Saturday, 7 July 2018

The Black Auction

Dear ______,

It is the Committee's pleasure to inform you that the Hotel Apophis, located on Talaat Harb Street in the very heart of Cairo's scenic French Quarter, has been selected as the venue for the upcoming Black Auction of 1929. The date has been set for June 21nd, and in accordance with best astrological practices the event will commence at precisely the stroke of midnight. Our schedule runs as follows:

9am - 12pm

Arrivals. For your convenience, the third floor of the hotel has been reserved for Auction attendees, but guests are still advised to book well in advance. Due to the idiosyncratic nature of the event, the Hotel's management have kindly agreed to relax their policy regarding unaccompanied women and natives, but for decency's sake it is still recommended that individuals belonging to either of these categories permit themselves to be escorted by a civilised male guardian. If no qualified candidate presents himself before the due date, the Committee may be able to provide one.

12pm - 1pm

Luncheon. The Hotel is attached to a very fine restaurant, the Café de Luxe, which can boast that it offers a bill of fare equal to any you might encounter in London or Paris. The chef, Monsieur Gaspard, spares no expense in reproducing exactly the dining conditions of his native Montmartre, and if not for a tragic fire would likely still be working there today. The Committee is happy to assure you that his disfigurement has in no way affected his culinary skills. All meals are gratis for Auction attendees, and any special dietary requirements can easily be catered to by the Hotel's tireless staff.

1pm - 6pm

Relaxation and sight-seeing. For those wishing to view such tourist attractions as the Museum of Antiquities, the Citadel of Saladin, the Alabaster Mosque, the Hanging Church, the Islamic necropolis, the city's notorious souks and, of course, the pyramid complex at Giza, the Hotel can easily provide a knowledgeable and trustworthy local guide. The Committee kindly asks that attendees refrain from casting the Auction into disrepute by patronising any of Cairo's innumerable opium-dens, drinking-houses and brothels, and can upon request provide a map of these locations so that the discerning traveller knows precisely which areas to avoid. Those visiting the Sphinx are politely requested to bring Her a small gift or offering of some kind, as She has in the past looked unkindly on the Auction and Her influence is not to be underestimated.

6pm - 7pm

Dinner. This will, again, be provided by Monsieur Gaspard. The menu has been determined in advance and cannot at this stage be changed. Alternative arrangements can be made for those with an aversion to tartare. In keeping with the spirit of the event, however, the Committee advises against undue squeamishness and recommends that attendees remain open to unconventional experiences.

7pm - 10pm

Light entertainment. The Bar Apophis is one of Cairo's most exclusive watering-holes, and shisha is available at every table for those of a teetotal or Mohammedan persuasion. The staff's discretion is assured. The popular stage magician Ching Ling Choo, Master of the Mysterious Orient, has been retained to astonish us all with his marvelous feats of misdirection and legerdemain. He is under the impression that he will perform for a troupe of rare-book collectors, and the Committee considers that it is unnecessary for any attendee to inform him of the true nature of the event.

10pm - 11pm

Meditations. After the show, the Committee suggests that attendees devote an hour to communing with any Higher Influence that may be willing to guide, command and protect them. The utmost efforts will be made to provide any tool or facility that may be necessary for such communion, but the Committee regrets that it cannot be expected to cater for every conceivable desire, and asks that attendees make some effort ahead of time to ensure that all their needs will be provided for. The Hotel's basements are spacious enough to accommodate any number of groups or individuals seeking privacy. Those who lack the protection of a Higher Influence are strongly encouraged to burn this invitation and think no more on the matter.

11pm - 12am

Propitiations. Attendees will gather in the second-floor smoking-lounge to make the appropriate placatory offerings. We are sensitive to the impact this may have on those of delicate constitution, especially neophytes and ladies, and our Master of Ceremonies will be on hand to assist anyone whose hand may falter at the critical moment. Participation is, however, mandatory. Attendees are advised not to wear their best clothes, and time has been provided in which to return to one's room and change one's outfit.

