• Tom Batt

The Lost Letter

Updated: Sep 22, 2021

Tpr Richard Marcus 5681904

40th Royal Tank Regiment

23rd Armoured Brigade

September 13th 1942

Egypt, North Africa

Dear Mary,

I fear I am writing to you for the last time and yet I do not know if you will even get this letter. I hope that in the event this correspondence finds you a record of what happened will be kept and you can pass this on to whomever you feel necessary. What I regale is nothing but the truth, though it may be hard to believe, but you know I could never lie to you my dear beloved wife. It seems strange to think my earlier experiences of the war were considered my worst and yet these past few days have far surpassed them. My commanding officer and I are currently pinned down by a platoon of German soldiers behind enemy lines at a set of ruins not far from the Qattara depression. And, we are being hunted by that monstrous creature.

It all began a week ago after a brutal battle at Alam Halfa. We were making repairs to the tanks and getting some much needed rest and relaxation when I noticed a plane above in serious trouble. It crashed about fifty yards from our position and I wasted no time running over to help the pilot. To my surprise he was German and along with an officer as passenger, both dead. Clearly nothing could be done for them so I was about to walk away when something clutched in the officer’s hand caught my attention. It was a map, of some considerable age. Looking back now I wished I had just ignored it, but I pulled it from his cold hand and studied it with interest.

After sharing this discovery with my fellow tank crew; loader/operator Corporal Stephen Winters, driver Trooper Paul Carter and our commander Lieutenant Reginald Pilkington, we all agreed to go AWOL and find what treasures were hidden at the end of this map’s trail. In order to avoid suspicion we informed the Colonel that our Mark III Valentine tank had suffered damage during the battle and that although she could still run, she couldn’t fight. She would need significant repairs back at Alexandria. He had us attached to the 3rd Royal Tank Regiment of the 8th Armoured brigade who were already heading back to the city on leave. Along the way Trooper Carter feigned an issue with the engine and suggested the convoy continue as we were confident we could catch up after some minor repairs. It was here that we set off on our journey. We briefly stopped off in a small village and spoke to several locals showing them the map in order to get our bearings. Once we knew our heading there was no stopping us.

Our adventure was a dangerous one, sneaking past an Italian airfield base and almost getting caught, save for a surprise attack by the Long Range Desert Group causing a convenient distraction for our escape and creeping the tank through a mine field, myself leading the way checking for mines at an incredibly slow rate. After reaching the other side of the barren Qattara depression we lost the tank to a well targeted bomb courtesy of an Italian bomber.

Just as we believed all was lost, we stumbled upon a small pyramid like structure protruding a couple of feet out of the sand. As I touched the capstone there was a low rumble beneath us and the pyramid grew from out of the ground. It revealed the entrance to a tomb. The very one marked on our map.

We were reluctant to enter the sinister darkness and yet drawn in by its mystery. At the end of a hazardous trek through a network of caves and corridors we came upon a crude altar in the centre of a domed room. The skeletal remains of a man lay upon a stone table surrounded by a pool of silvery liquid bubbling away as if being boiled from beneath. Behind this macabre scene upon a platform was a golden scroll glistening from a thin beam of sunlight cutting through the ceiling of the tomb via a thin crack. We were instantly mesmerised by this artefact, after all what man can resist gold? However, before we could place our hands on the treasure we were joined by a German Colonel and several of his soldiers, their rifles trained on us. We could do nothing but watch as the Colonel lifted the scroll from its cradle and caressed it in his hands. At that moment the stone table lowered the skeleton into the silver liquid consuming it. I was sure the room was going to cave in and we would be trapped, but it didn’t. There was nothing but silence. The Colonel attempted to open the scroll, but became frustrated when he couldn’t. We later discovered it was locked with a cryptic code. After giving up he ordered that we be taken to the nearest German base before being shipped off to a POW camp. It seemed the war would be over for us.

