"Captives of the Mirage" was a story printed in the sixth issue of The Twilight Zone comic published by Gold Key Comics.
Cast of characters
- Navigator Bates
- Captain Oakie Martin
- Commander Fritz Von Burbon
- Mukamal, belly dancer
- Nazi soldier #1
- Nazi soldier #2
- Nazi soldier #3
- servant #1
- servant #2
- servant #3
- servant #4
- horn player
- tanbur player
"This B-17 winging back to Cairo after a bombing run over Italy will not make it...for fate has decreed that Captain Oakie Martin and his crew shall soon have ringside seats at a most extraordinary spectacle within...the Twilight Zone."
Story summaryDuring World War II, on a return flight to Cairo, Egypt from a bombing run over Italy, a B-17 bomber Plane named The Galloping Ali-Kazam had its engines catch fire. The crew attempted to call in their dire situation to the base but found that the radio was not functioning properly either. Soon after, the pilot, Captain Oakie Martin, is overcome with a strange sensation. He then abruptly changed course, heading straight into a series of large sand dunes, to the alarm of his co-pilot, Jerry. Miraculously, Martin was able to land the damaged plane in just the right spot, a place in the dunes where the sand leveled off.
The crew crawled out of the wreckage and started to take account of the situation. They found that none of the four-person crew was injured, but that all of the water canteens except one were lost in the crash. While the others attended to the supplies, the captain clutched his hand to his chest. He realized that the source of the burning pain was the necklace he had been wearing. The necklace was a charm he had picked up in Cairo called the Amulet of Arkan. Oakie then informed the others about the amulet's alleged history. It supposedly had belonged to a legendary Arabian sorcerer, famed for his mastery over magical forces. A likeness of the magician appeared on the one side of the amulet and it seemed to have been pointing north. The pilot felt certain this indicated the direction they should travel.
Reluctant to rest their survival on superstition, but with no better recourse, the four men began their trek for water or refuge, heading north. After hours, there had been no sign of either and the canteen was down to roughly four mouthfuls. The navigator, Bates, cannot believe that he had allowed the crew to embark on the expedition according to a charm necklace. Just then, however, the captain noticed something on the horizon. As they neared the object, they made out what it was: a stranded Nazi Tiger Tank!
The crew decided that the apparently abandoned tank would have maps and possibly a supply of water left aboard. Unfortunately, they found no water anywhere. Even the radiator was dry, rendering the tank immobile. Jerry suggested that the men maintain their location in hopes that a patrol may pass by and find the stoic tank, but Captain Martin was determined to continue following the amulet's directions.The crew continued until the swelling heat of the Sahara finally sapped the four men of the last bit of energy. Collapsed in the burning sand, Oakie heard a voice calling his name. At first, he had assumed it had been a delusion from the intense heat, but as he pushed himself up from the ground, he witnessed an amazing sight...a town!
With a renewed vigor, the men stumbled toward the town. Just as the weathered airmen were about to arrive at their destination, however, they were stopped by some invisible force. They pounded and pushed against the immovable barrier, but could not get through. On the other side of the unseen wall appeared a man dressed in traditional desert garb. He urged the captain that he must push his men to breach the barrier. He promised that sweet waters and fruits lie just on the other side. The more they struggled, the more insistent the bearded man became. The airmen pushed harder than ever and they fell inward with a sudden lurch. As the exhausted men struggled to maintain consciousness, they heard the stern man in the keffiyeh order his servants to take the Americans to the temple.
Later, the sleeping men were awakened inside the temple by the sound of exotic music. As they were served food and drinks while they watched a belly dancer perform, Oakie commented that it was as if they had been transported into a story from Arabian Nights. He cannot help but wonder, "how come this Baghdad in the middle of the Sahara?"The intrigue deepened when the beautiful belly dancer, named Mukamal, made her way close to the captain and whispered a warning into his ear. He was told to beware "the Mighty One," because he is an evil man that only seeks to make the power of the stranded flight crew his own. Before the exotic woman could explain more, they are interrupted by the host. He welcomed his guests graciously, but then asked the captain of a favor: to hold the amulet still hung about the pilot's neck. When Oakie hesitantly refused, the insulted host threw a goblet to the ground and shouted a threat, "Incur my wrath and you shall remain forever!" He then demanded the amulet be given to him, to which Oakie responded by punching him in the jaw. The robed man slipped off afterward, but the visitors doubted that the matter had been resolved.
Hoping to avoid any further conflict, the men made a plan to take some water and supplies and take their chances back out in the desert. Unbeknownst to the Americans, their host was busy making plans of his own. The German soldiers from the abandoned tank had also found the odd oasis and unlike the Americans, they were willing to comply with the requests of the "Mighty One." A deal had been struck: if the Nazis would obtain the amulet for him, he would use its powers to win the war for Germany!
The American air crew had managed to round up wine and fruit, but had been unable to locate any means of communication with the outside world. In fact, Jerry failed to even locate a single road that led out of the desert town. It was then that Oakie noticed a strange familiarity between the likeness on the Amulet of Arkan and their disgruntled host from the temple. Before any further discussion, the two men were surprised just then by the Nazi soldiers.
