Ali Salami

Throne of Solomon [Takht-e Abunasr] By Sadeq Hedayat

Throne of Solomon [Takht-e Abunasr]

In the second year of the excavations at the Metropolitan Museum of Chicago near Shiraz, on the hill of “Takht-e Abunasr”,” scientific investigations were carried out. But apart from the cramped and acidic tombs, which often contained the bones of several people, nothing worth mentioning had been discovered except red pots, glazed pottery, bronze lids, three-lobed arrows, earrings, rings, pearl necklaces, bracelets, daggers, coins of Alexander and Heracles and a large three-legged candelabra.

Dr. Warner, a specialist in archeology and dead languages, tried in vain to carry out historical research on the basis of column vortices engraved with cuneiform lines and images of people or animals, or on the basis of impressions on clay vessels. Gorest and Freeman, his colleagues, in yellow, crumpled clothes, with bare arms and legs scorched by the sun, linen hats on their heads and portfolios under their arms, were busy from dawn to dusk directing workers, taking notes, photographing and digging, but the collection of broken tiles continued to grow. So much so that all three gradually became disheartened and decided to finish the excavation haphazardly by the end of the year and complete the excavation the following year.

It seemed that the mission had initially been deceived by the gates and stones transported from Persepolis, as only the gate made of black stone was still standing, while several other slabs of the same material, which formed the corpus and threshold, lay disorganized on the ground, some even used as building material, and traces of a staircase leading down from the hill emerged from the ground.

Dr. Warner spent his days in the rooms on the opposite hill, where he studied and arranged the discovered objects. These rooms consisted of a storeroom, a kitchen and a bathroom as well as a large hall that served as a veranda for studying, eating and lounging. The room to the left of the hall was for sleeping. Her servant Qasem, who also acted as a chauffeur, often drove to Shiraz to buy supplies and ice, as the nearby settlements such as “Imamzadeh Dast-e Khizr” and “Barm Delak”,” as well as a rural castle on the way there, offered limited supplies and insufficient hospitality.

Barm Delak was a relatively quiet place with a temperate climate, which made it a popular retreat for the inhabitants of Shiraz in summer. People would arrive with great fanfare and spend a night or two in its tranquil surroundings. Dr. Warner and his colleagues also occasionally retreated to Barm Delak for relaxation or devoted their evenings to the intellectual pleasures of chess and reading in its spacious hall.

However, the discovery of a sarcophagus marked a turning point, especially in Dr. Warner’s life, which brought about a profound change. The discovery of this sarcophagus was not only a significant archeological artifact, but also contained a document that occupied all of Warner’s time.




One day, while Freeman and a group of workers were excavating on the opposite hillside, they came across signs that led them to dig up several stone slabs cemented with sarooj and mud. Finally, they broke through to a chamber carved into the mountain. In the presence of Dr. Warner and Gorest, they discovered a large stone sarcophagus carved from a single block of stone into a rectangular ashlar. They transported the sarcophagus with considerable difficulty and placed it in the well-appointed room adjoining the large hall.

With extreme care and caution, they removed the stone lid of the sarcophagus, revealing the mummified remains of a tall man sitting in the lotus position, knees pressed to his chest, head bowed, wearing a steel helmet adorned with two strands of pearls. He wore an exquisite, gold-interwoven robe, a jeweled necklace on his chest and a sword strapped around his waist. The entire garment was coated with a special oil and a transparent cloth covered his head.

Warner pulled back the delicate fabric with due care. The piece of silk that lay over the mummy’s mouth was chewed and stained with what looked like dried blood. The flesh of the face was firmly attached to the bones, and the eyes shone with a terrifying gleam. Warner noticed a metal tube that looked like a prayer scroll, attached with a wire loop that hung temporarily over the mummy’s chest. When Warner detached the tube from the wire, it emerged to reveal two scrolls of parchment. One was inscribed in Pahlavi script, while the smaller one bore geometric lines and symbols. Warner felt compelled to read the scroll before examining the contents of the sarcophagus further.

Dr. Warner’s research and studies extended over several weeks, during which his fascination for his studies became so great that he neglected both sleep and food. He was often alone in his room, talking to himself. After his colleagues had finished for the day, he would engage them in discussions about the parchment text or immerse himself in the study of obscure books on magic and sorcery that his companions could not understand, causing them to doubt his sanity.

