The towering goddess with the head of a crocodile, the upper body of a lion, and the lower body of a hippo, sat in the backyard. Ray the realtor had the gall to act as if he couldn’t see either the goddess or the sizable hole in the ground she sat beside.
“It’s a great view of the city from here.” Ray pointed around the goddess. “Check out that glorious skyline.”
“Uh huh,” said Ben. “Beautiful.”
He wondered if he should bring up the goddess. Or the hole. They seemed important, but he’d never been confrontational.
Sarah was less tactful. “What the hell is that?”
“Yes, yes,” said Ray. “You can hear the freeway from here, but the house has excellent soundproofing.”
“Not that.” Sarah gestured toward the goddess. “That.”
“Oh that’s just Ammit, guardian of the underworld. She comes with the property, but she’s nothing to concern yourself about. She minds her own business.” He turned toward the house.
Sarah stepped in front of him. “Why is she sitting on our possible backyard?”
“She does that. Now, if you’ll follow me, I’d love for you to take another look at the kitchen–”
“One second.” Sarah pulled Ben aside. “Are you going to say something?”
He hated conflict, but she did have a point. He was soon to be a family man, which Sarah gently reminded him of by placing her hands on her round belly.
“Is she dangerous?” asked Ben.
Ammit smiled, flashing rows of sharp teeth.
“Oh, no. No no no,” said Ray. “Not at all. Her domain is the souls of the dead. She doesn’t require tribute. She just sits there and guards the underworld. Couldn’t care less about the living.”
Ben was willing to accept the explanation, but there was a natural follow up question. “That hole leads to the underworld?”
“Yes, and I’m afraid you’re not allowed to fill it up. I know, I know. Inconvenient, but I think once you see the kitchen–”
“We can’t have children playing around the underworld,” said Sarah.
“Oh, I hear you, but all you have to do is put a little fence around it, and everything will be fine.”
Ammit cleared her throat. “That’s not allowed.”
Ray kept his smile. “Children are smart enough to avoid the hole guarded by a death goddess. It’ll be fine.”
Sarah pushed her way past Ray and approached Ammit directly. The goddess lowered her gaze to meet Sarah, who didn’t blink in the face of the embodiment of a cold, indifferent universe.
“You don’t eat children, do you?” asked Sarah.
“When the dead come to be judged, I consume all souls unworthy to pass onto eternity.” Ammit idly chewed on her paw. “If those unworthy souls once belonged to children, I don’t discriminate. And technically, all souls belong to children in the beginning.”
Sarah scowled. “That’s awful.”
“If you have a problem with it, take it up with the cosmos. I’m just doing my job.”
Ray tried to usher Sarah away, but she refused to budge.
“The portal to the underworld isn’t harmful, is it?” she asked. “There aren’t any side effects?” She put her arms over her belly like a shield.
“It’s not radioactive or anything like that,” said Ammit.
“And we don’t have to worry about monsters or ghosts or things of that nature coming out of it?”
“That’s why I’m here. Count yourself lucky. You could’ve been stuck with Cerberus. Shits everywhere. Three heads howling at every siren. I just sit here.”
A freshly deceased soul climbed over the fence. Neither Ben nor Sarah had ever seen a disembodied soul before, and it didn’t look like what they expected. The soul wasn’t transparent. It had some muted color. Aside from the fact that the man’s feet never quite seemed to touch the ground, he might have been mistaken for a living person. He scaled the fence with some difficulty, landing in the yard ungracefully, but making no sound upon impact.
“Shit. My briefcase,” he grumbled.
“Leave it,” said Ammit. “Where you’re going, you won’t need it.”
The soul approached the giant goddess. Unceremoniously, she snapped him up in her jaws and swallowed him. His wretched screams were cut short with a final snap and gulp.
Sarah gaped. “That was horrible.”
“They usually don’t scream that much,” said Ammit.
“And the house has excellent soundproofing,” reminded Ray enthusiastically.
“You destroyed that poor man,” said Sarah.
“You can’t destroy a soul,” replied Ammit.
“Then what happened to him?”
The goddess glanced away. “You’d probably rather not know.”
“And how often does that happen?”
“I don’t keep track. Fifty, sixty times a day. Today’s been quiet.”
Ray put his arms around Ben and Sarah’s shoulders and walked away from the death goddess. “I’ll admit it’s not ideal, but all petitions to get the gateway moved haven’t gone anywhere. Maybe that’ll change when the new zoning board comes along. In the meanwhile, it really is a terrific house, and the current owner isn’t in a position to negotiate. The place is a steal. You’re not going to find a better one in your price range in this neighborhood. Just let me show you the rest of the place. Give it a chance.”
Sarah and Ben glanced at Ammit, who half-smiled at them.
The house was amazing. So much square footage. A wonderful kitchen with brand new appliances included. A huge master bed and bath. Close to both their jobs. Good neighborhood. Great schools. Too good to be true aside from the crocodile goddess in their backyard.
Sarah studied Ammit from the master bedroom window. From the second floor, she looked the goddess at eye level. A soul belonging to an old man dragged himself over the fence. He approached Ammit, who studied him for a moment or two before giving him the nod. The soul walked into the pit and out of the land of the living.
“I suppose we’ll have to build a gate,” said Sarah. “Just to make things easier for the dead.”
“I’m sure the owner would be willing to pay for it,” said Ray.
Ben put his arms around her, put his hands on her belly. “It is a pretty awesome house. So we won’t use the backyard. It’s inconvenient, but at least the foundation is solid and the water heater is new.”
“And the gateway to the underworld qualifies you for a terrific tax credit,” added Ray.
Sarah put her hand on Ben’s cheek. “I guess it can’t hurt to put in an offer.”
Ray was on the phone almost before she finished the sentence.
Another soul scaled the fence and stumbled toward Ammit. Sarah closed the blinds and started mentally decorating the bedroom.