A Body of Water
by Tim Simmons
|part 3 of 5|
Grayson Thorne, a super-successful software designer, has been funding his archeologist friend Jack Sheppard’s research. Jack has discovered the statue of an Assyrian water demon, and the inscriptions on the accompanying plates are said to hold the secret of immortality. Grayson is skeptical at first, but the ancient treasure seems to hold both a lure and a curse...
The phone rang shortly before 11 a.m. and Grayson answered it before the second ring. “Yes? No thanks. I’m not interested!” Slam! “Telemarketers... can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em.”
Grayson had to be tolerant of that type of call since he employed hundreds of telemarketers himself, selling his software programs on seven continents. He normally wouldn’t answer his phone, allowing his calls to be screened by his secretary.
Today was different. Today he would find out the truth about Hudor Diabolos — that it was nothing but myths and old wives’ tales. He did not believe any of the legend anymore than he believed in Santa Claus or God. But something about Jack’s enthusiasm gave him butterflies in his stomach.
The phone rang again, jarring Grayson from his thoughts and making the butterflies flutter wildly in the pit of his belly. This time he was not disappointed. “Yes, I’ll be here waiting for you. I’ll make sure you have no problems getting in.”
Grayson hung up the phone, walked over to the window and reached into his left pants pocket. He produced a small plastic bottle and poured out two tiny pills into his left hand. “If this is all nonsense, then why am I taking these?” he asked himself.
It had been a little more than three years since Grayson had a full-blown panic attack and he could feel the early symptoms coming on. The increasing heart rate, sweaty tingly palms, and a general fear were the telltale signs. He knew that he mustn’t allow the symptoms to worsen or he might end up having another attack. He hadn’t needed the Xanax in almost a year, but he carried them at all times in case of emergency.
He followed the pills with a small cup of water and began to take some deep breaths. All right, just think about a nice, calm lake. He exhaled slowly. He knew that it would take several minutes for the drug to take effect. In the meantime he must concentrate on letting his nervousness subside. After a few minutes had passed, he placed his right middle finger on his left wrist. Ninety-two. Okay, it’s working. Just need to let the pills do their work and wait.
A voice came over the intercom. “Mr. Thorne, a Mr. Sheppard is here.”
Grayson felt the quick, involuntary surge of adrenalin as the butterflies lurched in his stomach. “Thank you. Tell him to wait there and I’ll be right out.” Grayson still felt nervous, but now the drugs were giving him a little relief from the symptoms and he felt like he was gaining some control again. Taking another deep breath, he opened the door of his office and walked out to greet Jack.
“Well, are you ready to go eat lunch?” Jack mused.
“Sure am. Mrs. Iley, I don’t know how long I’ll be. I won’t be able to be contacted so please handle my calls until I return.”
They walked to the elevators and waited for the down arrow to light up. “Jack, I must confess I’m a little nervous. I don’t know why, but I am. Sometimes I get this way. It helps if I let someone know about it. I hope you understand.”
“Grayson, pal, I understand better than you think. I’ve got some jitters in the old stomach too, but every new door that you open is an adventure, a new place just waiting to be explored. It’s exciting... exhilarating! I feel this way every time I scoop out a handful of dirt hoping to uncover some lost artifact that no one has laid eyes nor hands on for millennia.”
The elevator bell chimed and they boarded. Grayson punched the button marked ‘ground floor’. “This is going to change our lives, Grayson! Just think... immortality. No more fear of being hit by a train. No more fear of diseases. We can read every book in the whole goddamned library twice!” he bellowed, laughing as he grabbed Grayson by the shoulders.
The elevator chimed and the doors opened. “Grayson, today will be our lucky day.” Grayson made no comment as they walked to the building’s exit. The electronic opener triggered and the big glass doors slid open. Jack paused. “You’re not getting cold feet on me now, are you?” Grayson tried to seem excited about the whole effort since he didn’t want to spoil Jack’s moment.
“No, Jack. I’m not going to bail on you. Hey, if it works, we’re set. If not, we take a late lunch, right?”
“You got it, pal.” They got into Jack’s jeep and began the trip towards the site Jack had picked for the ritual. They drove a few minutes without speaking, as Jack seemed lost in thought.