One evening, after Freeman had finished his work, he entered the hall with a handful of red-stained, broken tiles, marked with dark brown lines from left to right, and placed them on the large table, which was crammed with newspapers, magazines and photo albums. Dr. Warner, pipe in mouth and lost in thought, walked beside Freeman and inquired, “Where’s Gorest?”

“He’s gone for a walk,” Freeman replied. “He’s changed a lot in just a week. But he deserves it because he’s younger than us. The monotony of life under the sun without any free time is getting to him!”

“He’s gone to Shiraz?”

“Yes, we were together in Barm Delak last Sunday. It seems to be a woman.”

“I must remind him to be careful with his behavior. Ah, young blood! But I forgot to tell him that I wanted us to meet tonight. Do you understand? I plan to perform the ritual prescribed in the will tonight at 8:15.”

Freeman asked in surprise, “What ritual? The one you mentioned, which must be read under certain conditions – and which brings the dead back to life?”

“I know you’re mocking me in your heart. Make no mistake, I’m more skeptical than you are. But I can’t help thinking that this will belongs to a woman who may have gone to her grave centuries ago believing that her blood could nourish the mummy in the hope that her scroll would one day be read. I would like to fulfill the wish and longing of a woman to whom we are indebted, indebted because of her jealousy. It is not a great burden for us, just some incense that I have already prepared, a few candles and half an hour of our energy. That’s all it costs us. Who knows! We still have to understand our ancestors properly!”

“Isn’t that absurd? I don’t think we’re obliged to act according to these instructions. If someone else had found this sarcophagus, would they feel compelled to give in to this woman’s whims?”

“That is precisely why I believe we must do our duty, since it has fallen into our hands.” He points to the prehistoric tiles. “Do you believe that these prehistoric tiles, from which one could supposedly deduce that a primitive man sat at a spring near this hill thousands of years ago and ate from this bowl, are scientific, while they have no direct relation to our lives? But you consider a will that contains a human tragedy and emotion to be superstitious? It’s only natural to be skeptical about anything where conventional science fails. When it comes to formal science that makes money, no, it’s not scientific, it’s just a red herring! On the contrary, I see this experiment as a personal duty, regardless of the outcome.”

“Yesterday you said that the content of the will was not entirely clear to you and that you still had doubts.”

“I didn’t understand just one word or one sentence; the rest is translated. But since tonight is the fourteenth of the month, which coincides with the astronomical conditions mentioned in the will, I cannot postpone this action. A small mistake is not decisive. The will ends with: ‘After you have performed the “nirang” or incantation, throw the talisman into the “atar”.’ No, the sentence reads: ‘So how should I throw my talisman into the atar so that Simuyeh rises from it?’ Does this mean that the fire is ‘poured’ after the incantation, i.e. that it should be extinguished? Or should the fire be extinguished and then we wait for the mummy to rise? Perhaps this refers to the talisman with the geometric lines on a separate piece of paper, which is supposed to be thrown into the fire after the incantation so that Simuyeh rises. Wait, let me read you the translation of the will from my pocket.”

Dr. Warner sat down in an armchair, pulled a paper out of his pocket and began to read, “In the name of the divine! I am Gurandokht, the daughter of Vendsap Magi, at the same time the queen of King Simuyeh and the guardian of ‘Barm Delak’, the beloved of the Shah and the White Palace. Our marriage lasted ten years without producing a child from Simuyeh’s seed. According to the old custom, my husband took another wife in the hope of fathering a son. But his efforts were in vain, for the healers had declared him infertile. Out of lust, not religious duty, Simuyeh sought advice from a witch and, after drinking her potions, fell in love with a lowly whore. Despite our vow, he insisted on remarrying and spent his days in debauchery with the whore’s daughter in the White Palace. He neglected his duties and exposed me to ridicule in front of her. Eventually, he arranged their wedding ceremony. Due to a condition I had agreed with Simuyeh, I preferred to be buried alive rather than endure the shame and make a mockery of myself, and to get revenge, I allied myself with the witch. On the wedding night, I poisoned Simuyeh’s drink with the witch’s elixir and put him into suspended animation (Bushasp).

“The witch gave me the means to lift the spell and revive Simuyeh, but I preferred to go to the grave alive with my husband, let him feed on my blood and suck the blood out of all three of us during our long subterranean existence to equate his marital slumber with the whore’s daughter! To prove to my brothers that I have kept my vow, the spell that would revive him is contained in this will.

