Chapter 7: Akhenaten

The girl burst into tears. Aw shit! I turned around and walked away. I was curious about who she was and what she was doing here, but not curious enough to get involved with a crying kid. The whole situation smelled like trouble that I didn’t want or need. Why did I even look for her in the first place?

I headed back to my gear. “Wait! Please Mister, wait for me.” I pretended I couldn’t hear her. She scrambled out of her hiding place and ran after me. She caught up to me and asked, “Are you Aten’s Servant?”

Maybe if I didn’t answer her she’d lose interest and go away. I kept walking. She kept talking as she followed. “I’m sorry about freaking out when I first saw you but I saw your shaved head and I thought you were a temple priest. But then I noticed you have eyebrows and you aren’t wearing makeup, so you’re not a priest—are you?”

Hmm, this probably meant that the eunuch werehyena was a priest. I wondered which Egyptian god he worshiped. I knew Anubis was the jackal-headed god, but I couldn’t remember if any of the others had a hyena’s head. I kept walking. Maybe if I didn’t look at her she’d get the hint and go away.

When I got to my gear, I shouldered my backpack and eyed my crocodile skin meat bag. My desire to stop eating raw meat warred with my instinct to get as far away from this village as possible in the shortest amount of time. I was almost certain that when it got dark the hyenas or weregoats or zombie sheep or some other damn group of hostiles would show up for round two. But I also didn’t want to find out what would happen if I ran out of food. Oh what the hell, it was early morning. I could afford to spend a few hours preparing the meat before I took off.

The girl kept talking as she followed. “I’m Dorothy, Dorothy Wilson. What’s your name?”

I dragged my meat bag back down to the village. I went through all the huts and grabbed every basket I could find, along with a low wicker table of about coffee table height. I dug a new, deep fire pit, and then broke the wooden trap door into kindling. I filled the pit with straw from one of the roofs, kindling, and dried manure. I had to search four of the villagers’ cooking areas to find a piece of flint. I used it and one of my throwing knives to start the fire.

“You don’t talk much do you?”

While the fire was burning, I used my throwing knives to slice the crocodile meat into long, thin strips; the girl didn’t need to see my claws. I hung the strips over lengths of reed, and put the reed across the open end of the baskets so the meat hung down inside. Once the fire had burned down to coals, I covered it with green reeds from the river bank and put the table over the fire pit. I stacked the baskets on top of the table so the smoke would rise through them, and carefully tied them together with the Akil twine so they wouldn’t fall over. I tied a bunch of reeds together to make a teepee framework over the baskets and hung Akil’s hide and crocodile skin over it to trap the smoke.

“I knew a kid back home who couldn’t talk. People told me he was dumb and I thought they were being mean until they told me that ‘dumb’ means you can’t talk. I still think that was mean. I mean how hard is it to say you can’t talk? Why do you have to say someone is dumb? Yup, I’d never call you dumb. I’ve got more manners than that. I’ll just tell people you can’t talk.”

“I’m not from around here.” Dorothy giggled and grasped a lock of her white blond hair and held it out toward me. “I guess that’s obvious because everyone else here in Kemet has black hair and brown eyes.”

Now that I had a chance to get a closer look at Dorothy, she looked nothing like Mina. Mina’s outdoor gardening had left her tanned, and she’d had long blond hair that went past her shoulders. Dorothy was the whitest white girl I’d ever seen; her skin was almost translucent, and she wore her hair in a short unisex haircut. Despite the harsh morning sunlight, she wasn’t getting sunburned. She was probably using magic to block the UV.

“I bet you’re not from around here either. You have brown eyebrows and no one else from around here has brown hair. It’d be kind of cool if we came from the same place. I’m from Manhattan, Kansas. Dorothy hugged herself and giggled. “If you could talk, I bet you’d say, ‘Dorothy you’re not in Kansas anymore.’ But you know what’s really strange? Just like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, I live with my nana. Only we don’t live on a farm, just a regular old house and I don’t have a dog named Toto; I have a goldfish named Buttercup.”

Having a decent supply of water was just as important as having enough food—maybe more so. I pulled out Akil’s bladder and stomach from my backpack. I left about five inches of urethra and three inches of the ureters on the bladder, and the same amount of esophagus and small intestine on the stomach.

