The Pit of Libations: a short story in three parts (part III)
April 20, 2011 § 1 Comment
Continued from The Pit of Libations: A Short Story in three parts (part II)
It was midnight and the moon was full, casting long, cold shadows as we gathered around the pit. The ladder had now been removed and into the hole we poured water, milk, and then sweet wine from the silver cup. Honey followed, emptied directly from an earthenware jar, and then barley; which entered the pit with a pattering hiss, glistening like polished tin as it briefly caught the moonlight on its descent into the darkness. I heard behind me the low, throaty bleat of the black ram. Herr Culz, the German, and strongest amongst us, held tightly onto the beast whilst the man, who I still cannot name, held up the knife before cutting deep into the woolly neck. The warm red blood flowed strong and fast, steaming as it entered the night. The blood frothed into the cup and then soon overflowed into the pit – a dozen or so times, before being poured down in gouts by the nameless man with the knife.
Then … Silence … the rams bleating at an end now that it had violently kicked and convulsed into stillness. And we waited; paused at the edge of the pit, as the moon began it’s long, slow descent, for what seemed like an age.
At first there was nothing to discern except shadow. Then, like the dancing lights that one perceives when staring into closed eyelids, little green impish squiggles appeared. Slowly these began to swirl until the effect was very like looking into a child’s kaleidoscope; patterns of brilliant multi-coloured gemstones revolved within the pit and slowly, now, took the form of a glittering whirlwind or sparkling, iridescent dust devil that began to rise. The gemstones changed in colour from green and gold and sapphire blue … coalescing into a dark, bloody, crimson red and as they did so the twisting form became less fragmentary, more liquid. It grew arms and a head, became a tall figure, towering over the pit; still slowly spinning but now dripping also – a figure of blood!
“Why have you disturbed my rest?” I heard the words in my mind, whispered in Ancient Greek, they were not sounds as such … “Why have you disturbed my rest?” … again, those soundless words, repeated with greater urgency …
“Name yourself” – Cultz’s voice wavered in the stillness – he stood directly opposite me and I could see his eyes were wild with fear. The ram was dropped at his feet. All of the others standing around the pit stood like statues before this dreadful Medusa.
“I am Odysseus, known also as Ulysses, son of Sisyphus, grandson of Aeolus. Why have you disturbed my rest – and how came you by my cup?”
The red, clotted eyes had settled on the cup, held in the shaking hand of our nameless colleague. “You must ask him a question in return” whispered the terrified Mills. The man was silent, his body shaking. “Quick, ask the question”, I could hear it in my mind but it wasn’t said out loud, all of the gathered archaeologists in unison willing speech. “Can’t … think …” he somehow gasped. Then, with startling suddenness, the bloody spectre of Odysseus reached out and, grasping the man holding the cup in a crimson embrace, descended with him, spiralling rapidly back down into the pit. As they went down together one could just discern the figure of blood losing form and becoming a black turbid pool deep within … then the ground shook and we were all forced to leap back as soil began to flow back into the pit …
It was now near daybreak and surprisingly cold, a chill wind blew and the rising sun was masked by a black cloud that boiled on the eastern horizon. My colleagues had fled back to their tents. Of the pit there was now no sign, save for the disturbed soil and rock that had created a complete backfill; and a large dark circle of moisture that marked the spot like a rapidly drying stain.
On my return to London I made every effort to ascertain the name of the colleague who was taken from us that day but to no avail. According to the expedition records no one was unaccounted for save for the evidence of a mysterious undecipherable signature on a requisition order that could have been made in Greek – I could perhaps discern the alpha character at the beginning of the name.
My attempts to write an account of this event met, at the best with ridicule; at the worst all attempts at publication were ignored or returned with impossible requests for editorial revisions to the manuscript.
My colleagues simply refused to speak of the matter.