1. Bitten

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The red, swollen bite marks on my neck were staring back at me from the bathroom mirror. There were two of them and they looked deep. They hurt like hell when I did what everyone instinctively would do - I pressed them with my finger. I swore out loud, not caring if my voice would carry through the thin walls to the ears of my next door neighbour. She was an old lady who complained about any and every noise she happened to hear in our building. And she complained a lot as the old building's soundproofing was not up to the modern standards.

I swore again when the bite marks began to bleed at my touch. I knew I shouldn't have left the balcony door open at night, but I had no other option. We were in the middle of a heat wave and my little flat had no air conditioning. As it was, I had to sleep without a blanket even with the door open so I would not spend my night in a pool of sweat.

I took some cotton, moistened it so it would not get stuck on the half-dried blood, and wiped the blood away.

"Can't believe the size of the mosquitos these days..." I announced to the mirror while wiping my neck. Then something strange in my reflection made me stop.

I stared at my hand in the mirror, bending even closer to see better. Then my brains announced me I did not need the mirror to have a closer look.

"What the hell?"

A ring. Being left-handed I used my left hand to clean the blood away. And now there was a ring on the ring finger of my raised hand. A ring I had never seen before, and one that had not been there last night when I went to bed. A golden ring with old-fashioned filigree swirls surrounding a dark red stone which had to be a ruby. A big ruby.

"What the hell?" I repeated, louder.

I had spent an ordinary evening at home, researching the Amarna age for my next book until midnight. Then I had gone to bed and I was quite certain I had not put a ring on my finger. Not this ring, not any ring. As a rule I did not wear jewellery. It was completely illogical for me to have it on my finger. I had not put it there and no one else could have put it on my finger either unless they could climb walls. My apartment was on the third floor. There was no explanation to the ring on my finger. 

Of course I tried to get the ring off to have a better look at it but it was like it was grown into my skin and refused to move. No wonder in all this heat, my analytical mind tried to explain. The finger was all swollen because of it. I put the tap running, waited for the water to turn cold and then put my hand under the running water. Cold water should reduce any swelling and help me get the ring off my finger. When my hand felt cool, I tried again to pull off the ring. No luck, it would not move, like it was glued to my skin, making the skin stretch when pulled.

The insect bites on my neck were throbbing, and began to trickle blood again. I reached for a bottle of disinfectant,  and patted it gently on the bite marks, swearing as it stung. It was the end of July, the dog days of summer and old people said all the wounds got easily infected this time of the year. Dog days... The name came from the rising of Sirius or the Dog Star after it had been absent from the sky for 70 days. In ancient Egypt at least. According to Homer Sirius, or the Dog of Orion, appeared at harvest time as a sign of evil times ahead for mankind, my subconscious dutifully lectured me.

"Oh, shut up!" I said out loud to my mind.

I decided I had probably been so tired I had simply forgotten about finding the ring somewhere and put it on my finger. I would figure the whole thing out later.

I stepped into the shower and sighed with pleasure when the cold water touched my skin. I washed my hair and left it wet so it would keep me cooler for a little while. I had closed the curtains to stop the sunlight from entering my little sauna of an apartment, and so I could walk without clothes to the kitchen. I put the coffee on, took a bottle of orange juice from the fridge and poured it into a glass. I loved orange juice. My mouth felt dry as sand, and I took a long sip of the juice– only to spit it out immediately. It tasted horrible.

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