“The Book you seek is the one that was written in haste by Abdul Hazred, a man who called himself the ‘Servant of the Forbidden.’ He was an Arab, not one of us. He was not a Muslim, at least not when he came to us in the
seventh century, although it is said he converted later under threat of execution. They say he was a Sabaean. He was a worshipper of the god they called Yaghuth, who is mentioned in the Qur’an. Their Prophet had ordered the idol destroyed, but there were those who maintained its worship even unto modern times, often at risk of their lives. We understood this, since we were also threatened by the armies under the Prophet. The Arab came to us in those days to learn what he could of the old faith, the religion from before the Prophet, before the Christians, before the Jews. One of our priests took pity on him, for the Arab was half- mad.
“As the armies of the Prophet moved on Mesopotamia, to the original land of the Quraish their ancestors, my clan picked up and moved farther north. The Arab went with us. He told us of his gods, Yaghuth and Al- Qullus and Hubal, of A’ra and Azizos and Manat. He spoke to us of the cult of Qos of the black basalt shrine of Wadi Hesa, and of many others. We could understand from his descriptions that these gods were those we had defeated in ancient times, and this made our elders afraid. Perhaps the followers of the Prophet were right in destroying these idols, if the Arabs of Sana and Mecca and Medina were still praying to them, trying to rouse them from their slumber in the Underworld.
“Our priest instructed the Arab, telling him that these gods must be kept in chains below the Earth. He gave him the formulas for restraining them, in case the clan was captured or killed by the Muslims. These the Arab wrote down in his own hand and preserved them secretly so that our people were not aware, for we never commit these sacred things to paper or to stone.”
In spite of himself, Angell found he was fascinated by the old man’s account. He had heard many tales told by Yezidi headmen in the past, but had never been close to any of them. They kept to themselves and were suspicious of outsiders since they had suffered at their hands so many times over the centuries. But now, in this moment of desperation, Fahim was saying things that Angell knew had never been uttered aloud before in front of a non-Yezidi. Even then, they would not have been revealed before anyone who was not one of their priesthood. Thus, Angell was acutely aware of the unique situation and even of the honor, but that sentiment was sidelined due to the imminent threat.
“Our people moved north, as I said. To Mosul. And then to our homeland in Sinjar. The Arab went with them, even as far as Lalish and the tomb of our Prophet, Sheikh Adi. The armies of the Muslims were already as far as Baghdad. They were trampling on the ground over the lost city of Cutha. We could feel it in our bones. We could feel the great imprisoned Lord of the Underworld moving about in his dreary palace under the Earth, shaken by the tremors of so many feet and horses.
“Thus it was in fear that our priests revealed some of the secrets of our faith to the Arab, for it was necessary that the Old Ones not be roused from their slumber. The Muslims would not know the formulas, would consider such things unclean. So, as has been told to me by my father, and to him by his father, back for countless generations to the time of the Muslim invasion of Mesopotamia, the Arab learned the essential methods for keeping the Old Ones chained and the Gate between our world and theirs forever closed.
“And he wrote all of this down in a book. As our ancestors fled to the safety of Mount Sinjar, the Arab went further east with our secrets. It is said he went to Persia, and from there perhaps to Afghanistan where some of the old people had fled centuries earlier and where the old gods were known and their incantations preserved.”
Fahim stopped to take a sip of coffee. Angell decided to jump in at that point and ask, “And the book? What happened to it?”
He could sense Aubrey stiffen behind him. This was what they had come for.
“The book was never out of the possession of Abdul Hazred, the ‘Servant of the Forbidden.’ He took it with him to Persia. It disappeared after he died, a crazy mystic more than one hundred years old in the streets of Damascus. Then it surfaced somewhere in Europe after the Crusades. Then it disappeared again. Later, much later, after the Second World War, the book was deposited in the Baghdad Museum where I was archivist. I don’t know by whom, or why. I only know that I kept it out of the hands of Saddam’s men and then escaped with a young Yezidi girl and the book to Syria.
