I’m delighted to say that the wonderful Paula Guran has taken my original story “Egyptian Revival” for her Mammoth Book of the Mummy (Constable and Robinson, Feb 2016). Thanks to Paula not only for buying it, but also for her most excellent and invaluable editing insights.
Here’s a taste:
“Are you a follower, Miss Donnelly?” The voice was smoky and the question not one I’d expected.
People come to me because I find things, not because they care about which amulet I do or don’t wear beneath my shirt. They don’t give a rat’s ass what sacred name’s embroidered on my silky underthings, or whether a shrine does or doesn’t light up the corner of my fifth floor office. They come because I’ve got a proven record of locating missing people and items. Generally, the client goes home happy. Mostly, I get paid.
However, here was a possible patron, all blonde brass and Dior dress—blue and cream with a cinched-in waist and matching swing coat—wanting to know if I was a follower. I pushed a stray curl behind my ear, and played dumb.
“Of what, Mrs. Kolchak? Fashion?” My functional green skirt and simple white blouse plainly said “no.” My custom-made Mary Jane pumps with the steel caps in the toes said, “Hell, no.”
“Of the gods, Miss Donnelly,” she answered evenly. Her teeth were so neat they looked pressed. Then, as if I’d given an affirmative answer, she continued with, “And of which ones?”
She herself wore no talisman, giving no hint as to what I should say, so I went with the truth, which wasn’t entirely a new thing for me, just not necessarily my first port of call.
“I don’t follow a god, Mrs. Kolchak. Didn’t follow any of the ones around before the Egyptians came back into style; don’t follow this latest crop; can’t imagine I’ll be following the next craze either.”
“You’re an atheist?” She arched one perfect eyebrow, but it didn’t seem to make any of her skin wrinkle at all. Neat trick.
“Call me an agnostic realist. Whatever’s out there probably has bigger things to worry about than the billion importuning prayers sent up—or down—every day.”
My potential source of income bit at her pouty lower lip, as if considering my future, and I silently cursed the human mania for hitching hopes and dreams to invisible friends. Fifty or so years ago, when the dead-but-determined-not-to-remain-so Queen Tera managed to resurrect herself with the aid of the Jewel of the Seven Stars, Egyptian religion underwent a revival—how could it not? Forgotten gods found a foothold once again; prayers of the sometimes barely convinced faithful thundered from freshly erected temples, and the pantheon of Kemet made a place for itself among all the other belief systems as if it hadn’t been gone longer than five minutes—especially here in San Francisco where outré is normal. Me, I think religion’s like adding rocks to a body of water: the liquid just shifts around, displaces, to accommodate whatever’s added. No one really notices when it disappears either, though most people don’t admit that.
The restoration didn’t matter one whit to someone like me, but to those further up the economic and social ladder it mattered a lot. If you wanted a certain job or promotion, membership in a particular club, the right house in the right part of town, then your choice of personal divinity could make all the difference. Small fry and ordinary folk mostly held to their Holy Trinity credos, Torahs, Buddhist chants, or what have you, but those with cash and position were happy to pay lip service to the new-old ways, and their willingness to do what was needed to prove devotion could, and did, open doors.
Still Amun, Ra, Osiris, Isis, Sekhmet, Hathor, and all the rest held some sway over popular imagination. The pseudo-Egyptian-style portion of the Memorial Museum that had been torn down in 1929 had been rebuilt to house a permanent collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts, replicas, exhibits, papyrus, coffins, and, of course, mummies—both human and animal. Among the latter there was even an enormous mummified Nile crocodile. Cynics had noted, though, that since Queen Tera’s show-stopping return performance no more ancient royalty had been revivified and there’d been precious few miraculous displays. The deities of the Two Lands were apparently unwilling to intervene on the behalf of those who were now devoted to their rituals, wore their amulets, and burned boatloads of incense in their worship.
Or maybe the gods just didn’t make public spectacles of their divine works.
At any rate, Mrs. Kolchak finally nodded and said, “Perhaps you’re just what I need. No conflicting beliefs.”
- Kage Baker, “The Queen in Yellow”
- Gail Carriger, “The Curious Case of the Werewolf That Wasn’t, the Mummy That Was, and the Cat in the Jar”
- Paul Cornell, “Ramesses on the Frontier”
- Terry Dowling, “The Shaddowes Box”
- Carole Nelson Douglas, “Fruit of the Tomb”
- Steve Duffy, “The Night Comes On”
- Karen Joy Fowler, “Private Grave 9”
- Will Hill, “Three Memories of Death”
- *Stephen Graham Jones, “American Mummy”
- John Langan, “On Skua Island”
- Joe R. Lansdale, “Bubba-Ho-Tep”
- *Helen Marshall, “The Embalmer”
- Kim Newman, “Egyptian Avenue”
- Norman Partridge, “The Mummy’s Heart”
- Adam Roberts, “Tollund”
- Robert Sharp, “The Good Shabti”
- *Angela Slatter, “Egyptian Revival”
- Keith Taylor, “The Emerald Scarab”
- Lois Tilton & Noreen Doyle, “The Chapter of Coming Forth by Night”