“Follow me.” the woman whispered in his ears and disappeared into the narrow hallway. As if in a trance, he followed her. She was wearing a white gown that flowed into the ground. She had golden earrings and a neckband that seemed to glow in the faint light from the torch she was carrying in her hand. Her wavy thick mass of hair, that reached her waist, swayed as she ran through the maze. She brought him to a large space that seemed like an underground room. There was a huge circle in the center with various symbols and an old box in the center. The woman was standing next to the circle. “Are you not going to open it?” She turned around and asked. In the faint light, he got a glimpse of her face. She had sharp facial features. She had twinkling eyes lined with kohl that was so enchanting that he couldn’t react. Before he even realised, she was next to him. She leaned close to him and whispered, “You came this far. Don’t you want to know the truth?” He walked close to the circle, but before he could reach it, a bright light engulfed him.
Sohair woke up from his sleep. He reached out to his phone on the bedside table. The phone screen displayed 2:59 A.M. He sat upon his bed, rubbing his eyes. Looking out the window, he could see the clear night sky. It was not the first time this happened. He had been having the same dream for two years since his mother passed away. His doctor said it might be due to the trauma his mother’s death caused.
His mother Aylin was an archaeologist and Egyptologist, who spent most of her life researching Ancient Egypt. She raised him as a single parent, so naturally, he used to follow her to her workplace and sites. Almost three years ago, she started losing her mind and went crazy. She was taken into therapy, but just a year later, she burnt herself to death in front of Sohair. He had a hard time getting back to his life after that incident. He left Egypt two months after his mother’s death to travel around the world, and only recently he came back. It was hard to get adjusted, and he thought these dreams were part of that.
The museum where his mother used to work was half an hour away from their house. When he was young, he used to tag along with his mother, so he knew the building like the back of his hand. He hasn’t set foot in the museum for the past ten years. For some strange reason, his mother restricted him from going anywhere related to her work, and three years ago she had to resign because of her illness. Two days ago, his mother’s professor asked him to come and collect some of her books and possessions that were left behind. The entrance was exactly as he remembered. Large hallway with giant pillars, the reception table at the center. To the left, it was the administration section and to the right, the library. The stairs lead to the exhibition centre. Since it was a Sunday, the museum was crowded. It seemed like some exhibition fair was going on. Strangely, he felt someone’s gaze upon him as soon as he entered. He looked around to see but couldn’t find anyone in the crowd. He tried to ignore the feeling and finish his work.
His mother’s office was on the fourth floor, along with her other colleagues. He saw many familiar faces and some new faces too. His mother had a small lab at the end of the floor, besides her office room. She usually preferred to stay there and work on her research.
Sohair was very close with Professor Richard. He used to spend time with him whenever his mother was busy. Professor Richard showed him his mother’s lab. “Everything is kept as it is as she left. I never got the chance to return these to you after her death. Take your time.” The professor left, leaving him alone in the room. Sohair looked around. Everything about the room said Aylin. The way the books were arranged, an arrangement that looks random to others, but was in proper order according to his mother, her table covered with books and papers, he realised he missed his mother more than he thought.
Sohair neatly packed everything in boxes and sealed them before carrying them down. When he came down, the receptionist was about to leave as her morning shift was over and all the visitors had left. The only people left were the guards and the archaeologists who worked late till night. As he was about to leave, he had a sudden intuition and turned back. Above, near the railings of the first floor, he saw her. She was looking at him before disappearing into the shadows. Even if it was for a short time, he could never mistake those eyes. The eyes that used to haunt him in his dreams. The eyes of that woman.
He climbed up to the first floor. The lights were already dimmed. He looked on for a few moments before turning back. But something caught his eyes. At the end of the hallway, he saw the silhouette of someone. He couldn’t see the face, so he started walking closer to the person.
“Do you think your mother committed suicide?” Sohair was taken aback by the woman’s question.
“What do you mean?”
When he came closer to her, he could see her face in the dim lights. The woman whom he had seen in his dreams.
“Don’t you want to know what happened to your mother? Who made her go crazy?”
“How do you know my mother? What do you mean by that?” Sohair was confused. He could hear the footsteps of the guard coming up to search the hall.
“Looks like we don’t have time.”, the woman said, looking over his shoulders. “Meet me there at dawn. The place where it all started. Find me.”
Sohair stopped as she turned to walk away. “What place? Where do you mean?” He asked frantically. The sound of footsteps was getting louder.
“You will find the answers in your mother’s journal. I have to go now.” And she disappeared into the darkness.
He could only stand there staring into the darkness, pondering on the mysterious woman’s words.
As far as he remembered, his mother never used to keep a journal. At first, he thought the woman was mistaken. But that did not explain anything. Back at home, he went through all her belongings. He found nothing that looked like a journal. He was growing restless. He decided to calm down and ignore her words. Someone must have played some cruel prank on him is what he thought.
Sohair started arranging Ayin’s books when he accidentally knocked over one of the boxes that he brought from the museum just then. He bent over to stack them when he noticed a black leather bag. He wondered why he did not notice earlier and picked it up. Inside was a book with leather binding. A book he had never seen. He went through the book and realised it was his mother’s journal. Sohair wondered how the woman knew something about his mother that even he didn’t know. Most importantly, who she was. He noticed something else too inside the leather bag. some torn pages that looked old and a few polaroids. The pages had some diagrams and writings written in some unknown languages. He went through the photos. A few of them were of her hangouts with friends. One picture was that of an abandoned excavation site. He turned around the picture and saw something written in the back. It was his mother’s handwriting. He brought the picture closer to the light.