“O reader of this will, know that Simuyeh is not dead, but is in a state of ‘bushasp’, a feigned death. In order to revive him according to the witch’s instructions, he has been mummified and is to be brought back to life by this spell. To do this, you must be separated from the sarcophagus by a curtain on the fourteenth night of the month. Light incense in a brazier, fill it with fragrant smoke and proclaim these words aloud.” (The text here is written in Pazend, apparently in Syriac; its meaning is unclear and should be read aloud. Understanding the meaning of the incantation is not important in sorcery). “Then, when you cast the spell into the fire, Simuyeh will rise.” This last part was unclear to me, but as you can see, all the necessary instructions are given.

Dr. Warner glanced curiously at Freeman, folded up the will and put it back in his pocket.

Freeman shook his head, “What a fairy tale about a woman’s terrible jealousy!”

Warner took off his glasses, wiped them clean, put them back on and then continued:

“Beyond the poison of jealousy, significant revelations have come to light for me. Firstly, we gain an insight into the domestic life of a hedonistic ruler during the Sassanid period. Moreover, the region of Takht-e Abunasr is referred to as ‘Barm Delak, the Shah’s favorite, and the White Palace Dast-e Khizr’ was a ‘prison garden’ (a fact I have gleaned from other documents). It has also been established that in the Sassanid era, the practice of ‘Khvētōdah’, or marriage to close relatives, was common or at least widespread among rulers and influential people. However, there is something crucial that we did not know until now: why several skeletons are found in each grave. It was said that in ancient times, when someone became too old and troublesome, the youth would ceremonially take them out of the city and bury them alive to prevent them from becoming a burden on the earth. This belief is also widespread among some African tribes in a modified form. Until now, I had held this belief. But according to this document, it seems that when a man died, his wives were buried alive with him to accompany him to the afterlife. This belief was widespread among the ancient peoples.

“On the other hand, as we have all noticed, the mummy’s mouth is contaminated with what looks like dried blood. According to popular belief, if the shroud of a dead person is touched, mortality will spread among the living. To avert disaster, graves must be dug, and if the bloodthirsty corpse is found, the head must be severed with a single blow. The parchment reads: ‘Our blood shall nourish the dead’ Well, I do not want to get into the usual superstitions, but the important thing is that we have a genuine and historical document on our hands here. Was Simuyeh kept alive in a state of suspended animation by the blood of his wives? Is such sustenance enough to keep a person for several centuries, or does he no longer need nourishment in this state? I do not believe in superstition, but I am not dogmatic in my disbelief either; I am just curious about the beliefs of the time. Regardless of myths and superstitions, modern science must separate every sensory phenomenon and appearance from the myths attached to it and subject it to thorough investigation. But…”

At this moment Gorest came in whistling a cheerful tune, a large brown dog following him. He threw his hat on the table, called for Qasem and ordered a sorbet.

Dr. Warner paused in his speech and looked at Freeman.

Warner said to Gorest, “We were just talking to Freeman about you.”

“I suppose you sing my praises.”

Warner, “We were just about to pull your ear off.”

“Don’t believe everything Freeman says. He’s as envious as Iago. I have only come to bring you the good news of a pleasant development; you are both my guests this evening.”

Gorest patted Inga, the brown dog, on the head. Warner refilled his pipe, lit it and began to smoke comfortably. Qasem brought three glasses of sorbet and placed them in front of them.

After they had tasted the sorbet, Gorest said, “Tonight you two are my guests at Barm Delak. Three ladies will also be present. I want us to spend a night like something out of the Arabian Nights Are we not in the East? So far, all we have of this place is the scorching sun and the dust in our eyes. Living among old bones and relics has numbed our sense of life. Doctor, you have chosen a strange life. You spend all day in your room under the sun, studying. At night you can’t sleep, you often get up to talk to yourself, you avoid leisure and immerse yourself in books. Believe me, this lifestyle will age you prematurely!”

Warner replied, “Thank you for your concern. But I regret that I can’t accept your invitation tonight. And if you would heed my advice, I suggest we spend the evening together and you help me follow the instructions in Gurandokht’s will. Tonight is the fourteenth evening of the month, and in a month’s time our work here will be finished and we must prepare our report. Later we will have plenty of time at leisure.”

Gorest burst out laughing, “The will of that cunning woman who has fooled us all? You’re joking. I never thought it would come to this. So you’ve seriously decided to resurrect the old monkey? Do you think the world’s population is short of humans and you want to add another one to it? If so, the Society for Psychical Research in New York is going to have a field day with us!”