Finally, Jack glanced over at Grayson and spoke. “I’ve found an acceptable spot for our experiment. There’s an abandoned building not ten minutes from here, with a basement. We mustn’t be disturbed while summoning the water devil.” Jack glanced over at Grayson again with a look of hesitation. “Grayson, I should tell you something else about the legend.”
Grayson felt his muscles tense and felt as if he were waiting on the punch line of some devilish joke.
“The ritual of summoning the water devil must be done exactly as it was during the rule of the Assyrians. We will need to take off all our clothes and put on white robes. We must then make an offering to Hudor Diabolos before reading the plates.” Grayson was not sure he understood exactly what kind of offering Jack meant, but he ventured a guess.
“Jack, you don’t mean an animal offering, do you?”
“Exactly. We must sacrifice a young kid to the water devil as our price of-”
“A kid? Jack, that’s murder! Stop the jeep right now!” Grayson reached over and grabbed the steering wheel, jerking the vehicle violently to the right. Jack struggled to keep from slamming into an oncoming light pole as he hit the brakes to slow down.
“Grayson!” he yelled as he yanked the wheel to the left. “Let go! I don’t mean a human kid! I mean a goat. A young goat!”
Grayson released his grip and eased back onto his side as the jeep came to a stop at the edge of the street. He stared at Jack for a second, while the symptoms of embarrassment and anger boiled up together. “Jack, why the hell didn’t you tell me about this sacrifice business before now?”
“Grayson, try to calm down. I’m sorry for not telling you before, but it just didn’t seem like the right time. But really, it’s not as bad as it sounds. Don’t worry, you’ll do fine.”
“I’ll do fine? Now, wait a minute. Why can’t you perform this sacrifice?”
“Because you are the one who will be doing the summoning. You are the one who must pay the price of admission and prove your worthiness.”
“Okay, why can’t you summon this thing? You are the one who found it, not me. I’ll just watch from the sidelines. Then if it works, maybe I’ll try it.”
“I wouldn’t hear of it, pal. You financed this effort and I’m giving you the honor and a chance to make all of your dreams come true. How many times did I hear you say that you wished we had more years to live instead of being just a puff of smoke, here today, gone tomorrow? Look, if it works, you’ll thank me later. If not, well, then I guess the old writings were all hogwash. Either way, you can’t lose!”
“This is just crazy.”
“Don’t worry, pal, I’ll guide you through the ceremony. It won’t take ten minutes and we’ll be done.” Jack put the jeep into drive and pulled out onto the street.
“Great. I cannot believe I’m going to be sacrificing a goat to an idol on my lunch break.” Jack let out a laugh but Grayson just stared out of the passenger window. He had forgotten his nervousness, at least for the moment, and was wondering how he had allowed Jack to talk him into this affair. Jack seemed to have a way of doing that, he thought.
“I know it may seem a little far-fetched to you, but if we have any hope of this working, we simply must perform this ritual as recorded in the manuscripts, and that includes the sacrificial part. If I thought we could leave it out, I would. Look, there is the building we’ll be using. Everything we need is already in the basement so let’s just do it and see what happens.”
The two-story building looked as if it might crumble into dust at any second. All of the windows were broken and the graffiti that once decorated the walls had long since eroded. Iron supports protruded from many of the gaping holes in the concrete walls and small pieces of concrete rubble from the walls lay on the ground.
Jack pulled around behind the building and parked. They got out and approached the small back door, which had a square wire reinforced window in it.
“We’ll need this until we get to the basement.” Jack turned on a small flashlight and opened the door. The door opened into a hallway with several rooms branching off to either side. There were no windows in the hallway except for the one in the back door. The smells of abandonment hung in the air and the echoes of their footsteps seemed to take on a life of their own, weaving in and out of hidden corridors.
The darkness grew thicker as they walked toward the end of the hallway and as they reached the end, a wide stairway descended to the left. “Watch your step,” Jack warned as they began to make their way to the bottom.
The stairs ended in front of a pair of double doors. The right door let out an angry creak as Jack pulled it open. The soft bleating of a young goat could be heard from the dark basement.
Grayson reached into his left pants pocket to reassure himself that his medicine was still there. He hoped that he could remain calm without having to take any more. Upon entering, his eyes now focused on the glowing light in the center of the basement.
A small wooden table, covered with a black cloth, supported the statue and plates. Three candles surrounded the statue, one on each bronze plate. Off to the side was another table that displayed a long knife and bowl. A cage beside that table contained the sacrificial offering.
