second until he looked every bit what he was: an ancient prince, displaced in time. He dropped the jar and turned his gaze on the body of Eric Canterville.

A living sacrifice had been needed, but there was more.

Amoratrix selected another jar, lifted the body of Eric Canterville in his arms, and started off down the corridor towards the sarcophagus.

* * *

Amoratrix stood by the doors to the staircase that led up to the surface. He looked around the large main chamber one last time. Eric Canterville’s clothes were now worn by Amoratrix, and the remaining Canopic jars were collected in Eric’s discarded backpack, which now hung from Amoratrix’s right shoulder.

A casual observer would not think this man looked out of the ordinary in any way. No observer could know that he was four thousand years old, and that the jars in his dusty backpack each held a different power, and each was a terrible weapon in Amoratrix’ hand.

At the door, Amoratrix closed his eyes and said a few words in a low voice. The door opened and the earth that had blocked it was gone. He hesitated for a moment, listening. He was sure he could just make out the faint screams of the man locked in his sarcophagus.

Amoratrix smiled and slowly climbed up the stairs, enjoying every last step. The magic of the broken spell was strong. As he moved away from the stairs, the sand streamed on them, hiding the tomb once again.

The desert night felt to him as it had thousands of years before when he’d last stood under the stars. He’d thought of this moment so many times that he wasn’t sure now where his memories stopped and reality started.

Eric Canterville had provided both a death and a life. Death, to break the spell, and a life, to allow Amoratrix to walk free of his prison. Amoratrix had brought him back to life with the powder, and now Eric’s resurrected body would live forever locked in the sarcophagus, a living sacrifice.

Amoratrix stared up at the stars.

A slight desert breeze brushed his face with grits of airborne sand. Through all the centuries that he lay buried, he’d never forgotten the feel of a desert breeze on his face. He was here, finally here, standing alone with untold legions of stars looking down. This was real. Now all the centuries of tortured confinement could be forgotten like a bad dream.

At last, Amoratrix was free.

Copyright © 2010 by James A. Ford

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