All three laughed. Gorest added, “We’ve been working like dogs in this desert for five months, and after the important discovery of the sarcophagus, I think we deserve some time off. It’s my fault for thinking of you! I went to Shiraz by car and, at your insistence, brought three ladies and two musicians with me. Strangely enough, the discovery of the sarcophagus has become the talk of the town and these women think we’ve found a rich treasure. They are currently in Barm Delak, have pitched their tents and will spend the night there. It’s a remote place with no one around. Is there any of the whiskey left? As for the food, everything is prepared. I’ve sent Qasem to get everything ready.”

Dr. Warner said with a serious face, “I am against using the Mission’s vehicle for such leisure activities. We must not forget the great responsibility we bear. Our behavior and morals are closely monitored. In small places like this, even the drinking water becomes gossip! In a few days, Qasem or one of the workers could spin a thousand stories about us. I don’t want us to become the subject of a scandal. I advise you that this is the last time.”

Gorest assured him, “Rest assured that no one has seen us. They came from out of town. But the interesting thing is that we will have oriental music tonight. The musicians are Jewish and only play local instruments. It could be the same music that was played in the prosperous times of this place when Simuyeh lived in his kingdom! Even if your old monkey had had three wives, each of us wouldn’t want more than one tonight. Believe me, we have to live a little among the living. But just so you know: Khurshid Khanum, the youngest, is mine.”

Warner, suddenly thoughtful, asked, “Khurshid Khanum?”

“Yes, Khurshid Khanum. A tall girl with sparkling eyes, a round face and black hair. One of those Eastern beauties. You know, she fell for me first and sent me a message (turns to Freeman). Do you remember the woman who gave me a sign last Sunday in Barm Delak?”

Warner remarked, “What strange coincidences! The last wife of Simuyeh was also called Khurshid.”

Gorest said, “I thought you were joking, but now I see that this legend has really engulfed you. Do you really think the skeleton will come to life and tell us about its past? That would make a ridiculous novel. But the day of resurrection is still a long way off. So it’s safer to get the treasures now. Then you can test whether the dead come back to life!”

Warner said in a stern tone, “We mustn’t tamper with the mummy.”

Gorest joked, “Then we should at least disarm him and take his sword so that he doesn’t slaughter us and take the treasures with him if he does come back to life.”

Warner adjusted his glasses, “You are right to joke at my expense. In fact, the matter is both strange and incredible. I’m not sure myself. But the phenomenon of faked death is fascinating. We know little about the practices of ancient sorcerers. Have you looked closely at the mummy’s eyes? They are shining, alive, alert. A look full of longing, malice, perhaps even shame, as if not yet satiated by life. I hadn’t thought about it until now, but there is a spark of life in those eyes. Even if he doesn’t awaken, as I told Freeman, we’ve lost nothing. But imagine if he stirs or even awakens, what an unprecedented event that would be in the world!”

Gorest said, “The idea is unimaginable. I wonder if a mummified corpse whose organs have been preserved using special methods could be brought back to life after centuries — all hypothetical, because this could mean that mammoths perfectly preserved under Siberian ice could be revived. Do you really believe that a mummy can be brought back to life after centuries?”

Dr. Warner said, “I’m more skeptical than you are. But the phenomenon of suspended animation is still observed today. Indian yogis, for example, can lie underground for weeks or months and then return to the living — a well-documented fact. This could be a natural phenomenon. Aren’t animals that hibernate also in a state of suspended animation? Perhaps Simuyeh was put into such a state by drugs, spells or unknown forces and then mummified, saving his body from decay due to disease or age and preserving his potential life. If we look beyond the conventional science taught in schools and the superstitions of the living, we will find that life itself is a miracle. Our very existence here, in conversation, is a miracle. If my hair doesn’t suddenly fall out, that’s a miracle; if this glass of soda doesn’t evaporate in my hand, that’s a miracle. Familiar miracles become commonplace for us, and everything that stands in contrast to them and is unfamiliar to us appears to us as a miracle. If a scientist today were able to put a living being into suspended animation in his laboratory and then write a book with mathematical formulas and physical and chemical laws to prove it, everyone would believe it. Today, in its vanity, humanity has distanced itself from nature and considers itself omniscient because of its discoveries and inventions, claiming to have unlocked all the secrets of nature. But in truth, it is not even capable of understanding the simplest phenomena. Proud humanity worships its knowledge and expects natural events to follow its formulas. In the past, people were simpler, more humble and more inclined to believe in miracles, which is why there were more of them. They were closer to nature and its laws and were better able to harness its mysterious powers. Don’t think that I am against modern science. On the contrary, I believe that humanity has yet to discover something stranger than what it already knows. Anything else would be absurd and implausible.”

