NOTE: I apologize for taking so long to finish this story, which started out on a creative whim during Pesach - see part one here. Due to the length of the story, I've divided the final section into two chapters. The final part will be posted sometime in the (hopefully) not too distant future. Enjoy!
A montage of video clips flashed across the TV screens of Egyptian TVs tuned in for the evening news. A small smiling child pets a camel’s head, palm fronds sway in the breeze, and a fisherman shows off his latest catch from the Nile. Lastly, a close up of the royal pyramids zooms out and the image transforms into a well-known silhouette logo. Three hieroglyphs flash onto the screen, accompanied by a deep, booming voice that declared “This is E-N-N. The Egyptian News Network.”
The lights in the studio brightened, revealing Tut-hak-bur and Qeela sitting at their broadcast desk. Both had a clothespin firmly clamped over their nose.
“Good evening, Egyptian Empire!” Qeela’s voice was noticeably more nasal than usual. “Our top story tonight continues our ongoing coverage of the mysterious plague of frogs that has afflicted the nation,” she reached over her shoulder and scratched at her back. “Court herpetologists announced today that they have identified the unknown disease that killed the millions of amphibians as a rare kind of fungus.”
Tut-hak-bur continued. “In an effort to contain exposure to potential disease, sanitation workers equipped with haz-mat suits began the cleanup process by gathering the noxious corpses into piles on street corners.”
“You don’t need to tell me, Tut,” Qeela smiled, shifting to a more playful tone. “I can smell them from here!” They shared a hearty chuckle. “And if anyone has developed a taste for frog legs, public health officials strongly advise against cooking and ingesting the little critters. Geriatric citizens residing in “Sphinx Tower,” Egypt’s premiere retirement facility, displayed vicious symptoms acute gastroenteritis after partaking of a “special lunch” organized by Sphinx Tower administration.”
“Ow, Qeela, that sounds painful!” Tut-hak-bur rubbed his stomach in an exaggerated comic fashion and stuck out his tongue.
“You’ve got that right, Tut!” She giggled politely. Suddenly, Qeela stopped laughing, producing a halting snort sound. Her hand quickly shot up to her earpiece, and Tut-hak-bur followed suit.
After a moment, Tut-ha-bur looked up into the camera, his expression very serious. “It seems like we have a developing situation in the streets of Memphis. We now go like to our good friend and trusty remote reporter, Geg-kon-fil.” Tut-hak-bur rubbed the back of his scalp absentmindedly.
The newscast shifted to a shot of Geg-kon-fil wearing a gas mask, standing in front of a large flaming pyre. “Well, Tut and Qeela, have I got a story for you!”
“Tell us more, Fil!” Qeela implored.
“I’m standing here in downtown Memphis where protesters from the Hebrew Manual Labor Coalition have doused several dozen piles of dead frogs with crude petroleum and then ignited them with torches,” he gestured to the burning mound behind him and coughed several times. “I have to tell you, Qeela and Tut, if you thought nothing smelled worse than decomposing frogs, I can testify that the stench of frog flambé is far more repulsive.”
“I’ve been saying this a lot lately, as you well know, Tut, but I’m glad you’re down there and we’re back up here, Fil.”
“Why, thank you, Qeela,” Geg-kon-fil replied, his voice dripping with sarcasm. He cleared his throat into the microphone through his mask. “Rumors are circulating that the fiery demonstrations were encouraged by Moses and his rabble rousers. The fact that the Hebrew messianic cult has seen a recent surge in membership adds credence to the scuttlebutt on the street.”
“Well, thank you for the report Fil,” Tut-hak-bur said. “Try not to breath in too much of that burnt frog smoke, it could be bad for your health.”
“Oh, I never inhale, Tut,” Geg-kon-fil winked as his production team switched off his video feed. Tut-hak-bur yanked at his collar in an exaggerated fashion, mouthing “hoo boy,” and Qeela shook her head slightly.
“In other news,” Qeela shifted her papyrus note cards then vigorously stroked her forearm. “Earlier this week, the Egyptian public school system was rocked with the worst case of lice ever recorded.”
Tut-hak-bur squirmed uncomfortably in his chair. “An effort to quarantine the student body of the original infested school proved to be ineffective,” he slipped a hand down his back. “Parents were soon affected after prolonged exposure to their children kept at home. Shortly thereafter, the plague spread from house to house until nearly all of Egypt is now scratching madly without rest. A multitude of remedies, both homemade, such as mayonnaise-based shampoo, and those created by the Pharaoh’s medical staff, including costly herbal body sprays, have failed to curb the severity of the people’s suffering.
