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“Why isn’t he breathing anymore, Mother?” Horbaef asked the weeping Ahmose as she knelt down beside her beloved husband, the now dead Thutmose I. She had her head buried in her son’s brown hair, weeping into his soft, fluffy curls. Her husband lay there on the floor, as cold and lifeless as the marble walls surrounding them. He was gone.
“Because, Horbaef, he has gone to meet the Akh,” Ahmose told her son as she stifled her tears and stood up from the body. It was the best answer she had for the young boy, for she did not entirely know herself, and had been told the same thing when her mother had died.
“Help! Help me please, my husband is dead!” Ahmose called, and before Horbaef knew it their tiny house was filled with men and women.
“Who is it who has died?” one of them asked Horbaef.
“It was my father,” Horbaef responded, “Thutmose I is dead.” The man who had asked Horbaef the question cocked his head to one side. His bedclothes were draped around his shoulders and were moving ever so gently in the cool mid-evening breeze.
“Thutmose I is dead, you say child?” asked the man.
“Yes, he has gone to meet the Akh, Mother said. Will he ever come back?” Horbaef asked; his brown hair soaked from his mother’s tears and his tanned skin almost glowing in the moonlight. Tears began to well in the eleven year old’s eyes, before a hand connected with his cheek and pushed it forward with a glorious smack.
“Don’t cry, boy. Your father wasn’t worth it,” replied the man who had slapped him, and he left the house. As soon as the others began to realise that it was indeed Thutmose I who had died, they quickly flooded back out of the marble doorway and dispersed into the streets.
Horbaef rubbed his red cheek and let the tears out of their oval prison, free to run down his cheeks and soothe the pain a little. He knew his father wasn’t well-liked, but to take that out on him? Horbaef turned to face his mother, and saw a strange sight.
Only one mysterious woman remained.
“I will help you rid the body of Thutmose, and he will go to meet the Akh,” was all that the woman said. Horbaef seemed wary of the woman, but Ahmose was not one to question the kindness of strangers. She quickly hooked her hands beneath her late husband’s shoulders and lifted him with the help of the strange woman and Horbaef.
They began to carry him through the sandy streets, and towards the designated burial place where the Akh would assemble and take Thutmose I away to be with them. The special place was located at the furthest point from the Pharaoh’s pyramid, all the way to the bottom of their town.
The group of three received looks of relief and celebration from the rest of the town's people as they carried Thutmose’s body through the crowded streets.
In the past, Horbaef was told that Thutmose had run from one of the greatest battles their city had ever seen. As soon as he arrived on the battlefield, he had just turned and ran. Over ten thousand men had died that day, unsure of what to do when their leader had abandoned the battlefield.
When confronted about it, he had told Ahmose that there simply was no way he could get past the ‘legion of Set’. Horbaef knew that Set was the malicious and evil God who constantly wanted ascension to power. The first part of his father’s response had made sense. But the second part proved to be more unnerving.
Thutmose had told Ahmose that Penthu (Horbaef’s grandfather) was sorry he had missed the birth of their son.
Ahmose had been shocked by Thutmose’s response, and had never asked him that question since. How he could’ve met Penthu on the field of battle was beyond her, but she had kept her worries to herself, and never burdened her husband again.
It would turn out that exactly three years to the day since that battle, Thutmose I would take his own life.
Ahmose explained the legend of the Akh to Horbaef as he carried his lifeless father through the town.
“You see, Horbaef, I think that you are old enough to know the story of the Akh now. When a member of your family dies, you must give them a proper funeral so that they may go and meet the Akh. The Akh are the spirits of our dead, and they will choose to accept Thutmose only if a proper funeral is given. If we do not pray to the Gods and worship the Akh every day afterwards, we will never reap the rewards of the Akh when our time passes into the hands of the Gods. And they have also been known to torment those who bask in the realm of Geb who do not worship them correctly. This business is serious, and not to be joked with,” Ahmose explained, her voice shaky with sorrow. Horbaef had not listened to the last sentence, for his mind was preoccupied.
“Who is Geb, mother?” asked Horbaef, and he received a look of shock from both his mother and the strange woman carrying the body.
“He is the God of Earth, Horbaef. Do not EVER forget that we live in his home, and that he is kind enough to let us stay here with him. You should give thanks to him every day, do you understand?” Ahmose replied, her sorrow quickly bubbling into rage.
“Yes mother. Sorry mother,” Horbaef responded, silently scolding himself for being so ignorant. He never really was too great at learning the Gods’ history, but he knew that without the basic knowledge of the Gods, his mother and he would never ascend to meet with them at the end of his time.
He remembered how his neighbour had slapped him earlier, and began to wonder if the neighbour had been right to punish him. Horbaef hung his head and continued to walk in sorrow.
Four days had passed, and Thutmose I had received a funeral as noble and proper as one could with only three people bearing witness to the ceremony. Ahmose and her son had prayed to the Akh and mourned their loss every day since. Horbaef had become increasingly more interested in the idea of the Akh over the course of the four days, and had continued to ask his mother more and more questions about them.
“How will we know if Father becomes one with the Akh, Mother?” Horbaef would ask.
“You will feel peace with his death, my child. That’s when you will know,” his mother had replied. “You will stop dwelling in the sorrow, and you will be able to move on. That’s the Akh telling us that they are keeping him safe.”