Gorest, who seemed fascinated, said, “I am not interested in your hypotheses, perhaps this unprecedented miracle is possible. But if our experiment fails, which is very likely, our reputation and credibility before the driver and the workers will be tarnished, and our words will become the talk of the town.”

“I have taken the necessary precautions. I’ve given the driver the day off. Tomorrow is Sunday, a day off for us. I was against you leaving because I wanted us to work together. As instructed, the sarcophagus must be in the next room, which is separated from the corridor by a curtain. If you wish, you may go to your rendezvous after a little assistance or watch the operation in peace and quiet from the upper room.”

Gorest said, “But in the past, there were certain conditions for performing this ritual that have now been forgotten.”

“I have researched as much as I could. I know that the incantation must be read between the threads that serve as a barrier against the wizard’s protective powers, which are drawn with charcoal and firm faith. The incantation must be spoken aloud, as the power of words and self-confidence are crucial in magic. In addition, burning fragrant incense enhances the supernatural powers and creates the right atmosphere. In this respect, you can rest assured.”

Gorest said, “I didn’t think you were serious. If that’s the case, I’ll stay.”


* * *


After dinner, Dr. Warner and his colleagues laboriously pushed the stone sarcophagus to the front of the living room. Warner lit the oil lamp in front of the mummy, which had a black substance stuck to the bottom, took the bronze incense burner from the sarcophagus and walked into the hall, pulling the curtain across the doorway. Freeman rolled the carpet halfway back and lit the censer. Warner sprinkled a handful of incense, esfand (wild rue) and sandalwood, which he had prepared earlier, into the fire. Thick, fragrant smoke filled the air. Then he drew a circle around himself on the ground with charcoal. He took the parchment out of his pocket, stood in front of the censer and began to recite the incantations from the paper aloud. Freeman and Gorest sat silently at the end of the hall and watched while Inga lay at their feet.

Warner recited the strange incantations slowly, as he did not understand their meaning himself. But as he read, a separate talisman with geometric lines slipped from his hand into the censer in front of him and burned up unnoticed amidst the smoke and fragrant incense. This triggered a strange state in Warner. His head spun and a mixture of fear and excitement overcame him, his voice cracked at times, while the darkness clouded his vision.

Suddenly Inga, who until then had seemed calm and obedient, stood up, rushed towards the door and howled. To prevent a disturbance to the summons, Gorest grabbed Inga by the collar and forcibly restrained her under the table. The dog desperately tried to escape from the room, desperate to get out. At that moment Warner uttered a few unintelligible words, but whether it was due to drowsiness from the smoke and exertion or a sudden weakness, he fell to the floor in a fit of excitement. Gorest and Freeman quickly carried him to a bench to lie down.


* * *


As the talisman fell into the fire, a tremor went through the mummy’s body; she sneezed, lifted her head and rose from her seat with a stiff movement. She left the sarcophagus, approached the window of the room that Warner had forgotten to secure, opened it and went outside. The tall, gaunt figure moved with measured steps towards the village of “Dast-e Khizr”.

There was a light breeze, the sky was heavy and clear like a leaden canopy, and the moonlight that seemed to have descended spread over the hills and the landscape, making nature appear lifeless and pale, as if the scene belonged to another world. The only structure from antiquity was the stone gate of Persepolis with its black stone. The rest was just pits and mounds of earth where the soil had turned to compost. Simuyeh’s long shadow trailed behind him on the ground.

At that moment, Inga’s howl sounded from inside the hall. But Simuyeh paid no heed, continuing his steady, significant strides as if propelled by some mechanical force or unknown power. His gaze was fixed on the floor as if he were blinded by the moonlight, unaccustomed to the changes in his time. His thoughts floated in the delicate vapors of the wine, the same fiery red wine that he had taken from Khurshid’s hand, drank and then passed out!

