This story is paired with “The Yellow Sign” from The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers. For best experience, download the LithoReader for your iPhone or iPad and get NonBinary Review for free.
There are so many places where I could begin my story, but I think I will start with my name, because in that name are three hundred generations of civilization. I am Herbert Mustafa Khaelid, of Boston, Massachusetts. My family came from Cairo, Egypt two hundred years ago, where they had gotten in trouble with the king and needed to leave in a hurry. They were educated people and spoke English, so they decided to go to America, where there were more opportunities than in Britain. They found hard times and discrimination, but their children had it better, and their children were native born. We are a Christian family, the Khaelids, and we have prospered in spite of the contempt of the Anglos. Our blood goes back six thousand years, to the unification of Egypt by Narmer himself, and we wear our ancestry as an emblem of pride. Always have, always will.
I am a professor of comparative religions at Miskatonic University in Massachusetts; I left Boston to attend college and never went back. My family misses me, and I them, but I have found a good situation in life, and for an adult that is pure gold. I learned to speak and read and write ancient Egyptian during my undergraduate years; I am fluent in Arabic as well, and I know a touch of Aramaic. Just enough to fake it if I need to. But it’s the ties to Egypt, that ancient blood flowing in my veins, which excites my colleagues and ensures I am well received in my field.
This spring I was approached by a committee from the religion department, with a task they felt I was ideal for. They wanted me to go to the island of Santorini, in Greece, and test out an artifact in the ruins of ancient Akrotiri. The artifact was a medallion on a silver chain that had recently come into the department’s safekeeping, and since the medallion was graven with ancient Egyptian writing, they immediately thought of me. My task, should I choose to accept it, was a simple one: go to Santorini and enter the ancient ruins and read the script off the medallion. See what happens.
Ancient Egypt was a land of contrasts. It was a simple culture, based on agriculture and a strong priesthood and an even stronger central government, and it promoted a religion of eternal bliss for those who were willing to work for it. But there was a dark side to the culture as well, with vicious followers of more ancient religions based on sacrifice and the shedding of human blood. These practitioners worshipped gods so old they stretched back to the eras when the human race lived in caves, when ugly ideas had hold of the priesthood and people believed in savage devils of the air and sea. My colleagues were eager for me to read the hieroglyphs on the medallion, and I appeased them, reading the straightforward text.
“Abu al-Sa’adat riseth, the spirits of fire ascend to heaven and join man in worshipping the ogdoad. Come now, Abu al-Sa’adat, burn in my hand and answer my call.”
The ogdoad of course was the group of eight most important of ancient Egypt’s dieties, a sort of inner council of the gods. And I remembered Abu al-Sa’adat from The Arabian Nights, which I read in my teens. He was a djinni of great power who assisted Ma’aruf the cobbler with his trials.
“This medallion is supposed to summon a powerful djinni to help you out,” I said to my colleagues. “Charming. New Kingdom writing.”
“We knew you were the right man for the task,” said the head of our department. “What do you say, Herbert? Care to spend ten days in Greece this summer?”
“I would love to,” I said. “But why Greece?”
“This medallion was found in the ruins of Akrotiri, on Santorini,” said our instructor in ancient writings. “The Egyptians had a naval base on Santorini in the fourth century before the Christian era. We feel the medallion will be tied to that place. The naval base is now completely gone, but Akrotiri remains. We think the summer solstice would be the ideal time to try out the medallion.”
Miskatonic is of course known for its interest in ancient magic, and there were more than a few items in the university’s possession that were reputed to be functional magic. I viewed such reports as evidence of going over the top with one’s imagination, but I was prepared to humor my colleagues. It would be a feather in my cap to try out the medallion and see what, if anything, it caused to happen in the Greek isles.
“You won’t be travelling alone,” said our Greek scholar. “We’ve selected a graduate student, Henri Delacourt, to accompany you. He is a student of ancient Egypt with advanced language skills and a deep knowledge of the Greek situation. He should be invaluable to you.”