“This is it,” Jack said in a proud tone. “Now, here’s your robe. While you put it on, I’ll tell you how this ceremony must be performed.” Grayson took the garment and began to put it on over his suit. “No. You have to remove your clothes first, or this is all in vain.”
With an exhale of frustration, Grayson began to undress as Jack resumed his overview. “Once we begin, there must be no talking, except for the part when you read the plates. You will actually read from my English translation. First, we will both kneel beneath the statue and place both of our hands behind our backs. Then, we must get up without taking our hands from behind our backs and walk backwards from the statue while still looking down at the floor. Once we have taken several steps back we can then turn toward the sacrifice. You must then take the knife and bowl and-”
“Jack, I’m not so sure I can do this.”
“I’ll be right here with you. Nothing to worry about. We’ll make it quick and painless. At this point, we’re almost done.” Jack was now wearing his white robe. “Then you must take the bowl in both hands and walk toward the statue. When you reach it, you must pour the blood over the statue so that it completely covers it, then put the bowl on the ground. Then you must put both hands upon the statue and read the incantation. It will be on the table right in front of the statue.” Jack paused as Grayson stared at the dark statue.
“So what do we do when the water devil appears?” Grayson asked.
Jack looked rather caught off-guard. “Ask him, or it, to grant you immortality. I really have no idea what will happen.”
“Look, let’s just get this over with. Talking about it is only making things worse.”
“All right. You remember the order, right? Kneel, walk backwards, kill the goat, pour the blood and then read from the paper. Couldn’t be simpler. Just watch me if you forget, but remember: no talking.”
Jack stood to the left of Grayson and gave him a slight nod. They both walked toward the statue and upon reaching it, knelt down and put their hands behind their backs. Grayson shot a quick glance at Jack to make sure he had it right. Then after only a few seconds, Jack rose and began to walk backwards. Grayson followed suit and they both stopped after a short distance.
Jack turned to his right and walked toward the cage. He opened the cage and taking the leash that dangled from the neck of the sacrifice, led the small goat out. Jack held the goat still and motioned toward the knife. Grayson looked at the knife, then back at Jack.
Jack tilted his head toward the knife and gave a slight smile as if to comfort Grayson. Grayson walked over to the table and grasped the large knife in his right hand. He took the bowl and resumed his place beside Jack. Grayson looked at the animal and turned away from it. Forcing himself to continue, he brought the knife up and placed it against the animal’s throat. The young goat bleated softly while Jack held it still. The knife quivered for a moment that seemed to Grayson to last forever.
With one swift pull, it was over. The bowl was filling with blood. Grayson would find out if the legends were true. A grimace contorted Grayson’s face as he took the bowl in shaking hands and walked toward the statue. He quickly poured the contents over the statue and put the bowl on the ground. Reaching out, he placed his hands on the statue and felt the wet warmth of fresh blood. Just get this over with! He began to read the ancient words.
Hudor Diabolos, O mighty lord of the watery depths, I seek your face.
I lay at your feet this gift of life.
You are the power and the one true master.
O ancient one who lives forever,
To you I owe allegiance and worship.
You are the power and the one true master.
Be pleased to hear my petition and grant my desire.
Make yourself visible before me now.
You are the power and the one true master.
Arise, o Hudor Diabolos, and reveal your face to me.
As the last words fell from his lips, Grayson could hear his heart pounding fiercely in his ears. He desperately tried to fight off an impending panic attack. Seconds passed. Nothing happened. No smoke. No fireworks. No manifestation of any great spirit creature. After a few more seconds, with his hands still on the statue, Grayson looked back at Jack and broke the silence.
“Well, nothing happened.” Grayson stated with an air of relief. “Are you sure you translated the plates correctly?”
“Of course I’m sure. Damn. I can’t believe this. I simply cannot believe it. We’ve performed the rites exactly as they would have been performed by the Assyrians over 2600 years ago! Grayson, maybe you....”
Jack’s voice trailed off as he looked at Grayson. Tottering precariously with his eyes rolled upward, Grayson began to fall backwards. Jack lunged toward him, but could not catch him before he fell, hitting the floor hard on his left side. Jack stooped down and shook him slightly. “Grayson. Grayson, can you hear me?”
* * *
Copyright © 2008 by Tim Simmons