July 10th – Camp NANO

Prompt: Snow shoveling showdown

Character: A Painter

The plan had gone off without a hitch, at least up until the point where Gerald and his two kidnappers crawled into the ancient coffin. He was not sure if it was ancient mold spores making him lose his mind or what, but one second they were in the museum and the next they were somewhere else. The inside of the sarcophagus was much larger than he had assumed by looking at it from the outside, but it was still much to tight quarters for three grown men to squeeze into.

Gerald shoved his way back out of the box, fully expecting to see the Egyptian exhibit still. He attributed the dizzy spell he was feeling to a touch of claustrophobia he was not aware he had until just then. He reached his hand out to steady himself on the faux pyramid walls and gasped in shock when his fingers came in contact with something freezing cold and wet.

He opened his eyes to a world of ice and snow, lit by weak twilight blue. Gerald and Brian stepped out into the new space, both with identical looks of disappointment.

“Nope. Not it.” Simon tucked the key he used to unlock the box into his pocket and rubbed his arms vigorously. “I don’t think it has ever been this cold on Niburu.”

“This is even worse than I thought,” Brian looked around at the endless white snow. “We have to figure out exactly where we are so we can make the necessary adjustments.”

“You don’t know where we are?” Gerald was having a very hard time getting his head around all this. Why was he not standing in the middle of a museum exhibit? He was not imagining this, the biting cold wind and snow squeaking under his shoes proved this was real.

“Not a clue,” Brian admitted blithely. “But don’t worry, I will be able to figure that out as soon as we get into that building.” He pointed to something behind Gerald.

Gerald turned slowly, not sure what he would find, but the once featureless landscape now had a small white building breaking up the grey skyline. “Why don’t we just go back and figure it out from somewhere warm?” He looked around and did not see Simon.

“That would do us no good, if we simply take a scatter shot approach we will never get home.” Brian took a couple steps toward the white building and then stopped, frowning. “The snow looks deeper over there, we will need something to clear it with.”

“Got it covered,” Simon reappeared with two shovels. He was wearing a coat now, and it looked like it had come off of one of the display mannequins. He handed one to Brian and held the other out to Gerald.

“If you think I am going to bust my ass shoveling snow on an alien planet, you are crazier than I thought.”

“Suck it up,” Simon thrust the shovel against Gerald’s chest and let go. He had no choice but to catch it I he didn’t want it to land on his toes.

“You realize this is not a snow shovel, don’t you?” He looked at the spade tip and short wooden handle. “It looks like the kind you did holes with.”

“Look genius, I got these in the store room at a museum, of course these are not snow shovels, they are meant for digging on sites. Now get going, it’s freezing out here.”

Brian was already stomping through the snow, looking for a way to the squat white building. He had been right, the closer they got to the building, the deeper the snow was. By the time they were 10 feet from the featureless square it was so deep they had no choice but to start shoveling. Gerald was shivering in the sold and his feet and pants legs were completely soaked and freezing.

“This is the dumbest thing we have done yet,” he complained as Brian’s shovel scraped against something hard.

Get shoveling, we need in there and we do not have much time, the guard’s nap never lasts more than 90 minutes. If he wakes up before we get back, we will be stuck in the gate until tomorrow night. This revelation spurred Gerald into action. The thought of being stuck in that thing with these two all day was enough to make him forget his misery and start digging.

“What do you think you are going to find in this box that will help us out?” Gerald could not believe he was actually asking this like it was in any was reasonable. There should not be a next time, none of this should have been happening the first place.

“Every gate has a marker showing the exact coordinates of the planet. We have to get in there and find those coordinates and figure out how far off course we really are.”

“It works a lot better in the movies,” he groused.

“Hurry it up,” Simon called from somewhere behind them. “I’m freeing.”

“Then get your butt over here and shovel,” Gerald snapped. He was starting to feel sweat on his brown from the work.

“Don’t bother,” Brian panted, throwing a shovel full of snow directly into the path Gerald had just cleared. “I’m surprised he even touched a shovel long enough to bring them here, or even recognized one for that matter.”

“I heard that!” Simon called.

The two men worked in silence after that, each trying to reach the door first in a form of unspoken contest. The snow squeaked and crunched under their feet, but the eerie dim light never changed, even when new snow began to fall gently.

CLUNK

Gerald’s shovel came in contact not with a paving stone like it had been, but with something metal. It rang like a gong in the creepy quiet world.

“There’s the door!” Simon came trotting over, hand tucked under his arms, the absurd ancient coat straining across his shoulders. He got so excited that he started to kick and scoot the snow covering the entrance with his polished dress shoes.

“Not helping, Simon.” Gerald shoved the prissy man out of the way and worked on clearing the snow using the shovel.

“Stand back,” Brian said as soon as the large metal square was uncovered. He tapped on the top, hearing the hollow ring, and he pried at the edges with both his shovel and his fingers until he apparently found what he was looking for.

“Here it is, Simon, the key.” He held out his hand as Simon searched his pockets with increasing terror.

“This isn’t the same key we need to get back home is it?” Gerald felt his pulse increase even more.