“More the merrier,” I said, though I didn’t relish the thought of an overeager graduate student under foot.
“We’ll see to your tickets and accommodations on Santorini,” said the chair, and that was that. The spring term came and went, and I received tickets to the small airport on Santorini and reservations for a bed and breakfast on the south side of the island. My graduate student was staying at the same place, of course, to facilitate our working together. I had met with him a few times during spring semester, and it is now that I must reveal the other part of my inheritance from my ancestors, in addition to the blood of civilization. Khaelid men run a one in four chance of getting schizophrenia, and I was one of the unlucky ones. My condition was under control with medication, but the voices were always there in the background, and the Abilify did little to control the terrible paranoia that was part of my condition.
My colleagues of course knew of my illness, but I was proud of the fact that though it had manifested in my late teens, in the twenty-five years since then I had never had a serious breakdown or incident. I had never been committed to a mental hospital and had received all my care on an outpatient basis. Thus I was a tenured professor and well respected, in spite of my ailment.
The reason I tell you this was because the paranoia attached itself to Henri early on and refused to let go. He was as I thought he would be, an overeager graduate student who wanted to prove himself, and he insisted on reading the medallion, which he did competently enough. I had taken to wearing it at school, to get used to having it, and I thought he grabbed it a little too readily and was too familiar with the writing. It was almost as though he was staking a claim to it. Because of this I didn’t like Henri much, and I conceived a subterfuge with him in mind. I took the medallion to a jeweler in Boston and had him make a duplicate of it, right down to the silver necklace, for a few hundred dollars of my own money, and I took to wearing that one while I kept the original in my safe at home.
Summer came, and Henri and I got on the plane and travelled to Athens and then on to Santorini on a little puddle-jumper that shook and banged the whole way.
“Something to call home about,” Henri smiled, but to my diseased mind it seemed his eye was on the silver necklace around my neck.
“I want to get to the ruins of Akrotiri tomorrow, if possible,” I said, and he nodded. Then the little inter-island plane gave a sickening lurch and started the descent into Santorini airport, and it was all I could do to hang on to my lunch, much less talk.
We took a cab from the airport to our accommodations and stowed our luggage in our rooms. It was about six in the evening, too late to go to the ruins, and so I gave Henri the evening off and let him explore the night clubs that the island was famous for. I went to a taverna and had a beer and fresh squid steaks for dinner. The taverna was on top of the cliff, something like three hundred meters above the water, and I sat on the outdoor patio and got a fantastic view of the bay with its little smoking caldera in the middle of it. Santorini is a volcanic isle, and some scholars think that it was the basis for the Atlantis legend. According to them Santorini had once hosted a major city, which was completely blown to bits when the volcano exploded around fifteen hundred B.C. Now the island looks like a half-moon, with a high cliff on the western side.
I had done my research over the spring and found that while the ruins at Akrotiri had been consolidated by rotating French and Greek archaeologists, there were currently no excavations going on there. The ruins were open to tourists, however, and local guides gave tours for a reasonable fee. As I chewed the squid steaks and downed my Mythos beer, I felt a strange foreboding creep over me. I have never been given to omens, but as I stared down at the water hundreds of feet below, I could have sworn I saw a monstrous shape, hundreds of meters long, swimming just under the surface. Then it was gone, and all that remained were several tourist cruise liners whose passengers were having dinner on the isle.
The shape in the water was nothing but a hallucination. I have visual hallucinations once or twice a month. Usually they are mundane visions, such as a homeless person leaning up against a building or a bicyclist about to run me over. But every once in a while I saw stranger things, fed by my imagination and some of the uglier research I have done on ancient religions. The visions never lasted longer than a few seconds, but they were always disconcerting, appearing and disappearing abruptly and leaving me startled.
After dinner I went back to the bed and breakfast and turned in for the night. I left the fake medallion on the table next to my bed and kept the real one in the desk, behind a drawer. If someone came to steal the medallion, I trusted they would grab the fake.