The Germans told the two Americans that they came in peace and suggested that they work together to leave the place. Their leader, the famous tank commander Fritz von Burbon, even offered to surrender if Captain Martin were to hand over his mysterious charm to him. Oakie again refused and rallied his men to leave immediately. The Nazi soldiers gave chase but when they tried to attack Oakie, they were hurled off their feet!The belly dancer from the temple, Mukamal appeared around the corner and explained that it had been the amulet that had caused the strange reaction, however, it would only protect the person wearing it. She agreed to offer the men a hiding place.
Before they had a chance to hide, though, the tank crew drew their pistols and fired at the fleeing Americans! Somehow the bullets were stopped and fell to the ground before they could hit Oakie! Becoming convinced of the charm's power, Oakie used it to again suspend the men in mid-air. Then, acting possessed, he began to rant and used the amulet to increasingly inflict harm upon his pursuers. Jerry saw no other choice but to slug the captain in an attempt to snap him out of his power-hungry trance. It worked and Oakie ordered his crew to round the Nazis up as prisoners of war.
Shortly thereafter, they started their march out of the town with both the prisoners and the belly dancer in tow. An old beggar stopped Oakie on the outskirts of the town, asking him to do a favor for a dying man. Still enchanted by the newfound power he had assumed, Oakie offered to heal the old man. He told him the necklace could do great feats of magic for the one possessing it and handed it to the elderly man. As the magical charm dropped around the beggar's neck, he revealed himself to be their host from the temple, Arkan!
Arkan then revealed that he had been trapped in that town—which was actually a mirage—ever since the day he lost the amulet several centuries prior. The other townspeople had been trapped there all that time as well, because of the plundering that had been committed by their ancestors. Without the amulet's power, the airmen would be stuck there just the same, but using it, Arkan could finally leave and did, laughing.The laughing soon stopped, however, when the sorceror realized that he was aging at an incredible rate! Outside the protection of the mirage, all the years that he had spent within it began to catch up with him. His prison had unwittingly been a timeless sanctuary. He stumbled back toward the protective barrier, but just as his arm breached the invisible wall, he collapsed dead.
Luckily, the Americans were able to grab the amulet and use it to pass through the wall. Oakie beckoned the others to follow, but Mukamal and the others knew that they could never leave or else they would suffer the same fate as Arkan. The bellydancer and the pilot kissed farewell. She gave him an emerald earring as a keepsake and once he and his crew had passed through the barrier, he threw the Amulet of Arkan back to her, stating, "There is enough evil in this outside world without it."
"Was Captain Martin's experience mere illusion under the stress of desert combat? Perhaps-- but an ex-GI still carries this curio about today! An emerald earring...a souvenir of the Twilight Zone!"
Response and analysis
One of the main themes in the story is power and how it affects both those that possess it, those that seek it, and those simply in need of help. The corrupting influence of the Amulet of Arkan clearly showed its effects on Oakie Martin, leading him to abuse the power that it imbued him. Fortunately for him, he had his loyal friend to reign in his use of that power. The sorceror Arkan was an example of what could become someone who gave in completely to the power. His power lust even drove him to take advantage of the captain by reprehensibly impersonating a feeble, ill old man just to regain the amulet. Despite receiving virtual immortality as a result of being trapped within the mirage, all of his time—all of those centuries—was not spent in reflection or atonement for his cruelty but instead was consumed by further schemes for power and escape.
Notes and annotations
- The date of the story's events is never mentioned, but it can be deduced by identifying the events mentioned in the story's introduction. The North African Campaign of World War II took place between June 10, 1940 and May 16, 1943, which included campaigns fought in the Libyan and Egyptian deserts. This time can be narrowed down further, as the United States did not enter the war until 1941 and did not begin direct military intervention in North Africa until May 11, 1942. 2,500 German tanks are said to have been destroyed or captured during the campaign, making the abandoned Tiger Tank found by the Americans a possible remainder from this time. Combining these dates with that of the preparatory bombing campaigns preceding the Allied invasion of Italy in early July of 1943,, it seems likely that the story occurred between May and July, 1943.
- Although Egypt was technically neutral in World War II, as a result of a 1936 treaty with England, Allied forces were allowed to use Cairo as a military base. This is likely why The Galloping Ali-Kazan was returning to the city at the start of the story.
- George Tuska - Penciler
- Don Heck - Penciler
- Don Heck - Inker
- Ben Oda - Letterer
- Originally published in color
- Printed on newsprint, 17 pages
- Cover story
- The number given to The Galloping Ali-Kazam was 71.
- Commander Fritz von Burbon smokes cigarettes using a cigarette holder similar to the one that Burgess Meredith's character used in portraying The Penguin in the Batman live-action TV series.
Errors and goofs
- Nazi Fritz von Burbon at one point called his troops to attention by using the phrase "Atchung!" which is a misspelling of Achtung, the German word for attention.
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