Obelisk

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This is a part of research into demonology, possession and human sacrifice in preparation for a longer story. If you are interested please comment

The obelisk was gigantic. It dwarfed the stone obelisks of the Egyptians, made Mayan Pyramids look like children's toys. Even modern skyscrapers looked like glass shards scattered before it. Nothing in the world was as high as the obelisk, it was taller than mountains, it would rise out of the deepest ocean. It pierced the sky like a scepter of the gods, it was a gnomon on a sundial of life and death and its shadow crept ever closely towards him.

 

The obelisk drew him closer and unwillingly he approached. A marble staircase lead to it, and as he ascended the polished stairs he could hear the echoing of thousands feet that gone up before him. The marble was red, without a single trace of impurity, polished to perfection it shone like spilt blood, and with each step he took, he could feel the warmth of real blood that flowed down those steps. Terrified he fought with himself, willing himself to stop, but some malevolent force drew him forward. If he had broken his legs he would have crawled, if he had plucked out his eyes he'd still made his way up towards the silver gates at the end of the stairs. Those gates gaped like the mouth of a hungry beast and inside was nothing but darkness, this was the darkness that dwells in the deepest places of the earth never touched by the sun, darkness of the never-ending nights when the last of the stars will burn out. Cold and ancient it was the only witness to the beginning of the world, it will be the last thing left when it ends, and it was waiting for him.

 

Chris woke up shivering, jumbled memories of his dream flashing before his eyes: something about a tower, no not a tower, but something old, and terrifying. The dream faded quickly like all nightmares do, but Chris was still shivering. The heating was off, again, it went off now and then due to some undetectable glitch, and in this chilly December weather the flat turned into a freezing tomb in no time. It did not help that Mel was completely wrapped in the duvet leaving him exposed. Chris sat down on the corner of the bed, wincing when his naked feet touched the frozen floor. He might as well get up, get ready for work. The dream still bothered him; he did not like the thoughts of tombs and towers suddenly creeping into his head.

 

‘Obelisk’, he said out-loud.

 

‘You what?’ Mel turned towards him, still half asleep.

 

‘That’s what I dreamt about’, he said, more to himself than her, an obelisk.

 

‘Sounds like a perfume name’, Mel yawned, ‘you better not get me any perfumes for Christmas, I told you, I want an iPad 2 mini.’

‘Sure’, Chris said and got up.

 

***

 

‘Sorry mate, the station is closed.’ Underground worker in a dirty orange vest informed Chris from the other side of the metal fence.

 

‘Closed?’ Chris frowned. ‘But there were no announcements.’

 

The worker shrugged his shoulders non-communicably and pointed at an illegible handwritten sign that said something about rails in the tunnels, or maybe rats in the tunnels, Chris could not decipher it.

 

Frustrated he walked down the street, his only consolation was that he was not the only one whose commute was screwed up today: he saw other commuters turning away from the station dejected. What now? Bus? He didn’t even know which buses went to the city from here; the Underground had always been his only means of transportation. He should have planned this better, but that has always been his problem: no forward planning. The bus stop was already packed with commuters from the closed station. They all had grim expressions on their faces determined to get on to that first bus no matter what. Chris did not have such determination, he decided if he was going to be late for work anyway he might as well go further down the street and treat himself to an overpriced cappuccino from Starbucks.

 

Chris felt a bit better when he came out of the Starbucks, no doubt due to the warming effect of the cappuccino. He was heading back to the bus stop where he saw it. The cappuccino slipped from his hand and landed on his trainers, soaking his feet in warm liquid. Chris did not notice that, right that moment he would not have noticed if someone had poured a whole jug of coffee over his head. All he could do was staring ahead, horrified and confused. The Obelisk was there.

 

‘How is this possible’, he thought, ‘for something from my dream to appear right across the street?’

 

Although it was not quite the same as in his dream — the lower levels of the obelisk were covered in scaffolding and mesh — but through them he could see the marble staircase and the gate. Chris raised his head trying to see the top of the obelisk, but he could not, he was standing too close to it. He took a few steps backwards.