* * *
The next day Henri looked bleary-eyed from a hard night partying, but he was lucid enough as we ate a hearty breakfast and drank big glasses of orange juice. We had both brought cameras, and we set out from Akrotiri town to the ruins on foot, which was just a few short kilometers away. It was a beautiful summer day, and we chatted agreeably as we went.
“I ran into some locals who surprised me with news of older ruins,” said Henri, casually enough. “These were young people, a little younger than myself. There is supposedly a small shrine or part of an abandoned temple a few hundred meters south of Akrotiri ruins. The archaeologists don’t know about it, it was found by a local teen-ager about a year ago, and so far only some of the teens on the island use it. I want to check this out.”
“Seems like a good use of our time,” I said. “Summer solstice in six days.”
“Yes, propitious timing,” Henri nodded. “Are you going to try the medallion today?”
“No, I was thinking closer to the solstice. Today I just want to get a feel for the ruins.”
“These are all Greek ruins,” Henri said. “The Egyptian naval base is completely gone now. No one even knows where it was located anymore. We’re not going to be able to call on hidden powers from the Egyptian ruins. We’re stuck with Greece.”
We followed a dirt trail for a ways and reached the ruins at Akrotiri. It was earlier than the tourists typically showed up, so there were only a few day-trippers like ourselves at the ruins. Several young Greeks were waiting at the entrance.
“Guide for the ruins, very knowledgeable,” called out a young man. “Cheap!”
I raised my hand for this young man, who was eighteen or nineteen years old, and he trotted over to Henri and myself and said, “Five euros, ten for two of you.”
“Sounds good,” I said, and he nodded enthusiastically.
“I am Alex,” he said, and the two of us gave our names, and he led us into the ruins.
He showed us the remains of the Greek settlement with their beautiful murals of boys boxing and papyri growing in the water, and ducks in flight. The paintings were enchanting, and I could see the artistic expression of the ancient Greeks in the old settlement. Their humanism and the power of their art shone clearly in the structures.
“This was a living town around 1500 B.C.,” said Alex. “The explosion of the volcano created huge earthquakes which toppled the buildings of Akrotiri ruins and forced the inhabitants to flee. But the Greeks are unbeatable, and we just rebuilt.” He grinned, and I found myself smiling along with him. The modern island of Santorini was covered with towns and villages, and the Greeks exploited the beaches as tourist havens.
“There is supposed to be another ruin to the south of here,” said Henri.
The younger man’s face broke into a look of disgust. “That is a dirty place. It was a temple to a sea god, but not Poseidon,” said Alex. “Real Greeks do not go there. You should stay away from that place, especially at night when people have pagan ceremonies there.” He seemed quite disturbed, and Henri and I said nothing more on the subject.
He showed us the rest of Akrotiri ruins, the amphorae and the two story buildings and the narrow and twisting streets. “The volcano did not erupt all at once,” he said. “There were earthquakes beforehand, giving warning of the eruption. The people got in boats and left for Crete, where they survived. There were no bones found in the ruins, so everyone got away in time.”
“Wonder what caused the eruption?” mused Henri.
Alex smiled. “You are thinking it was the will of the gods?”
“Maybe,” Henri said. “Many different gods on Santorini, over the millennia.”
Alex laughed and slapped Henri on the back. We saw the rest of the ruins, and then Alex went back to the entrance to snag more tourists. Henri said, “I want to ask him some more about the pagan rituals he was talking about. There aren’t many tourists about, it might be a good time to try the medallion.”
“Yes, I’ve changed my mind,” I said. “Good luck with Alex.”
“See you in a few minutes.” He took off, and I wandered deeper into the ruins and found a quiet room with no other tourists around. I was wearing the false medallion around my neck and had the real one in my pocket, and I now pulled the real one out and held it in front of my face. “Abu al-Sa’adat riseth, the spirits of fire ascend to heaven and join man in worshipping the ogdoad. Come now, Abu al-Sa’adat, burn in my hand and answer my call.”
