Something Very Old

Written on the old forums of in early 2009, and inspired by the older story Just Be Careful Out There.  The story is set in the present day, despite the intentionally antiquated linguistics.  It was never published on, and wasn’t publicly available for a long time.


In the annals of prehistory, behind the veil of the long dark age before the written word, there are secret things which would make a man’s blood run cold. Shadows in the night, nightmares in the trees. We know from the fossil record that the world was a very different place, that large animals roamed the plains and forests, that the very shape of the land changed greatly before our time, but what we don’t know is what can really hurt us.

My name is Dr. William Shepherd. I received a PhD in Archaeology from Princeton University in New Jersey, where I learned much of what I know about mankind’s earliest years on this Earth. For over forty years after that, I traveled the world, digging up clues and studying the ancient past. My true interest was in the islands of the Aegean Sea, but often, I found myself forced to study Egyptian History because that was where the money was. People are more interested in Mummies, in Pharaohs, and in Pyramids, it seems, than in the history of the Greek islands, so that is where the funding went, and I had to follow the funding.

Looking back on my life, I would say that it probably could have been better spent. I had a wife in my younger years, but we never raised a family, and she was killed in a car crash after we spent just over a year together. It was a nasty collision. Two semi-trailers rear ended each other, and her small car was crushed between them. After that, I spent more and more time on my work until it pretty much became my life. It seemed important and fascinating enough to me, but everyone told me that I was going to work myself to death. In a way, I suppose, they were right.

As I write this, I am sitting in my room aboard a cargo ship called the M.V. Douglas Southampton. I have my door locked firmly, and I’ve even tried using my bed and mattress as a barricade, but I don’t think that either will stand a chance if the thing on this ship notices that I am here. I don’t know if I’m the only survivor, but if there are others, then they are probably locked up just as I am. We’re all dead in the water, and it’s only going to be a matter of the time before we meet our end.

I wish I had never brought that horror to light and taken it aboard this ship, but how was I to know that it was anything but long dead? It was something very old; my team and I dug it up from under nine thousand years of strata in the desolate Sahara desert. We thought that we had found something big. Something important.

I was on a fairly routine tomb hunt in Egypt when I dug it up, traveling along with a team from New York’s Ithaca College. We didn’t really expect to find anything at all, except for perhaps a few empty burial places and catacombs full of stuffy air and wind blown sand. That would have been enough to secure the group a place in National Geographic Magazine, to gain a bit of printed word for Ithaca College, and to make sure that there would be funding for the archaeology department next year, which was all we were really aiming for.

When we heard locals talking about a secluded burial place several miles south of a lonely village called Al Russar, we had a discussion and decided that it would be worth a short departure from our planned route to investigate the purported ancient tomb. We traveled south, leaving the beaten road and going for about four hours across the hot sands on foot. The tomb was supposed to be beneath a place which the people in the region called ‘The Castle’; an outcropping of volcanic rock jutting up above the high, shifting dunes. We found The Castle in the still twilight of the afternoon, standing out like the dark teeth of some long dead dragon.

The decision was made to commence the dig in the morning, when we had some light, so we camped out beneath the sheer vertical face. A student from the college who was with us as part of his archaeology class told me that he thought he saw something walking through the dunes in the distance close to nightfall. The desert can play tricks on the mind.

In the early light of morning, we started our dig, going through the sand where it was shallowest, opposite the windward face of the igneous cliff. We would probably have given up after striking older dirt, had we not found some interesting markings on the rock; interesting, and disturbing. There were hieroglyphs, warning of a curse, then older, more primitive etchings, and finally what looked like the cave paintings found in Europe. They were the strangest of all. It was bizarre to think that, in their day, the desert had been a lush, thriving Savannah, yet it was shown clearly in the landscapes the ancient people had drawn. Of course, what stood out most were the images of what looked like people, their eyes missing, their skin charred black as though in a fire, and their emaciated bodies groping their way across the grasslands like living corpses.

Some of the students, I think, were anxious, so I told them that it was not uncommon for ancient civilizations to leave warnings of curses to ward off would-be tomb raiders. The paintings probably showed the consequences of an attempt to steal treasure from an underground sepulcher. Still, there was no way that I could account for the age of some of the oldest paintings, or for the prevalence of warnings going through the ages. Warnings of fates so gruesome I myself had to wonder what they were meant to protect.

We finally found what we were looking for in a surprisingly muddy patch of Earth, hidden beneath millenia of time and dirt. There, we found the tomb; a relic and a ghost of a time before time. It was not carved and built out limestone and rock. Rather, it was like a cave, just borrowed in the mud. There was no material treasure in that ancient place, but there was something which we knew immediately was the greatest treasure ever found in the history of mankind.

How should I describe our discovery? Our hunter? It had the general shape of a man, although it was significantly larger. Nearly nine feet tall, it had a misshapen jaw, dusty, ashen skin, and widely spaced, shovel-like teeth protruding from its crumbling gums. Its arms were long and thin, with six fingered hands at the end of each, and its two main legs were wide and a powerful, with a third dragging behind them which was so diminutive that it might have been a tail.

We took it with us, eager to share it with the world, but not until we got back to the harbor in New York. Egypt has laws regarding the transport of rare antiquities which would have made it difficult for us to take our find back to the United States. We boxed it up with some pottery we later dug up in the Valley of the Kings, and we stowed away quite possibly the most important find in human history in the cargo hold of the Douglas Southampton.

For two days, our ship sailed peacefully through the Mediterranean and then the North Atlantic, until, on the third day of our journey home, things went awry.

You see, somehow, the creature we found was still alive. After thousands of years of dormancy, a time during which human civilization rose out of the humbleness of prehistory and into dominance over the Earth, that eon old nightmare was still alive.

I think that it wanted to wait until we got somewhere with more people. Somewhere that would allow it to feed its insatiable appetite for suffering a bit more fully. It couldn’t contain itself, though. It just had to have a meal, and once it started, there was no way that it could stop. The captain told us all to stay in our rooms and lock the doors, that we had someone on board who was attacking crew members. I knew, though. Immediately, I knew that the horror I had brought aboard was doing it, even before I heard everyone yelling about a monster in the halls.

The worst thing about it all was the screaming. I could hear the people across the ship when that thing caught them. There were things I can’t possibly print here. Things too awful to even imagine.

Whoever finds this, I am sure that you will find that creature, as well. It will be dormant, but don’t let it fool you. Don’t touch it. Don’t go near it. Leave it here and put this ship at the bottom of the sea along with it.

I know that it is going to find me. It is inevitable. My only consolation is that I may get to see my wife again soon…


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