The firmament glowed with an ominous hue, an ethereal crimson that cast an eerie pallor upon the desolate landscape. Gusts of wind, laden with particles of earth, swirled with an almost mournful grace, rustling the parched branches of the trees. Sensing the impending tempest, the man hastened to secure his surroundings, his hands deftly manipulating the shutters, fastening them with hasps that clung to their designated places. Diligently, he inspected the doors, his touch lingering upon their surfaces, seeking reassurance in their sturdiness.
Echoing from a distance, the sharp barking of dogs reached his ears, carried on the restless wind. Momentarily, the wind subsided, leaving in its wake a tremulous light, flickering erratically upon the wall, its source a solitary lantern. Yet, the respite was fleeting, as the wind rekindled its fervor, flinging tiny particles against the man’s weathered countenance. With a gesture of surrender, he hunched his shoulders, seeking shelter within himself, his hands finding solace in the sanctuary of his pockets.
A frigid touch greeted his fingertips, as they chanced upon the chilled metal of a statue. A glimmer of satisfaction should have illuminated his countenance, for he had acquired the sculpture at a price considerably below its true worth. The transaction had unfolded in haste, the seller displaying an almost furtive disposition, as if burdened by the weight of transgression. The man, driven by acquisitive inclinations, had entertained the notion of further lowering the price. Yet, a moment of reflection halted his avarice, as he pondered the possibility that such greed might have dissuaded the seller from parting with his precious possession. Thus, the transaction was sealed, the statue finding its new abode amidst the man’s humble emporium.
Within the confines of his shop, amidst the tapestry of antiquities, the man immersed himself in a world of faded parchment, drawn to the yellowed leaves of an ancient tome. Gently, he bent over the brittle pages, his eyes tracing the faded lines, aided by the magnifying glass held delicately in his grasp. This chirographic relic transported him to an era long past, wherein its author, a witness to the onslaught of Tartar invasions, had endured the heart-wrenching loss of his cherished wife and children. In the twilight of his life, this bereaved soul had endeavored to capture his contemplations on the intricate web of Divine predestination, etching them upon the parchment, forever preserving his assumptions for posterity.
Consumed by a desire to ascertain the monetary worth of the timeworn tome, the man found himself interrupted by the gaze of an unexpected interlocutor. Lifting his eyes from his calculations, he beheld a figure shrouded in a muffler, lurking amidst the shadows. His heart quickened, caught off guard by this unforeseen encounter. An urge to reprimand the intruder welled within him, yet he remained silent as the stranger ventured closer.
“I have a statue for sale,” the stranger uttered in a husky tone.
Straining his eyes in an attempt to discern the man’s features, the man implored, “Draw nearer, if you will.”
Yet, the stranger stood resolute, unmoving, defying the man’s request. An invisible presence, an enigma veiled in darkness. Undeterred, the man reached for the lantern resting upon the table, gingerly adjusting the wick. In that very moment, a gust of wind thrust the window open, infiltrating the room with its capricious energy. The curtains fluttered, the flame flickered and danced, papers were scattered by the unseen forces. Swiftly, the man darted towards the window, securing it with a bolt, restoring order to the turbulent space. Returning to the table, he discovered the statue resting there, an unexpected arrival.
Curiosity aroused, he lifted the weighty figurine, its mass surprising him. Illuminated by the lantern’s glow, the statue assumed the form of a diminutive figure, bearing a pendulous pouch, an agape mouth, eyes tightly shut, and unfettered hands, accompanied by a dangling penis. Intrigued, he subjected the sculpture to scrutiny through the magnifying glass, surreptitiously scratching its surface with his thumbnail, revealing glimmers of silver beneath the ebony veneer. Did the stranger possess knowledge of this hidden treasure? The statue’s feet were rooted in a rectangular pedestal, further enigmatic clues to unravel.
Suppressing his initial doubts, the man declared, “The true age of this artifact eludes immediate recognition.”