And it happened. The air in the ruins swirled around, and a dust devil formed. It picked up ash from the ground and assumed the vague outline of a man. I knew I was hallucinating, but it was so vivid, and it went on longer than a few seconds. The dust devil swirled and rippled, and the voices in the back of my mind warbled and jabbered and howled. They were really worked up, and for several minutes I heard the voices in my mind and voices in the world, and I couldn’t separate out my disease from the other tourists talking back and forth and anything the dust devil might be saying. Finally I put the medallion away, and the dust devil blew itself out and settled to the ground as a layer of fresh ash and dust.
I didn’t know what to think. It looked like a spirit, but I couldn’t separate out what it was saying from the background noise in my mind. Certainly it was nothing more than wish fulfillment, an extended hallucination?
A billion Muslims believed in the djinn, and the Koran had a number of passages dedicated to these fire spirits. I have read many folktales from the Middle East talking about djinn; in the Arab world these spirits are close and very powerful. I found myself half-believing I had seen the real thing, a djinni from Arabian legend, something right out of the Arabian Nights.
It got me thinking about my ancestors, straight from Cairo, the beating heart of the Middle Eastern world. The Khaelid family had believed in the djinn; I had read old letters from my ancestors mentioning strange things that had happened to the children or unseen voices that did not seem to be schizophrenia. My grandmother Jasmine Khaelid had painted her fingernails blue every day of her life, to keep the djinn away.
I would try the medallion again in a few days. Henri was fascinated with this pagan cult he had stumbled across, so it should be relatively easy to get rid of him for an hour or two and try to summon Abu al-Sa’adat once more.
No sooner had I put the medallion away in my pocket than Henri found me in the ruins. Tourists were everywhere, and I hoped no one else had seen the dust devil.
“Well?” Henri said. “What happened?”
My paranoia kicked in fierce and sharp, and I said, “It didn’t seem to do anything. The air swirled around a little bit, but that happens frequently anyway.”
He seemed quite disappointed. “Maybe it would work if we found the old Egyptian naval port. Care to give it a try?”
“That’s a good idea, but no one has ever been able to pinpoint where the Egyptians were located on the island,” I said. “I think that’s a fool’s errand. What did you learn about the pagans?”
A look of cunning came over his face, didn’t it? “Alex says there is a small group of pagans on the island who worship ancient Greek gods and ancient Minoan gods and the Egyptian gods as well. He said they also worship gods that no one has thought of in two thousand years. They dress up in costumes and dance at this second ruin, and they sacrifice flowers and perfume and incense and pigeons. Made it sound like quite the ceremony. Apparently they don’t like visitors and chase the islanders away if anyone comes too close.”
This piqued my curiosity from a comparative religions point of view, and I said, “It’s probably just the typical New Age posturing, nothing we haven’t seen a hundred times before. But if you can find out when they’re having a ceremony, maybe we can get ourselves invited to look on.”
He grinned, an ugly and feral look. “I’ll try to find out who the master of ceremonies is and ingratiate myself. They wouldn’t miss the summer solstice. That’s our chance.”
“I’ll leave it up to you,” I said. “I want to try the medallion down at the beaches, see if it does anything closer to the sea.”
“We’re getting somewhere,” Henri said, gleefully. “If it’s a good ceremony, I might get a master’s thesis out of it.”
We walked back to Akrotiri town and had lunch together, then he excused himself and said he wanted to start the hunt for whoever led the pagan ceremonies. I let him go and spent my afternoon at a Wi-Fi enabled taverna, looking up legends of the djinn and the name Abu al-Sa’adat in particular. Several web sites drew a connection between the djinn and mental illness. There is a type of djinni called an afreet, which is a wicked or mischievous djinni that possesses people and drives them mad. Holy men can force them out, or after a while they leave on their own, freeing the victim from mental illness. But Abu al-Sa’adat was not an afreeti. He was a marid, the most powerful type of djinni, the ones that can grant wishes. What had I seen in the dust devil? The shape of a powerfully-built man, trying to talk to me? Or a hallucination?