Upon arriving at a German airfield we were locked inside a small cell with a couple of captured Egyptians and left to stew before the prisoner transport arrived. We discussed the tomb, in amazement at what we had found only to have it snatched from us at the last moment. Lieutenant Pilkington was keen to break out of the cell and retrieve what he felt was rightfully ours, but before we could even consider that option we were interrupted by one of the Egyptians curious as to our discussion. He wished for us to describe what we had found and where it was discovered. I told him and his face went pale as if he’d seen a ghost. He then dictated a tale of gods and monsters and the mythical Book of Thoth. Legend has it the Egyptian god Thoth kept a book that contained all the knowledge of the world and its power. It was locked away in a tomb and guarded by serpents to keep it from man. However, an Egyptian prince called Neferkaptah entered the tomb and killed the serpents taking the book for himself. As punishment Thoth killed the prince’s wife and son and so Neferkaptah committed suicide. His body was then entombed along with the book. Generations later another prince attempted to steal the book for himself, but he was pursued by Neferkaptah’s ghost who had become the guardian of the book. The prince realising he could never escape the guardian’s torment decided to return the book to the tomb to save himself from retribution. Only then will Neferkaptah’s spirit rest. Of course we all thought the Egyptian man was crazy, but there was something in his eyes that sent a chill down my spine at the thought of what we may have done.

I managed to get some sleep having not slept well for the past couple of days, even if it was on a makeshift bed of straw and hessian. When I awoke I saw my three compatriots in a huddle talking quietly. They had been planning an escape and I was to play an important role.

Just as we were about to enact our scheme however, a loud boom roared outside and a hole was blown out of the wall of our cell. Our breakout was getting a helping hand from a squadron of allied planes bombing the German airbase. We crept through the cloud of smoke, stumbling over the debris to find the base in a state of panic. Alarms were ringing, anti-aircraft guns were firing into the air, soldiers were running around like headless chickens. Carter obtained some transport for us, a German half-track looking rather worse for wear, but we were keen to get away from the attack no matter the quality of conveyance. As we clambered onto the truck the lieutenant spotted the German Colonel sprinting over to a car carrying the scroll close to his breast. He ordered Carter, behind the wheel, to go after him and so our pursuit began.

Chasing down the fast kubelwagen we were struggling to keep up. It was looking like we would lose them when the strangest thing happened. The car steered sharply to the left and spun off the road crashing. It was as if they were avoiding something in their path and yet it was clear ahead. We pulled over and approached the car cautiously finding the driver dead and the Colonel unconscious. Winters took the scroll and we jumped back on the half-track heading toward the front line.

Knowing we would have trouble crossing over to the British side by car we took shelter in a small village and discussed our next step. It was suggested by Winters we head toward the nearest German airbase at Sidi Haneish about a mile from our position and hijack a plane to Alexandria. We all agreed except Carter who was still thinking about the story of Neferkaptah. He wanted us to return the scroll to the tomb to avoid any curse following us. Lieutenant Pilkington assured him there was no curse, but the man was clearly stirred by the Egyptian’s tale. So much so, his concern was beginning to worry me.

We got some rest and waited for nightfall, Winters offered to keep guard. I was awoken from my slumber by Carter screaming in terror. I looked over at him as he ran toward me begging for me to wake up and come with him. I was sure he was acting delusional, but when he took me into the next room I was suddenly convinced by his superstitions. Winters was sat before us frozen in a state of shock, his eyes wide, mouth agape. Yet, it wasn’t him. It was some sculpture of sand in his form. The golden scroll on the floor beside him. I believed it to be some kind of practical joke by Winters until Carter explained what he saw. He claimed Winters was trying to decode the cryptic lock on the scroll and deciphered it. However upon unrolling the document a tall menacing figure appeared before him and turned him to sand. Looking into Carter’s eyes I could see he wasn’t lying. The fear inside him was palpable and it was contagious. When the lieutenant entered he continued to be skeptical claiming Winters had most likely been kidnapped by locals and the sculpture was a way of scaring us into returning the scroll. He insisted we head to the airbase and get back behind our lines as soon as possible.

