Tag Archives: xenoarchaeology

The Fossil Sea

My uncle Sam is missing. They say he’s dead. I know better.

Sam was my favorite relative. Most people ignore me because I’m in my bed all the time. But Sam always told me I was the best thinker he knew. He said because I didn’t have the distractions of  regular kids, I could focus on bigger things. He would bring me books, no matter how advanced mom said they were for a kid my age, and then we’d talk about them on his next visit.

I miss him.

Sam is mom’s little brother, but he stands a head above her. Little doesn’t mean smaller in this case. It means she still treats him like a kid, which is something we have in common. She’d roll her eyes at his stories about all the adventures he’s been on, cluck her tongue when he’d bring me another book. She shut herself in her room and cried all day when they reported him missing from his last dig, something she didn’t even do when dad left her. I think she really loved Sam too, she’s just not good at showing emotions. Sam said that. Like when she’d get mad and yell at me, Sam said she was really worried and sad. Said she was afraid I’d leave her someday like dad did. I don’t know why she’d be afraid. I can’t get out of bed.

I’m still reading the book Sam left with me. It’s not too thick, but it uses a lot of words I don’t know. Some of them aren’t even in the dictionary. Some are words that haven’t been used in a long time, like “squamous” or “rugose.” Sam says the best words are ones that have been forgotten, because using a word too much wears it out. He says the most powerful words are the ones that have hardly been used at all.

Sam is an archaeologist,  a word that got me double points on my last spelling test. He knows a lot about lost, secret things. He says being an archaeologist is like having a map of how the world used to be. He showed me once, on a map, how this whole state used to be underwater. We were under the ocean, he said, and that’s why there are no dinosaur fossils here like there are at grandpa Wayne’s place up in Colorado. Maybe we’d find some shells at the very most, but that’s about it. That’s why this newest dig was so important. They said he’d found the skeleton of something big, something that shouldn’t be there.

Mom didn’t like when he talked about fossils, because he talked about them like they were still alive. She said all those prehistoric monsters would give me nightmares. She was wrong, they only gave me dreams. I dream our house is underwater, that giant trilobites and nautiloids swim through our rooms. Sometimes the shadow of something big passes overhead, but I can never make out a shape in the dim light. I imagine that’s the skeleton Sam was looking for.

Sam said there are no impossible things. There is only what you see and feel with your eyes and hands. I miss him.

Sam’s dig was in the middle of the desert. The crew said they last saw him after lunch, looking out to the dunes and sipping water. He’d become really thirsty lately, and wasn’t sleeping too good. The bags under his eyes were almost as big as mine. He wasn’t doing too great. On his last visit he rolled up his pant leg and showed me a big, jagged cut on his ankle. He joked that’s where a sand-shark bit him and laughed. Mom scolded him for trying to scare me. But I knew he wasn’t. He always said something about how some things never really die…no, I’m getting that wrong. Anyway, that night I dreamed of sand-sharks, and lots of other things. I dreamed the fossil sea was still a sea, with everything moving and crawling and squirming around inside it. The waves were sand that lapped up against the rocks, and all the trilobites and nautiloids and everything else that had turned to stone lived beneath them. And something big swimming across it all, leaving a wake of sand that stood up high as the foothills…

That was when I woke up. My sheets were soaked with sweat.

Sam couldn’t get over the fossil. On the imaging software, he said the shape made no sense. It had bilateral symmetry, but the head was cephalopodal. Mom just nodded along. I don’t think she knew what those words meant. But I do. It had a squid-head on the body of something else. And nothing in all my nature books look like that.

That night Sam sat on my bed and we talked about things that swam in the prehistoric sea and I could tell something was really bothering him. I told him he could tell me, because no one listened to me anyway so I wouldn’t blab. He laughed. He told me I was the best student he’s ever had, and he almost wished he could take me to the dig. I asked him if he found a new species, would he name it after me? He looked haunted. He said it probably already has a name, it just hasn’t been used in a long time. I asked if words could go extinct too. This surprised him. He asked if I’d been reading my book. I said I’ve been trying. He smiled, and ruffled my hair. My reading lamp made the bags under his eyes look black. He said he thought words could go extinct, yes, but he thought certain words made fossils because they were too powerful to just die. And perhaps someone could excavate them and rebuild them, just like restructuring a fossil. I asked him how he found a fossil in a place he always said they couldn’t be. He just smiled and said he’d have the answer for me next time, then he kissed the top of my head and turned off my reading lamp.

Only there was no next time.

The rest of the archaeologists finished the dig. They never found what they saw on the imaging equipment. Instead they found a shelf of crinoid skeletons, which are plant-like animals and common as garden snails. They say that’s all it ever really was, the thing they saw was just a software error, but I know better. They say the knowledge that his great find wasn’t real broke Sam, but I know better. They say the mark on the upper left side of the fossil plate is just a coincidental shape, but I know better.

It’s a sneaker print. Right foot, size thirteen. The kind Sam wore.

Sam used to quote the book I’m reading now. It’s the quote that got him into archaeology in the first place. It says:

That is not dead which can eternal lie.
And with strange aeons even death may die.

I believe it. I miss Sam. I miss him so much it hurts sometimes. But I know he’s not coming back. I know it like I know the fossil plate they dug up wasn’t empty, the thing in it just swam off through the waves of sand and all the stone trilobites and nautiloids and crinoids. I don’t know exactly what it was, maybe I’ll never know, but I know what it took with it when it left.