* * *
Days passed. Henri became frustrated because the young people he talked with were elusive when asked about their master of ceremonies. They said they couldn’t invite us to see their ceremony, they’d have to talk to their elder. Henri pushed and goaded, and days went by, and then it was the summer solstice. Still no high priest introduced himself.
On my end of things, I took the medallion down to Red Beach and White Beach and some of the other beaches on the island and tried it out, calling for Abu al-Sa’adat to appear. The dust swirled around, and I saw again the shape of a man. The voices in my head howled and screeched and wailed, and the dust devil djinni talked, but all the noise in my mind drowned out anything else that was said. It was like the djinni caused the noise in my mind to become more intense.
On the solstice I went back to Akrotiri ruins by myself. The place was packed with tourists, and I didn’t dare take out the medallion. I walked around for a while, then I followed the trail down toward Red Beach, where finally spotted a thin path going off to the east. I followed this for two or three hundred meters, and I came to a small ruin. It appeared to be the remains of a temple, with the floor exposed and a few toppled columns lying about. So this was where the cult met and gave sacrifices to their pagan gods. There was no one around, and I took the medallion out of my pocket and incited Abu al-Sa’adat. This time the reaction was more intense. A powerful dust devil rose on the floor of the temple, blasting me with loose soil. The man shape of the wind was clear as day, and I heard the djinni say,
“How can I serve you, oh blood of the ancients?”
“Do you know this temple?” I asked it. The voices in my head were screaming and carrying on something fierce, and I could barely hear the djinni, but my feeble attempts at communication had sensitized me to his voice.
“This is the temple of the oldest gods,” said the djinni. “Long before my kind was created, this place was a blight on Santorini. Stay far away, only the sickly and wicked patronize this place.”
I tried to talk some more with the apparition that I knew had to be a hallucination, but which held me bewitched. But the spirit rippled and blew out in a gush of dust which made me cough and sneeze. I staggered back up the trail to Akrotiri ruins and then back to town, where I put the false medallion on the nightstand, in plain sight, and took a nap.
Hours later I was awakened by a polite tapping on the door. I got up and glanced at the nightstand, and the medallion was gone! Someone had come into the room and robbed me in my sleep.
I opened the door, and Henri stood there, with a young man who had a decidedly Greek look to him, but not a wholesome look at all. He looked like a sly devil, and his eyes went up and down me as Henri introduced us.
“This is Marcos, one of the cultists,” said Henri. “His father is the master of ceremonies for this group. They are having a ceremony this evening, at six o’clock, after Akrotiri ruins is closed to the public and everyone has gone home. There will be about eight people, if we come. What do you say, we’re invited to witness the ceremony.” He seemed excited, and I saw that cunning look hiding just under the surface. I wondered what deal he and Marcos had struck regarding this ceremony.
“Very good, excellent work,” I said to Henri. “Good to meet you, Marcos.”
“He only speaks Greek,” said Henri, seeming pleased with this. He said something to the young man, and Marcos nodded at me and offered his hand. I shook it, and he said something to Henri.
“The participants in the ceremony are going to take a drug before the ritual,” said Henri. “We’re invited to join them, but we don’t have to.”
“Can I record the ceremony?” I asked.
Henri translated this to Marcos, who looked annoyed but said something in return.
“He says that’s fine,” said Henri. “This is so exciting, professor. I can taste the thesis!”
“We’ll come to the old ruin at six,” I said, and Henri spoke in Greek, and Marcos nodded his head. Then he excused himself and took off, and Henri and I went and had lunch. We talked about the second ruins, and he surprised me by saying he had gone there several times already.
“I’ve been there once. It has an ugly feel to it,” I said. “I wonder if it’s Greek, or older?”
“The cultists say it’s much older than the Greek ruins,” he said. “They say that some ancient king was the first one on Santorini. He’s the one they appeal to in their ceremonies.”
