The Algols

3 Jan

With a specific mission in mind, Mahound slowly rode his bay chevalet into the port of Marseilles.

For over two hundred years, only Mahometans had been permitted to enter that municipality mounted on a horse.

The rider thought of his mother, a convert to the faith of her Moorish husband, a landowner. He was qualified to be a horseman by ancestral right, no question of that. It was a valuable privilege that he was greatly proud of.

Mahound had grown up bilingual, within two cultures. But today he wore garb from the East, a white burnoose. It was the uniform of the conquerors. Two centuries before, Charlemagne had been forced to surrender Gascogne and Provence to the invaders. Churches had come down in towns, mosques with minarets had gone up across the land of the South. The invaders had been victorious.

A member of the governing stratum, Mahound came into the coastal city to rid it of its raging algol danger.

Within the Moorish sector, the young man found a public imarah where he could rent a room and stable his animal. After a small repast, he sauntered out into the narrow streets. Asking questions of passersby, he found the minar tower next to an ancient Roman residence that he was looking for.

Mahound knocked on the door. A servant appeared and asked his name. As soon as the stranger identified himself, he was led into the neglected, fallen structure to a small reception room where the servant told him to be seated.

Perched on a low squab, Mahound waited a considerable time alone for the one he had come a long distance to see.

At last, a tall man as thin as a pole hurried in. He wore a bright crimson robe. His status and position were very high ones.

“So, you are the one called Mahound, who claims to be able to hunt down the ghouls who raid the city’s tombeaux at night? That is you?”

The visitor rose to his feet, his milky blue eyes shining with spirit.

“I have had much success in my own district, sir,” boasted the stranger with pride. “Each time I overtake an algol, I learn important points that sharpen my skills. Experience has served as my school. I possess wide and deep knowledge of the foes who threaten us everywhere.”

“Please be seated,” said the man known as Yaqob, the Almah of Wisdom. He himself sat down on a squab opposite the hunter of algol monsters.

The pair proceeded to hold a conversation in the langue d’oc dialect, used by the city population of Marseilles.

“We have a terrible infestation of algols,” began Yaqob. “They invade our cimetieres, those of both faiths. No family of any status is immune. Bodies taken out of the tombs suffer scandalous outrages. Not in all the centuries since our ancestors came to this part of Europe has anything like this happened. Not in the time when the Greeks held Marseilles, nor in the long centuries of Roman rule. The crimes committed are unprecedented. That is why I took the initiative of calling for you. The city must place its hope in someone familiar with the algol ghouls and capable of destroying them.”

Mahound stared at the educated Almah. “The factor that makes it so difficult to kill them is their double nature, partially alive and partially dead. Neither truly the one nor the other. That makes the algols slippery and invisible to ordinary, natural eyes. There is nothing like them in ordinary, everyday life. They have the ability to pose as something they are not. It is very difficult to learn the true nature of an algol that conceals itself as something different.

“I believe they arose simultaneously with humans in the earliest lands in the East. They came to Provence with the first ancient settlers who founded the port and the city. Today, we suffer evils greater than those our ancestors once did. The algols are the oldest scourge known to our kind. They continue on from one age to the next.

“It has occurred to me that they are descended from the fallen angels who once took human wives and had children with them. As you find in Holy Writ, that happened before the Great Flood that Noah had to weather.”

“Yes, I am a student of the Quran,” said Yacob in a whisper.

“There exist secret methods of dealing with such beings,” asserted Mahound in a strong, confident voice.

“Can they be killed or destroyed?” asked the desperate, perplexed city man. “I have never read of any such ways. Do you know of such things, my son? Is it possible to destroy an algol once and for all, so that it will never return to a particular place?”

A serene smile formed about the thin mouth of the visiting hunter.

“I think that I can make them disappear and vanish of their own will.”

Yaqob stared in wonder at the young man brave enough to make that claim.

“Tell me what it is that you plan to do,” he softly said, nearly pleading.

“First, I must make a survey of the tombeaux of the city in the middle of the night. Only then dare I reveal how I hope to rid Marseilles of this unholy curse.”

He rose and left, informing Yaqob that he would report to him the following day.

