PRW Runner-Up Tour: Bizarre Love Pyramid by Shawn Thomas Anderson
“Issy, who’s the fox in the Big Bad Wolf costume?” Nephy grabbed my hands in excitement and shouted into my ear over the thumping bass as the band started to play in the main ballroom.
The furry-headed figure was directing a mummy and a pharaoh as they put the final touches on hanging the banner. The large swath of saffron-colored fabric read, WELCOME TO PHARAOH FEST & THE HOME OF THE MIGHTY FIGHTING PHOENIXES. It was draped behind a disco ball shaped like a pyramid. His biceps and pecs gleamed, brushed with pewter-colored paint. He pointed and barked more orders to his minions.
“It’s a jackal head, silly. But slow your roll, that’s Seth,” I said.
“Ugh, I knew those muscles looked familiar. He’s such a jerk,” Nephy said. “Don’t worry, I’m never getting back with him, but damn, does he look fine in that costume. Maybe if he keeps that head on all night and doesn’t open his mouth, I might be able to grab a dance—and a squeeze.”
“Um, don’t even think about it. You can do better,” I said. “There are plenty of scantily clad football players running around as Egyptian gods tonight. It’s Pharaoh-Fest tradition.”
“Oooo, and a sister does like to keep with tradition.” As if on cue, Anubis and Thoth walked by carrying another ladder. Nephy’s eyes followed and her jaw dropped.
Syris made his way through the crowd to join us, his face and body tinted green like the Egyptian god of the dead.
“But this one is all mine,” I said.
He wrapped his arm around me. A golden neckpiece, bracers, and arm bands adorned his muscles and he wore a simple linen wrap the size of a bath towel. He leaned in, nuzzled my cheek with his nose, and started to kiss me.
I shooed him away. “Hold on, Kermit-Ra. I don’t want to be covered in that green stuff—yet.”
“Oh, Syris. That was a great play last night. You won the game for us,” Nephy said. She bit her lip in typical Nephy fashion.
“Hey, you had your turn with him. He’s my problem now.” I wrapped my arms around his waist, staking my claim.
“That costume makes me forget why it didn’t work out for us all those eons ago,” Nephy said.
Syris gestured with his chin to Seth and gave her the eye.
“Oh yeah, that’s right. It was that jackal-ass that messed everything up.” She batted her fake eyelashes at Syris, but I didn’t mind. That was Nephy for you, goddess of flirting. “Boy, we need some new blood in this town. The dating pool around here is getting so incestuous. Seriously, six degrees of separation is more like a two and a half. Everyone’s dated everyone.”
“Oh stop. What are you supposed to be anyway? Some modern take on the cat goddess, Bastet?” I looked Nephy’s costume up and down. “You don’t look very Egyptian.”
“I’m not. Only the team, cheerleaders, and dance committee dress the part. The rest of us civilians just do the standard Halloween masquerade thing. I’m a sexy version of Grumpy Cat.” She pretended to lick her calico-haired gloves and scrunched her furry face like the cat meme.
I started laughing.
“And just who are you suppose to be, Pompoms?” Nephy spoke through a scowl, not breaking from character.
“I’m my namesake,” I said. Nephy looked more confused than grumpy. I flipped the side of my straight-haired black wig and Tut danced for her. “I’m Isis, the goddess of magic, duh.”
“That’s so predictable, but the costume is hot—and you’ve perfected the smoky eye.” Nephy smiled, but not at me. She watched as Thoth held the ladder and Anubis climbed to the top to hang some fallen streamers. “Thank Ra for men in skirts! Excuse me. I think something interesting is happening over by that ladder.
“You’re not an angry cat, you’re a naughty little sphinx.” I yelled after her, but she was already gone. “What can I say—gotta love her.” I turned to Syris and he pulled me to him.
“Haven’t I waited long enough to give you some of this Osiris-green paint?”
“Okay, I guess so. You know how I just can’t resist a man in makeup—and a diaper.” I leaned in and kissed him. I was only a little concerned that the body paint was going to mess up my fabulousness.
“Get a room.” The voice came from the staircase behind us. We turned to find Seth walking down the stairs, his mummy, pharaoh, and a linebacker dressed as Taweret, the pregnant hippo goddess, in tow. “Good game.” He smirked and clapped slowly.