“So, are you at peace with his death, Mother? Is he with the Akh yet?” Horbaef had inquired; a look of longing apparent in his golden eyes.
“No, my child,” Ahmose had sighed, “not yet.”
Eventually, there came a day when Ahmose had needed to travel into the centre of their city to shop, and had left Horbaef to pray to the Akh alone. Horbaef had done all of his chores, and had been on the way to pray before he become distracted with a Scarab beetle on the inside of their house. He became completely invested in every movement the Scarab beetle made, and quickly became lost in its world. Nothing else mattered to him as he followed it along the walls, marveling at its bright blue shell and scuttling movements.
By the time Ahmose had returned, Horbaef hadn’t knelt upon the floor even once.
Thinking on his feet, Horbaef had lied to his mother and told her that he had prayed, and that she should stop worrying about his father. He was with the Akh, safe within the realm of the dead, and waiting to meet both he and Ahmose again.
Ahmose smiled, and patted the back of Horbaef’s neck. “You’re going to be a fine young man, Horbaef,” she had told him, “just fine.”
“Does that mean you can let Father go with the Akh now, Mother?” Horbaef had asked, looking into his mother’s blue eyes as if gazing upon the very ocean itself.
“I believe he is already there, my child. He has been there for a while now,” was Ahmose’s response. And Horbaef smiled.
That night, Horbaef was awoken to the sound of scuttling, not too dissimilar to that of a Scarab beetle. It must be the one from before, Horbaef thought. He slowly stood from his bed and began to search for the source of the noise.
Horbaef followed the noise out the front door of his home, and into the dusty streets. The scuttling sound was as loud as ever, and Horbaef began to wonder whether it was just his mind playing a trick on him.
He followed the noise down the street, all the way down to the bottom of the city. He had followed the noise all the way to the special burial place. Across to the other side of the burial ground, Horbaef saw the mysterious woman crouched over a grave. His father’s grave.
Horbaef took off in a run towards the woman. “Hey! What are you doing to my Father’s grave?” he shouted, and the woman quickly rose to her feet and held her finger to her lips in a silencing manner. Horbaef stopped running as soon as he saw this.
“You’ll wake them,” she responded, looking down at the graves. “You don’t want that. I believe you may have already awoken one.” The woman pointed at Thutmose I’s grave. It looked undisturbed, and the sand was still slightly higher than the rest of the mounds surrounding it, due to the fact that only three people had taken the effort to try and bury him.
“What? Woken him? How?” Horbaef asked shocked, a shiver running down his spine from the cool night air.
“Did you pray every day?” the woman asked him, and Horbaef’s stomach dropped. He shook his head slowly, and his eyeline dropped towards the grave. He thought for a second that he could almost see the sand shifting on the mound.
“That is not a good thing, child. Not a good thing at all. Your father did the same thing, and he was tormented by the Akh every day afterwards,” the woman sighed. "I suppose his acorn didn't fall too far from the tree," she said to him, and then she began to walk away. Horbaef stood looking at his Father’s grave for what seemed like half of an eternity.
He thought about what the woman had told him. That day on the battlefield. His father had been interrupted by the Akh, and couldn't fight. That must've been how the strange woman knew. Horbaef grew anxious as to what the Akh may look like to turn a fierce soldier away from a battle, and what they may do to him and his mother.
He turned and walked away, filled with dread and fear for both his Mother and his own life.
Later that night, Horbaef lay shivering in bed. His mind was teeming with thoughts of unspeakable horrors, his overzealous mind conjuring the worst images possible. He was afraid to open his eyes as much as he was petrified to close them.
He heard movement behind him.
Horbaef slowly turned to face the door. Standing in the doorway was someone, bent over with their legs straight and their hands touching the ground. They were encased in shadow, their head down. A constant stream of ruddy, chunky solution flowed from the spot where the top of the head was meant to be.
Suddenly, its left hand moved forward, followed by the right hand. Its left leg moved forward, and then its right. It was closing the distance between it and Horbaef with each sharp and jerky movement of its awkward limbs.
Horbaef had meant to scream, he really had. But he was too completely racked with fear; he had simply forgotten that screaming was an option. He stood, paralysed, watching the thing as it came closer and closer to him. And then it began to speak.
“What are you that you should not pray to us?” it said, using Thutmose I’s voice. Although it wasn’t entirely the same. It forced the words out between its teeth, and hissed the endings of each sound in an uncomfortable wheeze.
“What are you that you deserve distractions in the outside world, while we are left to rot in the land of the dead? Why are we undeserving of a prayer once a day in remembrance of our time in the realm of Geb? WHO ARE YOU to choose who dies in honour and who dies in vain?” screamed the thing, its head still pointed towards the ground. Horbaef shook in place and tried to utter any sort of sound he could.
“Nn...m...uh,” was all that escaped the boy’s lips. The figure let out a guttural laugh, and began to walk on its hands and feet back to the door.
“I’ll tell you who. You are nobody. You can be sure I will make your life miserable as long as you dwell in the realm of Geb, Horbaef. Both you and your mother are mine,” the thing said as it slinked out of the door.
Horbaef lay there in shock, until suddenly he felt a burning sensation run through his entire body. White hot pain filled him through his toes, to his lungs and into his head.
He remembered how to scream.
Written by Natalo