The night sky over the city was dark and dense. Perpetual curfew after the sunset meant an absolute absence of light created by humans. Past the shadows of all sorts of imarah buildings, the hunter made his way slowly, carefully to the graveyards at the limits of Marseilles. He passed by the Mohametan cemetery, proceeding a distance to where Christians had for centuries found burial ground. Had the area once been used for pagan burial in Roman and pre-Roman times? he wondered.

Mahound found a high, flat slab of stone overlooking the gravestones and lay down there. He would have a full, panoramic view of the Christian cimetiere from here. Nothing would be beyond or outside his vision of his surroundings.

Facing northward, his eyes again and again circled around the open land. As he grew tired of his monotonous watching, he looked up at the sky, at the constellations and stars he knew and recognized. There, in the northern figure of Perseus, shined Algol, the demon star, the protector of the ghouls on the earth. Yes, that was their aptly named patron in the sky. Like all algols, those of Marseilles were oriented to that bright point of light in the heavens.

Mahound lowered his gaze to ground level and caught sight of something he had met and confronted on his family’s country estate.

The gray, ashen shape of an algol was joined by a second, then a third.

Dark brown clothing, stolen from local slaves, was what the unnatural beings wore. They blended into the thick shadows on all sides.

The faces contained folds of cinereous skin, their hair was matted into crusted plicae. Ugly folds covered the entire head of each monster, making them horrid to look at.

They were not fully dead, nor completely alive, but somewhere between those definite conditions.

Half a dozen of the algols grouped themselves into a circle around a chosen grave and stooped down. It was clear to the watcher what they were beginning to do: digging up the grave so as to reach the human body buried there. That was what they were after in this burial ground.

With their bare hands, the six removed more and more of the soil, working with increasing fury, out of a rabid hunger. The hole being made grew larger and deeper.

Mahound considered: when will be the best moment to show myself and intervene? The outcome depended on shrewd timing of his entrance, with the algols still busy at work.

The voice of what might have been his second self signaled to him it was time to take action. He could not wait any longer. The moment had to be seized.

As he leaped upward and ran forward, a surprised chauette owl up in a tree hooted three times. This was sufficient to draw the attention of the crew of ghouls. They had the presence of mind to start to withdraw from the grave they had been digging up, running off in panic with rapid steps in order to escape possible peril.

Mahound increased his speed, hurling himself forward toward his target. At the moment he reached the grave hole, only a single algol remained there, staring at him.

The monster’s burning sapphire eyes, glued to the attacker, seemed to be fascinated by the strange cauchemar, the nightmarish transformation that was occurring in front of them.

There was nothing the algol dared do to defend itself as the rushing shape jumped on it and went for the throat. No time was left to think out or understand the nature or character of the being intent on killing the grave-robber. Within seconds, the algol had been felled, then ripped to pieces by something it had never before seen or confronted, that it would never have known existed.

The fiendish algol with face of ash was finally completely dead, left alone beside the transgressed upon human grave. The undead creature would never move again.

Mahound had good news to give Yaqob the next morning.

“I fought one stubborn algol last night and brought it down,” he announced in triumph. “I succeeded in destroying the monster.”

“Today, at dawn, I returned to the Christian cemetery. It appears that the other ghouls carried the remains of their comrade away with them. The corpse was gone.”

“It is something to have brought down even one of them, the way you describe,” said Yaqob. “But what about all the others who roam the land at night? Are you going to face them again? What will happen with them?”

Mahound sighed. “Trying to understand how the algols think, I have to conclude that they do not wish to return to the Christian cemetery and tangle with me. No, if they are going to seek corpses, I believe they will try next time at the Mahometan one.”

Yaqob bit his lip. “These algols are hard creatures to fight against. They have fallen off the alsirat, the bridge to paradise and salvation, and have entered a hell between life and death. They are not truly in neither. For all time, these beings are lost and doomed. But, in the meantime, they are able to cause much damage and harm to both the living and the dead. Once fallen off the razor’s edge of the spirit’s path, there can be no future for them. Am I correct in what I am saying?”

The hunter nodded, but added no more to what he had already said.

