07 Nov The Missive of Jeriah Dowd
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"The Missive of Jeriah Dowd"Written by Turiya
Estimated reading time — 15 minutes
It was about a year ago, in June of 1928, that I entered the New England convalescent’s home where I sit writing this missive. I do not wish to record its exact location, for if this manuscript somehow reaches the outside world I do not want unsavory and foolish callers questioning me about what I am about to write, about the things I saw in that jungle.
I arrived in Bolivia in February of 1928, landing at Arica in Chile and traveling overland to that country’s high inland plateau. With me I brought only one companion, the illustrious Doctor Aleister Braithwaite of Miskatonic University. The good Doctor was one of the leading experts in linguistics in the country. He knew tens of languages both currently living and millennia dead, and, especially pertinent to this expedition, specialized in the languages of the natives of South Africa. While convenient, this area was not where we both expected him to truly flex his skills. His research into old tongues had also given him an appreciation of history and archaeology, and we were on the track of something much older and stranger than South African language. With the combination of my own intrepid abilities in exploration and bushwhacking and the Doctor’s quick linguistic wit, we believed there was no way our quarry could evade us. Not a day goes by that I do not regret that our belief was right.
Shortly after our twosome arrived at our La Paz apartments, we began to inquire after our goal, and after the actions and whereabouts of a talkative white man in a bicorn hat. This man was my good friend Charles McAlister, known back home in Providence for his effervescent manner and signature archaic headgear. It was McAlister who had given us the information that precipitated our trip. He had spent three years in Bolivia, both in the cities and among the small jungle villages, where often old languages and customs run deep. It was from the latter that he first heard rumors of an ancient city deep in the primeval jungles of the Amazon. Supposedly, this city was ancient beyond the memories of man, built of Cyclopean blocks of basalt covered with indecipherable decisions. Supposedly the place’s original inhabitants had died out millennia ago, but such were the rumors of their sacrilegious dark arts and disgusting acts of cannibalism and human sacrifice that none of the locals had ever tried to enter the place or make it their own. In fact, the ancient inhabitants of this supposed city were so feared that it was a taboo to speak of them or their now-overgrown home. McAlister only managed to obtain so much information by plying the locals with expensive whisky.
McAlister had related all this and more to me in a letter which I’d received a few months ago. Besides the information above, he informed me that the rumored location of the ancient city was a day’s march from a southerly village called Yaku-Sumaq, literally meaning good water in the local dialect. McAlister concluded by saying he was departing to Yaku-Sumaq the next morning in search of the nameless city. The date next to his signature was from several weeks before I received the letter.
I was vaguely interested in the matter of the ancient city, and awaited correspondence from McAlister regarding his mission. However, nearly two months passed without a peep from him. However, at that time a letter from Bolivia arrived in my mailbox. Its writer was an English expatriate called Samuel Browne, who lived in La Paz. Charles had left my address with him, along with instructions to mail me were he to go missing. According to the letter, this condition had been met: McAlister had not been seen since a few days after he wrote the original letter. After a short internal deliberation, I decided that I must go to Bolivia to find him. However eccentric he was, he was my good friend since childhood. Due to the ancient mysteries that potentially figured in Charles’ disappearance, I decided it would be necessary to bring along an expert, and I found an eager one in Dr. Braithwaite. As soon as I related the rumors of the ancient city to him, his eyes sparkled in scholarly fervor and he agreed to take ship with me to Bolivia.
As I said, Dr. Braithwaite and I began searching for Charles McAlister as soon as we arrived in La Paz. The final location we visited was the home of Samuel Browne. Browne welcomed us in, poured some tea, and asked “Mr. Dowd, I presume? You are here to inquire about the whereabouts of Mr. McAlister?”
“Yes, I am,” I replied. “Have you seen him since mailing me?”
“I’m afraid not,” Browne said. He was here months ago in that ridiculous old hat to give me your address, and since then I have seen neither hide nor hair of him. I believe it’s been more than month now. A few weeks ago I heard rumors of an oddly-dressed foreigner out in one of the jungle villages, but that’s it.”
This was disquieting news. I had entertained a feeble hope that Charles had turned up sometime between receiving Browne’s letter and our arrival, but it seemed this was not the case. “When he visited you last,” I asked, “what did you notice? Any strange behaviors? Stranger than normal, I mean?”
