The Dead of the Night

- a fantasy
by

Anselyn de Belleme
[English Translation, Copyright © 1992 James Deacon]

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Introduction
[Copyright © 1992 James Deacon]

Anselyn de Belleme was a somewhat curious and enigmatic figure. Mystic, traveller, and occultist, sometime writer and poet, de Belleme was born in the vicinity of Nimes, in France on 16th February 1865. Nothing is known of his early years, nor do we know any details regarding his family background, save that his father was French and his mother was almost certainly English. De Belleme appears to have moved to England - to London to be precise – during the early summer of 1886. Amongst other things, it has been said that he came here to escape from the allpervading atmosphere of decadence that encapsulated Paris at that time. However, Yvette Pardeau, a close friend of de Belleme for some ten years, maintained that he came to England primarily because he felt it was a place where he could write. This does indeed seem more plausible, for it was in the months immediately after coming to England that he penned what would prove to be only the first of a number of short fantasy stories which he would write over the years. That story, a fantasy ghost tale was:

The Dead of the Night

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THE DEAD OF THE NIGHT by Anselyn de Belleme
[English Translation, Copyright © 1992 James Deacon]

The Kalmir Trade-route winds its way east from Sheb’iur, in the north, through the Al Zauq mountains, and then south-east across the Plains of Zeema-ul-raan, finally reaching its destination at the sea-port of Kaarna. Now, I have heard, merchants tailing in the Souks and Bazaars of Rina and PurJaha, telling tales of the Al Zauq and its perilous paths - its steep and crumbling trackways where mule, or gamal, or man may slip and fall so easily to certain doom: dashed on the jagged rooks as Death consumes them - and of the bandits of the Al Zauq, and their persistent raids on the now ever-so-suspecting and fore- armed caravans; - of endless ambushes and traps and lures; and of wily treachery used to infiltrate the ranks of the caravaneers - the bandits sending spies and assassins to join the caravan, in the guise of would-be travellers seeking safe escort ~ using their women-folk and children, and off-times even blind-beggar grandparents, who, rising in the night while sentries doze, would slit their throats, and likewise the throats of any; man or child, who should waken from their slumber to interrupt the surreptitious thievery. But from these same Merchants, have I heard how they would sooner face the perils of that journey through the 'Zauq terrain a thousand times, than suffer the same fate as befell the Caravan of Putal-ab-Maouk, out on the 'ul-raan Desert, some twenty years ago. For, in the lands of the East, men fear little the pain and violence which can be done against the flesh - endless years of wars and reigns of terror have seen to that – but they still tremble at the thought of that which can be inflicted upon the Mind and Spirit and Soul of a man, by things: creatures, not of flesh, nor warmbeating heart... From Sheb'iur, as I have already told, the Kalmir Route runs east through the Al Zauq Mountains; in which there are but two major towns - Rima, and Dal-hur and a lone city: Kal-min-inar. It is here that off-times caravans stop to rest after skirmishes with bandits, before making the long arduous trek out across the Zeema-ul-raan itself, Out in the desert, the first city along the route is Im-ral; the City of Marble - once seat of the mighty lbn-Khans, and capital of the Western Desert - but now bereft of all its splendours. From lm-ral, the route twists south, then south-east past the sprawling city of Qarmrhi: the "Crossroads of the 'ul-raan", as it is sometimes called; for here, the Kalmir Route meets -the Malchai Route, which runs south-southwest towards Ullah-pur. From Qarm-rhi, the Kalmir' runs in a straight line, still south-east, towards the old deserted city of Bashnapoor. In ancient times, the route passed directly outside the great bronze-clad gates of the city - but no more. Men will not now go within sight of Bashnapoor. The Kalmir Route has long since changed its course, and now runs in an almost perfect arc, skirting -the old deserted city; keeping it at what is considered a safe distance. For it was there, so they say, that a Great Evil once was wrought; an Evil which, to this day, lingers in the very walls of that city. As to what form that Evil took, none will speak of it - perhaps the memory of it has been forgotten - rather, stamped out - so hideous the happening…