“It was known as Al Kitab Al Azif, an Arabic expression meaning the buzzing of insects. This means the cicadas that eat our grape vines. Their sound is unusual and, to someone of Abdul Hazred’s sensitivity, extremely
… suggestive. He believed the sound was made by the cicadas reacting to
the presence of the Old Ones. Of course, by that time he was completely mad.
“The book was written in Abdul Hazred’s own hand, in Arabic, but was translated into Greek shortly after the Arab’s death by an Assyrian priest. The priest felt that the buzzing of insects was a reference to the strange words that are found in the book, words that are not Arabic or Farsi or even Kurdish but which come from the ancient tongue of the Yezidi: Sumerian. In Europe they would have called it the ‘language of the birds’ instead of insects, a coded language understood only by the initiated. As the book is concerned with the dead gods of the old times, and the means to ensure they remain dead, the priest gave the book the title in Greek by which it is best known.
The silence in the tent was palpable, a living thing that sucked the spirits dry of all the men squatting there. There was no movement. Not even an intake of breath.
Angell was stunned. A fantasy had become reality. Two worlds had suddenly encountered each other, clashed, fused, and created a third: the one he now was living in.
The Necronomicon was a joke, a running literary gag, an invention of his family’s sick, twisted tormentor. Yet here were Lovecraft’s despised Yezidis, telling him it was real. And there was nothing more real than sitting in a tent in a refugee camp on the Turkish-Syrian border, surrounded by armed men, and with the ever-present threat of a mortar attack or a suicide bomber to sweeten the pot. He knew they weren’t lying, but they couldn’t be telling the truth either.
He turned to look at Aubrey. “You’re buying this?”
But before Aubrey could answer there was a penetrating, high-pitched scream coming from somewhere outside the tent.
The sound of men running brought everyone out of their reverie. Angell and Aubrey jumped up, uncertain what to do. Fahim pushed through them purposefully, as if he knew what had just transpired.
Strangely, none of the other men in the tent made any move to retrieve their weapons and join the crowd outside. Instead, they looked at each
other with meaningful glances and remained in their places along the tent walls. Aubrey noted that, but did not comment.
After all, this is what they came for.
The two Americans followed Fahim out of the tent and onto the now darkened pathway between the tents. The scream came again, more insistent. It was the voice of a woman, or a child. Angell noticed that his security minders were nowhere to be seen, and this—more than the screams—terrified him.
He raced after Aubrey who was now at a full sprint towards the source of the screams. A small crowd of men and some women had formed in a clearing ahead of them, making a kind of rough circle around someone in its center.
Angell pushed through behind Aubrey and stopped dead.
It was the beautiful, blue-eyed woman from earlier that day. Only now she was disheveled, her glistening black hair in Medusa-like coils damp with perspiration around her face, staring straight at him. Her mouth stretched unnaturally wide as yet another scream burst forth like a hand grenade tossed into the crowd.
“Qhadhulu!” she screamed, without seeming to move her lips or tongue.
Qhadhulu. Angell knew what that meant. But to Aubrey it sounded like
Fahim stroked the girl’s hair and spoke softly to her. One of the men brought a jug of water and Fahim poured a few drops onto her forehead while speaking in a dialect Angell could not identify. All he could make out was the occasional use of the girl’s name. Jamila.
Aubrey spoke briefly to Fahim, who handed him a scrap of paper that Aubrey immediately put into his pocket without looking at it.
Angell, shaken, stood apart from the crowd, trembling. Aubrey walked over to him.
“You okay, Professor?”
Without looking up, he asked him: “What has this been all about? What am I really doing here? Why are you … showing me all of this?”
“I haven’t lied to you, Angell. It’s about finding a book before the bad guys do.”
“And just who are the bad guys? There are too many players. I can’t keep them all straight anymore.”
“The bad guys are the ones who want to create worldwide hysteria and panic. They’re the ones who want to overthrow civilization itself, and replace it with something unholy and unspeakable.”
“And who are they?”
