Lawrence, Kansas. The faculty of the Department of Antiquities at the University of Kansas is mystified at an apparent theft from the small Museum of Pioneer Culture, located on campus. Intruders, who entered the museum without setting off alarms or leaving any sign of their presence, took only the object known as the “prairie octopus”. This ancient sandstone carving, which stands about 4 inches high, appears to represent a man with the head of a squid (not an octopus), and with other anatomical peculiarities. The artifact was found near Lawrence by the late R. C. Moore, a Professor of geology, but the unusually hard sandstone of which it is composed is not local. Tony Morris, chair of the Department of Geological Sciences, said the provenance of the stone is unknown. The thieves did not touch particularly fine Native American turquoise and silver jewelry that was on display in an adjacent case. Inspector Kate Rutland, police spokeswoman, suggested that the effigy may have a cult significance.

My dear Wilby,

Please find enclosed a photograph of a recent acquisition. I believe you will find it of great interest. The statuette is no more than 10 cm tall, and the olive-grey sandstone of which it is composed was quarried, I believe, in Greenland. I received this specimen through the usual channels. At first glance, it might appear to be a rather mundane representation of He Who Lies Dreaming, but this is not the case. Note that the statue’s generative organ is forked, like those of snakes. The union of features characteristic of cephalopods and reptiles points to Ophidhua, a little-known member of the pantheon. As you may know, this being is reputed to be able to influence human physiology in a way that might help you with your young bride. I will entertain any reasonable offer for this fine piece.


(Prof.) Charles Chamberlain

The following manuscript, together with a letter and a newspaper clipping, was found on a small writing desk in an apartment in downtown Madison, Wisconsin. The apartment’s resident, Kate Rutland, had disappeared under suspicious circumstances 3 days earlier. Ms. Rutland is a retired Kansas City police inspector who had been working as a department-store manager in Madison for the past year.

“Take a look at this, Kate.” The chief dropped a printout on my desk. He has never learned to forward e-mail. I scanned the short message and looked up.

“This fellow was a history professor at Langdon College. What could he have gotten into that would make someone do this?”

He shrugged. “The local cops want some help. Go down and take a look at the scene.” I was already out the door. I specialize in crimes that are a little out of the ordinary. I helped investigate a series of animal mutilations right after I joined the force. Then the weather got crazy and half of Douglas County flooded. I never figured out what was going on with that.

Jack Phelps had been a donut shop cop for way too long. He was wheezing by the time we got to the landing outside the Doc’s second-floor apartment. He unlocked the door and pushed it open with one hand. I made an after-you gesture, but he shook his head.

“I don’t need to see it twice.” He turned a little green just thinking about it. “Don’t know what he was thinking, sending a woman on a case like this.” He gave me “That Look.” The “you’re just a girl” look. I thought of several comments I could have made, but said nothing. He wasn’t worth it.

The door opened into a living room. There was no television. Bookcases lined the walls, books and curios interspersed in no order that I could discern. A coffee table bore a scatter of papers and books and a coffee cup. I could smell the blood. A door led into a tiny kitchen with a few dirty dishes piled in the sink. He had eaten alone. I paused before going into the bedroom. The body was gone, but blood covered everything: a single bed, a battered wooden dresser, desk and chair, floor, walls, and ceiling. The only thing on the desk was a small statue. I recognized it immediately. It was hard to picture a dead middle-aged professor as an art thief, but I’ve seen stranger things. Some even stranger than a statue of a man with a squid head and two penises.

Aside from removing the body the local cops had not disturbed the scene. I looked around more carefully. Only one thing seemed out of place. Against the wall behind the desk, its corner caught behind the top of the wainscoting, was a small piece of yellowed paper.

The writing on it wasn’t English, or any language I recognized. The arrangement on the page suggested a poem and that was as far as I got. It didn’t seem to have been up against the wall very long, so it might have something to do with the murder.

I went back through the whole apartment. I found some books that might have been written in the same language as the note, and I found a copy of a letter suggesting the professor had been trying to sell the statue, but nothing that shed any light on his murder. I didn’t have to check any databases to know that murders in which bodies were torn apart, and the pieces were covered with circular wounds a few inches across, were not common. I needed to make some calls.

“Dr. Wilby? Sorry, Professor Wilby. Yes, I’m calling about Professor Charles Chamberlain. Well no, he can’t talk to you himself. Not without a Ouija board. That’s right, dead. And one of the last things he did before he died was write you a letter. I am sorry for your loss. As a matter of fact, you can. I want to e-mail you a scanned image. I don’t know what language it’s written in, or what it says. Thank you very much.”

