Tuesdays with Mummy
An Undead Priest, a Young Man and Life's Greatest Lesson
by Alan Benson
The last class of my old undead master's life took place once a week in his pyramid, by a window next to his sarcophagus where he could recline in his own foetid juices and watch his small collection of acolytes offer burnt offerings to him. The class met on Tuesdays. It began after my beloved leader refreshed his powers by sucking the life out of an unbeliever. The subject was The Meaning of Life. It was taught from experience.
No grades were given, but there were oral exams each week. You were expected to respond to questions, and you were expected to pose questions of your own. You were also required to perform physical tasks now and then, such as lifting the corpse's head to a comfortable spot on the pillow, placing his glasses on the bridge of his nose, or slaughtering the eternal foes constantly surrounding him. Kissing him good-bye earned you extra credit. And if you could kiss him while not cringing at the horrid stench of death that always surrounded him, you got extra-special credit.
No books were required, yet many topics were covered, including love, work, community, family, aging, forgiveness, eternal vengeance from beyond the grave, the difficulty of finding a really good papyrus dealer in late-'60s suburban Philadelphia, and, finally, death. The last lecture was brief, only a few words. "The first time sucked," he'd say. "I am NOT looking forward to being the dead undead. But at least I won't have to put up with them yanking my brains out through my nose again. I don't think they washed the ceremonial hook, so I had a cold for like three millennia."
A stabbing with a holy relic and scattering of ashes across cursed ground was held in lieu of graduation.
Although no final exam was given, you were expected to produce one long paper on what was learned. That paper is presented here.
The last class of my old undead priest's life had only one student.
I was that student.
I first met Mummy (or Mr. Imhotep, as pa insisted I call the kindly old bandaged gentleman when we were first introduced) back in about '62 or '63. At the time, he was pretty much retired from the vengeance wreaking biz, he'd slain most of his minions, and only rarely would he muster his army of jackal-headed Anubis warriors. Mostly, he spent his time sitting on his front porch, watching the people of Pottstown come and go.
And if it hadn't been for Scraps, my never-really-trained beagle, that's all I would have known about Mummy.
One warm spring morning Scraps chewed his way through his leash and joined Mr. Imhotep on the porch. Scraps had always liked Mr. Imhotep my rag-clad neighbor was one of the few people Scraps would sit still for while he petted him. I don't know whether it was Mr. Imhotep's kindly manner, his gentle voice, or his omnipresent odor of rotting meat, but somehow, Scraps knew he'd found a friend.
When I went over to retrieve Scraps, he was sitting on Mummy's lap. Mummy was running his blackened, sand-ravaged hand over Scraps, while Scraps was gnawing away on Mummy's femur.
"He's a good dog, eh?" Mummy said.
He talked this way a lot of the time everything for him was a question. That's why, until I learned about Ancient Egypt in eighth grade, I assumed Mummy was Canadian. It is a measure of the warmth of his undead heart that he never corrected me when I asked him about his childhood in the Great White North.
"There's nothing to replace the love of a dog," he added. "Situations alter, humans are fallible, eh? But a dog is like Aten, the god of the sun. He will always be there and, if needed, he will ravage one's enemies from beyond death in an orgy of world-shattering destruction. At least, the good breeds will. Don't talk to me about Chows, those black-tongued bastards."
That impromptu meeting was the first of what turned out to be many Tuesdays we spent together. I would tell him about my problems with school, girls, whatever, and he would tell me about his years lying dead under the cold stone of the Valley of Kings. And he would tell me about love.
"Love is the only rational act," Mummy used to say. "When you're seeking vengeance against those who desecrate your grave, you have to really love what you're doing."
As time went on, the other neighborhood kids would often ask me what he and I talked about. Even though he lived a quiet life, Mummy was not unknown to them. Each kid had his own special name for him. My friend Pete called him "Immy," while both my sisters referred to him as "Unca Imho." My brother Stevie used to call him "Mr. Hotep," but after Stevie became an undead zombie who lived only to fulfill his master's evil desires, he usually just called him "Master." Or, if it was just the three of us hanging around Imhotep's back porch, Stevie would sometimes call him "boss."
Sometimes, the other kids would stop by, and we'd talk about, well, nothing. Just the kinds of things you'd expect any older gentleman to tell younger kids about. He'd tell us about the time when Babe Ruth hit a homer that clonked right off of his sarcophagus (which at the time was being used to support the back of the right field wall at Yankee Stadium). Or he'd conjure up a minor demon and send it out for ice cream (for us) and a virgin soul (for him).
But the best times when it was just him and me. Sitting on the porch. Learning from each other.
When I look back now, in light of these recent movies, I honestly can't see any common ground between Hollywood's Mummy and the gentle, slowly decomposing older gentleman I loved. The Mummy I remember was the gentle playmate for the youngest kids, an understanding ear for those battling the spectre of growing up, and a wise sage for anyone who sought advice. And sure, he was bent on vengeance from beyond the grave, but hey, it was the '60s. It was a totally different time.
To this day, I have a photo of Mummy on my desk. The first thing that strikes you about the corpse in the photo actually floats gently about the top of his head. Instead of the gleaming, oiled carapace Hollywood has imagined, Mummy's head was crowned with a corolla of thick, wavy red hair. Well, in truth, in this photo it's more grey than red. And, in truth, the bandages and fragments of his worm-eaten scalp hide much of the grey. But you can infer it.
Alongside this photo is a book of clippings my mother made (unbeknownst to me) during the final years of Mummy's life. It highlights the many ways Imhotep enriched our neighborhood and our town. Sure, everyone knows about the time he attempted to wake the Scorpion King, but hardly anyone remembers the GOOD things he did with his undead, jackal-headed army. To this day, children at PS 119 play underneath spreading elms his snarling minions planted around the school. It was only years later that we discovered he'd pawned his own canopic jars to pay for the trees. That's just the kind of undead guy he was.
Our last Tuesday together was by far the hardest. I was heading off to college the next day, and so I was awash in emotion already.
Mummy was, by this point, mostly unraveled, so I had to keep discreetly picking up fallen body parts, rewrapping them, and slipping them back into the rest of his wrappings. He insisted on preparing his famous Horusberry punch; after ten minutes of puttering around the kitchen, he had dropped both elbows and most of his back, and his left buttock was cheek-by-jowl with his rotting ankle. I'll never forget the sound of his rotting ass sliding dryly across the linoleum.
Mummy passed on the next week. He'd apparently tired of his undead life, and asked a minion to destroy him with the spear of Isis.
As I sat in my dorm room, in shock after reading the telegram, all I could do is think about the last thing he said to me:
"Death is as natural as life. It's part of the deal we made with Osiris, eh? And, unless we have a concubine willing to get reincarnated and bring us back from the dead, we have to play by that deal."
I love you, Mummy.
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