“I’d much rather have a dog but Nana said that we don’t have room in the house for one which is why I got Buttercup…”

Dorothy had said some interesting things initially but now she was just babbling. Jesus! The kid could talk. I tuned her out the best I could.

I laid the length of small intestine I’d cut off on top of a cool pottery griddle and worked on it with my scraping tool. The soft outer layer of the intestine came off pretty easily. I was bearing down on the intestine as I scraped, so the soft inner layer of the intestine squished out, leaving only tough fibrous tissue. I cut this tissue into long, thin strips.

I turned the stomach inside out, went down to the river’s edge and scraped off the inner lining of the stomach so it wouldn’t foul the water stored in the skin. It was tedious slimy work, and I was glad I didn’t have to do this with the bladder.

Once that was done, I turned the stomach right side out. I tied off the small intestine with a strip of the gut string, and rolled the neck of the esophagus down like a condom until it was a tight fit for the reed plug I’d made. I tied off both ureters on the bladder, did the condom-roll on the urethra, fit it with a reed plug too, and voila—two rustic water skins with pouring spouts.

In life, Akil’s stomach and bladder had been flexible and stretchy, and had held about five gallons each. They’d since shrunk and lost elasticity, but they’d still each hold about two gallons. I filled them both up with filtered water from the huts. The plugs were a good tight fit, and as long as I kept the water-skins upright, they shouldn’t leak.

“…Akhenaten and I’m Ankhesenpaaten. I know—those are really long names, huh.”

Akhenaten; I’ve heard that name before.

“Yeah, it took me forever to learn how to say those names. They sound so much alike, but I guess I should know how to say my own name. It’s kind of…”

“Who’s Akhenaten?”

For the first time since she got out of the pit, Dorothy’s mouth stopped moving. There was a long pause. “Wait, you can talk?”

I repeated, “Who’s Akhenaten?”

She’d been sitting next to me while I worked. She jumped to her feet and put her hands on her hips. “Geez! That’s just rude! You’ve been able to talk this entire time and you didn’t say anything?”

I closed my eyes and took a long deep breath. I tried to release the tension from the muscles around my eyes and mouth. I opened my eyes and looked directly at her. “Who. Is. Akhenaten?”

The tension that had left my face entered hers; she turned her back on me. “Nope, I’m not going to talk to you.”

I had to smile; if I’d known she was going to react this way, I would’ve started talking to her hours ago. Now maybe she’d go away.

I checked on the meat in my jury-rigged smoker. The strips of meat in the upper baskets still had a way to go but ones in the lower baskets had smoked into jerky. I took a bite. It wasn’t good but it was way better than raw meat. The manure smoke flavor wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d thought it’d be.

Instead of taking off, Dorothy turned back around so I could better watch her ignore me. She narrowed her eyes and crossed her arms, but her eyes kept coming back to the jerky basket. I held it out to her. For a second, I thought she was going to refuse, but then she darted in, snatched up the basket, took a few steps back, and dug in.

I checked the sun; it was probably an hour or two before noon. I’d smoke the meat for another two hours and then take off. I added more green reeds to the fire and swapped the baskets around so that everything would get more-or-less evenly smoked.

I had a couple of hours to kill, so I took what I had left of Akil’s mane and started braiding more twine. Dorothy set aside the basket after a few minutes and continued to aggressively ignore me. She actually quivered with disdain and indignation.

She kept this up for about a half-hour before she started taking surreptitious glances at me. After ten minutes of that, she stopped trying to hide the fact that she was studying my face. Finally she moved closer to me and started helping me make twine. “I still think you’re obnoxious.”

I grinned. “You’re not the only one, kid.”

She paused as she tried to figure out how to respond and then giggled. For almost a minute, we worked in a companionable silence. “You’re Akhenaten.”

That made no sense. It’d taken me a while to remember where I’d heard that name before. Akhenaten was the Egyptian pharaoh who’d tried to convert the ancient Egyptians to monotheism. He claimed that there was only one god named Aten, and that hadn’t gone over well; his proselytism had died with him. “I remember him being a pharaoh who lived thousands years ago.”

Dorothy shrugged. “Iset said Akhenaten means ‘Aten’s servant’ and my name Ankhesenpaaten means ‘lives through Aten’. There was another Dorothy in my class back home. Different people can have the same name.”

