by R.T. Allenson
I remember the city of Cao-Caran, with its golden streets snaking through the long plain, amidst silver-sheen towers that grow upwards, piercing the heavens…
I was eighteen years old at the time; still in college, but having dreams of greater things and travelling distant lands. My friends would refer to me as an antiquarian at best, and weird when they find they can no longer stomach my intricacies.
I was still a budding writer at that time and was ever hungry for knowledge. I surrounded myself with books – almanacs, encyclopedias, and textbooks ranging from the fields of science to the arcane. Alienation was a small price to pay, and I was ever hungry for more.
Everything was relatively normal until I received a particular book, the Nasram Odag, an aged tome of questionable origins. I say questionable for I received the book not from a librarian but from a vagrant who lived in the suburb where I resided as a youth. He never did tell me why he gave the book to me or how he came into possession of such an eldritch tome, and I didn’t have a chance to ask him for he died a few weeks later from the turmoil of his pitiable life.
The book itself was queer in every aspect, and was bound in what seemed to be an animal long extinct or still unknown to science. My initial assumption that it was a handwritten journal was proven true approximately three years later when I finally deciphered the alien language that the Nasram Odag was written in.
Now, I must tell you that although I am a very intelligent man, I had neither the skill nor knowledge to decipher an entire language on my own. I still find it difficult to do some in my studied years, and back then, it was a near-impossible undertaking that would have required several years under some linguists’ tutelage.
I am not ashamed to say that I had help deciphering the Nasram Odag, but I caution you to express a certain level of understanding as to how I deduced the contents of the ancient tome. It is not entirely a happy story, and though I count myself lucky surviving the whole fiasco, I am not without scars of the psychological nature.
Arthur Cruz was a teacher in the college I attended in and his love for the arcane and mystic surpassed my own. It was about three years and a month after I received the ancient tome that he approached me and talked about deciphering its contents. I had shown him the book earlier and though he took an interest in deciphering, he didn’t pursue the matter until then.
I handed him the book after my afternoon class and he then bid me to visit his house which was a few hours away from the school grounds. I arrived at his homestead at around 6:39pm. Cruz had prepared dinner in advance and we ate in silence.
His house was remarkably ancient looking, and looked out of place amidst the rather impressive mansions and villas that populated the subdivision. When I asked him, he told me that the house itself was among the oldest – having been constructed at the twilight of Spain’s rule in our country by his ancestors. Cruz himself struck me as tracing his lineage among the peninsulares, although he made no mention of it at all in any of his lectures or conversations.
When we had finished eating, he led me back to the main hall of his house where I surmised we would start deciphering the contents of the Nasram Odag. Instead, he moved a bookcase which then revealed a hidden staircase leading downwards into the darkness. He explained that the hidden basement was made sometime when the Japanese had invaded the country; a vault where his ancestors waited out the murderous rampage of soldiers.
The winding staircase went downwards until it ended in a small alcove that, after Cruz had moved a hidden panel, revealed the basement proper. He motioned me to enter the dimly lit room, and I saw then his impressive collection of books and tomes, all lined in neat fashion in an equally impressive and ornate bookcase.
In the center of it all was a great circular table where the Nasram Odag lay neatly at its center. He told me that he had prepared for this very moment decipher the book, and it will not be a simple matter of translating using his other texts. When I asked why, he revealed to me the origin of the book.
The Nasram Odag – the ‘traveler’s book’ is one of the few surviving tomes originating from the lost land of Lemuria. Only four have ever been found aside from the Nasram Odag and while the others were of undeniably greater importance, this particular book was reputed to have been written during the last days of the doomed land. Only it’s title has been translated for it was reportedly stolen from the museum it was held in not a day after it was discovered. Immediately, my mind returned to that vagrant from our streets, and wondered if he had stolen the eldritch tome.
Cruz opened the book to its first page, which contained a hand-drawn map of the lost land itself. I had studied the image carefully on my own and his deduction was the same as mine – Lemuria was no continent but a medium-sized archipelago that stretched from the north, all the way to the southern fringes of the Pacific Ocean. The drawing itself was rudimentary at best and not boasting the accuracy of another Lemurian tome, the Ko-Senrai. Still, the map was a clue to the ultimate fate of the lost land, and if indeed was the last of the tomes, painted a grim portrait of a land slowly losing its battle to the unflinching waters.
After scouring the pages of the tome, he eventually settled on a particular page that had a strange reddish stain. He told me that after careful studying, the stain was indeed blood; presumably, from the writer of the book. It was then that he revealed to me the entirety of his plan: he was to summon the shade of the Nasram Odag‘s writer to decipher its text using the blood on the page. He had always waited until nighttime, but it was evident that another person was needed to house the spirit of the dead.
I refused of course, as although I’ve done my share of summoning and sacrifices, I was never on the receiving end. Thoughts of escape immediately vanished when Cruz pointed a revolver at me, forcing me to sit on a chair he had prepared for his ritual. He smiled for the first time since I met him – an unnatural grin born of fanaticism and devotion for a book he scarcely knew about. I sat calmly, poised to strike him if he neared, but never did he close the distance between us; instead pondering safely away from my range as he fumbled about the pages of the book.