“Ancestor worship?” I mused. “But something has happened, I must tell you about it.” I described the loss of the false medallion, pretending it was the true piece of jewelry, and he looked at me with anger in his eyes.
“That cleaning lady did it, I’m certain,” he said. “I don’t trust her. I caught her in my room, dusting the desk off when I had hung a sign on the door saying, Do Not Disturb.”
“I don’t know who took it, but it’s a serious loss. The chair of my department is going to be most displeased,” I said.
I ate a big lunch, but Henri only had a lemon juice. “Do you mind?” he asked. “I was going to take the drug and see what it was like. It’s supposed to put you in a trance that brings you closer to the gods. I want to be on an empty stomach, so the drug will be more powerful.”
“Be careful, taking strange drugs,” I said. “Ask for half a dose.”
“I’ll make sure they’re not poisoning me,” he said, and there was that feral grin again.
* * *
We finished our lunch and moved to a café on top of the cliff, looking down at the water. It was an Arab café, and they had hookah pipes, and I smoked for a while. Henry excused himself and went to take a nap, so he’d be fresh for the ceremony. The tobacco was potent, and my head began to spin, and I had to give up the hookah. No good messing up my head before the ceremony. So for a few hours I sat in the café, having coffee and enjoying the beautiful day.
At five o’clock I went back to the bed and breakfast and woke Henri, then I prepared my tape recorder for the ceremony. If it was nothing but some New Age romantics, the ceremony wouldn’t last very long. New Age cultists have short attention spans. If it was something more authentic, well, I had half a dozen one-hour tapes.
I made sure the true medallion was in my pocket, ready to bring out at a moment’s notice, but I didn’t plan on using it. This pagan ceremony had my complete attention, and Abu al-Sa’adat was going to have to take a back seat. My mental illness was acting up; there were half a dozen voices all jabbering away in the back of my mind. It was going to be difficult to listen to this ceremony, with all the noise in my head.
Finally I was ready to go, and Henri and I walked to Akrotiri ruins and then went past them on the thin dirt trail and made our way to the fallen temple. We arrived at about five forty-five, and there were six cultists there, five of whom were dressed in gauzy white costumes. The last one was dressed in a strange yellow costume. It was like a Roman toga on top, but the lower half was strips of rags, dark yellow. The cultists were snorting a drug when we arrived, and Henri immediately spoke to the man in yellow, who was about forty when the rest of the group was maybe eighteen or nineteen years old. The man in yellow was clearly the leader of the group, and he gave Henri a small glass vial which Henri emptied into one hand and then snorted. I took out my tape recorder and set it on a fallen column and turned it on.
A few minutes passed while they adjusted their costumes and snorted their drugs, then the cultists began to dance, a strange series of steps that brought them together in a tight cluster; then they broke apart and danced away from each other. The youths began to chant in Greek, and I couldn’t follow what they were saying. Ah well, I had Henry to translate for me later. The dance was repetitious, and after a few iterations Henri had it down and started to dance with them. The master of ceremonies held up a rod made of some yellow wood, carved into a disturbing geometrical shape that I cannot even begin to describe. Have you ever seen an Escher drawing, of the strange multi-dimensional shapes? The rod was like this. It seemed to have too many dimensions.
The master of ceremonies held up the rod, and the youths chanted, “Hastur! Hastur!” then broke into Greek once more. The noise in my head roared, and I lost control of myself. The mentally ill voices chanted and sang, and the youths chanted and sang, and the master of ceremonies intoned in Greek. Henri danced with them, and the youths spun him around and kept him at the outer edge of the circle.
Some esoteric piece of knowledge was floating around in my mind, but my illness swallowed it up. There were too many voices sounding at once, and I was flabbergasted at the multi-dimensional yellow rod. It had my attention as the master of ceremonies whipped it back and forth and up and down. I could see the Mediterranean far away, and it seemed the sea was boiling. The dancers appeared to melt into one another, and their faces changed to those of monsters. I became frightened that I had somehow been drugged. The tape recorder made a small sound, and I flipped the tape onto the reverse side and turned the recorder on again. Time was going past, and the shadows were growing long.