12am - Dawn

The Auction. It will take place in the Yellow Ballroom. The dress code is formal. All weapons, and all personal grudges, are to be checked at the door. Security will be provided by select members of the Egyptian gendarmerie, as well as private forces in the Committee's employ. Anyone seeking to provoke a repeat performance of the unfortunate events that took place at last year's Auction in Lisbon will be politely but firmly escorted off the premises. The Committee reserves for itself the right to expel any guest, at any time, for any reason. It understands that the Auction can be expected to provoke the full range of human emotion, but it must nonetheless insist that attendees maintain an appropriate level of respect for the proceedings. Its decisions, as always, are final.

We are delighted this year to welcome to the Black Auction a number of distinguished guests, some old hands and some in attendance for the first time. We are especially happy to induct into our number His Majesty Fouad I, by the grace of God King of Egypt and the Sudan, Sovereign of Nubia, Kordofan and Darfur. We consider it a tremendous honour to be graced with His Majesty's presence, and it is our sincere hope that he does not leave the premises unsatisfied. We would also like to bid a cheerful hello to Princess Elizabeth, our youngest ever attendee at a mere three years old, and trust that with the assistance of the Auction and the kind aid of her guardians she will soon be able to recover from the mysterious illness that has been plaguing her. As a final note, we would like to remind attendees that the small, bald, unhappy man whom you might spy loitering around the corners of the Hotel, and who goes by the unfortunate name of Crowley, is not, in fact, an official guest of the Auction. He may protest otherwise, but we can assure you that we have not yet lowered our standards to his degree! If this man bothers you, simply inform a member of the Hotel staff and proceed about your business in the certain knowledge that he shall be rapidly removed.

We trust that you anticipate the Auction with the greatest eagerness, and look forward to welcoming you to the Hotel Apophis. As always, we can guarantee that the whole event will be conducted under a veil of absolute tact and discretion. A partial catalogue is enclosed with this invitation, and we encourage you to peruse it at your leisure.

Yours in Confidence,
The Black Auction Committee,
April 1, 1929

...

The following is a partial catalogue of items that will be made available for bidding at the Black Auction of 1929. Due to the nature of the Auction, it cannot be treated as entirely reliable, but the Committee hopes that it will provide attendees with at least a provisional sense of the goods on offer.

LOT 1. GARSTANG'S PTERODACTYL.

The mummified corpse of a prehistoric avian lizard, discovered in the tomb of a Kushite queen by the archaeologist John Garstang in the course of his Meroë excavations. Well preserved. Likely to have been embalmed only hours after death. Inscriptions on the tomb walls give little hint of the creature's provenance, but the manner of its burial has lead some experts to speculate that it was a favoured pet of the queen and expected to accompany her into the afterlife.

LOT 4. FERMAT'S REMARKABLE PROOF.

Early Renaissance edition of the grimoire Sepher Raziel Ha-Malach, formerly owned by the mathematician Pierre de Fermat and primarily significant for the notes he has scrawled across the book's final pages. In a few brief equations, apparently provoked by his meditations upon the Kabbalah, Fermat manages to prove not only that no three positive integers a, b, and c satisfy the equation an + bn = cn but also that God does not exist and the entirety of the Christian faith is an obscene and perverse fiction, as well as several other points of philosophical and scientific interest. Several contemporary mathematicians have scrutinised his logic, using the most sophisticated modern techniques, and found it to be impeccable.

LOT 5. BASKET OF BLEAK ORCHIDS.

The bone-white bleak orchid (cattleya melancholia) is native to the rainforests and mountains of Peru's Moyobamba Province, growing only beneath waterfalls and in the deepest recesses of river-fed caves. The native tribes are said to use its grief-inducing perfume as a part of their initiation rites, equipping their young boys with stone daggers and lowering them down sinkholes into the orchids' labyrinthine caverns. Those who escape become warriors, while those who succumb to the flower's influence and destroy themselves with stone or water are mocked as cowards and excluded from the tribe's collective oral memory. This particular basket played a key role in an unsuccessful attempt on the life of the promising young designer Elsa Schiaparelli, and is therefore of great interest to the collector.

LOT 6. BRASS TELESCOPE.

