It happened right in the middle of Poq-tin’s “Pharoah's Choice” beverage segment. Viewers still remembered the look of shock on the royal cup-bearer’s face when the alcoholic mixture sitting on the counter in front of him, which had called for white wine as one of its main ingredients, frothed into a deep crimson.
“I didn’t know we were making sangria today!” Exclaimed Tut-hak-bur, turning to his co-anchor, Qeela.
“I do love surprises,” she replied. “Let’s hope Poq-tin will save some for the break room after the broadcast!” She winked and flashed a cheesy grin.
Both newscasters recoiled in horror in their split-screen projection when Poq-tin sampled a bit of his concoction, grimaced, and spat the mouthful all over the studio kitchen. The spray even reached the cameraman, leaving little red droplets clinging to the lens.
“Somone shoulda told me we was doin’ a water-take,” Uk-yip the cameraman’s voice complained. “I’da brought the special protective tarp!” A meaty hand grasping a hanky appeared and quickly wiped away the residue.
“What happened over there, Poq-tin?” Tut-hak-bur inquired with a practiced look of curiosity. The cup-bearer hacked into his elbow and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
“Somebody’s playing tricks on me! That tasted like blood!” Tut-hak-bur and Qeela froze and exchanged a look of concern. Qeela made a quick cutting motion across her neck with her hand.
“Well, that’s all for tonight folks! Tune in next time for a special report on the recent manual labor union strike!” Tut-hak-bur improvised, ignoring the rest of his cue cards. The director gave them a thumbs-up gesture to let them know the feed had been cut, and both anchors heaved a sigh of relief.
The shenanigans began a month ago when the former crown prince returned after a mysterious several-decades-long absence from the palace. Rumors had been floating around since his departure that there had been some sort of scuffle which ended up with Pharoah’s favorite adopted grandson charged with committing manslaughter and fleeing from court-imposed justice. The tabloids had a field day, but as the years went by, the story became stale and everyone seemed to forget about Moses, “the child born from the Nile.” Everyone except the Hebrews, that is.
Some sort of underground cult formed among the slaves with Moses’ older brother Aaron as its high priest. The beliefs of the new sect centered around the veneration of Moses as a kind of messianic figure who would triumphantly lead the Hebrews from their centuries-long bondage to a far-off “promised land” flowing with “milk and honey.” The absurdity of some land that had rivers of liquids produced by animals, let alone the notion of anyone ever leading an entire slave caste out of the mightiest empire in the world kept the members of Pharaoh’s government laughing non-stop. The variety shows parodied the fanatical group every other week, and the public turned a blind eye to the upstarts while tuning in to the wildly popular mockery.
However, Moses unexpectedly returned carrying an impressively large stick, and marched with his brother Aaron in tow straight to the throne room of now-Pharaoh Ramses the Second, his former step-brother. Ramses almost fell off his royal dais when his estranged adopted relative claimed to be the leader of the Hebrews and demanded their release in the name of some deity he had never heard of. Of course, Ramses “The Great” refused to bow to the wishes of some self-appointed lunatic, no matter who he claimed to be.
Then things got interesting.
The newspapers reported that Moses made his hand go white with leprosy and his brother Aaron turned that imposing staff into a serpent. Ramses applauded the parlor tricks and called forth his magicians, who also “magically” turned their staffs into snakes, using the patented trick-release mechanism that emptied the concealed reptiles from their false wooden containers. Apparently bested, Moses changed his hand back to normal. However, Aaron grabbed his serpent by the tail, transformed it back into a staff, then rapped it against Pharaoh’s throne three times to prove the authenticity of his magic. As the court magicians scrambled to retrieve their pet snakes and return them to their special cases, Aaron pitched his inanimate staff to the ground, where it proceeded to swallow the fleeing creatures whole.
Insider sources claimed that Ramses tugged the edge of his collar and pressed a purple silken scarf across his forehead to remove the nervous perspiration that had collected there. Before he could retort, Moses issued an indignant ultimatum and stormed off with his brother and special staff. The bewildered court advisors didn’t have a clue what to make of these developments, and simply doubled the palace guard in case any political radical decided to make an assassination attempt.
The week of blood changed everything. Suddenly the entire Empire was on-edge about a possible slave rebellion, though Ramses and his PR people managed to calm the hoi polloi with an ad campaign that denounced Moses’ credibility by publicizing his criminal background. Ramses himself made a televised speech that asked his nation to remain at ease, stating that he and his administration were doing their best to settle the matter peaceably. However, relief efforts proved futile when all the water brought in by the Egyptian emergency-response task forces also turned to blood. Pharaoh’s viceroy successfully negotiated a business arrangement with the Hebrews in Goshen to buy their excess water supply (which for some reason had not transformed into blood) in a deal that provided great monetary benefit to the Hebrews.
“A breaking news story is taking place this very moment at the north-eastern section of the Nile Delta. We now go live to roving reporter Geg-kon-fil, who is on the ground at the scene of the ongoing incident. Fil, can you hear me?” Qeela tapped her earpiece impatiently.
“Oh, yeah! Qeela, you guys back in the studio are never going to believe this one!” The man’s voice answered while the fuzzy footage began to take shape. When the camera finally focused, Geg-kon-fil’s clean-shaven, mascaraed face filled the frame. He adjusted the reporter’s headband attached to his horse-hair wig. A loud whump…whump… could be heard behind him, along with the shouts and commands of several men.