 

‘Watch it mate!’ came a grunt behind him as Chris bumped into someone. He apologised but continued walking back, looking up. There was no top to the obelisk; it disappeared into the grim and cloudy December skies leaving Chris with an unfamiliar sense of vertigo.

 

‘How far up does it go?’ he wondered, ‘Can you build something this tall in London? Doesn't it interfere with planes or something?’

 

He did not really know enough to speculate on the subject. And more importantly where did this thing come from! Surely it wasn't built overnight. So close to their apartment, him or Mel must have seen it going up. Probably most of London must have seen it! They made such a big fuss about the Shard and everything you'd think someone would flag up the fact that a giant obelisk was built in North London.

 

Chris realised that his trainers were wet and his feet were getting cold. So much for his cappuccino. And he was even more late for work now. He walked back to the bus stop, which was a bit emptier. Maybe it's not a proper building he was thinking, a promotion of some kind or a modern sculpture. He must have seen it before and simply forgotten about it, that's how it got in his dream. He took out his phone.

‘Perhaps there will be something about it on the net’, he was thinking.

 

****

 

Chris could not concentrate at work, even after getting it in the ear for being late and for staring at his phone all day. He could not find anything about the obelisk online. The web was silent on the subject of a giant building in North London, and that was rather concerning.

 

Where did people get their information before the Internet, Chris wondered, newspapers? He checked the websites of the major newspaper and the BBC, but saw nothing. He did however find out why the station was closed. Apparently there were rats in the tunnels, an infestation on the scale that the authorities had not seen since medieval times, or so the london@live blogger claimed. And it looked like the station will be closed for a few more days at least, so Chris had another long bus journey home to look forward to.

 

It was dark by the time he got out of the office. He was Facebooking on the bus thinking if he should post something about the obelisk, but he decided not to, he did not wanted to post anything weird. He kept staring at his phone to avoid looking out of the window, he was scared to catch the glimpse of the obelisk again, especially in the dark.

 

But back home he could not help himself.

 

‘Have you seen that building they are putting up on the High Street?’ He asked Mel.

 

‘What, the office-tower? It's been there for ages, they are just renovating it.’

 

‘No, it's down the street, right by the tube, a very tall building, an obelisk.’

 

Mel crooked her head and looked at him carefully.

 

‘Didn't you havd a dream or something about that?’ She asked.

 

‘Yes, and now it's on the high street’, Chris tried to say lightly.

 

Mel frowned.

 

‘I hadn't seen it, I went to Starbucks for lunch, the one near the tube station, the tube was closed but they were not building anything’. She paused, ‘I am starving, I'm gonna put the chips in the oven.’

 

‘You haven't seen it?’ Chris asked surprised, but you must have passed right by it.

 

Part of him wanted Mel to be right, but that would leave his sanity in a questionable state. Seized by a sudden desire to be proven right he walked towards the window and pulled open the curtains. The apartment block was separated from the high street by a park, it was dark and cloudy, but he could still just about make out the outline of the obelisk against the dark skies, it was not lit in any way and even from the distance of the park Chris could not see how high it went, it disappeared into the clouds.

 

‘See it's just there’, he shouted to Mel who popped her head back from the kitchen.

 

‘I cannot see anything’, she said frowning, ‘and close that curtain we are not on display here.’

 

****

‘And in other news, the conflict in the Middle East is still escalating.’

‘I love him, but he is like my best friend and he is dating Chandelle, oh Miriam what should I do?’

‘We only have three days left to find the antidote!’

They were watching tv, that is Mel was surfing through the channels while Chris tried to google 'North London obelisk' on his phone. He did not like Internet surfing on his phone, it was getting pretty old and the load times were ridiculous. He would rather use the laptop, but Mel had the custody of that, liking Sanjay's snaps from Spain while flicking the channels.

 

‘I don't know what you are expecting to find here, Carter, the forensics team had already been over the scene. Let's face it, the killer is playing with us, he only shows us what he wants us to see and the last victim was...’

‘Then they laid her at the side of the obelisk; the old woman known as the Angel of Death came and looped a cord around her neck and gave the crossed ends to the two men for them to pull. Then she approached her with a broad-bladed dagger, which she plunged between her ribs, and the men strangled her with the cord until she was dead.’