This brass astronomical telescope permits the observation of four additional planets, one of which appears to be inhabited. Likely Victorian, exact provenance unknown.

LOT 8. ANTHOZOAN INFANT.

An aggregation of tropical corals that takes the shape of a male human infant, and exhibits many infantile behaviours. Discovered by a diver off the coast of Lizard Island in Australia's Great Barrier Reef, who attempted to raise the entity as her own son but was foiled by its inability to thrive on dry land and its habit of painfully stinging those who try to soothe its endless cries by holding, rocking or breastfeeding it. The aquarium and its resident clownfish are included in the price, though bidders are cautioned that it may require a considerable sum to maintain.

LOT 10. DER VOGEL DES TODES.

The only existing print of Der Vogel des Todes, an obscure silent film by the reclusive Expressionist director Frieda Quast. A take on the Bluebeard legend, the film tells the story of a beaked, hunchbacked, androgynous figure that purchases the affections of poverty-stricken young men and women and imprisons them in a trap-filled subterranean labyrinth designed along Cubist and Bauhaus principles. Within a week of the film's release, the German government had banned it and ordered all extant copies burnt. Quast, a confirmed cocaine-addict, is thought to have taken her own life in a fit of grief at the destruction of her art, though her body has never been found. Attempts to map the labyrinth have revealed some correspondence with the layout of certain structures in Greenland, excavated in the years following the film's release.

LOT 17. TREE OF GLORY.

The dried, pickled hands of seven hanged criminals mounted on a gilded candelabrum, each holding a candle made from its owner's fat. Four of the hands have been identified as belonging to the Parisian fortune-teller Magdelaine de la Grange, the Swedish thief Jacob Guntlack, the Tasmanian cannibal Alexander Pearce and the Chicago anarchist Adolph Fischer. A fifth has been provisionally traced to the Aztec king Guatimozin, though the plausibility of this theory has been challenged. One of the tree's candles, lit, will unlock all doors and paralyse everyone in a single household. Two will immobilise a village, three a small city. It is not known what all seven together could accomplish.

LOT 18. "GADDI".

A Gascon sow of respectable size. Former travelling companion of a Basque exorcist who made use of her, in the best Biblical tradition, to accommodate the infernal spirits he drove out of his patients. Thought to contain, at the closest estimate, over eleven thousand assorted devils, demons, imps, lemures, incubi, powers, dominions, furies, calumniators and maligenii, including at least one verifiable Duke of Hell. Acquired by its current possessor after the Basque died peacefully in his sleep at the age of ninety-six.

LOT 21. FLAMINEO'S SPECTACLES.

The lenses of these spectacles were probably ground in 15th-century Venice. The golden frame appears to be a later addition. The spectacles perfectly correct any and all defects in the vision, but those who wear them for any length of time begin to see evidence of conspiracy and faithlessness everywhere they look, and are inevitably driven into a murderous rage by intense sexual paranoia. Thought to have inspired the English dramatist John Webster in the commission of his play The White Devil.

LOT 24. ORIENTAL DOLL.

A silk Japanese hoko doll in the shape of a fat, crawling baby, stuffed with the hair of the 17th-century courtesan O-Tsuyu and given by her as a gift to several pregnant rivals, all of whom subsequently miscarried. It is not known how she retrieved the doll after each use.

LOT 25. SKULL OF THE AMORITE.

A humanoid skull four feet in diameter with exaggerated brow and pronounced lower canines, found in a cave by the Dead Sea's rocky eastern bank and suggested by local legend to belong to Og, Biblical king of Bashan. Inscriptions in nearby Nabataean tombs, substantially defaced by superstitious villagers, speak of an "empire of the hunchback" that persisted in its blasphemy until the great god Dushara, represented as a faceless pillar of stone, sent a swarm of red ants to eat away its foundations. The skull's teeth continue to grow, albeit at an extremely slow pace.

LOT 29.  WITCH BOTTLE.

Salt-glazed stoneware bottle embossed with the image of a bearded man, sealed with wax, containing urine, menstrual blood, cat hair, vinegar, sprigs of rosemary and a great number of rusty iron pins. Discovered among the foundations of a colonial flour-mill in Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania, clutched in the hands of a seven-year-old girl, whose perfectly-preserved body shriveled away into dust mere seconds after the bottle was removed.