Observing the stranger’s silence, he persisted, “Such an object could conceivably hail from any historical epoch. Its intrinsic value, therefore, resists precise historical categorization… And these erosions… Have you attempted to cleanse it? Cleansing antiquities demands a specialized approach, known only to the initiated few. Alas, the uninformed masses inadvertently mar these precious relics, instead of restoring their former splendor.”
Once more, he immersed himself in the intricate engravings adorning the statue. As the silence of the stranger lingered, bolstering his confidence, he nonchalantly shrugged his shoulders and declared, “It is evident that this creation is wrought from brass.”
Casting a furtive glance in the stranger’s direction, he perceived a slight advancement, yet his countenance remained veiled in darkness, concealing his true visage. A voice broke the silence, inquiring, “What sum are you willing to offer?”
His heart sank at the sound of the man’s words. A tinge of apprehension coursed through him, but he rallied his composure, taking hold of the statue once more, assuming an air of contemplation. He scrutinized it with deliberate care, his face reflecting the weight of his thoughts, punctuated by a profound sigh. Summoning his courage, he uttered a specific price, yet dared not meet the stranger’s gaze. From the corner of his eye, he glimpsed a sardonic smile play upon the stranger’s lips. A sense of unease gnawed at him, as if he had overstepped his bounds.
“It is settled,” he proclaimed, attempting to conceal his inner turmoil.
A sigh of relief escaped his lips as he opened a chest, retrieving a handful of coins, meticulously counting them before presenting them to the man. Without bothering to ascertain their value, the stranger carelessly pocketed the coins, flung the door open, and hastily departed, leaving it ajar. The eerie wails of the wind seized the opportunity to invade the space. Peering out, he craned his neck, but the man had vanished into the murky abyss. Hastily, he closed the door, fetched his trusty touchstone, and directed his attention to the statue once more. It soon became apparent that the price he had paid amounted to not even half its true value.
In the darkness, the cacophony of barking dogs reverberated, further unsettling his already disoriented state. Unaware of his surroundings, he stumbled through the labyrinthine lanes, eventually arriving at the bustling bazaar. A solitary lantern, its glow flickering, dangled from a peg on the wall. Anxiously, he hurried toward the feeble light, seeking solace within its pale illumination.
From the depths of the night, the menacing growls of the dogs reverberated, causing his feet to falter. Once more, he turned in search of an escape, longing to find his way back to the safety of the streets. The wind resumed its relentless howling, dislodging a fragment of gable that crashed to the ground with a deafening clamor. Glass shattered, adding discord to the symphony of chaos. Amidst the cacophony, the plaintive cries of a child pierced the air, offering a momentary respite to his frayed nerves. Yet, despite his yearning for escape, he found himself ensnared, his path obscured. Clutching the statue in his pocket, he broke into a frantic run through the labyrinthine lanes, his heart gripped by the fear of losing his way.
Arriving home, his lungs gasping for air, he frantically searched for his key, his trembling hands betraying his agitation. The ominous patter of dogs’ paws echoed threateningly in his ears. Hastily, he closed the door behind him, seeking solace on the lowest stair. Exhausted, he gasped for breath, a momentary respite amidst his tumultuous emotions. Yet, soon a sense of relief enveloped him, for within his pocket lay boundless wealth. In that instant, he felt empowered, the shattered fragments of his aspirations parading before his eyes. A feeble lantern cast a dim glow within the room, its flickering light a companion to his solitary contemplation. Adjusting the wick, he turned his attention to his father, who lay with wide-open eyes fixed upon the ceiling. Uttering a greeting, he did not linger for a response, instead retreating to another room to shed the weight of his garments. Shortly thereafter, he stood by his father’s bedside.
“How do you fare?” he inquired, concern etched upon his features.
His father averted his gaze in repugnance. “I await the arrival of death, which lingers, condemning this decaying carcass to be discarded like refuse,” came the bitter reply.
With determined hands, he removed the sheet, the putrid stench invading his nostrils. Gently, he unraveled the gauzes, exposing the violet-colored abscesses that oozed with serous fluid, nestled beneath his father’s arms and between his thighs. Retrieving a cloth, he wiped the abscesses clean, concealing them beneath a generous layer of pungent black ointment. The doctor’s stern warning echoed in his mind, emphasizing the importance of refraining from scratching or disturbing the wounds.
