From a Time Before
The Expedition to Malo-Moko Island
© 2015 by Richard Messer
Lanterns had been lit and set around the roughly circular room. Stone rubble still covered the flooring of the room though the wall had been almost exposed for inspection. A couple of the Miskatonic University graduates who were skilled in photography had set up cameras on tripods to record any finds made in the rubble.
“A few of the pottery shards found up here were just out in the entryway, while the disk was said to have been unearthed in this hallway.”
James Baxter had been pointing towards the cave mouth before indicating the short passage that led to it from the room. The English simian nodded, noting how that cave entrance had a slight downward angle towards the steep slope outside. Sir Albert then turned towards the afore-mentioned passage that was at right angle to the entrance. It reached about ten feet in length before ending in a blank wall. A couple of the student archaeologists where carefully lifting aside stone and placing them into baskets for removal. They talked quietly to themselves over what stone had been where, all the while making sketches in an artist’s pad.
In the main round room some other students were busy with broad paint brushes and sweeping the wall of dust. They wore bandannas soaked with water over their mouths. Others were taking rags dipped in buckets of water and wiping the wall after those with brushes. The chimpanzee watched all this in silence, large hands held behind his back as he bent forward for a closer look. His black eyes narrowed as something was vaguely evident on the wall. He stepped in after the last student had washed the wall and fitted his glasses to his nose. Peering through them the simian swept the damp section of wall before him, as something odd seemed to be present. Reaching into a pocket of his bush jacket he took out a leather case and opened it. Set within the velvet lining were several dental picks. Selecting one, he snapped the case shut and put it away. And with pick in hand Sir Albert rested his other hand high up on the wall while he carefully scratched at the object of his curiosity.
Whatever the encrustation was it slowly flaked away to reveal a rune etched into the wall material. And following the vague pattern he soon revealed the entire rune. It looked somewhat familiar, but at the moment that thought was set aside.
“James, old boy!” the archaeologist called out over his shoulder. “Do come here and look at this!”
Baxter left the students in the side passage. He stepped up beside the simian. “Find something?”
The peer pointed to the rune he found. The buck leaned forward then gasped. He fumbled in the pocket of his jacket to extract the disk he still carried. The young whitetail turned the disk around until he could find the rune in question. Then he held the disk up to the wall so that both archaeologists could see the comparison. They looked at each other, eyes wide.
“Well, sir,” James Baxter said huskily, “they do appear to match.”
Sir Albert nodded. “Aye that they do.” Both quickly called the other students over to point out the discovery before issuing orders to begin clearing the wall of whatever had been used to plaster over the engravings.
It was well passed mid-afternoon that the work halted to give the students a chance to eat a late lunch. The photographers repositioned their equipment, took light readings, and then flashed a few pictures of the area that had been cleared. What had been a bare wall, now revealed an inscription roughly four feet high and a little more than two feet wide. It was all set at a height for someone to read without having to tilt their head up or down to see. Another student was carefully drawing out the alien inscription on an artist’s pad for later study.
Both the simian and whitetail spoke softly to themselves, pointing towards something odd or unique in whatever the message might be.
“The runes do run in a vertical pattern, much like most Asian scripts.” Baxter made an up and down hand motion as an illustration.
The English representative of the Howard Carter Society gave a brief tilt of the head in assent. There was the soft clicking of a pipe bit being tapped against large teeth. Wednesday set the pipe into his mouth and spoke around it.
“And these vertical lines between the rows seem to indicate a separation between sentences, somewhat like the Egyptians.”
James Baxter gave the older fur a sidelong glance. “Or like those early books the Chinese made on strips of bamboo. The ones that can be folded up and bound for storage.”
This made Sir Albert nod again. “Yes, it does, doesn’t it? Also it follows the cuneiform style of Mesopotamia, too.” He glanced in turn to his younger American colleague. “You might be onto something, lad.”
The opossum who had been drawing the inscription came up to the pair.
“Sir, I’ve seemed to have found something unusual in the lettering.”
Baxter turned towards him. “What’s that, Anderson?”
The student held up the pad for them to see in the lantern lights.
“Well, Mr. Baxter, after studying this ‘message’ it appears that these runes are more like letters, you know, maybe an association with vowels and consonants. If you look here on my pad, you’ll see in some places a small grouping of these runes, while in others the number is greater, with a clear space between the groupings.” He looked up at his superiors. “I believe that these are more like separate words than phonetic groupings as in some other languages.”
The whitetail buck mulled this over in his mind. “Anderson, how can you be so sure?”
The marsupial swallowed then spoke. “It’s these indicators here, sir. If you’ll notice this large circle at the top of the column for starters. It’s a circle, not a large dot. Then when you follow the line of runes down this column to the next, you’ll see that it ends with this horizontal rectangle here and has two small squares to either end. And that large circle appears again afterwards, repeating this pattern with each string of runes.”