Browne rubbed his hand against his chin, as if stroking a nonexistent beard. “Hmmm…He was talking quite animatedly about some sort of ruined city when he visited. He left on an expedition to find it the next day.”
“Did he mention any sort of planning for his expedition? Buying provisions? Hiring porters or guides?” I said.
Browne frowned. “Nothing of the sort. Only that he hoped to be at his destination in less than a week’s time.”
I sighed. It was just like McAlister to go haring off into the jungle without the slightest preparation. I dearly hoped we would find him safe and sound, but I did not let myself entertain much hope. Dr. Braithwaite and I thanked Browne for his time and took our leave.
It took us a week to get to Yaku-Sumaq, seven stinking days in the back of a donkey cart. As much as I’d mentally admonished McAlister for not adequately preparing for his jungle trek, we had not done much better. In the interest of haste, between the two of us we had nothing but some long-keeping provisions, bushwhacking supplies such as machetes, hatchets, and rope, firestarting equipment and some camping pots to boil water and cook in. It was our plan to try to hire a guide who knew the local jungle in Yaku-Sumaq itself.
We arrived as the sun was setting on our seventh day on the road. To our surprise we found not the squalid collection of thatch-roofed hovels we had expected, but a relatively modern set of muddy streets lined with wood-framed buildings, which we later learned had been funded by logging companies interested in the area’s trees. The one closest to us was a tavern, with a barroom on the ground floor and lodgings above. Braithwaite and I walked in, eager to wash a week’s worth of dust from our throats.
The barroom was at about three-fourths capacity, split near-equally between white men and natives of the area. Sitting down at the bar, Braithwaite ordered a pint, and I asked for the same along with two fingers of whiskey. After resting for a few minutes, we began to ask the other patrons about bicorn-wearing McAlister and his mythic, cannibal-haunted destination. No one we asked about McAlister had seen hide nor hair of him. Similarly, none of the whites we asked about the ancient city knew any more of it than we did. Most hadn’t even heard of it before we questioned them. In contrast, the natives said nothing when we queried them, only shook their heads or stared levelly at Braithwaite and I with dark, hooded eyes.
Our information-gathering fruitless, we bought a room from the proprietor. We were about to ascend the steps and prepare for sleep when a voice called to us. “I heard you asking about Qu’xtl earlier.” The voice came from a dark corner of the barroom. “Your friend was asking about it too, weeks ago.”
“Q-Qu’xtl?” I said, mouth stumbling over the weird, almost inhuman syllables.
“The city in the jungle. All built of basalt, and cursed. The one you were asking about. Qu’xtl,” came the gruff reply.
Even the name of our previously unidentified target sent a chill down my spine. The archaic, unnatural syllables conjured up visions of horrid rites perpetrated in darkest night, of fell ceremonies honoring nameless gods forgotten by civilized man.
I paced over to the corner, with Dr. Braithwaite close behind. The cryptic speaker sat at a poorly-lit table, an untouched mug of ale in front of him. His face was as tanned and lined as an old boot, speaking of a life spent out in the elements. He was missing several teeth, and a dull iron ring pierced one ear. We sat down in front of him. “Do you know where this Qu’xtl is located?” Braithwaite asked, his trained mouth pronouncing the name much better than I had. “Did our friend go there?”
“Go there he did, no matter that I warned him not to a hundred times,” the grizzled man replied.
“Why didn’t you tell us earlier?” I barged in. “And I don’t believe I got your name.”
“Haas,” the man said, and stuck out his hand.
I reluctantly shook it. “Jeriah,” I said.
“To answer your other question,” Haas continued, “Qu’xtl is not something that’s talked about in this town. It wouldn’t be good for me to be seen speaking of it.”
“What can you tell us about it?” Braithwaite asked quickly, returning the conversation to the topic at hand.
Haas finally took a swig of his drink. “Them who as built it were an old people, older than anything else here. They’d been dead and gone for eons before the Incas got started. They worshipped a jungle-god whom required human sacrifice, and they ate each other too.”
“Yes, quite scary,” I returned. “We’ve heard it all before. But you say the place’s been abandoned for millennia. Why is it so dangerous now?”
Haas breathed out a long sigh. “Them as go there, don’t return. None of them.”
