The Rite of Odobena

Adam Marks

It was a dark, cloudy night: perfect! A group was gathered in a corner of Old St Pancras Churchyard. They were not a regular congregation. They were men and women of various ages, pepper-pot faces, ordinarily dressed, mostly; a true cross-section of London. They were stood in a circle. Each was holding a bucket and glancing, quietly, reverently at the bare, muddy ground in front of them…except for one.

He was a man, middle-aged, with short, white hair visible under a bright yellow, hooded seafarer’s coat; the Elder of the First Order of Odobena. He held a tusk in front of him, gently, as if it was fragile. Through the quiet hum of the city he spoke:

“Welcome,” he said, raising up the tusk, “on this momentous night…” He had a soft, theatrical voice. “We are privileged,” he said, “all of us, privileged to be here, to witness the resurrection of the Goddess. Hail the saints!”

“Wozencraft, Linnaeus, Laptev,” the Congregation mumbled.

“Glory to the prophets…!”

“Goo goo g’joob,” the Congregation replied.

“Blessed be her many names!” the Elder exclaimed

“Odobena, Alice, Minazo, Sedna…” said the Congregation.

There was a short pause. The Elder lowered the tusk. He looked around the Congregation and resumed. “She was imprisoned, not far from here, taken by infidels in their wooden box…” He pronounced ‘wooden’ as if a curse. “She died and was bound in clay, in a plague pit, side by side with mortals, human mortals. Oh, wretched humanity! Tonight we will liberate the Goddess…the Falling Woman…Queen of the Ice Shelf…Scourge of the Darkened Seabed… Spirit of Odobena! It is promised!”

“In Wozencraft, in Linneaus, in Laptev,” the Congregation responded.

“Let us begin,” said the Elder. He got down on one knee, stabbed the tusk into the greasy mud then stood again. He raised his hands and the Congregation looked up from the floor in unison. The Elder then walked around the circle. “Salt,” he said, tapping the first of the gathering on the shoulder, who threw a handful of salt from his bucket onto the earth. “Stone…” he continued; a woman lobbed a pebble onto the ground. On he went: “seaweed… seal-hide… raven-feather… moon-dust…” He went round the circle, then once more, repeating the words.

The Elder returned to his original spot. “Fall,” he said. The Congregation dropped their buckets and got onto their knees. “Call for your mother” said the Elder, who was still standing.

“Arf!” said one of the Gathering.

“Call for your mother!” the Elder enjoined.

The Congregation began calling:

“Arf…! Arf…! Arf…!”

“Louder!” said the Elder. “Make her hear you!”

There was a cacophony of replies:

“ARF…! ARF…! ARF…!”

The Congregation kept going, swept by passion.

“Flap your arms…! Make her see you!”

The Congregation started flailing:

“ARF…! ARF…! ARF…!”

There was a soft rumble. The ground began to shake. The tusk fell over. “ARF…!” It was working! Louder! “ARF…!” Was it working? “Arf…?” The shaking stopped. It wasn’t working. The flailing and the cries slowly died down and the quiet hum resumed. Shaken faces; disappointment began to ooze. Everything was about to turn onto the Elder when there was a thud, another thud, and another, then a grunt:


It was a salty, sodden, oceanic grunt, coming from behind the church itself. The Congregation turned to look and, with great joy, realised:

“She is here! She has come!”

A huge Pacific Walrus, grey, wet and bristling emerged into the night, shuffling towards them. The Walrus stopped a few yards away from the Congregation, reared up onto her tail, spread her flippers and undulated in an impossible pose, glowing beatifically.

“I am the Goddess,” she cooed, “Spirit of Odobena. Who are you?”

The Elder stepped forward. “We are your children.” He spoke slowly, pie-eyed. “Humble… and reverent pups… we have come to…”

“You are not my pups!” the Walrus exclaimed suddenly. She fell onto the ground with a thump that seemed to reverberate. “Inferior specimens!” she barked, shuffling toward the Congregation, gaining momentum. “Insolent little bulls…!” She was charging. “Get off my beach!”

“Please,” said the Elder, stepping in front of her now. “We have come to…” but she swatted him away, sent him flying, snapping his neck with a loud break. The Congregation scattered in terror but the Walrus kept charging.

“Inferior specimens…! Insolent little bulls! Get off my beach!”

ADAM MARKS lives in Hackney, works in Chelsea and writes whenever and wherever he can, both longer and shorter stories. He is a member of Hackney and East London Writers and Clockhouse London Writers groups. He has been published in a variety of outlets, such as Tigershark Magazine, Storgy and The Exaggerated Press.