The Bath of the Damned

Hammam Maskhoutine, Algeria

Once upon a time, something happened in this neck of the woods, the memory of which still plagues the locals to this day. Despite knowing, by all accounts, it’s best not to dredge up the past, I am going to relay to you the episode that marked a before and after in this town’s history on a night similar to this one.

This is the story of a young man who possessed all the desirable attributes of a Sir Galahad. One day, his father, who was the chief of the biggest tribe in the region, which, thanks to its fertile land, made for a very comfortable and care-free life, fell seriously ill and died abruptly. Hence, the tribe elders assembled and, after a long meeting, decided that they would only agree to name the latter chief’s son—the hero of our story—his successor on one condition: On the day of his nomination as chief, he would have to marry a woman they deemed his equal. The problem with that condition was that our hero was all of a sudden really pressed for time, more so considering that there weren’t any women around those parts who came even close to meeting the bar the elders had set for the prospective candidates to become his wife.

Panic broke out in our hero’s family, who didn’t want to relinquish power. Hence, they sat down to confer among themselves and find a solution to their problem. A large chunk of time went by before anyone came up with something other than a preposterous suggestion. It was an old man who spoke at that point, saying, “The only way you’ll be appointed chief is if you commit incest.”

Everyone looked at each other with furrowed brows. “What does he mean with ‘incest’?”, someone whispered. The grandmother, always so wise and in the know, was the one to raise her voice next:

“Everyone knows there is no lady far and wide who, regardless of her genetic or acquired endowments, will suit the elder’s requirements for his future wife, but his own little sister, the most beautiful flower anyone has ever laid eyes on. We don’t customarily marry our siblings, but you are not just anyone among us.”

One could read in the faces of the congregated family members that Grandmother had helped dispel all doubts over what was at play. The elders had placed our hero between the devil and the deep blue sea. He knew he had to prove himself as a leader, and thus, stood up and went to the elders to announce his decision.

“I will marry my sister and you will kneel down and pledge obedience to me as your new chief.”

Many were repulsed by his choice and decided to leave the tribe stating that marrying one’s own sibling went against nature and would enrage God, who, in turn, would punish them all.

The night of his investiture as tribe chief, he was betrothed to his sister. Both wore their finest apparel. The feast that had been prepared by the women was a grand success and the food was praised to the heavens by all in attendance. Everyone danced their feet sore and had a great time at their nuptials. Suddenly, however, as if they had been standing over a volcano all along, the earth under them burst apart and lava flooded the place. Everything and everyone turned to stone in a matter of seconds. The area they had been partying on right before hence became a forest of funny-looking petrified human sculptures.

The bodies of all those who assented to and witnessed the mental aberration that wedding represented have to this day remained the same way as they were on the fateful night their owners met their Maker. They have lost their eyes though, which melted when the red sea of fire reached them. The waters that run through this stone graveyard are said to have healing properties. The sight looks pretty ghastly and, the locals, who are, though chary of telling it, still cognizant of the story behind the place’s rock formations, call the area the Bath of the Damned.


Written by Wafa Abdel-Lawi.