Short Story
                          The Priest
                                                  By Matthew Acheson

  The pale light from the full moon cast an evil glow on the shattered walls and
ruined columns of the fallen temple.  Its creators had carved it directly into the
side of a sandstone ridge, which afforded the place a spectacular overlook of
the desert wasteland for miles in every direction.  Once, long ago, it had been
the seat of a very old, very powerful cult before the pharaoh Akhenaton came
to power and cleansed the site with fire and iron.  What little remained of its
ancient splendor lay buried in the harsh desert many miles outside of Luxor.  It
did not appear on any map, and tourists never wandered its ruined halls.  

  Only a handful of the local Bedouins even knew of its existence, and fewer
still dared to venture there.

  Ahmed gently coaxed the camel to lie down by clicking his tongue against
the roof of his mouth in rapid succession.  Then he extended his hand to help
the priest down off the beast, all the while his eyes never strayed away from
that evil place for longer than a few seconds.

  “Are you certain you wish to go in there father?” he asked gravely.

  The aged priest ignored the question and made his way briskly towards the
temple.  Ahmed followed him at a slower pace, squinting down at the ground in
an attempt to avoid stepping on a serpent or into a scorpion hole.  As they
neared the stone stairwell that snaked its way around the ridge and up to the
entrance of the ruins he stopped and cast his gaze skywards.

  The ruined shell of the ancient temple loomed up at him out of the
darkness.  The atmosphere of the place was genuinely unsettling, and Ahmed’
s hands began to shake uncontrollably at the thought of setting foot on such
unholy ground.  Had his family not been so desperately in need of the money,
he would have fled from those wastes and never looked back.  He made a
gesture to the heavens and bowed his head momentarily.  “God have mercy,”
he whispered aloud, and then followed the priest up into the temple.

  From the inside, the ancient structure was anything but impressive.  It was
little more than a large, open space hemmed in on three sides by crumbling
stonework and on the fourth by the ridge itself.  Most of the columns were
fallen and half buried by drifts of sand carried in by the desert winds.

  “Thank you for guiding me here my son,” the old priest called out softly.  
“This is indeed the place that I sought.  I wonder if you would fetch my luggage
for me before I release you from my service.”

  “Of course father.”  Ahmed bowed his head respectfully and made his way
out of the edifice and back down to the camels.  The luggage to which the
priest had referred was a solitary wooden chest of sturdy construction and
considerable size.  Indeed it was so large that Ahmed had been obliged to
fasten several ropes around it so that it could be dragged behind the priest’s
camel.  With the aid of his kard, a Persian knife made from Damascus steel
with a camel bone grip, he freed the chest from its bonds and hauled it to the
base of the ridge.  With much effort, and a great deal of panting and sweating,
he managed to drag the heavy box up the twisting stairwell, through the ruined
portal and into the temple.

  Near the center of the open area there were a dozen large candles arranged
in a circle, and burning with an eerie orange glow.  The priest had apparently
been busy in his absence.  Although he had never seen one with his own
eyes, Ahmed had heard from his cousin Ali that Catholic masses were highly
ritualistic affairs that involved the burning of candles and incense in great
quantities.  He had no desire to stick around long enough to find out what sort
of ceremony the priest intended to perform, but as he had not yet received his
payment, he had little choice.

  “Thank you Ahmed, you may go now,” the priest’s voice hissed from the cowl
of his hooded robe.  “I have no further need of your services.”

  Not wishing to view a heretical ceremony firsthand, Ahmed was only too
happy to oblige.  With a slight bow he excused himself and retired back down
to the camels.  He removed his tobacco pipe from one of the saddle bags and
found himself a large, smooth rock to sit on.  When will I be paid, he wondered
as he stuffed the bowl of his pipe with tobacco.  After inhaling several long
draws of smoke, he began to relax a little and waited patiently for the priest to
finish his ceremony.

  After a time the wind began to increase, kicking sand and dust up into his
bearded face.  Along with it came the gentle whisper of voices in the distance.  
He turned his ear towards the temple proper and cupped a hand around it to
listen.  At first the voice sounded far away and indistinct, but as time wore on it
became gradually louder and louder.  The shouting sounded almost frantic,
and it occurred to him that the priest must have been calling for help.  He leapt
to his feet and ran to the temple as fast as his skinny legs could carry him.

  Ahmed burst through the ruined archway, expecting to see the old priest
laying prone and crying out for help.  Instead, what he saw was so shocking
and terrible to behold that it sucked the air from his lungs and sapped the
strength from his limbs.  His knees buckled, and he tumbled to the sand in a
heap of flesh and clothing.  As much as he wanted to will his frozen limbs into
action, all he could do was watch the scene before him with a sense of awe
and horror.

  With a strange object held aloft, the old priest walked a slow circle around
the candles, chanting aloud as he went.  Rising up from the circle of candles
was a flickering column of greenish blue light.  In the center was the naked
form of a man.  Judging from the gaping wounds on his legs, which had been
severed from the knees down, the man had been dead for some time.  Ahmed
realized at once, with ghastly significance what the cargo in the priest’s chest
had been.