I didn’t think Professor Wilby would translate the note for me, but I had been hoping to shock some kind of revealing reaction out of him. While I waited to hear from him I would drop in on the University of Kansas. Maybe somebody up there would at least recognize the script in which the note was written.

Ana Southard was a postdoc working on Pnakotic, a family of long-dead languages known mostly from Central Asia. She took me to her “laboratory,” a small classroom nearly filled with tables heaped with books and papers. She reached into a pile 2 feet high and yanked out an 8 x 10 photograph. I realized with a thrill that at least half of the symbols from Professor Chamberlain’s note were carved into the stone slab in the photograph.

“This is Pnakotic A, Detective Rutland. It’s the same script as in your note. This was found in Tajikistan. Desert varnish on the carved surface indicates the slab lay exposed to the elements for between 15,000 and 20,000 years.” She tossed the photo back onto the table.

I cleared my throat. “Professor Southard [‘just Dr. Southard’], your hat trick with the photograph is impressive. But what does this note say?” I handed her the copy I had brought with me.

She laughed. “Translating Pnakotic A is the subject of my current research. I haven’t found a Rosetta stone yet, but I should be able to tell you something.” She spent a few minutes at the white board, splitting her time between the note and a couple of moldy old books. One of them was bound in pitted metal. The other was covered with a repellent sallow leather covered with a symmetrical set of marks I forbore to examine closely. The more I didn’t look at the book the more it almost seemed like some hideous tattoo of a face. “Here we go,” she said.

“Glory [praise, sacrifice?] to the Tentacled One

[something] worship he who has two [legs? Arms?]”

“I know what it says there,” I said dryly, “go on.”

She raised a painted eyebrow, but turned back to the board without comment.

“Worshipers [something] beseech the Double Lord

come to us now! Bring your awful [something].

“That’s the first half. The second half says something about enemies or victims and feasting. Pretty standard fare (no pun intended) for this sort of invocation.”

I was looking at the note again. “How do you pronounce these words?” I asked. “They don’t look like they were intended for human throats.”

“That’s easy. They weren’t. But we know how to pronounce them (we think). Pronunciation is not nearly as difficult as meaning. There are cults today, or at least some of them still existed in the early 20th century, that use (without understanding) in their rituals fragments of a language that seems to have a similar sound set. Here we go.”

Her voice changed completely. Somehow she sounded primitive, bloodthirsty, amoral. I couldn’t reproduce on paper the sounds she made. For this, I am grateful. I’m not grateful to be alive; in some ways it would be a blessing if I weren’t. As she spoke, the cover of the ancient text that had so repulsed me convulsed. A ghastly maw opened in the seamed leather and the book started shrieking. At first it spoke in unison with Dr. Southard. She faltered and stopped, but the book did not stop. It did not stop. It completed the invocation and then continued to shriek wordlessly at ever higher volume. We covered our ears and stumbled towards the door. The building shook. Piles of books slumped and slid onto the floor. The door sprung open and I dove through. I turned to see if Dr. Southard needed help. How I wish I had not. Two windows burst inward and tentacles shot into the room. One caught up the shrieking book, which instantly fell silent. Another snaked around Ana Southard’s waist. She was jerked off her feet and disappeared out the window. Or she almost did. She struck the top of the window frame with the back of her head as she went through. She was moving so terribly fast.

Her headless body was discovered, nude, a year later in a gravel draw in the Flint Hills. The book was never found. And there was one more thing. Even though she lost her head the day she disappeared, nine months later Ana Southard gave birth to... something... and she died only two days before her ravaged corpse was discovered by a local rancher.

Details were never revealed to the public. I heard them from a friend on the force; I’m no longer in law enforcement. I resigned the day I thought Dr. Southard died. I moved to Madison and found what work I could. I left all of the occult stuff behind me, or thought I did. A few days after I got the call about the discovery of Dr. Southard’s body, I thought I noticed someone following me home from work. I saw the same man yesterday and today. I haven’t gotten a good look at his face, but tomorrow I’m going to take the bull by the horns. If you find and read this manuscript, then my plan did not go well. In that case, pray for me to whatever gods you worship.


# # #

The Douglas County Statuette by David C. Kopaska-Merkel
originally published August 20, 2009



David Kopaska-Merkel describes rocks for the state of Alabama, and publishes Dreams and Nightmares, a magazine of SF and fantasy poetry. Some of David's flash fiction can be found at, and some of his chapbooks are available through and With Kendall Evans, David recently published The Tin Men and Other Poems. In 2006, another collaboration with Evans won the Rhysling Award of the Science Fiction Poetry Association. David lives in Alabama with artists and furry layabouts.

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visit his Big Pulp author page


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