“Rhea, wait up!” my friend Noah exclaimed, running up to me. He was usually the more energetic one, while I struggled to get past through the days on a four hour sleep schedule. How he does, is beyond me. Giving me a friendly pat on the back, my lips curled into a small, tired smile. “Hey man, what do you need?” I asked. “I know we’re supposed to study and all, but do you want to hang out? Kill some time before this thing.”
Honestly, that sounded much more exciting than just being locked in a room, studying. But I declined his offer, telling him I had more important matters to attend to. “Sorry. Maybe next time. My face and pillow have a thing for each other. And trust me, it’s quite physical.” Snickering at my lame attempt to cover up my drowsiness, he waved his hand. “I get it, I get it. Take care dude,” he said, as he went off his way.
Coming to a complete halt, I took the key from my pocket, and fixed it into the doorknob. The room itself was dark, the curtains blocking out the sun’s rays as I flipped the light switch on. For the first time today, I say my reflection in the mirror. Messy, short brown hair, tired gray eyes, fair skin, and a plain white t-shirt, and sweats. Collapsing onto my bed, I could make out the faint outline of something just beyond those drapes.
‘11:49 PM.’ The digital clock on my desktop read, slowly counting down to the day of my history exam. Notes were scattered on the desk as I browsed the holy palace that was the internet. To make matters worse, the subject was painful to completely memorize. Polytheistic cultures. You know, the Egyptians, Greeks, Chinese, and Japanese who had an innumerable amount of deities back then.
I’ve never been a grade A student, but if I slacked off on this, I might as well drop out while I’m ahead of myself. Although, that’d be a waste of money in the end. Sighing to myself, I clicked back onto the Facebook tab. “Why’d all these people waste their time making up these dumb characters?” I groaned, rubbing my eyes. “From Zeus, the most commonly known of any God, to Osiris, the ruler of the underworld. Did people only create them to have a better understanding of the forces they couldn’t control?” The question hung in the air, as if it had some leverage to it.
It wouldn’t be surprising. People who couldn’t comprehend an issue usually created some sort of personification in order to put their minds at ease. But seriously, why didn’t they think of the consequences that us college kids would have to go through? Although, it's not entirely their fault.
“Whatever.” Closing out of the tab, I went back to the mythology surrounding the major Gods of each culture. Amun-ra, chief deity, the highest on the pantheon of the Egyptians, was actually Zeus, to the Greeks. Strange how two different cultures had the same entity, just in two different locations. “I’m boring myself even thinking about it.” Resting my head on the keyboard, I heard the crumpling of paper as the weight pressed against it.
Ignoring the fact that I was basically spamming several keys onto the Search bar, I rested my eyes. The cool keyboard acted as a pillow, despite the discomfort the keys still brought. With the dim light coming from my monitor, I noticed a peculiar shape coming from the window. A slim, dog like head with two bright, yellow eyes peered into my room. Not directly at me, just at the objects around my room. Probably some stray that had wandered on campus.
Sadly, I had no food to offer it. My diet consisted mostly of cheap ramen, and water. The closest thing it’s going to get to a snack would be my shoe. Chuckling to myself, I sat back up in my chair, and created a new tab. Thankfully, the shortcut to Facebook immediately brought me back. Funnily enough, Noah had posted a status. “A link, huh?” Clicking on it, our local news station's website popped open. Apparently, it was a short video, going over some important news coverage.
The news anchor, dressed in a black suit, had his elbows on the desk in front of him. He looked uncomfortable, almost as if he didn’t want to be there. “Information on another murder case has washed up recently, and for the 7th time this week. We now take you live to the scene.”
A small screen at the corner of the camera appeared, The image was stuck on a body bag, with what I presumed to be, well, what else? Cops and investigators walked around it, showing no signs to repel the reporters. A voice over of a young female spoke over the sound of the passersby. “What we have here, is one of the several victims in the recent string of murders. There are no witness accounts detailing the events, or what happened here; except for one boy who said that they saw the man being led down the alleyway, chasing after a dog.” She stated, as the gloomy sky soon sprinkled with rain. Adding a dark ambiance to the already macabre scene.
