2013 Iron Writer Summer Solstice Challenge #11
500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements
Curtis Lee Cancino, Dani J Caile, Eric Dontigney, Karen Vaughn
A manhole cover
A water buffalo
Curtis Lee Cancino
I was in the middle of the street as usual, playing Frisbee with a manhole cover. Closing my eyes, I spun around and tossed the metal discus in a random direction. They opened to the sound of a window shattering.
Damned it, not again! Hopefully nobody saw….
Looking around for accusers, all was calm and quite. It was mid-day. All the kids were in school, their parents hard at work.
Good. Nobody will see me sneak into the Saggy House either. I’d hate for somebody to drive into that manhole again.
The manhole cover flew, true as a sparrow, straight through the picture window of the Sagacious House. Dilapidated from disuse, it sat catty-corner from my own prim home.
Even though nobody was outside, I crept over to the Sagacious House, and peered in through its broken picture window. Its empty front room was a familiar sight, yet, it looked different.
Breaking out the leftover shards of windowpane, I looked over the block again. It was as lonely as a cemetery night. I dove through the broken picture window, landing in the spacious front room.
Standing up and dusting myself off, I spotted the manhole cover lodged firmly in the wooden flooring. Humph! It figures. Between its splintered beams, and the manhole cover’s smooth edges, I saw a wavering glow in the basement.
The subtle movement drew me away from the manhole cover, out of the empty front room, through a hallway of faded peeling paint, past an abandoned kitchen, and down a set of squeaky stairs. From the far wall of the basement, the efflorescent glow was emanating. It drowned out any light trying to stream in through the dirty windows.
I feared what might happen next since I wasn’t wearing a pair of clogging shoes. In a dream I had this morning, a great white water buffalo led me into a glowing basement that started flooding! The clogging shoes helped me to walk on water to escape the flood.
At the start of my dream, I was standing in the untamed wilderness that was the middle of my street; in front of my house. As I stood there in my clogging shoes, staring at the great white water buffalo who materialized before me, it placidly stared back. Its big black watery eyes implored me to follow it. When I agreed, it turned around and shambled off, the street parting like the Red Sea before it.
The great albino beast led me between earthen walls into a glowing basement. This glowing basement, I presume.
When I escaped the flood, I awoke. Then I came outside to play manhole Frisbee.
But what should it matter now, if I’m wearing any clogging shoes or not, as this basement isn’t flooding! If anything, I found the Edward Smith Papyrus that had vanished last millennium! It was hidden here all along; in the basement of the Sagacious House, behind the glowing wall I smashed down with the non-glowing sledge hammer I tripped over. But, that’s all good, since the Papyrus’s medicinal knowledge will come in handy to help whoever just crashed into the manhole outside.
Dani J Caile
Flinging his wife’s gift on the desk, Detective Brad Shaw noticed the same old folder back on the top of his mountain of paperwork.
“What’s this?” Brad caught his subordinate’s attention with a crumpled up pizza receipt across the face.
“We’ve got another spate of manhole cover thefts on the riverside.”
“Anything new?” He knew this one, a complete waste of time and manpower. What was it about that case? Something strange…that was it, cowshit.
“The same as before. Forensics say the only thing they found was some water buffalo dung.”
“Water buffalo? How..?” Not cow, water buffalo. Same difference. “Who has a water buffalo in Downtown Pittsburgh?”
“You tell me, you’re the boss.”
This was all Brad needed now, another miserable, crummy case to solve. He thought he’d shelved this one months ago, and now it was back. Great timing, what with his marriage on the rocks. More overtime.
“What’s that, boss? You getting into ancient history?” Brad’s subordinate had come over and was handling the new book.
“This?” His wife’s gift. Brad took it back.
“Yeah, didn’t know you were into Egyptian stuff.”
“I’m not. She is.” Brad turned over the book and read from the spiel on the back. “Written by James P. Allen. Among other things it’s got ‘the first color reproduction of the Edward Smith Papyrus in its entirety, accompanied by a full translation.’”
“Sounds like a winner.” His subordinate went back to his own desk.
“She loves this stuff. It might also get me out of the doghouse. Too many late nights.” Brad looked at the clock on the wall, realising the time. “Oh shit, I’m meant to be meeting her! She forgot her dance shoes this morning and her group’s doing a performance at the Irish Center at 8!”
“You better hurry. It’s getting on to half-past.”
Brad grabbed the bag with his wife’s clogging shoes, pocketed the Egyptian book and ran out of the door. Taxi or run? Run, you can’t trust the traffic at this time. Two hundred yards down the almost empty street and he stepped in something large and wet. Either this stinking mound was made by the largest dog in Pittsburgh or there was a cow lose in the streets. A cow? There was movement in the shadows two corners away, large and slow, accompanied by a slight metallic scrapping noise on the road. No, it couldn’t be. Not now. His watch said 20 minutes to the hour. Should he? He wouldn’t make it to the performance if…surely she could wear someone else’s shoes, and when he’d give the book, all would be forgiven. He gave chase and the noise of his running along the sidewalk alerted whoever it was as the scrapping noise became more frantic. Brad turned the corner to see what looked like a man with a large horned cow pulling a manhole cover on a rope.
