Account of a Hiking Trip
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بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
(In the name of God, the most Gracious and most Merciful)

Interview Log: F-2876-B2114
Date: 6/29/1384
Subject: Mehmood Khamoosh
Interviewer: Lt. Ziadin Nurrollo

<Begin Log>

Lt. Ziadin Nurrollo: State your name, age, and occupation for the record, please.

Mehmood Khamoosh: My name is Mehmood Khamoosh and I'm 28 years old. I'm a doctoral student at Tehran University. But I, uh… I might be changing that soon.

Nurrollo: When you were found, you were two kilometers up on Mount Damavand. Please explain how you came there.

Khamoosh: Two kilometers? Damn, I thought we were higher than that. Hoped.

Nurrollo: Please answer the question.

Khamoosh: Right, so Feridun and I-

Nurrollo: Who?

Khamoosh: Um… Feridun Niavarani. From Esfehon. He is… was… a good friend. We met at a conference a few years back. We discovered that we both liked to hike, and every year since, we've gone on a two-week vacation together to a mountain range and just kind of wander. It's a nice way to decompress. Being alone with nature is cool; I don't think we've hardly run into anyone during our trips. Last year, it was the Pamirs. We wandered into Afghanistan by accident and almost got shot by someone with an AK. Maybe a border guard, or maybe just a jumpy shepherd. Same thing, basically. Anyway, after that, we decided to do less frontier kind of stuff and stay safer. So we decided to try out the Alborz. No getting shot accidentally, and since it's so close to Tehran, we could get in a few extra days of hiking instead of travel. Plus, given our backgrounds, it seemed like a natural choice.

Nurrollo: Please explain.

Khamoosh: Right. Well, we were both going for PhDs in ancient literature. I was going to get mine in Arabic lit, him in Iranian. But to even get to that point, you have to do undergrad first. And if there's one thing you learn in undergrad, it's the Shahnameh, the Book of Kings. I hadn't read the damn thing in maybe five years, but I could probably recite it to you backwards. They drill it into you. So anyway, we figured that we'd go to the Alborz and, I think Feridun said, "pay our respects to the dragon king."

Nurrollo: What?

Khamoosh: The dragon king. Zahhak. He was one of the kings in the Shahnameh. Evil bastard, ruled the whole world. Had snakes coming out of his shoulders that ate people. If he didn't feed them, they'd start to attack him. Of course, he had an Arabic name. I mean, the Shahnameh was basically one giant "fuck you" to the Arabs. Anyway, he was supposed to be trapped up in Mount Damavand in the Alborz. Probably used it to explain earthquakes. He was trapped by Feridun, funnily enough. Uh… that's the Feridun, not Niavarani. Like, the hero…

Nurrollo: Please try to stay on subject.

Khamoosh: Sorry. So anyway, we geared up and hike around. I'll spare you the details, but we made great time. Even though we were in the mountains, it was really hot. So instead of spending the night in our tents, we started to set up camp in the caves. It was about a week in, I guess. It was really nice; much cooler than outside. Around the end of the first week, we spent the day hiking around as usual. We spotted a fallow deer around midday, which was neat. A little bit later, towards nightfall, we crossed a stream. I slipped on a rock and landed right on my packed. Soaked it the whole way thr-

Nurrollo: Mr. Khamoosh, while I appreciate your dedication to detail, please refrain from including extraneous details ab-

Khamoosh: No no no, this is relevant. See, I was the one with kindling. And so, when I fell, the wood got soaked and we had to use the gas stove to heat up the food. Uncooked pilaf in a bag. Just add water and heat. So, because we used the gas stove, we decided to cook inside the cave rather than going outside to cook. Plus, the stove was quieter. About halfway through boiling the water, we heard this weird groaning sound coming from inside the cave. Feridun, he… F-Feridun said maybe it's a spelunker who got caught or something. I told him screw it, if they're that stupid, to get lost on Damavand without a satellite phone or anything, they deserve to die. I was just joking, but Feridun just gave me this look. Like he was kind of disappointed. But he went marching off with a flashlight. Didn't say a word. So I grabbed a stick and ran after him.

Nurrollo: What did you believe the origin of the sound to be?

