Friday, October 14, 2016

A Lovecraftian Tale, The Tablet of Teh Ri'teth

For the penultimate day of October Frights, I have a short story (1895 words). I penned it in a matter of hours without any idea where it was going, other than death. I did a little revising: changing the end to a Hammer Horror style twist and adjusting the beginning accordingly. It's inspired by H.P. Lovecraft's style, including the made up ancient civilization and the first person narrator telling the tale directly to the reader. So here it is.

THE TABLET OF TEH RI'TETH

I didn’t kill him. You know I could never have done such a thing. Yes, I was at his house the day he vanished, and I can remember it all clearly.
It was on a day much like today: there was a chill in the air, tainted with the pleasing aroma of wood smoke and the sparkle of frost. All of the aspen trees along Byre Street were saturated with yellow. Their yellow stained the street with great drifts and spatters of death. I hate yellow.
I didn’t then. It put me in a cheery mood as I walked between the looming aspens past the rows of old brick townhouses. Yellow everywhere. Bright as the sunshine. My breath spewed out before me in a crystalline cloud, glowing in the late afternoon.
At the end of Byre Street is where Wentham’s house used to be. Wentham and I had struck up a friendship earlier that month at the Bryndle Club in Bamberg. We were both intrigued with the occult, you see. Yes, I was. Terribly intrigued. Those funny runes and tablets had just been discovered in the Paerth Hills. Do you remember the fuss the papers made, if briefly? They were dismissed as fraud, an archeological prank. The things have since disappeared. Wentham was convinced they were artifacts of a forgotten religion and had tantalized me with his theories.
Naturally, I accepted his invitation to come and see the tablet he had acquired for his private collection of historical and occult objects.
Wentham’s house was unassuming, charming, even. It was slightly larger than the rest of the Byre Street domiciles and had a circular tower. It was all brick, with a yellow door.
Wentham himself answered when I rang, wearing a burgundy dressing gown.
“Lowell!” he said jovially. “Do come in. Bloody cold out there.” I don’t know if you ever met Wentham, but he was the kind of man who filled a room with his presence. His baritone carried well and he often used it to dominate conversation. Yet he was always considerate, making sure to include everyone and let them have a turn, however brief. His dark green eyes sparkled from the shadows of his heavy black brow with a burning intelligence and passion.
I followed him through a regal but dusty hall to a messy sitting room where he poured me a hot cider. I sipped it as I glanced around at the clutter: dirty dishes piled up between the disarranged sofa pillows and books.
“Sorry about the mess,” Wentham said, “the maid vanished last month and I haven’t found a replacement.” He chuckled. I thought there was something like nervousness beneath it, but he had moved on before I could think about it. “But you came to see the tablet of Teh Ri’teth, not chat.”
I shivered involuntarily. “Tablet of what?” I asked.
“Teh Ri’teth,” Wentham said, licking his lips. I shivered again, despite the warmth and the hot cider in my hand.
“How do you—where—” I began.
“It says right on it,” Wentham said. “I’ll show you.” He strode across the sitting room towards a mahogany door.
“But no one’s been able to match the runes to any known alphabet!” I protested, following more slowly to avoid spilling my cider.
“I cracked it,” Wentham said, pulling out a key and unlocking the door.
“How?” I asked.
Wentham pushed open the door and disappeared inside. I followed, any further questions dying on my lips. Wentham had a veritable museum. Glass cases lined the room, filled with glittering, numinous items. They were a bit dusty and draped in cobwebs, but that only intensified their mystery. The last rays of the setting sun illumed the gossamer threads and twinkled on the aerial dust motes. A strange, indescribable odor assailed my nostrils, something ancient and dark.
Wentham was already at the far end of the room, before a broken case. He kicked a white rag that lay before it into the corner and turned to look at me, chest puffing proudly as I gazed about in awe.
The case closest to me held a mummified head, draped in turquoise beads. The next one displayed an ancient bronze bowl, marked with druidic symbols. Further down I could see a set of Egyptian instruments that I knew were used in the Opening of the Mouth.
“This is fabulous,” I whispered, excited despite the irrational sense of dread that was beginning to lurk around the shadowy edges of the room.
“Come see it,” Wentham said, a little impatiently. I was suddenly reluctant to approach him, but my curiosity won me over and I joined him in front of the broken case. The object inside it was covered with a black velvet cloth. The strange odor was stronger now. I eyed the broken glass with unease.
“What happened?”
“Clumsiness,” Wentham said, reaching out slowly for the black velvet. I saw that his hand, lit up by the last sunbeam, was shaking. A whispery rasp slithered through my ears and I looked around the shadowy corners.
“What’s that? Do you have a gas leak?” I asked.
“Look!” Wentham snapped, whipping off the black velvet. I gasped.
I had seen pictures of the tablets, of course, but it was entirely different to see it in person. An aesthete would call it ugly. All yellowy, slimy-looking stone, marred with hideous scratch-like runes of a shivery nature. In person it seemed to ooze before my very eyes, the runes shimmering and coiling. And that strange odor. It filled my nostrils and spun my head in sickening circuits. I blinked and tried to get a fix on the horrible tablet. Surely my eyes were playing tricks on me? Perhaps it was too warm in this arcane museum.
