My name is Paul Silas. I am both the editor and executor of the so-called Richards’ Trust. So-called because the name behind the trust is a fiction. Nonetheless, I can assure you that the dynamic personality that lurks behind the nom de plume of Professor Joseph William Richards is, or at least was, a living and breathing individual of considerable capacity. You can accept this judgment based upon some twenty-nine-odd years of my association with the man.
Per the instructions of the Richards’ Trust, three manuscripts are to be published. It is my task, as editor, to make sure that this ardent desire of my colleague comes to fruition. As an editor of a university press, I do have some connections; however, due to the subject matter of these manuscripts I cannot justify their publication under our house banner. So I sought out the good graces of a non-academic publishing house. As a result of that collaboration you now hold the first manuscript of the series.
The Richards’ Trust was quite specific regarding the publication of these manuscripts, the schedule to be followed, and what would set the entire process into motion. Put simply, Professor Richards wished, in the event that he could not be contacted after a continuous period of six months, that I, as his executor, was to begin the publication process of the first manuscript on his behalf. Additionally, I have been granted full power of attorney in all matters legal. Once the first manuscript is available in print, then clock begins for the publication of the second and third manuscripts.
As of this printing, my client has been missing for some fifteen months. Naturally, out of concern, I immediately instituted an informal and subsequent formal investigation after my loss of contact. His brownstone flat near the university was searched and nothing was found amiss. The requisite layer of dust was present evenly everywhere and without blemish. The perishables of his refrigerator had, and I quote from the Chicago Police report, “grown legs.”
As in any such disappearance a domestic trace of his credit card statements indicated that one of his last transactions included a roundtrip ticket to Egypt. An inquiry with the State Department has confirmed that Richards was processed by passport control at Cairo International Airport and admitted into that country. A missing tourist investigation undertaken by the Egyptian Government at the behest of our State Department uncovered that Richards had checked into the Mena House on August 30th. Here, with his splendid accommodations overlooking the Giza Plateau left untouched, the trail of Professor Joseph William Richards ends.
To date, Richards’ whereabouts remain unknown; his remains unfound. Consequently, and after the passing of the stipulated period, I, his executor, executed the literary trust.
All advances and royalties from the publication of the manuscripts are to be deposited into the Richards’ Trust, where they will be divided equally among several designated funding instruments. Once any of these instruments reaches a specified threshold, then that threshold is to be reduced by seventy-five percent and the apportioned amount is to be distributed equally in the following manner: to a pre-existing offshore bank account, as seed funding for an endowed chair in Egyptian philology at Richards’ home institution of higher learning, and as grant funding to a West Coast prostate cancer research institute. Once the specified thresholds are again reached, then the cycle is to begin anew. Once the copywrite limitation has expired on the publications, then all instruments are to clear their accounts to the above mentioned entities in final, lump sum deposits, and the Richards’ Trust extinguished.
The why behind all of these details is frankly beyond me, while others less so, but these are nonetheless the precise wishes of “Joseph William Richards” to whom I am legally bound as his executor and colleague.
* * *
On a personal note, I have already had the privilege to edit and publish several of Richards’ academic works, notably his immensely successful ancient Egyptian grammar The Scribe’s Way, which appeared under our press’ banner. On the basis of these works I thought that I knew the man; in retrospect, I could not have been more wrong. While the narrative style of the manuscripts holds true and recognizable in every respect to Richards’ literary persona that I thought that I knew, it is their content that so deeply troubles me. The whole left me wondering, unsatisfied, and with a myriad of unanswerable questions. While I have been vaguely aware through a colleague of the rumors emanating from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, especially regarding the quantum mechanics research underway there, I was nonetheless totally unprepared for the scientific aspects of the tale told here, their ramifications, implications, and of course the purported true purpose of our university’s Philology Annex itself. Additionally, due to my close ties with our university’s Near Eastern Institute and its staff, I am cognizant of many of the archaeological and historical details contained within – all that are completely verifiable if not common knowledge. Still the manuscripts describe far more that in no respect could be squared against the known historical and archaeological record. To be frank, I am left in a bit of a bind and quandary – the mix of the scientific with the historical. In the end, Richards’ story left me breathless. Consequently, his manuscripts should be regarded as fiction, as I have absolutely no way of verifying their content.
Year 28 (ca. 1389 BC)
Looking down upon his remarkably even stump that was once a right hand, Meryptah, high priest of Amen Re, remembered all too well how it happened. But that was not enough, for he did not know why, or for what purpose – only that the Great God had tested his strength and had found it wanting. This personal judgment greatly impressed this man of extraordinary influence second only to pharaoh himself. The stump was his source of deep selfless introspection that verged upon what others would recognize millennia later as the Christian virtue of humility.
It all had begun while Meryptah was a young acolyte, who was nearing the final completion of his priestly training during an early morning vigil, which had been predetermined by lot, at an hour that was the least desired among his fellow priestly candidates. But that did not matter to the young man of fifteen inundations. The sheer fact that he had even achieved this moment of arduous guardianship deep within the recesses of the Great One’s shrine, now before the image of the Hidden One, the greatest god of gods, Amen Re himself, Meryptah counted this as a personal privilege beyond price. With a stiffly rigid back and knelling on his left knee with his right leg extended seemingly striding forward, he silently prayed while holding out his arms from his sides, elbows bent, palms facing the life-size golden image of sublime divinity.
By his own reckoning, he was nearing the end of his watch of prayerful guardianship. Still he had not received any sign of the god’s awareness to his heartfelt pleas for admittance into his service. Having taken his bodily preparations and precursory vows with absolute care and seriousness, this ascetically-minded acolyte even had eschewed a pad for his left knee that now ached and burned as it seemed to grind itself into the smoothed limestone flooring.
