- RAIN 022 -

First published back in December of 2006, Ran Cartwright’s ‘Tales Of Nephren Ka’ was chapbook number 22 from Rainfall Books.  The chapbook was limited to just 100 unnumbered copies, all of which were signed by creator, cover artist and Rainfall publisher Steve Lines.

The chapbook includes four stunning black & white pen and ink full-page illustrations by Steve Lines (one for each tale within the chapbook).

The Circle – 13 Pages
Their small writing circle of five authors were challenging each other to see who could write the best Nephren-Ka story for a horror collection.  However, not long after the writers commenced researching for their stories, one by one they were turning up dead.  In each case, a parchment containing five symbols and an encircled ‘N’, was found by the bodies of the deceased.  Victoria Juneau knew she was now the last one left in their writing circle.  Furthermore, her sleep had been troubled by chaotic nightmares of Ancient Egypt, crumbling pyramids and always the same recurring theme - circles.

Vicki had confided in her ex-tutor and friend, Professor Michelle Edmunds.  Concerned, the professor set about researching the myth.  Learning the rumours of how Nefre’ke had built the Labyrinth of Kish to entrap his enemies and work his black rites upon them.  Their disembodied souls howling across the sands of Kemet.  Within the Labyrinth it was said could be found the tomb of Nephren-Ka, son of the Black God, Nyarlathotep.  It is there in the antechamber that the Circle of Nyarlathotep supposedly guarded the crypt of Nephren-Ka, awaiting his return.

Professor Edmonds now knew there were secrets privy to a chosen few that no one else dare learn.  Such were the secrets of Nephren-Ka.  These writers had crossed a line they shouldn’t have crossed.  And with that, they would suffer a terrible punishment for daring to uncover the secrets of Nephren-Ka…

This opening story is a classic Lovecraftian horror, awash with menace from a powerful Old God.  That old saying “curiosity killed the cat” rings a deathbell from the very first page.  Uncovering secrets that bring terrible consequences.  For this, Cartwright unleashes vivid Ancient Egyptian imagery with haunting nightmare sequences that fit the bill impeccably.

For the page count, Cartwright manages to pack in the mystery, suspense and escalating tension like he himself is about to suffer a similar fate to these hapless authors.  The threat of Nephren-Ka’s vengeance, reaching across the centuries and across the ocean to take his unwitting victims, feels ever-present.  Of course, the reasoning behind it all isn’t revealed until the final couple of pages.  This all works in its favour.  The mystery bundled in with the horror.  And that all important Lovecraftian mythos, brought through the centuries to drag more victims to its ancient temples.  Absolutely superb.

The Chronicler – 6 Pages
They had all died, every last one of them.  Those editors and publishers who had each rejected Sandi Jensen’s stories, all gone.  And the way she wrote their deaths, they’d all died in the way she’d depicted.  She didn’t know how or why, just that when she wrote about their deaths, that’s what happened.  Although Sandi knew the Black Man had something to do with it.  That it was his doing.

With the dreams and voices, she heard in her head, Sandi’s writing had flowed effortlessly.  Story after story, they came pouring out.  Her writing gradually consuming her.  It wasn’t long before Sandi Jensen had begun to lose her sanity.  Then came another voice…

Here we have a steel-strong concept that feeds the entire storyline.  An author killing off those who had rejected her work, by writing their deaths in her stories.  And of course, these deaths become reality.  However, the insanity that gradually consumes the writer is where the story really ramps up a good few notches.  Here Cartwright paints a nightmarish and terrifyingly vivid picture of The Black Man - Nephren-Ka – and his power over the author of his commands.  On top of that, the sexual element that gradually creeps in is delivered with absolute, creepy-as-hell perfection.  This is an excellent read my friends.

The Coming – 11 Pages
Khalid al-Alranna discovered the small black stone tablet in the desert after howling winds uncovered it one night.  At first the small hieroglyphs adorned upon the tablet surface meant nothing to Khalid, but soon he learnt.  The Black Man saw to that.  Which is why news of a young western woman, Jen Myers, who was searching for Nephren-Ka’s tomb, was of particular interest to Khalid.  Even after some four-thousand-five-hundred years had gone by, many Egyptians still feared the Black Pharaoh of Ancient Kemet.  Khalid knew they had good reason to.  Something this young western researcher would soon find out for herself…

Cartwright continues with another modern-day Nephren-Ka tale.  This particular short feels somewhat akin to Stephen Summers’ remake of ‘The Mummy’ (1999), only with a Lovercraftian twist given to the Ancient Egyptian pharaoh.  The tale follows the character of Jen Myers.  It’s only a short story, so to be fair to the author, there isn’t much of an opportunity to flesh her out much.  Nevertheless, her role in the tale is vital to how it all eventually pans out.  To that end, there’s a great deal of lurking menace that floods through the story.  To start with, Jen almost finds herself becoming the victim of some human trafficking.  It’s a small side story that’s pretty nerve-wracking stuff.  But the main plot – that of the coming of Nephren-Ka – is where the real horror’s at.  And his return is executed masterfully.

The Candidate – 7 Pages
Nathanial Kane was a rising star.  No one really knew anything about his background.  Where he’d come from, how he suddenly appeared in all their lives.  To be honest, no one really cared.  As long as he was there now, with his enigmatic smile that won everyone over.  Kane had even been sent to the Middle East to help out with negotiations.  There Kane achieved something no one else had ever achieved.  Peace.  People the world over heralded him a miracle worker, a saviour.  But no one knew the cost of their peace.  No one knew some of those key individuals, on both sides of the conflict, had vanished.  Disappeared without a trace.  Howling insanely as they were sucked into nothingness.  No one knew, except Nathanial Kane…

For the final story is the collection we see the rise of Nephren-Ka in the new world, under the guise of the much-loved enigmatic celebrity Nathanial Kane.  It’s all very ‘Omen III: The Final Conflict’ (1980), with Kane being the new Damien Thorn figure.  Interspersed with the story segments which follow Kane’s rise in power, we have alternating segments showing Nephren-Ka’s conception and birth.  As a final story in the collection it delivers that final slog to the face.  It wraps everything up tightly, showing the true power of the son of Nyarlathotep in all his glory, as well as laying down a pretty darn decent final story to send you off with.

DLS Summary:
Despite the collection being four separate stories of the Black Pharaoh, Nephren Ka, they’re all purposefully interlinked, almost following on from each other as we see the gradual return of Nyarlathotep’s son into our modern-day world.  Through the four short tales we see the power Nephren Ka has even now, some four-thousand years following his death.  The ancient evil wrapped up and exhibited in this one figure is exceptional.  It’s the one thing each tale hinges upon.  An evil that feels oppressive, infinite and undefeatable.

As a whole, the collection really is a damn fine read.  It’s pretty much ‘The Omen’ series meets ‘The Mummy’, which is not a bad plot to have at all.  Cartwright’s writing is atmospheric and evocative, with attention given to the menace and horror in the stories, rather than put to any tangible characterisation.  If you like Lovecraftian tales, Ancient Egyptian creepy horror, or just a damn good genre yarn, then this is one that’s worth getting your mitts on (if you can – there were only 100 of the chapbooks printed).

The chapbook runs for a total of 37 pages.

© DLS Reviews




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