Click

 

‘You are about to go and sing in front of the live audience and the judges. Are you excited Matthew?’

 

‘What was that?’ Chris jumped.

 

‘I don't know’, Mel lifted her head from the laptop screen, ‘some crime show or something.’

 

‘Bring it back’, Chris asked in a shaky voice.

 

‘I want to watch X-Factor now’, Mel said irritated, ‘and you don't like crime stuff anyways.’

 

‘Yeah, I don't’, Chris shook his head, and turned back to his phone.

 

***

 

The first thing Chris thought about when he woke up was the obelisk, he was going to show it to Mel, it could be seen clearly against the gloomy morning sky, but she already left for her gym class. Chris knew that he was going to be late for work, but once again he found himself in front of the Obelisk, staring at the polished white walls.

 

There were workers here today, dismantling the scaffolding. One stood on the street with a rolly in one hand and a steaming cup of tea in the other. Chris was thinking of a reason to talk to him, when a pigeon whizzed past them and smashed into the Obelisk. Both Chris and the construction worker watched as its body hit the wall and fell onto the marble stairs in a crunched ball of blood and feathers.

 

‘Fecking pigeon’, the worker swore.

 

‘It must have been spooked by something’, Chris suggested.

 

‘Don’t know, mate, but them stupid birds keep smashing into that building, like it’s a bloody bird magnet.’

 

‘Why?’ Chris asked intrigued.

 

‘How should I know, mate, they're stupid, innit?’

 

Chris, who thought that pigeons were a great deal smarter than many of London’s human inhabitants, decided not to pursue this, but now was a good time as any to ask about the Obelisk.

 

‘So this building, he nodded towards the Obelisk, pretty tall eh?’

 

The construction worker shrugged his shoulders. ‘Looks average to me.’

 

‘Average?’ Chris blinked, ‘where was that guy from, Dubai?’

 

‘And to build it so, fast, I could have sworn it wasn’t here last week.’

 

The construction worker looked at him oddly.

 

‘We are just putting the scaffolding away’, he said, dropping the roley butt on the ground. Don’t know nothing ‘bout when it was built.’ He turned to leave.

 

‘Wait’, Chris insisted, ‘don’t you think this, this, this obelisk is a bit weird? Have you seen what's inside?’

 

‘Nobody’s been inside, it’s all locked up’, the worker replied looking at him annoyed, he clearly wanted to go.

 

‘But do you know how high it is? How many floors?’ Chris pressed on, ‘I mean seriously, have you ever seen anything this tall?’

 

The worker turned back to him looking pissed off.

 

‘It’s just a building, mate, it ain’t that high’, the worker paused, ‘fits right in this street it does.’

 

‘Just look at it’, Chris almost shouted, ‘how is it fitting in with all those Georgian terraces? You cannot even see the top of that thing.’

 

The worker glanced at the obelisk, but his eyes seemed to slide off it in an instant.

 

‘You need to relax mate, alright? Don't go shouting at people ‘cause you don't like some building.’

He walked back to the scaffolding leaving Chris speechless. He looked up at the obelisk expecting it to shrink down to the size of the terrace houses around it, but was as enormous and oppressing as before, it's menacing shape disappearing into the cloudy skies.

 

Average height? Impossible.

 

Chris ran across the street.

 

‘Excuse me’, he approached a woman who walked out of the corner shop.

 

‘I don't have any change’, she answered snappily.

 

‘No, no, please just look at that building across the street. How high would you say it is?’

 

‘How high?’ The woman looked at him as if he was crazy, ‘I don't know, average height?’

 

Chris winced as she said that, but he had another approach ready: ‘Is it higher or smaller than the building next to it?’

 

The woman glanced at the obelisk, then turned away.

 

‘I don't know, maybe a bit higher. Actually they look the same. ‘Scuse, me.’ She pushed past him and walked away.

 

Chris stopped in the middle of the street breathing heavily. Was he going crazy? Then why do people answer so strangely? Nobody seems even to look at the obelisk.

 

He spotted a police officer at the corner of the street, perfect, they’re supposed to answer stupid questions, that's their job.

