Methane seeped through the tunnels of abandoned mines. That there were no humans to detect it was testimony to the vicious war between the Angels of Hell and the Spartan dog God, Anubis IV. Mankind was caught in the crossfire, unprepared for fire, brimstone, natron and bitumen. The incendiary apocalypse destroyed every homo sapiens on Earth.
Except Artemis Fletcher. She had always wanted to be a deity. If she could transform into a physically superior, mentally sharper and more spiritually attuned being, she believed she could become immortal.
To achieve these lofty goals, her daily regimen consisted of a triathlon, seven cryptic crossword puzzles and meditation in the Vedic tradition. Each day that she failed to complete her quota, she punished herself by walking across a bed of hot coals. Within ten years, she pronounced herself ready for transcendence. Her final task was to build her temple in the godforsaken country of America.
The war began the day she set out from Oxford. Thankful for her training, Artemis took her time swimming across the Atlantic Ocean, which was the safest place to be for the next six days. She came ashore at Plymouth Rock and ran across America. Upon arriving in Mystic, Iowa, Artemis contemplated the majesty of an unmolested landscape. This was a great location for her temple. She went to work.
Her body glistened with sweat as she hacked down trees, braided hemp and molded stuffing out of leaves and mud. She dug out the foundation, built an altar and–being modern and practical–a living area. The temple was finished in the time it took the sun to travel thrice across the sky. The gas, which had been increasing in concentration, crept just beneath the surface and waited.
On the evening of the fourth day, Artemis built a cooking pit in the living area. She swam out to the middle of the nearby river, dove 30 feet to the silt and dragged up great handfuls of clay. After a dozen trips, the floor was completed. Before it had hardened completely, she molded a depression in the center of the living area and lined it with giant stones that abundantly littered the plain. While the floor cured, she hunted.
On the evening of the sixth day, Artemis returned to her temple, laden with rabbits, possum and a pelican. She dressed the kill, seasoned and wrapped each in edible leaves. After placing the food in the cooking pit, she reached for her tinder and flint. The first spark caused a peach-colored plume of fire to snake out from the depression. Artemis clenched her jaw in concentration and struck the flint again. The methane gas beneath the temple escaped, a villain in orange overalls that seared her flesh before her senses mercifully boiled away.
Anubis IV cackled. He loved strong humans. He had just finished ravaging the self-proclaimed Queen of Ipil, when he picked up the scent of the cataclysmic explosion in Mystic, Iowa. He casually glanced back over his shoulder as he pulled up his trousers and announced, “The Briton will be arriving on the trade winds today. Tend to her.”
“A Briton? I thought there was no one left!”
“And yet,” Anubis IV observed dryly, “you call yourself ‘Queen'.”
Chastened, the self-proclaimed Queen of Ipil prepared her chamber for the Briton. She laid out strips of cloth, balm and a bucket of cool water. She carefully oiled a wheelbarrow and rolled it outside, ready to hike toward the Pan-Philippine Highway. She would not be embarrassed again.
The sun was descending into the Pacific Ocean when the Queen of Ipil saw a speck in the darkening eastern sky. Thick black smoke traced the growing speck's path into the roof of a Burger King. The thing did not move, and the Queen of Ipil feared the Briton was no longer among the living. Such a thought! To die so soon after discovery! Were there more? The Queen of Ipil hustled off toward the flattened restaurant with her wheelbarrow.
As she approached the rubble, the Queen of Ipil noticed a not unpleasant odor of caramel wafting in the twilight’s soporific breeze. The smell guided her directly to a quivering mass of smoking flesh.
“Are you the Briton?” The Queen of Ipil crooned in her best motherly voice. “How do you feel?”
Having just been blown across the Pacific Ocean by explosive mine gases, Artemis was in no shape to answer, even if she could have heard the moronic questions.
The Queen of Ipil rolled the wheelbarrow into the body’s leg. Nothing happened. She set the wheelbarrow down, then lifted the smoldering woman into her arms. Gently at first, she began cramming rubberized limbs into the wheelbarrow. She lifted the wheelbarrow handles, tested the balance and, satisfied that she could haul the added weight, she muttered, “Let’s go.”
In the moonless night, the Queen of Ipil struggled to navigate the wheelbarrow along the highway. Twice, she dumped her cargo onto the road. The Queen of Ipil cursed the name of Anubis IV, cursed herself for failing to resist being treated like a common servant. She even swore to leave the Briton in the road if the comatose mass dared eject from the wheelbarrow one more time.
Anubis IV was waiting inside the chamber when the exhausted Queen of Ipil stumbled in with Artemis in her arms. She was too focused on getting the Briton onto the bed to notice him. Another soft curse issued from her lips, causing him to cackle. Startled, she dropped the Briton, inches from the bed, onto the floor. Artemis bounced once and was still.
“Well, my Queen. You took long enough. I have heated the water and added my balm to the cloth strips you so thoughtfully laid out for our guest. You may leave.”
“Damn you, Anubis! This is my home! You can’t make me leave.” The Queen of Ipil punctuated her declaration by removing her sweat-soaked blouse and hanging it on a tack.
“I did not say you must leave. Had I done so, you would already be gone, you frightful hag. Don’t test my patience. Place the Briton in the bed and sponge her down.”
The Queen of Ipil glared, but knew better than to provoke the insane Spartan dog God. She swallowed the angry acid that rose from her belly and grabbed a sponge.
To distance himself from his necrophiliac forebears, Anubis IV rarely copulated with corpses. He also shunned funerary practices, preferring to study the art of restoratives. He was an expert pharmacist of poultices, elixirs and balms. He had applied his most recent concoction to the strips of cloth that would soon revive the Briton.
