“They won’t be in Kashmir for another four or five hours at least if they are on schedule. They are north of Abbottabad now. How much time do you need?” He was referring to the fact that none of those men had slept in days or had very much to eat. If they tried to undertake a mission as delicate and dangerous as this one in a state of fatigue they would make mistakes, and those mistakes could be fatal. Aubrey was also a political animal, and he didn’t want to see a bunch of dead or captured American special ops people on the evening news.
“An hour or so, sir. We’ll catnap in relays.”
Aubrey did some math and looked at his computer screen. He watched the progress of the drone as it flew high over the Pakistan-India border. It was being controlled out of Creech AFB in Nevada by some twenty- something drone jockey with a can of Coke and bag of chips next to his console, probably. Aubrey could not get his head around that, but there you go. He just hoped the kid would wipe the grease from his fingers before hitting the button that would send a Hellfire missile up the ass of the Taliban leader holding Angell. You know, just to be respectful.
“Take two hours. You’ll need every bit of it. Let me talk to the base commander.”
Angell’s jingle truck made a pit stop on the way to the Kashmiri border. It was in a line with other trucks and similar traffic on the road. The men got out and stretched their legs, including the driver who casually walked over to Angell.
“Assalaamu aleikhoum,” he said. “Wa’aleikhoum salaam,” Angell responded.
“How’s it goin’?” the man said, in perfect English, to the astonishment of the American.
“Uh … okay?” he replied, a little confused. “Don’t worry, dude. I studied at UC Berkeley.” “That’s … weird.”
“Yeah, right? Anyway, I’m not Taliban. I’m just a contract hire, you know? I’m not even really Muslim, but don’t tell them that.” He nodded in the direction of the others who were standing next to each other, urinating.
“I’m Kalasha. You know Kalasha?”
Angell nodded, wondering where this was going.
“When I was at UC Berkeley I got turned on to all this other stuff, you know? Since I’m Kalasha, I’m hip to the arcane shit they got goin’ on around there. That whole Wicca scene, Golden Dawn, astrology, Reiki … you name it, dude, I was into it.”
“That explains the artwork on your truck.”
“Oh, you noticed that shit? Cool. Yeah, I got heavy into ritual magic my senior year. Almost flunked out because of that … well, that and the pot … but whatever. Listen, these guys are probably gonna waste you once they’re done with you. I thought maybe they would ransom you out to your peeps, but from what I hear of them talking, I don’t think so.”
Angell swallowed heavily, and could only croak a “Thanks.”
“Hey, listen dude. Don’t sweat it. I’ll get you out of this. We gotta stick together, right?”
Angell looked at him quizzically. “What do you mean?”
“You’re Professor Angell, right? From Columbia? I recognized you from the photo on the university website. I read all your work, man. You got a fan base at Berkeley.”
“You’re kidding me.”
The Afghans began moving back to the truck, some of them smoking cigarettes and talking, reluctant to get back on the truck even though they
were under a tight schedule.
“Later, dude. I gotta get back in the cab. Won’t pay to let them see me talking to you. Peace.”
Angell realized he didn’t get the driver’s name.
They finally set off again, and by his estimation they were about three hours from the border. He had no idea how they planned to get across, but he knew the Taliban ran smuggling operations through there all the time. He wondered if Aubrey was still monitoring his GPS chip or even if it was still working.
More than that, he worried about Adnan and the two CIA agents who had been taken prisoner by the Taliban. He had no idea if they were still alive. He would do his best to get proof of life from his captors before doing anything to translate or analyze the Book.
Not for the first time, he asked himself why he was so essential to this mission. They could have asked Schiffman or Tabor, someone else with a background in ancient Middle Eastern languages, maybe with a track record at archaeological digs and experience working with the government. He wondered again if his personal history was an important element, and he didn’t understand how it could be. It was a problem without a solution, as far as he was concerned. But a problem that meant life or death to him.