 

‘Excuse me’, he ran towards the officer who must have been watching his escapades, as he changed his stance as if preparing himself for a fight.

 

‘Sorry, Chris tried to look as inoffensive as possible, ‘sorry, that building over there’, he pointed at the Obelisk, how high do you think it is?’

 

The officer, blinked at him, taken aback by the question.

 

‘How high? He paused, ‘average height I would say’, he finally answered with a satisfied nod.

 

‘How average’, Chris struggled to keep himself under control, ‘how many floors? Three? Five? Ten? Ten thousand?’

 

‘Have you been drinking sir?’ the officer regarded him critically.

 

‘Can you describe that building to me,’ Chris urged him, ‘what colour are the walls? Has it got any windows? Is the roof flat or slanted?’

 

The officer seemed to finally look at the obelisk, but it felt to Chris as if he was looking right through it.

 

‘It’s just a normal building; there is nothing unusual about it. Now I’m going to ask you again, have you been drinking?’

 

‘No’, Chis said slowly, ‘sorry to have bothered you.’

 

Something in his look must have put the policemen off any more questions and Chis ended up back at the bus stop and not in a police station. There he stood and stared at the perfectly normal, average obelisk that pierced the skies and went, God knows how high: the stratosphere? He was grateful for the clouds that morning, Chris was certain if he had seen the straight while column of marble, disappearing into the outer space he would have gone mad.

 

***

 

That night Chris dreamed that he entered the obelisk. Inside was nothing like he expected. He was in a small, crammed lecture room, which looked painfully familiar. And as he walked amongst uneven rows of cheap plastic chairs, he realised: this was the auditorium from his old high school, complete with crooked white board and "Danger of Drugs" posters.

 

But something wasn’t quite right, the ceiling was incredibly tall: the blood red walls disappeared into the darkness high above him, making Chris feel like he was at the bottom of a huge well. The room was dark; the only light was coming from an old slide projector. It was projecting a blank slide onto the wall in front, humming loudly.

 

On the first row three seats were occupied. Chris saw the silhouettes outlined against the blank screen of the projector, two adults and one child, who was swinging his legs in a carefree fashion under the chair.

 

They must have heard him walking in, he could see their heads turning towards him but their faces remained in darkness, soon one by one they turned back to the blank screen. They seemed to be waiting for something. Unsure what to do Chris sat down on the chair in the opposite row and waited with them.

 

Soon another figure walked into the auditorium, now Chris had no doubts that this was a dream: he recognised the construction worker from this morning. He still held an unfinished fag in one hand and a remote control for the projector in another.

 

He cleared his throat and started in a dry lecturing voice, very much unlike his real life counterpart.

 

‘In about 1020 BCE, at Meggido a girl of fifteen has been killed and buried in the foundations of a large structure.’

 

He pressed the remote and the slide projector came to live showing a photo of an archaeological dig: yellow bones protruded through the dry sandy earth. The next slide showed the body revealed, lying in a fetal position, with a well-preserved skull displaying an unsympathetic grin.

 

‘Further excavations both in Europe and North Africa show that the practice of interring children under new buildings was widespread and some were evidently buried alive.’ The construction worker continued sucking on his cigarette. ‘It was practiced by the Greeks and the Babylonians as well as the Egyptians. Carthage was famously accused of this practice by the Romans although the same sacrifices were performed in the Imperial city. The live burial of the vestal virgins to appease the gods, is a fine example.’

 

More slides came on, showing bodies lying in the earth contorted in every possible way, although many were just skeletons, some seemed to be mummified, showing grey parchment skin stretching over bones. Chris was petrified but unable to look away, as the bodies on the slides looked more and more complete, peeled lips revealing yellow teeth, crinkled eyelids folded over empty eye sockets. But this macabre display did not seem to bother his fellow listeners: one was sitting still, looking attentive, the other nodding solemnly at each new slide, and the child, giggling joyfully at a grinning skull.

 

‘Foundation sacrifices often involved infant and child offerings, but with time this has changed. The construction worker informed them, youth or the elderly has also been selected as sacrificial victims on many occasions. He dropped ash from his cigarette onto the floor, and Chris noticed that his arms were covered with fresh mud.