At this point I practically exploded. I was tired of the man’s cryptic antics. “Then why did you tell McAlister where it was? You’ve killed him!”
At this, Haas met my eyes for the first time. His eyes were old, that much was plain, and full of sorrow. “I warned him,” said Haas in a desperate, almost pleading tone. “ A hundred times and more I warned him, but he wasn’t having it. I believe every man has the right to make his own choices, and your friend’s-McAlister’s-choice was to go to Qu’xtl and doom himself. I…am sorry.” He sagged back in his chair, looking spent and broken.
Braithwaite, who had been ready to intervene after my outburst, relaxed after seeing me do the same.
I sighed and paused a minute to clear my head. “I am sorry as well. You are not to blame for our friend’s disappearance. But still, I would like-“
“A day’s march northeast of here, down a ravine,” Haas interrupted. “You’ll know you’re on the right track when you see the standing stones,”
“Er-thank you,” Braithewaite said. “But aren’t you going to warn us away?”
Haas looked at him. “You wouldn’t listen. You need to find your friend, yes?”
“Yes,” I said firmly. “Now, Doctor, let’s get some sleep.”
Braithwaite looked at me, then Haas. “Er-Thank you,” he said, and the old man nodded. Braithwaite followed me up the stairs, and we both fell asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillow, exhausted after our overland journey.
We woke up bright and early the next morning, and set off to the northeast. For a little while the two of us were able to stay in the cleared area near Yaku-Sumaq, and the going was easy. Then, we reached the edge of the jungle. This part of the forest was relatively young, and our progress was dramatically slowed due to the thick undergrowth. The masses of bushes and vines were tough and spiny, and full of many insects and noisy small animals. We took turns on point hacking our way through with machetes and hatchets, but even with the trading-off going was slow for a few hours. However, after scraping our way through a particularly thick patch of thorny vines we found a reprieve as the underbrush thinned.
We had entered an older part of the rainforest, where the trees had grown so high they had blocked most of the sunlight and prevented it from reaching any plants lower to the ground. Compared to the close-up tangle of the younger section, this area conjured ideas of a huge, natural cathedral. The calls of the animals practically echoed in the spaces between the massive tree-trunks.
It was only a few minutes after entering the older growth that we spotted the first sign of our destination. I would have missed it in the arboreal gloom, but Braithwaite’s keen eyes spotted it. “Look!” Excitedly, he pointed. “That must be one of the standing stones Haas told us about.”
Indeed, it was. Braithwaite was pointing to a tall basalt pillar, about fifteen feet in height. It was as big around as the wheel of an automobile at the bottom, and tapered parabolically to a sort of point at the top. Its great age was evidenced by the thick patches of moss and lichen covering much of its surface.
“Quite impressive that it’s managed to stand this long. But what is that near the top?” I pointed to the metal plaque set into the stone near its apex. It was dark green, as it tarnished, but the verdigris was no color I’d seen before. The moss and fungus on the rest of the stone seemed to have grown around it. Deeply graven into its surface was an odd symbol. It was a five-pointed star with long, wavy arms that reminded me of tentacles. In its center, there was a wide, staring eye.
Braithwaite stared at the plaque for a while, then spoke. “Hmmm. I’ve never seen a pentagram drawn quite like that. Perhaps it represents growth, of plants, or of territory? It could stand for a land feature, like some kind of way-marker.”
“What about the eye?” I said, a bit disappointed with his vagueness.
“That’s a bit easier. The eye is a symbol of vigilance and guarding. It is a mark of warning, one that keeps things out. Or perhaps in.”
I wished I hadn’t asked. Braithwaite’s ominous answer had sent a mild chill down my spine. For the first time, the strange circumstances surrounding Qu’Xtl , combined with the cryptic stone, were making me consider the possibility of the rumored “curse” being in some way real.
Dr. Braithwaite and I continued our march through the old forest. As the sun sunk lower in the sky, we passed three more markers, one leaning over, one toppled by tree roots, and one standing like the first. Each was made of the same black basalt, and each was capped with the star-and-eye symbol on a dark green plaque. I touched the plaque on the toppled column, and the strangely-colored metal sent a strange, undefinably wrong feeling up my arm when I touched it.