My uncle Sam is missing. They say he’s dead. I know better.


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The Image of the Goddess

Photographed by Ned Daughtry(deceased)

“The Treasures of Nepal,” was what they titled the museum show.

Trouble was, the goddess was from nowhere near Nepal. It had been gifted to Prithvi Narayan Shah along with a monkey’s head carved from mammoth ivory and an articulated golden cobra, both now lost to time. The idol itself was rediscovered in an oil jar, wrapped in a twist of red cloth. The lead archaeologist proclaimed it an image of the goddess Lakshmi, an error which persisted even to its life as a museum piece. Testing found the figure to be a mixture of copper and some unknown, slightly radioactive metal. Examination under a microscope showed that the idol did not bear the scrape of tool-marks, nor bits of matter left from the moldmaking process. It was as if it had grown organically into the image.

The idol was nested in a display case next to a gold tilhari and a Newar headdress. Three days before the museum’s opening, a curator noticed verdigris had spread from the goddess to its cellmates. The other ornaments were removed for cleaning. The goddess stayed.

By the opening night of the show, the verdigris was as plentiful as moss and grew indiscriminately on any surface. The glass from the display cases was left off for the night, the blistering panes stacked beside the tilhari and headdress and all the other things that had caught the strange corrosion. The curator hid green, flaking hands as he introduced Frederick Horton, the speaker for the night. Horton went around the room, describing each piece after a surreptitious shake to rid it of green dust. When it came to the goddess he palmed it like a coin, thumb rubbing over it as he spoke of Thakuri kings and trade routes. In the photos that survived the evening, he sweats through his tuxedo jacket.

Halfway through a rehearsed speech, Horton began to trail off. He seemed confused and rubbed his forehead with his free hand, leaving a green streak. He spoke of plateaus that receded from every angle, of metals that could be grown like a seed, of the true first kings of Kathmandu. By the time he was removed from the podium, he was screaming about the images of Hindu deities not being of multi-limbed gods but a depiction of beings who squatted spiderlike over multiple timelines. He died ranting in the ambulance. His teeth were orange and his skin contained impressions of his clothing fasteners as if he had been exposed to a low-grade radioactive pulse. What guests were left at the museum would complain off and on of health problems for the rest of their lives, most notably a green discoloration of gums and other soft tissue. The idol disappeared sometime between Horton’s collapse and subsequent hospitalization. It has not resurfaced since.

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The Automatic Writings of Lydia Hai Huang

I have only ever known one automatic writer, and that was Lydia Hai Huang. She was a public servant for thirty-six years before a stroke downed her, three more took her speech and mobility. I can still see her clearly if I think hard: lying in bed with her immaculate blue cardigan, hair trimmed into a pageboy bob, skin wrinkled as ancient parchment.

Lydia resided in the same hospice where my great-aunt came to rest after a car accident. The stroke had left Lydia with limited mobility. The thing she could move the most was her left hand, and boy could she use that hand. I would watch her write, no pauses, no hesitations, while her dead left eye drifted mindlessly in its socket.

Lydia’s convoy to the material world was the executor of her will, a woman named Helen Mears. Lydia had no children, and her siblings were either dead or back in China. I don’t know if they were lovers or acquaintances, but Helen doted on her like a sibyl at a temple. Helen was the one who introduced me to the writing. She had overheard me speaking Polish to my aunt and assumed I could read Cyrillic characters. My curiosity turned to fascination when I examined page after page of dense scribble, all coming from a woman who could not lift her own head.

Lydia had not received much in the way of education. Struggling with the language barrier, she barely managed an associate degree in accounting. Yet foreign languages would pour from her pen without cease. Helen said that Lydia always wrote. When she took the writing utensil away for the day, Lydia’s hand would remain twitching and jerking on the covers, inscribing invisible characters on the air itself.

Yes, Lydia was in an article or two. Fortean Times. Nexus. Small publications of dubious reputation. All these articles helped to do was further push away the skeptics who accused Lydia of faking the severity of her disability. I heard it all. Lydia was a closeted eidetic learner who absorbed books when supposedly on her own. Helen was the one who really did all the writing. The supposed writing was just gibberish.

I will tell you(and you don’t have to believe me) that I watched her carefully inscribe line after line of Greek letters and then took those pages to a linguist, who dated them as mid-sixteenth century.

I don’t know how Lydia felt about her gift. She was non-verbal, due to the stoma in her windpipe. Half her face was perpetually slack. Sometimes I wondered if Lydia was even present in her body, if she wasn’t just a conduit, a hollow tube for spirits to whisper through.

I don’t know what was on a few of the papers. Most were translated as best we could manage. I was a poor college student at the time. Helen had only a little money from the estate, as well as a small stipend from caring for Lydia. Some papers must still be moldering in Helen’s storage, awaiting a knowing eye.

I do remember one of the rare English writings. It was a woman from Maine on her way to an arranged marriage. It was a babble of her day-to-day thoughts, musing on her life and her future husband and the world around her. It ended abruptly when her ship crashed, the writing turned into a panic loop about the rocks—the boat—the rocks—the boat. It’s my understanding that most of the writings were like that: simple, stream-of-consciousness narratives.

Not the last ones.

I came in one day, bearing my customary tupperware of soup for Helen. By this time we had formed a sort of team with a few others: a linguist from the college, an old acquaintance of Lydia who was an amateur polyglot, a semi-professional historian. Lydia was wearing a thick mohair sweater and three blankets. I remember she was breathing erratically, and sweat was spotting her face. I remember asking if she wasn’t uncomfortable under so many heavy layers. As a response, Helen put the back of my hand against Lydia’s cheek. It was clammy.

