Short Story: GEORGE AND THE BABYLONIAN FIELD TRIP

This story is my entry into Chuck Wendig’s latest flashfic challenge. Thanks to the rolls of the dice, I got the following elements from which to craft my tale:

Protagonst: Dirty cop ghost

Location: the Underworld

Uh-Oh: something precious, stolen

Once again, I’ve gone beyond the wordcount limit (2850 instead of 2000), but I couldn’t help it. I edited and schmedited, and this is as far as I got. But I like it. Hope you do, too. : ) As always, feedback is welcome!

*drumroll* *ahem* Ladies and gentlehobbits, I give you…

GEORGE AND THE BABYLONIAN FIELD TRIP

by Courtney Cantrell

 

“Name?”

“George Wilkerson.”

“Your business?”

“I…uh…I need to see Errie.”

“What? Speak up!”

“I need to see Errie.”

See Errie?”

“That’s right.”

“Nobody sees Errie. Errie isn’t seen. Just where do you think you are, anyway?”

“I think I’m in hell.”

“It’s called ‘Ir-Kalla,’ but close enough. Move along, you’re holding up the line.”

“Listen, I have to see her.”

“Look, dearie, I understand. You’re dead, and you’ve got unfinished business. You think Errie will render you aid. Well, she won’t. She can’t take the time for every human who bleats at her.”

“It’s–”

“–important. Please. You’re not the first to waltz up to my gate asking for favors. Do I look like a bank? Shoo! Get out of here! Silly dead humans. Next! State your business!”

* * *

“George! Hey! How’d it go?”

“Bad. She wouldn’t listen. Didn’t even let me get to the memory stuff.”

“She’s just the Gate Seven shedu. She doesn’t mean anything, she’s just doin’ her job.”

“What, so now you’re defending them?”

“No, I’m just sayin’ you’re new here. You dunno how things work yet.”

“I just…I need it back, Mel. It’s all I had left, and they took it from me.”

“It’s what they do, hon. One gate at a time ’til you get here: your stuff, your clothes, your — well, you know about that, or we wouldn’t be talkin’ about this.”

“Thing is, I can almost see it, you know? It was my last morning before the shooting. He was at the breakfast table. He smiled–”

“Man, you’re killin’ me here, and that’s hard to do to a dead girl. Don’t dwell on it, you’ll just make it worse.”

“Look, Mel. You told me to see the shedu. She’s obviously a dead end. You got any other leads? Anybody else I can pump for info?”

“Listen to you. ‘Leads.’ ‘Pump somebody for info.’ You ain’t a cop anymore, Georgie. This ain’t the beat, and you ain’t gonna toss nobody in the slammer, capiche? That ship’s sailed. That ticket’s punched. That horse is dead–”

“Can it, Mel! Do you know anybody else I can talk to or not?”

“Hmph. Not with that attitude, I don’t.”

“I’m sorry. I’m just really stressed out and freaked out. I mean, jeez, it’s like you said, I just got dead, right? I need help, and you told me Errie’s it. I believe you. I trust you, Mel. Shouldn’t that count for something?”

“You kinda know how to sweet-talk a girl, don’t you, Georgie.”

“I don’t know. You tell me.”

“Maybe a little. Just don’t try the old yawn-stretch-arm-over-shoulder trick, okay? You’ll make my skin fall off. Now come on. I happen to have connections at Gate Four. We’ll just blend in with the afternoon rush. The shedu won’t know the difference. Today, Georgie, today!”

* * *

“What in God’s name is that smell?”

“Which one?”

“The rotten-eggs-mixed-with-dog-poop one.”

“No, Georgie. Which god?”

“Huh?”

“You’re in Ir-Kalla, honey. You go invokin’ gods around here, you gotta specify if you wanna get anybody’s attention.”

“Oh. Umm–”

“Sewage.”

“What?”

“The smell you were askin’ about. It’s sewage. But you can call it rotten dog poop eggs if you wanna.”

“This is the afterlife. Why the hell is there sewage?”

