The fan reactions to the Nightmares at 3 AM horror anthology were INCREDIBLE! Thank you to all of you who have been supporting and following my work, I am truly thankful for you. And now, for an important announcement:
Nightmares at 3 AM: Volume II coming 2019!
Ben was never much for getting the creeps during the graveyard shift at the local museum. All of those figurines and statues and witch doctor masks, he never saw anything in them besides wax and stone and wood. He liked the solitude in the museum at night. He liked hearing no one's voice. He liked hearing nothing at all. Being a nighttime security guard brought on solitude that Ben had always appreciated. He found comfort in his job. That was, of course, until a 4,000-year-old corpse named Prince Khafre arrived at the museum for the month of October.
The mummy of Prince Khafre III was a traveling exhibit. If it were permanent, Ben knew he would've had to see about quitting. From the moment Prince Khafre's malodorous corpse arrived, Ben felt an unease that he hadn't felt in a long time. He wished they could have at least placed glass over the sarcophagus. But the sarcophagus was wide open and it exposed the prince's corpse to the open air.
The mummy was wrapped in gauze that was now rotted and withered by the hand of time. The head was exposed. It was a sickly brown color. The face was skeletal and yet still had the components of a human face. There was half a nose and shriveled ears and even a couple teeth. What the mummy's face was missing were its eyes. Instead, two empty, void-like sockets glared upward at nothing but simultaneously at everything, and they looked as though they led into an eternal and bottomless abyss.
Perhaps the most unsettling aspect of Khafre's anatomy was its mouth that hung wide open, agape in a never-ending and silent scream. The distressed appearance of the facial muscles only added to the impression that this poor prince had been buried alive, something the experts were looking into.
It was Ben's third shift with Prince Khafre resting under the same roof, and he already couldn't wait for the month of October to be over. It was only the fifth, too. Ben wasn't too sure how much more of this he could take. He was like a child with a creepy doll in their bedroom. No matter what room he was in, what floor he was on, what exhibit he was near, he could feel those lifeless eye sockets leering at him through the walls. When he used the bathroom and approached the sink to wash his hands, he felt abashed when confronted by his own reflection, because his reflection displayed unease that was childlike and irrational and foolish.
That thing is here.
Right above my head.
Maybe it knows I'm here, too.
And in the afternoon while Ben slept he saw Prince Khafre's ghastly face in his dreams. The facial features of the mummy were even more exaggerated in dreamland, cartoonish almost, but still grisly. And in Ben's nightmares, he would look down on Khafre's horrid face as the jaw inched open and shut, open and shut, open and shut, and with each movement would utter a futile grunt like someone in sleep paralysis attempting to cry for help. Ben would always awaken with a jolt, shaking his head around, trying to get the image out.
Ben arrived at the museum during the evening to see Henry, the museum director, standing in the lobby waiting on him with his arms crossed and his head cocked sternly to one side. He looked like a schoolteacher who was out to rectify the behavior of a disobedient student.
"Ben. Take a walk with me."
"Yes, a walk. Follow me."
To Ben's puzzlement, Henry lead him to the second floor, to Prince Khafre's exhibit. They approached the sarcophagus, something Ben hated having to do. Henry pointed down at the mummy and looked at Ben and said nothing.
Ben shrugged. "Yeah, I uh, I give up."
"Look at the arms."
The very second after those words were uttered, Ben felt his veins turn into rivers of ice. Ben saw it, too, saw the arms of the mummy, which were now down by its side, rather than crossed over the chest like they were supposed to be.
"I, uh, I…" Ben couldn't find his words.
"Is that funny to you?" Henry asked rhetorically. "Because let me tell you, it's not funny to me."
"I didn't do that," said Ben. "Couldn't it have been some kids messing around?"
"Do you see any kids around here? It's Monday. Place is closed."
"Maybe they moved them yesterday."
"But you guarded it last night, did you not? Wouldn't you have noticed?"
Ben had passed by the exhibit once—and only once—the previous evening and never noticed anything off about the arms. In fact, he faintly remembered the arms being crossed over the chest, but there was no way to be certain.
