This year, The Providence Journal newspaper held a reader’s choice contest to celebrate the 125th birthday of a hometown legend. Entrants were to “spin a tale like H.P. Lovecraft”. Requirements were that the story be no more than 1,500 words and invoke the style and theme of 20th century horror author H.P. Lovecraft.
Over 200 entries were received, from which 13 finalists were selected. While my story didn’t place, it was selected as a finalist and the contest itself was a lot of fun.
I will likely expand upon this story for future release, as the 1,500 word limit was very restricting. Lovecraft himself was verbose; 1,500 words for him would just be the opening few paragraphs! Until then, however, for your reading pleasure, I present my entry to the contest!
What Lurks Among the Ruins
By RJ Kennett
© 2015 RJ Kennett. All Rights Reserved.
My Dearest Graham,
It is with feeble and aging hands that I write you, my grandson, to deter you from your current path. Your mother has told me of your intentions to take your degree in archaeology and investigate the ruins of Gobekli Tepe in Turkey. I implore you not to proceed. Investigate the Maya, Hittites, or ancient Chinese if you will but leave alone that which lies at Gobekli Tepe.
Your naturally inquisitive mind, like mine, has led you down a path of inquiry into the true nature of the universe in all its chaotic, beautiful, and macabre glory. The bulk of humanity, in its blessed ignorance, knows nothing of these things.
When I was your age, fresh from Miskatonic University where I studied ancient languages, I embarked upon a rewarding yet unremarkable career in teaching as I raised my family. My hobby was linguistic research, which eventually led me to Gobekli Tepe and thenceforth, to write this missive.
The crux of my research was the appearance of certain words in languages from disparate regions and times, possessing a similar set of sounds and meaning. For example, the word “no” in German is “nein”, in Japanese it is “nai”, in Hindi “nahi”. One can see similarities between the words despite vast distances separating the people and cultures. Such similarities led me to postulate that there is a base language from which others are derived. With sufficient study I hoped to tease whispers of the Primal Tongue from the mists of time.
I toiled for decades in obscurity and obtained no information of significance, when by chance I met a young man not unlike yourself, intrepid and possessed of uncompromising exuberance. I encountered Dieter, a German cryptoarchaeologist, at a conference in Rome. Dieter and I struck up a friendship and stayed in contact after returning home.
Some months later, Dieter invited me to assist with a small dig at Gobekli Tepe. What was thought to be a medieval graveyard of little interest was discovered to be much more ancient. Dating techniques placed human activity at the site as far back as 12,000 years ago, with hints of even more unfathomably ancient structures beneath. While I held no hope of finding a written language to study from the hunter-gatherers of the pre-pottery period, the opportunity to work on such a site was one that, having had no professional successes to date, I had to accept. Do you remember? You were only six years old when I packed my bags for Turkey.
The strangest aspect of Gobekli Tepe is that the entire site was meticulously buried ages ago. Who built it? Who buried it, and why? The questions tormented us day and night as we toiled.
One day, I left my journal at the dig site. As you are well aware I am somewhat absent minded, so it was not the first time and normally I would have left it for recovery the following day. As fate would have it, that night a storm was due to hit the area, and my work was threatened. As it was but a thirty minute drive, I convinced Dieter to go with me to retrieve it immediately.
Upon arriving at the dig site we presented our credentials to the armed guard. He urged us not to go, that the footing was treacherous and some form of possibly dangerous animal prowled the ruins at night. Unbowed by local superstition, Dieter and I embarked on foot down the winding dirt path, our flashlights dancing before us to guide our steps. It was almost an hour later that we reached my journal, exposed to the coming storm. The winds picked up and clouds blocked the stars making for a cloying darkness as rain began to fall.
As we turned to make our way back, we heard carried on the wind a strange, keening scream from further into the dig site. To our knowledge no one was supposed to be there, but we recalled the guard’s warning about wild animals and feared for a colleague’s well-being.
As my advancing age and unsteady balance would have slowed us and been of limited value in a confrontation, Dieter ran ahead to investigate. Meanwhile, I hobbled back to the guard to inform him of our concerns.
When I finally made it back and told my story, the guard radioed for assistance and we set off through the storm to find Dieter and the cause of the disturbance. At length we found Dieter’s muddy footprints leading to a small clearing. His prints led away and down a path to the other side, but there was another set as well. The second set of prints made me uneasy. They were fist-sized points in the mud, arranged in parallel rows three feet apart and drifting in a queer serpentine pattern. But for their size they resembled crab tracks I had seen as a youth on the beach. What made me fear for Dieter was that the crablike tracks fit inside of his own, rather than his broad footprint obliterating the other. I am a scholar, not a tracker, and even I realized the implication. The creature followed Dieter, not the other way around. Rallying our courage to continue, the guard and I found both sets of prints led into a narrow crevice barely large enough for a man to enter.
It was a tight fit through the crevice and the stone tore at our clothes, but soon the passage widened into a hallway hewn from native stone. The thin and feeble beam from my flashlight was of little value against a darkness within that seemed to coil malevolently around us as if a thing alive. Undeterred, we pressed forward. The rough-hewn rock walls finally gave way to worked stone. My flashlight illuminated a bas relief carved into the wall. I know not if it was a trick of the light, but the strange abomination depicted, now seared into my memory, was something like a winged snake and in the darkness the light in my shaking hands made it take on a writhing aspect. My initial suspicion was that this was some primitive god, perhaps with some ancient link to the Mayan god Quetzalcoatl. Fighting my revulsion I had to pause and examine a moment longer, transfixed by the blasphemous image confronting me. My breath caught and a chill ran up my spine when I realized that it had horrible, crablike appendages underneath it. My primal “fight or flight” instinct made a decisive choice. The security guard must have felt the same, for I am not too ashamed to admit that we both fled forthwith to await support.
For hours we waited, seeking shelter beneath a rocky outcropping as the storm raged overhead. Soon after the storm passed, we heard footsteps echoing from the crevice and crouched fearfully, the guard aiming his rifle at the entrance.
A creature that I only barely recognized as Dieter suddenly stumbled from the entrance, and half ran, half staggered toward us. He collapsed at my feet stinking of urine and fear. His eyes were wide and when they looked at me, there was no spark of recognition. I know not what they did see, but in those eyes was reflected terror from aeons gone by. Dieter’s hair had gone stark white and much of the skin on his bare torso had been meticulously removed, revealing the rippling workings of his muscles.
Dieter looked directly at me, and uttered words I will never forget.
“Mi-go. Ia! Ia! Nyarlathotep wgah’nagl fhtagn!” Dieter then uttered a chittering sob, something between laughter and crying. His eyes suddenly shot open wide, seemingly focused on some frightening vision that only he could see, he gasped once before his body seized, and Dieter breathed his last.
When the authorities finally arrived, we carried what remained of Dieter away from the dig site, our mood somber. I pray I never find out what happened to him, for Dieter was possessed of greater fortitude than myself and if what he experienced killed him with fright, I shudder to think what might happen to me.
While I did not have the arrogance to pretend to understand the meaning of his final words, I believed it was a snippet of the Primal Tongue for which I spent a lifetime searching. To date I have found nothing to corroborate my suspicions. That is unfortunate, for my research has pointed to the possibility of an even more ancient, eldritch tongue no man should utter, and I now believe that is what Dieter was speaking.
I have been told the crevice was mysteriously buried again days after Dieter’s death, perhaps by the guard I was with. The horrors of Gobekli Tepe are thankfully many decades from being completely uncovered, as archaeologists are preserving much of the site for future generations, with better technology, to unearth. But they are still digging.
The damned fools are still digging.
Sincerely, August Mooring IV