It was apparent that he was scraping off the dried blood from the papers, something that was curiously possible despite the age of the tome. The kind of paper used for the book, you see, was different. I surmised that it had been made from a plant native to Lemuria, but the thought of it as leather from an unknown animal also crossed my mind. He scraped the blood directly into a test tube, which he then started heating with his lighter.
When the blood had reverted to its original liquid form, he then emptied the contents of the test tube into a clay cup that he must have prepared beforehand, for it had the distinct irregularities of a handmade item crafted by amateur hands. For a while he regarded his work – the blood, the cup, and myself, and then as if in a trance, proceeded to chant beneath his breath.
It was clear that Cruz had a more expanse knowledge of the subject than I had, and it did not strike me strange at all if he had the other Lemurian tomes in his possession. Still chanting, he approached me, and after showing me the instrument of his ritual, sliced my left hand with it. He caught the blood in his hands, and then drew a circle around the cup. Afterwards, he drew strange symbols that I recognized where from the Nasram Odag.
No sooner had he finished scribbling the ancient words when the bowl where the blood had been erupted in a crimson shower. Smoke seemed to rise directly from the cup, and an eerie shadow seemed to have fallen upon us then. Cruz, who was as surprised as I was, instinctively lit his lighter and stared longingly at the foreboding darkness that grew before us.
I was still sitting on the chair when he started chanting again, but this time with a voice that wasn’t his own. The dark presence seemed to have transferred directly to him, which I believe was not his intended outcome for it was with my blood after all that the circle was drawn with and the ancient words were written in. He must have noticed this too for in between fits of chanting, he would let out frightened gasps as if something was choking him.
Cruz turned towards me after what seemed like an hour of battle with the dark presence. His eyes were dilated, almost inhuman, and his mouth stretched down farther than humanly possible. There was a certain loping in his walk, as if the thing inhabiting his body was still getting accustomed to walking with two feet again. A groan escaped his mouth, which then formed into words that were scarcely intelligible.
I was afraid, but I realized that the spirit was still bound by the commands Cruz issued before he was overcome. Blood magic, after all, is the oldest form of magic and the strongest. I stood from my seat and commanded him to decipher the book. Cruz, which was now nothing more than a vessel for the spirit, turned away from me and started limping towards the great circular table.
Taking the Nasram Odag in one hand, he started carving the table with his fingernails. It was a nuisance at first; I’ve always hated the sound of wood being scratched. My irritation turned to horror not long after when I realized that the possessed Cruz had all of his fingernails torn off, but was still continuing to carve the table with his distal phalanx – the very bones of his fingertips.
I tried stopping him, but he was immovable. Even when I whipped his head with his own revolver, he did not stop carving the words on to the table with his bloody digits. There was no sign of pain, no flinching from his face. Only an expressionless facsimile of Cruz’s face that was utterly loathsome to behold.
I left him there in the basement and retired to his living room. I was clutching the revolver in my hand in case something went wrong, resisting the urge to sleep. Three hours passed and I remember that I was half asleep when I heard footsteps coming from the staircase leading to the basement.
I mustered the courage to descend back into the basement when my fears were realized and I saw Cruz clamber from the hidden passage. It stood up, meeting my gaze, and I saw that his right arm was missing its hand, instead ending in sharpened bone that he must have used in carving the table with. A groan escaped his mouth and as he raised his bloody arm to my face, I emptied all six chambers into him, saving the last one for his head. His body fell down the stairs, landing with a crunching thud as he hit the floor below.
I threw the revolver away and after a second composing myself, descended the stairs into the basement. Cruz’s body lay at the very bottom of the stairs, his neck having snapped as it met the edge of the alcove violently. No blood seeped from his gunshot wounds, but his eyes were still the eyes of a man possessed.
The basement was still dimly lit, and the smell of blood hung heavily in the air. The clay cup where the blood had been contained had been spilled, and no smoke rose from it anymore. The Nasram Odag was on the floor near the chair, and the table had been turned over to its side. The writing on the left side was in English, and to the right was a written pronunciation of the Lemurian words. I took a picture of the table and grabbed the tome from the floor.
I remember thinking how I was going to dispose of Cruz’s body when he suddenly rose from his crippled position, and started crawling towards me balefully. He used the jagged end of his left arm as a sort of walking stick as his right arm extended to me menacingly. His eyes, still the eyes of a possessed man studied me from head to toe. It was clear that the spirit was not content with whatever Cruz had promised it.
I was afraid of course, and I considered stabbing the thing again and again with the ceremonial knife, but the spirit would only linger in death. I did the only sensible thing and burned his body. Even if the spirit survived, it had no choice but to wait for Cruz’s body to recuperate, which of course would be impossible as I made sure that there was nothing left of his corpse save for ashes.
I left his house, not caring if anyone would inquire about Cruz’s disappearance. It’s been a couple of years since then and no one has confronted me with the matter. Still, I have nightmares about the Cruz-thing, and what would have happened if things were not so favorable for me.
Even more dreadful are the dreams I have of the spirit – the Lemurian who had written his death-scrawl from the Nasram Odag, transcribing its ancient text on wood with a quill made of bone. Its last thoughts and experiences are now a part of me, and I fear that I will never be rid of it. The noisome waves and the dark-beating sun are etched in my mind as clear as my memories, and I see no respite from it.
Of late I dream of distant Lemuria – its golden streets and silver-sheen spires crumbling beneath the waves, into that unreverberating darkness of the ocean’s depths.