“Untie my hands!” his father moaned, beseeching for release.
But he offered no response, focused on his task. Slowly, he removed the soiled linen, stained with blood and excrement, from beneath his father’s frail form. Curses spewed forth from the old man’s lips, accompanied by a viscous green fluid that had pooled beneath his body, its fetid odor permeating the air. Overwhelmed by a wave of nausea, he averted his gaze, turning away. Methodically, he cleansed his father’s body, tending to the task at hand.
“Why do you persist in tormenting me? May my eternal curse befall you!” his father swore, his voice laced with bitterness.
“Untie my hands! You seek absolution, you offspring of the wicked? You do not feel my suffering. Untie my hands!” he implored, his words tinged with desperation.
In convulsive sobs, he wept, his head swaying from side to side. He awaited the old man’s subsidence into tranquility, his hands and face wiped clean. With careful deliberation, he brought forth the heated pottage, spoon by spoon, into his own mouth, ensuring his sustenance. A sip of water followed, quenching his parched throat. Lowering the wick of the lantern, he retreated to another room, where the samovar awaited his attention. Partaking in a loaf of bread and a cup of tea, he contemplated the dwarf, removing it from his pocket and placing it before him, his gaze transfixed upon its form. Outside, the wind howled with unrestrained fervor, yet within the confines of his abode, he felt a sense of security, an oasis of fortune at long last.
Thoughts of its worth consumed his mind. Retrieving the magnifying glass, he scrutinized its intricate engravings, painstakingly capturing their essence on paper. Turning his attention to his collection of books, he searched relentlessly, until the stroke of midnight marked the moment of discovery. Within a certain tome, he found the semblance of those very lines. Similar letters aligned and interwove, revealing a profound revelation.
“I am Lucifer, the weaver of the warp and weft of destiny,” the inscription declared. Astonished, he rose with great effort, his hand inadvertently striking the cup, shattering it into shards. He stared intently at the fragmented remnants, realization dawning upon him. He had stumbled upon the statue of Lucifer, the exiled one from the depths of Babel, who had eluded the clutches of Hell.
With trembling hands, he retrieved a weighty tome from the shelf, its pages turning until he uncovered the passage that elucidated the truth. “Through magic, Lucifer unraveled the Great Secret, the very fabric of humanity’s fate. Roaming the town, he revealed to the people their predetermined destinies. Virgins and veiled dames, lured by the promise of knowledge, surrendered themselves to him. Thus, Babel was bereft of its purity, and discontent spread among the populace, for those who became acquainted with their fates renounced the world and descended into depravity. Provoked by God’s wrath, Lucifer was condemned, hung upside down in a burning well within the depths of Hell. Yet, with cunning, he deceived his guardian angels and escaped, mingling among mortals, disseminating the doctrine of necessarianism, wherein sins were deemed inevitable. In response, the Almighty commanded Michael to administer punishment, and so he complied, faithfully executing his duty.”
The weight of this revelation bore down upon him, his hand still quivering. The truth had unfolded before his eyes, unveiling a tale of celestial rebellion and cosmic retribution. Lucifer, the fallen one, now rested in his possession, his very existence an embodiment of divine transgression and human fascination.
The dwarf seemed to sneer at him, its closed eyes bearing a mocking countenance. Throughout the night, he was plagued by dreams of aimlessly wandering through dim, narrow alleyways, his path obscured and elusive. It felt as though an unseen pursuer were hot on his heels, while his legs betrayed him, heavy and unresponsive as logs.
Upon waking, he was greeted by the moans that resembled the anguished cries of beasts. He hurried to his father’s room, finding the old man in a state of disarray, his haggard face drenched in perspiration, his breath labored. Rousing him, he offered a drink of water, his voice filled with a mix of excitement and reassurance. “You cannot fathom the treasure that has come into our possession. We are now wealthy. I shall summon the most skilled physician to attend to your bedside. We shall sell this dilapidated dwelling and the eccentricities of the shop. We shall journey to a city with a salubrious climate. A grand abode shall be ours, with servants and attendants. Poverty and illness shall be vanquished, father.”