In the villages of Dast-e Khizr and Barm Delak, a few lights twinkled in the distance. But Simuyeh, as if the last sip of wine he had drunk had not yet faded away, was immersed in the memories of his last moments of his past life — a life that seemed to him like a hazy, fantastic dream, and he felt a wild, passionate existence in the remnants of the memories of his past life. He imagined himself walking in his former realm while his mind focused entirely on Khurshid. Faint, mixed memories of their first meeting surfaced in his mind, as if his life had been revived just for those memories.

Simuyeh remembered the first time he met Khurshid during a hunting trip. Exhausted and thirsty, he sought refuge in a tent. A desert girl with an attractive face and bright, large eyes stepped outside the tent. The swell of her lemon-shaped breasts was visible under her frilly red tunic. She wore long, loose pants that reached her ankles, and a gold coin dangled from her headband. With a charming smile, she took a leather bag full of cold, hail-like doogh from the well and handed it to him. When Simuyeh returned the doogh bag, he took the girl’s hand in his and squeezed it. Khurshid deftly withdrew her hand with a delicate movement. She smiled again, her firm white teeth gleaming, and she asked, “Does your heart yearn too?” Unaware that her guest was Simuyeh, the border guard. Her words touched Simuyeh’s heart deeply. Had not the witch advised him to seek the company of virgins to rejuvenate himself, and yet none of the prominent daughters he had been introduced to had aroused his interest?

This development was enough to make Simuyeh lose his heart, and truly, his heart was seized! Despite the state he was in with his first wife Gurandokht, from that day on all his thoughts and senses were captivated by the desert girl. He sent her several gifts and despite his first wife Gurandokht’s slander and threats out of jealousy towards Khurshid, he formally proposed to Khurshid and threw a lavish wedding party.

The night Simuyeh left for Barm Delak, a large fire was lit and the guests cheered, clapped, drank and danced around the fire. The flushed and drunken faces were eerily illuminated by the fire. Following tradition, Simuyeh meandered through the crowd looking for Khurshid until he reached a gathering where musicians were playing. Khurshid was sitting in her jeweled dress on a tree stump near the gathering. Simuyeh called Khurshid out from behind the trees three times, and with a captivating movement, she took a goblet of red wine from a tray, walked up to Simuyeh and handed him the goblet. Simuyeh put his arm around Khurshid’s waist and they retreated stealthily under the pines. He leaned against a tree, pulled Khurshid to him and pressed her against his chest. Khurshid closed her eyes. Simuyeh drank deeply from the cup he had taken from Khurshid, tossed it aside and moved his lips towards Khurshid’s slightly open mouth. But Khurshid turned her head and her lips found his neck. Suddenly the strong and burning wine coursed through Simuyeh’s veins and he lost consciousness. His legs trembled and a chill spread from his hands and feet to his heart. He was no longer aware of what happened next.

Also by Sadeq Hedayat: Three Drops of Blood [Se Qatreh Khun]

Now Simuyeh felt as if he had awoken from his drunken stupor, but a veil of wine clouded his memory and his thoughts. His thoughts wavered in the soft vapors of the wine, and he felt a burning, mad love for Khurshid. He longed for Khurshid, for her warm body, her captivating eyes and her slender figure. He longed for light, for the freedom of the air and for music. It was as if the intoxication had not yet left him. The distant, muffled sound of the music from his wedding echoed in his ears. Amidst the noise and chaos, the faces, the dancing of the slaves and maids by the fire – everything blurred and dissolved in his mind, then another scene emerged, he searched for Khurshid. Her face was before his eyes.

Simuyeh’s mind, filled with sensual desires, moved with measured, stiff steps through the village of “Dast-e Khizr” towards “Barm Delak”,” his long shadow trailing behind him.


* * *

The three ladies who had come to Barm Delak for Gorest and his colleagues had laid out a carpet by the water, enjoyed the spread and the drinks prepared by Qasem and became cheerful. Khurshid was sitting on a tree stump. One of them was humming a tune to herself, another, who was talking to the musicians, kept looking anxiously at her wristwatch. Finally, she turned to Khurshid and said, “They are not coming, let us just eat!”

Khurshid replied, “It is not yet too late.”

“Westerners say punctuality is the key!”

“Gorest will definitely come, he’s always on time.”

“These foreign diggers don’t count as decent men here.”

Khurshid said, “Oh, you don’t know that? Only last week we walked down the street together. We looked at the excavation site; they had about thirty workers among them. Gorest was there, looking like a porcelain doll with his blond hair in the sun: I was literally glowing, just wait, I’m not lying. When he saw us, he turned around and smiled at me. You know, I sent him a message via Qasem, your servant. We’ve met four times now and he’s never broken a promise.”