Qeela gingerly rubbed her cheek trying not to smear her makeup. “The Hebrews, largely confined to the Goshen sector, remain unaffected. Even those Hebrews who freely circulated in the Egyptian neighborhoods seemed to have an immunity that health officials described as “miraculous” and “the finger of G-d.”
“Gah! I can’t take it anymore!” Tut-hak-bur cried out, flinging his note cards in all directions, and vigorously scratched himself with both hands, alternating between his scalp and his torso. He fell off his chair convulsing, while continuing to swipe at the unseen creatures biting his skin.
Qeela suddenly started digging her fingers into her wig, which wobbled back and forth on her head. “W-we’ll be right back after a word from our sponsors!”
Just as things began to quiet down after the lice infestation mysteriously vanished, news offices received scattered sightings of wild beasts that did not belong in residential areas. In one instance, a housewife answered her front door expecting the mailman, and was instead greeted by an eight-foot-tall polar bear standing on its hind legs. The bear wore a slightly chewed mailman’s hat and a carrier satchel full of papyrus scrolls hanging from its shoulder. The alarmed woman managed to slam the door before the mail-bear entered her home and promptly phoned her husband at his office. When the scene was investigated, scat, foot prints, and torn pieces of a delivery uniform were found, but no actual bear.
Although the initial series of calls were waved off as heat stroke hallucinations caused by a rise in temperatures, eyewitness reports continued to pour into local law enforcement and animal control offices.
An official statement from Ramses II’s public spokesman claimed that a travelling zoo was attacked by bandits and the attractions were set free by the marauders after the cash box was looted. However, when people began showing up in hospitals in increasing numbers with injuries consistent with animal bites and puncture wounds that appeared to be caused by animals claws, the cover story lost its veneer of truth. Animal control officers were ordered to roam the streets in riot gear, announcing that all citizens must remain indoors. Thankfully, after the Egyptian people complied and barricaded themselves in their homes, the number of casualties dropped.
Until the giant octopi arrived, that is.
Thatched roofs and mud huts didn’t stand a chance against two-hundred-foot-long extremely prehensile tentacles with suckers the size of dinner plates. Displaying a surprising resilience to the arid desert conditions, the gargantuan mollusks travelled by crawling across the tops of buildings, deliberately removing roofing as they went (and snacking on the occasional pet). As a result, the more agile critters - mostly monkeys and apes, but a few wild cats as well - scaled the walls and terrorized the previously secure inhabitants.
After days of fighting off emus, monitor lizards, and wolverines, the people were beside themselves with anxiety and exhaustion. Just as Ramses was about to give into Moses’ demands, all the animals stopped mid-rampage and wandered off in different directions. The Pharaoh announced that he had finally exerted enough spirit power to commandeer the minds of the creatures from the Hebrew magic.
In response, the Hebrew Manual Labor Coalition protests continued and increased in fervor.
Kuj-vi sat up in bed just as the rooster began to crow, like he did every day. A long, drawn-out yawn passed his lips, and he stretched both arms upward. His wife Bellim rolled over, still sound asleep. He smiled at her in the dimness of their room; the sunlight was just beginning to filter in through their window. Kuj-vi hitched up his cotton overalls and slid into his muck boots. Plodding over to the screen door, he reached for his fancy-weave imported straw hat, which hung on a nail poking out of the wall. It was the one indulgence he granted himself, especially since the hat was the least likely thing to get splattered with manure, animal saliva, or cattle fodder.
Stepping outside into the cool morning air, Kuj-vi rubbed his eyes to help shake off the sleepiness that clung to him like a wet blanket. He moseyed on over to the feed-shed behind his humble abode and filled a pair of buckets with bran in preparation to fill up the breakfast troughs. Although Kuj-vi lived a simple life as Pharaoh’s head cattle-rancher, he took pride in his hard work. Every day, he made sure all the oxen and other royal herds were well fed, took them out to pasture to get exercise, and then rounded up the thousands of animals for the return trip back to the heavily guarded corral.
The last week or so had been a humdinger. Kuj-vi had to call in extra guards and even a couple of archer squads to keep the carnivorous critters from stealing and eating his charges. When all the commotion finally ended, Kuj-vi was quite grateful to have the peaceful hum drum of his daily routine restored.
The steady buzz of flies in Kuj-vi’s ears caused him to perk up. He sauntered back around his house and headed toward the grand entrance to the cattle pens. He sat one of the buckets on the ground and fished around in his belt pouch for the key to the padlock. After a minute noisy jangling, he removed the right one, inserted it into the lock and twisted it until he heard the distinctive click. Replacing the key, he picked up the bucket and flung open the gate with a kick. Kuj-vi took two steps before he nearly ran into a pair of hooves jutting straight up in the air, stopping at just about eye-level.