“Forensic scientists have discovered that all organs, including the heart, and brain, had been removed cleanly. There seems to be no trauma, or openings in the scalp, leaving them with many unanswered questions. Even the chest, where there was a clear cut, leaves no answers on who could have done it.” Returning to the anchor, he appeared to be lost in thought. I was confused, until I realized, he was completely unaware of their presence. Eventually, the cameraman spoke up. “Michael, you’re on.” Following with a few snaps of his fingers to get his attention.
“What….? Oh, right.” Turning towards the cameraman, he gave a small nod, and wished his invisible audience a goodnight. I was alone once again. In this quiet room, late at night. Growing conscious of my surroundings, I scanned my room, to find it in its usual state. Finally, I looked out the window, to find nothing. The stray must have left sometime when the video played. Perhaps it was bored of just staring? Scrolling down my news feed uneasily, I tried pushing that newscast to the back of my mind.
“Twelve O'clock.” I mumbled, getting up from my chair.
Stomach growling, I decided on taking a break. Making me way towards the fridge, I opened it up, only to find nothing left inside. Checking through the cabinets conjured up the same results. Irritated, and unwilling to continue studying on an empty stomach, I grabbed my sweater, and wallet, and headed out for the store.
Stepping out into the chilly night air, my shoes splashed in a shallow puddles. Shivering, I slipped my hands into the pockets of the sweater. As I walked down the empty streets, the soft pattering of rain accompanied me. Quickening my pace, I noticed that same dog from awhile ago across the street from me.
Lightning flashed in the sky, revealing more of its color. Its torso was covered in black and white spotted fur, before ending with a golden brown on its legs. Large ears, too pointed to belong to a dog's, sat on its head. A thunderous crash shook me in my spot, making my hairs stand on end.
At the same time, it went off into an alley. Where an unnatural, inky darkness lurked. Glancing at it was enough to send me into a trance.
Forgetting about the task at hand, I began heading towards the abyss. It called to me, like a dear old friend. Soothing my worries as I grew ever closer to it. Before I could reach the passage, a soft blarring horn rang in my ear. It took me awhile to register that it was someone honking their horn at me. Shaking me free from whatever had its grasp on me. The driver got out of his car, and approached me. “Hello? Can you hear me?” They asked.
Holding my head, a small groan escaped my lips as it began to throb with pain. Troubled over my condition, he offered me a ride. “No thanks.” I muttered, wincing as it became too discomforting. “Sorry, but I can’t let you go on in that condition. Please, it’s the least I can do.” “Well, can you take me up to the gas station? I need to get something there anyways.” I finished, hoping he would agree to it.
Sitting in the passenger side, I sat quietly as the car started its smooth drive on the wet road. The radio played a soft melody as the windshield wipers strode across the glass every now and then.
“Have you seen a jackal around lately?” he inquired. Confused by his question, I hesitated to answer him. “You know. It’s a species of canine that isn’t native to North America. Centrally located in Africa for the most part,” he added. “So a wolf? Probably a fox? Then no, I haven’t seen one.” I answered, leaning back in my seat. “No, not exactly. It’s a bit difficult to describe the differences between them, but they’re generally small. Anyways, I swear I saw one just a few days ago.”
Canceling him out, I knew it was for the best. Seeing as he was most likely some kind of zoologist. Leaving me at the curb, I thanked him for the ride. As he drove off, I turned my attention towards the store, and entered. The floor mat allowed me to quickly dry off my shoes as I perused the selection of treats, and microwavable foods.
After handing over the money to the cashier, I took the bag filled with my snacks to the restroom. Hopefully find something that'll dry off my soggy clothes. A quick peek at the actual facilities was enough to warrant no thoughts, since they were kept in good condition. The stalls were mainly vacant, except for one. Here, at the far end, the light seemed to be absorbed into a murky fog. None of the lights flickered, yet this seemed the most darkest of places. The pigment of the wall grew gray, and rotted. Like the flesh of a corpse. Unnerved by the room, I was about to leave before a strange symbol carved onto the floor. A cross shaped with a handle. “An Ankh. Symbol, of life.” The disembodied voice resonated in my mind. Like a crow cawing in a field.
“Life dwells within the light, but ends up becoming obscured by it. Stretching your shadow thin.” The words were spoken sweetly, in a sickly manner. A flurry of painted chips cascaded down, revealing even more unseen wonders. A circle and an oval, both with a line drawn in the middle materialized on the ceiling. “Theta. Death. What all mortals fear. Whether it be human, or animal.”
