Oct 5: MUMMY

The plague came from the melting snows.  They warned us about anthrax, the Black Death, smallpox varieties.  They didn’t warn us about the dead coming back to life.  The death metal bands had a heyday.  Churches burned.  “The end times! The end times!”

You couldn’t call them zombies.  They didn’t lurch around, moaning, “Brains, brains!” or anything like that.  In fact they were rather delicate.  They couldn’t have dug themselves out of the ground if their lives depended on it!  People were breaking into cemeteries and digging up their loved ones, digging up the dead who had been buried for hundreds of years, just in case.  It was the people with sympathy who were doing this.  You couldn’t rent a backhoe for love or for money, they were too busy being used to dig up graves.

The dead seemed to float, they moved so softly and gently.  Like a caress, a leaf on the wind, a butterfly.  Of course someone had to find out what having sex with a dead one was like.  For a while everyone wanted to know.  But they would only crumble.  Too delicate.

The dead could not invoke lust, only regret.

They extinguished easily, like birthday candle flames.  One last flutter of movement, and then they were gone again.  Their minds did not return.  A string of nonsense syllables, charmingly like that of a baby learning to talk.  They could recognize faces—not a particular face, any face.  If you smiled at the dead, they smiled back.

Then.

The snows melted, and we found a body in the ice up by Olden, in Sogn og Fjordane. We called her the Norwegian Ice Maiden.  She was buried in a cave that had been carved into the rock along the side of the Jostedal Glacier.  Ice maidens are usually priestesses, buried with all honor.  But this one was buried with no honor, no grave goods or offerings to ease her way to the lands of the dead.  As if she did not intend to go.  We only knew that she was a priestess because of her tattoos—which were perfectly preserved on her skin after a thousand years, due to natural mummification.

We had meant to keep her cold, too cold to thaw (she was more precious as a historical artifact than as one of the resurrected dead).  But the equipment malfunctioned, and she woke.

I was there when she opened her eyes.

You could say that they burned.  Her eyes were like crystals…they were not natural, but crafted.  From the moment they opened, they could arrest you.

She was not like the others.  She climbed out of the truck where the refrigerator was stored.  We were frantically trying to surround her with blocks of ice, that’s why the door was open.  She stood up, looked around with her strands of black hair practically around her waist, and saw the road leading down toward Olden.

She shrieked and leapt from the back of the truck, running, tossing us aside like matchsticks, flinging herself down the mountain…she was not limited to the road.  It was like watching a mountain ram spring along the side of a cliff.  We split up, some of us trying to follow her across the rocks, and the truck driving down the narrow road sped toward Olden, to warn them.

The next we heard, she had made it to Olden, then toward the coast…

Suddenly the plague began to affect the living as well as the dead.  The death metal bands have stopped burning churches.  Their screams have become murmurs.  “The end times, the end times…”

Not a plague but a curse.  For what offense? No one knows.  That time has long since passed.

I have gone back to the cave near the glacier to wait.  A storm is coming.  Soon it will howl through the rocks, and puff! I will be nothing but dust.

But if she should return before then…well, I have a syringe full of anthrax right next to my heart.

When she fled the truck, she flung the love of my life aside and snapped his neck. He returned–briefly, softly–then crumbled.

And even though I feel somewhat delicately about the matter, this one thing I will not regret.

I didn’t want to go with an Egyptian mummy, so I looked up some others and found the Siberian Ice Maiden.  Coooool.  But my brain was like, “So there must be good ice maidens, and bad ones…”  Things got weird from there, because I started thinking of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Handling the Undead and got Nine Inch Nails’s “A Warm Place” stuck in my head.  This one was harder than it looks.

If you liked it, though, check out my short story collection, A Murder of Crows: Seventeen Tales of Monsters & the Macabre, which also has a number of tales involving cold weather and melancholy…