“Just what is going on down there?” Tut-hak-bur made a serious face for the viewers at home. Geg-kon-fil motioned for the cameraman to pan outward. Three armed soldiers ran by, brandishing spears. Another whump sounded, and the camera shook slightly. Screams were heard and the same soldiers ran the other way, hurling the broken remnants of their weapons behind them. A long, pink, rope-like appendage shot out and stuck to the back of the slowest warrior with a wet thwap. He yelped as he was lifted bodily off the ground and reeled backward across the screen, his arms and legs flapping in the air. His cries concluded with a loud off-camera gulp.
Easing into a position where the camera could film him, Geg-kon-fil announced, “Eyewitness reports are still unclear regarding the exact origin of the disturbance.” His voice warbled with fear, “It seems a large amphibious creature rose from the recently recovered Nile and began terrorizing the citizens.” The view shifted to the right, zooming in on some immense thing. Its moist green skin reflected the afternoon sunlight.
“BRAAAAAAAAA-BUP!” A deep grumble seemed to announce itself. A chorus of chirping briiiibips answered in unison. The green thing vanished from view, followed by another off-camera whump that made the image wobble. The picture abruptly jerked upward and focused on a large yellow eye. The optical orb blinked slowly then swiveled to peer down at the camera.
“Uh, boss, I think it sees us,” the cameraman remarked anxiously. Geg-kon-fil reappeared briefly, jogging backward while shaking his head and pointing wildly at the creature. The camera operator took the cue and the image shook violently as he whirled around and raced after the reporter.
“Early analysis by government herpetologists theorize that the gargantuan frog is a freak genetic mutation from somewhere deep in the African continent that somehow managed to swim up the Nile,” Geg-kon-fil shouted into his wireless microphone. After a few moments, both men stopped to catch their breath, having hopefully placed a safe distance between them and the rampaging amphibian. “The recent spike in acidity of the river’s waters must have then provoked the creature to emerge from its habitat and invade the Nile Delta.”
A series of rapid twittering intonations interrupted Geg-kon-fil’s next statement, and the camera swung back around toward the monster. It stood at least 15 feet tall, and was probably twice that length from snout to the toes of its fully extended jumping legs each time it leaped through the air. A swarm of miniature frogs, the source of the irritating high-pitched croaking, clustered around its feet, bouncing to and fro.
Geg-kon-fil cleared his throat and stepped back into frame. “It would appear that this particular frog has a unique ability,” he began. As if on cue, another pair of soldiers wielding spears raced toward the creature, stabbing at it while grasping the ends of their weapons. One blade managed to connect with the creature’s rubbery hide, but harmlessy skittered off the slimy surface. The giant amphibian blinked, which submerged both its eyes into their sockets. A moment later, it heaved its body forward and retched a cloud of mini-frogs. The diminutive offspring, clones of their gigantic parent, scrambled free of the vocal-sack mucus and began to cheep vociferously. The decibel level of the absorbing, hair-raising sound rose several degrees.
Geg-kon-fil pressed his free hand to the side of his head in an attempt to block out the noise. “As I was saying, the creature has an exceptional ability to reproduce, almost on command,” he ground his teeth together as the fierce croaking shifted into a higher pitch and more newborn frogs joined their bevy of siblings. “It’s a catch twenty-two, Qeela and Tut. Any time the defense forces strike the creature, it not only sustains little to no visible damage, but also produces another batch of its young, adding to the chaos.”
“Wow, that’s mighty impressive, isn’t it Qeela?” Tut-hak-bur exhibited his pearly whites and nudged his co-anchor with an elbow.
“All I can say, Tut, is that I’m glad we’re safely in the broadcast booth and not hopping around with all those slimy critters!” Both newscasters broke out into a hearty chuckle.
“Don’t count yourselves out of danger just yet,” Geg-kon-fil gesticulated past the camera. “The little ones are beginning to spread throughout the countryside…” Trailing off, he squinted and gazed into the distance. “…and they’re moving pretty darn fast. I wouldn’t be surprised if you started seeing some in the next half hour-” the giant frog vomited yet another load of its minute children onto the sand, “-or less.” The remote video ended, and the two newscasters once again filled the entirety of the screen.
“Well… I, uh…” Tut-hak-bur grasped for words while his brain failed to produce a response. Qeela shakily raised her coffee mug to her mouth, pursed her lips and froze mid-sip. A little green frog surfaced from within the mug and gingerly reached upward to plant a wet kiss on her extended lips. She shrieked in horror and flung the ceramic cup across the studio where it shattered into pieces on a nearby wall. The plucky amphibian leaped free just in time, landed on a pile of papers, and splattered lukewarm coffee in an arc across the desk. Qeela threw her hands in the air and fled off stage, screaming at the top of her lungs.
“What’s the matter? It’s just one little frog,” Tut-hak-bur leaned over and examined the green interloper. The frog waddled around to face the camera and chirped an almost musical sequence of croaks with varying pitches. Tut-hak-bur raised an eyebrow. A second frog fell from the rafters onto his expertly groomed wig, while a third landed on his shoulder. Two more hopped into view from both sides of the table and met in the middle with the original intruder. Another handful suddenly reached up from behind his seat and clambered onto the desktop. With Qeela still screeching from somewhere backstage and the cacophony of croaking growing louder and louder, Tut-hak-bur gave the “kill-feed” signal, and millions of TVs across the Egyptian Empire simultaneously went blank.