Lydia wrote in a sharp, angular alphabet that looked like viking runes. Almost as soon as her writing neared the bottom of the page, Helen would swap that paper out for a fresh one. She had been writing nonstop for three hours, they told me, in a flurry that they had never seen before. Her temperature was slowly dropping with every letter.

I took the few pages they gave me to the university, in what had become routine for me. I learned it was in old Turkic script long before I even knew what was on the paper. While I was waiting for translation, Lydia died.

The pages I handed over were from the point of view of a fisherman on the shores of the Aral sea. He spoke of men who had arisen from the sea, lead by a golden madman, of a new religion that spread like a sickness among his fellows. His increasingly frantic words described the clouds boiling, hot rain that smelled of dead fish filling the lake. He pled the end of the world on the very last page.

When I went to retrieve the other pages, that was when I learned of Lydia’s death. Helen was investigated by APS for her role in the demise, how she waited until the bitter end before fetching a doctor.

Was she culpable? She cared for Lydia much, in her own way. I, like everyone else, can’t speak much for Lydia’s quality of life. Perhaps she wanted this, wished for this every day she was stuck inside tabulating other people’s finances. Perhaps she begged for something mystical and special to strike her, even if it came in her last days. Perhaps the skeptics were right, and death was merely an end to Helen’s manipulations. All that we have is on those pages, that question that is her parting gift to the world.

The last few pages were almost nonsense. They were like the beginnings of hieroglyphics, pictographic symbols whose context had long since become extinct. When Helen went to trial, the papers disappeared forever. Maybe they are in a safe. Maybe they have been destroyed by something ignorant.

Lydia was pronounced dead at 6:08pm. Her lungs were full of salt water.

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The 10,000-Year Sarcophagus

The hieroglyphs were dull in the halogen of the lamplight. Bill hardly dared breathe as he followed the expected progression of birds, beasts and baskets to a single glyph.

A figure with no clear separation of head and neck, featureless save for a single black bar where eyes would be. The thin wash of black gave it a gunmetal grey coloration, but the figure was limned with gold to show it was an important figure. He hit the shutter button once, twice. The flash lit up and down the halls of Djefere’s tomb. Everything about it—the ornamentation, the grandeur of the architecture—bespoke ‘king.’ Yet there had been no record of him as a ruler.

The grey figure progressed along the wall like a flip-book character. Here he addressed the king, wearing the red crown of lower egypt. Here he offered a stone with rays emanating from it. Here he oversaw workers at a forge. Here he submerged a pot into water.

Hailey ran, stooped, down the hall. “Sir! Come look.”

The lock on the tomb itself was almost laughable, a simple mechanism of rope and wood. What gave them pause, however, were the pictographic warnings on the doors themselves. It showed brown, old-kingdom men opening a box and then recoiling from the gold rays emanating from within.

The others hovered around the sarcophagus. The lid had been prized up and set to the side, the outer coffin shone gold in the lamplight.

Hailey signaled  him closer. With a knife, she dug a chunk from the dull metal.

“Gold-plated lead,” she murmured, “and there’s more.”

Bill drew closer to the coffin. Djefere’s imago smiled benignly up at the ceiling. He clutched a tube and a disc, not the usual symbols of kingship.

As Bill watched, they passed a handheld geiger counter over the coffin. It clicked like an amorous cicada.


Many millennia ago, on the same spot, the silver man walked up the hill.

He had appeared to the people forty days ago, speaking haltingly, mispronouncing many words. It was he who had told them of the sun-god’s rock, ingratiating himself with the king. He had spoke sweet words, painting a glorious kingdom they would build  when the sun was in their hands. It was he who had lead them against the nomadic tribes many day’s journey to the west, who taught them to dig for the dull grey metal that they could not touch barehanded. It was he who taught them more sophisticated smelting techniques, how to alloy metals that could hold their dangerous new treasure. It was he who had watched as a jar capped with clay submerged into a pool of water, heating it and sending it up channels to spin a crude turbine.

Now he took off his helmet, the action akin to the removal of a cooking pot lid.

“Phew!” He said. His crew-cut was wet as if he had been showering. The air in his suit practically steamed.

There was a machine he had stored in a hidden place, a thing where he now hung his helmet. He touched a pad that lit up with blue LED.

“Come in, Newton?” he said jocularly.

“Copernicus, can you hear me?”

“Clear and plain as day, Mister Ansel. Wow, I didn’t think a radio to the past would actually work.”

“Oh, it’s all very technical Adams, quantum superpositioning and the like–but tell me, what is your success rate?”

“Oh, beauteous. Once they wrapped their heads around the concept, the rest came in leaps and bounds. Notice any change on your end?”

“Change?” There was sound in the background, something other than static interference. “No change. Ansel-Kittering are a legacy company, and have existed for hundreds of years. We are the foremost authority on nuclear applications and have the monopoly on all uranium deposits.”

“Right, right.” Adams laughed. “I suppose that makes sense. I guess I’ve done it right, then. I’m just glad I didn’t somehow make it so my great-great grandfather was never born.”

“Adams, causality being what it is, you would always have existed. Even if you had a different grandfather due to some little change, you still would have been around to send you back.”

“Right, yeah, it hurts to think about.” Adams wiped his brow. “I got my degree in engineering, remember, not physics.”

