Weird Tales and Twisted Tales winner. A boy and girl overthrow a tyrant.
The atmosphere amplified the rays of the African sun. The air shimmered and the land and grass baked to a dusty beige. Here and there, trees spread their branches in supplication and were rewarded with green grass. Termite homes dotted the land like giant blades stabbing the blazing heat.
Ten year old Abdul was bringing the goats home. He paused at each tree for them to eat. He saw the hazy form of his seven year old sister, Jamila, bringing home the water jar on her head. She was the only sibling he had left from three. He waved his spear above his head.
The village homes of wood, straw, and baked clay had little ornamentation save for a photo of their supreme leader given to every family. In their home it was on the wall opposite the entrance.
Their mother, Asha, tended a pot. On the dirt floor three wooden bowls each with a small loaf of bread lay waiting for the soup of beans, termites, and herbs. She smiled as her son and daughter entered. “Jamila, Abdul, thank you for doing your chores. Wash your face and hands and eat. I must take some food and visit your sick aunt, Imani. I have a favor to ask you. Take this offering to our seer to pray for her recovery.”
Abdul answered, “Yes, mother. Tell Aunt Imani we pray for her.”
Asha wrapped the food for her sister then paused at the door. “Careful you don’t offend the seer. Show respect.”
Abdul nodded. “Yes, for she has great powers.”
Abdul and Jamila finished their chores. They were eager to see the interior of the seer’s home. Abdul picked up his spear. “Jamila, let’s go. Carry the offering.”
Jamila patted the dust off her skirt. “What will we see?”
Abdul stepped outside as Jamila hurried to join him. “Magical things, things full of mystery, charms for good and bad, things of beauty and things ugly.”
Jamila looked up wide eyed. “Is she scary or nice?”
Abdul took his sister’s hand. “She can be either. Or, both at the same time.”
An hour later they saw the large tree that sheltered the seer’s home. Stopping in front of the entrance, Abdul spoke, “Honorable Seer, I, Abdul, and my sister, Jamila, have come to ask for your help.”
Abdul stepped forward. Spoke again.
Jamila spoke, “I don’t think she’s home.”
Abdul walked to the door and pushed it open. He looked into the gloom. “You’re right, she’s not here.”
“What are we going to do?”
Abdul was curious of everything he had glimpsed, yet feared waiting inside would offend. Curiosity won. “Yes, but don’t touch anything.”
They noticed the smell: nectar from the dried plants and flowers, dried blood and skin from the dead creatures, and funk from mushrooms.
They crept pass the entrance in a slight crouch, craning their necks at all the sinister things. They jumped and screeched as a gust blew past and stirred the chimes unnoticed above them. Abdul laughed as Jamila pressed herself against him. “It’s only the wind.”
Despite his warning not to touch anything, he grabbed a dead lizard and waved it in front of her. “See, there’s nothing to be afraid of.”
Jamila giggled as her brother pretended to munch on it. As Abdul replaced the lizard and resumed exploring, Jamila saw a wooden doll. It seemed sad. She had one at home, a worn out one with button eyes her father had made. Perhaps, they could be friends. The doll was cold in her hand. Putting her back to her brother she put it under her blouse to warm it.
Abdul spied a large wicker basket. Opening the lid, he was shocked to see a python. Quickly, he replaced the lid and backed into a tied cluster of live scorpions hanging from a rafter. Their claws pinched at his tight curly hair.
Abdul screamed, “The Devil wants my hair.” He grabbed Jamila’s hand, and they rushed outside.
Jamila pleaded, “Can we go home?” Abdul ran his hand through his hair and nodded.
Next day their mother asked them to try again. She noticed they were far less eager.
On the way, Jamila confessed to her brother. “I borrowed something from the seer.”
Abdul’s eyes widened. “What! What did you steal?”
“I didn’t steal. Just borrowed it for one day and I made clothes for it just like that man in the picture. See!”
Abdul saw wisps of smoke from the seer’s home. “Can’t take it back. Have to hide it.”
He saw a solution.
In the palace the Supreme Leader was meeting with the Minister of Interior Peace. Behind his massive desk, he spoke, “Our enemies must be crushed.”
The Minister nodded. “Leave it to me.”
The Leader rose, ripped his shirt open, and screamed, “They’re all over me! Get them off!”
The Minister leapt to his feet. His eyes saw, yet his mind refused to believe, blood spurting from the Leader’s mouth and spattering on the desk and floor.
Screaming, the Leader reeled away from his desk.
The Minister rushed to his aid and held him up just as the guards crashed the doors open. Guns were drawn and pointed. He held up his hands. The Leader crumpled to the floor. “No, don’t shoot!
The last thing he heard was the roar of bullets.
The Captain of the Guards rushed in. WIthout a word, he strode to the secure phone on the desk and called the Colonel. “The Leader has been assassinated by the Minister!”
“Is the Minister in custody?”
“No, sir. He was killed by the guards.”
“Secure the palace and grounds. Don’t let anyone in or out. Troops will arrive within the hour.” He hung up and prayed...Let this be the end to tyranny. He picked up the phone. A great opportunity lay open.
Abdul let out a deep breath as he left the seer’s home. She hadn’t said anything about the doll. Smiling, he thought, no one will find it in the termite nest.