When I later spoke to a museum curator who had briefly had one of the tablets in his care, he described the same sensations in its presence.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” Wentham breathed reverently. I clutched my cider mug tighter as a shiver passed through me and the whispery rasp hissed through the room. “Teh Ri’teth.” I jumped, looking about the room in terror before I realized that it was only Wentham who had spoken the legerdemain words. Cider dripped down my mug and through my fingers. It was growing dark in the room as twilight fell softly outside.
“He ruled the skies in old days when blood ran free in the hills of Paerth,” Wentham whispered softly. The rasping and odor mounted, humming in an ominous undercurrent. “Each night he poured his colour into the earth and each day he slept in glory. Each month a sacrifice was made to his lordship. A life was given to appease.”
“How do you know this?” I asked, shuddering. My cider rippled.
“It reads thus,” he said, pointing at the tablet’s squirming runes. “It tells of his glory, his victories, his power.”
“But how can you read it?” I asked.
The rasping in my ears coughed a little, like a chuckle. The writhing runes on the breathing tablet seemed to jump.
“I heard it,” Wentham said, turning to look at me.
“Heard it?” I asked, tearing my eyes away from the hideous stone. The green eyes of Wentham were a relief, anchoring me again in reality. The whispers and odors of the strange room seemed to fade.
“I didn’t leave this room for days,” Wentham said. “I was intent on understanding the alphabet. I fell asleep at last and in my dreams…I heard him.”
I frowned, dizzying again as the odor returned to assault my nose and sicken my stomach.
“He requires a sacrifice each month,” Wentham said, licking his lips nervously. “It’s been a month.” His eyes flickered to the corner where he’d kicked the white rag. I turned my head to peer into the darkness and had just made out the rumpled form of a maid’s mobcap when Wentham grabbed my wrist.
I tried to jerk away, but his grip was iron. The cider in my other hand splashed down my arm and I yelped, dropping the mug. Warm apple singed the air. The mug crashed to the floor, shattering among the shadows. Wentham pulled me towards the case. He’d been expecting resistance, but I was too startled from the spilled cider. Wentham stumbled back and threw out a hand to steady himself.
His palm landed on a shard of glass on the broken case’s pedestal. I nearly slammed into him, but his inhuman scream seemed to repel me and I staggered away, staring as he held up his bleeding hand. A crimson drop fell on the repulsive tablet. It soaked into the runes and vanished.
Wentham turned and looked at me, his eyes wide and pale. His once dark green eyes, now pale.
A scream stuck in my throat.
“This is how it began,” Wentham said softly, childish fear in his voice. “Margaret, the maid. She was cleaning in here. Clumsy. Her blood. Poor Margaret. Then it started to talk to me.” Yellow tears were dripping from his pale eyes.
I took a step back as Wentham trembled and the rasping increased in volume, throbbing through the room like a viscous chant. The odor burned in my head and the shadows seemed to leap about like dervishes. The tablet grew brighter and brighter, chasing the shadows away.
“At night he poured his colour into the earth,” Wentham rasped in an alien voice, coarse and horrifying. His eyes were yellow and he was shaking violently, his hand dripping blood down his burgundy dressing gown.
The violent rasping pulsed into my ears, growing to a roar, and this time, I could hear the words. “Teh Ri’teth!” the stone shuddered in the broken case, yellow and laughing. Wentham screamed, yellow and bleeding.
I fled. The odor singed my nose and the rasping seared my ears and the yellow lapped at my heels. I ran out onto the street but I couldn’t escape the yellow. His colour was in the earth. I ran.
I ran until I could run no more. I collapsed on the safe stones of a bridge. I awoke there in the morning, with a constable looking down at me. I took him at once to Byre Street, although he was skeptical as I didn’t tell him what he would find. I waited outside, refusing to enter when he urged me to lead the way.
I shivered in the yellow as he vanished into the house, wondering if I’d sent him to his doom.
He returned, proclaiming the house empty. I asked him about the broken case. It was empty, a burgundy dressing gown lying on the floor before it.
They looked everywhere for Wentham. Nothing could be found, but there was blood on his dressing gown and on the broken glass. They investigated me, as you know, and eventually concluded that I had murdered the poor fellow. Fortunately, I was able to appeal my case and avoid the gallows.
I’m ever so grateful for your visits, you know. Please don’t say that I’m crazy. That’s what they all say, that’s why I’m here instead of dead. But I know what I saw.
If you go to the place where Wentham’s house used to be—they tore it down, you know—you’ll smell that ancient dark odor. You’ll see the barren earth, yellow with his colour.


If you liked the story, but prefer lighter fare, you might look into preordering
Ambulatory Cadavers: A Regency Zombie Novel on Amazon. You can also find my steampunk mythology books through my website, where you can also download a free song that goes along with book two of the Weather Casters Saga.

And/or explore the rest of the hop below!


6 comments:

  1. A wonderfully dark and delightful story.

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  2. No, I like the darker fare in my stories :) And that was a good yet chilling, dark story.

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  3. Dark and creepy. Love lines like, "A strange, indescribable odor assailed my nostrils, something ancient and dark."

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