“Ah, well, just remember that your existence means you’ve succeeded. You’ve made a visible difference, Adams, not many people can say that.”

“And how did you find a solution to the ontological paradox, sir?”

Empty air. There was a pop and laughter. A get-together of some sort.

“What?” Ansel said pleasantly, the fizz of champagne so close Adams could almost taste it.

“Well, if time travel worked, why don’t I remember historical evidence of time travel, sir?”

There was a long pause. Adams imagined sipping something cool. Egypt was about a hundred degrees in the shade, and the suit’s fluid channels could only do so much.

“It’s all quite technical, Adams, and nothing you need to worry about,” Ansel said finally. “If you feel you’ve established a strong enough tradition, all you need to worry about now is the journey home.”

“Yes, sir. It must be strong. I mean, you’re talking to me, aren’t you?”

“Then you know what to do.”

Adams readied the dummy plugs, swapping them out for the machined aluminum pieces that had been screwed in place. He climbed into his seat and strapped himself in, smiling proudly. Five minutes later, a neutron-chain burst inwards, generating a wave explosion that spread over the hilltop. Adams was blown into smithereens, leaving no big pieces to puzzle future archaeologists.


“Now, they tell me you’ve made a monumental discovery in lower Egypt.” Charlie Hawthorne, host of the hit talk show Thorne In Your Side mopped his face with a blue handkerchief.

Hailey sat sidesaddle in one of the set’s chairs, glistening beneath the studio lights. She sat next to a celebrity chef and a religious leader who had just published his 38th consecutive book. Hailey had been chosen because they deemed her the most photogenic of the archaeological team. She was flop-sweating through her dress shields.

“That’s right,” she said, voice thinned with nervousness. She cleared her throat. Someone passed her a bottle of water.

“That’s right,” Charlie repeated, leaning emphatically on the words, “and you’ve come today to let us all know what you’ve found.” He turned to the audience.

Hailey straightened a little. “We found evidence of early nuclear technology in the old kingdom.”

There was a little uproar. Charlie gestured and a handheld microphone was brought to Hailey. She held it too close to her suit mic and there was a feedback whine.

“That’s it, child,” Charlie encouraged, “and tell us all just what you found about this early nuclear power.”

Hailey cleared her throat. The mic picked it up.

“It was given to them,” she said, “by an external force.”

The audience took a composite gasp. Charlie nodded encouragingly.

“Tell us who you believe it to be,” he orated.

Haley llicked her lips and held the microphone close.

“We believe it was given them by God,” she purred.

The crowd went wild. The author stood up and gave her a hug. Charlie waved the crowd higher, fanning the flames of adoration.

“This leads into the prayer I have written for today,” he said, adjusting his wide, circular collar. “If you all would be so kind…”

Guests and audience alike sat silent. Some mouthed the words. Some, like Hailey, closed their eyes.

“Our father who art in heaven,” Charlie intoned, “who holds the gold disc of the sun in his hands, who journeys through the dark underworld of the night, Ra be thy name…”

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The Stone Ship

Little is known definitively about the stone ship.

The wreckage lies under 345 feet of water in the Black Sea. The anoxic waters of the sea preserve any organic material from the ravages of bacteria, so the ship and its cargo show remarkable lack of degradation. Despite its nickname, the ship may never have been seaworthy. It measures 80 cubits in length and 50 in width. The ship is constructed in the style of ancient Greek triremes, fully rigged to sail and bearing banks of oars, yet the hull is constructed of a stone material.

The ship was found during a sonar scan of the sea bed, for it lies beyond the limits of casual divers. Initially estimated to have an age from AD5-7, the ship was presumed to be the wreckage of a mercantile vessel due to its cargo.

In 1979, a diving expedition manned by a mixed crew of Turkish and Greek divers set out to explore the wreck. It was this expedition that discovered the nature of the ship, and brought up cargo for examination. What was presumed to be market goods turned out to be offerings to an unknown god. The divers lowered the estimated age from AD to BCE 5 or earlier upon examination of the ship’s odd construction. The offerings equally puzzled the crew.

The ship was laden with fat-necked amphora, stained a vivid maroon not present in any extant samples of Roman or Greek pottery. The urns were mostly intact and still sealed, one diver claimed they could still hear liquid inside. The divers also retrieved a sack of what was found to be birdseed laden with iron pellets.

The diving crew made plans to return to the site later. However, when it came time to weigh anchor, one of their number was missing. Basri Ataman had been diving with a partner, yet had failed to surface with the crew. His partner could give no explanation for the oversight.

The rescue crew found Ataman sitting cross-legged among the amphorae on the ship. He had wedged his feet in such a way that he would not rise, even after death. His eyes had turned red from subconjunctival hemorrhage.

A crew of three were able to unstick his body from the wreck, one used his oxygen inhaler to inflate Ataman’s suit to send him quickly to the surface.

At this point, the divers had no further interest in the site. One, however, found something next to the broken amphora Ataman had been sitting on. He brought the object to the surface with them for further study. In the dying light of the day, the crew examined the small statuette.

The ‘little goddess’ (as they dubbed her) was pure gold with lapis and garnet inlaid in the form of a skirt and blouse. Her hair was in the familiar style of Greek frescoes, colored with pine pitch. Where her eyes should have been, however, were two curling projections not unlike ram’s horns.

The divers had interred Ataman’s body in the hold and had plans to return to the wreck after depositing it on shore. They never got a chance.

