Friday, September 25, 2015

Flash Fiction #165 -- The Find

The walking was going to kill him.
Tamron hadn’t considered that possibility when he had left the crashed plane, somewhere four days behind him, lost in the desert.  He was not lost, though.  Not exactly.  He knew the Nile was still somewhere ahead of him in the east, but he couldn’t be certain of how far. 
He knew how to walk so that he didn’t end up going in circles.  He kept something in sight to aim for and then, when that was close at hand, he would focus on something beyond it.  In the monotonous world of the desert, he had to choose odd shaped rocks and sand dunes with noticeable curves.  Walking the desert wasn’t so bad, though this trip was overly long.
Tamron still wondered if the crash hadn’t been an act of sabotage. H e was certain he was close to finding the first true sign of a lost civilization in the western wastes of the Sahara, not far from the Nile.  He had found an ancient map half a year before and spent all that time researching any tidbit of information he  found in the few lines of demotic scribbled on the edges of the ancient map, the words crumbling away.
Tam had been careful about not saying anything, but an archaeologist as well known as he was couldn’t help but draw attention, especially when he took his battered bi-plane out several days in a row.  Tamron, barely in his thirties, had a few exceptional finds under his belt already.  He had the gift, as his late grandfather had told him.  Tam had grown up in Sir Clement O’Killam’s archeology work camp after his own father had gone back to England.  His Egyptian mother had died when he was young, and while some of grandfather’s people had treated him badly, Sir Clement had realized his grandson had the gift that his own son lacked.  They’d worked well together until grandfather disappeared in a massive sand storm five years ago.
He didn’t intend to disappear as well.
The crash hadn’t killed Tamron.  The walking though — yes, even someone used to the desert, someone who knew enough to have emergency supplies on the plane, still might succumb to the heat.  He rested during the worst of the hot day, walked mostly at dusk, dark and dawn.  He had to fend off some deathstalker scorpions and a couple snakes but he saw and heard no one.  Not impossible in a land like this, to go so many days alone, but he had still hoped. . . .
Tam rested through the fourth day, and prepared to walk on, fixing his eyes on a distant area that appeared to be another patch strewn with boulders —
Something moved there.
His heart thumped and he almost shouted, but wisdom from years of living in the desert stopped him. First, it was dusk, and he might simply have seen a shifting shadow.  Second, not everyone in the country loved foreign archaeologists. The sun was setting behind him so he had to wait or he would have cast a shadow as well. He saw movement again.  It might be a creature of some sort.  He didn’t see any sign of an oasis but there might be a shallow pan of water or even a well.  Some more water would be nice —
And then, in the last light of the sunset, Tamron saw something that made his heart stop.  A temple stood in the shadow of the dunes and this building was not in ruins.  Gold and jewels glittered in the fading sun. He stood and moved forward, unable to think of anything except that he must get there, must see and feel that it was real.
What had moved?  He didn’t care though a faint alarm rang at the sight of the blazing brazier’s on each side of the elegant and intact Horus symbol on the wall.  He had never seen anything so perfect.  He hardly paused until he came almost within reach of the walls.
Too perfect.
He reached out with a hand but dared not mar the beauty of this place with even a gentle touch.
And then a hand rested on his shoulder.
“Will you not even leave me this place?” a man asked. 
The words were not English, nor the current patois of an Egyptian fellah,but he understood.  He wanted to turn and find out who stood there.
What stood there.
He couldn’t move.
“It’s all gone, the glory.  You gather little pieces of my world and stare in wonder.  This, though . . . This is all I have left.”
“I —”  The word stuck in Tamron’s throat.  Whatever had touched him was not natural.  His eyes flickered to the right where the hand held to his shoulder.  The fingers were unnaturally long, and perhaps claw-like.
“How could you understand?”
For a moment, though, Tamron did understand.  He closed his eyes and saw the world of the Nile as it had once been, with the pageant and wonder of an age few now could imagine.  With that thought came a longing for things long past.
And yes, he did understand.
“There will be other finds,” Tamron said.  “I am honored simply to have stood here.”
“Then go in peace, friend.”
He didn’t like to think what would have happened if he hadn’t said — and believed — those words.  He walked on through the night and never looked back.  He might even have believed it was all a fever dream from the hot desert sun, except for one thing.  When he finally reached civilization a day later, he went straight to clean up, and looking in the mirror he saw the Wadjet symbol on his shoulder, where it had not been before.
The Wadjet was the sign of the Eye of Horus.
And yes, he did have remarkable luck with his excavations, though people often wondered why he stood and stared off into the Western Desert with such longing sometimes.
996 words

