Clem Potts licked his cracked lips and swallowed at the rippling sky. Today his desert sky was a giant umbrella of liquid blue, like a lake turned upside down. Empty of flying fish and swimming birds, it was just blue empty. Clem shrugged off the crazy thoughts and looked back down at the hard ground. The only water under this umbrella sloshed around in the waterbags slung over his burro. It was hot as Hades and anything on Clem’s horizon shimmered and danced in a hazy daydream of heat.
He had made this six hour journey about a dozen times. There was only one way from town to his mine, and it was to cross this dry lake. Clem had found the trip passed quicker in his mind if he just kept his head bent down to the old trail with his hat pulled low and didn’t stop. But he did need a sip of water every so often, and when he took one, he sometimes looked up and saw odd things.
He had just got back into a steady step when the burro stopped dead in it’s tracks.
“Well… What’s wrong now, Bessy?” he said tugging at her reins.
He felt it before he saw it… He looked around. A tumbleweed bounced across their path, driven by some unexpected gust. It sparked like a flint and burst into flames. Bessy whined. Clem shivered.
“Where’d that come from? ” he said.
The old prospector reached for his rifle. Something in the hot air had shifted. Suddenly there was a flash of light and a pop in his ears. A blast of salty sand knocked him and the burro to the ground.
When he was able to wipe the grit from his eyes and squint at the light, Clem was thunderstruck. A half-naked boy in what appeared to be a strange golden boat, looked down on him.
“Oh, my God—” Clem whispered and looked around for his rifle. It was ten feet away near Bessy, who was still down on the ground.
“Yes, I am divine,” the boy said. “What are you creature? Are you a spirit in this world— a demon?”
This was not English, it was some kind of jibberish Clem had never heard but somehow he understood the boy.
“Uhhh…I’m Clement Potts. I have a claim near here, at Purgatory Hills,” he said.
“I sense you are mortal,” the boy said. “Are you a man?” He was now speaking English.
“Uhhh…Well, I ain’t no woman! What in tarnation are you, an Indian?”
“I am a god. I am eternal. My flesh is gold and my lifeforce is Ka. Ra is my father and I search for Osiris. What is this place? I beg counsel with Osiris. Is he here?”
“Where’d you come from, boy? How’d you just… appear out here in the desert?”
“Boy, you say?! I am no boy! I am Tutankhamun, Pharaoh of the lands of my fathers and a living god in this and all worlds. Kneel before me, mortal!”
“Uhhh…All right, all right…hold yer horses, yer highness. I meant no offense,” Clem rolled over onto his knees.
“You may rise, Clement Potts. If this be a mortal place then this is not my afterlife. This is still Duat— the undersky,” Tutankhamun said.
Clem stood up. “Uhhh…Well now, I ain’t heard of no Doo-what around these parts and I don’t see too many folks out here in the middle of the territory, ‘cept Indians. This Ossie feller you lookin’ fer, is he a chief?”
“Osiris is omnipotent,” Tutankhamun said. “He is god of the underworld, undersky— and keeper of the dead realms. He mercifully judges all who seek passage to the afterlife. I met him when my body and soul were reunited and I was weighed by him. I thought I had passed his tests worthy but I am trapped in this…Purgatory, as you call it and I have yet to meet my pleasures in eternity. I seek Osiris and his divine justice to make my amends.”
Clem’s eyes had adjusted to the thing, whatever it was. Except for some black smudge around his eyes, Tut was a bright, golden-colored statue of a boy. He stood almost six feet tall and wore a white cloth around his waist, a matching one draped over his head and some pretty jewels at his neck and wrists. But everything else was a pure and blinding gold; the odd boat with statues of cats and what looked like a bed, even the long stick the boy held. Clem would have had to mine the motherlode for a lifetime to get this much gold!
This must be a heat dream, one of those mirages, he thought and he was suddenly impatient. “Horse feathers,” Clem said under his breath. He shook his head. He had to keep moving.
“Uhhh…Well pardner, I best be movin’ along. I’m sorry I cain’t help you find who yer lookin’ fer…” he said.
“Will you not be guide and servant, Clement Potts?” Tut said sounding more like a boy than the god he had claimed to be.
“Last I heard, this here was a free land, yer highness, and I am servant to none…”
The golden god-boy looked like a babe about to cry. Clem looked up at the sky then back at the boy.
“Uhhh…Looky here, this Ossie feller, would he like rivers and lakes, and a town full of lost souls? Maybe a few purty ladies?” Clem said.
If a gold face could brighten, Tut’s did. “Yes, I am certain he would!” Tut exclaimed.
“Then, I’m sure he’s in Reno,” Clem said. “That’s west’a here, out yonder.” Clem pointed over the mountains.
“Blessed be you on your journey, Clement Potts!” Tut said. “I am grateful for your guidance.”
Tut waved a hand, and with the other he pounded his gold stick down on the deck of the gold boat. There was the flash of light and the pop in Clem’s ears again. A blast of sand knocked him back on his behind.
When he could rub open his eyes, he stood up. The boy and the boat had vanished. Bessy was standing near him. Clem grabbed her reins and shrugged off the crazy thoughts. “Horse feathers!” He put his head back down to the old trail and yanked Bessy along.
“Come along, old girl, we best git out from under this sky.”