Stone From Sinkiang by Michael Toje
A tragic curse in disguise, modern science has unlocked the vast discoveries about the universe, allowing us to peer evermore into the deepest vistas of the Creation. With that knowledge extends a terrible revelation of what powers lie beyond our existence, and what purpose we fulfill in a swirling, chaotic galaxy over which we have very little control. Science unearthed primeval secrets from earlier epochs in Earth’s past, divulging cryptic glimpses of what manipulates the universe around us. Mankind should not ever begin to reveal this knowledge, lest we shall fall prey to powers conceivable only by the wildest and most terrible nightmares of the human imagination.
Early in autumn, a letter arrived from the Department of Archaeology at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island addressed to me in Danvers, Massachusetts. It read:
Dear Mr. Smith,
I have finally received the stone. Please come at your earliest convenience; I wish to confer with you what I think about the artifacts. This may find prove to be significant in developing a study of early Mongoloid migration routes across central Asia.
Curiously, even though I have seen your other samples, the giant stone you sent to me is quite unusual. It is nothing I have ever seen, and while I am pleased so rare a treasure has come to my facilities, something about it unnerves me. When you arrive, I would like to hear what you make of it.
Professor Marcus Hewitt
Upon reading the letter I was immediately thrilled; a few months ago I had taken an expedition to Sinkiang, a region in the Asian steppes located east of Soviet Turkestan and currently claimed by a handful of Chinese warlords as their own territories. My purpose was to recover stone tablets upon which were inscribed ancient Turkic runes and, with help from an archaeologist, decipher them for the scientific community. With this, I hoped to increase the current understanding of the ancient migration patterns of the nomadic tribes across the Asian steppes. Hopefully, my philanthropy would generate research concerning the extent of the Oriental trade routes into Europe.
The second paragraph in the letter startled me. By chance I had known an archaeologist, Professor Hewitt, for a long time. He had never really been a man to feel uneasy about anything. And now we have such an important find such as this stone. Surely any myths about cursed relics would not deter him. I shipped him the artifacts from the expedition, and he had been researching these since. Mostly where I excavated I found small tablets which contained only brief records of various chieftains who passed through that particular valley, but this stone was unique. The glyphs inscribed on its surface resembling nothing Hewitt or I have ever seen. They were complex and alien in form, yet a crafted familiarity in the runes suggested the hieroglyphs of the Egyptians. Unlike the rest of the runes, which were crudely carved into tablets, the runes on the stone were perfectly formed, as if by the hand of a master craftsman. The stone itself was quite large; it measured five feet high and nearly a yard in diameter, but its composition was totally indiscernible. The stone was made of a green- black substance, like the darkest malachite. Yet one could almost look into the stone, as if it were some translucent material, its opulence clouded up by the ravages of time as it remained exposed to the elements in the valley.
Although archaeology is a great hobby of mine, I never considered it for a career like Hewitt. By trade I am a writer. I had submitted my poems to some of the local periodicals, but luckily I had been well insulated from any notions of poverty, as my journey to Asia proves. My late parents left me a significant estate, so money is oft of no real concern to me. I packed necessary articles and my journal and prepared for departure.
From Cambridge University’s campus library, I brought the expedition diary of the eccentric French geologist Emile Chirdon, Voyage to General Napoleon’s Egypt, translated into English in which Chirdon recounts his studies in Egypt during the conquests of Napoleon. There he discovered rocks with a similar geological composition similar to our stone. Interspersed in his entries he placed poems, adding his bizarre lyrics in reference to those minerals which he studied. Nevertheless, this was the only reference to this type of stone I could fine.
I took the light rail line to Providence via Boston, arriving at the station in Providence at twilight. From there I solicited the station master for directions to Brown University. Few people were out at this hour in Providence, and I only passed a few men dressed in suits and fedoras as they stood outside a restaurant. As I passed them, I was not overly surprised to catch the faint wail of a phonograph from within, signs of some detestable speak-easy. Night had set by the time I found a suitable inn on Prospect Street to stay for the night.
The inn was an old Gregorian- style boarding house, the architecture dating back to the nineteenth century. The building sat off of College Street on the crest of a very large hill. The university lay behind the house, the marble walls of the John Hay Library visible between quaint houses sharing the crest on the hill. The room I took was furnished with a bed and dresser, and a small desk, upon which a white cat dreamily lounged, on the west wall. From the window was visible a splendid view of the rooftops of lower Providence. Even though the room was quite comfortable, this mattered little since I was only really intending to stay overnight before departing for the university in the morning.
At about two o’clock, I woke with a start, my heart pounding in my chest and my forehead damp with sweat. I had just seen the mountain peeks reminiscent of those I had seen while in Sinkiang. Stanzas of Chirdon’s poetry flashed through my mind as if a correlation of what he wrote and what I dreamt existed. A rumbling noise sounded from the mountains in the dream, not unlike massive tom-toms beating to some ritual. My memory of that dream quickly dissolved upon waking, so I reached for my journal and jotted down what fleeting impressions remained with me. Shakily, I returned to sleep, and with luck I did not wake until daybreak.