LOT 30. DORMITION EGG.

A diamond-encrusted Easter egg designed by Alma Pihl for the twelfth birthday of Anastasia Romanov. A week-old human embryo is visible through its shell of frosted glass. The egg will imprint on any child who plays at being its mother for a period of several weeks, and can then be taken away and hatched into a serviceable replica of that child. Any strange behaviours that the doppelganger might exhibit can easily be kept under control, though a degree of planning and forethought may be required.

LOT 33. THEOSOPHICAL SLIME SUIT.

Canvas diving-suit with round copper helmet and severed, tied-off air-tubes. Used by a cabal of wealthy Theosophists as part of an ambitious attempt to investigate a system of magnetic anomalies detected off New Zealand's south-eastern coast, these being thought to indicate the presence of a submerged Lemurian continent. Hauled up many years later in the nets of a Chilean fisherman and brought back to his village as a curiosity, where it killed three people and infected several more before a club-wielding mob chased it into the mountains. The quasi-liquid substance that fills the suit has been variously described as pitch, phlegm, wax and vitreous humour, and should not be allowed to escape into the wild.

LOT 34. HOUR'S COMMERCE WITH TRISMEGISTUS.

The revered author of the Corpus Hermeticum, inscriber of the Smaragdine Tablet and alleged architect of the Gizan tombs has politely agreed to donate an hour of his valuable time to the Auction, and will happily speak with the winning bidder on any subject that may strike their fancy. A rare opportunity, and not one to be missed.

LOT 36. CHRONOTHOPTER.

A vehicle made from sailcloth, brass filigree and unknown plastics, looking like a cross between a bicycle and a dragonfly. Discovered by Indian ranchers in the Colorado desert, having apparently crash-landed, and still bearing in its cockpit the corpse of a pale, ape-like entity who on careful vivisection was anatomically proved to be a direct descendant of modern Homo sapiens, as well as an obligate cannibal. The corpse now resides in the Smithsonian, its curators being sadly reluctant to part with it.

LOT 37. BOKII'S MANDALA.

A Himalayan thangka formerly owned by the Soviet cryptographer and secret policeman Gleb Bokii, featuring a four-gated mandala with the demon king Yama at its centre. The mandala, correctly interpreted, becomes a map to the city of Shambhala, home to an enlightened hierarchy of mystics and gateway to a lost spiritual kingdom beneath the Earth. Bokii, in collaboration with the Roerichs of Tibet and the mad Baron Ungern of Mongolia, sought to learn Shambhala's advanced techniques of mass hypnosis and use them to spread the villainous gospel of Bolshevism across the globe, transfiguring all Earth's citizens into New Soviet Men. Fortunately for capitalists everywhere, he did not succeed, although the mystical gulag/laboratory he established near Krasnoyarsk has produced some interesting results.

LOT 44. NIGHTMARE OF THE FISHERMAN'S WIFE.

Erotic shunga print, provisionally identified as the work of Yanagawa Shigenobu, depicting a nude pearl diver in ecstatic copulation with an amorphous, many-eyed, opalescent creature that defies precise description. Some authors identify the creature with Ryūjin, dragon king of the sea, who dwells in a coral palace and is loyally served by jellyfish. People who hang this print in their bedrooms are often visited by obscene dreams, an effect which may or may not be occult in nature.

LOT 49. 1811 CHATEAU DE RAIS.

A jeroboam of Sauternes from the Bordeaux vineyard of Comtesse Juliane de Rais, laid down in the year of the comet and supposedly improved by the odylic influence of that celestial body. The last of its kind anywhere in the world, the vineyard having been burnt to the ground by fear-maddened peasants in the year 1812. The wine is a fine chestnut colour, pure and deep with overtones of peach, pineapple and cured jamon. The Comtesse's current whereabouts are unknown.

LOT 50. DEATH.

The complete extinction of a single, willing human soul, without possibility of resurrection, metempsychosis, judgment in the afterlife or any other form of continued existence. Bidding is expected to start high.

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