A gas leak originating from the cargo hold ignited at approximately three in the morning. Most of the crew were killed. The captain and one diver, Phillip Markos, escaped with third degree burns. The captain managed to pilot the crippled ship to shore before expiring from his wounds. Markos was transported to a hospital in time to receive lifesaving skin grafts over three-fourths of his body. He lived two more years before a hotel maid found him dead in the bath. He had a purple scarf tied tightly around his neck, and his eyes bore subconjunctival hemorrhage. Though the coroner found the scarf had not been tight enough to cause asphyxiation, his death was ruled a suicide.

Of the statue, only Markos’s word and a single kodachrome photo remained. Markos denied knowledge of the statue’s whereabouts, only that he was awoken several times before the disaster by a peculiar droning noise originating from the cargo hull.

The amphorae were transferred to the Antalya Museum and sealed against further study. They and the photograph of the statue are now presumed lost during Turkey’s coup d’etat of 1980.

Later expeditions to the stone ship have been unsuccessful. Divers tell of a murkiness that surrounds the site, one that handheld lights cannot hope to alleviate.

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The End of the World

Haruk spread his arms wide as his wives dressed him. They strapped on his ceremonial penis-gourd, the one decorated with parrot feathers. They draped him in heavy beads of turquoise, so many that his chest looked like a river.  They wiped white clay down his arms, white in welcoming and solidarity with their visitor. They tied the plaited grass skirt about his waist. And last, they set his teak sandals before him, so that he could step into the shoes of his forefathers.

The tribe amassed at the beach. Though Haruk was the only one allowed to speak with the visitor, everyone loved the spectacle. Children chased each other through the legs of their elders. Old men and women sat in the shade, fanning themselves with broad leaves. The story-weaver was ready with her bag of fibers and her beads of power. She had a red bead of courage in her hand and she turned it over and over in anticipation.

Haruk’s chief wife Shalay laid out the speaking mat. Like all other adult women, she had blue curled lines like tusks tattooed on her chin. She lowered her eyes demurely as her husband stepped onto the mat.

Far away, there was a silver flash as the visitor departed for the shore. A few of the men had seen it up close, once. A great silver canoe, one that could hold the whole village and still spare room. Haruk had known that any people who could make metal float on water were powerful people, and had met them in peace. His predecessors had not been so kind. Farud, his second cousin, had met the long ships with arrows. This brought a wave that swamped the village, ruining farmland as far inland as the burial grounds. Haruk himself had deposed him.

The speck born from the boat grew into a sickle-moon shape. This boat was plain wood, but a fascinating color. Haruk had been unable to glean how the colors did not wash off in the waves. Once a shy distance from the shore, the figure in the boat stood up and waved. The whole tribe waved back.

The white friend was a man like them. He had taken off the white skin once, far enough from shore that no harm would come to them. His skin was pink with heat, his hair fine and brown and his eyes an ugly green like the Perch they fished for. The skin kept bad spirits in, white friend explained, spirits that rode upon his back from his home.

“Wecome, Jess-up,” Haruk boomed as the white friend drew into the waves. The men caught the mooring rope he threw and dragged him up on the sand.

The white friend Jessup was not much taller than Haruk himself. The bulbous mouth of his mask made his words even harder to to understand.

“Greetings, Lord of the Mountain,” Jessup said in his clumsy, thick-tongued way. He had come a long way since the first meeting, even if he still chewed the people’s words like coconut pulp.

Haruk gave him a greeting gesture. Jessup repeated it clumsily. He had been so eager to learn from the very first that they excused his missteps, even when he tried following the women to the lagoon to watch them do woman things.

“How is Great Island,” Haruk said politely, “have you changed chiefs?”

Jessup squirmed a bit. The heat made the white skin uncomfortable. It squeaked when he moved.

“Not well,” he managed. “Chief. I must impart something of you.”

The chief dug his toes into the speaking mat. “Please speak, friend. Let us two make tragedy into fortune.”

Jessup struggled with his words. The skin was chafing at him, anyone could see. The tribe had not dispersed down the beach as they did in the past, they drew in closer.

“You know that I wear this skin to keep my spirits from…escaping you?” Jessup sneezed. Haruk immediately stuffed his soul back in his body.

Jessup paused, looking at hauk’s actions, then went on.

“There is a bad spirit,” he said, “huge bad. It sickens our people. It dangers our island. I come to tell you this may be our last visit.”

“Jess-up,” Haruk said sadly, “I know you. You do not wish evil on anyone. Please let our story-weaver cast protection on you so you may visit again?”

The story weaver stepped forward, albatross feather in her hand like a sword. Jessup waved her down.

“Not understand. Big bad spirit. We…greet other people. Small people like you. Before, on other island. No white skin, then. Other people die. All die. My people want to spare you that.”

Haruk took it all in. “I see you speak from the heart, Jess-up. We shall miss you.”

“I miss you.” Jessup was struggling, wavering on his feet. “I want to spare you red-spot curse. Terrible, terrible spirit.”

Haruk laughed out loud. “Oh, the red-spot sickness? Is that all?”

Jessup swayed. “You know this?” His words sounded congested.

“Oh yes. It struck in my father’s time. Very bad, many children die. But the ones that grew were stronger. It comes back once in awhile, but never kills. We are strong against it now.”

It was many words, complex words, that Haruk had to repeat a few times before Jessup understood.