I exited my room with my belongings, the thought of last night’s dream faded. The landlady cheerily served me a breakfast of friend eggs and a slice of heavily salted ham which I accepted out of politeness. Once I finished I duly thanked her for the delicious meal before departing.
I continued my pace to the university passing that small park, before approaching the university. When I approached the Science Building, Professor Hewitt stood in the doorway, greeting me.
“Good day, Smith! I’m very glad you could make it to Providence. Here, allow me.” He reached for a suitcase and with his free hand ushered me into the building. We walked down the corridor a few feet before approaching the door to his office proper. Through the window on the door I could see the stone. He unlocked the door, and we entered and approached the stone. Hewitt had placed the stone near two large shuttered windows and an antique desk cluttered with his notes, charcoal rubbings, and a few archaeology books for reference near the stone. I moved to the desk chair behind the desk and sat in it, waiting for further instruction from the professor.
Hewitt shut the door quietly behind him. “I must tell you, I cannot quite place my guess as to which race those glyphs belong. They are not anything Mongolian or even Turkic. Perchance you might have some knowledge of when you first found the stone?”
At first I hesitated to answer. After a slight pause I responded, “Yes, the account of Emile Chirdon’s Voyage to General Napoleon’s Egypt and the stone about which he wrote is the only reference I have found that is at least similar.” I produced the book from my luggage to present to Hewitt.
Hewitt drew out a long sigh. Then he picked up one of his books off the desk, searched over a few lines, and then snapped it shut in his hand. “Unfortunately, I do not have any of the necessary materials on hand at the moment, but one thing you should know is that Chirdon was an eccentric par excellence. Although critics say his studies in Egypt are quite academic, the signs of his dementia surfaced while writing this account.”
I realized what he meant by that comment. Emile Chirdon died in a madhouse shortly after completing his poem.
“As much as I despise him, he describes the stone vividly. We may yet uncover the meanings behind a couple of the words. You don’t mind reading aloud, do you?” I consented, so I took the book from his hand. Hewitt returned working on the stone, hoping that by intense study he would now stumble upon the meaning of the glyphs. By some sort of freak chance I opened the book at the exact location where the stone was referenced. Enthusiastically I recited the passage.
Halfway through a sentence, Hewitt screamed back from the stone. I immediately stopped reading and looked up at the professor. Hewitt’s face had grown pale, his eyes wide.
“The stone… it, it communicated with me! It just whispered to me!”
Preposterous, I thought to myself. Yet the dream of the stone and the mountains permeated my memory again. A dread stillness filled the room. Hewitt slowly stood, keeping himself some distance from the stone.
“It said something about “Unseen Ones”. No, it can’t be. I always regarded Them as beings of myths, nothing real. Now I know what I always refused to accept.” He then turned to face me. “This stone is linked to something horrible, a Cimmerian evil of ages past.”
“Good Lord, what do you mean? This is an archaeological wonder. It’s a unique rarity!” I tried pleading with him, hoping he would gather his wits. Still, the eerie silence hung about the room, amplifying our hushed tones in his office.
“No, no, no. You don’t understand. There are some things best left undiscovered by humans. No, no. That diary, those rocks. You don’t know that it all points to powers far more ancient than humanity.” His voice trembled with fear. I drew from his reactions that we unlocked a secret in our studies, a point from which there was no return.
All this was too much for me, and I became immensely frightened. “Snap out of it!” I shouted at Hewitt, leaning forward in my chair. “This is just a very large totem used for some kind for worship.”
A glint of madness entered Hewitt’s eyes as he sneered, then retorted, “Smith, you don’t know how right you are about that horrid stone being used for worship of dark, malicious entities.” As he said that, a faint sound of tom-toms, like in my dream, sounded from outside, deep beneath the building.
“Oh, no, no! Now they know where to find the stone,” wailed Hewitt. “If I could only bear to tell you what hellish rites are associated with that awful stone. And,” he continued, the madness returning to his voice, “you may not believe it but I hear the stone. It wants me to call for Them to return.” Hewitt then dug his hand into his pockets, fumbling for his key-ring.
“What “Them”?” I still did not understand what Hewitt so feared.
He explained, “They are ancient beings, unspeakable horrors who once ruled over the Earth eons ago as gods, before the rise of man. Don’t you see? That stone draws Them closer to what is truly Theirs. They want Earth returned to Them.”
Meekly, I replied, “Well then we should destroy the thing.” Still the beats continued, this time louder, intensifying as Hewitt hobbled to the door and locked it, then unlocked it, then locked it again. He then forcefully stuffed his keys back into his pocket and staggered back to his desk.
His behavior unnerved me; sweat began to bead on my forehead. I called to him again, “We should destroy the stone, get rid of the evil.” As I said that, I realized how incredulous my reasoning sounded. Yet, seeing Hewitt act so strangely made me feel that the impossible could now manifest itself into some terrifying entity right before us in this room.