Heavy footsteps sounded from the other side of the door. My heart raced wildly, petrified by what could be lying on the other side. Banging from the inside of the stall, it felt as if the building itself would collapse with each pound of, what I assumed to be, its fist.
Not wanting to figure out what was on the other side, I bolted from the spot; leaving behind the store bought goods, and the employee bewildered. The steady drizzle of rain drenched my hair as I sprinted down some street I didn’t take the chance to take note of. Shoes splashing the puddles of water, causing the legs of my pants to become soggy, and uncomfortable. But fear won out on this one.
It wasn't until I became winded that I took a moment to catch my breath. I stared down at the sidewalk, completely unaware of the blinking, red lights in front of me. Tilting my head back, a familiar car had crashed into a half bent street light. Surprised that it hadn’t emitted any type of noise, despite its state, I went to go check if the driver was okay. “Must be drunk….” I said to myself, only to be left stupefied by the empty seat.
Taking a deep breath, I finally felt ready to make my way back home. “Well, I should report this to the cops first. Maybe this will help them pin down who the owner is.” Pulling out my cell, I quickly tapped on the phone icon on the homescreen, and was about to dial the number before I heard a soft moan.
Turning frantically on my heels, my eyes meet with the oh so familiar sight of an alley. Bringing them down, to the hard, wet concrete, I came face to face with the same man who had given me a ride just not too long ago. The shadow of the night draped over his lower half, concealing it from my view. Kneeling down, I shook him to check if he was still conscious. Garnering no response from him, I dialed 911. “Hold on, I’m calling for help.” I reassured him.
A flicker of movement caught my eye as I was about to press the enter key. An inky darkness, that shrouded even the dark of night. It... moved. As if it was a swirling mass of tendrils. The shapes soon morphed into pitch-black hands. Outstretching, and grasping at anything they could. Dragging the man into it; wordlessly. Absorbed into the strange compound, without so much as a sound.
A pair of shining, yellow eyes surfaced on the pit. Glaring at me as if I had committed a crime. Shifting from its setting on the ground, those horrifying orbs hovered high up in its wretched, ebony shadow. They blinked, and the next thing I knew, a man stood in front of me. However, he easily towered over me. His dark skin, and attire made him fit for a land filled with deserts. His head shifted, with that same inky substance, forming what I believed to be an animals head.
Battering those same, luminescent eyes, the entity tilted its head down, and smiled at me. “Ah, it has been such a long time since I’ve used this form.” He stated. A silver staff materialized in his right hand, with that same symbol I had seen in the restroom. “Tell me, Rhea, do you require guidance?”
How did he know my name, and better yet, how could he exist? “Hmm? Are you shocked that I know your name? Or is it my appearance?” Lifting the staff, a barrier surrounded us as he transported us to some unknown plain. It was darker here. Freezing cold, yet blazing hot. Regardless of this, he seemed generally unaffected.
“Now we have a moment to talk. So go ahead, shoot. I can’t let the human who went out of his way to discern my mettling walk away without a reward.” A winding river set ablaze filled my vision, from the mound of mushy, bloodied organs. Eyes, hearts, livers, lungs, perfectly persevered in time and space.
“Yes yes, I know. My work, and creation of the method called ‘embalming’ was widespread in the days of old. It feels like it was only yesterday.” Sighing happily, he rested his jackal like head on a palm coated in an inky black. “I was quite surprised when you cursed me, along with my fellow brethren. Vexed, possibly. Although, to give so many names to less than a handful of them is quite mind boggling.”
While he was speaking, I had trouble breathing in...whatever place we were in. Was it because of the terror, or the choking air? He, it, that thing, had no trouble whatsoever. Chatting casually as if we were the best of friends. “Osiris, Hades, Death, King Yan, Izanami, and Yama. Such a headache to keep track of all the things you call me. Yet, like the lifespans of mortals, they were short lived. Replaced, and forgotten. Pitiful, really.”
