(A Billy Gonzalez story)
By Jeff Baker
“Okay, Mr. Gonzalez,” the Foreman said. “We’re under deadline and you need to have this all dug out by tomorrow. Get that machine moving.”
I said “Yes sir,” and hopped in the cab of the digger (“Excavator,” they kept correcting me.) I had the job for the summer working on the construction crew; I’d gotten good enough at it to be left to my own devices on site. And this site was huge. Sand, everywhere you could see. I could convince myself we were in the desert except I knew we were on what used to be an artificial lake before the water had drained out. The job was no big; just dig the hole here and put the sand there.
It was hot, the sun was high in the sky and I was taking a break. Drinking a soda and eating the sandwich I kept in the little cooler I had. No way a food truck was going to come way out here in the country.
I sat and stared at the sand. It seemed to stretch to the horizon, but this patch wasn’t that big, was it? Maybe a square mile?
I switched the fan off in the cab. I thought I’d heard something. Bells jingling rhythmically. I stepped out of the cab and stood on the wheel, staring in the distance. There was a speck on the far horizon. It wasn’t a car. The bells continued to sound from nowhere. Not loudly. In a few minutes, the speck came closer. It was a boat, an old barge like I’d seen in those sword-and-sandal movies I’d seen as a kid back when I’d hoped nobody would notice I was checking out the female and male extras. There was a canopy over most of the barge but I couldn’t see any wheels. The boat was moving through the sand under its own power.
I started. There was a man standing on the deck. I hadn’t noticed him before. He was tall and dark. Not African, maybe he was Egyptian. He wore a long, golden robe open in front. There was a glistening headband around his forehead. His head was shaved.
The boat stopped. There wasn’t a breath of air. It had gotten hotter. The man on the boat stared at me then raised a hand in salute.
“This is Mesektet,” he said. “The Boat of Millions of Years. The Boat of Ra.”
“Oh, Ra,” I said. I’d had enough really strange things happen to me to dismiss this as a hallucination or a dream.
“I’m Billy Gonzalez,” I said. Introducing myself seemed like a good idea. It had worked with the group of Sasquatch I’d run into a few years ago.
“The Solar Boats travel with the great one,” he said. “Ra rides Mandjet, the Boat of the Day.” His hand swept above him, indicating the sun. “I control the Boat of Night. I must meet Ra, but I am nowhere near Ra in this strange land. In some way, I have arrived on the wrong sand.” The man glared at me. “I suspect the work of Set.”
“Uh, I didn’t really study Egyptology,” I said, “but if you want to meet Ra, you should head west towards the sunset.”
The man shook his head. “It must be at the point of Iah at this time of the cycle. It is Iah who will escort Ra from the day barge to the night barge.”
“Iah?” I asked.
“One of the many phases of the many-faced god…”
“Of the Moon!” I said. I pulled out my phone. If I had the minutes I could do this. “Yeah,” I said.
“No, Iah.” The man said.
“Look; you got turned around. You want to turn around and head that way,” I said pointing and showing him the display on the screen. But I kept my distance; something told me not to touch the man or the Boat of Millions of Years. “That’s the display from the Naval Observatory, and that’s the compass.”
The man stared. He pointed toward the horizon. “Yeah?” he asked.
I nodded. I stepped back and the boat began to move and head for the horizon. The man again raised his hand in salute.
“Hey,” I called out. “I didn’t get your name?”
The voice drifted to me on a sudden breeze as the boat and the extended desert vanished in ripples of heat.
“I once was Akhenaten. Once I was great.”
I got into the cab and started the engine.
A few nights later in the motel, something woke me. Moonlight streaming through the window. I closed my eyes and words from a poem I’d heard in grade school floated through my head:
“I met a traveler from an antique land…”