THE HOLE IN THE BONE
Context: Nick Taylor is at the University of Urumqi library researching the congs that were unearthed at the excavation site in the Taklamakan Desert. Congs are short columns with monster faces. Their purpose is unknown.
…“I think we met before.” The professor was wearing his Australian mountain suit, looking out of place as usual.
“It’s me, Professor. Of course, we met before.” Nick reached up and shook his hand.
“In another life, Nick.”
Nick’s brows furrowed as he studied the professor’s face. A vague image of two men wearing conical hats standing by a lake floated momentarily through his mind. “I can’t remember where I parked my car, let alone my previous life,” said Nick. But Henryk Krauser seemed to be connected to him in some indefinable way. He felt it, rather than knew it. “Which one?” he asked.
Krauser shrugged. “I can’t say, exactly. Perhaps in fragments of half remembered dreams. I’m sorry I brought it up.”
“I have feelings of deja vue sometimes. I know what you mean.” Bits and pieces of his near-death experience flashed through his mind, but nothing connected. “So, what have you been up to?”
“While you’ve been out hunting for antiques, I found some of my own at Bezeklik. I want to show you some tablets I’ve finished translating. Come to my office. I think you will find them … relevant.”
“One in particular. The Book of Turu.”
His curiosity aroused, Nick accompanied the professor across the campus to the humanities building through a heavy snowfall. After shaking the snow off in the hallway, Henryk led Nick to his office and unlocked the door.
“This is it. The Book of Turu. The original tablets are still at Bezeklik.” Henryk pulled an over-sized book of photographic prints off one of the book shelves and set it on the desk.
Nick opened to the first page. “This looks like the Tree of Life. Is Turu another manifestation of the world tree?”
The professor nodded. “These texts describe it as found on a mountain top called The Crown of Heaven. Today, that is a mountain in the Kunlun range in southern Xinjiang. In Chinese mythology the Kunlun were magical mountains. The further west one traveled, the further the mountains moved, never to be found. The Queen Mother of the West lived in them in a magical, walled garden. A paradise. With Fenghuang.”
Nick picked up the magnifying glass lying on the desk and read aloud slowly from a photo plate of a tablet engraved with the Tree of Life. Beneath the tree were words in proto Tocharian lettering. The higher in the tree, the greater his powers be.
The professor gazed down at Nick with a patient smile. “The Book of Turu is the story of ancient Tocharian shamans. They were born in the Tree of Life and raised by simurghs: monstrous, intelligent birds who were allies of mankind. The shamans lived many lives, sometimes as a woman, sometimes as a man, descending to earth in different bodies and returning to the tree many times. This is a book of ancient wonders, something I had only dreamed of finding in this lifetime. But as I read it, I realized it was not for the first time, and I began remembering. Do you remember me now? It’s something you feel, not that you know. Empty your mind.”
Something was crawling inside his spine. The room began to spin and he was falling down the sinkhole he had dreamed as a boy. The descent seemed to be for an eternity, when suddenly, instead of hitting the bottom, he came out on the other side of it. Gon Ea and Lu An were running, and he had fallen to his knees at the foot of Lord Xie Pu with a dagger through his heart. He gasped for air and staggered to his feet, panting like a dog.
“It’s a lot to take in,” said Henryk. “Now do you remember?”
“I think so, although you don’t look physically the same.” Every nerve in his body was tingling. Each breath like an explosion of energy. Everything looked different.
Henryk patted him on the shoulder. “The body is merely a convenience. Certainly, this old carcass of mine has outlived its usefulness. At first, I thought I would gain possession of the magic bone and find another life in a different world. But that was before I found the book and understood how selfish that would be. You and I come from the tree, Turu, and have a higher purpose. The magic bone is for you alone so that you may complete your mission.”
“It makes sense, in a way. My compulsion to get to the tomb. The feeling that I belong to that distant time, and not in today’s world.”
“Trust your feelings and intuition. Your gift of insight has not been completely forgotten. I’m giving you The Book of Turu. Learn it. It has all the knowledge you need to defeat Lord Xie Pu and free the souls he has stolen.”
The professor picked up the book and wrapped it in an oilskin. He held it out to Nick. “Take it, there is not much time left. A storm has been brewing for 3,800 years and is about to descend upon us.”
It was still snowing as he made his way back to his apartment. The sun had set an hour before, but the city was bright with reflected light and the air itself glowing with snowflakes. Nick unwrapped the book and began reading as soon as he got home. It was divided into two parts; the story of Turu and the creation of the world, and a section on spells, both good and bad, depending on the point of view of those who invoked them. He opened to the page with the image of the Tree of Life. Beneath were the words he had read earlier, then lines of verse.
The Boughs of Turu
Atop the Crown of Heaven,
He rocked in the limbs of Turu;
Baptized in moonshine
And fed on the rays of the sun,
At the time when Earth had first begun
The son of simurghs melding
Waited for their nod,
Then bid goodbye to his home in the sky,
Stepped off the nest with arms outstretched
And flew down the beams of the moon
He walked the path of a human being
Before the word was penned,
The planet spoke beneath his feet,
He heard the rocks speak
And the voice in the wind
He didn’t count his days on earth,
But in time his sheath grew weak
His powers waned as the wind blew cold
And the drums played a solemn beat
Returning to the mountain, straining with finger and toe,
He settled his mind and began the journey
To the bones in the valley below
Without a worry, without a care,
He leapt from the rocks and into the air
How long he fell, he didn’t know;
Didn’t count the eons pass
The wind blew him clean
And he woke from his dream,
Back in the boughs of Turu
The second half of the book was filled with incantations, execrations, and rites. There were incantations to cast out demons. Incantations to cast out disease, to make one invulnerable in battle, to win a lover, and for rain and good crops.
He skimmed through until he came to talismans. There was a large body of text devoted to stones and bones. A magic bone was described that had the power to send the possessor through a magic portal to other worlds. It told of the words to use to send enemies through the hole in the bone to the other realms. Like all the knowledge contained in the book, good or evil use depended on the perspective of the one using it. There were admonishments to use caution and to abide by the principals set forth in the story of creation.
There were incantations for restoring soul fragments to wholeness. Nick pondered on the meaning of ‘soul fragment,’ and realized that could be him. He did not feel complete in the modern world and had always felt pulled back to the past. Perhaps he could be whole again if he reunited with the lost parts of his being.
When coming to a set of tablets telling how to release souls from bondage, he became so absorbed he lost all sense of time. There were warnings to follow the ritual precisely and to concentrate on the meaning of the words. Any wavering or loss of determination could result in the sorcerer releasing their own soul into subjugation by the enslaver.
A growl escaped from the pit of Nick’s stomach. It was nearly midnight and too late to eat dinner. As he climbed into bed, he resolved to pick up a bottle of eye drops for his burning eyes.