Soon after passing the third standing stone, we happened upon a ravine. “This must be where the city is,” said Braithwaite, still managing to sound excited, though both of us were sweating profusely in the Amazonian heat. I gave a nod in response, and we began the treacherous descent into the valley. Most of the time, we got by carefully using trees as handholds, but for a few very steep sections, we had to use the rope. We left segments of it at these steep sections in anticipation of ascending the same way when we left.
It was when we reached the valley floor that the first true sign of horror reached us. Braithwaite was the first to reach the bottom, dropping off of the rope from about three feet off the ground. I, up above him, heard a disgusting squelch closely followed by a yelp of surprise. I jumped down and saw Braithwaite, back against a tree, pointing silently with a look of horror on his face. I looked to where he was pointing and nearly retched.
There on the ground was an abomination, an utter affront to the natural order of the world. It was a patch of human-like flesh, spread on the ground like moss. It had peeling skin burnt red by the sun, and was studded with coarse black hairs. Gangrenous wounds and suppurating lesions mottled it with discoloration and pus. The stink coming off it was astounding, and as I stared at in in terror I realized its surface was slowly moving up and down, as if it was respiring.
From my left, there was a choked sound from Braithwaite. “Wh-wh-wh-wh-“
“Stop!” I cut him off. “Hold yourself together. Remember our mission. Remember McAlister.” At this Braithwaite took several deep breaths and calmed himself. “But what is-“
“It doesn’t matter. That’s not why we’re here.” Despite my stoic outward appearance, I was at least as shaken up as Braithwaite. That thing on the ground was [i]wrong[/i].
We started moving up the valley. We saw more and more patches of the flesh-moss, on the ground and once crawling up a tree. All of it was an unhealthy and reeking as the first patch. We also began to see evidence of ancient structures. There were foundations and toppled walls and stacks of Cyclopean blocks, all made of the same basalt as the standing stones. Finally, we reached an arch of the same material, about twenty feet high. Beyond were buildings more intact than any we had so far seen. It was the entrance to Qu’xtl proper.
Braithwaite and I went through, studiously avoiding patches of the flesh-stuff growing under the arch. The only sounds were the strange, choked calls of the monkeys in the trees. They sounded somehow…off to me, though at the time I did not know why. Immediately after passing through, we noticed the evident sophistication of the buildings. They were built of massive basalt blocks, cunningly joined without mortar and even reaching two stories in some places. There were what we surmised to be residences, granaries, offices of government, and a paved square that could have been a marketplace. Evident throughout it all was great age. The buildings were far too old and weathered to be as sophisticated as they were, at least according to conventional archaeology. Despite the oldness, none of the buildings seemed to have any sort of plant life on them. Instead, the loathsome flesh-moss crawled up walls and around doorways like the fat surrounding a glutton’s heart.
Set into some of the walls were sunk reliefs made of the same dark green metal as the plaques on the standing stones. The ones in the residential buildings showed a wide variety of scenes, from farming and hunting with slings and what seemed to be relatively modern plows, to scenes of cannibalism and ritual sacrifice to horrible to describe. Nothing significant could be learned from these reliefs until we reached what seemed to have been Qu’xtl’s Capitol building.
While it had originally been two stories, the top floor had blown over in some storm and its pieces scattered. It was among these we found the most significant relief. It showed the tentacle star and eye symbol that had been on the standing stones, but much larger. Under it was incised some writing in a strange alphabet I had not seen before. Braithwaite’s eyes, however, lit up when he saw it. “Why, it looks like a degenerate form of Sumerian cuneiform! No, a protoform! Though, how could it have gotten to Mesopotamia, hmm, perhaps-“
“Can you read it?” I interrupted, gently as I could under the circumstances.
“Er-yes, just a minute.” He stared at the dense writing. “It says ‘Thus it is, and so shall it be, for YOG-SOTHOTH is and shall be, and He is the spawn of YOG-SOTHOTH. He grows, and rots, and grows again, for he is the Hungry Pestilence-just a moment, this next word is odd-for he is the Hungry Pestilence, N’HOR-N’TH.’”
At this last word, this hellish name, my blood ran cold. I had seen these names once before, in an often-banned occult tome owned by an acquaintance named Pickman. It was the Genus Caelestia Sphaera, the Lineage of Celestial Spheres, and it purported to be a list of the incomprehensible and horible gods that even now slept and warred throughout the cosmos and the darker spaces outside of it. If Braithwaite was reading the name correctly, and the book was to be believed, the so-called “curse” of Qu’xtl was all too real.