The old man averted his gaze, his eyes glistening with tears. “Are you not happy, father?” he inquired, seeking solace in his father’s approval.
No response came forth. He turned away, his glance inadvertently meeting his own reflection in the mirror. How closely he resembled his father! In the morning, the wind subsided, and he dutifully provided breakfast for his father. Once attired, he stealthily ventured out into the streets, which lay deserted and coated in dust. Broken branches and swirling particles littered the thoroughfares. Embarking on his lengthy stroll, he delved into the labyrinthine paths of contemplation.
As evening descended, he arrived at the door of Hezkiah’s tavern, drenched to the bone. Rainwater dripped incessantly from the roof and branches. The gusts of wind had yielded to a gentle rainfall. Hezkiah, the disheveled proprietor, opened the door, his small eyes and henna-colored beard recognizable. However, no words escaped his lips. Seeking refuge within the dimly lit recesses of the establishment, he settled upon a carpeted bed. Hezkiah placed before him a glass, a bottle covered in dust, a loaf of bread, and a bowl of grape juice. With that, he withdrew, returning shortly with a lit lantern, paying homage to his guest. Filling the glass, he sipped the libation, and now, the aged Lucifer fell into silence.
All day long, he had dragged the statue from place to place, its presence seeming to mock him. As he approached the coachman, the bulging-eyed horses whinnied in agitation, raising their forelegs in an attempt to break free from their harnesses. Despite the coachman’s best efforts to calm them, they remained unruly, forcing him to continue on foot to the antiquarian’s house. The sound of his knocking was drowned out by the clamor of wind and rain, but he persisted, knocking louder. Through the window, he caught sight of an old man gazing back at him.
“Open the door! Look at what I’ve brought!” he shouted, holding the statue aloft. He pondered how to conduct his business with the man.
“Get away!” the man snarled, his face contorted in a lunatic scowl.
Unfazed, he didn’t hear the man’s words clearly. “What?” he asked.
“Get lost, you miserable wretch!” the man barked, before withdrawing behind the curtain and disappearing from view. He surmised that the man must have gone mad. An hour later, he found himself at another house, under the influence of an inexplicable force that rendered him mute about the contents of his pocket. He remained silent until he was granted entry into the house. Seated in a lavish hall adorned with antiquities, he waited for the servant to announce his presence to the master. Greedily, he eyed the flower-patterned carpets, the crystal chandeliers with their jewel-encrusted pedestals, and the priceless paintings, attempting to mentally calculate the amassed wealth.
“Amidst all this opulence, there is no fear of the tempest,” he thought to himself.
The owner of the house entered, leaning on his ebony cane, clad in luxurious attire. Slowly, he walked, his gaze fixed ahead. Settling onto a plush divan, he rested his head upon his cane, disregarding the greetings. “I’ve been informed that you have something valuable for sale,” he said.
Then he glanced at him and continued, “As a young boy, I used to cling to my mother’s skirt in fear of such days. My father would cast me out of the house, yelling that I couldn’t return until I had earned a certain sum of money. That was when I realized the significance of wealth.”
At that moment, the servant returned with two cups of tea and a jar of jam, placing them on the table before departing.
“In fact, you must have important matters to venture out on such a cursed day,” the house owner remarked.
Placing the statue on the table, the house owner examined it closely. The tea caused him to cough, prompting him to set the cup aside. He leaned in, bringing his face closer to the statue. Retrieving a pair of round glasses from his pocket, he put them on and held the statue in his hands. A stifled sigh escaped his lips as he scrutinized it, alternating his gaze between the statue and the man who had brought it. He then took out a magnifying glass from his pocket and studied the statue intently before placing it back on the table.