That night Mahound positioned himself on a low hill overlooking the cemetery reserved for the Mahometan population of Marseilles. He lost track of the passing of time as he stood guard over the stones of the graveyard. From time to time, his eyes scanned the cloudless screen of the sky. To the south, he caught sight of Betelgeux, shoulder of the giant hero Orion. Fomalhaut, the whale’s mouth, was easily identified, as was Vega, the vulture star. Altair, the bird, in the constellation of Aquila. There was Deneb, in Arabic the tail of a hen. He then spotted Alpherats, the mare in the sky. All these stars, though, did not distract him from his program for that evening. He was always on guard, fully conscious of what his mission was.

No sign or sound indicated any other presence to Mahound. No movement was visible or audible to his senses. Night flowed by with a steady, unending rhythm that ignored him.

The hunter was unaware that someone else had arrived during the later hours of daylight and stationed himself at a distance from the boundaries of the graveyard. Yaqob, eager to witness how the visitor was going to deal with a group of algols, had decided to devote the entire night to passive observation of the Islamic cemetery. From his higher elevation, he could see most of the cemetery, as well as keep an eye on Mahound the hunter.

A slight noise on the edge of the field told the young man from the country that intruders were present. It was the same crew of algols he had come across the previous night. He was right, these ghouls had been frightened away from the Christian burial ground by him. This area was now to be their source for corpses. They had moved to a different hunting ground.

Somehow, a grave was chosen and digging by hand commenced on all sides of it.

Several times, Yaqob looked back and forth from his associate to the predators.

What was going to happen next? he asked himself. When were the algols to be confronted? How were they going to be opposed by Mahound?

The tension in the mind of this second observer rose higher and higher.

Why was Mahound waiting and hesitating?

All at once, something unanticipated became visible to Yaqob.

Changes were occurring over the body of the algol hunter. Hair was breaking forth on his face. A beastly force was transforming him into a different type of being, one of ghostly appearance.

It took several seconds until Yaqob realized what Mahound had become under his burnoose.

Suddenly, the outer clothing fell off the hunter. In naked form, he raced forward toward the grave-robbers. His hirsute body had the aspect of the monstrous being called  garoul by the indigenous inhabitants of Provence.

A garoul: the man had taken on the shape and form of the beast that resembled a wolf. That was what was hidden inside his daytime form.

As the bipedal animal approached the group, they caught sight of the attacker and began to run away with all their might, terrified by what their eyes revealed to them. They instantly recognized the danger posed to themselves.

That night, Mahound failed to bring down a single one of the algols.

They managed to flee and save themselves from a garoul.

Early the following morning, the hunter came for a meeting with his sponsor. The pair finished off bowls of oat bruille, then got down to serious business.

“I had no success last night,” confessed Mahound. “They were on the watch and quite attentive to potential danger to themselves. Perhaps I can do more tonight by hiding myself better.”

“You must not continue with these night vigils, my friend. It is much too dangerous. The chances you take are unacceptable ones. They have to cease at once. Unless you leave Marseilles, I shall have to go to our city officials and ask that a certificate of expulsion be issued. That may have to be the final instrument for ensuring your departure and personal safety.”

Mahound, in a sudden spurt of emotion, grew excited.

“But there is no threat to me. Success will come, but it takes time to attain. There is no reason for either of us to grow impatient. Not at all.”

Yaqob drew a long, full breath before he spoke again.

“It is difficult for anyone to see with clarity the hazards of his own activities. But I assure you this decision of mine is in your best interest. The algols have been hereabouts for many ages. They do not bother the living directly. The harm they cause is to the dead and buried. In our own time, these monsters can be tolerated, as was true for our ancestors in the past.”

The mind of Mahound suddenly comprehended what the real issue here was.

“You know, don’t you? I mean, you have uncovered the truth about me.”

Yaqob, slowly and deliberately, nodded yes.

“I can leave at once,” muttered Mahound. “I will be gone from Marseilles today. Never again shall this city see me. I intend never to return.”

The two exchanged farewells, then the algol-hunter departed on his chevalet for his father’s distant estate.

One simple idea now dominated his thinking: the impossibility of a lycanthropic garoul becoming an accepted exterminator of grave-robbing algols.

He had to go elsewhere and find something different to do.

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