Friday, September 18, 2015

Flash Fiction # 164: Honor Among Thieves

It is not easy running a Thieves’ Guild.  I knew this long before Old Salem passed the job on to me.  Well, not exactly passed; he shouted my name right before they hanged him, and  I had to convince the others he wasn’t saying I had betrayed him, but rather that I was the one to take over. This required a lot of finesse, three assassinations and five knife fights.
After a few months everyone agreed that someone had to be in charge and it might as well be me, no matter how I got there.  A Guild needs a strong hand and a quick mind at the top and I’d proven myself quick enough to save my life when the others thought to kill me for betraying Old Salem.
So I’m now the head of this ragtag group.  I take my ten percent and I arrange for the big jobs.  I’ve even gone out on a couple with the boys.  I think that was Old Salem’s mistake, you see.  He set himself up as King and lost his touch for the work and lost touch with the others . . . except to take his share of their loot and met out punishment.  He was good at the punishment side, which he always said made a strong Guild.
I’m not so big on taking the whip to a boy who dropped a few coins as he ran from the town guard.  I remembered doing it myself the first couple times.  In fact, I had learned a little trick: Drop a couple coins and the guard is likely to stop and pick them up.  I passed this on to the others who stood in wide-eyed shock at the idea.
“But Old Salem, he say never give it back!” Arnis replied, shaking his head with denial.  “This ain’t right, see.  We steal from thems that got stuff.  We don’t give it back.”
“You aren’t giving it back to the owner.  You’re giving it as a tithe to the guard, and you know they make less in coin in a month than we steal in a ten-day.”
Arnis, who was never the brightest gem in the crown, kept shaking his head.  He was getting too big to be a street boy and a bit too fat to run far anyway.  He liked his food, our Arnis.  I was already thinking about transferring him over to the weekly food run.  After all, he couldn’t eat too much of the supplies before he got back to the mansion.  I knew he wasn’t going to argue about the change.
That was an easy fix.  There were others that weren’t so easy.  For instance, that nagging little worry about who had actually betrayed Old Salem.  It wasn’t me, but after I’d taken over the job, I began to see why he might have thought so.  There were notes, you see.  Someone had been feeding him information about my activities outside the guild.
Only I hadn’t done most of those things, at least not the way they read. Yeah, I’d visited the town guard.  Two of my best informants were there.  I wasn’t betraying anyone. My plans had been filed with Old Salem and it took me a while to find where he kept everyone’s plans hidden.  Then I burnt them all before someone could use the notes against me.
Paranoia sat in as the paper burned.  Who had been against me?  Oh, we had our squabbles, especially when someone got as high up the ranks as I did and still pulled off a spectacular job now and then.  I’d already been living in the Mansion with Old Salem and the other top five when he got pulled in and subsequently hanged.  I wasn’t even certain why he’d left the place; I’d been out on a job that week, a grab-and-replace of some lovely emeralds that Lady Barston still hadn’t realized were not real.
Of the other five who had lived here, two were already dead, having thought that killing me would give them the position.  I might have given it over — this was never the place I wanted to be — but they thought I had to die for the change of command to be effective.  That made me recalcitrant.  So two dead there, two others in a knife fight, and one so badly scared he’d simply left.
“Don’t scowl so much, my lad,” Darkin said as we stood by a window and stared out at the city.  He’d just brought back half his weight in gold coin and we were celebrating with some fine wine.  Darkin and I had come up together.  I trusted him like a brother.  The last person I did trust, in fact.  “Don’t scowl.  You’re starting to look like Old Salem and you’re too young to be that paranoid.  He trusted no one, you know.  Especially you and me when we started doing well.”
“That’s true enough.  And someone —”  I stopped.  I put down the wine.  “The stupid son-of-a-rat.”
“He was out when I was out.  Did he do that often?  Go out when I was on a job?”
Darkin thought.  “I noticed him gone couple times, but I can’t say more since I was out as often as you.  Besides, he was so paranoid I tried not to get close to him for fear it would wear off on me.  I swear sometimes he didn’t know the truth from what he imagined.”
I slapped Darkin on the shoulder.  “He was setting me up and he must have done something stupid and got himself caught.  That explains why there was never any other name on the papers. Well, that’s settled!”
“I burnt them for fear that someone else would read the lies.”
“Ah.  Well, don’t go all paranoid like he did, my lad.  If you do, how can we rule the world?”
Oh yes, I’d trade paranoia for ambition.  We sat down to make plans.

999 Words