“This ain’t the afterlife, it’s the underworld. There’s a difference, ’kay? And there’s sewage because everybody’s rottin’. All the gross has to go somewhere, right? They can’t just leave dead skin and globs of meat lyin’ around, or there’d be piles of it everywhere. They put in the sewers right around 5000 B.C. Cleaned this place up good, or so I hear. The water carries the rotten flesh away to some alternate dimension.”

“You’re giving me a headache.”

“You asked, sweet’eart.”

“And I’m not rotting.”

“Sure you are. You just ain’t noticed yet.”

“Hey, whoa! What is that?”

“Georgie dahlin’, welcome to Ir-Kalla’s Gate Six.”

“Wait, you said I came through here, right? I don’t remember it looking like this.”

“You came at it from the other side the first time. You were on your way down, remember?”

“It looks like a pretzel…made out of giant black barb-wire.”

“Ha! That’s not Gate Six. That’s Gate Six’s shedu.”

“Oh. Oh, shit.”

That’s the gate. Now shaddap and lemme do the talkin’. Hey, Asag! How goes it?”

***PURSA***

“Good ol’ Asag, always gets right to the point. Dude, we’ve decided you should just let us on by like a good shedu and forget you ever saw us. ’Kay?”

***PURSA***

“Mel! What’s it saying?”

“He’s saying decide. He’s kinda slow. Asag, listen to me! Just roll your barbed self to the side just a little bit and we’ll squeeze on past. Capiche?”

***PURSA***

“Jeez, today of all days he gets into the firewater and shorts out the few brain circuits he’s got left.”

“What do we do?”

“Well, Georgie, we got a drunken Assyrian gate-warden demon on our hands, so we got two choices: turn around or make a break for it.”

“Then we definitely have to make a br–”

***MINU***

“Okay, what did it say this time?”

“He asked, ‘What?’ I think he’s getting suspicious. It’s now or never, hon.”

“Okay then, now!”

***MAR KALBUM***

“Run, Georgie!”

“Mel! It’s coming right for us!”

“Keep running! Don’t look back!”

***QATALU***

“There’s something wrong with my leg!”

“I told you, you’re rottin’! Suck it up and hoof it, Georgie!”

“God, this hurts!”

“Which one?”

“Shut up, Mel!”

“Gotta keep you on your toes, babe. Hey, look! We lost him. He’s turning around!”

“Terrific. Can we stop? I need to catch my breath.”

“Sure thing. Gate Five’s comin’ up, though. Dude, check it out, you lost a toe.”

“Oh, peachy. So what, parts of me are just going to fall off? Like I’ve got leprosy or something?”

“Hey, toe or no toe, we got away clean, baby!”

“What was he yelling at us?”

“What, that last bit? He called you a son-of-a-dog, and then he yelled kill.”

Kill? But we’re already dead. How can he kill us?”

“There are things worse than death, Georgie. C’mon. Let’s go.”

* * *

“And that, my dear George, was Gate Five.”

“Wow. That was…I’m still seeing spots. What’s that one called?”

“The Gate Five shedu? Fred.”

“Fred?”

“Yup.”

“That doesn’t sound very Assyrian. Or Babylonian.”

“Meh, some of ’em went modern back in the ’60s. Drugs and free love, y’know.”

“Mel…you know so much about this place…how long have you been here? What’re you doing here, anyway?”

“How long is long enough to know the ins and outs. The what is more story than you want right now. How ’bout you, Georgie? What got you tossed down here to rub shoulders with the hooligans?”

“Welll…I always thought I was a decent guy, mostly. Dedicated to my family, cared about my work. Everybody told me I was a good cop. ‘You’re a good cop, George. Straight shooter. Thanks for your service.’ That kind of stuff.”

“I’m hearin’ a big ol’ but in there somewhere.”

“I told you about my wife, right?”

“The Big C. I remember, hon. So sorry.”

“Yeah. Thanks. Well, after she died, there were bills. I couldn’t pay. A squirrelly guy comes to me when I’m off-duty and tells me there’s money. All I have to do is look the other way when we’re bagging evidence at a crime scene the next day. He gives me a downpayment. I check it out at home, and it’s enough cash to cover a fourth of the medical bills. So the next morning, we’re on the scene and it’s just like the guy described, so I look the other way. Only time I’ve ever done anything unethical as a cop.”

“What happened?”