  “Gh’ryaane Ryeohgeoth, answer my summons,” the withered priest
commanded over and over again in a deep baritone.  At first Ahmed thought
his eyes were playing tricks on him, but as the movements became
increasingly pronounced he realized that it was not his imagination.  The arms
and head of the corpse twitched spasmodically.  He watched with a mixture of
disbelief and horrified fascination as the dead man’s lips began to move.  The
voice that spoke was raspy and sounded so unnatural that it sent ice cold
shivers up and down his spine and brought goose bumps to his arms and neck.

  “What fool has called me?”

  “I call,” the old priest replied calmly.

  The creature’s eyelids fluttered open, and Ahmed thought that they seemed
to emit a dull reddish glow.

  “No priest would be foolish enough to evoke me in this place of power,” the
creature hissed menacingly.  “Who are you?”

  “I seek information,” the old man replied evasively.

  “Ah,” it purred hideously.  “You are a sorcerer.”

  “I have bound you within this body, and within this circle demon,” the old
priest stated flatly.  “There you shall stay until you have answered my
question.”

  The creatures laugh was so heinous and unnatural that it sent cold pinpricks
of fear surging throughout Ahmed’s body.  He desperately tried to stand and
flee, but his body was frozen with icy horror.  His gaze was fixed on the
blasphemous scene unfolding before him.

  “I answer to no mortal,” the demon hissed and then its body went into a
series of convulsions.  The old priest seemed to tense as well, as if the two
were engaged in some sort of mental struggle, the depths of which Ahmed
could never hope to comprehend.  Terrified that the demon might break the
will of the old priest, Ahmed made a fresh effort to escape himself.  Still unable
to stand, he began to push himself backwards through the sand with his feet.

  Finally the demon ended the struggle with a howl of frustration.  “You cannot
hold me forever mortal.  You will tire, and when you do I will be waiting.”

  “I wish to summon your master,” the old man said, ignoring its threats.  “What
is its true name so that I might call out to it?”  At that moment the wind kicked
up ferociously, and its airy screaming blotted out much of the conversation.  
He watched as the priest turned his back to the demon and started to walk
away.  For a moment the creature’s howl rose above that of the wind, and the
old man stopped and swung around to face it.

  “Then give me your master’s true name,” he shouted above the din.

  As if by the priest’s own will, the buffeting of the wind ceased altogether and
the desert air became calm again.  Ahmed had back-peddled his way across
the sand almost to the upper landing of the stairwell, but even from that
distance he could see the creature’s body writhing in agony.

  “B’halek Dhar R’uksuir,” it squealed finally.

  The crooked form of the old priest straightened immediately, and it seemed
to Ahmed as if he became considerably thicker as well.  The creatures limbs
ceased their flailing, and its prone form seemed to freeze in place.

  “You are no sorcerer!” it wailed in a high pitched voice.  “Who are you?”

  “You disappoint me Ryeohgeoth,” the priest replied solemnly as he drew a
long object from the folds of his robe.  The blade curved wickedly, and seemed
to bend and shape the very beams of moonlight around it so that they
gathered on its surface with an awful, deadly glow.

  “No, master!  Have mercy!” the demon cried desperately.

  The old priest raised the evil knife high into the air, and then thrust it down
into the demon’s chest with uncanny speed.  A shrill scream issued from the
creature’s mouth, and its body writhed violently as death came to take it.  It
was a cry so heinous and terrible that it would haunt Ahmed’s dreams for the
remainder of his life.  Finally the wailing stopped, and the column of greenish
blue light vanished along with it.

  It took his eyes several long moments to adjust to the darkness, and when
they did he spotted the form of the priest padding softly towards him.  Ahmed
managed to clamber to his feet for a moment before collapsing back down into
the sand.  His entire body trembled violently with fear, and he felt the caress of
warm liquid as it trickled down his leg.  In what he expected to be his final
moments, Ahmed the carpet weaver tried to make peace with his maker.

  “God forgive me,” he stuttered through chattering teeth.  “Protect me from
the Jinn and guide me to all truth.”

  The tall figure of the priest loomed over him suddenly.  The old man pulled
the cowl of his robe back and leered down at Ahmed with a toothy grin and
eyes that seemed to glow like hot coals.   “Ahmed, I thought I dismissed you.  
What are you still doing here?” he hissed.

  Ahmed tried to speak, but the words died on his lips.

  “Of course, your payment, how careless of me to forget,” the priest teased
playfully.  He reached into his robes, withdrew a small leather pouch and gave
it a meaningful shake.  Ahmed heard the unmistakable sound of coins clinking
together.  “I always reward my faithful servants Ahmed,” he croaked, tossing
the bag of coins down onto his chest.

  Then with a flash and a loud fluttering of his robes, the priest melted into the
night.
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