Everyone took the box and, without looking, opened its lid just wide enough to deposit the object they had brought, before closing it and passing it along. It made a full circle, passed between sixteen pairs of hands, silently opened and then closed sixteen times with a soft chock, before it came back around to Michael, who had put the first item inside. It weighed much more when he held it again. It contained now sixteen unknown tokens which, by virtue of the clasp he twisted into its locked position, would never leave it. Which meant that, in total, it was itself a different object than the one he had held a few moments earlier. Give or take the wood and brass and the earliest constituent part to be added to it.
He said nothing to the other fifteen members of the circle – nothing was to be spoken in this entire process, of course – and waited for all eyes to leave the precious box and meet his. Then he rose and stepped forward to the hole he had dug beforehand. That had not been easy. Had, in fact, taken a few days and a lot of borrowed tools. The box descended past the concrete floor, and the substrate, and the foundation, and Michael had to let go of it to drop the last few feet into cold dirt. He had told everyone that the objects they contributed should not be fragile, but he of course couldn’t know if they had all obeyed the instructions. And he never would know. Neither would anyone else.
The members of the circle were not masked, but they were strangers to one another. The project had been organized remotely, by anonymous communications over message boards and notes hidden in public places. Very carefully coordinated, to ensure the proper number of participants, to make sure those policed themselves and could all be trusted to play their roles properly. None of that had been done by Michael, even in the vague leadership role that had been handed to him. Whomever by. He presumed there must have been an outside contributor, how could there not be? Or else someone in the circle, one of the strangers, was not so disconnected as everyone seemed to be, and was keeping the wheels of the organization greased. Somebody may be some sort of priest, or prognosticator, or medium in contact with other forces. Maybe the young man in the gray sweatshirt with the canny eyes, or the older man who kept conspicuously to himself. That seemed likely, something like that.
But Michael preferred to think the opposite. That there was no guiding hand. That the need to take part, and the knowledge of what must be done, had arisen spontaneously, communicated itself between the parties who came to decide they would take part. Maybe someday, people would look back to learn about this cabal and discover that the first member received instructions from the third member, who received instructions from the ninth, who got them from the sixth, who got them from the twelfth, who got them from the first. And around and around, until it became clear that everything had come from within.
Michael scooped the piled dirt into the hole over the box, set in the blocks of concrete and wood and foam he had previously cut and lifted out over them, and sealed it shut with plaster, so that it looked like just another patch in the old basement floor. The strangers nodded silently to one another and filed up the stairs. The owners of this house were away for the summer, and the many visits from strangers went unnoticed by their neighbors. There would be no evidence of the intrusion, the sixteen participants would never see one another again, and none could identify any other, should for any reason they be questioned. But they had prepared the box and placed it where they, somehow, knew it needed to be. And they would all think about it in quiet, tense moments, for the rest of their lives.
The thing, which had the ancient designation of Korgor, woke deep beneath the earth. It tunneled its way to the surface with powerful arms, driven by instinct and by panic in the airlessness. It was many body lengths of earth up, before it emerged beneath the red-orange moon and breathed deeply in the sour, dusty air, then lay curled tightly with its head buried in its knees.
Some long time later, when the Korgor had recovered from its birth and was slowly reacquiring its wits, it planted its feet in the blasted earth and stood to survey the world into which it had been reborn. In the distance in every direction there was only sandy, rocky debris. It had the look of a fallen world, like many the Korgor and its kith were born to and then stranded on for a lifetime, before their bodies failed and they could come to exist again elsewhere. Perhaps it was one of those, perhaps not. The Korgor could, as yet, only see what its eyes could see, feel the wind that brushed its flesh. It would not accrue its many other senses for some time still.
It would need a meal, if there were one to be had in this world. It would need water. It would need stretch its body out in the sun and let the filth of unknowing be rinsed from its mind, and then it could set upon the first vital task of looking inward, identifying what had made it this time around. Sensing what sort of wood needed to be found to fashion the shell, what items acquired to form the yolk of the egg from which it had grown.
The momentousness of that task was always intimidating, each life. But there was no need to worry, because the Korgor lived, which was therefore proof that it would succeed, had already succeeded, in reaching into the past to communicate the needs of this body’s egg to whatever parties would be able to provide them.
Short of breath and weak, but gaining faculties by the moment, the Korgor flexed its powerful jaw, set aside the task of ensuring its latest birth, and set to hunt.