Momentarily distracted, he walked toward the window, peering into the black darkness outside. Suddenly, he clutched his chest and doubled over in pain. At that moment, a hoarse laughter echoed through the room, bewildering him. He looked around, but saw nothing.
“What’s the matter with you?” he asked, concerned.
But the man did not respond. Instead, he retrieved a handkerchief from his pocket, sat beside him, and began speaking in a low, almost murmuring voice as if he were talking to himself.
“Schleirmacher spent his entire life in Mesopotamia in search of this statue. Two of his children succumbed to cholera, and he himself perished from the Black Death. Lichter Wald, a professor at Munich University specializing in Babylonian archaeology, dedicated seven years to research that he published in a valuable book. Just when he believed he was on the verge of discovering the statue, he was buried beneath the rubble in the ruins of the Ishtar Temple. Austrian Frisch suffered an even more agonizing fate.”
Once again, the house owner fixed his gaze on the statue and wiped the perspiration from his face. Opening his shirt, he remarked, “What damp air!”
Against the relentless wind, he trudged laboriously through the alley, uncertain of his destination. The howling wind filled his ears, intensifying his sense of impending doom. The house owner had offered him a significant sum for the statue, but upon receiving the money, his senses had faltered, and he collapsed onto the table. Amidst the chaos of the household, with servants and women bustling about, he had grabbed the statue and fled. Now, he found himself compelled to visit the antiquarian, knowing he would receive a lower price there.
An ancient tree loomed over his house, and a crowd of people passed by. The old antiquarian stood leaning against a wall, barefoot and bareheaded, murmuring psalms. His black robe fluttered in the wind. Approaching closer, he fixed his gaze upon the antiquarian’s pallid face and was struck with astonishment. He wandered through the alleys and streets, searching for a buyer, but to no avail. In the evening, his attention was drawn to something.
“It may not happen,” he thought to himself, sinking into deep contemplation. He pondered the lives of those who had sought this statue. Surely, they must have possessed logical minds, unaware of the supernatural power it held. Commanders who had possessed it had taken their own lives, while princes had set fire to themselves and their harems. Both famous and obscure individuals had fallen under the spell of this statue. Lost in thoughts of its history, he noticed that the tempest had subsided.
The fiery red sky had given way to the somberness of torrential clouds. He stood in a corner, as the first raindrops began to fall. However, he made no effort to seek shelter from the rain. The heavens opened up, and he walked through the torrential downpour. He recalled the dark face of the man who had sold him the statue, and his futile attempt to see that face.
“Now I know who has been deceived,” he said aloud.
The same coarse laughter echoed in his ears, and he joined in, laughing as well. The sound of laughter grew louder, and he laughed louder still.
“I knew who had been deceived,” he muttered.
Completely soaked, he arrived at Hezkiah’s house and quickly downed his fifth glass. He paid little attention to his thwarted desires now.
“Where shall we go now? Take me with you. I will follow you with peace of mind,” he addressed the statue.
He stared at the green bubble until he felt the need to get up. Leaving a coin on the tray, he walked out. As he opened the door, he felt the dampness of the street under his feet. The rain had stopped, and a muddy stream flowed down the street. After walking for about an hour, he stopped and gazed at the walls, realizing his location. He knocked on the door, but there was no response. Knocking louder, a gruff voice answered. A woman holding a lamp opened the door, her age indiscernible.
“What in the devil’s name is the matter with you? Is your brain flooded with semen?” she screamed.
“Could you do me a favor?” he asked hoarsely.
The room was a wretched sight, with dirty walls, a filthy bed sheet, and a torn carpet. A dim red light seeped through the broken window, casting an eerie glow. A foul odor filled the air, assaulting his senses. He couldn’t help but think about the owner of the house, someone renowned for their diseases and insults.
Seated on the settee by the wall, he stared at the ludicrous rather than erotic pornographic pictures hanging on the walls. A voice from within him spoke, saying, “Man’s struggle to ward off death.” And he laughed, a hollow, bitter laughter.
