This is a short story I wrote about two years ago, decided to revise before publishing, and then never did. I had recently come across an emergent work of art that affected me deeply. The story is an attempt to provide that work with a satisfying etiology.
The Pharaoh gazed out from the palace doors. Already, beyond the swaying palms and flocks of wading ibis, he could see the sacred structure rising. It had been but a few weeks since he had ordered its construction, and he knew that it would be many more years before it was complete. But as he recalled some of the names of the pyramid designers, he smiled. His architects and engineers had earned their wisdom through age, and few would live to see their designs realized. But the Pharaoh, still so young, had time. Soon, he would have all the time in the world.
Fine machinery crowned the pyramid’s unfinished walls as the Pharaoh toured the work site, flashing a dazzling white in the dull morning sun. Workers parted with reverence and surprise as the Pharaoh, older now but still full of vim, rode past. Aristocrats – let alone the Pharaoh! – rarely rode atop their horses. But he felt a special kinship with the beast he sat upon, a fine stallion named Ebhouchs, given in tribute from a small desert tribe. Though he had come for an example of reckoning a pyramid, he saw something else that caught his eye. Brushing off the objections of his engineers and priests, the Pharaoh dismounted his horse, confidently grasped a lever and pulled.
For a nauseating moment, there was nothing. Then, faintly, a ticking and grinding of equipment could be heard inside the unfinished pyramid. The Pharaoh began to laugh as the sound grew, wildly changing pitch, into a deafening roar. The Pharaoh turned, satisfied, and a greatly relieved priest forced the lever back into its resting position. Once the Pharaoh reached the horse – itself still calm in spite of the machine’s fading peals – and deftly climbed atop it, he turned to face the small crowd that had followed him. His grin did not fade as he spoke: “This is truly powerful.”
The nearly completed pyramid flashed into view between buildings as the Pharaoh rode his loyal horse Ebhouchs through the city. Now in late middle age, the Pharaoh enjoyed these escapes from the royal grounds, and his guard kept a polite distance. As the monument once again disappeared behind a building, the Pharaoh considered his project’s late struggles. Every day it seemed more of his advisers doubted it would ever work. He could only ignore them. They’d be proven wrong soon enough.
A young worker suddenly stepped from the shadows of an alley, somewhat startling Ebhouchs. “Your pyramid is a scourge,” he snarled. “We risk our lives – for an impossible dream! A pyramid game!”
“The pyramid will bring lasting peace-” began the Pharaoh.
“That’s easy to say from the palace walls!” spat back the worker. “Laughing with your loved ones as you go about your daily activities, never fearing for their safety or yours…” With no more words, the workman drew a blade. The royal guard finally reached the scene as the worker plunged it toward the Pharaoh. He fell to the ground.
Blood flowed into the street. It took the Pharaoh a moment to realize the blood was not his own.
Ebhouchs was dead.
In his last years, the Pharaoh grew paranoid. The loss of Ebhouchs and the growing unrest in the noble class had affected him deeply. He withdrew completely into his chambers, speaking to no one, staring unblinkingly at the pyramid outside. He needed only survive a bit longer to see it finished. Immortality was within his reach.
The Pharaoh’s sons entered the room to see him. They had once been his pride and joy. Now he only mumbled as they entered, “That’s a parent’s worst nightmare: a child.” He continued to stare as visions flit before his eyes: a silver web, a gold web, a pyramid, a beehive and a gold cup. Which were real? It was so hard to tell.
Finding their father unresponsive, the sons talked among themselves. What would become of their father’s legacy? Would there be a coup among the upper class? Would the pyramid ever work? At the last question, the aged Pharaoh grew agitated. Seizing his nearest son’s arm, he bellowed, “Pyramid energy is real – it’s sacred science! Just like the computer…” But his strength suddenly left him, and he sank back into his bed. Through the window, the Pharaoh could just make out the pyramid’s golden capstone sliding into place. His sons watched as he breathed his last.
The Pharaoh’s priests worked frantically throughout the night. They could still save their Pharaoh, and his dream, but there was no room for error now. Carefully they extracted the Pharaoh’s organs, placing them into canopic jars inscribed with strange patterns of silver and gold dictated by the engineers. The priests rushed the jars out of the palace and into the pyramid’s base.
The long hallway they followed to its center was the only cavity it contained – the rest was filled with the seemingly endless system of gears and chains dreamed up decades ago by its designers. In the center, each jar began to hum almost imperceptibly as it was placed into its own resonant chamber. Striding to the center of the room, the high priest gripped a lever – the same lever he had objected to the Pharaoh using years before. This time there would be no objections.
With a pull, the lever locked into place, and the grinding began again. This time, as the din rose in volume, it coalesced into a single sound. A voice. The Pharaoh’s voice.
Take the actions I show you
The sound was unmistakable. The priests tried to contain their excitement as they petitioned their resurrected Pharaoh further. What was his command?
NO-ONE should have to go through what I did just to build a simple koi pond
The priests exchanged glances, confused. Before they could speak again, the Pharaoh’s voice rang out.
Beverage Meat. Famous Crab. How to throw a horse. Roses Perfectly. Let me ask you a question: Do
The high priest shook his head. Perhaps the pyramid would never have worked. Perhaps the Pharaoh was simply too far gone for his spirit to properly transfer. Either way, their Pharaoh was there – but not all there.
He nodded to the other priests, and they silently filed out. Working together, the priests sealed the tunnel entrance with heavy slabs. The pyramid would remain a testament to the Pharaoh’s will. And his eternal prattling within, a testament to his folly.