Syris tensed in my arms. “Not tonight, baby. He’s not worth it. Let’s go watch the band.” I pulled him by the arm, but his gladiator sandals remained anchored to the floor.
Seth stepped from the final stair and I positioned myself between them, putting my palms to their chest plates to keep them apart. “This grudge is ancient history, let it go.”
“I’m so sick of him walking around like he owns the place.” Seth sneered and backed up a couple stairs to tower over Syris.
“You’re just jealous. Not everyone can be starting quarterback,” Syris said.
“Come on.” I looked Syris in his eyes. They were as bright green as his skin. He focused on me and I smiled. Hooking my arm through his, I led him away from Seth and his goons.
“That guy’s always had it out for me since that Nephy thing.” Syris laced his fingers through mine as we followed the thumping of the music.
“Forget about it. It was a long time ago. I’m your here and now.”
We walked down the dim hallway. The walls were covered to look like stone and handwritten hieroglyphs sprawled in every direction.
“This is my glyph to you.” He pointed to a circle with a dot in the center. Two helix-shaped glyphs wound up and back down on either side. To Issy—Neheh, Syris, written underneath.
“Neheh? What does it mean?” I traced the symbol with my jewel-tipped nail.
“Eternity,” he said. “I love you. You’ll always be my Queen of the Nile.” He chuckled. His corniness lightened the seriousness of the words, but I knew he meant them.
“I love you, too.” I pushed him up against the wall and tried to soak up as much of his green body paint as I could. We kissed for what seemed an eternity, until the music reminded us where we were going.
“The band sounds great,” Syris took my hand again, and we continued down the hall, passing through a screen of rubber snakes that dangled over the doorway.
“Yuck, snakes. What do they have to do with anything?” I ducked, not wanting to touch them.
“They’re asps.” He started to laugh.
“I glad you find me so amusing.”
“Always,” he said.
In the ballroom, paper-mâche dunes glistened with glitter sand, and more disco-ball pyramids refracted the light, casting a sea of spinning sparkles on the floor and walls. A gigantic sphinx wearing sunglasses sat in the corner. I remembered it from the parade earlier in the day. The band, in full Egyptian garb, played a version of Nirvana’s Heart-Shaped Box and people started to dance.
Nephy ran up to us, dragging Anubis by the hand. “Look, I’ve found a new jackal to bat around. She swatted at him with her cat-paw gloves.”
“Hey, Issy. Syris. You look great,” Anubis said.
“Is that you in there, Ubi?” I poked his snout with my finger.
“Badass costumes,” he said, his words muffled by the dog mask.
“We’re heading over to the V.I.P. Tut Hut. I heard the ice cubes in the punch bowl are shaped like scarabs. Wanna come?” Nephy started to pull Ubi away.
“Nah, we’re fine,” I said. “I’ll catch up with you later.”
“Suit yourself,” Nephy said.
We watched her drag Ubi across the dance floor and into the velvet tent setup in the back of the room. “Cute couple. I can’t believe they’re just getting together now,” Syris said.
“It’s senior year, and magic is in the air. Anything can happen. I should know. I’m the goddess of magic after all.” I wiggled my fingers like I was casting a spell. The light caught my rings and nails, making them twinkle. “And I know of another couple that’s much cuter.” I danced up to him. His skin was smooth, and I felt his warmth radiating from underneath the paint.
“Well, it’s not exactly a slow song, but we can make it work,” Syris said. He held me close and we started to dance, his hands gently fell to my waist.
“At least it’s not Walk Like an Egyptian,” I said. “If I hear that song one more time—”
Syris raised a finger to my lips, cutting me off. “I really meant what I said back in the hallway. I want to be with you forever, Isis.” He breathed the words into my ear and a shiver passed down my spine. My backless dress didn’t help ward off the chill. I didn’t care about his past with Nephy or his grudge with Seth. It was all just water down the Nile.
“I do too,” I said. “I love you.” I reached up on my tiptoes and kissed him again. The song ended, but we continued to sway.
The rustle of static followed by a bang-bang-bang of someone tapping a microphone broke the trance. Everyone stopped partying and shifted their attention to where the band was playing.
