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31. Possession in great measure

Updated: Dec 18, 2020



The king’s chamber was found beneath a stone circle, somewhere in the southern countryside. The circle itself was not very impressive; the stones looked like badly decayed teeth. It had been used for filming a science fiction television series and for shoots with fashion models. Otherwise, it was a sorry monument. It was very old—everyone agreed on that—but old age alone does not grant celebrity. So the circle had been overlooked by tours. The locals said that the stones moved every solstice, but that legend was not enough to attract much interest. The schoolchildren went up to the circle every year and, at the order of their teachers, constructed paper cutouts of fairies. They never stayed to find out if there were actual fairies near the circle.

So the chamber went undiscovered until an old amateur archaeologist decided to dig the site. He had to struggle through a lot of paperwork to be allowed to do it, but, eventually, he started his dig. It was a part-time affair; he divided his time between babysitting his granddaughter, tending his garden, and researching the local archeology. He dug alone, occasionally speaking to bemused couples walking their dogs, until, at last, he hit the stones that were a roof for the chamber. He followed this roof along the ground until he uncovered the lip of the entrance into the chamber. Of course, he did not know that was what he had found. As he uncovered more of the chamber, he forgot his garden and let it go to seed. He could only dig. The local council knew he had exceeded his permit, but most of the councillors had known the old man for a long time and did not have the heart to stop him.

He uncovered the door to the chamber, breaking the last earth that acted as a stopper. The air was fresh and cold in the chamber; later, he would discover a network of tunnels that had fed the chamber with outside air for centuries. He entered the chamber alone, with just a torch to light his way. Inside, he found dozens of stone urns surrounding a central sarcophagus; the body eater. The urns contained the hoard; golden jewellery, some from as far away as Greece and China. The old man had to go for help to open the sarcophagus. Three strong men who worked in the village pub hauled it open. The mummy inside was the first found in Britain. The experts at the British Museum subjected it to X-rays and other strange manipulations, but the mummy defied all attempts to measure its age. Even now, even with the help of an American billionaire, it remains a mystery.

So, today, the stone circle is a great attraction, and there is talk of building a museum beside it. The old man has died; he died a year after his finds were made. He did not have very long, his granddaughter thinks, to enjoy his success. “It seems some men are sent to complete a certain task,” said the vicar, speaking at the graveside, “they do not know the task; perhaps it comes to them very late, but the task is always there. Once it is done, they can die.” So it would seem that not every death should be looked upon as tragedy, perhaps it is just the essential act.

The granddaughter took a handful of the old man’s ashes down to the vault and spread them in the sarcophagus. Perhaps it would interfere with the scientific analysis…she did not care. That night, she slept deeply, not waking until midday, and, in her dreams, she was taken to a great pyramid where she danced with a black cat beneath the stars. She sat on a barge and watched the pyramid fall into the starry horizon. Then she was awake, back in her bed in the village. She walked to the window and watched her cat playing outside. At the stone circle, a hawk rested.

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