“Daaag-nabbit! Those gosh-darn teenagers done been drinking an’ gone cow-tippin’ again!” Kuj-vi spat in the dust, simmering with frustration.
“I keep tellin’ their folks to git them chil-run away from the liquor pantry, but nooooo, they’s never listenin’ to ol’ Kuj-vi,” he yammered on to no one in particular. Dropping both buckets with a sigh, he crouched down next to the cow’s head and gently slapped the prominent jaw. “Come on Betsy, git ‘er up now.”
But the beast didn’t budge. Kuj-vi raised his eyebrows and bent closer to look at the cow’s eye, which had rolled backward, leaving just the white exposed.
“Come on now, this ain’t time for games, girl,” he nudged the snout with his palm. The fat tongue, normally a bright pink, lolled outside of its mouth, revealing a speckled purple color. “Uh, oh.” Kuj-vi sprang to his feet and ran further into the cattle pen to check on the rest of the livestock. He quickly stopped short and let a curse escape his mouth.
“Well fry mah hide…”
The bewildered rancher slowly walked around in a circle, surveying the carnage that surrounded him. Everywhere he looked, cattle lie flat on their backs with all four legs pointing ram-rod straight at the sky like they were angrily gesturing with their hooves at some unseen enemy. Kuj-vi whistled mournfully.
“Ramses gonna keeeeell me.”
“Why, Qeela, is that a pimple on your nose?” Tut-hak-bur pointed at his co-anchor’s face.
“You’re joking right? I just had my makeup done in wardrobe,” Qeela reached for her purse, sat it in front of her and pulled out a compact mirror.
“And it’s a big one, too!” Tut-hak-bur chortled.
Qeela sighed, flipped open the mirror and stared at the large red bump standing in stark contrast to her uniformly colored skin. “By Aton’s shining beard! I’m going to have Kim-zad’s head on a pike for this!” Seething with rage, she stood up, removed her earpiece and stomped off stage.
“We-ell…” Tut-hak-bur nervously pursed his lips and tried to muster up a witty ad-lib. “If any of our viewers out there have experience as a professional makeup artist, please send your resumes to ENN Studios, P.O. Box-” Qeela’s startled cry stopped Tut-hak-bur mid-sentence.
“Get away from me! You did this to me!”
“I, uh… Qeela?” Tut-hak-bur leaned back in his chair and glanced to his left.
“No! No-no-no-no!” Qeela continued shrieking. “This can’t be happening! Not my beautiful face!”
Tut-hak-bur rested his elbow on the desk. “Really, Qeela. I think you’re giving a bad name to Egyptian women everywhere, it’s only a little pimple for Pharaoh’s sake!”
“No, don’t touch me! You’re getting them all over me!”
“…them?” Tut-hak-bur’s eyebrows formed a frown on his forehead. Behind the camera, the producer released a pent in sigh of frustration and signaled for an intern to go find out what the fuss was about. The young woman eagerly snapped to attention and darted off to the dressing rooms.
A moment later, Qeela’s voice could be heard angrily arguing with the intern. “I am not going back out there like this. No! Over my dead body!”
“Tell her if she wants to keep her job, she better get back on camera,” the producer announced through his handheld amplification cone. The intern reappeared, dragging a furiously struggling Qeela by the wrist.
“Don’t look at me! I’m hideous!” She declared, shielding her face with hands and forearms covered in small red welts.
“What happened to you?” Tuk-hak-bur was taken aback at his co-host’s sudden dermatological dilemma. A sharp, panicked yelp sounded from nearby, and the camera swung over into a different part of the studio. The intern’s exposed skin was also now covered in red bumps. The camera quickly jerked back to the news desk, where Qeela cowered behind her chair and Tut-hak-bur had a quizzical look on his face.
“Um, do you think this might be contagious?” He tapped the desk with a pencil as he asked the producer. Qeela irritably punched his shoulder. “Ow! Now, Qeela, was that really necessary?” Tut-hak-bur paused poignantly. “Wait, why does my arm feel all tingly?” He held his hand up in front of him, and little red pustules appeared on his wrist followed by more on his fingers. “This can’t be good.” The cameraman zoomed in on his face, as the red welts travelled up from his shirt collar and spread across his face, each making a little poink sound as it emerged. The crew stared in disbelief.
“This some kinda crazy prank or something?” Uk-yip the cameraman’s deep voice inquired.
The producer hesitated for a moment, looking around nervously. “I want this set in lockdown! Get me out of here before I get it, too!” He shouted, leaping from his folding chair and bounding out the studio exit.
“I have to admit, these things kind of hurt,” Tut-hak-bur remarked after poking one of the red, inflamed bulges on his cheek.
“Just cut to commercial already!” Qeela screamed from her hiding place.