There was a new guard sitting in the back with him. They had been taking turns sitting up in the cab with the driver, and this one had been hogging that seat until the others complained. Now he was in the back with them and not too happy about it. He glared at Angell, muttering words in Pashtu under his breath not realizing that Angell understood that language. He was calling Angell an unbeliever, a man who should be killed and not coddled. The other man argued with him, saying that their orders from the Emir were to make sure the kafir studied the Book when they got it and told them how to use it, otherwise getting the Book would be half of the mission only. The other half would be their heads.
The angry man said he didn’t think this was God’s mission. He said that the book was haram, and everyone knew it. Even to touch it would be haram. It was an unholy scripture, one that taught the ways of shirk, of idolatry. Why not simply burn it, and the foreigner, too?
1948. Robert Barlow, Lovecraft’s executor, has tracked the Necronomicon
to Bolzano, a town in the Tyrol.
After Lovecraft’s death in 1937, Barlow was involved in sorting all of Lovecraft’s papers—including unpublished stories and notes—and giving the bulk of them to Brown University. He then went on to study anthropology and won a Fulbright scholarship to Mexico, where he eventually became the head of the Anthropology Department at Mexico City College. He was a renowned expert in Mexican languages, religion, and culture, inspired by the work of his mentor on ancient cults and by the work of Reverend Whitehead on Afro-Caribbean religions.
However, he also began a quiet search for the Necronomicon. He had learned of the Book’s existence not only from the Lovecraft stories—a theme that was picked up by other writers in Lovecraft’s circle and expanded to include all sorts of extraneous material—but also from his conversations with Lovecraft and with Count Karl Tanzler von Cosel who regaled the younger man with stories of the war and of his attempts to resuscitate his dearest Elena using Lovecraft’s understanding of reanimation.
Finally, word came to him of an SS officer who had escaped to Mexico after the war and who had specific knowledge about an occult bureau within the SS known as the Ahnenerbe, or the “ancestral heritage research bureau.” This sounded like a promising lead to Barlow, who followed it up with a meeting with the renegade SS man.
“The one you need to speak to,” said the officer, “is Johann von Leers. He is an expert in Middle Eastern languages and is probably the one who knows the most of what was going on with occultism within the Reich.”
Barlow eventually tracked Leers to the town of Bolzano, in the Italian Tyrol: a famous way-station for Nazis on the run. It was here that some of the members of the SS-Ahnenerbe escaped in the years after the war, living out their lives day by day as they awaited transport and false papers to South America. The trail was cold, but Barlow found a local priest who knew the Nazi he was seeking. The priest told him that the man disappeared some time ago, but that he left behind a suitcase in his rush to get away before the American CIC agents found him. He showed Barlow the suitcase and in it was a file of papers that had belonged to Leers and an envelope that had Julius Evola’s name written on it.
Barlow eagerly opened Evola’s envelope first. This, at least, was a name known to him: a crackpot philosopher who promoted a kind of fascist esotericism, a man who had been ordered by Himmler to investigate the horde of stolen occult books and manuscripts the Reich had seized from Masonic temples, secret society archives, and personal libraries throughout the occupied territories. These were priceless works that were never recovered by the Allies, most of which made their way to private collections around the world (those that did not remain within the core of Nazi supporters that formed ODESSA, the Nazi underground network). Inside the envelope was a sheaf of papers that were collections of strange symbols and even stranger verbiage. At the top of one page was the word
—written in Greek letters—Necronomicon. Barlow stopped breathing for a moment. Is this it?
He riffled through the pages, noting almost immediately that they were too few in number to represent the manuscript. He put them down and went through Leers’ file.
It was in English and marked “Cthulhu Cult.” Barlow did not realize he was looking at the very file that was stolen from Lovecraft’s Brooklyn apartment more than twenty years earlier, but he took it and the Evola paperwork with him anyway. He thanked the priest and left the Tyrol forever.