 

‘That foundation sacrifices belong only to the remote past could be an erroneous assumption, he continued. In early twentieth-century Borneo, an eyewitness testified that a criminal was buried alive in a posthole for a new building so that he might become a guardian spirit.’

 

The slides were now becoming more like a pathologist’s photographs than archaeological discoveries, the bodies looked worryingly fresh, some only half decomposed, their poses and their faces carrying the horror of their last moments.

 

‘And now at the beginning of the new century the cycle is ready to begin again’, the construction worker concluded. The obelisk has been raised and the rites are ready to be performed. ‘

The next slide showed four even niches dug in the ground: they were deep and empty.

 

***

 

Chris woke up shivering again. Only this time the heating was on and he had enough duvet for himself. The dream felt painfully real, he could remember every detail of that room, every word, every picture, even now as he walked to the bathroom he felt that the silhouettes of his three dream companions were still looming in the dark bedroom behind him.

 

He phoned to work ill, his line manager did not seem too happy about it, but Chris did not care. He spent all morning sitting opposite the window and staring at the obelisk.

 

Mel also found the obelisk to be pretty average. They almost had a fight about it, which made Chris feel bad for the rest of the morning: him and Mel hardly ever fought and it did not seem right to fight about something so ridiculous. By about lunch time he sat down on the sofa with the laptop and after a bit of hesitation typed human sacrifice into google.

 

‘What are you doing’, came a voice behind him.

 

Chris was so absorbed into this weird search, he forgotten that Mel worked in the nail salon nearby and sometimes came home for lunch.

 

‘Nothing’, he slammed the laptop shut, instantly realising that that was the wrong thing to do.

 

‘Unbelievable’, Mel shook her head, ‘first all this bullshit this morning and now you are sitting here looking up porn.’

 

She walked past him into their small kitchen with her Sainsbury bag.

 

‘Make sure that you clear your internet history, she told him. I don’t want to find anything disgusting on my laptop.’

 

Actually this is my laptop, Chris wanted to say, but in the last few months Mel has completely usurped it.

 

Not wanting to start another argument he stood up and put his jacket on.

 

‘Where are you going?’ Mel popped her head out of the kitchen, I thought you were ill.

 

‘I am going to the library’, Chris told her.

 

‘Very funny’, Mel started, but he ignored her and walked out of the flat.

 

***

 

Chris could not remember the last time he was in the library, it was purely by luck that he still had his driving license in his wallet. And by coincidence he also had a crumpled water bill in his jacket's pocket. With those two artifacts he was informed that he can join the library and take out up to 15 items at one time. Chris just wanted to use the Internet, but since he was here, he decided to have a look at the books as well.

 

‘Are you writing a thesis?’ The librarian looked over his shoulder as he punched in his search criteria.

 

She did not seem to be surprised by his request for books on human sacrifice, but then again, it seemed like this was a slow day and she looked bored.

 

‘Yes’, Chris lied, ‘I am a student.’

 

He could not, off the top of his head, think of a subject that would require an extensive knowledge of human sacrifice, but he did not have to.

 

‘You students always flock here when we have something new’, the librarian shook her head. She went back to her desk and took a book from the shelf behind it.

 

‘This just came in’, she informed Chris, ‘you cannot take it out yet, but you can read it in here.’

 

Chris took the large volume from her and walked to an empty table. The book was heavy and academic, with an uninspiring title: Human sacrifice in Ancient Europe: evidence and research. It gave a list of ten people as authors and had an introduction longer than most books Chris ever read. He opened it at random and stared at the page packed with dense, tiny text:

 

A very interesting case of human sacrifice occurred in the Regal period that involved the sanctifying of the pomerium. When Servius expanded the city walls, a sacrifice was made of four individuals, who were buried beneath the old pomerium wall that encircled the Palatine Hill and the great Obelisk that stood there.

 

Chris paused, he read the lines again, he had no idea what this meant but the mentioning of the obelisk seemed too odd to be a coincidence, so he read on.