His tone grew darker as he continued, and that same, deadly glare from before showed. Piercing into my very soul. Judging it for all its worth. “Disturbing my rite of the dead, just as I was about to guide another soul. Do you feel obligated to disrupt my work?” He questioned, making me tremble where I stood. A commanding voice, one that would bend the will of any who heard, caused my reason to waver. “You, who clearly ignored my calling. For your time in that mortal plain, was about done. What have you say about that?”
“I-I….don’t know. I thought you didn’t... that you weren’t real,” I stuttered nervously, my gaze locked with his. Scoffing, he slowly approached me. His stride elegant, and rhythmical. Lifting his left hand, a scale presented itself to me. “For having a poor soul placed in your stead, I will see if you were indeed worthy of that sacrifice.”
What did he mean? Was it that man? Had it not been for him, then I surely would have met my demise sooner with this thing. In the end, he was chosen as my replacement. Guilt welled up inside me, sickening me to the core. His death was all my fault. I may not have known him, but in the end, I was the one who killed him.
Bringing his hand closer to me, it plunged inside my chest. Not a single drop of blood spilled from the gaping wound as he withdrew his arm. My eyes widened in desperation as he held my still beating heart in his grasp. A white, radiant feather was placed on one side of the scale, and I knew this would soon spell out my fate.
-ears welled in my eyes as I begged for him to let me go. Send me back to my dorm, erase my memory, wake me from this nightmare, anything to just escape this... place! My pleas were useless as he continued to weigh both items.
Watching intently as the scale was at a standstill, he raised an eyebrow from the mysterious phenomenon. “Fascinating,” he commented. Not even a millimeter of it was off. For all terms and purposes, the two were perfectly balanced. “There hasn’t been a coincidence like this for the last thousands of years. Much like that fellow with the disciples. His name slips my memory!” he exclaimed excitedly.
Utterly perplexed by all that was transpiring, I stared at the bloody red organ. Studying my heart with a look of keen interest, he shoved it back inside my chest. I’m not claiming to be any type of surgeon or medical student, but I know enough that randomly placing an organ back in itself is a dangerous task. Collapsing on the mess of organs, I gasped for the air that burned my lungs fiercely.
Earning a hearty chuckle from him, he transported us back to the edge of the alleyway. The red, blinking lights continuously bathing the area crimsion, as moonlight beamed through the parted clouds. It was just as empty as before, yet I knew of a horrible reality that no one could dare to dream of.
“Rhea, I would like to thank you for the spectacle you granted me. To have someone so desperately beg to live, only in the end, to gain passage back to the world of the living, isn’t something you see everyday.”
Standing on shaky knees, my eyes struggled to stay open as I faded in and out of consciousness. Even then, his voice was as clear as day. Whether those words were honeyed, or truly praise, I will never know. “It saddens me. Our time together is nearly at an end, and I have been the one carrying our entire conversation!” he pointed out.
Tapping the staff against the concrete ground, a puzzled look crossed his face. Then again, it was difficult to decipher since his head was that of a literal jackal.
“As payment for dragging you to the underworld, hell, tartarus, whatever you humans like to call it, I will answer any question that you have of me."
Wasting no time, the words left my mouth before my mind could comprehend what I was saying. “What even are you?”
Smiling, he glanced at the partially visible moon. “I go by many names, but one of my favorites I go by, is Anubis: The Royal Child. Though, it’s more of a construct your race created to contain an idea, or hold on me. Not like I was restrained all those hundreds, of thousands of years ago. I predate this planet, and galaxy. Your people call me a “God” although I find that to be a weak description of what I truly am. Along with several other deities. I was tasked by Creation to guide souls into the Depths. Before you ask, yes, I am not the only one who does this. My pets, the canines, and ‘angels’ guide others to it. Like me, they judge.”
Putting a hand on my shoulder, he gave a slight nod. “Now, I will set you loose with this knowledge. Be careful. Now that you know of my existence, any of my creations that spot you, will follow you. And whoever you’re with, be it stranger, family, or friend, will perish. After all, there is no meaning to life without death.”
Winking out of existence, like a star in the sky, he vanished. The commanding, sweet voice nothing but a faint memory. Mentally exhausted, I trudged back to my dorm.
Collapsing onto my bed, the open window revealed a constellation of stars that stood above the rest. They twinkled, as if conveying a message. Fleeting memories of Astronomical lectures buzzed in my ears, as I remember once, the constellation of stars in the deep southern skies.