On his return to Mexico City he learned that the bloody sacrifices of the Aztecs have resonance with those of the Cthulhu cult he read about in the Leers file. He also realized with both horror and excitement that his idol,
H. P. Lovecraft, had encoded much real information in his stories. He understood that he must now go back and re-read everything—stories,
letters, foul matter—with a view towards decoding the texts. Lovecraft’s use of specific dates and places are the clues he needs to calculate the cult’s future plans. He continued his study of the rituals and lore of the indigenous peoples while at the same time conducting a greater search for Leers and the Necronomicon.
The following year, while still deep in the study of arcane religious practices, he doesn’t notice a new student who enrolls in his class: William
THE LURKER AT THE THRESHOLD
The strong emotions, the fear, the terror, so skillfully aroused by the scenarios just described, are to be regarded as so many initiatory tortures.
—Mircea Eliade, Rites and Symbols of Initiation
The jingle truck came to a complete stop, pulling off the road as it did so. In the distance was the town of Garhi Habibullah, essentially a suburb of Abbottabad. The idea was to go across from there to Muzaffarabad on the Kashmir side and from there across the mountains to Srinagar. There was no way a jingle truck was going to make it the rest of the way. From now on, they would have to switch to a smaller vehicle with a good engine, four-wheel drive and a low profile. Angell was afraid he would lose the driver at this point in the journey, as the driver was the only one who seemed to be on his side.
The Afghans sit down by the side of the road. One of them seems to be in telephone contact with someone in the town. Angell catches part of the conversation which seems to indicate a pickup truck will be leaving soon to meet them. Until it does, they tell the driver to wait, just in case there’s a delay or a problem.
Once again, the Afghans pull out their cigarettes for a smoke. Angell walks around a little to stretch his legs, looking at the scenery—which, in spite of everything, is breathtaking—and trying to assess his chances if he starts to run.
It is a good time of year to be in this region. There is a profusion of greenery everywhere and majestic mountain peaks in the distance. A fast- running river divides Pakistan from the Kashmiri border, and one look at it
—even from a distance—tells Angell he would never make it across by swimming.
He thinks back on what he knows of Srinagar as the town rumored to be the final resting place of Jesus. According to the legend, famous in Kashmir, Jesus faked his own death and traveled with his mother from Palestine all the way to northern India where he was welcomed as a guru, eventually died and was buried in a shrine in the town. Somehow, this story is comforting to Angell. It’s Christianity without the bloody crucifixion, the torture, the violence. Jesus as guru seemed more palatable than Jesus either as zealot or as victim. Briefly, Angell wishes it were all true; that using some magic of DNA and genetics scientists could prove that Jesus was buried in Srinagar. What a change that would inaugurate in the world’s religions. Peace to replace war; love to replace fanaticism. And maybe there would be a different sort of cult: a Jesus cult of mantras, meditation and yoga instead of ceremonies that involve the devouring of the victim’s flesh and blood. Even then, the Yezidi would still have been taken off a bus and massacred in Mosul. No way out.
For a moment, Angell admits that atheism is the one characteristic that he shares with his nemesis: H. P. Lovecraft.
Just as Angell is lost in these thoughts, a man is seen walking towards their party from somewhere in the woods on the Kashmiri side. The Afghans jump up and ready their weapons.
It’s just an old man, alone, whimpering. He is old and disheveled, and seems to be blind. Angell is startled, thinking of the old Zoroastrian priest from Yazd. The man keeps walking towards them, his unseeing eyes a milky color, his arms outstretched before him. He ignores the shouts of the Taliban to stop, to turn back, to go away. They train their weapons on him, even knowing that he appears to be harmless, but knowing all about suicide bombers and how they can be anyone, any gender, any age.
The old man is making straight for Angell. The driver of the jingle truck jumps down from the cab and stands behind the American.
“Dude,” he whispers. “This is weird.”
Then the old man starts to speak. In English.
“Go away, Gregory. Go away! Turn back!” The voice is clear, unaccented, an American voice, a voice with the tones of Rhode Island all
along it like Christmas lights hanging on the tree. It is his father’s voice, and he is terrified.