Jessup stepped closer. “But this spirit bad. Blood comes in urine and tears. Flesh rots.”

“Yes, quite terrible, I know.” Haruk reached out to steady Jessup. “A terrible thing to behold. I myself caught it as a boy. But now you see me, fit and strong.” Haruk rapped his own chest with a thud.

Jessup sank to his knees. “Im-yoon,” he said, clawing at his mask. He repeated the word over and over. Im-yoon. Im-yoon. Haruk wondered if it was a protection word. Muttering his own secret protection word, he helped crack the faceplate of the mask.

Beneath it, Jessup had the look of a frightened boy. The red spots covered his face, some swollen boils that had burst. Red crust gathered at the corners of his eyes. He was more pitiful than ugly now.

Despite his ugliness, Haruk gathered him up.

“Do not be sad, Jess-up,” he told the white friend, “you will rest next to my father and his father before him. You will sleep like a warrior, and wake at the world’s end. I will even have Shalay put an extra travel stone in your bag.”

Jessup looked up mawkishly. “Already world-end for me.”

Haruk gave him a pat on the back and signaled to the men to pick him up. Jessup lasted until nightfall, when the last of his fluids ran out. They buried him in a plain straw mat, for he had no house-emblem to distinguish him. Haruk himself put a stone into Jessup’s bag.

The men set out to the great silver canoe, where it sat pinned by some unknown means to a single spot in the bay. The top of it was too high to climb, but they could see from a distance that the other Great Islanders were in the same state as Jessup, lying prone where they had fallen. Eventually a storm uprooted the ship, and they watched it drift away to the horizon. The white friend and his silver ships became a story Haruk told his grandchildren.

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Pile Island

aerial photos of atoll

Aerial photographs of the atoll

Pile Island is an uninhabited atoll approximately 380km from the nearest landmass. It is a US protectorate under the Guano islands act, though it has never been subject to mining. Its highest point is 10 feet above sea level and its lagoon is dry. Its guano deposits are almost nonexistent as no seabird colony has been sighted on the island since 1867.

Pile island was discovered by sheer accident when the freighter Soerabaja ran aground of a reef some 60 yards beyond its shore. The crewmen took to the atoll, looking for supplies to aid repair of the damaged hull and found little of note. Only one paragraph in the captain’s log is spared for the experience, merely noting that the island itself had not been visible until after they ran aground on the reef.

ships on the sea

The island, viewed from the reef

It is from the next visit that the island gains its notoriety. The Margarethe was on an expedition to find guano-rich islands of the pacific when they found Pile. Strangely, they noted the reef as being more than 100 yards from the visible shore. The crew of the Margarethe established a base camp on the north part of the island. Along with the guano deposits, the crew recorded the presence of a sinkhole approximately 8X5 yards. The crew attempted to dig a well and assess the size of the atoll’s freshwater lens. The hole wound up being over ten feet in depth before showing any amount of seepage. The liquid that filed the hole possessed an odd viscosity. The crewman who volunteered to drink it reported it had no flavor and was unpleasant to swallow. Later that day, the crewman fell over dead from no apparent cause.

The surviving crewmen spent the night on the island. They reported tremors constantly throughout the night, though the crew remaining on the ship sensed no such disturbances. In the morning, the landing team rejoined the ship and they weighed anchor.

The next ship did not arrive until 1906, the USS Teague, coming to claim the island as a protectorate. Armed with more modern scientific equipment, the crew was able to document the island in more detail. The reef was officially placed at 200 yards beyond the visible shore. The freshwater lens was deemed nonexistent.

The sinkhole enlarged by the Magarethe’s crew had reached a depth of 20 feet with no seepage, impossible in such a geographic location. An attempt to gauge the composition of the soil with a spar produced a hole. Further prodding exposed a hollow space of unknown depth beneath the sinkhole. Volcanic activity was suspected, but the hole gave off no heat that would indicate a chimney. There was no vegetation on the island, so the crew members who volunteered to enter the space had to descend on a rope anchored with a series of belaying pins.

In what little light filtered through the hole, the crewmen could discern a cave system at least as expansive as the atoll itself. The crewmen could also see faint markings on the rocks which they at first dismissed as ore leakage; when they were passed down a ship’s lantern they could discern that the markings were what appeared to be representational pictoglyphs. The glyphs themselves depicted a series of scenes that seemed apocalyptic in nature, containing fanciful creatures not known to man. No Polynesian presence on the island has been confirmed before or since, leaving the origin of these pictoglyphs a mystery to this day.


A photgraph of the glyphs, circa 1967

Once topside, the sailors complained about a vibration that had begun in the marine cave and persisted after they came up. They were given a cursory examination and no physical symptoms were found. As the landing party camped that night, they, too, felt the tremors that the Margarethe’s crew had described, this time accompanied by an atonal chiming sound. The ship’s seismograph recorded nothing during the night. In the morning, the sailors that had descended into the cave were found dead.

The Teague set sail for Palmyra, to deliver the dead and report their findings. They did not return to the island. Pile was not one of the atolls chosen for nuclear testing during WWII, nor was it deemed strategically important enough to be the site of a base. In 1935, the island was declared a wildlife preserve. The few expeditions undertaken since 1906 have been by U.S. Fish and Wildlife, who also restrict access to the island.

The reef’s last recorded distance was 500 yards from the island.