Seth stood center-stage, holding his jackal head under his arm like a football helmet in one hand and the microphone in the other. “As president of the senior class, I’ve planned an epic surprise for you all. Will everyone please make their way outside to the veranda?
“Did you know about this?” I leaned close to Syris.
“No, I have no idea what he’s up to.” Syris put his arm around me and ushered me toward the exit. We followed the signs that said, THIS WAY TO THE NILE.
Classmates gathered around a makeshift stage in front of the pool. The air was heavy with the smell of flowering trees and chlorine. The water cast ripples even more spectacular than the ones created by the disco-ball pyramids.
Seth took his place, microphone in hand, by a golden scale that was his height. Two large objects, shrouded in red velvet, rested at the pool’s edge. “This year, we are going to crown the king and queen first.” Seth spoke into the microphone like a game-show host.
The Taweret thug pulled the velvet clothes, revealing two body-sized wooden sarcophaguses. One shaped like a male, the other, female.
“In the Egyptian tradition, these were sized to the winners’ exact measurements. Only the true king and queen will fit. As I call your name, please come up and take your place inside to see if you’ve won the crown.” Seth motioned and his minions opened the lids. “I’ll go first to show you how it works.” Seth handed his jackal head to the mummy and stepped into the molded chamber. He leaned inside, but when they tried to close it, they couldn’t. Seth was too tall and stuck out too much for the lid to shut.
“Well, I guess I’m not worthy enough to be homecoming king.” Seth stepped from the box with a bitter chuckle. The crowd went wild and he quickly changed his tone. “So let’s get this party started. The first name on my list is Stephie Nute.”
A slight girl sprang from the crowd and removed her lioness mask. You could tell she was a cheerleader by the way she bounced onto the stage. Seth helped her into the female box.
“You can already tell that that itty-bitty little pyramid-topper is too small to fill the space.” Nephy appeared next to us, holding hands with Ubi.
“Sorry, Tefnut, you’re not the queen,” Seth said into the microphone.
Stephie curtsied and returned to the crowd. Everyone cheered for her anyway.
“Isis Akmenbar is next,” Seth said, reading from his paper.
“Oh god, I don’t like this,” I said.
“Don’t worry.” Syris nudged me forward. “I won’t let anything happen to you. I’ll be right here.”
I walked up the stairs and onto the stage. When I leaned back into the box, the foam was tight around my head, arms, and legs. I couldn’t move. The inside of the lid was also filled with foam. Though it was obvious that I fit perfectly, dread filled my heart. I knew Seth was going to close me in to confirm the win.
“I’m a bit claustrophobic. Please don’t close the lid all the way.” I whispered to Seth as he examined me unsympathetically.
“We just need to close it for a second. You’ll be fine.” He stepped back and his minions closed the hinged box.
The molded foam pressed against my face stealing my breath and sealing me in. I couldn’t move my face or limbs. Trapped in blackness, I fought back a scream and tried to push my body forward against the lid to open it. I wanted to kick, but my legs and feet were too confined.
I was about to freak when the lid opened and I stumbled back into the light. The eternity of darkness had only been seconds. Seth held my hand up over my head. “We have a winner, folks. All hail Queen Isis,” he said. The crowd went into frenzy.
He brought the microphone to my lips, wanting me to say a few words, but I pushed it away. “You jerk, I told you not to close it.” Then I plastered a fake smile on my face, turn to the crowd, and accepted the rhinestone headdress-crown.
“Now for the gentlemen,” he said. “The first name, the big hero himself, Syris Ramstein.”
Syris strutted onto the stage and struck a Heisman football pose. The crowd exploded with cheers.
“As always, the crowd favorite,” Seth said with venom.
I applauded, but a sinking feeling plagued my stomach as Syris positioned himself inside the coffin. I could tell from where I was standing, it fit like a glove. He was king, but something was wrong.
“Now,” Seth yelled. The hinged lid snapped closed and a row of locks clicked into place and he started laughing.
I shrieked and ran to the tomb trying to open the door. I heard muffled thumps and cries from behind the layers of wood and foam. The human-shaped box rocked back and forth as Syris tried to free himself.
“Get him out of there. This isn’t funny.” I turned and grabbed Seth’s shoulder.
Seth pretended to pat imaginary pockets, shrugged, and continued laughing. “Sorry, love. No keys.”
