Rory Ffoulkes

The Bluest of Blood

It had been some five years since the childhood friends had last met in person.

And yet a stranger observing them could be forgiven, as they wagged chins with such ease over post-dinner brandy and cigars in blood-red leather Chesterfield armchairs in the drawing room of Cairo’s Shepheard’s Hotel, for forming the impression that they had been in one another’s company only last week.

They talked of games of school cricket in such detail that our observer would think they took place several days ago rather than in the summers before the Great War.

Their ribs ached with vigorous laughter at anecdotes about chaps they’d gadded about with in London as though they were still living, and not casualties of the first days of the Somme or Passchendaele.

There was, quite naturally – for it had been the talk of Cairo society – the topic of the trouble Archie had got himself into with gambling debts and falling foul of some of the East End’s most feared ruffians, resulting in his father ordering him to leave London until matters had been resolved.

And there was, of course, talk of girls and unrequited love.

When their conversation did indeed finally meet a lull, more so because their tongues needed a rest rather than a paucity of things to say, the men refilled their glasses and took thoughtful puffs of their cigars.

Charlie tilted his head upwards and blew what at a casual glance looked like simple smoke rings but which, as they metamorphosed above the friends, appeared as five or so facsimiles of a man’s bulbous face watching Archie with intense, bulging eyes.

While the indiscriminate wisps from Archie’s cigar melted into the ether, the smoke faces lingered long in the air, seemingly listening in anticipation of what was about to be said.

Charlie, who had skilfully diverted attention away from his whereabouts for the past five years, leant slowly towards his friend’s chair and in a lowered voice said: ‘You know, there’s somewhere where we can find some fun tonight.’

‘Gabrielle’s? She’ll have her thugs throw me out after what I said to her last week. She says I’m not to darken her door for a month, and I can hardly blame her.’

‘Oh no, somewhere much better.’

‘Not The Mirage? That American owner is such an odious toad.’

‘Not there, either. In fact, it’s pointless you guessing.’

‘Well, tell me then.’

‘It’ll be more fun if I don’t.’

‘Seems a bit of a rum to me, old boy.’

Charlie Fox-Armstrong leant back, inspected the lit end of his cigar and crossed his legs before floating his next question like a fly fisherman casting his line: ‘You trust me, don’t you?’.

And Archie Dunsinane – the Right Honourable Archibald Bartholemew Dunsinane, eldest son and heir of the 12th Lord Dunsinane – bit, safe in the knowledge that there had always been great japes to be had when Charlie was around.

A chauffeured black Rolls-Royce Phantom was already waiting outside for them with its engine running when Charlie led Archie outside.

‘Where are we going, Charlie?,’ a concerned Archie asked as the hotel doorman opened the car door and helped him inside.

‘Do stop worrying, dear boy. Here, have a swig of this.’

Archie did as he was told and took a deep gulp from the hipflask Charlie handed him. The sweet syrupy liqueur was unfamiliar but pleasing.

Charlie grinned at him like a Cheshire Cat as Archie fell into deep sleep, and told him: ‘You won’t believe your eyes when you see the carnal pleasures that await us.’

Archie had no idea how long they had been travelling, but when Charlie shook him awake and ushered him out of the car into the desert sand, he found himself standing in desert sand in the giant looming shadow of an ancient sandstone temple lit by blazing torch fire.

At another time and in thrall to different influences, Archie would surely have been more awed by the majesty of this architectural marvel standing testament to the artistry of the ancient world and its indigenous people.

He would have felt keenly the innate reverence that civilised humans experience when they enter an ethereal sanctuary of worship, regardless of their own faith or belief systems.

He would have taken all the time in the world to admire the intricate friezes on the temple walls depicting scenes of implacable deities and mortal heroes in the throes of death and eternal cycles of rebirth.

But Archie was instead a slave to a monomaniacal lust.

Such was its urgent power that Archie beelined for whatever was summoning him inside at such a hurtling rate that Charlie couldn’t have stopped him, even if he’d wanted to.

The compulsion propelled Archie along a torchlit pathway lined with splendid colonnades. It thrusted him towards the temple’s abyssal darkness, and between the two fearsome granite lions guarding the temples gaping entrance.

There was such blackness within that it seemed as if all the light of the universe had been sucked into a vacuum and the sun swallowed by endless night. Archie was usually paralysed by a fear of the dark and yet went on blindly, feeling his way along the walls through the unknown.

He had, too, a mortal terror of snakes and scorpions but continued on, even when, first, an unseen arachnid scuttling across his handmade black dress shoes caused him to emit a screech, and then his blood chilling at something slithering past his ankle.

Onwards he stumbled, tearing off his dinner jacket tailored on Jermyn Street and throwing it to the ground like a worthless rag when the sleeves slowed his progress by catching on invisible impediments. When the claustrophobic air stifled his breathing, he roughly untied the silk black bow tie about his neck, inadvertently ripping off the top button of his white Henry Poole dress shirt.