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The Dorset Culture


Photograph from the Cook expedition, 1907

The first people were giants
Their chests were broad and their hands could grab seals whole
They walked with spirits on the ice and never fell through
Though they were strong, they did not possess the tools of war
And the new people drove them back from the sea

—Excerpt from An Oral History of Baffin Island

The Dorset people predate modern-day Inuit of the Arctic Circle. A relatively recent archaeological find, the Dorset were culturally distinct from their Inuit successors, who dubbed them Sivullirmiut (meaning “first people.”) Though the Dorset culture has left significant archaeological record, no physical remains of the people themselves are known to exist.

Interestingly, the Dorset people have migrated into folklore, much in the way of “terror birds” in New Zealand or the Orang Pendek of Malaysia. Baffin island mythology speaks of a race of giants inhabiting what are modern-day Inuit settlements; slow, shy people who showed them the technique of ice fishing and lived in longhouses.

Not all appearances by the Sivullirmiut were benign, however. In an interview conducted by the Stefansson expedition on Wrangel Island, a Chukchi elder spoke of giants who stole and consumed children, so unmoved by cold that they would conduct raids even during the heart of a blizzard. The elder also showed expedition members two artifacts: a desiccated human foot measuring nearly a meter long and a scalp of red hair the size of a seal pelt. Both artifacts were claimed by the expedition and subsequently lost in the disastrous return to the United States.

Other such artifacts have been documented by various arctic expeditions, but no physical specimens have survived to undergo modern-day scrutiny. A photograph from Frederick Cook’s North Pole expedition(seen above) was said to depict the largest intact specimen: a full three-quarters of a body. Cook’s party was entreated to view the “stone village” by the Inhuguit people, a site situated north of Annoatok. The Europeans described a megalithic site comprised of stone slabs propped up in a formation that recalled Stonehenge. The Inhuguit claimed the stacks were door lintels and that the massive structure was once covered with hides. Though the expedition heavily documented their progress, the single snapshot of the body is the only evidence from the megalithic site known to exist. By the time Erik Holtved arrived to study the Inhuguit the tribe members with knowledge of the site’s location had long since deceased.

What caused the demise of the Sivullirmiut giants is still unclear, though it is generally agreed upon that the culture went extinct around the time of the medieval warming period( roughly 1500C.E.) Nunavut folklore holds that the giants were doomed to die with the ice that gave them life, and that the new people long ago chased the straggling survivors into the sea. There is also historical evidence that early Norse travelers came into contact with the Sivullirmiut some time before their extinction.


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The Yeseni Vampires

The Yeseni are  almost a complete cypher; aside from a few polychrome ceramic vessels and bone utensils that could easily have belonged to a neighboring tribe, there are few physical markers of their existence. What sets the Yeseni apart from their surviving neighbors is a single tomb.

The tomb was discovered after archaeologists drained a reservoir to examine what appeared to be submerged village. Along with the hut bases that had been visible from above-surface, there was a platform a distance away from the village. The platform was 2 meters in circumference and carved with a shallow sun-relief. Post holes indicated the area had once been fenced in. The ornamental nature of the platform, and its isolation from the village, led to speculation that it was of ceremonial importance.

Upon excavation of the platform, the crew found that a well extended beneath it. Crude depth markers set the well’s shaft length in excess of 30 meters. When a pump continued removing water past the capacity estimated for the space, the well was deemed part of a subterranean river and the pump was switched off. When the well failed to refill, an aide was lowered into the shaft and found the large interior space that would be dubbed ‘the crypt’: a perfectly circular room 4.5 meters in diameter. The walls held no torch sconces, leading to theories that light was discouraged in the small space. The floor was packed clay mixed with ash.

The floor was divided into sixteen partitions, and nine of them occupied by stone sarcophagi. Sarcophagi, and the complex burial customs that accompanied them, were not previously thought to exist in the area. Each held a sun-relief that mimicked the platform’s carved design. The sarcophagi were almost completely one piece, it was finally deduced that a small section at the end of the stone tube could be removed, providing barely enough space for a small adult to squeeze through. The sarcophagi were impregnable; archaeologists found that opening the end of one could not be done without destroying the integrity of the structure, so they delayed it until proper facilities could be established.

At this point night had fallen on the surface, so the crew regrouped and planned for the next morning’s operation. The floor of the chamber was still under six inches of water; this would necessitate removal so the crew could explore unhindered the next day. They had brought no photographic or videorecording equipment, so it was never fully established whether the murals existed before the second day of exploration.

The discovery of the murals was not without some furor, as the first team to enter the tomb had brought adequate lighting and were resolute that they had not seen the decorations.

The crew took photographs and film of the well’s murals, the first of many of what would become infamously significant. The murals were thought to be entirely non-representative, no figures, plants, or animal life could be discerned from the geometric patterns. The patterns themselves were theorized to be a crude kind of written language.

The cerulean present in the murals they guessed to be a formula similar to Han blue, the red a mercuric sulfide. The violet remained a mystery. It was too color-fast to be a vegetable pigment, and mineral violets had not been synthesized until hundreds of years after the projected age of the tomb. One dig member thought it to be obtained from some now-extinct Murex relative. All pigment conjecture aside, the question of how the murals had remained colorfast for so long remained unanswered, seeing as the walls were not limestone and no substitute fixative could be detected. The sarcophagi were fashioned from flood basalt, the room’s fixtures from a white alabaster not found in the area.

