The rifle held firm, but the man behind the gun grinned briefly at me. A gold tooth glinted in the light. Not dim enough for him to miss, I guessed.
“Any last words, asshole?” he growled, cocking the rifle.
I looked back at him, not letting any expression show on my face. In my head, of course, I was frantically running through scenarios, but everything was coming up blank. I couldn’t see any way out.
“Just shoot ‘im already, Jeb!” called out one of the other men. They were hanging back – wisely, too, after I’d managed to put a knife through the throat of one of their companions. Another one of the men was still alive, but probably wouldn’t be walking for a couple weeks until that testicle dropped back out of his stomach.
“Last words,” I mused, considering, as I watched that unwavering rifle. “Okay, then. I commend my soul to any god who can find it.”
“Nice,” grunted the man, and he pulled the trigger.
I tried to dodge, of course. I can’t remember ever moving faster. But still, I felt a giant’s hand slam into my chest, and my vision all went sideways. For a second, I couldn’t breathe, and I dimly felt myself hit the ground.
“Freaking ow,” I complained a minute later, as I lifted myself up. “God, that stings like a son of a-“
I froze, the sentence unfinished.
I’d just been shot, hadn’t I? Right in the chest, too. I should be in a lot of pain – and expecting another bullet at any moment, this one probably through the head.
But I didn’t feel any pain. And around me, the world was still.
Until I heard a footstep in front of me.
“Well? Come on, get up then,” said a voice, not unkindly. “We don’t have all day.”
“Well, actually, I suppose we don’t have any days,” the voice kept on speaking, as I reached down and lifted myself up off the ground. “But we do have plenty of time, although it’s not real time. Just our perception of it. Quite fascinating, really, how the quantification of time doesn’t mean much to us. Perhaps there is another time particle, only accessible by ones like us. Fascinating.”
The voice was cultured, and sounded like a mildly forgetful college professor. It didn’t make any sense, given that I’d been shot in a desert canyon where the thugs had tracked me down, but I just added this onto the list of confusing things.
I stood up, looked up at the speaker, and felt my jaw drop open.
“Yes, yes, get all the gawking over now,” the giant, monstrous, eight foot tall figure in front of me said, sounding annoyed. “Body of a man, kilt of linen, ankh, papyrus, take it all in.”
“Erm, plus the, uh, head,” I managed to add, feeling like my eyes were bugging out of their sockets.
“Oh, yes. Head of an ibis. To be honest, I often forget about that detail.” The monstrosity reached up and stroked its long beak with one hand. “Now, are you ready to get going? We have much to do.”
“Uh, sorry, what?” I stammered, taking a step back away from this strange abomination. “Who the hell are you?”
I didn’t think that an ibis could look annoyed, but the creature in front of me managed it. “Thoth, of course,” he tutted at me, as if I was a schoolchild who had forgotten my arithmetic. “The one fortunate enough to claim your soul. Rolled a ninety-seven for you, so hopefully you’ll be worth it.”
“I- you won me? What?”
The ibis-headed man crossed his muscular arms at me. “You offered up your soul, and I claimed it,” he stated, as if I was especially dull. “Now, either renege on the bargain and get it over with, so Ammut can devour you, or come along! We have much to do.”
I had no idea what this creature was talking about, but being devoured didn’t sound at all fun. “Um, coming,” I said, hurrying behind the bird-headed man as he turned away. “So, uh, you’re a god?”
“Thoth, yes,” the ibis called back over his shoulder. “God of knowledge and writing. And very, very busy.”
Well, this was a new and unexpected chapter in my life. Or, perhaps, after-life? I wasn’t clear.
But as I half-walked, half-jogged after the bird-headed god, I reflected that things could have turned out worse…