This story begins with Masked – The Fortress (1). To access installments in narrative sequence, click on an entry title, then click on “Next” at the end of that installment.
A dung beetle. Scarabeus sacer. John had looked at pictures of different beetles on the Internet for what had felt like hours, but when he checked his computer’s corner readout, it really hadn’t taken him long at all to identify the transparent gift from Bloodwater. A classic scarab beetle, of the type that had been sacred to the ancient Egyptians treading civilized sands millennia before John had been born. It rested on his computer desk next to the laptop, unmoving except for an occasional twitch of its antennae.
John didn’t understand how the beetle could connect him to a half-naked Amica. “Sacrifice and pain,” he murmured, leaning back in his rolling desk chair, tapping his pen against the desk. It occurred to him that Bloodwater must have known exactly how this process would unfold, but had sent John back to Earth with a vague hint and an even more vague prediction. Figure it out, eh? John felt toyed with. Sacrifice and pain.
Perhaps he should try to feed it. He hadn’t cleaned his mouse cage too recently, and he could see pellets of waste left behind by his three pet mice. The mice huddled together in one of the far corners of the cage, and as he reached in to set the beetle onto the uppermost wire platform, the smallest mouse squealed. Her name was Ruby. She had always been John’s favorite. The beetle scuttled down the plastic tubing that connected the upper platform to the lower one, paused, then used the second colorful tube to get down into the shavings. The mice crawled on top of each other in their fervor to get as far from the beetle as possible. John watched the glittering insect explore the bottom of the cage. It did not eat any of the fecal matter. It circled once around the mouse pile – more squealing from John’s little pets. It made its way back up the tubing and platform system until it reached the exact spot where he had set it down. It waited there.
Sacrifice and pain. Well, his pets’ waste wouldn’t have been a sacrifice that would have caused him much pain. Maybe he had missed the point. What could he give this beetle that would cause him pain to lose? Some part of himself?
A thought occurred to him. He didn’t like it, which probably meant he should go with it. He fished his box cutter out of his back pocket, pushed three notches’ worth of blade out from its end, and wiped the blade down with a facial tissue smeared with hand sanitizer. How to make this not likely to raise questions? Should he choose a spot where he could easily make an excuse about a sharp edge encountered in the course of work, or should he choose a more intimate location where the incision would be less likely to be noticed but if it were noticed would be more difficult to excuse? The darkness of the bedroom in Bloodwater’s vision seemed very forgiving. John chose a section of his rib cage, about halfway between his armpit and his waist. Sucking in air between his teeth, he sliced himself quickly with the box cutter. Deep enough to draw blood, but shallow enough that the bleeding would stop quickly. He put down the box cutter, picked up the beetle, carefully lay down on his bed on his side that was not bleeding, and placed the beetle on top of the wound.
Thank you for reading! In the next installment, John discovers the true meaning of ‘sacrifice and pain.’
Previous Aum stories include Globe Without Goodbye.
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