“Well, we’re not here to admire beauty. I want to know if they have money and status.”

“Didn’t I tell you? They have found so much gold and jewels! They opened a tomb full of diamonds and treasures, with seven jars decorated with dragons — do you think I’m lying? Ask Qasem if you don’t believe me.”

“If I had known they wouldn’t turn up, I would have promised someone else.”

“Really? Who did you want to bring? Next to Gorest, your Mr. Right seems insignificant.”

“Enough about Gorest! What about the other two?”

“They’re nice too, but I’ve only met one of them.”

The woman, lying on the carpet and humming to herself, says, “They all have so much patience! Let them come or not, I don’t care. (She turns to the musicians) Rahim Khan, please! Play us something lively.”

Rahim Khan, the qanun player with the flushed, yielding face, immediately bent over his instrument and began to play a special melody. The small, simple-minded man sitting next to him picked up the drum and sang along to the rhythm of a Jahromi ballad:

“I will raise a storm in the world, my beloved,

With one look I will enchant friend and foe, my beloved,

Protect me tonight, my love,

For tomorrow I will ease our grief, my beloved, my sweet,

I would unknowingly sacrifice myself for you.

I wander from door to door, my love,

The reed cry is the lament of youth, my beloved, my darling,

Let your lips be my dwelling place!”

The women laughed and toasted each other with their wine glasses. But Khurshid raised her glass and toasted to “Gorest”


* * *


Suddenly, a tall, dark figure in embroidered clothing appeared from behind the trees. Apparently blinded by the light, she stood in the shade of a tree with her head bowed. Then a muffled voice came from the figure and said, “Khurshid, Khurshid?”

The voice had the tone of Gorest. Khurshid refilled her wine glass and ran towards the sound, thinking Gorest was hiding behind the trees to play a joke. But as she approached the dark figure, she saw a withered skeletal hand take the glass from her and another arm wrap tightly around her waist. Khurshid reached for her necklace, but as soon as she saw the horrible face of the corpse drinking from the glass, her eyes fell shut, she screamed and bit her lip, causing it to bleed.

Suddenly, with an unexpected and swift movement, Simuyeh’s mouth closed around Khurshid’s neck as if to suck out her blood. The shock and Khurshid’s scream snapped Simuyeh out of his heavy stupor, as if a veil had been lifted before his eyes, revealing his true situation. The expression on this woman’s face shook him awake, for it resembled that of Khurshid in his former life and clearly showed that this woman had surrendered to him out of sheer terror and horror, closing her hand around her necklace in defense. It was the necklace: just as Khurshid had shown affection for him in his past life and he had lived on for years with a vain hope! Had he been waiting in the grave for Khurshid for years, holding on to a phantom love?

Suddenly he let go of Khurshid, and as if all the mysterious power had been pulled out of him, he fell heavily to the ground.

Khurshid, who had escaped a terrible nightmare, screamed again and fainted.

At that moment, Dr. Warner, Freeman, Gorest and Inga arrived. When they tried to lift Simuyeh from the floor, they found that his body had disintegrated into a pile of ashes, with a large wine stain on his clothes. They collected the jewels, the clothes and Simuyeh’s sword and returned. Dr. Warner meticulously cataloged and recorded everything that night.


© Ali Salami 2023

About Sadeq Hedayat

Sadeq Hedayat was an Iranian author whose contributions to Persian fiction mark a clear departure from the traditional literary style. Hedayat is considered one of the most successful Iranian writers of the 20th century and was a pioneer of modernism, which continues to influence contemporary Persian literature to this day.

Hedayat was born into a prestigious family and received his early education in Tehran. He later studied dentistry and engineering in France and Belgium, where he came into contact with prominent European intellectuals. This contact prompted Hedayat to abandon his scientific ambitions in favor of a career in literature. Sadeq Hedayat is known for a large number of short stories that have been widely read by Iranian readers. Some of these stories are: Dash Akol, The Stray Dog (Sag-e Velgard), Three Drops of Blood (Se Qatr-e Khun), The Vortex (Gerdab), Seeking Redemption (Talab-e Amorzesh), The Doll Behind the Curtain (Arusak-e Posht-e Pardeh), The Claws (Changal).

All of his stories have been translated into English by the Iranian scholar Ali Salami.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *