There were twelve others sat around the room and I didn’t know any of them. Feeling out of place was nothing new to me, I don’t think I’d ever really belonged anywhere, but I think I was the only one who didn’t know somebody in this class. For a long time I’d kept quiet and not really said much in the discussions. Today I wanted to have a say.
We were talking about the immortality of the soul and for some reason or another the subject meant something to me, like I needed to let them all know my thoughts. The lecturer was talking still and I noticed he sometimes spoke too much. He didn’t always know when to stop. I didn’t mind, though. His curly white hair and lined face, which had weathered over the years, gave off the impression that he had a lot to teach us.
Finally I spoke up and said: “What happens if our consciousness can’t grow anymore? Do we still stay on as an individual?” Everyone looked at me with surprise and I tried not to meet their eyes. When I looked at the lecturer I could see he was turning the question over in his head.
“Yes. I should think so. If the soul is immortal, then you must have a core identity that will always exist.” He said this and seemed satisfied with his response, but I couldn’t just leave it at that.
“What about the evolution of the spirit?” I said. I didn’t want to get confused between the soul and the spirit. “Do you think there’s a point when we can’t travel anymore and simply stop being?”
“Oh, I don’t know about that,” the lecturer said. He closed his eyes for a moment and I saw the lines on his forehead dancing into a shape. Some of the class seemed to be listening intently, while the others were dropping their heads or sighing disinterestedly. “There must always be something to learn, but I suppose if you’ve lived for an eternity…well, then you might reach the highest plane. On that level you get to enjoy your wisdom.”
“What about merging?” I asked. The lecturer shook his head dismissively. I could see a faint smile forming on his lips.
“No, no, I wouldn’t think so. Group consciousness isn’t a very popular subject. Let me put it another way. If I were to ask you all if you would freely give up your own free will to merge with the Universe, how many of you would be willing to do it?”
There was silence in the room as we listened and tried to understand the depth of the question. After a few moments my classmates began to shake their heads – some vocally denounced the idea, while others sat there with a glazed over look. I didn’t answer the question.
“Well, Jack?” the lecturer asked. His muddy brown eyes locked into mine while I reflected over his words.
Eventually I said: “I don’t know. I guess I wouldn’t be ready yet.”
“Hmph…that’s not really an answer,” the lecturer said, smiling thinly. “I think we’ve already talked about my feelings on agnosticism, haven’t we? All the greatest scientists and spiritualists in the world would join hands together before listening to a man with his bottom on the fence.”
“It’s okay not to be completely sure, though,” the blonde haired boy opposite me said. I had listened to him a lot over the last few months. He always seemed to challenge the lecturer the most and had a real way with words. “I mean, that’s what self-discovery is all about, isn’t it? There’s no need to make any quick decisions.”
“Oh, of course! I change my mind all the time. That’s why I do this for a living. You need to have the right amount of insanity to do my job, you know,” the lecturer said, winking at us through his good eye. “Now then, now then! I think we’re coming to a finish. It’s always good to end on an ambiguous note, isn’t it? One last thing, though! Your presentations. I need to put you into groups.”
I looked around at my classmates and thought about who I’d like to work with the most. Some of them I felt were interesting and contributed a lot to the seminar. Others didn’t really talk much at all but neither did I, so I tried to put my judgement to one side. Then I saw the girl with the long brown hair and the nicest smile I’d ever seen, and I secretly hoped that we’d be put together.
I got my wish. The lecturer named us and I was put with her and the boy with blonde hair. We were told to do a presentation about Understanding, Judgement and the Freedom of the Will. Her eyes met mine for a moment and then I quickly looked away, embarrassed.
I was packing my books away when the blonde haired boy came over to me and shook my hand. He introduced himself as Adam and suggested that we meet up soon to discuss the project. I nodded shyly and reddened as the girl came over towards us.
“Anna, isn’t it?” Adam said.
“That’s right,” she said as her brown eyes met mine. I smiled. “I thought you brought up some good points today.”
“Thanks,” I said. “We’re meeting Friday for the presentation, if you want to come?”
“Sounds like an idea,” Anna said. She brushed her brunette hair absently and added: “I think it might take some time to get my head around it all.”
“Sometimes I wonder why I took Theology!” Adam said, laughing. He was taller than I was and more round-shouldered, I had a feeling that he might play for the Rugby society. “Well, I suppose we’ll be meeting again shortly.”
“Yeah, I should think so!” Anna said. Her bag hung loosely around her shoulder as we stood there for a moment not saying anything. Then we were interrupted by the lecturer, who came over and put his hand on my shoulder.
“Nice to hear your voice, Jack,” the lecturer said, smiling warmly. “I don’t suppose I could borrow you for a moment?” he turned to look at Anna who immediately sprung to her senses.