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In ancient times, Bashnapoor was a City of Delights: famed throughout the land for its many splendours, its beauty, its sumptuousness, for, in Bashnapoor, men worshipped, but one deity: Laz; the Goddess of poetry and the Arts, of Love, and Beauty and Delight; and the entire city was a living temple to that Goddess, and all things associated with Her were honoured there. Beauty abounded. There was not one thing of ugliness or crudeness in that fair city, where even the beggars wore finest silks, and turbans studded with Lapis Lazuli – the Stones of Laz. In that city, lush gardens, where peacocks strutted, perfumed with the scent of Jasmine, were almost as numerous as the "buildings. Jewel-encrusted fountains offered themselves as bird-baths to the pure white doves, whose cotes overlooked the Lapis-cobbled courtyards. A thousand beehives were there in that fair Bashnapoor - yet never had one person suffered so much as a single sting - and they say, so sweet was the honey that it brought its weight In gold from eager merchants, come to the Bazaar. And, whereas other cities were plagued with flies, Bashnapoor knew naught but Butterflies - fluttering in the sunlight: a myriad of colours and shapes and sizes – most precious symbol of the Goddess Laz: doubly so, for to the men of the Eastern Lands, the Butterfly is also a symbol of the Soul - so fragile and delicate and beautiful. And the people of Bashnapoor were good and kindly of disposition; and took pleasure in the delight of others. For their generosity and hospitality were they renowned - especially during the season of Ninshaan - for it was then that the Festival of Lazuana was held - at the time of the Autumnal Equinox. Truth be told, the Lazuana lasted seven weeks - the Equinox at its mid-point - seven weeks of feasting and celebrating, of dancing and loving; and it is said that during this time, a thousand bags of gold could not buy you one single fig, or slice of Halva - but a Lapis Lazuli the size of an olive could purchase a weeks supply of these same foods. For, during Lazuana, the Bashnapoorii: the people of the city, deemed it an honour "to accept the Stones of Laz as currency, which they in their turn would leave as offerings in the Temples of that fair city. Throughout the forty-nine days of the festival of Laz, the storytellers recited their best tales, reserved for this special occasion, and everywhere, dancers danced the Sacred Dances, and musicians played deep haunting melodies; and poets walked the streets - such their eloquence that off-times their words would transfix the minds of those within earshot, and thus they would wander through the city, entranced - not returning to their senses for many hours. And at night, when the city closed its gates, the sweet smoke of the Hashish hung heavy In the air, and lovers caressed each other fondly as they floated in Hookahdreams... Thus was Bashnapoor: the city of splendour and delight; and so it continued for a hundred years and more. But, as the proverb has it; "All good things must come to an end"; never more true than in the case of fair Bashnapoor, for a great evil befell the city and all its inhabitants. As I have already told, as to the nature of that evil, none can say, or at least, none will say. Whether it was contrived by mortal hand, or by other gods, jealous of the honoured place held by Laz in the hearts of the Bashnapoorii, or of some other origin, it is for each Individual to decide for their own self - who will ever know the reality of it ? But now, Bashnapoor stands derelict - its walls long-since begun to crumble - its great gates fallen from their broken hinges; the desert ever encroaching further in on what were once well-tended gardens. The dove-cotes are empty; the bee-hives