“You! Stop! In the name of the…!” His last words were lost as he fell into the hole.
“In other news, the mysterious appearance of a water buffalo backed up traffic for two hours today on Interstate…”
“The FBI continues to be stymied in its investigation into the theft of the Edward Smith Papyrus…”
“A child survived a fall into a sewer with only bumps and bruises. City officials are still at a loss to explain the missing manhole cover…”
I put the remote down and stared at the dark TV screen, my mind moving with all the speed of a sloth in clogging shoes. Even without enough coffee to fuel coherent thought, I recognized the warning signs. Someone was trying to manipulate reality with magic and succeeding. The warped probabilities and appearance of non-domestic animals was the world working to rectify the imbalances.
It was that damned Smith Papyrus, again. These fools thought it was an Egyptian medical text. It wasn’t. I should know. I was there when they wrote it. I hadn’t understood the code at the time and I’d been banished to the temporal backwater of 21st Century America because of it. The thing was a spell to summon Apep, the personification of evil. Someone was using it and I had an idea who.
I looked down at the display and then back up at the shoddy warehouse. The device in my hand insisted this was the place. I shrugged and slid the device into the pocket of my work coat. I pulled up the hood and moved toward the building. The coat wasn’t really a coat. It was a tool that let me survive the shear forces that potent magic creates. Thank you 28th century technology. I kicked open the door to warehouse and felt the coat shed off waves of dark power.
I pushed forward and pulled out a fine piece of 20th century tech: a Smith & Wesson, Model 27 revolver. Sure, it wasn’t regulation, but practicality matters. The shear forces intensified the closer I got, making it harder to walk, but the coat held up and before long, I saw him standing there, papyrus in hand. His body cloaked in a coat like mine. He heard or sensed my approach and looked up.
“Contingency Jones. So, they really did send you here,” he said.
“Endgame Smith. You’re two centuries out of your zone,” I answered, cocking the pistol and pointing it at his right eye. “Also, you’re breaking the law. Summoning of deities is strictly forbidden. You know that. ”
“Oh please, you’re not going to shoot me,” he said, looking back down at the papyrus.
“You’ve never had the stomach for bloodshed.”
I pulled the device from my pocket and spoke into it.
“I need an extraction team.”
I plucked the papyrus out of Endgame’s hand. I set the stupid thing on fire and dropped it, closing the door on my biggest failure. The firelight danced in Endgame’s pristine, left eye.
My name is Wilhelmina Van Dyke and I am a forensic anthropologist for the Society of the ancient Bones. You can call me Willie as everyone else does. My day started out as any other until of course I received the call to report to a site just south of London. I am stationed here for a year to study under Professor Alwyn Rossiter. The good professor is the foremost authority on anthropology and paleontology at the institute and I feel honored to be mentored by the great man.
“Willie, he shouted into the cell phone. I need you at the site for an important discovery. You do not want to miss this one.”
“Name the place Alwyn and I am so there.”
“Go to Victoria station and get on the train. Take the tube to the end of the line and meet up with Pang-Shao.”
“Ok then what?”
“I hope to death that you’re not allergic to water-buffalo. That’s your ride to the site. Sith might bite so be nice to him.”
“The water buffalo’s name is Sith. Pang is a Star wars fan.”
It’s a strange request but I have no choice. I ran around my flat looking for my rubber boots but all I could find were my great grandfathers clogging shoes. They would have to do. I hoped the dig site won’t be muddy. I have street shoes but I love the feel of these on my feet.
Within the hour I reached my destination and Pang-Shao was waiting with Sith. I could smell the beast from where I stood and nothing in my vocabulary could describe the stench.
After my smelly and uncomfortable ride we reached the dig site.
I approached Alwyn. He looked at my feet and shook his head. “No weillies?”
“Long story, couldn’t find them. So why are we here? Where’s the skeleton?”
“In the hole.” The professor was holding an ancient parchment in his hand by his finger and his thumb.
“What is that? What was that in the hole with the body?”
“It is the Edward Smith Papyrus, Ancient Egyptian medical text and the oldest known surgical treatiseon trauma which dates back to 1500 BCE. I have been looking for this for God knows how long.” Alwyn was jumping up and down in paroxysms of joy. Anyway there is a body there that does need our attention. Let’s go down and have a look shall we.”
“Lead the way.” Alwyn grabbed my hand and we got to work taking pictures as the anthropology students dug and sifted earth. Some one hit something hard and the digging stopped. The students brushed off what appeared to be an ordinary manhole cover.
Two of the students tried to lift the heavy disk but Pang-shao started to yell in indiscernible Chinese.
“What’s he saying Alwyn?” I looked at my mentor.
“It’s the third gate to hell. Leave it alone!”