Khamoosh: I dunno? A wolf, maybe? That's why I brought the stick. What if it had been a wolf and he'd gotten attacked? I couldn't let him alone like that. But anyway, we went down into the cave, like way down. The weird thing was, it never really got too tight. It got smaller, but it was never a squeeze. And there was never any real drop or anything, the path just kept more or less straight. It slanted a little bit downward, but nothing you would really notice. All the while we went down, the groaning got louder and clearer. It was weird; I could almost make out snatches of it. It went like this for a few hundred meters before we to this big stone blocking the way. It was covered in writing, but was hard to recognize because there are all of these cracks running across it. Down the center, there was this one big crack. I couldn't make out the writing, but Feridun said it was Old Persian. As in, the pre-Islamic alphabet. Most of it was either worn away or covered by the cracks, but he said he recognized some of the words. Uh, "king," "curse," "Ahriman," and umm…. "end." I didn't know what exactly we were looking at, but I knew it was bad. So I started telling Feridun that we should leave. Feridun just shushed me and went back to reading the stone, so I started to shout at him. Then we both heard something. It sounded like it came from behind the door. I didn't realize what it was at first. I thought it was just mumbling, but then I recognized it: it was ancient Arabic. Being spoken. Do you have any idea how- the language only exists in the few snippets of pre-Islamic Arabic poems that we have! I could only make out a few words myself: "come," "heard," and "release." And all of a sudden, I felt… I dunno, calm, I guess. No, not even calm. I didn't feel anything. I just knew that I had to get to whatever was behind that seal. So I started digging at the rubble. I had made a hole almost large enough to fit through when I looked over and saw Feridun was digging too. I don't know how long it was, but we eventually dug through the rubble. The whole time we were digging, the voice got louder and louder. But it wasn't even coming from behind the door any more. Instead, it felt like I could hear it from all around. We finally managed to pull our way through. I shined my flashlight around, and almost immediately I saw it. I… he… jus-

Nurrollo: Please describe what you saw.

Khamoosh: It was him. He was really pale and his hair was thin and stringy. H- he was bound up in something. It looked like leather and it was nailed to the wall of the cave with these thick stakes. Probably lion skin, like the story said. Only the top of his shoulders and his head were sticking out. He had two snakes coming out of his shoulders. They were really big, I remember. Like, a meter each. His head was hanging down when Feridun first shined the light on him, but then he looked up at us. His cheeks were gaunt, his eyes sunken, and he was covered in bite marks. Before, he had just been mumbling constantly, but when he saw us, he started speaking to us. I heard it directly in my head. Not even in words, but I knew exactly what he was saying.

Nurrollo: What did he say?

Khamoosh: "Come, children of Keyumars. Your king commands you to release him. Free me from this prison, and the world shall be yours." The voice was almost pleading. And so, we went to free him. I knew that it was a bad idea, that freeing him was… well, the end of the world… But I knew that I had to do it, too. Feridun got to him first and started to pull out one of the stakes. As he did that, the snakes hissed at him and then they reared back, and then… then, th- th- they… [crying] Ah, fuck… I-I'm sorry… I just…

Nurrollo: Please continue, Mr. Khamoosh.

Khamoosh: The snakes, they started to attack Feridun. They were biting him all over and their jaws were crushing him. I can still hear him screaming. H-he was screaming for me to help. He stuck out his hand to me. But the screaming, it broke the spell. And I ran. I ran through the tunnel as fast as I could go, back outside. And behind me, Feridun screaming, and that… thing. It was screaming too. But it wasn't pleading anymore, it was angry. The voice was like an animal. It wasn't even words, not in Arabic or anything. Just screaming. I ran until I got to the cave's entrance. But I could still hear them screaming, so I just kept running. I ran until I passed out. Then when I came to, I saw a couple of military guys. They took me here, and… I got away. I left him there. I left Feridun there to die. He was just pleading… and I… ran away… I… [crying]

Nurrollo: Thank you, that will be all.

<End Log>


"He didn't say where it was. 'I ran until I passed out.' What's that supposed to mean? He could have run up and down the mountain for all we know. Any chance we could drug him up? Total recall and all that?"

"Fazeli tried it already. It didn't take. Something about adrenaline levels and exhaustion. I don't know."

"Huh. Anyway, this means we're on the right track. We picked him up in Zone 7g, so we'll start there and work our way outwards. Besides, he couldn't have run that far."

"What are we going to do with the kid, anyway?"

"What do you think? 'You have our sincerest sympathies, Mr. and Mrs. Soandso, but your son was killed by M.E.K. extremists. They shot him, execution-style. We'll have to hold the body indefinitely for forensic testing to bring these evildoers to justice.'"

"Ah."

"Yeah."

"Do you ever wonder? I mean, Gen. Nakhbodah wants to find a way to weaponize this thing and Razmara is going to try to use it as a bargaining chip with the Ashoh. And of course, Zahidei wants to set it loose. Part of his whole thing about the end of the world and the coming of the Mahdi. My money's on Zahidei; the ayatollahs usually get their way, even after that thing in '03. What do you think we'll do with it when we finally get our hands on it?"

"That's a good question. Not a smart one, though."

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