“Who’s Iset?”

“She’s…she’s been taking care of me since I got here.” Her eyes began to tear up. “She and the other villagers are guh-gone and are probably going to get kuh-kuh-killed because of me.”

Jesus, her crying was annoying, but she was my only source of local intel; I did my best to listen and look sympathetic.

She sniffled and wiped her eyes. “Four months ago, I was walking home from school and all of a sudden the sidewalk turned into dirt and then” she pointed at the river, “I saw the river. I was so scared and confused. Iset found me and brought me here. She said I was in danger and that the villagers would protect me for as long as they could but eventually the pharaoh would send men after me. I didn’t know until Iset told me to hide in the pit that she and everybody else would give themselves up for me.” She looked up. “Since the pharaoh only wants me, they’ll be okay…right?”

Shit! Then it hit me. Dorothy Wilson was a mythic hero.

In the Great Game, the gods of the multiverse compete for power and prestige; their playing pieces are the mythic heroes and mortal champions.

The Bible states that Jehovah is our shepherd, and that’s the literal truth. He grows and tends people for exactly the same reason a shepherd grows and tends sheep: His flock is His livelihood. As far as gods go, Jehovah’s one of the most powerful, but contrary to His press releases, He’s not omniscient or all-powerful. When bad shit happens to good people, it’s not because Jehovah has a mysterious ineffable plan—it’s because bad shit just happens.

Every year, one out of about every three thousand Americans vanishes without a trace, and the numbers are probably similar for other countries. Most of these missing people are mythic heroes.

Mythic heroes are randomly chosen, but the ones who succeed have similar traits. They’re almost always smart, quick, and lucky. Having angelic DNA also helps. Most of the successful heroes are juveniles because kids are generally more conceptually flexible about monsters and sudden unexplained inter-dimensional travel. Kids also have a slight tactical advantage because most intelligent beings are hesitant to kill children.

Every culture on Earth has myths, legends, and fairytales about heroes who go off to distant or magical lands, kill monsters, and come back with treasure. Snow White and Rose Red, Theseus, Beowulf and Jack the Giant Killer were all mythic heroes who succeeded in their quest.

The names of those who fail and never return are known only to God, their friends, and their loved ones.

I’m one of Jehovah’s champions, and almost all of the minions I’ve killed were some other god’s mythic heroes. I’ve been lucky so far; none of them were kids, but smart money says it’ll just be a matter of time before I’ll have to kill a kid Dorothy’s age or younger. Any of Jehovah’s heavenly host could effortlessly crush the minions who enter our dimension, but the rules of the Great Game don’t allow it; only His mortal champions can do so.

Tim and Aidan have both told me that Jehovah hates the Great Game and only participates because He has to, but they couldn’t tell me why. I’m not a big fan of Jehovah and the way He keeps his hand up my ass, but to give Him credit, I think He hates the Great Game because almost all of His heroes are children and non-warrior types.

It seemed pretty obvious that Dorothy’s monster was the pharaoh. The fact that she has magical ability is another point in her favor, but the chances of a kid like her successfully offing the pharaoh were still lower than Powerball lottery odds. I felt bad for her, but her predicament was most definitely Not My Problem. She had no choice; she’d have to defeat her monster to survive and get home. Me? I had a choice, and I wanted to stay in Kemet. Getting on the bad side of this dimension’s human overlord would be a really bad idea.

“You don’t think the pharaoh will hurt Iset and the villagers do you?”

Well, the least I could do was to let her know what she was up against. I shook my head. “I wish you’d told me about this right away, Dorothy. The guys that took your friends are pros. They’re probably questioning them right now. They’ll be heading back this way real soon if they aren’t already on their way.”

At that, Dorothy really turned on the waterworks.

I left her to it.

With a little searching of the huts, I found a covered rectangular wicker basket with shoulder straps that was the right size for a kid’s backpack. I filled the big water skin with filtered water, and put just a quart and a half into the smaller one. I brought the skins and the wicker backpack out to her, put the small water skin in the pack, and filled the rest of the pack with the best of the jerky. I handed her the backpack and one of my throwing knives. “Kid, you don’t have a lot of time to waste.” I indicated a nearby hut that still had filtered water left. “Go in there, drink all the water you can hold, and then take the food, water, knife and go. Get as far away from here as fast as you can.”