 

Those bodies were only recently discovered after Carandini discovered the old Palatine pomerium wall. The four tombs included the usual ritual elements, dating to about 650 BCE. Tomb one was an adult male; age 50-60, with his head inclined and arms at his side. Along with him were buried two amphorae, a collana, one plate and two fibulae. Tomb two was a child laid in a sleeping position, along with one small amphora and two fibula. Tomb three was a young adult male aged 20-25, laid out like the older male. He was buried with one amphora; a large cup, two plates, two bronze amulets and one ring, all placed on the left side of the tomb. Tomb four was a female laid out in a foetal position, and oriented in a different direction from all the others. She was buried along with one amphora. It is believed that those sacrifices were made because the old wall was being violated in the process of extending the pomerium with the new Servian Wall. But another explanation is that those were part of regular sacrifices offered to the Obelisk to in believe that this will keep the foundations of the city strong.

 

The so-called foundation sacrifices are a part of much more ancient rituals. In about 1020 BCE, at Meggido a girl of fifteen had been killed and buried in the foundations of a large structure.

 

Chris slammed the book shut.

This was the same as in his dream. He was certain that if he opened the book again he would read about children being sacrificed in Carthage and prisoners buried alive in Borneo. He had to be sure. His hands shook, he could not remember the page he was on, and while he was flipping through the book attempting to find the right page he saw something equally disturbing:

 

It is difficult to speculate how those sacrifices were chosen. Researchers tent to discard the idea of prisoners and slaves being sacrificed, as those were of insignificant value to appease the gods. Something, or someone, of greater value must have been chosen. Professor Baker argues that the sacrifices were chosen from amongst the citizens of the city. It was believed that visions of great power and potency, things hidden and sublime, were granted to the chosen. And so they approached the Obelisk to offer themselves as willing sacrifices.

 

Chris shut the book, feeling the hairs on the back of his neck standing on end. He rushed out of the library leaving the book lying where it was. Visions horrifying and sublime, willing sacrifices: it was all a jumble in his head. He walked throughout the park to calm his nerves keeping his head down in fear that his gaze should meet the obelisk.

 

‘There’s got to be some explanation for this’, he was thinking. This whole sacrifice thing, he must have seen it on TV and just forgotten. Or maybe he was actually going crazy, that's how it starts, isn't it? You start seeing weird things, thinking that somebody is out to get you and so on. His grandmother went a bit loopy before she died. She could not recognise him at all, and kept thinking that his sister was their mum, she kept calling her Carroll.

 

Chris shook his head, no, he knew who he was, he knew that his sister lived in Luton and what her name was. He stopped and raised his eyes slowly; his stone tormentor was still there, looming over the city like a great solemn guardian or executioner.

 

Chris stood in the park for a long time, watching the sun descending slowly behind the obelisk. He had two options: he could simply ignore this and hope it will go away, or he could go to see his GP and tell him that he was having hallucinations. The thought made Chris chuckle, he imagined doctor Paramesh examining him. The good doctor's grip on the British way of life was somewhat sketchy. He will probably think that Chris is having him on. And obviously he could not afford to go to a private shrink.

 

Sanjay should be back from Spain for Christmas, Chris remembered, cheering up, he will speak to him about this, somebody who smokes that much pot should have a good advice at how to deal with hallucinations.

 

***

Next morning Chris was determined to get to work on time, but he had to wait for Mel to finish in the shower. As he was rushing out of the door aware that it will be something short of a miracle for him not to be late now, a man with a clipboard in a nondescript uniform bumped into him on the stairs.

 

‘Flat four?’ He glanced at his clipboard.

 

‘Yes’, Chris replied, glancing on his watch.

 

‘Chris Russell?’

 

‘Yes.’

 

‘Sign for your delivery please’, the deliveryman produced a pen from his pocket and offered it to Chris.

 

That's odd, Chris was thinking looking at the clipboard, he did not remember ordering anything recently. It must have been Mel, but why didn't she put her own name?

 

Thinking that he will sort this out later, and not wanting to be late, he scribbled his name on the paper. The man nodded, put his clipboard away, and gave a long, heavy box to Chris.

 

‘That's the amphora’, he told him, then turning back to his trolley he took a smaller box, ‘here is the cup and two plates, and two bronze amulets and a ring, he placed a small parcel on top of the other two. ‘All checks out.’

 

Chris dropped the boxes.

