by Gavin Chappell
(This review contains spoilers)
We begin with one Rashid Al-Amriki, an Islamic soldier tasked with eliminating infidels, beheading a woman. He is specifically on the mission to convert or destroy the settlement of Burj Al Zlam. It’s surrounded by all sorts of strange rumors… Devil worshipping and the like.
His men surround the place with humvees and bulldozers and await the morning when they will attack. He has a long talk with Jassim, who seems to be his second in command, about the many tales of people going to this place and never returning. Many governments have tried to conquer this place over the centuries, but none have succeeded. They further speak of the fear that has taken hold of the men they command before turning in for the night. They, of course, are stricken by terrible dreams. The two refuse to acknowledge this to each other, however.
The story takes us through an atmospheric and tense journey through the village as the soldiers descend upon it. I always love these parts where things build and escalate, and we wait for the payoff. Eventually, tiring of his men’s fear, Al-Amriki decides to sets an example by taking his best five soldiers and leading them the rest of the way. However, he doesn’t get far as soon the rest of the men start firing into tents. This firefight is over quickly, and the villagers are rounded up.
A western-looking woman appears from one of the tents. Al-Amriki is shocked to see someone like her here. She identifies herself as Professor Roomer, a Dutch woman that came here years ago to study archaeology. Her Arabic isn’t great, so they converse in English, which reveals Al-Amriki to also be a westerner from Missouri who was converted online. (Al-Amriki means The American.)
She tells us how long ago another Civilization destroyed this place, fearing what resided within. Priests settled here afterward and created wards to keep this thing said to come from the stars contained. They guarded over this place and handed the work down for generations, but they became inbred, poor, and uneducated over the years and have forgotten what they are guarding. The people here could once repel any invader, but now only the fear of this place keeps it safe.
As for her, she became stuck here after her vehicle’s gas seemed to have evaporated in its tank. She tried to leave on foot but always passed out from the effort and found herself rescued by the villagers and brought back. She resigned herself to her fate and joined the people in their work to guard this place. She warns Al-Amriki to leave before he frees what lies here upon the world. He responds by beheading her and all the rounded-up villagers.
As he directs the bulldozers to wreck the place, Al-Amriki is confronted by Jassim, who says he was talking to the woman too long and was probably being swayed by her words because they are both Westerners. This is about to break out into a fight when a loud crash is heard, and some of the bulldozers are pulled into a hole in the ground.
A strange phosphorescence begins to hang over everything now. Thinking there are more villagers in the hole, Al-Amriki orders Jassim and some men to enter it. He waits in silence for a while until a terrified Jassim emerges and tells him everyone was taken. Before he can elaborate further, he is pulled into the hole by something.
Al-Amriki gathers himself and goes into the hole with his remaining men. As he enters, he sees vast tunnels with symbols carved into the walls of strange tentacled monsters with glowing eyes. He eventually comes into a room with a pool of black liquid with a sort of altar coming out of it.
He sees Jassim and a few of his men also standing there, with the black liquid running down their legs. Something speaks through them, telling him they have broken the seal and freed them from a tomb where they were ‘laying not dead but dreaming.’ Al-Amriki orders his men to fire and riddles the possessed men with bullets, but it has no effect. Instead, black tentacles emerge from the pool of black liquid and consume everyone except for Al-Amriki, who runs away and out of the tunnels.
Now outside, Al-Amriki sees humvees fleeing the sight in terror, and on foot, he chases after them, never looking back at the horror he has unleashed on the world, and the story ends.
Another great story from the collection. The cultural stuff was interesting, although I decided not to get too heavy into it in my retelling so this wouldn’t balloon out of control. It’s worth a read of your own to see those things, that’s for sure.
There is a part when Al-Amriki is arguing with Jassim, and he calls him “dude.” I’m pretty sure they aren’t speaking in English here, so that was somewhat jarring, but I’m not knocking any points for it.
But anyway, lots of action, the Lovecraftian elements were great, and I liked the characters. Top marks.
***** Five out of Five Stars (Great)