Nephthys’ Lament

The light was as fragile as a feather as it filtered through the quiet, somber oaks that lined the Old Cemetery in Blackpool Bay. The quiet in that place seemed removed from the occasional car the drove passed and the odd voice or radio that wafted in from a million miles away.

It was as if that sacred ground was just slightly removed from time itself.

The cemetery’s original name had long since been forgotten and its records lost in the old church fire that had happened over a century ago. No one really cared. The locals just called it the Old Cemetery and it’s cramped, over-grown plots were obscured behind Main Road’s large houses, the back-end of the Church with a narrow alleyway running along it.

The Old Cemetery was filled with long-dead strangers with no known relatives left to visit them. Their crumbling, weathered gravestones grew moss-covered as they sank slowly into the ground where their namesake’s rested. Their mortal names mostly worn from the stones and dates all but lost as time’s ceaseless march overtook them.

And this was just the way that Sharon liked it: a rich, captivating tapestry of light and shadow, rough stones and twisting roots with the history and mortality that she sought to capture in her sketchbook.

She would spend long hours in that cemetery drawing or, sometimes, just sitting idly and escaping life amidst the crumbling remains of those that had come before.

This afternoon, though, she had slipped out of her late shift at the Hermetic Museum early. They did not need her there right now, she was only getting in the way.

They were setting up the Ancient Egyptian showcase with an actual mummy. The mummy was a nameless princess from the Old Kingdom–or an earlier age–as the Carbon Dating anomalies in found in her gave contradictory results. The display was not yet set up and her job in the ticket booth would not be needed until the doors opened tomorrow.

Besides, with all the noise and crew moving things and shouting at each other, she was keen to find some quiet.

“Let the quiet and dark wrap around me like clothes of eternity wrought of infinity,” she muttered the inscription on the princess’ sarcophagus to herself while drawing–something about the words really moved her, “A thousand-thousand years are but a mere flicker of time against the absolutes that the Lady of Shadows offers for those willing to pay the price, which I do gladly a thousand times over.”

She smiled, longingly casting her gaze through the quiet cemetery. She wondered how many of those souls resting here would pay whatever price it was that the sarcophagus hinted at? How many of them would pay that price gladly a thousand times over?

The afternoon was now getting late and the light, as usual, filtered quietly into the cemetery. The rest of Blackpool Bay and its Main Street seemed like a distant shore as she sat, floating in the quiet of that hauntingly secluded place…

She blinked and looked down, remembering that she had been drawing.

She had half-drawn a brooding oak overlooking a particularly old gravestone with strange, twisting curves in it–one of her favourites–but her mind was wandering. Her eyes were falling with the day’s light and the shadows in her mind were growing long and longing. A soft, gentle hand was stroking her neck and she wanted to believe every sweet word being whispered to her…

***

Sharon snapped wide awake as the Sun pierced through the oak trees. It felt like a great shadow had lifted and left her just a little bit sad. The Sun’s harsh light made her cry out and she instinctively threw up her hands to protect herself. The light was horrid and baneful!

“God,” she muttered to herself, “I must’ve fallen asleep here!”

The quiet of the Old Cemetery did not answer her but the soft hoot of a distant car as the morning bustle began on Main Street did.

She was late.

She jumped up, dusted herself off and ran out of the cemetery, down the alleyway and towards the Museum just off Main Street. She got there just as they opened the door, the Curator nodded at her and she threw herself behind the ticket booth as the first couple intrigued tourists and pensioners wandered in.

In the rush, she had hardly noticed anything at all and the day was busy as the invited journalists from out of town turned up as well a couple of buses of Asian tourists. Pensioners kept wandering in from outlying retirement homes and asking her silly questions. She did not even have time to take lunch. It was only after the pensioners, the tourists and the journalists had all left and the Museum was shutting for the night that she had a moment to herself.

The doors closed as the Night Guard wandered in. The Curator smiled and nodded at her as he left, and she began casting her ticket sales before cashing up.

When she looked up from the work, she was alone in the Museum.

Sighing, she stood up and stepped outside of the ticket booth. She was just about to leave when she felt the pull… It was like an urge or a nameless hunger that gnawed at her edges, and she found herself walking slowly deeper into the Museum.