The chimpanzee noblefur looked at the opossum. “And you are sure of this, Mr. Anderson?”
The young American felt his stomach tighten up a little at being questioned by this foremost archeologist. But he wasn’t going to back down in the presence of his own site director.
“I’m quite sure, Sir Albert. I believe these large circles suggest that the first rune may be a capital letter, as in a Western style of writing, while the two squares supporting the rectangle could be a period.”
The simian took to tapping his teeth with his pipe bit while studying the ‘writing on the wall’.
“You could be correct, Mr. Anderson, you could be correct.” He glanced at the nervous student, and smiled! “Now then, young sir, I suggest you take your pad out into the sunlight and recreate it as we would write it”
Anderson bobbed his grey and white head in relief and stepped out of the chamber.
“Trying to scare the devil out of my people, Sir Albert?” Baxter raised an eyebrow at his colleague.
The other merely shook his black head, grinning while doing so.
“Nothing of the sort, Mr. Baxter, just trying to gauge his conviction on the subject. And I pretty much had arrived at the same conclusion. But I wanted him to get the credit for this insight.”
The buck could only shake his antlered head, a smile on his face. Giving credit where credit is due wasn’t often given in the academic world where everyone was trying to make a name for themselves in hopes of greater status and tenure, and a larger paycheck. He was about to say something in regard to that when Baxter felt an odd shaking under his feet. He stood frozen, not sure what it was or what to do when someone shouted, “Earthquake!”
He was taking a step towards the opening to the outside; Sir Albert offering a hairy hand to help when something caught the buck hard between the antlers . . .
* * * * * * *
The sun was bright overhead as he stood leaning on his hands against the red wood railing. He paused to briefly study the sleeves of his jacket. The material was plain in its color and cut but the style reflected a simplicity for everyday wear. Similar to either Chinese or Japanese peasant wear, only more fitting for ceremonial use.
The plaza was a controlled chaos of purchasing and celebration. The stalls flew colored banners and flags; the throng of vaguely familiar creatures were dressed in their best clothing. Some of the women had swept up their manes into elaborate styles, with strips of colored ribbons plaited in and held up with ornate pins. A number of them wore long kimonos and tabi belts; others had short light jackets and long skirts. Their male counterparts were dressed in jackets, trousers and sandals like his own.
Around the plaza flew similar pennants from the balconies. Some bore glyphs or runes in rainbow colors. But there quite a number that shown the vaguely familiar dot within the two concentric circles with the four short legs on the outer perimeter.
On a whim he looked up the boulevard to his right, towards the collection of buildings on the rise, when he saw the procession making its way down towards the plaza. The front four of those tall ogre creatures wore a cuirass of some bright white material that glowed in the sunlight. On their broad heads they sported a turtle-shaped helmet of the same material. Each carried a large round shield on the left arm while the right hand held a large halberd upwards with ease. Behind these guards strode a half dozen ogres with gleaming bronze Oliphant’s while another six bore trumpets of bright brass. These dozen of the thick-bodied guards had straight bladed swords at their hips.
His eyes passed over these figures swiftly, the one figure foremost in his mind when he saw her once more. Behind the trumpeters were another dozen of the halberdiers, and safety within their ranks were the anubians that haunted his first dream. He ignored the two males he believed were priests from their dress and mien, as well as the following retinue of feline and simian women dressed in elaborate gowns of colorful silks. There brought up the end of the train a third squad of halberd-armed ogres.
That long straight mane was bright as a dark night sky, her jewelry flashing in the sun. In contrast to the ladies in waiting this goddess figure was wrapped in a filmy cling of pale gold. The material clung in the right places, accenting the swell of her breasts and roundness of her buttocks, while sliding sensually over those long legs during her hesitant stepping.
He noted how her long slender hands were held palms together at waist level, fingertips pointing forward. Also, her lips appeared to be moving, as if in prayer, and her eyes were downcast. Just then the bearers of the Oliphants brought their instruments up to thick lips and blew. A deep bellow resounded out into the plaza, to be highlighted by the upper peals of the trumpets.
All activity halted as the crowd turned to the announcement coming from the opening of the boulevard. Everybody, including the stall owners, flooded out to form a rough line along the intended route of the coming party. Along the balcony and on the ground floor, others lined the rails and cheered in an unknown tongue to the passing parade. He simply stood in silence and stared.
Then an odd incident was played out. As the ensemble made its way by his position, the priestess - or princess – lifted her eyes from whatever meditation held her attention, and looked up to him! His breath paused, his heart skipped a beat, and his stomach fluttered as this vision of loveliness deigned to look up at him!?
To look . . . at him . . .