The airbase at Sidi Haneish was heavily guarded, but the dark of the night helped hide our entry through a hole in the surrounding fence. Dodging spotlights and patrolling soldiers we managed to reach a Junkers 88 on the runway preparing for take off. Just as we were about to board gunfire flew all around us. We had been spotted. We climbed aboard and ordered the pilot to take off before the guards could stop us. It was close, but we were in the air and safe, or so we thought. It wasn’t long before two Messerschmitts were on our tail trying to shoot us down. Carter and myself manned the rear guns and fired back hoping we could hold them off long enough. The lieutenant was in the cockpit ensuring the pilots maintained their course.

After churning out round after round at the pursuing planes we dealt enough damage that one of them had no choice but to crash and the other was smoking so much he pulled away. We were home free, until I noticed the bomber was banking as if to turn. As Carter and I made our way to the fuselage we discovered the lieutenant had been overpowered and was now at the mercy of one of the pilots who had somehow obtained his gun. We were ordered to disarms ourselves, tossing our weapons to one side. It seemed we would be spending the rest of the war in prison after all, unless they decided to execute us for all the trouble we’d caused. Lieutenant Pilkington, a brave and noble man refused to go down without a fight and took the pilot head on. They wrestled with the gun, but the German would not release it. The lieutenant stumbled falling to the ground. The pilot aimed the gun at him and fired a shot, but the bullet ricocheted off the scroll he used to shield himself. It broke the cryptic lock meaning its secrets were free for anyone to see. The Lieutenant dropped the scroll and raised his hands in surrender. He knew when he was bested.

The pilot tied our hands together as his colleague directed the plane back toward Sidi Haneish. We watched in anger as he picked up the scroll and studied it with interest. He was about to unroll it when Carter screamed out begging him not to. His cries fell on deaf ears however and the pilot examined its contents. There was a bright flash almost blinding us and when our vision recovered we all saw the monster standing behind the pilot. He was huge and muscled dressed like some ancient Egyptian God with devilish eyes that glowed red. His skin pale and rotting.

The pilot could see the horror in our faces and turned to see the beast before him. He raised the gun and fired several shots, but the bullets went straight through the creature and bounced around the cockpit behind. The mighty Egyptian grabbed the pilot around the throat and the red eyes glowed ever brighter until the pilot slowly turned from flesh and bone to sand. We all watched in awe at this act of witchcraft, the creature releasing his grip so the German’s granular body dropped to the floor of the plane and disintegrated and then the creature disappeared.

Whatever doubts Lieutenant Pilkington had were firmly squashed now, he had seen it with his own eyes. Carter reiterated his demand to return the scroll to save ourselves and we both agreed it was the right thing to do. Trouble seemed to follow us however, as we felt the plane begin to take a steep dive. We rushed into the cockpit to find the co-pilot had been shot dead, no doubt from one of the stray bullets. Carter attempted to take the controls and level the plane, but it was too late. The ground was coming up close and all the lieutenant and I could do was brace ourselves for impact.

I awoke with the hot desert sun on my face and sand like fire burning my arms. I had been flung from the plane during the crash and found myself several feet away from the wreckage. I limped over to the half-buried detritus finding Lieutenant Pilkington had also been discarded. He was unconscious and covered in blood and I was sure he was dead, but relief overwhelmed me when he opened his eyes. I helped him up and we ventured further into the remains of the plane to find Carter. I’m sorry to say he didn’t make it. He must have died on impact. We buried his body as best we could, gathered up what supplies were left and began walking through the vast ocean of sand. We had no clue in which direction to go and so we trekked aimlessly in the hope of finding an oasis or village. Somewhere we could drink or get help.

We then came upon these ruins where we currently reside. We rested here during the night struggling to keep warm and were awoken by German soldiers clearly hunting us down. We assume they found the plane wreckage and have been tracking us since. They are yet to find us, but we are surrounded and know it’s only a matter of time. We still have the scroll and intend to return it if we can, otherwise who knows what will happen to us if we don’t. The lieutenant tells me he has a plan, but I have my doubts we will get out of this alive and so I am writing you this, my last letter. I will leave it here at these ruins and hope someday someone will find it and get it to you. If I’m lucky perhaps this letter will prove to be unnecessary and I can tell you my tale in person. Either way, just know that I love you and miss you dearly.

Yours sincerely,

Richard

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