“I was just going. See you tomorrow!”
My eyes trailed after her for a moment and then I turned to face my lecturer.
“Of course,” I said. “I hope I didn’t offend?”
“Nonsense!” he said, laughing loudly. We waited for the last student to leave and then I followed him out of the room. I followed the lecturer along the corridor, down the stairs and onto the second floor. He took out his key and unlocked one of the doors veering off to the left.
There were papers and empty coffee cups scattered across the room. There were un-ironed shirts hanging loosely on the backs of the chair. He looked at me apologetically and moved around the room acting flustered. I managed to hold back a laugh.
Eventually he motioned for me to sit down. He was looking at me intently and held a hardback book in his hands.
“I wanted to recommend something to you, actually,” he said. “I saw you in the library the other day looking at some books on astrology. I thought this might interest you,” he handed the book over to me. I took it and stared at the signed copy with stunned eyes. “You will learn a lot from this.”
“It’s signed…” I said, still shocked. He was smiling again.
“I want you to let me know what you think when it’s done. Oh, and let me know what you think to the little poem at the end.”
“It will make more sense after you’ve read it. But you know, I think this book is very relevant to our times. There might still be descendants out there, coming together as we speak. The times are changing, Jack.”
“It’s been many years since the Zodiac were together.” I said, having read up a little on the subject.
“Indeed! And I am hopeful that they will come back. There are many things that you and I don’t understand,” his eyes twinkled mysteriously. I was going to ask him what he meant but then he added: “There are secrets hidden within this book that still exist today. You will see that this is not a story that’s finished, but is still very much unwritten. Do you know why the Zodiac has never come together publically?”
“Is it because of the government?” I asked.
“There are always those in the position of power who might not make it easy for the real legends,” the lecturer said. “There are the Dark ones, of course, that has existed throughout the beginning of time. They always come in different guises, but they’re all spun by the same thread. They’re very dangerous, Jack. You will read more about them, too. Though I don’t suggest you linger too much on them!”
“Have you ever met them?”
I looked into the lecturer’s eyes which seemed somehow distant as he thought about my question. Finally he said: “I have read many books over the years and I’ve travelled along many paths, but I’ve never come across anything I’ve read about. Perhaps, after all, we are only dealing with stuff of legends.”
“But you don’t think so, do you?” I said, pressing him on the subject. He looked up at me and grinned.
“As a boy I was always afraid of the bogeyman in the closet. I grew up, but I didn’t change my mind on that score,” he said. “You will let me know what you think, won’t you?”
“Of course!” I said, shaking his hand gratefully. I stood up to leave and added: “I’ll see you next week.”
“Oh, you will!” he said, leafing through the papers on his table. “I’m looking forward to it!”
I moved through the crowds passing along the campus and headed to the library. There were no two students who looked the same and I was amazed by how spontaneous they were, with some even dressed in pyjamas and strange animal costumes. Others were unshaven and wore vacant expressions. I didn’t really fit into the whole University scene and shuffled onto the pavement almost invisibly as I passed by groups laughing about last night’s antics.
I was a second year student and had time to adjust to the culture, though I didn’t really have much to do with the other people my age. Very few of them really understood my background and I saw the world through different eyes – some of them, I believed, could sense this and eyed me with obvious suspicion. They never spoke to me but could tell that I didn’t really belong in this place. There was plenty of diversity to be found but somehow I just didn’t fit. And while most of them lived with each other I still stayed at home with my foster parents. It was not surprising, then, that I had caught their attention in the seminar.
Reading was one of my most favourite hobbies, and I spent almost all of my time absorbing their meaning. Sometimes I’d not leave the library until it was dark outside and the rooms were empty. When I passed into the Information Commons I’d often read outside the course and find out about the world beyond my own understanding. Lately I’d taken an interest in famous peacemakers and was keen to explore their minds. I didn’t know why, but I felt drawn to their wisdom.
I entered the library and swiped my card on the scanner. I nodded to the guard who waved over at me and headed upstairs. This time I flicked through the section on South African literature and searched for Nelson Mandela’s autobiography. It had hit me hard when I had found out about his passing, which had only been about two weeks ago. Eventually I found it and sat in an armchair away from the crowds and fell into Mandela’s vision.
Hours passed and my eyes rarely wandered away from the pages. I was completely unaware of my surroundings and fully engrossed in his writing. There was something irrevocably brave about his honest account of his imprisonment and the way in which he dealt with his critics. Perhaps what I found the most intriguing, however, and what resonated with my own spirit, was the reasoning behind his need for liberation.
Over and over I read the words: “I had no epiphany, no singular revelation, no moment of truth, but a steady accumulation of a thousand slights, a thousand indignities and a thousand unremembered moments produced in me an anger, a rebelliousness, a desire to fight the system that imprisoned my people. There was no particular day on which I said, Henceforth I will devote myself to the liberation of my people; instead, I simply found myself doing so, and could not do otherwise.”
I couldn’t explain the connection I felt with these words but I didn’t forget them, and I found myself coming back to them whenever my mind wandered. In the films I watched there were always pivotal moments that brought with them a fitting climax to their struggles, but I had never experienced such a thing myself. There were more questions, but few answers, and nothing was ever instantaneous. The wheels always turned but never by themselves, and I often felt we were all just cogs helping to oil the machine, with no real understanding of what any of it meant.
All I did know was that Nelson Mandela had many stories to tell, with the weight of his experiences etched across his face. He spoke of thousands and thousands as if he’d been here before in another guise, and had assembled all of his wisdom through much exploration and adventure. I didn’t know much about the evolution of the spirit, but if such a circumstance was possible, I was confident that Mandela was a gift from God. He made me believe not only in humanity, but in the certainty of their being some divine plan, and that not all of our experiences were wasted. I wanted to believe that we all had a role to play as if we were like the great novels from the past.
I read well into the night and had to force myself to stop in the end. During the last half an hour I had become increasingly unsettled, to the point of distraction, and I felt a strong urge to drive home before it was too late. It was a strange feeling, and I had sometimes come across these intuitive hunches in the past, though I didn’t understand anything about them. At any rate, I borrowed the book and headed towards the exit when I came across the most ancient looking man I’d ever seen.
His hair was as white as snow and looked like a bird’s nest on top of an old man’s head. When I looked at his skin I thought it was like thin parchment wrapped over his skull, while his eyes shone madly through their sunken sockets. I found myself feeling cold just by being his presence and wanted more than anything to be away from him.
“They are coming, child…” the man said, raising his scabby finger at me and howling a wild cackle. There was something altogether inhuman about him, and when I looked towards the stairs, I could feel his eyes burning into my forehead.
“What do you mean?” I said, hoping that my voice wouldn’t betray the fear that I felt. He was grinning now with what little teeth he had left. There was no one else close by and for a moment I thought I might be imagining him, until his grizzly hand touched my shoulder. I felt nothing but coldness coming from them, as if there was no life in them at all.
“You are the Hanged Man,” he said. “You live on borrowed time, my little one, though I can’t tell you just how short! There is much loss around you..oh yes, child, you will sacrifice much before the end. You hang suspended as if from a tree – neither alive, nor truly dead. You lie in suspension, timeless, and imprisoned by your own chains.”
There was wickedness in him that I couldn’t describe, and I knew this man offered nothing but evil intent. I walked slowly backwards but I still couldn’t take my eyes away from him, not knowing if he would lunge out at me at any moment, or if he was just trying to play with my head. Somehow, though, I believed his words. He was a trickster, but I didn’t think he was lying, even though I didn’t understand what he meant.
Finally I said: “I don’t know who or what you are, but I’m not the right person.”
He took a step forward though his expression remained vacant, and I braced myself for an attack.
“How much will you sacrifice, little one? The path you walk offers nothing but bloodshed. All those you love will be used for the purpose of your Gods, and you will be helpless to save any one of them. It is already beginning, Pisces. Will you complete the cycle, and at what cost?”
There was silence for a moment and I thought he might’ve finished, but then his hand coiled around my wrist like a snake and clamped down hard. I tried to
wrestle free from his grip but it was as if his body was made of iron, and I was trapped. He moved his face close to mine and I could smell his rancid breath – he looked menacing, though I didn’t think he was going to try and attack me.
“Take a good look at me, now!” he said with a humourless laugh. “I was once you, many years ago. But I know how the story ends, and you will become me! It’s a doomed cycle, with no hope!”
“Get away from me!” I shouted. Time stopped, and his eyes flashed like golden orbs, as if beckoning me to come into his world. Then there was nothing and he had disappeared. When I came back to my senses I was standing next to a bookcase with a group of students staring at me like I had lost my mind. And that might not have been far from the truth, either.
I rushed downstairs without saying anything and quickly headed for the exit. He had vanished into thin air but I still remembered everything that had happened and his words rang in my mind like a bell that relentlessly tolled. Whatever he might’ve told me, I didn’t believe for one second that I was him, and I didn’t know what he meant about Pisces. There was no making sense of anything he had said.
All I did know was that I needed to get home quickly – I still couldn’t get away from the feeling that something was wrong. Everything else would have to wait. In the past I might’ve turned to Aiden for advice but that…that wasn’t possible anymore. The few friends that I did have wouldn’t know what to tell me, and I couldn’t tell my foster parents. They worried about me too much as it was, and I didn’t want them to think I was losing it.