 

‘Those are not mine’, he said in a small, terrified voice.

 

The deliveryman looked at his clipboard:

‘The name and the address checks out. You are Chris Russell right?’

 

‘I don't want those things’, Chris raised his voice, ‘take them away!’

 

The deliveryman shook his head,

‘If you didn't want them you shouldn’t have ordered them, mate. I got the list right here, with the items and your name and address next to them.’

 

‘Please’, Chris pleaded, ‘take this back!’

 

‘I cannot’, the deliveryman shook his head, ‘you have already signed for them, you have to contact the company you ordered from to get this stuff returned.’

He turned away and walked down the stairs, leaving Chris standing in the corridor with the boxes. After a few minutes he calmed down and took the boxes into the flat.

 

‘Aren't you going to work?’, Mel started, but her eyes become wide as she saw the boxes.

‘Ooh, what are those?’

 

‘Christmas presents’, Chris told her.

 

‘Ah’, she hovered over the boxes, ‘anything form me?’

 

‘You'll have to wait and see.’

 

‘How exciting’, she grinned, ‘got to dash to the gym now, see you soon.’

 

She gave him a kiss and flew out of the door.

 

Chris could not tell how long he sat on the sofa staring at the boxes. At some point his phone buzzed, he switched it off without bothering to check who it was. It didn’t matter.

 

Then he stood up and unpacked the boxes.

 

The amphora was beautiful, just like the ones they had in the British museum, it was black, decorated with pictures of people having a party — they looked like they were enjoying themselves. The cup was large and heavy, probably made from silver; so were the plates, both beautifully decorated. The amulets and the ring were very simple by comparison, hardly decorated at all. Chris tried the ring on, it fitted perfectly on his index finger and it came as no surprise to him that when he tried to take it off, he could not.

 

Chris sat back down onto the sofa and admired his offerings. A strange thought came to his mind that he needed to put his affairs in order. But there wasn't much to put in order. He had a bank account that was a couple of hundred pounds overdrawn and a credit card that he had almost paid off. He had no savings to speak of, they went into the deposit for the flat and all his other possessions consisted of a Del laptop and a Samsung smartphone. Not much to put in order there.

 

Should he alert his family in some way?

 

But what should he say? Any attempt to explain this will make him sound like a total nutter. and besides it’s probably better if his family does not know anything. There is no need to upset them, considering that they were not a very close family. His parents were divorced, his mum lived in Spain and his father was god knows where. Him and his sister did not speak very much; he hadn't even got around to sending her a Christmas card yet. All in all, Chris realised if he was to drop of the face of the earth right this instant, the only person that would be immediately affected was Mel. Sanjay would probably be upset as well, mostly because he would be quite hard pressed to find anybody else willing to let him crash in their place at a moment’s notice. Sure, he had loads of friends, but just because he commented on their Facebook status and went out for drinks with them, did not meant they would notice if he vanished into the thin air.

 

Strangely this thought calmed Chris, instead of upsetting him. Perhaps this is how it should be, and this is why someone like him was chosen. Still Chris could not quite believe this was all true, some part of him, but a much smaller part than yesterday, desperately hoped that this was just a crazy dream.

 

A crescendo of noise snapped Chris out of his deliberations. Birds, not just pigeons but all sorts: sparrows, crows, robins, magpies, and many others that he couldn't name, flew by his window in a great disorganised swarm. Chris leaned out to watch their noisy progress through the park. The swarm swelled in size as they flew, it looked like a huge misshapen black cloud hanging over the park. More and more birds joined from all directions until the sound of beating wings filled the sky. Then as if ordered by some unseen force the whole swarm set off in the direction of the obelisk. Chris watched mesmerised as the swarm circled the marble walls, it broke in two streams that spiraled around the obelisk, the birds acting as one entity, and then the entire swarm disappeared into the open gates.

 

‘So soon?’ Chris thought dismayed. But on the other hand, why wait?

 

He found a large rucksack and packed his offerings as carefully as he could. He did not want Mel to find all the empty boxes, so he took them to the recycling bin as he left the flat.

