by Graham B.
Three girls exploring an old warehouse find an ancient terror.
|Dominique glanced anxiously at the failing light, even now pummeled by fast approaching clouds. She put a hand on April's shoulder. April was staring into the dusty gloom of the warehouse, completely entranced.
"It's getting dark," Dominique said. "We should go home."
"Scared?" April said to her older sister. "You can go home. I came here to explore."
"This place is falling apart! Look at those skylights!"
April looked up at the empty square holes that framed the reddish glow of sunset.
"I'll be careful," she said, and crossed the threshold of the long-extinct door.
"What can I say?" Malika said as she followed April inside. "She loves warehouses. Probably has a doll-warehouse in her bedroom."
Dominique shook her head and followed the two inside. The faint light still managed to caress the print of a cat's face on her shirt, making the blue eyes just shine.
"You think I still play with dolls?" April said.
"Why not?" Malika said, laughing. "You play your sister like a doll all the time."
"She does not!" Dominique said. "Somebody has to be responsible. You'd be dead if I wasn't around, April."
"I'm almost fourteen," April grumbled. "You don't need to be my shadow."
The gloom deepened, and a thick layer of dust muffled the girls' footsteps. It was almost as is the air itself was sucking the sound away. There was debris strewn about the cracked concrete floor, with weeds sprouting from year's accumulation of dirt that had blown inside. Smashed crates with nails sticking up combined with broken glass to worry Dominique.
April squinted in the dim light until she saw a row of doors in the far wall - a set of offices built out into the warehouse. She made straight for them, dust trailing in her wake. Dominique and Malika hurried after. Dominique noticed that April had already managed to get dirt on her teal shirt. Mom's gonna kill us, Dominique thought. And by us, I mean me. I'm supposed to be watching her.
"What are you looking for?" Dominique said. "You know there isn't much here."
"Yeah, the hobos probably picked it clean years ago," Malika said. "You might find their trash and stuff."
"Your dad knows how important trash is, doesn't he?" April said. "An archeologist and all."
"Professor of archeology, and he doesn't dig through trash. Besides, this isn't a dig site."
April reached the first door and tugged on it.
"It doesn't have to be," she said. "I think we'll find something neat."
She put more muscle into it and the hinges squealed as the door relented.
Silence brooded in the smallish room. To Dominique it was a stuffy, oppressive silence, bursting with tension. An empty light fixture gaped in the ceiling and forlorn shelves leaned against the corroded steel wall, empty.
"Not even trash," Malika said. "This one is a bust."
"Let's go," Dominique said. "There's nothing to find."
April turned from the room and eyed the next door.
"Not 'til I've searched them all. I think there's treasure here."
"If you think empty bottles and used syringes are treasure, I guess," Malika said. "Domi, has your sister always been so interested in trash?"
"And speaking of trash," April said as she strode to the next door, "didn't you steal Domi's boyfriend?"
Malika's mouth dropped open and Dominique groaned.
"He wasn't my boyfriend, April."
"But you liked him, didn't you? And then Jayden went to the Winter Solstice Dance with Malika. I remember you sat in the corner drinking punch and sulking."
Dominique and Malika looked at each other.
"That was a long time ago!" Dominique said. "And besides, Jayden is with Lachelle now."
"Your li'l sis is trying to start shit," Malika said.
"Sorry, I know that's your job," April said over her shoulder as she went to the next door and hauled it open. It relented even more reluctantly than the first one.
"I think I'm rubbing off on her, Domi," she said. "I might be a bad influence."
"Trust me, it's all her. Ever since Poppa left us, she's been mouthing off."
The next door rattled the walls as April wrenched it open, startling Dominique. A pair of ratty sleeping bags greeted the girls' eyes. Between them sat a gas lantern.
"Trash," Malika confirmed. "Somebody hit it in here."
"Ugh, is that a used condom?" Dominique said.
April whirled and pushed past them, heading toward the next door and moving with purpose.
"We never did talk about it," Malika said.
"What?" Dominique said, straining to keep the teal shirt in sight in the dimness.
"Jayden. I know you liked him, but you never brought it up."
"It's over, okay? I'm not mad."
Malika was silent for a moment as they walked.
"So, you didn't screw up my answers on purpose for the algebra test when I cheated off you?"
"What are you talking about? You cheated off my test?"
"You used to let me. I mean, you were always smarter than me in math. I thought..."
Malika trailed off.
"That I fed you bad answers to make you fail?" Dominique said, trying to read Malika's eyes. "Is that why you didn't talk to me for a week after you failed the test?"
Malika rubbed her arms, as if a chill had come over her.
"Malika, I almost failed that test, too! I studied the wrong chapter, and I wasn't ready!"
"Hey, I got something!" April called back.
Dominique and Malika looked ahead just in time to see the teal top swallowed by the black rectangle of a doorway. They hurried forward.
