When the storm turned back toward the coast, Nick Hallam fled inland, and the storm followed.
He raced ahead of it, up into the ranges, his station wagon packed to the brim with emergency supplies, a change of clothes and, most precious of all, the Greek crate. In the rear-view mirror, the storm was a black mass laid across the coast like a smothering blanket. Lightning crackled in its guts at furious intervals, making Nick’s eyes flick back to the mirror. He had a head start, but the storm was moving fast, gaining ground. Wind lashed the trees lining the mountain highway. Sleet – unheard of at this time of year, this close to the equator – battered the back window, turning a dust coating to streaks of slush.
“I know what this is,” he yelled at the gathering dark, as he hammered the old Ford wagon around blind corners and hairpin turns, crushing the accelerator underfoot, and ignoring the shudders of the tyres momentarily losing their grip on the slick roads. “They can’t have it back!”
Nick hadn’t been back in the country long enough to have his own car; this one belonged to a soft-hearted cousin. His destination was a farmhouse, a breeze-block bunker which survived floods, bushfires and mountain storms for fifty years.
“I stole it fair and square!” As he turned down a muddy country road, he found himself yelling, half at himself, and half at the sheep milling in his headlights. “It’s mine.”
He’d done all the work, after all. When he thought about it, he deserved more credit than the Professor. He’d translated the inscriptions at the Aoelian dig, making sure to deface them just enough to obscure their meaning. He’d cross-referenced the Professor’s notes to come up with the map coordinates. He’d hired the launch and the dive gear, coordinated the survey teams, and hammered the coloured pegs into the sea bed himself.
And he’d made sure they found enough artefacts of archaeological interest to keep Professor Katsaros busy for the next decade. Whether she was too busy or too grateful to notice he’d held back the amphora for himself, Nick didn’t care. He didn’t have an academic career to make with the find, but he was happy to settle for a fortune.
The wind picked up as he skidded to a halt at the end of the farm driveway. A bundle of gum leaves broke free of its branch, falling and rolling across the paddock like a scaly, deflating beach ball. The farm didn’t run stock any more, but in the distance, some goats were bleating and a dog was losing its mind with barking.
Nick unloaded his stores as fast as he could, cursing as he stumbled in the dark. Nobody had paid a power bill here in years. If he was lucky he’d get the diesel pump working, but if not, his water stocks would last a few days.
He could ride out a few days. No problem.
He saved the crate for last. In the space of a few minutes, the rain escalated from heavy to tumultuous. Nick bundled the small wooden case protectively in his jacket. He bolted the doors, shuttered the windows and even dragged the beer fridge to fit snugly in front of the fireplace.
“No breezes getting in here, mate,” he told the night. “We’re on our own.”
He listened as the rain began to drum against the concrete walls – light snare rolls at first, but the toms and the bass kicked in soon enough. It was turning into a Rush solo out there.
With a grim smile of satisfaction, he lit a hurricane lantern, set a tin of beef stew to bubbling on his camp stove, and twisted the cap off a beer. Then he levered the lid off the crate and lifted out the amphora.
It was deceptively plain to look at. A wine jug, unremarkable beyond its antiquity. Stoppered and sealed with resin. Fired clay, no fancy paintings, no markings other than a word inscribed on the side: Kyklonas.
Nick knew what it was as soon as he laid eyes on it. The Professor was a serious scientist who had no time for ancient Greek myths. Nick lapped that stuff up.
He knew all about Aeolus, the god-king who fathered the winds of ancient Greece, ruling an island of bronze, where he hosted Odysseus and his crew. He’d gifted the wandering Ithacan hero with a bag of fair winds, his offspring, to carry him home.
Any archaeological discovery with a credible link to the events of the freaking Odyssey was worth the risk of stealing it.
Did the amphora come from the table of the historical Aeolus himself? One of the Inspectors from the Greek Archaeological Service had aired the possibility, forcing up the price of Nick’s bribe. The other one, whose brakes had failed on a treacherous coastal road, had been as sceptical as he was principled.
Its provenance hardly mattered; Nick knew people with the skills to produce flawless articles of authentication. Give him six months to quietly lay the groundwork; he’d turn this old jug into a fortune.
The wind howled like a pack of angry dogs, battering the door and rattling the shutters. The walls shook under its withering fury. The amphora rattled as if catching a gust. Nick reached out his hand, searching for the source of the draft.
Possessed by a sudden terror of accidental breakage, he settled the jug in its Styrofoam bed.
It rattled again, as if an animal were trapped inside.
Wave after wave of wind roared about him. The shack’s iron roof squealed its resistance. Rivets groaned and popped overhead.
Nick thought of an ancient king, who fathered winds and sealed them away.
The roof lifted with one last tortured rending of metal.
Nick looked up into the eye of the storm and screamed at what he saw.
“Give me back my son,” said the storm.
This is a complete rework of an old story I tried to write years ago, a survival horror story about a vengeful spirit stalking its prey from the heart of a cyclone, the sort of tropical storm I grew up with.
I abandoned the story because it evolved into a vicious thriller about relationship burnout and domestic abuse, which – ugh, why did I ruin a perfectly good supernatural premise like that? There are no doubt many writers who can deal with issues of real-world harm through the metaphor of monster fiction effectively and constructively, but I’m not confident I’m one of them now, and certainly not back then.
Still, I’ve never quite let go of the core idea, of stolen archeological treasures and angry Greek wind spirits. Better to unleash such things than keep them bottled up, I think.