"Look," said Ben, "did you talk to Jimmy?"
Jimmy was the daytime guard, a real prankster. He and Ben had always enjoyed playing jokes on each other. This one was a step too far in Ben's mind.
"Yesterday's daytime guard was Thomas, the new guy," Henry replied, "and let's face it, he hasn't joined your little circle of pranksters, yet."
"Well, I –
"Move the arms back, please. And don't let it happen, again. I don't care who did it."
"Move the arms… back?"
"Yes. But wear gloves, or something." Henry walked off. Ben looked down at the mummy.
It's just you and me, now.
Ben took out latex gloves and slapped them on and cringed as he imagined touching the mummy. Standing this close enabled him to smell the stench of Prince Khafre's corpse. He used one hand to pinch his nostrils shut and the other to grasp the mummy's wrists one at a time and move them back to its chest. The wrists felt like little branches in Ben's grasp, and he hated the crinkling sound the bones made when moved. Through the latex gloves, he could feel the icy touch of death that radiated from the mummy's rotted flesh.
For the next hour or so, Ben thought about it more, and the more he thought the more he realized that Khafre's arms had been crossed over the chest. He could picture it. He certainly didn't move them. He'd never have touched that thing by choice.
And so, later that evening when Ben was alone in the place, he pulled a steel chair up to Khafre's sarcophagus and sat down. He would sit here and watch the mummy. Any sign of movement, any sign at all, even the slight twitch of a bony finger, and Ben was out. Plenty of places without mummies needed security guards.
Come on, give me a reason to quit.
Just move, just once.
Come on, November!
As Ben sat and kept his eyes trained on the mummy, his sleepless afternoons of mummy nightmares began to catch up to him, and Ben was soon sound asleep with his mouth agape and drool drizzling down over his jaw.
Ben woke with a jolt. He stood up with such force that it knocked the chair backward. He grasped the handle of his pistol. His head was on a wild swivel as he glanced all around, trying to pinpoint the source of the voice.
It soon occurred to Ben that what he had heard was a half-awake, half-asleep hallucination. He sighed with relief as his heart palpitations slowed to a crawl. He removed his hand from his pistol.
There it was, again. Ben was so startled that it felt like a shotgun round had just penetrated his gut.
"Who's there?" Ben shouted.
"It's me, Benjamin."
The voice was low and metallic, but also slightly debonair, sort of like a James Bond villain. Ben found it difficult to pinpoint the source.
"Where are you?" Ben asked.
"In here," the voice replied. "In my sarcophagus."
Ben's heart sank as he drew his gun and slowly approached the mummy's coffin.
"No, that's impossible," said Ben.
"One would think," the voice replied.
"Not quite. I'm Prince Khafre, the third. And I will be requiring your assistance."
At this moment, Ben realized that the voice was not coming from the mummy itself, nor anywhere in the room for that matter. It was sounding off inside of Ben's mind.
Great, I'm going insane.
"This is insane," said Ben. "I must be going crazy. I must be –
"Oh, do stop dawdling," Khafre interrupted. "We're wasting time."
"How are you speaking to me?"
"I have no earthly idea. Why, it took three days and all of my inner strength and then some more just to move my arms from my chest. This isn't sustainable, Benjamin, and so I need your help, you see."
"Oh, screw this." Ben began heading for the exit.
"Excuse me," said Khafre, "that's quite rude."
Ben suddenly felt a sharp pain inside of his head that quickly multiplied into the worst migraine imaginable. He fell to his knees, clutching his head and yowling in agony.
"Oh my God!" Ben cried. "Please, stop! Please!"
"Will you stop with the foolish rambling?" Khafre asked.
"Yes! Oh, God!"
Just like that, the migraine ceased. Ben climbed to his feet and clutched his forehead.
"Now, please do as I ask," said Khafre, "or the next one will be far worse, I fear."
"All right," said Ben, "all right, fine. What do you want with me?"
