A Damp Squib

Flash Fiction Month 2014, Day 27

Professor Hattersley took his place at the podium, ignoring the less than kind murmurs that spread through the audience as he crossed the stage. Talk didn’t bother him. For one thing, he was used to it. For another, after this conference the talk would be different. He set the shoebox-sized casket of gold and lapis lazuli before him.

“Esteemed colleagues,” he began. “I am aware that my research has drawn a certain amount of scorn in the past, and I appreciate that a degree of scepticism is only healthy.” The murmurs showed no sign of abating. If there was one good thing about being an academic pariah, it was that it did wonders for one’s public speaking skills. He spoke louder. “The idea that the deities of ancient Egypt were not merely the invention of a primitive society, but powerful visitors from another dimension, will no doubt have a dramatic effect on Egyptology, and indeed the study of all ancient civilizations.”

“This is just conjecture!” shouted a no-nonsense delegate at the back of the room. “You’ve never provided so much as a shred of evidence for the ideas presented in any of your books.”

A hearty chorus of “hear hear” went around the auditorium.

“I have provided enough evidence,” retorted Hattersley, “for anyone who is prepared to accept it. And I will provide much more. Behold!” He held the box aloft.

“That could have come from any New Age hippy woo shop.” One of the speakers sitting in the front row flapped a hand dismissively.

“As a matter of fact, it did.” Professor Hattersley tapped the lid of the box. “But though this item may be made of plastic, its design is based on a ruined original believed to have been associated with King Scorpion, and that design is what matters. That, and the summoning incantations I discovered on my most recent expedition. These have, of course, already been performed.” He smiled, waving a hand over the box.

“I’m sorry,” a reporter at the side of the room spoke up. Until now she had been looking pretty bored. “Do you mean to say that inside that box…there is a god?”

“That is exactly what I am saying.” Hattersley grinned. “But the sacred charms I recovered do not merely summon this god—they will allow me to command it.” Without a word more, he whipped the lid from the box.

Suddenly, there was a blinding light that obscured the entire stage. When it faded, there stood before the podium one of the strange, animal-headed figures every member of the audience was so familiar with. Its head was that of a lioness, and it regarded the mass of observers with a cold, distant gaze.

“Oh my goodness…” one delegate whispered to another, “I think that’s Sekhmet!”

“I don’t think so,” replied the other. “Sekhmet was the focus of my thesis—she’s usually pictured robed in red. More likely this is…”

“SEE ME!” boomed the goddess on the stage. “I AM TEFNUT—GODDESS OF MOISTURE!”

“Prove it!” shouted the delegate at the back.

The goddess opened her mouth and produced a hissing chant, like ten thousand leaves swaying in unison. Suddenly, the room was quite humid.

“Amazing!” the delegate at the back had to concede. “Tell me…can you do more than this?”

“NO,” replied Tefnut. “IF I DID MORE THAN THIS, THE ROOM WOULD NOT BE MOIST. IT WOULD BE WET. IF YOU WANT THE ROOM TO BECOME WET, YOU SHOULD SUMMON ANUKET—GODDESS OF THE NILE—OR IT MIGHT BE EASIER TO JUST SPRAY IT WITH A HOSE.”

“Wait…” Professor Hattersley peered from behind the podium, where he’d been hiding. “Do you mean to say I’ve spent my entire career searching for you…and you’re basically just a supernatural humidifier? You can’t do anything else at all?”

“THERE IS ONE OTHER THING I CAN DO.”

“Go on then.”

Tefnut stared blankly at him.

“I command you,” shouted Hattersley, “show me!”

Tefnut stepped down from the stage and approached the speaker in the front row, who began to panic. “SCRIBE,” she said, “YOUR LIPS ARE DRY.” So she stretched out a hand and pointed to his lips, and they were dry no longer.

“Thank you!” stammered the speaker. “I left my chapstick on the plane and I’ve been without it for days…thank you so much!”

Professor Hattersley slapped a palm to his forehead. “Is that really all you can do?”

“THERE IS YET ONE MORE THING,” said Tefnut.

“Yes?” Hattersley tapped his foot.

“IF ANYBODY HAS A DISAPPOINTING TURKEY SANDWICH, I CAN…”

“That’s it.” Professor Hattersley pulled the microphone from his lapel and threw it to the ground. “I quit.”


If you’ve enjoyed this story, you can find my work from Flash Fiction Month 2012 and 2013 collected in OCR is Not the Only Font and Red Herring respectively.

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5 comments

  1. 500woerterdiewoche

    Still, an Egyptian goddess is several degrees cooler than a normal humidifier or chapstick. Imagine the possibilities! “Oh dear, my lips are really dry today.” – “Want to borrow my chapstick?” – “No, thanks, just let me quickly SUMMON AN ANCIENT GODDESS AND MAKE HER BOW TO MY COMMAND.” Instant respect.

    Small critique: Egyptian society was anything but primitive. An Egyptologist would never use that word in this context.

    • Damon Wakes

      Now that you mention it, that’s probably true. I can think of ways to justify it, but it’s hard to picture an Egyptologist trying to.

      The wow factor is actually something I was trying to go for here. Everyone except Hattersley is at least a little impressed–it’s simply that he was expecting some kind of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull style spectacle and that’s just not what Tefnut’s about.

      • 500woerterdiewoche

        Yes, the discrepancy between his disappointment and the audience’s utter bafflement is really funny. Also, I like that Tefnut is such a simple goddess, but still speaks only in an AWE-INSPIRING, BOOMING VOICE, because goddesses obviously have no indoor voice 😄

      • Damon Wakes

        “Do you have to talk like that all the time?”
        “UNFORTUNATELY MY POWERS DEAL WITH MOISTURE EXCLUSIVELY. IF YOU WANT TO SEAL AN ENVELOPE, I CAN HELP YOU OUT, BUT CONTROLLING THE VOLUME OF MY VOICE IS TOTALLY BEYOND ME. SORRY.”

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