“Well, we know it is here somewhere, I could not have gotten back here with the shovels without it.” Simon continued to pat his clothing as if he thought he might have sprouted an additional pocket and put the key in there in the last half hour.

“For fuck’s sake,” Gerald dropped the shovel and stormed off back toward the box laying in the snow. The little box they needed in order to get home. Or at least back to the museum since he was starting to wonder where home really was.

The weak light made it hard for him to see, but he peered into every foot print or indentation in the snow until he got all the way back to the box. He had seen nothing that looked even remotely like the key Simon had used on their way here. The only thing he had seen was snow and even more snow. He sat dejectedly on the closed lid. There was no way to even open the thing up without the key. He noticed that the box was no longer a sarcophagus, but now looked like a plain dark grey metal trunk.

Maybe the key did not look the same now either. Maybe he had walked right passed it, not realizing it no longer looked the same. He was playing with this train of thought when something caught his eye. On the far side of the box there was a small dent in the snow and it looked like a pink ribbon showing just over the top. The key was on a pick ribbon! He remember teasing Simon about the sissy color.

Gerald lunged over the box and snatched at the ribbon, but there was no key on the end when he brought it up. It was just a plain ribbon.

“Must have come off of that damn coat,” Gerald slumped in defeat. Was there even any food on this planet, would they freeze to death before they starved? He kind of hoped so, he heard that freezing was a fairly peaceful way to go.

He was so lost in his morbid thoughts that it took him a moment to realize he was hearing his name being called from the direction of the white building. Both Simon and Brian were waving their arms excitedly and calling his name. They better have found the key, because if they were just being ass holes he was going to make sure nether of them lived long enough to freeze.

Gerald trudged back toward his companions. He was beginning to wonder if this was what insanity felt like.

The metal door stood open, swung back on an unseen hinge when he got back to the spot.

“Forgot I had the coat on,” Simon said sheepishly by way of explanation.

“Let’s just get this over with so we can go back somewhere warm.” Gerald heaved himself over the lip and onto a vertical ladder. The rungs were ice cold and slightly slippery, but he wanted to get somewhere without snow badly enough that he hardly noticed.

*Gerald’s foot hit the bottom, jarring him slightly. He was standing in a tunnel made out of what looked like sandstone. That was not what he was expecting. He ran his cold fingers against the stone and felt it warm to the touch. The tunnel led to his left, there were no lights that he could see, but it was not dark. The stone itself was giving off a warm amber glow.

Amazed, Gerald walked along the corridor, looking for any sign of lights, but his first thought seemed to be right, the stone glowed, not like it was sprayed or painted with something that glowed, it glowed.

Suddenly the tunnel ended and he found himself standing in an immense room. The ceiling was so high, either he had gone down much further than he thought or the little white building above was like the box, somewhat larger on the inside. When he woke up and this was all a weird dream, he was going to swear off science fiction.

The room was filled with a machine he could not even begin to explain the purpose of, giant gears turned and ground against each other, a pendulum swung from the apex of the ceiling and ring after ring swirled and danced though each other like a brass circus act.

“I would not stand there if I were you.” The voice came from somewhere above Gerald. It did not belong to either Simon or Brian, he could hear them still arguing and swearing as they made their way down the ladder and strange glowing hall. Gerald looked up.

A little man like creature, wrinkled and wizened like a doll made from an apple perched on a narrow ledge. He could not have been any taller than 3 feet high.

“Who are you?” Gerald asked.

“I am the painter, and you are about to get smacked into next week if you don’t step back NOW.”

Gerald did, just as one of the giant brass rings swung through the air where he had been only a moment before. He cautiously peeked around and saw to little man now perched precariously on top of the revolving object, and it looked like he had a paintbrush in his hand. As he worked, dark runes appeared on the side of the ring.

“No time to chat!” The man called as the ring he rode moved further away and an enormous ball swung past ponderously. “A painter’s work is never done.”

“These damn things are always down for repairs,” Simon complained behind him. Brian pushed his way between them and peered into the room with the insanely confusing machine.

“What is it?” Gerald asked.

“A brownie,” Brian replied absently.

“Not the painter,” Gerald corrected and then paused. “Do what? Now you want me to belie brownies are real too. I give up.”

“Quit being a baby,” Simon said. “Of course they are real. You are looking at one now. They are not really all that great at household chores though, they are better at maintaining the more out of the way stations.”

It sounded like the machine was moving faster, the laborious grinding was becoming more of a hum and Gerald could see the intricate disks and balls moving much more smoothly. More of the black lettering had appeared under the little creature’s brush and with each added mark the contraption moved faster. Brian almost knocked the m over stepping back out of the way of the ball and another disk as they zipped by.

“I see Omega Tau Epsilon Delta, what is that last one, Simon?” Brian pointed to the far wall where symbols a couple feet high each were marked in gold.

“Stupid wizard,” The brownie appeared at the entrance to the tunnel. “That is a Mu not a Delta. How did you even get this far if you can’t tell the difference?”

“Don’t start an argument with him,” Simon grabbed Brian’s arm and dragged him back toward the hatch. “You know better that to argue with the wee folk. You got what we needed, so now let’s get out of here.”

Gerald hurried to catch up, head reeling and starting to hurt. He had no idea what was going on any more.”

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