"Benjamin, I have a confession," said Khafre. "My own gods will not allow me into the afterlife. I am subjected to an eternity in the underworld, but I'm afraid it just won't do. I need to get my soul to heaven, and you're going to help me."
"Me? I'm a security guard."
"Which is exactly why you're the perfect little helper. What I need lies in the museum basement. I need the scroll of the Cult of Karnak."
"Scroll? W-What scroll? How do I know which one?"
"Speak clearly, you blithering buffoon!"
"The scroll! How do I know what it looks like?"
"On the front of it, there is the image of the god, Karnak, a pagan deity with the head of a flamingo."
"Head of a flamingo, head of a flamingo, head of a flamingo…" Ben repeated this with the fear that he would forget.
"Find it and bring it to me," Khafre snarled.
Ben stood there like a fool for a moment or two. Khafre didn't seem to like this.
"Waiting for something?" the prince growled with impatience.
"This is a dream," said Ben, perhaps foolishly. But it made sense in that moment. He had fallen asleep in that chair and he was simply dreaming.
"Think so?" replied Khafre.
And suddenly, Ben felt the volume of the Pacific Ocean concentrated into the tiny cavity of his skull. He couldn't even scream. He fell to the floor and quivered in sheer, brutal agony. After a few seconds the behemoth migraine was gone.
"Did that feel like a dream, you imbecile?" asked Khafre.
"Oh my God," Ben exclaimed. "All right. Holy Christ, I'll do whatever you say."
"That's a good lad. Better get going. I'd hate for Jenny to feel that, too."
Ben's heart stopped. Jenny was Ben's wife. Sweet as could be, frail as a bird, never wronged anyone. Khafre must have wormed his way deep into Ben's mind because he clearly knew who Ben's wife was, a scary thought indeed.
"I swear to God, if you–"
"Oh, Benjamin, do shut up. I'm already dead, you know. Now, get to it before I make your eyes pop out."
"All right, all right." Ben turned around and exited the exhibit with haste.
The elevator hummed as it traveled down into the depths of the museum. The mummy's voice was gone from Ben's mind, now, but Ben was certain the voice would pop back in when he least expected it. He knew it would scare the daylights out of him, too.
The elevator doors opened and Ben's eyes adjusted to the darkness. The museum basement looked like a hoarder's garage, a maze of clutter and boxes and dusty items. Ben stepped out of the elevator and began his trek through the labyrinth of clutter. He felt himself traveling through time as he passed by numerous eras; the ancient Romans, the Aztecs, the Easter Islanders, the Mongols. His eyes scanned the place as he desperately tried to pinpoint Ancient Egypt. When he did, he exhaled with relief.
Ben clambered over to the pile of Egyptian artifacts. Golden statues and figurines and Pharaoh masks and amulets and jars with animal heads. He rummaged through everything, knocking things over and making a jumbled mess as he searched for the scroll.
"Head of a flamingo, head of a flamingo, head of a flamingo…" he repeated to himself over and over again until he was saying it so fast that the words no longer sounded like anything other than a toddler's gibberish.
His hand found its way to something in the middle of a jumbled pile, and when he clutched at it he felt that it was a scroll, and he pulled it out and saw the depiction of a man with the head of a flamingo.
"Thank God!" he cried.
Ben popped the seal and opened the scroll. A white museum label was taped to it and it read: Cult of Karnak. Depicted on the scroll was apocalyptic imagery. The flamingo god Karnak stood at the top of a pyramid with his arms outstretched as people ascended the pyramid steps in hopes of escaping the hellfire that burned below. Another image depicted Karnak sending down plagues of fire and locusts upon followers of the god Osiris. And as he gazed at these images, he felt a feeling of dread slowly envelop him.
"That's the one."
Ben jumped and yelped, startled. As he had feared, Khafre's voice popped back in at the most unexpected time.
"Holy shit," said Ben as he caught his breath.
"Bring it to me," said Khafre with impatience. "Let's hurry along, here."
Ben walked hurriedly back to the elevator and furiously tapped the buttons until the doors closed. When he exited the elevator, he dropped the scroll more than a few times as he desperately scrambled toward Khafre's exhibit. But as he rounded one last corner, he was filled with shock as he came face-to-face with Henry, the museum director.