Hewitt sat in the other chair in a catatonic state, facing the door. Since I had read from the book, I though I had released some sort of spell that caused the professor’s insanity. In my panicked state, I reached for the book, hoping to find some sort of counter to all of this. The more I read the pages I found that I had not revealed some spell at all. Further in his entries, Chirdon began mentioning an antediluvian sect of devil-worshippers who had existed before the Sphinx had ever gazed upon the Nile. His final thesis proposed that the post-Neolithic Egypt was really built upon the primeval foundations of yet another, older civilization, the name of which had become lost in time. Still the drums pounded.
As I poured over the text, I didn’t notice Hewitt turn slowly in his chair toward the stone. Not until I heard Hewitt muttering did I realize he had returned to reality. But what he was saying I could not distinguish. His inflections were unlike any languages I could distinguish, and he paused every now and then, as if in an active dialogue with some impalpable thing. I witnessed in horror as Hewitt whispered in a sibilant tone, “You know too much about Them now, and They want me to see that you never reveal Their objectives.”
Then he threw back his head and screamed. A horrible shriek rang out from his throat; vaguely human, yet from him all the same. His ghastly ululating voice rang out an incoherent stream of unrecognizable sounds, as if he had become possessed by some abyssal fiend. Instinctively, I hastily reached in my luggage and grasped for my journal and a pencil. The professor repeated his chant about three times. What I managed to scribble on paper resembled nothing I had ever seen in any language: Ygnaiih! Ygnaiih! EE-ya-ya-ya-Yahaahaaahaaa-ah-ah-ahngh’aaa-ngh’aaa-ya-yayaaa!”
Up until now, these events had teemed through me with starkest terror, keeping me in close proximity of the stone. When I reached for my journal, my nerves reacted more out of my literary preoccupation rather than through some calculated move to capture the surreal atmosphere of the office. Hewitt then lifted his body limply out of the chair, and turned his head to stare at me. With a wicked half-smile, he charged me, flailing his arms, his clenched fists swinging to strike me. The sheer surprise of my good friend attacking me threw me off guard, and he managed to bring his right fist to bear with my cheek. The chair and I were knocked over, and while I picked myself off the floor, he stood a few paces away, readying himself to lunge at me again. The taste of blood filled my mouth , and when I tried to shout at Hewitt, to encourage him to fight this deranged influence instead, I choked as blood welled in my mouth. The subterranean drums pounded with extreme fury, the stone focusing its vile energies toward Hewitt. Again he charged at me, but I struck back with the full force of one punch. He drew back, sensing I would not continue parleying with him.
With adrenaline coursing through me now, I seized the opportunity to abandon Hewitt while the madness of the accursed stone overtook him. I remembered that he had locked the door and he kept his set of keys in his pocket. Rather than break his mental degeneracy through melee combat, I opted instead to flee from Hewitt through the windows. I lifted the chair upon which I had sat, and dashed it against the window. Luckily, it smashed through on the first attempt. I hastily clambered over the jagged glass remaining in the sill, cutting my leg. The pain did not hinder my flight, instead driving me on toward the city. I intended to reach help from any of the constabulary in Providence, and with their help restrain Hewitt. Yet, not more than a few yards out of the window I stopped and turned towards Hewitt’s window. I did not know why, but I watched what was occurring in his office. The drums had ceased beating when I stood outside. Hewitt was still mad, turning his frenzy against his studies and ignoring me after I fled through the window. Instead, he thrashed about, tearing his papers and overturning his desk. Absolutely mortified and overwhelmed by what demonic events had transpired within that office my judgment got the better of me, and I turned to run again.
Blood dribbled down my leg, and I finally became cognizant of the pain. I limped away from Hewitt’s office toward that small park. The darkness hid ivy- covered roots of trees in my path, and I tripped over them more than once as I stumbled blindly, fear gripping my heart. On a slender elm in the park I leaned to take weight off my throbbing leg, and before I knew it, I collapsed down beneath it, fatigued by those frightful events in Hewitt’s office.
I awoke shortly before dawn, my head ached tremendously; I must have hit it against the ground when I fainted. The previous night seemed like a nightmare. I assured myself it was so, for how else had I remained safe with Hewitt as berserk as I thought he was? Without really thinking, I returned to Hewitt’s office, whereupon I saw the shattered window and the broken chair lying on the lawn. My blood chilled as I realized Hewitt had really tried to kill me.
Still I continued, carefully climbing the glass remaining in the sill. With one leg on the professor’s floor, I stopped, the blood in my face draining away. I immediately felt like vomiting at what scene lay before me.
Professor Marcus Hewitt’s barely-distinguishable remains lay on the floor, his face broken and contorted in an expression of sheer fright. His body was horribly mutilated, but the wounds were too deep and too ragged for any human hand to inflict. Furthermore, the desk, the books, everything in his office appeared to have been thoroughly destroyed in his prior madness. Black pebbles and burnt papers were placed around his body in the shape of a perfect triangle with Hewitt arranged like a grim center-piece of some hellish sacrifice. Memories of Hewitt’s Unseen Ones fueled my swiftly-growing fears as I looked around the room, my head swimming from the murderous scene before me. I could not hold back the blood-curdling scream once I realized that the stone was nowhere to be found, returned to They who murdered Hewitt!