By now the archaeologists had developed a rhythm of work on the tomb. The site could only be worked by a few shifts a day because workers developed pressure headaches, presumably from the tomb’s depth. Three mild incidents of narcosis were reported in the first week. The next discovery was falsely attributed to mild cerebral edema: several crew members of an evening shift claimed the murals were more bright and saturated than their first sighting. At first dismissed, the claim was verified when the photo rushes arrived from the temporary darkroom set up in a nearby town: the murals had indeed become more vivid since the first day of observation. What was more, the phenomena was not confined to the tomb’s walls. A magazine abandoned overnight showed a marked increase in ink saturation; what was more, the photographic subjects had warped in the moist air, appearing to gain sunken hollows in their cheeks and eyes.

The shifts were commuted from three a day to merely one, and this only lasting fifteen minutes. Even so, the observers within the tomb noted visible changes to the murals within their presence. The geometric patterns began to have a derogatory effect on the crew, one ended up being airlifted to the city after collapsing from an epileptic seizure(no epilepsy had been extant in his family history.)

Seventeen days after the dig began, crew reported an auditory hallucination: knocking. They claimed it was not a knuckle-rap as one might hear on a door, it was more like the flat of a hand testing a surface for solidity. The hallucination did not decrease with time and distance from the pit. More and more crew members reported flu-like symptoms, but blood tests showed no increase in white blood cell count or any other typical response to a viral infection. Finally, the dig was halted when the dig foreman suffered a minor cut to his finger and the wound failed to clot. The foreman lost around two pints of blood in an hour. While he was flown back to the city for emergency procedures, a supposed “pump malfunction” caused water to pour back into the tomb. The shaft was flooded to 2/3 its original volume, the tomb itself presumed submerged once again.

The local government has since designated the area a national heritage site, replacing the stone platform and barring any further archaeological operations. Many of the original crew retired shortly after the dig.

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Dig at Nemdal

Hello Timothy. I hope this letter finds you well and that your trip has been a pleasant one. I’ll assume that Alex has been more than forthright in welcoming you to the dig. Please indulge an intellectual’s quirk for a moment and dismiss him before reading further.

Right, getting down to business: I hope I didn’t worry you unduly when I wired you, but we are in a very unusual quandary here.

I believe I told you we were out here for a minor dig, correct? We were looking for traces of a Semitic peoples who occupied the area around 930 b.c.e. It was Joseph who found the first artifact.

Let me warn you right here and now: touch nothing in storage. I don’t know whether physical contact is needed or merely observing an object is enough, but for the love of Yahweh avoid the artifacts at all costs. If you have already been forced to observe one on your way in(and I strongly suspect you have) then you will begin to see what I mean.

It all began with one artifact. An earthenware ewer that would be completely unremarkable if not for the fact that it bore characteristics completely alien to any civilization of the area. Then we found a small box fashioned of bronze, in the shape of a beetle unknown to man. Then a series of clay tablets depicting scenes of daily court life. One after the other, we experienced an unprecedented flood of artifacts.

I think you can foresee where this went wrong. Around the time we found the royal regalia, we realized how out-of-place it all was. What we found suggested a great civilization, far greater than the area could have supported, completely absent from written history. There were semiprecious gems that weren’t found anywhere near this part of the world, along with various objects that served no logical purpose. All this, I think, was merely bait to get us to indulge our curiosity further.

I beg you to keep reading, Timothy. You are my friend, my very dear friend, and I must plead your mercies for just a while longer.

The Kingdom of Nemdal has never been listed in any history book, tome, scroll, or genealogical record. For good reason; it can’t be any older than three weeks. And yet the further we dug, the further back it went, until we found  sophisticated Iron Age-style tools in what should have been a Stone Age strata.

Then we found the written records. And conveniently, we found several pieces written in multiple languages that could serve as a cipher.

Imagine an epoch utterly separate from everything else in Antiquity. A time owing nothing to the logical progression of history. Imagine a parasite-reality not strong enough to support itself, so it must latch onto another, more self-sufficient system.

This is the ludicrity I must impress upon you now, Timothy. This civilization did not exist until we had discovered it, and it kept growing after we found it. Perhaps all this time it had been dormant in the desert, squatting like a toad at the bottom of a well. We found it and showered it with attention,and it has unfolded like an Anastatica in the rain.

Did you, perchance, notice the road signs on the way in? They weren’t bilingual when we arrived. The characters you saw don’t have a relative in Hebrew, Parsee, or Arabic. The locals now speak it as a quaint throwback, something their grandfathers taught but was once the lingua franca.

Timothy, you brought the itinerary with you, correct? Check it. It’s probably been outside the sphere of influence long enough that it’s still correct. Look at it.

Do you see any Alex at all, let alone Alyx Grytck? He said he grew up in the US, yet his parents emigrated in the 80’s. The implications of that are staggering, Timothy. If it’s extended into the postindustrial world, who knows what the damage could be? Helena tried out what appeared to be a small autoharp and got her fingers mangled for her trouble. We were never able to extract that pipe from Hayward’s body, even after he died.

Yes, died, Timothy. I would not have called if it weren’t urgent. Think me mad, think me insane with the desert heat, but can you remember a program of Nemdalic studies at the University?

It might be too late. I might be sending out the last light of a dying star, but you can’t let it get a foothold in our world. Please for the love of—


The preceding document was found sealed in a canteen at approximately __latitude and __longitude in the ______Desert. No record of an archaeological expedition dispatched from ______ University has ever been found, nor of Professor ______, the alleged author of the text. Timothy Barnes, Professor Emeritus of Languages, is currently missing, presumed dead.

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