The Pit of Libations: a short story in three parts (Part II)

April 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

Continued from The Pit of Libations: A Short Story in three parts (part I)

Thoughts of the curious conversation between Mills and Finnigan troubled my mind and I could find no rest.

Around midnight I gave up the idea of sleep and rose from my camp bed. I left my tent and walked out of the camp. Nothing disturbed the peace of that aromatic Mediterranean night; save for the buzzing of a mosquito that orbited around me like an expectant thief.

I came to the mouth of the pit and looked in. The excavation was empty except for a rich, loamy darkness. Heavy, damp air rose up in swirls and a ladder disappeared downwards into its maw. I looked around and, following an uneasy compulsion, descended into the absence of light. When I reached the bottom of the pit I touched the flinty walls, which were cold to the touch from condensed moisture. It felt lonely down there, standing six feet from the surface, a man’s full height beneath the ground. Unpleasant, superstitious thoughts began to spread through my mind like a black, chilling stain … Then, with startling abruptness, a voice rang out from above: “Do you want to know what they found today?” I looked up to see a distinct and recognisable form silhouetted against the moonlight. A mortal man and no ghost, thank God.

I climbed up out of the pit. The man, who I did not recognise, spoke perfect English with a faintly continental accent. He carried in his hands a dirty cloth bundle which he duly unwrapped. It contained a metal cup with an ornate base and two symmetrical handles. Holding this cup to the light of the lantern that he held, I could see that it was made of very fine silver, beautifully wrought in delicately beaten bas relief, the figures realistically described in the most exquisite detail. But what dreadful scenes were depicted on that cup! Scenes of such depravity and wickedness that I had never in all my life seen, not even on the Attic pottery of Ancient Greece.

“What is this terrible thing?” I asked.

“It’s Greek, probably late Bronze age. Amazing workmanship, isn’t it? This is what we’ve been looking for. It’s believed to have belonged to Ulysses and to have been used in the ritual that helped him to eventually find his way home to Ithaca. ”

I looked again at the cup. Could this be true? Could what I was holding in my hands really have been held in the hands of wily Ulysses? Could this vessel actually have been used in that ancient, arcane ritual under the advice of the sorceress Circe; where Odysseus poured libations into a pit in the ground and communed with the spectre of Tiresias and with his own dead mother, recently deceased from the grief of his long absence?

“We’re planning to use it in the libation ritual tomorrow night.”

“To communicate with the dead?”, I asked, staring even more fixedly at the cup.

“To communicate with the dead”, he replied, gently taking the cup from my hands.

I stared into the darkness of the pit. Surely such a thing would be … ungodly … a crime against nature?

But then, think of what could be learned from all of those that have passed beyond the veil. This would be a bountiful gift to science and to archaeology … at last all those questions that have so long troubled my mind could be asked. Finally, we could put an end to speculation and theory; we would gain access to a vast archive of memory and experience from the tens of millions of souls who have passed before us. My curiosity burned like a beacon in that dark night and my inspired gaze felt almost as if it was lighting up the darkness in the depths of that pit on the edge of which we stood.

“I would like to attend this ritual”, I said. The man (whose name I could still not properly recall) only nodded, slowly, in reply, his features masked by the darkness.

To be continued …

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