She walked by the medieval section with torture devices and by the pre-history with mammoths and saber-tooth tigers. Finally, she entered the Ancient Egyptian area in the middle and walked by its great, crumbling forms and right to the fake tomb. Displayed in the center of this made-up tomb and behind bullet-proof glass lay the decorative sarcophagus of Princess Ankhet-Nebthet with the Princess herself lying therein.

She briefly wondered how she knew the Princess’s name? Not even the Egyptologists that had organized this touring exhibition knew that. Why did she?

And then she was standing before the entombed Princess, bandages wrapping a frail, dehydrated form with little more than sand, bones and mysteries hidden inside the fragile vessell.

“Let the quiet and dark wrap around me like clothes of eternity wrought of infinity,” she read aloud the translation of the inscription on the Princess’ sarcophagus, “A thousand-thousand years are but a mere flicker of time against the absolutes that the Lady of Shadows offers for those willing to pay the price, which I do gladly a thousand times over.”

She breathed out, her heart beating faster as if she was expecting something to happen. What? What could she be expecting from the Princess of Darkness that she stood before?

I accept your offer, daughter,” whispered an incorporeal, velvety voice gently into her ear, sending shivers of ecstasy running down her spine, “Accept my kiss and we will be one; I living through you and you undying through me.

“Yes!” Sharon found herself exclaiming, falling to her knees, words tumbling from her mouth as if she had known them all along across a thousand years of an unbroken, mysterious lineage, “Yes! Oh, Nephthys, Lady of Shadows and Purveyor of Eternity, I accept you gladly. I accept your offer a thousand times over, and a thousands times more!”

Darkness stroked her neck and she whimpered in anticipation. Two soft pricks broke her skin just below her jawline on her neck, blood pumping as ecstasy and infinity flowed in and through her. She knew the cosmos from the forging of the stars to the eons of wind and sand across the timeless desert. She knew where all the ancient, crumbling treasures of all the Pharaohs were buried under the shifting sands and she knew all of the lost secrets whispered from the dawn of time. She knew of the darkness of night and pleasure of a million concubines while ruling from a gold-tip temple and fed the endless blood of slaves…

She knew and she was, and now she understood.

Sharon was no more. Nephthys was eternal.

And then the vessel that had carried eternity from an Ancient Egyptian tomb across time and space to find another worthy host was no longer needed. It was cast aside, and time’s ceaseless march caught up with it all at once: the mummy crumbled to fine dust in its display case.

***

The scene was found by the Day Guard slipping into the Museum at first-light to replace the Night Guard. He then called the Curator who came rushing to the Museum before calling the police.

Soon the Museum had yellow-tape across its front door and officials combing over every inch of it.

No one knows what happened that night and the official report talks about a break-in aimed at destroying the main exhibit, the Egyptian mummy. The intruder was likely interrupted or caught by the Night Guard. The subsequent fight undoubtedly ended in the Night Guard death and the intruder hastily exited before breaking or harming any other items in the Museum.

It is a nice story. It is neat and fits into a paper report with proper grammar and a spell-check. The insurance company was satisfied and so were the local police.

But, late at night in Blackpool Bay’s local bar, the gossiping locals whisper over their drinks about what the story does not explain.

The official report does not explain why the mummy was destroyed? Or how it was turned into pure dust without ever opening the display case? Nor does it explain why the intruder only broke out of the Museum and not in in the first place? Finally, and most vexing, the official report of the Museum Break-in does not explain either why the night-guard was drained of every single drop of blood in his body? And how was this done without a single drop being spilt anywhere at the scene?

Finally, the few smarter and shrewder locals might also sometimes ask about what happened to the ticket booth lady? Why did Sharon resign shortly after the break-in? And was it not suspicious when she left Blackpool Bay shortly thereafter, literally in the middle of the night?

But none of the locals–smart or otherwise–would have bothered to pop their heads into the Old Cemetery because, if they had done so, they would have had a number of new questions to ask. All of them revolving around a single, new gravestone placed carefully in a quiet, secluded plot beneath the somber oak trees.

Deeply carved into this newly-cut stone is a single, haunting word: SHARON.