“That’s the thing. Today it might be the Turks; tomorrow al-Nusra or one of the other Syrian resistance groups. The next day, the Islamic State. Or the Iranians. The day after that? Who knows? If all we do is look at the uniforms we’ll never figure out who the generals are. They work through existing groups, and when they have no need of them or when the tactical situation changes, they switch alliances and work through someone else. Everything we see, everything we hear, is pantomime. It’s a mummer show, a costume party by invitation only. The rest of us are just pushing our noses against the window, trying to get a peek.”
“So this is not about ideology, or religion …”
“Religion itself is part of the charade, Professor. It’s what you realized long ago, at Mosul. Religion—for want of a better word—is the game. It’s the way we see the conflict being played out. But it’s got nothing to do with God.”
“Who was … who is that girl?”
“It’s a distant relative of Fahim’s. From the same clan. Her name is Jamila. She was with him when the Iraqi security services tried to seize the Book. They were neighbors in Mosul in 2003, during the invasion. It is said she saved his life.”
“What’s wrong with her?” Aubrey shook his head.
“Epilepsy, maybe. Some kind of nervous disorder. She keeps to herself mostly, and has not been married off yet. Fahim says the men of their clan are afraid of her, and since Yezidis cannot marry outsiders …” he let that thought trail off.
“You heard what she said, what she screamed.” It was a statement, not a question.
Aubrey nodded. “I did.”
“What the hell is going on? I have a right to know. First those drawings in the file, then that history lesson about old George Angell, and now a
young woman screaming ‘Kutulu’ while a Yezidi headman tells me about the Necronomicon? Seriously?”
He grabbed Aubrey by the shoulders, but lowered his voice when he noticed some men from the crowd staring at him.
“You were there, Professor. You saw what I saw. How do you explain it?”
At that moment there was a strange, crunching sound coming from the edge of the camp and then a blinding light.
Aubrey pushed Angell down on the ground, covering him with his own body while he quickly assessed the situation. The attack was probably just a feint, to test the camp’s defenses (if any). The panic it caused, however, was considerable.
“Stay down!” he told Angell. There was a sound of answering small arms fire, men from one of the Kurdish sections opening up with AK-47s on full auto with their unmistakable sound like a dozen crazed woodpeckers on crystal meth. Aubrey had no idea what they were shooting at. The rocket, or maybe mortar, attack had to have come from the hills outside the camp and was probably out of range of the Kalashnikovs.
He looked up when heard a car’s engine and saw the Hummer pulling alongside them. His security escort. About time.
Two of the men jumped down and shielded the bodies of Aubrey and his charge as their eyes—and weapons—swept the area for threats, the driver calm and unemotional behind the wheel.
“Angell! Professor! Let’s go!”
The men bundled the shaken religious studies professor into the back of the Humvee as they took off down the mud road to the camp’s exit. They passed Doctor De Vries standing next to the gate, a look of fatalism mixed with anger distorting her features making her seem like a hungry Valkyrie. She made no effort to stop their escape. She knew they had what they came for, and she was glad to see them go.
Outside the camp, on a small rise overlooking the firefight, was another American. A man in dark clothing, watching the scene unfold through a pair of military grade binoculars.
The missing remote viewer and one of the most wanted men in the world, Jason Miller, was back in business.
THE HORROR AT RED HOOK
A thing is consecrated when it is put into contact with a source of religious energy …
—Emile Durckheim, The Elementary Forms of Religious Life
He has gone to bed hungry, as usual. He is surrounded by some brooding pieces of heavy furniture shipped to him by his aunts in Providence and they form a fortress of memories around his bed in the cramped room. Under a heavy comforter he tries to sleep, luxuriating in the ponderous warmth of Brooklyn on a spring evening. In his apartment building on Clinton Street there are unsettling nocturnal sounds from the other rooms. Lovecraft pulls the covers up to his ears to block out the sniffling, snuffling sounds of Syrian sex from one room and the hideous screech of Egyptian music coming from another. They seem to meld into one noxious incantation of all the darkest elements of the human condition.