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…


Faded Memories

An experiment in southern gothic from around April, 2012.  I actually grew up near eastern Tennessee, and the place creeps me out a little.


I was born here in these mountains, out in eastern Tennessee where the high trees can almost touch the sky. It’s an ancient place, one where the hills are so old that the rivers have carved out dark and forbidden hollows for themselves. Some of those dark places have been abandoned since long before the Overmountain Cherokee ever hunted the land, and frankly they should stay that way.

You might call it superstitious to have the fear of the deep woods that we do here. You might even link it back to some basic primate fear of the unknown. I don’t think you can deny, though, that there are strange things you can remember that make you more than a little frightened of the irrational. Can’t you recall a time when you were driving down some deserted stretch of highway late at night and caught a glimpse of something that maybe, just maybe, wasn’t a deer crossing the road ahead of you? Isn’t there anything from the shadowy reaches of childhood’s earliest memories that might not be as imaginary as you tell yourself that it is? We remember those things, too. Out in the forest late at night, or in one of those hidden coves where the TVA lakes reach out into the hills, we can’t afford to repress them so deeply.

I recall, when I was maybe three years old, having an imaginary friend. I don’t think that I ever gave him a name, but I remember him as being more like a really big dog than a man. Beyond that, all I know is that he was very pale and very cold. My mom says that I would go out to play with him just within the tree line. She says that she made me stop when she noticed that I wasn’t alone.

That much I’m sure happened. I’m not as sure about the teeth or the claws that I remember now in retrospect. I could have invented those, and I could have also invented the smell of dirt and rot, and how he asked me that last evening to go with him to play deeper in the woods just before my mother called me back home.

Ten years after the last time I ever played with my “friend”, I started middle school. Back then, I was in class with a girl and her brother named Jessica and Danny respectively. I spent a lot of time then with Danny and his sister. Sometimes, all three of us would go out to play at Walker Lake, where they had a public beach before it had to be shut down because of industrial runoff. We weren’t supposed to leave that strip of beach, but one day Danny and Jessica snuck off. I followed them into the woods for about twenty feet before I chickened out and turned back.

I’m glad I was the chicken that day.

Turns out, they found a place to play in a cove where the water dipped down to over three hundred feet just a few yards offshore. The drop off went down into a valley that used to be called Johnson’s Woods before the TVA flooded it. Danny got out there and he drowned. Everyone said, of course, that Danny just got out there and couldn’t swim. No one challenged it, because no one wanted to admit that it might be something other than simple case of a teenage boy drowning. Problem is, Danny could swim like a fish. They never found a body, and Jessica would never talk about it. In fact, she wouldn’t talk at all for weeks, and she was never the same again.

Jessica could never move on, no matter how hard I know she tried. She grew up tall and sickly, probably never more than ninety pounds and never healthier than a two weak flu. They called it survivor’s guilt. Her eyes were sunken and hollow, and her hair was thinner than it should have been. The girls picked on her and the boys never spoke to her. I was the closest thing to a friend that she had, and to be honest, I was kind of scared of her. Not because I believed that she was dangerous, but because I knew that there was something deeply wrong about her that I didn’t want to get myself involved in.

Near the end, she gave me this notebook that she had used to draw ever since her brother’s death. I took one look at it, and I burned the thing. Two days later, the police found her under a tree outside of her house, screaming at the top of her lungs while her house burned to ashes.

I can’t ever forget what I saw in the notebook. Nothing can erase all of that from my mind, and nothing can make me believe that a ninety pound girl could kill two adults without even having a murder weapon.

Maybe I could erase it all from my mind, maybe I could accept the story everyone else tells themselves, if it weren’t for one thing that won’t leave my mind. It cuts in there like a sharp rock, sticking and slicing away in the back until I can’t deal with it anymore.

They found her under a tree. Her family didn’t have a tree.