It took just under forty-five minutes to return home. I rushed from my car and stumbled to the door. I almost tripped over but managed to save myself from falling just in time. Then I frantically stabbed my key into the lock and called out my foster parents’ names. For a moment there was silence and then I heard their voices in the lounge.
There was no better sound and I was relieved to hear they were okay. I didn’t know what I was thinking but over the years I had learned to trust my instincts. Somewhere at the back of my mind I still thought there was something missing, but I was so happy to see them that it didn’t matter. I moved into the lounge and saw them sitting on the settee with wine glasses.
“Jack!” my dad said. He was wearing his horn-rimmed glasses tonight which along with his receding hairline made him look older than his years. “Have you been in the library all this time?”
“Pretty much,” I said. He rolled his eyes slightly and nodded towards the bottle of wine. My foster mum wore bright red lipstick and her brown curly hair tangled down to her shoulders. She looked up at me enquiringly and her eyes flashed for a moment, as if she knew there was something wrong. “Looks like I’ve missed all the fun.”
“Help yourself!” my mum said.
“I think I’ll give it a miss tonight. I’ve got quite a busy day tomorrow.”
“Suit yourself,” my dad said. He paused for a moment and then added: “There was something else, Jack. A friend of yours came round tonight. I think he might’ve called himself Antoine. He said you might know his name. He left this for you.”
I took the sealed envelope from him and reflected over the purpose of Antoine’s visit. I hadn’t heard that name in a long time and didn’t expect to see him again.
He had been responsible for finding me a new life after the captain died and I was grateful for all of his help. Once I had settled into my new home, I was homeschooled and eventually allowed to sit in examinations. After a few years I had finally been able to qualify for University. Without Antoine, I might’ve still been living on the ship or perhaps even abandoned, which was not worth even thinking about.
Still, it seemed strange him getting in touch after so long and I was concerned that there might be something amiss. I held the letter in my hands and, not wanting be left in the dark any longer, quickly made my excuses and headed upstairs. I sat down on my bed and ripped open the envelope.
Inside it read: Jack, I hope this letter finds you well. It’s been a long time since we last saw one another, and I am proud of all of your achievements. Sadly, I have not come to catch up on your wellbeing, but rather warn you about the future. There are many changes about to take place, Jack, and I’m afraid to tell you that you are at the centre of everything about to unfold.
For years I’ve felt at odds and not known how much to tell you, but I can keep it hidden from you no longer. The process has already begun, and I can’t tell you how much time we all have left. The Zodiac is coming together for the first time in a very long time, and they will come seeking you out. That means you are also in danger.
We must meet without delay. Tomorrow, the 16th, the spiritual church close to you is holding a healing service. For the time being, at least, I can guarantee your safety in this place. Meet me inside at 7.
Burn this letter right away. We must keep our communication secret.
There was nothing else to do but wait until tomorrow evening. I was burning with questions, especially after what had just happened, and I knew I’d be having a long sleepless night.
It had been almost six years since I had last seen Antoine. Since then, I’d never truly moved on from what had happened, and I still saw Aiden’s face whenever I thought about it for too long. Without him, I would’ve likely been killed. I picked up the crab shell from my cabinet and studied it with my fingers. I had only found out afterwards that Aiden had in fact belonged to the Zodiac.
So much time had passed and now it was all coming together with me being at the heart of the puzzle. It didn’t make any sense. I had been an orphan for most of my life without being known by anyone important. I looked at the shell and thought about what the old man had said. He had mentioned Pisces, the final member of the Zodiac, who hadn’t been seen for centuries.
It wasn’t possible that I was his descendant. I had once read that a Pisces must walk the paths of all the other signs before finally emerging into his twelfth incarnation, and that was way beyond my own ability to comprehend. What I did know was that it was no coincidence that my lecturer had given me the book on astrology, and I resolved to read more about it.
I took the book out of my bag and read the blurb. It was late, and I was already tired from everything that had happened, but I couldn’t resist reading the opening chapters. For some time I sat on my bed contemplating the meaning behind Pisces and trying to understand what it might mean. I could see my connection with the sign, but I still couldn’t believe I was truly part of the Zodiac.
Finally I put the book down and turned the light off. I tried to blank out everything else from tonight but despite my best efforts the old man still kept appearing in my thoughts. And all the while, I couldn’t get away from Pisces. All night the man’s warnings echoed in my head – my readings, too, stopped me from getting a good night’s rest.
“Pisces is a universal and all-encompassing sign, like the sea waters around the Earth, and it holds within it all the potentials, dreams, hopes and yearnings of collective humanity.”
There was no getting away from the fear of what those words might mean.