She rubbed her eyes. “Aren’t you going with me?”

I sighed. “I don’t think that’s a good idea. I’m going to try to make it look like you’ve never been here, and then I’m going to head in the opposite direction from whichever way you go. If you’re lucky, they’ll follow me and miss you completely. They’re going to look for you along the river. Head inland” I pointed to the west, “for at least three or four miles before you start going parallel to the river. When she just stood there, I shouted, “DOROTHY, GO NOW! The BAD GUYS will be here soon! You need to get going NOW!”

She slowly put on her backpack and just as slowly walked west. She glanced back at me every few feet.

I put the big water skin in my backpack, along with as much jerky as the pack would hold. There was still a lot of jerky left so I used the crocodile skin as a bag for the rest.

Sooner or later, one of the villagers was going to roll over on Dorothy and tell the pharaoh’s inquisitors that she’d been hiding in a spider hole. If I filled it in, the pharaoh’s troops might think that the villager had just told them what they’d wanted to hear. The more confusion I created for the people hunting Dorothy, the better for her.

I pushed all the dirt that I’d dug out for the dung-smoked jerky pit onto Akil’s hide, dragged it to the hut that the kid had been hiding in, and packed it into the hidey-hole. Of course there wasn’t enough to completely fill it in, so I had to go get more. I spent more time than I wanted to scraping a thin layer from the bare dirt paths in the village to get enough to completely fill it in.

I gathered thatch from the nearby huts, more wicker furniture, and the wicker table and baskets from my jerky-making session and piled it all on top of the filled-in hiding pit. I set it all alight to bake the fill dirt and make it look like the rest of the floor. A new layer of ash on top would also help.

I rolled up Akil’s hide, tied it to the backpack and slung it all on my back. It was heavy, at least a hundred and fifty pounds worth, but that wouldn’t last. The croc jerky would be eaten all too quickly.

I walked over Dorothy’s footprints, took off my sandals, walked over them again in bare feet, and then once more with my sandals back on. It wasn’t super great, but it’d have to do. While waiting for the fire to burn down, I’d made a broom out of roofing thatch tied onto a bundled reed handle. I walked backwards out of village, following Dorothy’s tracks west, and then used the broom to carefully erase her footprints and mine. It was slow going, walking backwards and brushing out all signs of our passage. After a few hours, I got to the point where she’d turned south. Interesting, that was the same direction the raiders had gone.

I waved toward the south. “Sayonara kid and good luck. I hope you get home.” I turned to the north. My feet wouldn’t move. Oh, No Fucking Way! This isn’t Earth; Jehovah has no dominion here.

“Sheeee-it, Bucko,” It was B’s voice, but no sign of B. “Did you think it’d be that easy?”

He sounded like he was just a couple of feet away and directly in front of me, but I didn’t see him anywhere.

“I’m down here.”

I looked down and saw a toad at my feet. It was beige, about the size of my palm, with grass green splotches. It licked its eyes with a long thick pink tongue. “Yeah, it’s me. Fucking bureaucrats, I finally get a chance to slip into an unneutered body and they pick a species without a dick. But enough about me—how you doing, Vic? Did you miss…”

He popped like a zit when I smashed my foot down on him. Toad juice squirted in all directions. There was dead silence.

I lifted my foot. The freshly flattened toad looked dead, but B claimed to be an archangel and an ex-prince of Hell. I’d for sure killed the toad, but I probably hadn’t actually killed him. Shit! What the hell had I been thinking? Like he’d said, it just couldn’t be that easy, could it? If I hadn’t really gotten him, he WOULD want payback, and knowing him, it’d be a bitch.

I readied my oosik. My heart raced as I waited for the other shoe to drop. A minute passed, then another. I waited for at least ten minutes. Nothing happened. I couldn’t believe it; maybe I’d get away with squishing my guardian angel after all.

If he was really dead, I should be able to head north. I tried to take a step in that direction. Shit! Shit! SHIT! Regardless of what I’d done to B, I was still Jehovah’s sock puppet.

Well there was no use fighting the inevitable. If Joey wanted me to help the kid, that’s what I had to do. I started running south after her.

Go to Chapter 8.