It was a famous excavation site that got shut down 23 years ago due to some undisclosed reasons.
He looked again through the journal to find something when he noticed one page which had a photo attached. The photo was not clear, but it looked like a few people were sitting around a table. His mother had jotted down many things on that page. He couldn’t read it as it was all fuzzy as if she had written it hurriedly. But one word caught his eyes. Something he couldn’t find the meaning of.
Sohair couldn’t sleep that night. He reached the abandoned site way before the break of dawn. He had carried his mother’s leather bag along with him. There were signboards written with ‘No Entry’ around the excavation site. Since this place was long forgotten, he doubted anyone would notice him. The site was not in the best condition.
Sohair walked down the steps to the lower ground. The woman was standing there wearing a hooded cloak.
“Why did you call me here?” Sohair asked. His voice echoed all over and he felt a bit creepy.
“Does this place ring any bells?” She asked.
He looked around. He had a déjà vu moment. He felt as if he had been there. But he shook his head in no. The woman stared at him as if she saw through his lie.
“Follow me”, she said and started walking away. Even though he didn’t trust her, he decided to follow her. She led him to a stairway behind a door that anyone could have mistaken for a wall and down to an underground chamber. He could feel the air becoming dense around him as he went down. It was pitch black inside the chamber. She used a matchstick to light the torch on the wall.
The chamber was huge. There was a door on the right side leading to a much smaller room with stone shelves containing what looked like old books and papers. The room had a stone table in the center, with a few broken wooden chairs around it. Under the table, there was a wooden box that he recognised from his dream.
“What is this pace?” Sohair asked.
“The pace that caused your mother’s death. The place where your mother used Anputekun to satisfy her greed.”
He looked at her. That word he found in his mother’s journal.
“What is that?”
The woman took the box and placed it over the table.
“Open it.” She spoke.
He hesitantly went forward and opened it. Inside was a wooden board in the shape of an irregular hexagon. Four of the sides were equal and two adjacent sides were longer, making a pointed corner. There was a circle of undecipherable letters inside the board with a strange symbol in the center. A flat black stone with the same symbol engraved in was near the board. There was also an old book written in undecipherable letters.
The woman came over, dusting a leather-bound book that she took from the shelf.
“That is Anputekun. Anubis’s board.”
Sohair looked at her puzzled. “The book in that box is the book of Anputekun. This book is your mother’s research work on Anputekun.
Sohair quickly pulled the book from her hand and started reading.
Anputekun or Anubis’s board is a device from Ancient Egypt, used to perform the ritual ‘Iarkas’ meaning ‘Calling of the dead’. After Osiris took over the title of ‘Lord of Underworld’ and assigned Anubis to guide the souls to the underworld, Anubis developed this device with the help of Nefertiti, wife of Akhenaten Amenhotep IV. This board was developed to call the spirit of the dead during ancient times….
…the board is in the shape of an irregular hexagon. The ritual should be performed in the presence of exactly six people. Five of the participants would sit on the five corners, symbolising the guards of the door of death. Each of them would carry a torch in their hand. The sixth participant, or the ‘Vessel’, would sit near the longest corner of the board. This person is the vessel for the spirit to possess and must be strong enough to hold two souls.
To summon the soul, the name of the dead is written in papyrus and kept under the board. The participants chant a spell till the runestone kept in the middle starts to glow. This part is the ‘Awakening of Anubis’. After this, the five guards would then chant the name of the person until the Vessel is possessed. The spirit would then answer the questions of the guard using the runestone.
To send back the spirit, the papyrus is burnt using the five torches. If it burns with normal fame, the spirit has gone back to rest. If it burns with a scarlet flame, the vessel has been completely possessed by the spirit. The possessed person loses sanity, and kills the other participants one by one, crushing their souls.
“The ritual was banned from performing due to the disasters and curses it brought about. All books about Anputekun were burnt or destroyed. The only remaining record of it is in that old book. You might have guessed what happened.” The woman said.
“Who are you? How do you know this place?”
“I was there with them. I was the guide of the ritual,” she paused, “You were there too.”
Sohair was surprised.
“Your mother did not believe this would work. She, along with a few other researchers decided to try this out. Your mother was the vessel. To their disbelief, it worked, but the spirit never left. Your mother was never strong enough to carry another soul, so the spirit attached itself to a curious 15-year-old boy who couldn’t stop poking around, despite his mother’s warnings to never come down.” The woman was now circling Sohair, her eyes fixed on him.
Sohair felt as if he couldn’t breathe. Vague images of him finding his mother in that room started forming on his head.
'Dreaded by the outcome of her curiosity, she begged the cunning spirit to let her be the vessel rather than her son. She even performed the forbidden ceremony of soul transfer to save her son. And one by one, she killed all her friends and ended up killing herself.” The woman stopped in front of him.
He noticed late that she had been whispering something all the time he was reading. He looked down and saw she had drawn some circles around him with powder while he was distracted.
“There was no guide mentioned in the book. Only six people should have been there.” A shocked Sohair stated slowly.
The woman started walking closer to him. Her smile had grown bigger.
“The spirit was cunning. She never had the intention to let go of what she once possessed.”
A shiver passed down his spine. Dread struck as realisation dawned upon him.
“Who did they call?” Sohair gulped.
The woman gave a short laugh. “Who else other than the one woman who started it all?” She whispered in his ears.
Fear filled inside him, and a single name came out of his mouth before he was forever consumed by darkness.