“The case turned out to be a murder, and the perp walked because we didn’t have enough evidence.”

“Ouch. George. Man, I’m sorry.”

“Yeah.”

“So what happened then?”

“I paid the bills a little extra at a time, I paid ’em off, I got shot in the line of duty, I died a hero, and here I am.”

“And this thing you’re lookin’ for now…?”

“It’s all I had left of my son, Mel. He doesn’t know what I did. As far as I can tell, he never will. He thinks his dad’s a hero. I’m enough of a coward that I’m fine with that. I know I screwed up, and I’d do the right thing if I had it to do over. Whatever punishment they have for me here, I can take it. All I want is that last piece of my kid. That wasn’t theirs to take, and I’m going to get it back.”

“Then let’s get it the hell back, babe.”

* * *

“Mel, I don’t know if I can do this.”

“Sure you can, hon. You got a quest, right? How you gonna find your treasure if you don’t face a little demon or two?”

“That…that’s not little. Or two. That’s big. And it looks like about…five dozen.”

“Oh, don’t worry about the Lilitu. They’re a sweetheart. Just confusing to talk to, that’s all.”

“Mel…all those mouths. And is she wearing lipstick?”

“She are wearing lipstick. You gotta keep your subjects and verbs out of agreement about the Lilitu. She’re mostly nice, but she’ll flatten you if she feel disrespected. Oh, and her shade’s Copperflip Orange Melon Starburst.”

“I’ll keep that in mind next time I’m at Victoria’s Secret.”

“Ooooooh, Georgie-Porgie’s gettin’ saucy! I like it!”

“Just do your thing, okay?”

“Yeah, yeah. Lilitu of Gate Four! How are she?”

>>greetings mel mel what are you doing doing here?

“Just passin’ through with my new friend. Say hi, George.”

“Um, hi, Lilitu. How…uh, how is they?”

“How are she, dimwit!”

“Sorry! I apologize, Lilitu. How are she?”

>>fine fine thank you mel your friend friend needs needs needs some manners.

“What can I say, babe? He’s new here, rough around the edges. Wet behind the ears. He didn’t even know your shade of lipstick.”

>>dumdbumb dumb dudumbmb.

“Don’t I know it. Now, hon, George here needs a favor. He needs to see Errie.”

>>so you shoshoww him erererrierierie.

“C’mon, you know it ain’t that simple.”

“Mel…why does…why do she talk all doubled up like that?”

“The mouths ain’t always synced. Hush!”

>>it hahass been a long long time mel. i neeneedd a home home. can he give me that?

“I bet he can. He’s pretty motivated.”

“A home? What is — are she talking about?”

“She want you to draw her a picture.”

“Huh?”

“A picture. She need a picture of a tree.”

>>a tree tree tree human man a tree can you you do that that that?

“Um…I guess so?”

“C’mon over here, Georgie. Look. This side of Gate Four’s nice and flat, great for drawing. A tree about five feet tall should do it. Lilitu can do the rest.”

>>yes yes tree tree tree drdrdrawawaw please please i’ll do the rest rest rest.

“Okay. What do I draw with?”

“Your blood. Gimme your hand.”

“OW! What the hell?!”

“Sorry, sweetie. Best to do it quick-like, y’know? Don’t worry, the cut won’t get infected or anything. You’re dead. And now you got ink to work with. Win!”

“You people are all a crazy bunch of psychopaths.”

“Now, Geor–”

“–and I’m gonna stand here at a damn gate in the middle of HELL and draw a tree in my own blood for a demon made of a bunch of woman-shaped parts and mouths. FINE. I’m drawing. I don’t even know how to draw, but I’m drawing. See? That’s my blood everywhere. Dripping. Sticky. Does that look like a tree to you? I can’t even draw stick figures.”

“It looks great, Georgie.”

>>a tree tree tree oh it is lovelovelyly i can live here and be at peace peace peace yes.

“Wait a sec, Lilitu. Aren’t y’all forgettin’ something?”

>>no no melmelmel i haven’t forgotten here come close to me close close close close closer close.