Ever patient, ever hopeful, Meryptah awaited his divine portent within a stagnant cloud of heavy myrrh incense that filled his nostrils with every intake of breath. His never-wavering eyes remained transfixed upon his god’s well-proportioned heroic image that was so deftly illuminated by dozens of surrounding oil lamps and tapers that it seemed to actually breathe. The many flickering flames cast a myriad of overlapping shadows across the golden walls inscribed with the most sacred of texts with sacred images that seemed almost to move of their own accord.
And then it all began with the sudden appearance of a brilliant pinpoint of light directly above and before Meryptah’s head from which a growing and luminescent disk began to form. Before incredulous eyes the disk quickly grew in size to a width fully wide enough for Meryptah’s broad shoulders to pass through. Open mouthed and filled with supreme religious rapture and a tinge of fear, a strange ivory white hand and arm emerged from within the disk’s glare and extended down towards the kneeling supplicant. Speechless and not knowing just what to do, Meryptah did the obvious. He took hold of the divinely proffered hand with his right and was immediately surprised at its strength. Now in firm physical contact with the very hand of Amen Re himself, the appendage shook him mightily at first – no doubt Meryptah believed to test him, but for what purpose he did not know. Then as the god appeared satisfied with the strength of his grasp, the god’s hand then began to draw Meryptah towards the divinely bright disk, but the acolyte subliminally resisted. Refusing to let go of the divinely fashioned three-fingered hand and so Meryptah was slowly being drawn to his feet and into the light by the Great God, who proved to be infinitely stronger than he. Much to the young man’s surprise he discovered that his right hand was drawn fully within the divine light of the disk. While so immersed in that light, Meryptah felt no pain, just the tension of his tightening grip and the flexing and stretching of his forearm’s muscles. Like a determined crocodile clamped onto the leg of a sickly cow, the acolyte refused to let go.
In retrospect, the last thing that the acolyte consciously remembered was the sudden release, the falling back in a heap, and the shock wave that was instantaneously accompanied by a great and unearthly clap of thunder that roared in his ears. Rendered unconscious, having been stunned by the reverberating concussion within the shrine’s narrow confines, it was not long before three high-ranking sem-priests appeared. Bursting through the double-leaved portal of the holy of holies, they wore grim faces set on investigating what the noisy ruckus was all about.
What they found, however, stopped them dead in their tracks as chaos reigned everywhere within the darkened narrow chamber. Oil lamps spilled their contents when their heavy stands overturned; glowing red cedar charcoal from the incense burners lay scattered across the floor; tapers were snuffed out and toppled spilling their precious bee’s wax into rapidly cooling pools; an unidentifiable but distinctive reek of something unknown invaded their nostrils; and in the center of the shrine sprawled an unmoving form on the pavement before the god’s own image. That there lay Meryptah was not clear until freshly light tapers were summoned, until their mellow yellow light revealed the still smoldering front of the acolyte’s white linen kilt that had been singed brown. His naked chest, freshly shaven head, and sides of his arms seemed to glow a bright and painful red; his lips were found to be blistered and cracked. His eye brows and lashes were no more and upon closer inspection, the young man’s right hand from mid-wrist was no more as well.
While it seemed like an eternity to the priests, but in reality was only a few minutes, the freshly awoken, a bit disoriented, and clearly disheveled high priest hurriedly arrived at the sanctuary. With a deeply furrowed brow the first servant immediately surveyed the scene. At his approach the three sem-priests immediately withdrew with appropriately respectful bowed heads. Going directly to the fallen acolyte and dropping to one knee, the elderly high priest of the Great God carefully lowered his head to listen to Meryptah’s battered but well-muscled body. Satisfied that he was still breathing and among the living, he next noted several old and well-healed scars earned during the young man’s brief but exciting glider career – brave injuries that he himself had personally attended to. Ignoring the reddened expanses of skin that would be treated with a mixture of palm and olive oils, he noted mentally that Meryptah’s lips would heal in time with sufficient honey. But upon seeing Meryptah’s missing right hand, the former physician tilted his head in curious, absolute, clinical wonder. Lifting the injured limb, he thought.
Such a fresh and even mid-wrist amputation.
I see absolutely no sign of blood anywhere nor charring of skin – just skin melted and joined as if it were merely made of bee’s wax.
Now slowly shaking his head in total disbelief, the high priest continued his observations.
Never have I ever seen the like before.
Then snatching a quick glance up at the image of the Great God, he silently and piously reconsidered the potential heresy of that thought.
Now sitting back on his heels, the former physician turned and barked at his nearby audience, perhaps too harshly, but he did not particularly care at that precise moment, to fetch the temple’s chief physician along with his bandages. He wanted a second opinion as to Meryptah’s condition. No he needed desperately another pair of eyes to confirm what he was seeing.
Jarred into reality by the high priest’s sharp words, all three priests scattered like wind-blown leaves, leaving the high priest alone with his patient and his thoughts.
Looking up and again acknowledging the golden image before him, Amenemhet, high priest of Amen Re, gently sighed and with suddenly moist eyes quietly said.
“Great One, you know how long I have prayed to you for a sign. Some hint as to who you would wish to be my successor. But why did you have to do so in such a cruel way, and especially to one so young, so strong, and so brave in your service?”
The troubled first servant of the Great Hidden One began unconsciously mumbling to himself and shaking his head as he returned to gaze upon his traumatized charge.
“My son, it is now clear to me that the wish of the Great Hidden One is for you to succeed me after I have gone West. This lofty position will be a heavy burden and a great responsibility for you. Yet, this thing you will do. Knowing your strong will, just as you bravely succeeded as the first falcon flyer, so too will you serve the Great One far better than any man with two sound hands.”