Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Mummy's Heart

A new novella, "The Mummy's Heart," is out in Paula Guran's Halloween: Magic, Mystery, and the Macabre. This one's camped out on the coffee table for the duration of the holiday season, as Ms. P has collected tales from some personal favorites (new and old): Stephen Graham Jones, the Tems, Jonathan Maberry, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, John Shirley, and Caitlin R. Kiernan. Not to mention two gents who (quite often) make me want to bust my pencils -- Laird Barron and Brian Hodge. And for bonus points: there's a WWII werewolf tale; first thing I've read by Carrie Vaughn (I'm late to the dance as usual). It was a good one. When it comes to sub-genres, WWII/spookerific mashups are a long-standing weakness of mine.

Anyway, I'll have more about "The Mummy's Heart" (and fictive mummies in general) in my next post, but for now I'll leave you with a taste of the tale itself:

The trail I'm talking about was cut by a mummy.

He did the job on Halloween night in 1963. He was mad as a hatter, and he came out of a pyramid that was (mostly) his own making. And no, he wasn't really a mummy. But that night, he was definitely living the part. Even in the autopsy photos, that shambler from the darkside was a sight to behold.

His name was Charlie Steiner and he was nearly twenty-three years old -- too big to be trick-or-treating. And Charlie was big... football-lineman big. If you know your old Universal Studios creepers, he was definitely more a product of the Lon Chaney, Jr. engine of destruction school of mummidom than the Boris Karloff wicked esthete branch. But either camp you put him in, he was a long way from the cut-rate dime-store variety when it came to living dead Egyptians.

Because this mummy wasn't playing a role.

He was embodying one.

Which is another way of saying: He was living a dream.

Charlie's bandages were ripped Egyptian cotton, dredged in Nile river-bottom he'd ordered from some Rosicrucian mail-order outfit. He was wound and bound and wrapped tight for the ages, and he wasn't wearing a Don Post mask he'd bought from the back pages of Famous Monsters of Filmland. No. Charlie had gone full-on Jack Pierce with the makeup. Furrows and wrinkles cut deep trenches across his face like windblown Saharan dunes, and the patch of mortician's wax that covered one eye was as smooth as a jackal's footprint... add it all up and drop it in your treat sack, and just the sight of Charlie would have made Boris Karloff shiver.

And you can round that off to the lowest common denominator and say that Charlie Steiner would have scared just about anyone. Sure, you'd know he was a guy in a costume if you got a look at him. But even on first glance, you might believe this kid was twenty-three going on four thousand.

Look a little closer, you'd see the important part: Charlie Steiner was twenty-three going on insane. There was no dodging that if you got close enough to spot the mad gleam in his eye -- the one he hadn't covered with mortician's wax. Or maybe if you spotted his right hand, the one dripping blood... the one he'd shorn of a couple fingers with a butcher's cleaver. And then there was his tongue, half of it cut out of his mouth with a switchblade, its purple root bubbling blood.

Charlie wrapped those things in a jackal's hide he'd bought from the back pages of a big-game hunting magazine with Ernest Hemingway on the cover. Who knew if that hide was real but Charlie believed in it, same way he believed in the little statue of the cat-headed goddess he added to the stash, along with a dozen withered red roses, his own fingers and tongue, and a Hallmark Valentine's Day card....