Hemithanes

16 Oct

One late afternoon, Abax discovered the ruins of an ancient temple while exploring the western Egyptian desert.

He had trekked from the delta town of Naucratis, inhabited mainly by Greek settlers. His infinite curiosity drove him out onto the sun-baked sands. He spent hours examining the crumbling clay walls of the abandoned structure. The size and splendor of what had once been there entranced his mind. Egypt had a lot to teach its immigrant population, he acknowledged.

Abax did not notice the approach of dusk.

Suddenly looking out at the flat brown sand, he became surprised and alarmed.

A number of dark, unidentifiable shapes were converging in a circle around the ruins. Who they could be he did not know. Their purpose appeared to be to surround him.

Abax rotated his stance so that his face was in turn directed into all directions. There was no path of escape, he told himself with apprehension. The unknown shadows had succeeded in encircling him within a noose.

A potential menace to his safety had to be faced, he told himself.

As the ring closed in, the features of the attackers grew distinguishable. Their backs were curved and bent. The faces, with a natural darkness, had a freakish quality. Their eyes had an empty, bottomless look, without any color.

The bodies seemed severely misshapen, disfigured, and warped. Complete deformation and distortion of every aspect characterized the horrific forms.

The breathing of Abax became faster and deeper as they neared him. Fearful thoughts arose in him. What could he do if their aim was to harm him?

The encirclers stayed equidistant from their central target.

Abax could not foresee the fast lunge forward of two of the forms. In a fraction of a second, they were upon him, seizing hold of his legs and bringing him down to the ground.

Sensing his fall, he hit the earth with a thud. Hands then held down both his legs.

Something snapped in his mind. He closed his eyes, then reopened them.

Everything on all sides had changed. Hands no longer held him. The invaders were gone. He could see them nowhere around.

Abax lifted himself to a sitting position and looked around on all sides.

The temple ruins had disappeared. He found himself within what looked like a religious sanctum in complete, total form. No ring of monstrous figures encircled him any longer. A large, burning torch illuminated the interior of a building with painted figures but unfamiliar hieroglyphs on all four walls.

Rising to his feet, Abax knew he had to explore this strange temple and find out where it was and how he came to be in such a place.

Then his eyes caught sight of a small man in a priest’s white robe standing in a narrow doorway to one side.

The face of the little figure possessed an eerie glow that Abax had never witnessed before. It terrified him.

What should he say to it? wondered the lost one. But it was the strange-looking priest who spoke first as he approached nearer.

“Welcome to the temple of Ptah, traveler. You must be exhausted from the effort it took you. Come with me to a side room where there is a bed prepared for such as you. Food and drink shall be provided you at once by some of the brothers. You are here as our esteemed visitor and guest.

“We will have opportunity to talk later. There are matters that we wish to learn from you, and you can also ask me questions concerning the reign of our beloved Pharaoh, Menes. Much there is that shall be exchanged between you and us. I am eager to learn all I can from you, dear visitor.”

His thoughts in a spin, Abax followed the instructions of the little priest.

The realization that he had moved to another period in time shocked and bewildered the recently endangered explorer. How was anything like this possible?

The incredible had occurred. Here he was, many ages back in the reign of Pharaoh Menes, among priests of the god Ptah, patron of the royal capital of Memphis.

As the pair ate together in the small room assigned the time traveler, Abax revealed his name to the priest who now identified himself as Duren.

The two sat on low stools, directly facing each other.

“We have had but one who wandered over time during this reign,” explained the cleric. “It is an honor to have you come here. Can you reveal to me why you chose our place and moment?”

“I did not consciously decide that. Let me describe for you the danger I faced before I arrived where I am now.”

Abax related his experience while exploring the ruins of what must have been the temple dedicated to Ptah.

“This place was abandoned and crumbling away?” asked Duren with evident anxiety. “I guess such a fate awaits everything in the far future. Who is the Pharaoh of Egypt in your day?”

“Necho,” answered the other. “These ruins were a distance from the city of Naucratis.”

“We know of no such settlement. It has to have been built after my brothers and I are gone from that world,” said the priest with a moan. “But I can tell you who your attackers were. That is clear from the description you gave.”

“It is?” said Abax expectantly.

“Hemithanes of the desert. They are half-alive, half-dead beings who plague Egypt today as in the past, and I dare say as they shall in the future age from which you yourself come.”

“What are these hemithanes like, then?” inquired Abax, eager to learn who and what his recent foes happened to be.

Duren looked surprised.

“They attacked, yet you do not know?”

“I knew nothing at all,” confessed the visitor. “This is all new to me.”

The priest gave him a look of disbelief.

“I have to go back to the day of creation, when Ptah made all that surrounds us on all sides.” He lit a second lantern and related a history new to Abax.

“Ptah was the sculptor of all things in the world. Like a potter, he molded and shaped all forms on his wheel. He created everything out of his heart, by the words from his tongue. The general idea and pattern of each being came from his divine heart. When he spoke the word that named the entity, that brought it to realization.

“Ptah still creates each human body out of clay and gives it the breath of life. He places this clay in the womb of the mother who gives birth.

“But at a far distant time in the past, at the very beginning, Ptah fell asleep and his hands slipped, so that ugly, defective monsters came to life. These are the ghouls called half-dead hemithanes by those who must face and fight them.

“They are awful errors made by Ptah when he was conceiving humanity.”

The priest drew a long, deep breath, then proceeded on.

“The results turned out horrible and unnatural. That was not at all the fault of divine Ptah, but an anomaly due to chance and only chance.

