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
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
“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
“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
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
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
published August 20, 2009