Anubis IV was very proud of this balm. Two kites of finely crushed coral, folded into the soul of one ostrich hatchling and mixed into a hekat of boiling absinthe had enough power to knit bones, remove spiritual impurities and galvanize palsied muscles. Luckily, for extreme cases–like being blown across the Pacific Ocean from Iowa to the Philippines–the formula worked with a double measure of crushed coral. Anubis IV waited impatiently for the intractable Queen of Ipil to finish sponging the grit, blood and caramel topping from the mangled body of the Briton.
The Queen of Ipil sloppily tended to her charge. She wielded the sponge like a whip to swipe at the burnt skin with enough force to remove the embedded detritus. Great chunks of charred flesh soon littered the bed sheets. This fresh filth intermingled with the glitter of spent passion. The Queen of Ipil fought back tears of shame, anger and jealousy. Her sponging became more vigorous.
“Enough!” Anubis IV snarled dangerously. He marveled at the vile reek of his supplicant's tortured thoughts, then Discarded her mental mewling as so much rotting garbage. “She has been sponged sufficiently. Apply the dressings as I have instructed you. Take care to shield her eyes with the jelly of petrolatum before you wrap her face.”
“I know how to handle burn victims, you cur.” The Queen of Ipil had a sense of foreboding that enabled her fatalistically callous attitude. It was obvious that the Briton was a superior physical specimen. Just the type for a horny dog, she thought sourly. A sudden wave of despair overcame her. With the resignation of a cast-off lover, she carefully dressed the Briton, completely binding her from head to toe.
Anubis IV was pleased. This little Queen might yet be useful. So long as the odoriferous report from her ruminations retained a modicum of respect and fear, he could control her. He did agree with her on one thing: she would be replaced. The Briton would make a fine consort.
Wrapped more tightly than a vacuum-sealed brisket, Artemis rose through the healing balm of mummification to a semi-conscious awareness. She had no sensation in her extremities–a gift from her cosmic voyage as a human meteor. A milky corona gleamed just above her inner vision. Slowly, she became aware of an even brighter, pulsating light. It was an impossibly sharp electric blue flash, stellar fireworks alternating between hues of cobalt and lapis lazuli. She rotated her eyeballs within her tightly closed eyelids. The action did nothing to diminish the increasing intensity of bright blue blindness.
Tingling. That was not imagined. A faint, crawling dance around her fingers and toes kept staccato time with the blue beat bashing her inner eye. Vainly, she tried to focus on the end points of her body but she had no control. Helplessly, she watched and felt. Watched and felt. No blinking respite, no soothing scratch and–what, now? A smell, too?
Artemis was experiencing the flooding rush that signaled accelerated healing, Egyptian style. Her bones were healing at hyper-speed, infused with coral. The absinthe-soaked wrappings had awakened spasmodic hypertonia in every muscle, exactly counteracting the calcification of the coral knitting needles. Rejuvenated nerve-endings chattered excitably amongst themselves, wondering why their messages were being ignored. Her blood, boiled away in the blast, reconstituted in her chambers and vessels, contributing to the cacophony with the roaring splashes that she mistook for skittering ants. Wondrous rebirth drew nigh.
“Open your eyes, Briton.” Anubis IV whispered into the mummy’s ear. He inhaled deeply and savored the fresh, psychic scent of pure confidence. He watched intently as this woman, who could not move a muscle ten days ago, broke the rigor mortis of her bindings in one smooth motion. She swung her powerful arms together, tore the outer wrapping from each hand, freeing her fingers. Then she dug into the underlying strips of medicated cloth and began to pull the odoriferous dressing from still-red flesh. She ripped more cloth from her mouth and nose and, with a mumble of determination, peeled the coverings from her eyes. They were glued shut, so she pried each eyelid apart gingerly.
The first thing she saw was a snout. As she refocused, the snout resolved into the feral face of a very ugly person. It laughed in agreement. She smiled in response. The effort to move all those facial muscles brought a flush to her cheeks and a twinkle to the ugly man’s eyes. She opened her mouth to speak but, before any words escaped, the ugly man silenced her with a hairy finger to her lips. A thought passed between them and suddenly, the woman became aware of another presence in the room. As if on cue, a truculent voice sank its poison into her conscious:
“Well, well. Look who’s all better.” The Queen of Ipil stepped completely into the chamber. “My god! You’re built like a common laborer! Anubis, you old dog, you’ve outdone yourself. She’s been rejuvenated like a market-bought pig ready for the spit. She’s twice the size of the lumpy mass I wheeled in here.”
“Indeed, she is,” cooed Anubis IV. “Perhaps you should apologize for your unnecessary insults.”
The Queen of Ipil glared malevolently at Anubis IV before turning back to the bed. With a fake smile revealing thoroughly rotten teeth, she sputtered, “I meant no offense, Briton.”
Anubis IV sniffed in the swirling scents of emotions as old as time. He stood up and stretched luxuriously. “Briton, I know you wish to snatch the tongue right out of her little hideous head. Do not bother. She will be needed later. In fact, you should thank her for bandaging you up so well. And me. For, it was I who applied the poultice.”
The former mummy sat up, stripped off the wrappings and leapt from the bed. “Thank you both. Now, I must leave.”
With that, she shoved aside the Queen of Ipil, brushed past Anubis IV and strode through the chamber door into the harsh light of a sunny Philippine afternoon. Artemis was hungry. It was time to hunt.
Copyright © 2020 by Mitchell Allen
Inspired by a series I wrote on CreativeCopyChallenge.