A woman in her forties entered the room. Her worn cashmere gown deliberately left open, revealing pendulous breasts that held no allure. Heavy makeup adorned her face, attempting to mask the signs of age. As she greeted him with a lewd remark, he could discern from her hoarse voice that she was afflicted with disease.
“I know younger and healthier women who don’t flaunt their promiscuity so boldly. I’m certain I will leave this place diseased. Why don’t I get up and leave?” he pondered to himself.
She brushed her dyed hair and approached him, driven forward by an eerie force. From deep within him, a voice that did not belong to him emerged. With a violent intensity, he thrust himself into her, as if driven by a primal urge to tear her apart.
An acrid stench assaulted his nostrils, one that did not belong to human beings. Silent, she praised his savagery, and in that moment, both of them transcended the realm of civilized beings. Exhausted, he retreated to a corner, his body languid.
“What do you want from me now?” he whispered, his voice filled with resignation and despair.
The woman’s face underwent another transformation, as if different personas were struggling beneath the surface. First, the face of a young girl emerged, followed by the face of a woman whose lips quivered as if pleading for something. Soon, her original form returned.
“Do I have to keep this little demon to rob me of my sleep?” she exclaimed.
“It’s made of pure silver,” he said, trying to persuade her.
“I wouldn’t take it even if it were made of gold. Perhaps you’re stingy. A black coin from your Excellency’s purse would be preferable,” she retorted.
Silent, he threw a few coins at her, expressing his disdain. He found his wet clothes and body repulsive. Placing his hand on the cold statue in his pocket, he muttered, “What desires I had! Oh, old Lucifer, never deny that you longed for that woman. She may have been your sweetheart in days of yore. A virgin gave you pleasure in hopes of knowing her fate. But I won’t seek my fate from you.”
Upon returning home, he sensed that he had no good news to share with the old man. The house enveloped him in darkness and silence, foreboding an impending dreadful event. Hurriedly, he lit a lamp and headed for the old man’s room. There, he found the old man lying supine in bed, gazing fixedly at the ceiling. He touched the old man’s body, which felt cold and lifeless. Removing the sheet, he recoiled in disgust. Thousands of white maggots squirmed in the old man’s wounds. Overwhelmed with alarm, he retreated to a corner, placing the lamp on a shelf and covering his mouth with his hands.
“What will you do with me now?” he heard a voice say.
A coarse burst of laughter reverberated in his ears. In an instant, he composed himself, suppressing his confusion, and erupted into a fit of laughter.
“How did you find me? Was I the most deserving?” he desperately yelled into the void.
About the Writer
Reza Joulaee, born in 1950, comes from a middle-class background in Iran. He started his academic journey in medicine at Shiraz University but later switched to economics, where he earned his degree. The reasons behind his shift from medicine to economics are personal and known only to him.
Joulaee’s writing career kicked off in 1972 with stories published in magazines, but it wasn’t until the 1980s that he fully immersed himself in writing. His early stories often take place during Iran’s Qajar era, a time marked by significant losses to the Russians. In these tales, Joulaee masterfully blends the era’s political strife and violence with the devastating impacts of war, creating a tense and engaging atmosphere. He also explores the human condition, often setting his stories in nature and desolate places to delve deep into the human soul.
His notable work, “The Blood-stained Garment” (1989), is a historical piece that quickly gained public acclaim. Joulaee’s venture into novels includes “The Immortals,” which draws loose inspiration from Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.” His interest in the Qajar era’s literature and admiration for authors like Franz Kafka and Edgar Allan Poe shine through in his work. While Kafka’s influence is apparent, Joulaee has crafted a distinct and innovative style that sets him apart in Persian fiction. He skillfully mixes history and fiction, using archaic vocabulary and strong narrative techniques to captivate readers.
“The Blood-stained Garment” earned Joulaee recognition as one of the best post-revolutionary Iranian writers, spotlighting his literary talent. With his exceptional writing skills, Joulaee stands poised to be counted among the few Iranian authors who have significantly influenced Persian fiction. His works are notable for their depth, originality, and the seamless integration of historical elements, cementing his place as a key figure in Persian literary history.