"Holy shit!" said Ben, startled out of his wits. "Henry?"
Ben glanced down at his watch. It was already 6 AM. Henry was giving him that cockeyed stare once again as his eyes traveled downward to the scroll in Ben's hands.
"What is that?" Henry asked.
"That thing. What is that? Is that a… scroll?"
"Where'd you find it?"
"I, uh… the floor."
"Yeah. In the bathroom."
Henry stared at it for a while. Please just walk away, thought Ben. Just walk away and cease to give a damn. Please! But Ben felt despair as he watched Henry extend his arm and wiggle his fingers in a gimme motion.
"Hmm?" Ben mumbled stupidly.
"Let me have it," said Henry.
Ben reluctantly handed Henry the scroll. Henry began walking off.
"Where are you taking it?" Ben asked as Henry walked away.
"To my office," Henry replied. "I wanna find out what it is."
"What'd you say?"
Henry disappeared around a corner. Ben entered the mummy's exhibit with haste and approached Khafre's sarcophagus. He looked down at the silently-screaming mummy.
"Look, I'm sorry," said Ben. "I'll… I'll find a way to get it back, I swear. I-I-I'll figure out a way to…" Ben's voice trailed off as he waited for a response. But this time, Khafre's voice did not sound off inside of his head. He waited many minutes, but the mummy's voice was dormant and did not speak.
"Hello?" Ben whispered down at the mummy. "I'll get it back, please don't do anything to me. Please." But the mummy's voice remained idle.
Ben looked up. Looking right at him with raised eyebrows were two little kids with their mother. She was holding them close, likely ready to defend them against this crazy security guard she was looking at. Ben smiled weakly at them before shuffling out of the exhibit.
Ben went home and drank a glass of milk and climbed into bed. His anxiety was at peak level as he dreaded hearing Khafre's voice again. Heat flashes flowed over his skin and throughout his entire body as he shook with fear under the covers. No way he was getting any sleep today, no way at all. He tried desperately for many hours.
It was around 10 AM when Jenny entered the room with a plate of food for Ben. She handed him the plate and kissed him on the forehead. Ben was too uneasy to eat but he shoved some food in his mouth anyway so that Jenny felt appreciated. And she kissed him again and left the room. Ben closed his eyes and once again attempted to sleep. An hour passed, then another, and soon a few hours became eight hours, and Ben still had not slept a wink. At least, he thought, I didn't have to dream about the mummy's face, again.
Ben threw off the covers as he uttered a loud whooping noise. The mummy's voice was back. Ben had a quick and dreadful thought that maybe the voice would never leave. They would surely lock him in a madhouse with a padded cell, it was only be a matter of time.
"Listen," said Ben, "I'm sorry, I didn't know he was gonna show up. I'll get you your–"
"Better hurry," said Khafre. And then the voice disappeared, and it was silent.
"Hello?" said Ben. "Hello? Did you hear me? I said I'll get you your scroll."
And suddenly, Ben felt his head beginning to hurt. It was only a slight pain, but with each passing second the pain grew just a little bit more, and after about thirty seconds, the pain was twice what it was at the start. Ben knew what this meant. He was on his way to another gut-wrenching episode of pain.
Ben leaped out of bed and flew out the door. He didn't even throw on a pair of shoes. He jumped in the car and backed out of the driveway so fast that the car swung into the road like a rolling baseball bat. He was lucky no one's kid was standing in the road. Ben stepped on the gas pedal with full force and made a beeline for the museum. It was a ten-minute drive, but Ben's desperate and lunatic driving made it six. He arrived at the museum after running at least three red lights, though he hadn't kept count.
Ben swerved his car into the parking lot and parked in two spaces. He shot out of the car like a missile. His head hurt badly, now. It was twice what it was at the start. With no plan whatsoever, Ben hauled up the stairs and got to the museum doors. He reached into his pocket for the keys. His heart sank when his fingers wiggled around inside of an empty pocket.