The master of ceremonies wore an ugly mask, when had he put that on? It was an angry demon face, and he stuck out his tongue, which seemed impossibly long.
The voices in my mind began chanting, “Aldebaran! Stars of the gods! Hastur! Hastur! Rise!”
And that piece of knowledge I had been seeking came out from hiding, and I knew the master of ceremonies was dressed as the King in Yellow, a powerful supernatural figure who was the avatar of the god Hastur, Cthulhu’s half-brother. Hastur the Unspeakable was his name, he was incredibly ancient. His sign was yellow, he came from the star Aldebaran, and he meant terror and destruction to the race of man.
The master of ceremonies twirled around and chanted in Greek, and the twisted rags of his yellow robe began writhing like tentacles. He took up his yellow rod and thrust it at one of the dancers, and she began babbling and writhing. He raised the rod and brought it down on another dancer, and the dancer began wailing and shrieking. In moments the master of ceremonies had thrust the rod at all the dancers, then he got to Henri. He stabbed Henri with the yellow rod, and Henri broke out jabbering in ancient Greek. The master of ceremonies danced with Henri for a while, and I fussed with the recorder and started the next tape.
All the dancers had been treated with the yellow rod, leaving only me. I sat on the broken column, staring at the master of ceremonies. He raised up the rod and thrust it at me, and something happened. The voices that normally fill my mind were shocked into silence, and a single, powerful voice took their place. “Aldebaran!” it roared. “Star of the Minoans, star of the Egyptians, star of the Greeks!” Then it gibbered words I didn’t understand, ending in, “Hastur! Rise!”
I felt something horrific then, a gigantic presence in the ancient temple. It was the thing I had seen swimming in the water of the destroyed island, now on land. It centered on the master of ceremonies, whose robe writhed and swirled. The young people gabbled and danced, twisting madly, and Henri babbled in ancient Egyptian. The master of ceremonies stared at me.
“GIVE SACRIFICE!” roared the voice in my head. It buzzed and rasped, it spoke in accented English but I couldn’t tell the accent. My hands moved on their own, my legs moved of their own accord. I stood up and staggered into the circle of dancers, hands reaching for the master of ceremonies. He thrust the yellow rod at me again, and the voice in my head grew even louder, bellowing, “Orange star, red star, blue star, white. Nyarlathotep! The voice rises! The King in Yellow calls forth the ancient way!” Wind began twisting across the floor of the temple, blasting the costumes of the dancers. My hair blew in all directions, and my clothes rippled.
I’d had enough. I was staggering around the dancing circle, as the dancers howled and wailed and stamped their feet and moved their arms. The voice in my mind wanted me to strangle the master of ceremonies to death. This was no New Age cult of harmless eccentrics. This was a cell of the old religion, the Great Old Ones were struggling to gain ground in the world once more. These people had a fragment of the mad truth, and they were summoning elder powers that were best left sleeping.
The buzzing voice droned on about sacrifice. A moment later I saw Henri pull the false medallion out of his pocket and begin chanting the inscription on it. The master of ceremonies wheeled around and approached Henri, striking him in the forehead with the yellow rod. Henri fell straight to the ground, and the false medallion rolled into the circle of dancers. The master of ceremonies picked up the medallion and held it high, gabbling in some strange language that I had heard in fragments during my years of study into the world’s oldest religions. It was an unhealthy speech, and the master of ceremonies danced with the false medallion and raised it over his head.
I forced my hand into my pocket and took the true medallion out and held it up. I chanted, “Abu al-Sa’adat riseth, the spirits of fire ascend to heaven and join man in worshipping the ogdoad. Come now, Abu al-Sa’adat, burn in my hand and answer my call.”
A dust devil tore across the temple floor, spinning and sucking up dirt and taking the form of a powerfully-built man. The master of ceremonies stared at the medallion in my hand, and he brought the false medallion close to his face and examined it. Then he flung it away from himself, dancing on the fallen form of Henri, dancing to the gibbering of the young people, all of whom appeared to have gone mad.