 

There were a large group people in front of the obelisk, and their cheerful mood threw Chris completely off. They spoke French in a chatter of excited voices, all smiling, some even dancing. They looked African and were the tallest people Chris has ever seen. The focus of their attention was an elderly gentleman in a yellow chequered suit and a pair of extremely shiny cream loafers. The excited crowd surrounded him, some hugged him, others patted him on the back, one elderly lady was busily adjusting his tie and a young boy was holding his hat, looking at the elderly man with a dreamy admiration.

 

As Chris approached, the people flocked around him, patted his back, shook his hands, smiled a lot and spoke incomprehensible French. Confused and overwhelmed, Chris was genuinely relieved when they stepped back, but one of their numbers stayed behind.

 

She looked different from the rest of the party. A petite Asian woman dressed like tourist, complete with a souvenir bag and camera, she smiled at him.

 

‘My English is no very good’, she told him bowing her head slightly, ‘my name is Kimiko, I come from Japan.’

 

Chris smiled back weakly:

 

‘Your English is better than my Japanese’, he said.

 

He looked down at her souvenir bag, there was a beautiful amphora sticking out of it, just like the one he had in his rucksack. Why the ritual? He wondered, what did the amphora and the cups and the rest of the trinkets really meant? Were they gifts like the Three Wise Men brought? Or was this some other ancient rite, something that they had forgotten, but the Obelisk remembered.

 

‘You come alone?’, Kimiko interrupted his thoughts.

 

‘Yes, he nodded. Suddenly an image of Mel popped into his mind looking like she always did: busy but cheerful, Chris hoped that she would forgive him for not getting her the iPad.

 

‘My girlfriend’, he explained to Kimiko, ‘she wouldn't understand.’

 

She nodded solemnly.

 

‘My husband, he not understand either’, ‘I tell him, I go to be with God, and he say: no you go to London, bring back good souvenir and picture of Big Ben clock.’

 

Chris wondered if she was trying to cheer him up. Then he found himself thinking if the God she was talking about was the same as the God he knew from his sporadic visits to the church as a child, probably not, but it seemed that all gods were the same, malevolent and bloodthirsty.

 

‘One missing’, Kimiko said after a pause.

 

At first Chris did not understood what she meant but then he remmebered, there were four sacrifices mentioned in the book and there were four of them in that dream room.

 

‘Dexter! Where are you going Dexter!

Someone shouted from across the street. It was odd to hear such a strong American accent here in North London.

Frantic looking woman, weighted down with colourful shopping bags was running towards them. What was she doing here? Got on the wrong bus? Visited friends? He will never know, but his heart skipped a bit when he saw the kid. He could not have been older than twelve dressed in a large puffy jacket and swinging a plastic shopping bag in one arm he ran across the street towards them.

 

‘No, not the kid’, Chris wanted to shout, ‘the old men, the Japanese lady, yes, even him, but not the kid, this was not fair, this was not right!’

 

The kid torpedoed past them like that pigeon a few days before. As he skipped the marble steps two at the time Chris saw the outline of a small amphora in his plastic bag. Then the darkness inside the Obelisk swallowed him and he was no more.

 

‘Dexter!’

His mother was still shouting, she did not seemed to realise what just happened’ or even notice the Obelisk. People from the old man's party went to her speaking in calm, soothing voices. But after a few unsuccessful attempts at understanding one another both parties gave up.

 

She run off down the street, still shouting for her son.

 

The mood of the party changed, some were still smiling and laughing but many were somber. One, an elderly woman, began to cry quietly.

 

‘We go now’, Kimiko placed her hand on his shoulder in a calm, soothing gesture.

 

Chris shuddered from her touch, this seemed so unreal, and until he saw that kid, he refused to believe that this was really happening to him. Now he felt so scared he could hardly move, let alone walk up those stairs.

 

‘It’s okay’, Kimiko took his hand in hers as she stepped on to the stairs, ‘where we lay, trees will grow, big and strong, they will bear good fruit.’

 

And Chris walked up with her, there was no malevolent force driving him forward like in his dream, just a slender woman with a gentle smile. As they approached the gate Chris glanced back, catching the glimpse of the old man ascending the stairs behind them. Then he looked back no more and entered the Obelisk.

 

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