“What was meant to be a perfect human creature instead became a sickly sport. Their bodies took on an unseemly shape. The heart became a perverted monstrosity, driven to crime and murder by jealousy of ordinary human beings. Hemithanes fled into the desert, where they continue to lurk and hide. Their aims are evil and destructive. They avoid the light of the sun and the eyes of men. They attack and do harm , protected by darkness. When the monsters strike, their goal is maximum damage and harm. With demonic glee, they savor the pain of their human victims. Their sole purpose is to commit acts of evil.”

Abax next posed a question. “Why have they not been destroyed by their creator, the god Ptah?”

The priest gave him a serene smile.

“A god never does that to his own creature, whether it is good or bad in nature.”

“Yes,” nodded the other. “I can understand how that can be.”

“That is why so many demonic beings haunt the world we live in. It was the god Set who created the mtwu and the khatyi that bedevil the night, and the shenayi who inhabit the burning desert. Even wicked Set cannot undo what he originated, just as Ptah cannot erase his mistakes.”

“Are the hemithanes the same sort of ghouls as those others?”

“They are very similar, but hemithanes have the ability to assume the appearance of true human beings and cannot be distinguished from living persons. They are masters of pretense and trickery.”

“That is horrible!” sighed Abax.

“The war against them is unending, for the hemithanes are eternal and undying. There is no end to their crimes.”

Unsleeping, the traveler lay in his room thinking. What should he do now?

This moment, this time is not mine. A reverse journey, a return to my own age, is necessary.

Abax attempted to re-enact what had propelled him out of the temple ruins to where he now was. How had the leap, the transfer occurred? What had he been thinking at that moment?

It seemed best to go to the spot where Duren had found him. That point was closest to the destination he was after. Would his attackers still be around there somewhere?

No, he told himself, time flows forward in a stream, whether past, present, or future. It never stops, never pauses.

Abax lay down in the temple where he had awakened and been discovered.

Escape out of this present, escape into time to come, that was what he sought. Closing his eyes, he centered all his thought and energy into time not now but still to come.

He sensed a kind of surging wave and opened his eyes.

No longer was he inside the roofed structure of the temple of Ptah. About him were ruins with the bright azure sky shining above. It was day now and the sun was clearly visible.

With all the force and stamina he could muster, Abax started walking back to Naucratis.

He now possessed knowledge of time journeying for the first time, but he had also confronted hostile hemithanes.

A lone figure, small and bent, approached from the opposite direction.

As they neared each other on the hot noonday sands, the heavy woolen protective clothing of the stranger became visible to Abax. What should he say to this dweller of the desert? How much of what had happened to him should he reveal?

It was the short, tiny trekker who spoke first.

“Are you lost, sir? I can tell you are a town-dweller. What are you doing out here where you do not belong? ” He smiled. “Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Eye and I come from the oasis of Tkei. I am at present on my way to Naucratis.”

Abax felt a jolt of surprise.

“That cannot be. It is I who am going back to my home in that particular city. You are headed in the wrong direction, away from Naucratis.”

The short man was no longer smiling.

“I am sorry to have to inform you that you have lost all sense of direction. Look up at the sun! Your present path is westward, whereas it should be to the east.”

For a time, Abax could say nothing.

What if he had, till now, been mistaken?

How could the desert man be the one who was disoriented? he asked himself.

“Come, follow me to Naucratis,” softly commanded Eye.

Abax  decided that was the only rational course to take, so he let the one he had just met guide him.

Neither of them spoke, slowly walking under the blazing overhead sun.

All of a sudden, the tops of palm trees appeared on the horizon. Both figures stopped, Abax behind Eye. The latter turned around to face his companion.

“We are almost there,” clanged the voice of the guide, no longer pleasant or unctuous as before.

“But that is not Naucratis ahead of us,” objected the alarmed Abax, conscious of having been deceived. “I see a desert oasis there, not a city of the delta. What have you done to me?”

A sardonic expression crossed the thin mouth of Eye. His long, crooked nose now had a sinister cast.

“You do not belong there in the city,” he said with a growl. “I shall lead you to a better place. a true desert paradise. There is no reason for unhappiness. A new home for you will be made among the palms of our water hole.

“You see, I recognized at once that you came from another time. Here is the infinite desert with its unique beings unlike the inhabitants of the Nile. I recognized at once that you come here from another time. Here, on the unending desert, there are persons unlike the ones you know in the city.

“So, I ask you to define and describe for me what you believe you are. Then I shall guide you to Tkei, visible in the distance ahead of us.”

He gazed with a hypnotic stare at the traveler he had tricked into following him the wrong way.

Abax suddenly remembered what he had heard the priest of Ptah say. Hemithanes had the ability to impersonate real humans. Was that what was now happening? How was he going to escape the trap he had willingly entered?

A jump through time, that was the only way to save himself.

He repeated what he had accomplished twice before. All the force of his will was focused upon one supreme effort. With closed eyes, he hurled himself out of a perilous present, into a different period.

From another age, he would again start out to find the path back to Greek Naucratis in the delta. Fear of the hemithanes would never disappear from his memory, Abax reminded himself. He suddenly realized that natural human beings, like the Greek craftsmen who had constructed him, were unable to leap through time like himself, an artificial facsimile of man. He had a special freedom from the fetters of time. Genuine humans did not possess it.

I must return to the Greeks who produced me and relate my adventure over time and how I met with the desert hemithanes, he instructed himself.

As he walked eastward toward home, Abax thought about how the spinners and weavers of Naucratis had produced the fabric for his skin and internal organs, and how the metal artisans had used coal, charcoal, tar, and asphalt to mold his bones and structure. From Egyptian canopic jars had come the organs he used within his body.

And he had discovered an ability to move through time, along with a dreadful enemy of all that was human, including himself as a creation of human thought.

Abax willed himself back to the era in which he had been constructed and created.

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