I did not tell Braithwaite of the horror that struck me, as he was an academic and did not put much stock in the supernatural. We merely continued up the ravine until we reached its end, still with no sign of McAlister. The end of the valley was a cliff of stark black stone. At its base was a wide doorway, its frame and jamb made of precisely chiseled basalt. Above it, cut into the cliff, was a strangely asymmetrical five-branched symbol. The workmanship was very rough and primitive, as if the chiseled symbol was even older than the rest of the city. Perhaps this tunnel was the mine from which the basalt was quarried. The darkness inside looked cold and foreboding. Even more troubling, though, was the fact that the flesh-moss made a solid carpet inside the tunnel. As much as it revolted me, I was going to have to go in there to look for McAlister.
“Stay here,” I told Braithwaite. “If I’m not out in half an hour, get the hell out of here and try to get help.”
“Are you really going to-“
“Yes. I have to.” I removed the flashlight from my pack and plunged into the darkness. My feet sank into the fleshy substance coating the floor, and I thought I could feel it breathing faster as I passed, like it was angered or upset. The stench was so thick I worried I would ignite it with the torch. Luckily, the passage was relatively short. It widened into a massive cubical room cut into the mountain itself. I exhaled in relief to be out of the close confines of the tunnel, but by reprieve was short-lived, for I then laid eyes on the thing in the center of the room.
It was a massive lump of flesh, higher than a man and three times as wide. Its skin was oily, scabrous, fishlike. Weeping sores and tumorous, malignant lumps covered its entire surface. As the light of my torch fell upon it, it shivered with a jiggling motion that nearly made me vomit. The lumps and tumors upon its skin shifted and swirled, until a sort of crease opened and a massive, pus-filled, weeping eye peered out from within. It focused on me and in that instant I know that I nearly went mad at the knowledge it filled me with. Mercifully, I have forgotten most of it, but I still dream of what’s left. Even in the waking world, I imagine the fields of graves and coruscating swirls of blackness on darkness that it showed me, and I nearly faint.
After a moment the eye closed, but the crease that had concealed it soon opened again. This time, something new was behind it.
It was thirty feet of lesion-crusted horror, the thousands of blackened teeth in multiple rows relatively tiny. Human.
Stuck in some of them, I saw a chewed, sodden, bicorn hat.
It was then that I broke and ran. Behind me the thing gargled in its cave, and I felt a tug on my pants as I sprinted. I dared the briefest of glimpses downward and saw that the flesh-carpet beneath me was studded with mouths. I somehow managed to avoid them until exiting the tunnel, where the flesh thinned out. “RUN!” I screamed to Braithwaite, but he was already doing so. We tore through Qu’xtl as if the devil himself was behind us. I knew it was actually something worse. The air was filled with the choking and gargling of the flesh-moss. I dodged the patches as best I could. At one point Braithwaite briefly fell behind with a cry before catching back up. I looked down and saw blood running down his leg. Finally, we reached our ropes and scrambled up the wall of the ravine as fast as we could.
There is not much else to tell. We did not stop in Yaku-Sumaq, only re-hired our donkeys and rode back to La Paz, taking half the time the first trip has. During this time, Braithwaite’s leg began to turn gray and break out in sores. By the time we reached Arica, he was delirious with fever and the tumors had turned his leg into a 150-lb cylinder of diseases flesh. The ship’s surgeon cut it off, cauterized the stump, and had the vile thing thrown overboard, but it was too late. Braithwaite’s entire body greyed and developed lesions. He lasted two weeks. He weighed a quarter ton in tumors and his flesh was sloughing off his bones at the end. I myself spent the rest of the journey too drunk to think or even remember.
Soon after my arrival home, alcohol lost its effectiveness and I turned to morphine to forget. That worked for a while, but then stopped just like the rum had. Hopelessly addicted, I checked myself into this convalescent’s home. I’ve been saving my daily ration for nearly two weeks, and tomorrow it all goes into my veins. I’ll finally forget for good. But first, I wrote this manuscript, and will soon post it to the Miskatonic University library as a warning. It is too late for me, but not for you, reader, so here is my advice: do not dig too deeply in the old places of the world. The things inhabiting them do not die, but merely dream, and it is all too easy to wake them.
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