Ahead, he heard a murmur of what sounded like chanting or prayer. It grew louder and louder until he could at last see a dim light at the end of the passageway, and sprinted towards it priapically, tripping over and hitting his forehead hard enough to make it bleed.

He finally reached the light, heading into it like a long distance runner breaking through the victory tape.

The chanting stopped abruptly. 

A body of some hundred or so men and women in white robes emblazoned with black hexagrams within the cavernous candlelit chamber turned towards him as one and stared in deathly silence. A vast statue of Horus carved into the walls looked down from upon high with a falcon glare.

Archie, utterly perplexed and yet still yearning for the unknown desire that had drawn him here, stood motionless not knowing who these people were or what they were doing.

Without warning and as though bidden by a silent force, the mass of people parted to reveal – with her heart-shaped face, olive skin, round feline eyes, plump wine-red lips and shoulder-length raven hair crowned with a hexagram-embossed gold coronet – a woman blessed with the most astonishing and alluring beauty.

Archie took a sharp intake of breath as she walked slowly towards him in such a way that the sheer fabric of her robe accentuated her exquisite curvature. He all but doubled over at the sight of the tip of the glinting dagger tied upon her fulsome hip tapping rhythmically against her thigh.

He was spellbound by this modern Cleopatra, this Helen of Troy, this Medea – and he gladly acquiesced when she silently motioned for him to put his hands out in front of him. She reached behind her and pulled out two lengths of papyrus rope that she tied tightly around each of his wrists. She made an O-shape with her mouth and, when Archie did likewise as if following a doctor’s instructions, she stuffed in a white handkerchief so harshly that he nearly choked.

She held the ends of each rope in one of her smooth hands and led him like a tame yearling through the chamber as the robed gathering followed behind. The silence was broken by the resumption of chanting, this time delivered with such gusto that it reverberated deafeningly around the sandstone walls.

The dazed Archie looked about bovinely as the woman guided him towards an altar. The long shadows dancing across fragments of hieroglyphics made the painted figures appear alive and in animated motion, like the zoetrope Nanny had given Archie to play with as a child. He marvelled at the starry motifs on the high ceiling and pondered how many poor souls had fallen to their deaths or had their skulls crushed by colossal stone in the construction of this monolith to cruel, unappeasable gods.

It was only as they were drawing closer that Archie saw the dark haze angrily writhing and transforming in shape above the altar. He turned his head to see if these images were being rendered by a film projector.

He could see no such contraption, nor a device for creating optical illusions.

His involuntary screaming was muffled by the handkerchief as Archie turned back to see the formerly incorporeal shadow becoming viscous and taking the form of something almost like a man.

He wanted to escape but was immediately grabbed by inescapable robed arms and held immobile as he was stripped of all his clothes. His obvious fear had done nothing to soften his desire for the High Priestess.

The woman stopped before the altar, shrieked something to the shadowy figure on the altar in a language Archie couldn’t understand and, then, turning back towards Archie, regally raised her arms. At this silent command, two women stepped forward and removed her robe to reveal a body that would have driven Aphrodite to jealous vengeance. One of the women handed the High Priestess her dagger, which she unsheathed as she strode towards Archie.

Archie was lifted bodily by a handful of women, arousing his reluctant libidinousness still further, and placed on the ground. A chalk outline was drawn around him, and his wrists and ankles shackled to iron pegs hammered into the mudbrick floor.

The High Priestess stood triumphantly over Archie’s naked spreadeagled body while the transforming spectre hovered menacingly into place above her right shoulder and glowered down at him. 

As Archie gazed involuntarily into its malignant eyes, a powerful force tugged at something deep within him, weakening him still further as the demon pulled it towards itself like a magnet. A frosty dread settled into Archie’s very bones. He let out an interminable low-pitched muffled groan that would have broken the heart of any decent soul that beheld it, and had them desperately clasping their ear to block out the sorrowful sound.

The appearance of a familiar face over the priestess’s bare left shoulder allowed Archie to tear himself away from the demon, and his anguished lament changed in an instant to a triumphant overture.

‘You’ve come to save me, you rascal!,’ Archie tried to shout joyfully through the handkerchief, beaming up at the one face he would want to see more than any other in the universe in this most desperate of moments.   

Hope sparkled in Archie’s eyes, as his dearest and most trusted friend’s met his.

Charlie Fox-Armstrong ravenously kissed the nape of the High Priestess’s neck and casually said: ‘I’m terribly sorry about this, old horse, but we need the very bluest blood for our friend here to truly manifest himself. And who’s blood could be bluer than yours?’.

Archie was too dumbfounded to speak. His body trembled as the priestess lowered herself onto him, enveloping him like the jaws of a venomous snake devouring its prey.


Rory ffoulkes is a writer of curious short fiction with an often supernatural bent. His work has been published in Paragraph Planet, Fictionette, The Nightwatchman and Free Flash Fiction.

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