“Mel, wha–? I don’t think you should do that…. Um, her…their mouths are touching your…oh. That oughta be on HBO. Ladies, uh, aren’t there rooms around here for that? You really…wow. I really shouldn’t be watching thi — oh, that’s not right.”

* * *

“Thanks, Lilitu.”

>>thank you, mel. i shall enjoy my tree now.

“You do that, hon. Just do me a solid and don’t wander too far in tree form, okay? Last time it took me three years to clean up after those souls that got past your gate. Hey, Georgie, it’s over. You can look now.”

“Sorry, I just couldn’t — hey! Mel, you got awfully tall all of a sudden. And what’s with the armor?”

“This is what I really look like, Georgie. And you can call me Ereshkigal.”

“Ereshkigal…. Errie?!”

“The same, baby. Ohhh, does this feel good! The Mel form is fun, but rotting does get tiresome after a while.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I am Ereshkigal, the Great Lady Under Earth, Queen of the Netherworld, Goddess of Ir-Kalla, Ir-Kalla itself made spirit and flesh. ‘Errie’ for short, sometimes known as ‘Mel.’ I take care of this place.”

“But I’ve been looking for you! I…why didn’t you tell me who you were? Why did I have to go through all this? I lost a damn toe!”

“Listen, Georgie. This is Ir-Kalla. People come here to rot for eternity. It ain’t a nice place, but I do what I can. Down here, nobody gets what they want. Nobody gets anything back, and getting something back is all you’ve talked about since you plunked your ass down at Gate Seven. If I was gonna help you, I had to be sure of you. I ain’t gonna waste my time with some schmuck who thinks he’s hot snot on a gold platter, when he’s really cold boogers on a paper plate. I ain’t gonna lift one immortal finger for somebody thinks he’s entitled, capiche? I got nothin’ for souls who ain’t sorry.”

“I…I told you my story. Why I’m here. What I did–”

“–and that you knew you screwed up. That’s all I needed to know, honey. So we came on to Gate Four, you did the Lilitu a favor, and she broke the Mel-spell I put on myself. Win.”

“Does that mean–?

“It does mean. My decree for the Gate Seven shedu is that she strip a soul of its final best memory. For you, that’s your son at the breakfast table. He smiled at you….”

“He smiled at me…and then it goes dark. I know it was something wonderful, I know it was the best thing in the world, but I can’t remember!”

“Hold out your hand, George. The hand that I cut. I’m placing the memory into your blood, and it’ll become part of you. You’ll never lose it again, not while I rule Ir-Kalla.”

“It’s…it’s warm. Warming up my arm. My chest. I didn’t know I was so cold. The warmth is going up my neck…. Mel! I mean, Errie! I mean…I remember! Oh, god…goddess…whatever, I remember! We were at breakfast, talking about his mom, talking about the bills, and he looked up at me, and he smiled, and he said, ‘Dad, I know what you did. I know about the bribe. I’m into computers, remember? I know you always do everything you can. You took the money so you could take care of us. It wasn’t right, we both know that. But I want you to know I forgive you. I forgive you. I love you, Dad. No matter what happens, you’ll always be a hero to me.’”

“That’s your memory, George. That’s your final best memory, and it shall sustain you.”

“He knew. He knew, and he forgave me. My boy, he knows about me, but he still loves me. My beautiful son!”

“Aw, Georgie, don’t cry. You’re gonna get me all choked up, and what’ll it look like if the Queen of the Underworld starts bawling like a kid?”

“Errie…thank you. I can’t repay you–”

“Don’t give it another thought.”

“What now?”

“Well, since I’m tall now, I can see what’s comin’, and what’s comin’ is Asag, my sweet little barb-wire shedu from Gate Six. Since he’s a little slow today, I’m thinkin’ he’s not in the mood to recognize my authority. So why don’t you and I make like a couple of trees–”

“–and get out of here?”

“Dahling, I thought you’d never ask.”

THE END

Fling this post into the ether of internetted winds, that it might implant itself in a bazillion other consciousnesses and hasten the onset of my world dominion. ...Wait -- did I say that out loud?Buffer this pageDigg thisEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookFlattr the authorTweet about this on TwitterShare on StumbleUponShare on TumblrShare on RedditPin on PinterestShare on LinkedInShare on Google+

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