April was inside, kneeling in front of what looked like the rotted remains of an old shipping crate. There was matted material that might once have been straw for packing. Sitting in the center of the mess taking up all of April's attention was a small wooden box, about eight inches wide and deep, and six inches high. The wood it was made of was almost black, like ebony. It had carvings of stylized animals on it, along with strange squiggles. On the lid was a carving of what looked like a woman's body with a lion's head.
"This is straight-up dope!" April said, her voice almost catching with excitement.
"It looks like it's been sitting here for years," Dominique said. "Decades. How did no one find this before?"
"I don't know," April said. "Maybe it was waiting for the right person to find it."
"What are you talking about? And what are those carvings?"
"Egyptian," Malika said. "My dad showed me pictures of Egyptian artifacts. He says white archeologists stole treasures from Africa for centuries. I bet this was one of them."
April took a deep breath and reached out.
Malika rushed forward, her eyes on the box. In the dim light the dark, ruddy wood almost seemed to glow.
"It looks like Sekhmet," she said.
"My dad talked about these Egyptian gods and goddesses," said Malika. "Sekhmet was the goddess of war and destruction. She nearly destroyed the world before Ra stopped her and imprisoned her."
Dominique looked around and shivered. The room was nearly pitch black and only the box and the teal top stood out.
"We need to get home," she said. "Leave it and let's go."
"And leave it here for someone else to steal?" April said. "No way! It's probably worth millions!"
"Just leave it!" said Dominique.
"What are you scared of, Domi?"
"I think we should go, April," Malika said. "We shouldn't mess with ancient stuff. My dad said so."
"Your pop's not here."
She picked up the box and opened the lid. The wind hurried past the warehouse, moaning through the broken windows, as if the Earth had taken a deep breath and let it out in a rush. Debris rattled throughout the building.
Despite her shivering, Dominique peered into the box, now tightly grasped in April's hands. There was something inside, something small and bone-white. It looked like a jar. The lid, sealed on with wax so old it had nearly turned to cement, was carved in the shape of a lion's head.
"That's an embalming jar!" said Malika. "Like they use for mummification! April, I don't think-"
April lifted the jar out and stared at it. The white stone of the jar stood out in the darkness, a pale oval that seemed to suck what little light there was from the room. Still holding the jar, April rose to her feet and turned toward Dominique and Malika, revealing eyes that were wells falling into infinite darkness.
The wells turned toward Dominique.
"Bast," April said with a voice not her own. It was a dry, dusty voice spoken through ancient, stagnant air. It was a voice that echoed from beneath shifting sand dunes as the Earth breathed again.
"Huh?" was all Dominique could manage.
"Sekhmet's sister," Malika whispered to her. "Goddess of the East. Domi, let's go!"
A torrent of incomprehensible words tore from April's mouth, and once again, the Earth breathed.
"April?" Dominique said.
Tears streamed down April's face, but the black pits still held Dominique in their terrible grip. Helpless, Dominique watched as April grasped the lion's head and twisted the lid off. The Earth breathed for a third time, and liquid shadow poured from the now-open top of the jar and filled the room.
Dominique gasped as the room vanished, replaced by a plain that stretched away as far as the eye could see. Something crunched underfoot, and she looked down to see skulls and bones beneath her feet. Mixed among them were swords, spears, shields and other implements of war, all encrusted with blood dried to nearly black, all stretching away to the horizon.
April had become a shifting shadow, a flickering reverse flame. In her hands, the embalming jar glowed with impossibly cold, pale light. Dominique strained to see her sister's face through the shadow, then it parted. The face was not April's but something ancient, something older than humanity. The empty eyes gaped at Dominique, then turned to Malika and vomited more shadow that fluttered, flapped and bristled with pale bony eye sockets and gnashing yellow teeth. Malika screamed, then stopped. The shadow rose and engulfed them all.
Dominique was back in the warehouse storage room.
Her legs, shaking like reeds, gave out and she slumped to the floor. She looked up and saw April standing in front of her. The jar was gone. April knelt and caressed Dominique's forehead.
"Are you well, Bast?"
It was April's voice, yet not April's voice.
"It has been so long," April said. "Come with me, sister."
April grasped Dominique's hand in an iron-like grip and pulled her to her feet. April's eyes looked normal - no more terrible wells of darkness. But her face was like a mask on someone else. Something else. There was a haughtiness, a contempt that had never been there before. The eyes seemed to stare across ages, both wise and terrible.
Dominique looked around, but Malika was gone.
"April, where is Malika?"
The face grinned.
"I have punished her, Bast," she said.
"For her sin against you. She will have plenty of time to think on her sins in the land of the dead. Don't be upset that I have taken your justice for myself. There will be plenty of other opportunities."
Dominique's legs felt like they wanted to give out again, but she leaned against the wall and held on.
"April, what are you talking about?"
April turned toward the door.
"Let us go see what men have been up to all the years I was gone, shall we?"
Word count: 1947