Becoming Aheru's - James' Story
“You shouldn’t be here, kine…”
Of course, he’d known that. But the so-called gentleman presiding over the private collection had been rather brutish, and James just couldn’t seem to get the relic out of this thoughts, even his dreams. So he’d broken into the place. He just needed…one look.
But he hadn’t dreamed this…this man who looked like an Egyptian relic himself. Dark-skinned and stone-faced, and wielding a wicked-looking scimitar in one hand, with another settled on his shoulder. He’d seemed to appear out of nowhere, but that didn’t make any sense.
“But your presence has been a boon to me.”
In the right circles, rumors about the amulet had been flying – in the slow and dusty way of academia – for years now: a simple stone frog amulet, plated in gold, with an inscription in hieroglyphs on its belly. Such delicate work; Egyptian style with a Greek influence – one of the remains of Alexandria. As was the case with many relics, there were silly stories about it having some sort of mystical power – the essence of the frog – so many people overlooking the real, historical wonder of the thing itself for a magical fantasy.
James had seen black and white pictures of the amulet, and something about its imbalanced facial expression (the amulet long since having lost one of its black pearl eyes), sparked his imagination. He knew the pictures couldn’t possibly do it justice. If only he could see it in person, just once. Read the hieroglyphics for himself.
“A boon?” James whispered.
“Yes. I wasn’t sure how I was going to get in here. But you’re helping me steal it.” The stone-faced man’s voice had a strange, resonant quality, and it was difficult to tell where it came from, even though the man stood right in front of him.
James’ forehead creased in irritation at the idea that he’d helped this thief inside.
“Now you wait just a damned minute!” He took a step forward, but before he could go any further, the entire room fell under a pitch black curtain. For a moment, James wasn’t sure if all the light was gone, or if his eyes were.
“Get down.” A harsh, barked command from the stone-faced man, that, in the darkness, James didn’t dare disobey. Even so, he wasn’t fast enough.
A sharp crack, and a burning in his side that lit the blackness, for a moment, into a searing bolt of white hot pain.
It had taken him a couple of years to track the amulet. Details about the dig in Pakistan where it was uncovered were slight, at best, and it seemed a number of people had died to bring it out of a tomb there. But the time seemed only to increase his obsession, instead of derailing his interest. The more difficult the information was to find, the more it seemed that he was truly on the trail of something special.
“How did you get from Alexandria to Pakistan, little frog? How did you survive?” James wondered.
The frog even appeared in his dreams. In some he was wearing it, in others it seemed he was transporting it in a box. It was only natural, of course, that his dreams would echo what he spent so many of his waking moments searching for.
Records were poorly kept, lost, or non-existent, but eventually the frog showed up in a private collection. Then went up for sale. And was purchased by another private collector in Toronto.
He could hear his own surprised grunt as a bullet whizzed by (through?!) him, and he staggered to one knee. He still couldn’t see, but some sixth sense alerted him that his scimitar-carrying acquaintance had sped past.
“Didn’t think I’d need my sword for this.” James mumbled, not bothering to try to get up yet, in case more bullets were headed his way.
A metallic clang, a gasp, and a thud. James strained his ears, was there another scrape of footsteps? Yet another person with them?
Then a strong, strangely stiff, cold arm was around him, hauling him up.
“It seems I missed one. Let’s go.” The stone-faced man. And just like that, James could see again – even though the light in this storage room was dim, it seemed like daylight comparatively.
James looked down and saw the glut of blood that had already poured down his side. He tried to put pressure on the wound, but knew if it kept up like this for long, this night would be his last.
“Thank you. I’ve got to get to the hospital.”
The thief pulled him forward. “We’re not going to the hospital.”
James tried to struggle away, but the man merely tightened his arm, and James knew this man could crush him if he wanted.
“Be still, kine. We’re going to get what we both came for.”
James had sent the owner of the frog a telegraph:
I AM JAMES M. CLARKE OF CAMBRIDGE UNI. EGYPTOLOGIST STUDYING ALEXANDRIAN RELICS. IS IT POSSIBLE TO EXAMINE YOUR FROG AMULET FOR RESEARCH TO BE PUBLISHED NEXT YEAR? HAPPY TO PAY FOR THE PRIVILEGE, AND WILL CERTAINLY CREDIT YOU IN THE WORK.
James was thrilled when a response came back almost immediately. Less so when he read its contents.
NO. FORGET THE FROG. DO NOT CONTACT ME AGAIN.
“How rude.” He thought to himself, and booked passage on the next boat to North America.
Now, this cold madman was dragging him, bleeding, to the collection’s center.
Blink – through the shadowy aisles – and he was drifting in and out of consciousness.
Blink – the stone-faced man bending over a door, then another blackout.
Blink – they are standing over a case, the thief shaking James.
“Wake up, kine. This is what you wanted isn’t it?”
“Why do you keep calling me that?”
“It is what you are. For now.”
James realized what was beneath the glass. The Frog! The pictures really couldn’t do it justice, and for a moment the burning pain in his side was eclipsed by a feeling of triumph. Exquisite craftsmanship, and that endearing witchy look to the face. So few human eyes had ever even seen it. The blood loss catching up to him, he sank to his knees before the display case.
“I won’t get to read its belly.” He said off-handedly, as he passed out one last time.
From far away, he heard, “Yes you will.”
James was sick. Burning with fever, and his side ached and hurt. Appendicitis – had to be, his father said. The doctor was on his way. James wanted to toss and turn in his bed, but moving hurt, and Daddy’d said his side could explode.
Soon Daddy came in with a hot drink for him. But what was wrong with him? He didn’t look right, dark skinned and serious.
The man who wasn’t Daddy, but who was, held out a mug.
“Drink this. You’ll feel better.”
James reached out. The fever made everything feel so far away and heavy. He brought the mug to his lips. What is this, this isn’t Daddy’s toddy? Thick and almost black it was…but before he could suss it out, Daddy was tipping the cup so the liquid burned down his throat.
It sure kicked liked Daddy’s toddy though, only it seemed spiced with something exotic, earthy. He moaned as the viscous drink wound its way through him, not in pain this time. The sweet drink pushed the pain away – not just in a wave of relief, but in a tsunami of ecstasy, and plunged him into restful sleep.
When James woke, he was underground, the thief looking down at him.
“You’ll live longer now. And you’ll find more relics with me.”