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destroyed - nothing lives in Bashnapoor now - neither man nor bird nor Insect nor plant - even the lizards and scorpions of the desert give that ruin a wide berth. And so it was that here, at the ruined city once favoured by -the Goddess Las, a dark fate befell Putai-ab- Maouk and the members of his caravan... They had set out from Sheb'iur in the last days of the Summer, or: "Mhyrrdhrah", as men in those lands call that season. ' ab-Maouk' s caravans were renowned for their rich cargoes, and this particular voyage was no exception. In the packs on the mules and the gamals, were the finest Kaldeeg silks, saffron from the fields of Baldahn, precious musk from Abusal; fine trinkets of gold and silver, and gemstones that glittered even in the dim light of a Dark-moon – so flawless their form. It was well into the autumn when the caravan arrived at Im-ral - this time out, it seemed that Ullah looked favourably upon them; for there had not been so much as the merest hint, let alone a glimpse, of even one bandit in the Ai-Zauq, and save for a sprained fetlock in one of the mules, they had sustained no hurt or injury. But four days out of lm-ral, on the way to Qarm-rhi, a gamal was bitten by a cobra, and in due course, dropped dead. The load it had been carrying was divided up and added to the burden of the other beasts. Little was thought of the incident. The day after leaving Qarm-rhi, one of the drovers took a fit - screaming and shouting and writhing on the ground -he swore by Mulla Nabti the Blessed, that he was being eaten by demons. They had to tie him down, and one of the women, versed in the art of herbs and potions tended him, but to no avail - it appears that, in his agonies, he bit clear through his own tongue, and bled to death. They buried him with simple prayers in a shallow grave, piled up with heavy stones to keep the hyenas from unearthing him; and grieving for the loss of their companion, continued on their journey. Perhaps these deaths were in some way a warning. Who can say ? If indeed they were intended as such, they went unheeded. Autumn rolled on, and the caravan continued an its arid way, out across the barren wastes, in the direction of Bashnapoor... It was on the day of the Autumnal Equinox that ' ab-Maouk' s caravan reached the place where, the Kalmir Trade Route begins its detour, deviating from its ancient course to skirt wide past old. Bashnapoor; and at that very spot, they pitched, their camp for the night. Mules and gamals were relieved, of their loads, tended to, fed, and bedded down, Fires were lit and cooking-pots unpacked - lean-to tents erected, guards posted, and men and women settled down to eat and rest. Now in those lands, night closes in suddenly. There is no 'evening' as such to speak of - no slow or gentle falling away of the day. Light surrenders to the dark with undue haste… Some time later, when here and there about the camp, wine and food and words had given way to contented slumber, three hazy blue lights appeared, moving swiftly in the air, out on the desert. Perhaps some, looking out through heavy eyelids, dismissed what they saw as nothing more than the shapes and flickering images often seen as sleep encroaches - others, noticing the lights, watched their approach with interest.

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Strange how none thought to give alarm - they seemed unconcerned - though, fair to say, brigands were all but unheard of in -this part of the desert. Suddenly, a chill wind arose and gusted through the camp, whipping up blankets and rugs and other light Items -and blowing the dusty sand into drink and food and faces. Then in an instant, it had died down again, as quickly as it had arisen. Settling down again after that moment of confusion which had sent those few who were still awake scurrying after windscattered possessions, a still startled gamal-boy looked up to see three figures approaching carrying lamps. As he announced their arrival to his companions, the figures drew close enough to be recognised as women - three beautiful women, dressed in rich and flowing robes of bright colours, bedecked with many jewels. And there was a strangely compelling aura about them. And as they entered the camp to questions regarding from whence they had come, there befell upon the caravan, a dreamy state, and many, awakened by their fellows with news of this unexpected arrival, did not know if they had truly come to consciousness, or had fallen deeper into sleep. And in this 'Other-wakening', the women told how the lights of the campfires had been espied from the watchtowers in the city of Bashnapoor; and, this being the zenith of the Lazuana Festival, they three had been sent out to invite the caravan to the celebrations. And, of such was the entrancement upon them that none thought it strange, nor seemed to question what they had heard; but instead, in light and carefree mood, akin to the stupor of the Hashish, began collecting up their belongings, stowing tents, and loading packs onto mule and gamal - who likewise seemed affected by this unreal mood of mind befallen the camp, Normally the most stubborn and ill-tempered of creatures, especially when disturbed la the night, they rose with little protestation, and without recourse to drovers leather whip. Swiftly the caravan was ready to move; and so, under that strange and compelling influence exerted by the three women, they set off towards the old city of Bashnapoor. As the caravaneers went, leading their beasts, there was a childlike merriment amongst them; and, laughing and joking and smiling, they followed the three women who still carried the hazy blue lamps. As they neared the city, the sounds of merry-making began to reach their ears, and they could make out lights here and there; blue lights, dull and hazy, like that given off by the lamps the three women carried. Entering through the great bronzed gates which swung open at their arrival, the caravaneers beheld such wonder! Bashnapoor was once again as it had been in days of old! Everywhere there was feasting and dancing, and musicians played. Gemstones glistened up from where they were set amid the paving stones; and Lapis Lazuli-encrusted walls reflected torchlight, giving it the blue-haze tint. The city was alive - all asplendour; and here, in the City of Laz, the caravan of Putal-ab-Maouk was made most welcome. A number of servants led the gamals and mules away, and tended to them, while others came and brought Putal and his people sweet red wine and luscious foods of many kinds.