“You, monster! He’ll suffocate in there.” I pulled harder at the lid, but it was shut tight. “Someone help me. We need to get him out of there—now!”
The crowd stopped clapping as chaperones and faculty rushed the stage. Nephy ran to my side and we tried to pry the lid off with our hands, but it was no use. “Someone get security. I’ll call 911.” She fumbled with her phone. “Ubi, we need an axe or something heavy to break the lock.”
Ubi ripped off his mask and ran to the wall. He grabbed the fire extinguisher and started to whack at the clasps.
“He’s fine. There are air holes. I’ll get the keys. No biggie. We just wanted to shake him up a bit.” Seth walked over and nudged the sarcophagus. The stage collapsed and the coffin fell back, toppled into the pool, and sank straight to the bottom. “I-I-I didn’t mean for that to happen. It was all a joke.”
“What did you do?” Kicking off my heels, I dove into the pool and swam to the bottom. I tried to lift the coffin and pull it toward the shallow end, thinking it might be buoyant in the water. It wouldn’t budge.
I thought of the stifling blackness inside and what it felt like to panic. I was only in that thing for a few seconds and I couldn’t take it. Leaning into the box with everything I had in me, I moved it an inch. I hunkered down and stained again, moving it a bit more, but I needed air. My head began to spin and when I breeched the surface, gasping, I saw the rest of the football team and some teachers jumping into the water.
Arms and legs flailed and splashed through the water as people pushed their way down to the box. I dove under the water again and someone elbowed me in the nose and jaw. I tasted blood and chlorine, but it didn’t stop me as I fought my way through to get to Syris.
I tugged at a handle I on the side and the box jerked forward. Bodies went to the surface and the next wave swam down. I stayed underwater with him as long as my lungs would let me, hoping he knew I was there, trying to set him free.
Another foot and then the second group went up for air. Bodies now moved in unison. We worked the sarcophagus to the shallow end and stood the box upright, lifting the head end out of the water.
I imagined the sponge-like foam would feel like wet cement against his skin, and that would be no more breathable than the water. I became frantic again, kicking and clawing at the lid until someone pulled me back.
“No one can hold their breath that long,” I said, falling onto Nephy’s shoulder.
“We’ll get him out,” she said.
A group of men pulled the crypt from the pool and laid it flat on the stone patio.
“Step back.” Ubi was at our side, this time with an axe he had pulled from one of the emergency boxes. He raised the axe and struck the locked side of the box until it split apart. He threw open the lid and I rushed in to pull Syris out. The green paint had washed away from his face and chest, leaving cold, blue skin.
“No, no, no! Quick, mouth-to-mouth, like we learned in lifeguard training.” I beckoned to Ubi, remembering he earned his certification with me. He compressed Syris’ chest as I counted. I pinched his nose and breathed my breath into his mouth. His lips were ice cold, the temperature of the pool water, not at all like the ones I kissed in the dark hall.
“Again,” I said, and Ubi started more compressions.
The school nurse dressed as a cow-horned goddess was at his side, taking his pulse. “He’s gone,” she said.
“No. Again. I won’t give up on him. He said he wanted to be with me, forever.” I pushed Ubi out of the way and took over the compressions.
“It’s no use. He’s dead.” Ubi staggered back, putting his arm around me. “There’s nothing we can do.”
I shook Syris hard and the green makeup stained my hands. I took my finger and drew the double helixes and the circle on his chest with the paint where it had washed away. “Neheh. Eternity,” I said and as I dotted the circle, a bolt of light dropped from the sky and struck the body.
EMTs rushed onto the patio and surrounded Syris, frantically working on him. A security guard and the school nurse pulled us back. “Give them space,” the nurse said.
I lost sight of his body in the sea of equipment and paramedics, but I heard one of them say, “Oh my god, he’s alive.”
“He’s alive?” I got up from the cold stone and walked toward Syris and the mass or paramedics. “I think I saw movement.”
Ubi turned to me and squeezed my hand. “Wow, you really are the goddess of magic, Issy.”
“And you, Anubis, protector of the dead,” I said.
“No he’s not. He’s the Big Bad Wolf,” Nephy smiled and handed him his wet jackal head. We followed the paramedics as they carried Syris to the ambulance on a stretcher and loaded him inside.
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