A/N: This chapter deals with an ancient Egyptian ritual known as the "Opening of the mouth", where a mummy or a statue are "opened up" to receive their ka, namely a soul.
The ritual used comes from drawings on the walls of in the tomb-chapel of Rekhmira.
Ienpu is another name for Anubis.
Limyaael: The man of the previous chapter was not Masters but one soul judged in the Underworld. Masters came after him, but Gingerhead had already ran away.
CHAPTER 6: Nightmares and Abominations
The events of the previous night had not yet faded from my memory when I crawled out of my hiding place for a lick of water. Samuel's dark eyes glowed when they saw me and he was fast to show his relief with a delicious piece of smoked pork.
"Here you are, little one," he murmured while patting my head with his huge hands. "I was worried when Jim told me that you ran away to the port." He sat beside me, watching me as I ate. "You do look exhausted, little one. Did you meet any pretty lasses in town?" And he laughed wholeheartedly as I devoured my dinner paying little attention to his ramblings.
I had long finished eating and I was in the middle of grooming myself, licking the fat off my whiskers and the dirt off my paws when I realized that there were other people in the room. Barely looking up, I stretched one ear to hear their voices.
"I can hardly believe he's gone," said a man in a muffled voice. That was Larsson, a sailor missing most of his teeth. He usually ignored me and I ignored him back.
"So do I," agreed McDarren, another sailor who had a soft spot for rum and Samuel's stew. This one liked me and I made sure that the cook would never be short of his primary ingredient of his stew. Rats, that is.
Samuel placed a mug of ale on the wooden table and sat down with them. "It seems strange, doesn't it?" The other sailors nodded. "I can hardly believe that I'll never hear his dear voice ever again."
McDarren chuckled. "Well, here's to him," he said raising his cup.
"May his soul rot in Hell," added Larsson.
I was busy chasing my tail to wash the last piece of dirt out of my shiny coat, but the rebellious thing kept evading my paws, as if it had a life of its own. I had just nailed it down when Samuel spoke again, raising his cup.
"I will never hear his shrill voice bullying me ever again. Good riddance, Masters!"
My head jerked upwards and my tail escaped my grip as I stood gaping in shock. Masters was dead? When? How?
"How's Jim?" Larsson filled his cup again.
"He'll get over it," replied Samuel. "Poor lad, he had never seen a dead man before in his life."
McDarren reached for the mug. "Does anyone now what killed the bastard?"
My mouth went dry. What if anyone had seen me running out of his cabin?
Larsson chuckled. "Perhaps he bit his tongue and swallowed his own poison."
The other two men nodded, snickering.
"No," said Samuel. "I heard Doc saying it was more like a heart attack."
I breathed out, relieved.
"Larsson smirked. "I didn't know that the bastard had a heart in the first place."
He had a heart; and it was heavy. As soon as this thought crossed my mind, a shiver made my skin crawl. I had to get out.
There was a moment of heavy silence. Then McDarren spoke again. "Did he have any family?"
Larsson shook his head. "Not that I know of."
"The Captain has collected his possessions," said Samuel. "Not that Masters owned many things. A few books, a change of clothes and the strangest little thing he picked up from a town shop. Captain Jenkins will leave them to the town parish along with Masters' salaries."
"Ay," said McDarren, sipping from his cup. "The Captain has a kind heart."
"Ay," agreed Samuel. "I hear that he'll give the bastard a decent Christian burial."
McDarren eyed him suspiciously. "What?"
"The Captain probably wants to spare the sharks from getting poisoned," he said and laughed.
And while they all laughed over Masters' death, I sneaked out of the kitchen and ran up to the sun deck for a breath of fresh air.
The sun was already down when I stepped on the main deck. The town lights flickered and trembled like fireflies and distant voices reached my ears from the people on the docks. The deck was empty, save for a lone figure that was watching the horizon, drenched in the rich colors of dusk. I walked to him and rubbed my head against his dirty, bare leg. I would probably have to wash my fur all over again, but the lad needed some comfort.
Jim looked down and the hint of a smile curled the corner of his lips. He leaned over and scratched my head and I rewarded him with a loud purr. He sat down and I climbed on his lap, letting him pet me with his harsh, crude hands that had scrubbed the deck countless times under Masters' cold stare. I have no idea of the kind of thoughts that crossed the boy's minds that night. Was it joy, the sort of his older companions were expressing over ale below deck? Was it sorrow or was it relief, thinking that he would never hear Masters' poisonous commands ever again?