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So it was that the caravaneers mingled freely with the Bashnapoorii, joining in the celebration, but as they gossiped and laughed and made merry, partaking of the generous hospitality, slowly they began to sink deeper and deeper into dream. The festivities lasted long into the early hours – dying away gradually as people wandered to their homes, or slept where they had slumped, in scented gardens or in cobbled courtyards, or on the agate paving slabs of the main square. And in those small hours, several men from 'ab-Maouks caravan wandered off, here and there, to some or other quiet room, with girls from that fair city. In many ways, and beautifully was the Goddess Laz worshipped that night. . .

It was in the moments before the dawn that a strange chill wind arose, much like the one which had upset 'ab-Maouk's camp the night before, but this time as it gusted through the city - down paved and cobbled streets, and through the maze of alley-ways - there was a great fierceness to it, Not so much a wind, as a vengeful demon, It sped along, flinging open doors and window-shutters as it went. It seemed to come and go in many directions all at once, so that in a matter of minutes, it had passed through every place in the city, and in its wake, there arose such a wailing and a shrieking. Cries of fear and terror filled the air; cries In response to some dread evil, as yet unrevealed to the conscious minds of the men and women of the caravan: brute animal noises welling up from that ancient and instinctual soul in man, which, oft in times of peril overrides the rational mind to warn of impending doom... People, awakened from their slumber, ran about, as madmen; screaming, some, rending their garments – brushing down their skin, (perhaps believing that they brushed away creeping, crawling things; bugs and beetles and spiders and scorpions) - others, seemingly attempting to flee, but knowing not where to turn; yet others still, clutching at themselves, dementedly. And as the first rays of the dawn light began to filter down the city streets, and in through open 'Eye of the Needle' doors and windows, that dream-beyond-slumber which had held the members of Putal-ab-Maouk's caravan in its clutches, began to fade. It was now that the real terror began. For, in this ' second-wakening', there dawned upon the caravaneers an horrendous realisation; the terrible awareness that not only was the finery and splendour of the city dissolving away - and likewise, the ghosts of its inhabitants (who, truth be told, had not known life for five hundred years and more) - but they themselves were being swiftly drained of life; their vital essence being sapped away with the passing dream. And many of these pitiful souls, transfixed by a combination of horror and fascination, watched as parts of their own bodies began to decay, and crumble into dust, only to be swept away by a now gently blowing breeze...

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There is an old, half-mad, storyteller who sits in the Caravanserai at Lim - his name is M'hackmood-ben-hajal. "M'hackmood the crazy beggar" they call him. Day upon day he sits there amidst the constant flux of caravans arriving and departing, telling the same story over and over again to anyone who will listen. He only knows one story - he only cares to know one story - his own. For M'hackmood the half-mad beggar is the sole survivor of the horror that befell Putal-abMaouk's caravan, all those years ago - the only one to come out alive from Bashnapoor on that fateful morn. And so he sits there, in the Caravanserai at Lim – the withered stump of what had once been a strong left arm, a visible reminder of the fate befallen his companions. Again and again he tells his tale: a tale of the Shearii - the spectral blue phantoms of Bashnapoor, who, during the season of Ninshaan, fly out on the desert at night, searching for life to fill that old city anew - searching for unsuspecting travellers to lure to their doom - there in that City of the Dead, out on the Plains of the Zeema-ul-raan....

FIN

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