"Oh, no! The keys! I don't have the keys!" Ben was pleading with Khafre, but the mummy evidently was not listening at all. Ben began slamming his palms on the glass doors like a lunatic.
"Hey! Hey! Open the door! Hello!"
Ben slammed his hands into the door over and over until his palms were black and blue. The museum was closed, now, but the other night shift guy, Jimmy, was there and he soon came scurrying over to the doors looking like a startled deer. He recognized Ben and, appearing concerned, unlocked the door.
"Ben, what is it?" The second the doors were unlocked, Ben burst inside and barreled right through Jimmy, knocking him to the floor.
"Hey! Ben, what's going on?"
Ben sprinted down the hallway toward Henry's office. He had the determination of a track and field Olympian as he bolted past exhibit after exhibit. He got to Henry's office. Henry was gone for the night. Acting quickly, Ben picked up a nearby flower pot and swung it once, twice, and let go on the third, sending it crashing through the window. Ben crawled through the shattered window, cutting his hands on broken glass, which went unnoticed to him due to the excruciating pain inside of his skull. He scrambled all over the office like a cornered squirrel, knocking things over and breaking ornaments and causing a preposterous mess. He finally spotted the scroll sitting atop the shelf, which made it apparent that the mess he had just made was completely unnecessary. Ben would surely be fired and he didn't care a bit. He snatched the scroll and the second his fingers made contact with it, the pain in his head ceased.
"Well done," said Khafre, returning to Ben's mind. "You sure move quickly with a bit of motivation."
"Oh, God," said Ben. "Ah, jeez. Okay, I got it."
"Get to my exhibit. Now."
"Sure thing." Ben sounded almost grateful. As he exited Henry's office, he could hear Jimmy shouting his name in concerned fashion. Ben couldn't have cared less. He made his way to the second floor and entered the mummy's exhibit for what he hoped was the last time. He approached Khafre's sarcophagus and looked down at the mummy for, again, what he hoped would be the very last time.
"All right," said Ben, "what do I need to do?"
"I need you to open the damned thing, first," Khafre snarled. "Once you do, all I require of you is to look upon the words written. I'll take it from there."
As Ben opened the scroll and once again laid eyes on the frightening imagery depicted inside, he felt that sense of dread once again come over him. He lowered the scroll down to his side, perhaps unwisely.
"Say, Prince?" said Ben.
"Have you lost your mind?"
"Why aren't you able to get to the afterlife, anyway?"
"Because I'm a murderous fiend. Now, lay your eyes on that scroll or I'll throttle you so badly that I'll have to use the other guard."
"Okay, okay," said Ben, not wanting to poke the beast any longer.
Ben gazed upon the scroll and trained his eyes on the hieroglyphics. Khafre began to read. Khafre recited the words in Ancient Egyptian tongue, and as he did, Ben began to feel a strange sensation inside of his head. It was not a pain, but rather a dizziness. Come on, don't pass out, don't pass out. And then, darkness.
When Ben woke he found himself staring up at bright lights, and as his blurred vision came into focus, he realized that he was looking up at the ceiling in the mummy's exhibit.
Holy shit, Ben thought, the whole thing was a dream. It all made sense, now. He had fallen asleep in Khafre's exhibit and simply must have had just another mummy nightmare, a vivid one at that.
But this notion completely washed away when Ben realized he could not move. He thought maybe it was sleep paralysis, something he had only gotten once in his entire life. And then he saw his own smiling face looking down at him, and that was when he put the pieces together. Felt the sides of the sarcophagus against his elbows. Felt his own decayed flesh. Felt the gauze wrapped around his own body. Felt his arms crossed over his chest.
"Thanks for the new vessel," said Khafre, now residing in Ben. "Now, if you'll excuse me… I must get home to Jenny." And with that, Khafre smiled and winked and walked off.
Ben, now dwelling in that stinking corpse he had hated for so long, could do absolutely nothing in protest. The only movement he could muster at all was to inch his jaw open and shut, open and shut, open and shut, as the smallest and faintest grunt exited his rotted lips.
Written by Jake Wick