Estimated reading time — 4 minutes
I’m unsure of what to say. All I can say is that I’m scared. Very scared. My hands shake violently as I hastily scribble down a few words onto the coarse wooden tablet. This is my only hope. “In the month of Tammuz, day 25 of the year 569, I, Abgar, son of Abbshamay, ‘navigator,’ have come here, to the country of Nysy; bless the god who has brought us here, and you, the man who reads this tablet, bless me as well and leave the tablet in this place where you find it.” That is what it reads. That’s all I’m able to write. I am so tired. I am so weary. I set the tablet against a mound, careful that it will not fall down, and go on my way, through the pitch blackness of this grand cave. I have been trapped here for days. It started when I left Palmyra, that great oasis city in the Levantine desert. I was to travel to the city of Aksum in Ethiopia to deliver silk textiles. Then I was to sail the vast sea to the lands of Persia and sell similar textiles at the cities of Istakhr, Ekbatana, and Ctesiphon, the Persian capital on the Tigris. From there, I was supposed to return to my homeland by caravan and receive payment. However, once I had left Aksum, the storm god, Baalshamin, wrought a great monsoon wind upon my vessel and ran us aground at the island of Nysy. It is almost uninhabited, but my friends, Elkud and Zabdibel, had decided to seek out locals for shelter. I was to explore the nearby coastal cave to find food. I was not ten cubits inside when I tumbled down a shaft and into the deep bowels of this cave. I was unable to climb back up, and so I was forced to go further into the tunnels. There were no signs of humanity save for inscriptions of a foreign tongue that I could not read. My hopes of returning to the surface quickly vanished into the moist air around me. I tearfully accepted this futility, crawled into a corner, and let sleep embrace me.
I was awoken at some odd hour of the night. The cave was eerily silent, but there was a pungent odor emanating from the depths of the tunnels. It smelled as if someone had boiled a rotten carcass in blood. I rubbed my eyes and stood up. Then, the sound started. A clicking sound, like somebody picking at their nails. I progressed into the darkness. I held my hands in front of me, the darkness concealing whatever lay ahead of me. The sound was louder now, but it seemed to be coming from two different directions. That’s when I reached a fork in the tunnel. The smell had gone away, but the sound had not. In fact, there were two of them now. The same sound was emitted from each side of the fork. I ventured into the one on my right. As I walked, the tunnel seemed to shrink ever so slightly with each step I took. All the while, the sound was getting louder and louder, until I reached a dead end. The sound was clear as day; it was coming from all around. Then, it abruptly stopped. The smell returned, so overbearing I almost fainted. Slowly, I turned around. Immediately, my heart stopped. This thing stood before me. I can’t explain what it was. It was a hunched down, twisted human-like thing. It had grey skin, and piercing yellow eyes. Its hands and feet were contorted and bore sharp white claws, which were curved like scythes. There were no eyes. Its mouth grinned wider than possible, and this grimace revealed scores of small, sharp teeth in rows. The thing opened its mouth even wider and let out an ear-splitting shriek, leaping towards me like a lion.
I awoke in a sweat. Nothing. There were no sounds, nor any ripe-smelling air. Once again, I stood up and looked around. The cave was still dark, but the air had become thicker, like the mist hanging over the Efqa spring on a hot summer day. I took one step, and almost collapsed. The floor of the cave had become… soft. It was like mud, but more dense. It still felt like rock when I touched it with my hands, and yet, it squelched underfoot. The walls of the cave shuddered. Was I dreaming? It simply couldn’t be. The walls were pulsating like veins. I kept walking. Then, the clicking started again. The smell returned as well. I was mortified, too scared to move on for fear of death. I pulled a tablet from beneath my robe, and wrote that note to whoever, or whatever, will find me. It’s too much. I leave the tablet beneath that mound, and as soon as I do, the floor of the cave becomes softer. My feet sink into it and leave deep impressions. The clicking sound stops. Light comes from a side tunnel of the cave, and I move towards it. Suddenly, the floor gives way again and I find myself falling for a second time. I hit the ground hard and the tunnels start spinning. I’m so dazed, I only have the energy to stare upwards at the ceiling. A face appears. The thing is back. It is reaching for me. I start to drift off and it smiles. The world becomes black, my eyelids close, and a thousand tiny pins push into my skin.
Author’s note: Abgar was a real person who lived and died almost 2,000 years ago. He was a native of Palmyra, Syria, who became lost in the Hoq cave on Socotra, a secluded island near Somalia. The tablet and its inscription were found by archaeologists exploring the cave. They followed Abgar’s wishes, and left the tablet where it was found. You can read more about Abgar and Socotra here.