I suppose I would never know. But as I rested my head on his lap, the sound of his heartbeat combined with my purring calmed me down and I finally dozed off in a much needed sleep.
And I dreamt.
I found myself inside a strange building, filled with stone figures of humans. I sniffed the air and I was overwhelmed by the dry scent of sand and stone-cutting. Sand grains carried by the warm breeze nested on my fur, making my eyes water and my ears twitched by a demanding itch. On scratching my left ear, I sensed something strange on my ear flap. I reached out with my front paw and I was shocked. Who on earth would put an earring on a cat?
It didn't feel painful, though. I wish there was a mirror I could look myself in. And then I heard voices. My curiosity overpowered my survival instincts and I moved to investigate.
I sneaked in the back room and the strange gathering of two people and a stone figure. There were two men, dressed in loose white garments with painted faces and absolutely no hair on their heads. They moved in circles around the stone figure, chanting and sprinkling the statue with water. I stretched my ears in an attempt to make out their words while crawling among the furniture.
"…Take the water that is in the red eyes of Horus…"
Their words held no meaning for me but something deep inside me spoke of their importance. And then I saw the statue clearly and my heart leaped.
It was the statue of the human-looking creature that had devoured the heart last night.
I dared a glimpse of its face, thinking that since it was made of stone it could not harm me. And there was nothing strange about it but, again, it was carved with the eyes closed. Its features were human enough but something about it brought to mind an animal snout. And its hands were not human at all but had claws like those of my desert cousins.
The men continued their chanting, circling around the stone form. I could smell their sweat and it reeked of fear and anticipation.
"…You are washed, Horus is washed, you are washed, Seth is washed…"
What was the purpose of washing a statue? I soon got bored and focused my attention on a cat statue behind me. It was leaner than I was, but it was rather handsome and had a similar earring, along with a nose ring. These people could obviously pay to my kind the proper respect.
Too bad they were obviously nuts.
Then something changed in the air, something that made my ears twitch and my fur to stand up. The older man touched the statue's lips with his little finger.
"…I have come as your embracer, I am Horus…"
The thought that I should flee while there was time crossed my mind. Then the younger priest embraced the statue as he would greet an old friend.
"…go to see your father…"
Then the man stepped back as his companion produced a platter of fresh, bloody meat and my stomach objected. What's the purpose of offering juicy chunks to a statue when you have a living and starving cat around? Drooling, I measured the distance between them and wondered if I could make the jump and escape fast enough with the meat in my fangs. It was too risky, so I pulled back and waited for the chances to get better.
The old man touched the statue's lips with a strange looking stick.
"…I have pressed your mouth to your bones for you…"
"…You have come into being as the sustenance of all gods…"
Move away from the meat, will you?
"…I have opened your mouth for you with the nua-blade…"
My mouth is open and drooling as well, in case you are interested.
They chanted more and touched the statue with their hands and other instruments but I paid little attention. The freshly killed meat was a great distraction. And when the younger man took a censer and I hoped that it was almost over, sounds of fighting came from outside. I crawled under a stool as soon as a party of armed men stormed in the room. A robed man stepped forth and raised his arm towards the two men.
"This is sacrilege, Herun! The priests of Ienpu were clear on this!"
The man licked his pale lips. "The ritual is almost over, Nefur. I'm sure that we can reach an agreement…"
"I will not partake in this atrocity! You will follow us to the Temple and this abomination will be broken to pieces and scattered to the four corners of the earth."
"No!" The younger man drew a dagger and charged the robed man, but one of his soldiers flung his arm forward and a spear pierced his throat. The man blinked and opened his mouth as if to speak, but no words came out; just a horrid gurgling sound as his throat was filled with his own blood. He stumbled and fell backwards to the feet of the statue until he moved no more.
No one paid any attention to the blood that had sprinkled the statue.
But they all heard the growl.
The statue's eyes opened and glowed with an eerie light.
"What is this? Herun, what have you done?"
"The ritual is not complete," he cried. "The ka has not received its final cleansing and she is confused. If you hadn't intervened, fool, I would have-"
He never finished his words, for the animated statue reached inside his chest and seized his heart. And I fled, as the sounds of slaughter and inhuman growls reached my ears through the darkness. I ran blindly, until I bumped my head against a wall.
I used to bump my head against walls a lot back then.
But at least I woke up, safe under a starlit sky. I repeated to myself that it was only a nightmare and I finally dozed off to a deep, dreamless slumber.
What an innocent kitten I was…
When I walked inside the Captain's cabin the following day, a part of my nightmare came to life.
And my innocence was lost.