“What is your will, blood of the ancients?” said the figure in the dust devil. I saw him now, a djinni of large size and form, dark brown of skin and flashing of eye. He was naked and twisted back and forth as the dust devil raged.
“Stop the summoning! Break the yellow rod!”
The djinni did not hesitate. He leaped high into the air and came down on the master of ceremonies, grabbing the yellow rod and wrenching it out of the master’s hands. Abu al-Sa’adat took the rod in both hands and twisted it, and it shattered with a loud cracking noise.
The wild winds that had blown across the temple ceased, and the dancers all fell to the ground and stopped moving. The master of ceremonies toppled, his mask broken in half, revealing for a moment a face that was completely deranged. Then it was just a middle-aged Greek man, weathered by the sea. The djinni hurled the pieces of the rod all the way to the Mediterranean, and they disappeared into the blue water.
“Unclean,” said the djinni. “I am of fire, I am pure. You are of the blood of men, small and frail. Go, now, and live.”
I picked up my tape recorder and stumbled out of the temple, up the trail past Akrotiri ruins and back to my bed and breakfast. I had dinner on top of the cliff, fish and chips and wine from Crete. I felt peculiar and took a shower and went straight to bed and slept like a rock.
The next day the police came to talk to me. Two people had been found dead in the ruins of the temple. One was a Greek, dressed in a ragged yellow robe, and one was Henri. There was no mention of the false medallion. The police wanted to know what we were up to, and I told them I was interested in the ruins of Akrotiri, while Henri was interested in New Age ceremonies.
There were two policemen, and the older one, in his fifties maybe, said in heavily accented English, “These people are foul. They are not New Age nuts. They worship murderous old gods of the darkness from ancient times. Your apprentice was misled. We are trying to find the others who are part of this cult, but of course they are hiding.”
“That was Henri’s research,” I said. “I didn’t have anything to do with that.” The tape recorder and used tapes were right in my luggage if they cared to check, but they didn’t push it. I filled out the paperwork to get Henri’s body returned to the university, and that satisfied them.
Finally I got on the plane and went back to Massachusetts. I kept the medallion with me at all times, and when I got back to Miskatonic I took it straight to the department head with the true story of what had happened, and he sadly took it from me.
“Henri got in over his head,” he reflected. “He must have thought he was on to a group of New Agers, when really he was on to the cult of Hastur. I’m sorry we sent the two of you into such danger.” He took the tapes of the ceremony as well, and I’ve heard nothing of it since then. I went back to teaching, and only one thing was really different: I no longer suffered from voices in my mind. The yellow rod which caused madness in the young dancers had cured me of my own mental illness. The paranoia, the attacks of fear, the voices; it was all gone. I told my psychiatrist that it had all stopped, and she had me continue to take the Abilify for a while, but when it was clear that I really was cured, she had me stop.
“It happens that way sometimes,” she said. “People who are schizophrenic for decades stop having symptoms. As you get older your brain produces different chemicals, and you don’t need the drugs any more. Congratulations, Herbert. I’m glad it’s worked out for you.”
“Amen,” I said, and that seems a fitting end to this whole sad adventure. Henri stole my false medallion, but he didn’t deserve to die for it. We both got in over our heads. In Santorini, there are half a dozen young people who have seen real magic, and they will be motivated to dance again at the ruined temple, on the solstices and equinoxes.
As for me, I will stick to the strength of my fathers. The djinn are pure folk, made of smokeless fire, and most humans are pure folk as well, of the blood of men. That will just have to be good enough when faced with horrors from beyond our world and out of time…
Randall Doering holds a BA in creative writing and an MA in anthropology. He has published 19 short stories including one tale in Stupefying Stories and another in the Mesoamerican anthology Songs of the Great Cycle, by Long Count Press. He has won honorable mention in the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future contest. He believes travel is a great teacher and travels as much as he can, both in the U.S. and abroad.