© Copyright Arthur Hagopian 2016
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Prolog

It was an early dawn in Jerusalem.

The echoes of the muezzin’s call to prayer still

lingered in the crisp air.

A   shroud   of   mist   had   descended   on   the   city,   billowing out upon the nearby hills, and veiling it from view. In   the   streets,   no   one   was   stirring   yet,   save   for   the odd   stray   cat   out   on   a   scavenging   chore.   No   smoke   rose from   the   chimneys   and   no   lights   showed   in   the   windows. The mist enveloped all. But    through    patches    in    its    fabric,    the    sun's    dew- drenched   rays   peered   over   the   ancient   walls   of   the   city   and bathed    the    tall    domes,    towering    belfries    and    tapered minarets    in    a    feeble    glow.    Its    gentle    fingers    pirouetted across   the   parapets,   stopping   to   knock   softly   against   the city's   seven   gates   in   turn,   before   coming   to   rest   on   the double Gates of Mercy. Beneath   the   walls   of   the   city,   at   the   feet   of   the   twin gates    through    which    the    promised    Messiah    would    enter Jerusalem    at    the    end    of    the    days,    lay    the    ancient necropolis, guarded by the tame jackal, Anubis. Still   as   a   reclining   tombstone,   Anubis   crouched   near   a gaping   hole   in   the   soggy   earth,   waving   his   flail   in   confusion. Someone   had   come   during   the   night   and   dug   a   fresh   grave. He   had   no   idea   who   had   dug   it   or   who   it   was   meant   for.   It seemed   to   have   appeared   overnight,   for   it   had   not   been there when he made his customary rounds. The    tomb    lay    there    gaping    forlornly,    awaiting    the arrival of its new occupant. Anubis   could   not   understand   it.   Who   could   have   done such   a   thing,   and   without   his   knowledge?   It   was   unheard of.   Never   had   he   known   such   an   aberration,   such   a   travesty of   office.   For   as   long   as   men   were   born,   it   had   been   the onerous   task   of   Anubis   the   jackal   to   prepare   the   tombs   and receive   into   them   the   bodies   of   all   those   whose   souls   he would   conduct   through   the   Hall   of   Double   Truths.   It   was none   other   than   Anubis   who   was   entrusted   with   performing the   ceremony   of   the   opening   of   the   mouth.   And   it   was   his prerogative   to   monitor   the   Scales   of   Truth   and   weigh   the heart   of   the   deceased   to   determine   if   his   life   had   been righteous   and   he   was   destined   for   eternal   life,   or   if   his   life had been evil and he was destined for eternal damnation. Anubis   had   accumulated   many   names   throughout   the eons,   some   so   exotic   and   mysterious   even   he   had   forgotten their   meaning   or   association.   He   was   said   to   be   descended from a god but his origins were shrouded in mystery. And   now   one   more   mystery   faced   him.   The   unknown grave. Who   had   come   in   the   silence   of   the   night   and   claimed a   plot   of   land   for   an   unknown   occupant?   Did   he   not   want the   deceased   to   be   held   up   to   judgment?   How   could   he avoid    the    Scales    of    Truth?    Was    the    deceased    so    past redemption   that   his   mourner   wanted   to   spirit   his   body   away and   send   his   soul   into   the   Unknown,   there   to   linger   perhaps forever,   or   until   the   arrival   of   the   Messiah   who   would   raise all the dead? Anubis   could   not   understand   why   anyone   would   have wanted   to   hide   the   identity   of   a   stranger.   The   iron-clad   laws of    the    necropolis    decreed    that    no    grave    could    be    left unmarked.   Each   had   to   carry   the   name   and   appellation   of its    occupant,    and    the    date    he    or    she    joined    the    other denizens of the necropolis. Anubis   shivered   in   the   cold   of   the   shimmering   pre- dawn   haze.   He   looked   up   at   the   stars   but   they   were   hidden behind   a   maze   of   clouds.   The   moon   had   scurried   away   for the   night.   He   got   up   and   began   to   pace   to   and   fro   fretfully. It   was   not   only   the   unknown   grave   that   rankled   him.   He had   had   the   same   nightmare   again,   the   nightmare   in   which he    saw    the    Night    Walker    come    strolling    through    the necropolis   upturning   graves   right   and   left,   scattering   the bones   of   the   sleeping,   treading   under   foot   the   mighty   and the low in his rampage through the ancient city of the dead. The    nightmare    was    troubling    him.    He    had    been guarding   the   necropolis   as   far   back   in   time   as   his   memories went.    And    he    could    not    recall    ever    having    had    such    a nightmare before. Was   it   merely   a   dream,   or   did   the   Night   Walker   really appear,    each    night    for    the    past    three    nights,    Anubis wandered?   The   necropolis   was   a   sacred   place,   the   city   of the   dead   was   not   to   be   disturbed   by   any   mortal.   But   then the   Night   Walker   hardly   seemed   mortal   or   human.   Wrapped in   an   impenetrable   black   cloak   that   covered   him   from   top   to toe, he glided noiselessly across the ground like a wraith. Anubis    could    not    even    remember    having    seen    his eyes.   Nothing   but   a   black   pall   that   moved   from   grave   to grave    on    a    mysterious    mission    that    Anubis    could    not fathom. Anubis    had    never    had    a    chance    to    examine    him closely   for   the   moment   their   line   of   vision   met,   the   Night Walker   simply   disappeared.   One   instant   he   was   bent   over   a headstone   seemingly   studying   an   engraving,   the   second   he was nowhere to be seen. It   seemed   the   slightest   suspicion   of   a   presence   within the   periphery   of   his   vision   was   enough   to   cause   him   to vanish from sight.
A fable for our time and all times