by Esther Davis
No one ever wanted to play catch on Mars.
Nine-year-old Jasper trudged across the red sandscape, grumbling under his breath about boring adults and stupid baby sisters. Dad promised a game of catch. Why’d the colony’s generators have to break down today?
Katy couldn’t play, ‘cause she wasn’t even a year old. Nibbles the Hamster couldn’t play, because he got loose and chewed through the generator’s main electrical wire. Dad said they could cremate the hamster tomorrow, after he fixed the colony’s power supply.
Red dust pattered against the dumb fishbowl helmet Jasper had to wear whenever he went outside. Jasper wished he had a cool helmet like the ones Matt’s family used. Their facemasks made them look like the space invaders from the movies.
Matt. Maybe Matt could play! But then Jasper remembered Matt’s colony lived three hours away by dune buggy. Jasper couldn’t walk that far.
Jasper kicked a rock and kept trudging. He hoped Matt’s hamster died, too.
After a full fifteen minutes of moping, a strange outline appeared in the distance. Jasper squinted. A pyramid. He’d never explored something outside the colony’s airlocked city. This would be fun.
Thick red blocks stacked on top of each other like giant legos—minus the bumpy lego part. Grabbing the edge and jumping, Jasper pulled himself up one level, then another. He held his arms out to his side and ran along the pyramid edge, buzzing his lips like a spaceship.
Then he found the doorway.
Jasper slid down to the sand and stepped inside. A soft, sourceless glow filled the hallway where shadows should have been.
“Welcome, child.” An earthy rumble spoke from the chamber beyond, echoing through Jasper’s plexiglass fishbowl the same way Dad’s voice did when they reentered the colony’s airlocked atmosphere. “You may remove your helmet. It’s safe, pinkie promise. Except I don’t have pinkies.” The voice laughed.
Jasper didn’t see any thick doors or hear the familiar rush of returning oxygen, but the voice seemed trustworthy enough. Twisting the fishbowl from his head, Jasper continued down the hallway into the chamber.
Something shrieked. Jasper nearly jumped out of his spacesuit.
A baboon, much taller and heftier than Jasper, raced across the room. It leapt and clambered up a slender wall that stood in the center of the chamber where it glared at Jasper, fangs bared.
“Not now, Baba. We like children. They’re easy to mold.”
Cocking his head to one side, Jasper entered the chamber. He could see no adults or furniture or even light fixtures. Only the wall that the baboon now perched on, which had a funny looking face painted onto it.
“Don’t mind Baba. He only eats people’s entrails when I tell him to,” the wall said.
Jasper gaped. “You’re a talking wall!”
The face scoffed. “I am the great deity Khaf of Ancient Egypt.”
Egypt? That’s why Wall Man’s face looked funny. It was painted with hieroglyphs. Jasper giggled. He couldn’t help it.
Wall Man’s eyes narrowed. Jasper knew that look. He squinted his own eyes like that when deciding if he should tell Dad that his newest “dinner” tasted like pickled feet, or just complain about it to Mom later.
“I, The Great Khaf, have traveled long and far to reach this desolate land of Mars, just as your ancestors, little child. And now you have the honor of becoming my first disciple.”
“What’s ‘disciple’ mean?”
Wall Man’s mouth pulled into a frown. “Worshipper.”
“Is that like ‘friend’? ‘Cause I need more friends to play with.”
Wall Man’s mouth sank below the sandy floor. His hieroglyphic eyes became thin slits. “Sure.”
The baboon squawked indignantly from atop the wall.
“No, Baba. You’re still just a servant. Now, young friend, listen.”
Jasper stopped fishing in his pocket a moment to look back to Wall Man. “Yeah?”
“Long ago, I dwelt on Earth, just as your ancestors—”
“Like my dad?”
“Don’t interrupt. Like your ancestors, I dreamt of something more. Somewhere new, somewhere fresh, somewhere where important immortals such as myself weren’t overlooked.”
“Uh-huh.” Jasper’s gloves dug deeper into his pocket.
“I enacted ancient rituals, tearing my soul from the confines of Earth. I sacrificed all, including my human-like form, humbling myself to but an urn filled with ashes. Yet even now my plan comes to fruition. My ashes combined with mortar, and that mortar built this wall. Everyday my powers increase. One day, I’ll conquer Mars and be called the demiurge of this world!”
“What’s a ‘demiurge’?” Jasper asked.
Wall Man’s eyes sagged. “Baba, supply me with some applause, please,” he muttered from under the sand.
The baboon screeched and clapped violently.
“That’s better.” Wall Man’s hieroglyphs shuffled. He pulled his face upward, as if squaring his shoulders. “You, young friend, play a vital role. I lack yet one thing—a body of flesh and blood. If you can provide it for me, I will grant you the deepest desires of your heart.”
Jasper perked up just as his glove clasped around his baseball. “You mean, you’ll play catch with me?!”
Wall Man lifted an eyebrow. “I suppose.”
Jasper took Wall Man’s wide eyes as a yes. Squaring his stance just as Dad had taught him, Jasper flung the ball at Wall Man. The ball bounced back. Jasper crouched low and cupped his spacesuit gloves to catch the ball before throwing again.
Wall Man must’ve really liked catch. He shouted every time he tossed the ball back, and his eyes made funny twitching motions whenever Jasper wound up to launch another pitch. Jasper especially liked how Wall Man’s eyes nearly rolled upside-down when the ball caught his hieroglyphic nose.
Baba gave another shrieking, clapping cheer.
“That’s enough! Enough ball games for now.” Wall Man clenched his eyes and wiggled his nose.
“Can we play again tomorrow? I’ll bring that thing you asked for.”
Wall Man brightened up. “Yes! A crocodile would do. Or maybe a first-born child?”
Jasper dropped the baseball back into his pocket. “My hamster died this morning. Would that work?”
The baboon threw back his head in a scream-like laugh and tumbled off the wall.
Wall Man glared. “That’s the best you got?”
Jasper shrugged. “We recycle everything in the colony. Can’t afford to waste, Dad says. But I don’t think they’ll mind a missing hamster.”
“Very well. Bring the creature, and I’ll make do.”
A friend. Finally! Jasper sprinted for the exit. He couldn’t stop grinning. “See you tomorrow.”
“Don’t forget your helmet,” Wall Man called. “My powers don’t extend beyond the pyramid yet.”
Jasper scooped up his fishbowl from the sand and screwed it on. He left the pyramid, the baboon’s shrieking laughter echoing behind him.
“Shut up, Baba. I’ll make a fierce hamster.”
Don’t bother looking up the Great Khaf of Ancient Egypt. All the other Egyptian immortals demeaned him too incompetent for his own Wikipedia page.
Hope you liked this month’s sketch! You can read 20 other short stories in my upcoming book, A Dog, 3 Cats, and a Dragon, available starting August 1st. Stay tuned for more stories and writing tips. Find more reading material listed in my publications.