This tale, like so many before it, begins once upon a time, in this case three weeks prior to tonight, some many thousands of miles away from here. Where exactly "here" is and the locale described above are of little consequence. For the purpose of this story, the reader may fill in the blanks with any civilized city or town in the Western World and any ancient, long-forgot cradle of mankind in the darkest recesses of the undiscovered corners of the world.
Barely twenty-three days ago, deep in the jungles of _, a curious discovery was made by my childhood friend, a rather well-traveled explorer named Roger Pettingford. Since the age of ten, Roger had had the urge to explore every mystery he was presented with, from drainage tunnels to seaside caves in our hometown. He even once explored the remains of a partially burnt-out brewery, a tale as thrilling as it is irrelevant to this present plot.
So as old Rog was trekking through some God-forsaken jungle, still weak from a recent bout of malaria (his fifth), he quite literally stumbled upon a terrific discovery: there in the middle of a jungle thought forever devoid of habitation stood the crumbling, half-buried remains of the largest stone temple he'd ever laid eyes upon.
His descriptions of the temple and its surroundings in his letters were so beautifully rendered that I cannot hope to do them justice lest I take to plagiarism and copy them verbatim. His words painted pictures so vivid that upon finishing his tale I could swear that I had witnessed the site with my own eyes. He described massive stone blocks hewn so squarely and fitted together so perfectly that not even the water from his canteen could find access to their joints. The carvings were described as being so perfect and of such artistic mastery that he believed no primitive minds could have conceived them, nor could primitive hands possibly have the talent to rend such masterpieces from solid rock.
"Their intellect," my friend had said in one letter, "must have been great indeed, for the mathematics alone required to design these pieces boggles even my own learnêd mind."
I had not responded with that which had first sprang to mind, which was that the Pyramids of Ancient Egypt cannot, in these modern times, be recreated by current means. Instead I merely responded that I greatly looked forward to his return, whereupon we could discuss his discovery at greater length and with the added benefit of photographs and perhaps even small artifacts.
It wasn't until just three days prior to this present recollection that I heard from my dear friend Roger, and this time it was in person. He had shown himself at my door at a quarter of two in the morning. As it happens, I am a life-long bachelor and so live alone; I shudder to think how a wife would have reacted to such spirited knockings at the front door in the middle of the night. As it was, I was rather startled myself, answering the door with revolver in hand. As a patent lawyer, I am not a rich man, but I am a man of modest means and not so incredibly the potential target of a burglar. The reader can imagine my relief when my call of, "Whoever goes there at this hour?" was answered with the jubilant shout of, "It is your oldest friend, Roger, and if you shall permit me, I am prepared to prove it to you!" I of course wrenched the door open with great enthusiasm for my friend, all thought of the lateness of the hour gone.
As Roger strode excitedly into my foyer, I noted that he carried with him a smallish package, wrapped in plain brown paper and about the size and shape of a human head, underneath his left arm. His clothing, khaki from head to toe, was filthy and sweat-stained. It looked to my untrained eye that he had been wearing them for the entire duration of his journey.
"Roger!" said I, hastily stowing my gun in the pocket of my housecoat. "You look as though you haven't bathed in a fortnight! Have you not even been home yet?"
At this point my friend stepped, quite unprompted, into my parlour, wherein he set the head-sized package down upon my wet bar and poured himself a liberal glass of scotch, which he downed in one. He then poured himself another which he nursed for the duration of our rather incredible conversation.
Roger proceeded to spin for me a fantastic tale of his time in the jungles of _, and specifically of his exploration of the hidden temple mentioned in his letter.
"The temple!" he cried. "The temple, my boy! You would scarcely believe what we discovered in the temple!"
"So you found entrance, then?" I inquired. "You actually went inside?"
"Into the very bowels of Creation and beyond," Roger exclaimed. "What we mistook for the temple structure was merely the grand entrance to something even greater. I cannot even describe it properly in words, for inside were things beyond description.
"As deeper we went, we seemed to pass from this world into another. Who built the structure and when we were unable to determine; but what we could plainly see was this: the surface temple complex, old as it was, was in fact built atop a subterranean construct dating further back than any site I have in all my years explored."
He spoke at length about penetrating hundreds of yards into the earth, of all manner of odd creatures he had encountered therein, from massive albino bats to phosphorescent cave slime that seemed, unlikely as it may sound, to move with purpose of its own accord.
"But Roger," said I, "what you describe is merely a natural cave formation. Whatever leads you to believe that it was artificial in origin?"
Roger shook his head. "The floor had been leveled, the walls smoothed. Untold aeons of rainfall had flooded a great deal of it and left deceptive deposits of detritus, but I have seen enough manmade marvels to recognize the touch of sapience in its design. The layout was purposefully designed by an intelligence, one I daresay which is greater than the most brilliant architects of our age.
"Deeper and deeper we trekked," Roger continued, "into the very crust of the earth, following what pathways were available to us that were not flooded by centuries of rainfall.
"The further we went, the stranger things became. On the surface, I should note, we observed a recurring race of humanoid reptilians intermixed with the humans in the intricate bas-reliefs about which I wrote you. These beings, we surmised, must be their gods, since all primitive cultures must ascribe everything from the setting of the sun to the falling of rain to some supernatural being or another. But as we drove ever vigilant into the earth, we began to come across more carvings, these exclusively of the bizarre reptilians and very evidently carved by a different hand than those upon the surface. These showed the creatures in such life-like detail that one might have imagined them merely sleeping, able to awaken at any moment and resume their godly duties.
"It was at this juncture that my two black African guides, highly competent and exceedingly brave in our travels 'til that point, abandoned me in abstract terror. Refusing to journey any deeper, they fled for the surface with their apologies and, to this day, I have never seen them thence.
"But I, my education having purged all sense of silly superstition from my mind, soldiered on alone, intent on learning more about these odd reptilian deities.
"However, the further I pushed, the more I began to suspect something altogether different was afoot than what I had previously surmised."
"Whatever do you mean, Roger?" I asked. "Surely you don't believe those creatures actually existed, do you?"
"My boy, that is precisely what I began to believe."
Now, gentle reader, I too scoffed at the absurdity of such a claim. Imagine, a whole race of lizardmen building temples in the rainforest! It was ludicrous!
"That's ludicrous!" said I. "You must be joking, Rog! Just exactly what proof have you?"
At that point, Roger grinned widely and patted the paper-wrapped package which had, over the course of the previous hour, completely fled my recollection. Gingerly he untied the string which kept the wrappings firmly affixed to the object and began to peel back the paper.
To my amazement, he held in his hands a dirty brown skull, the bone stained by untold aeons. But it was unlike any skull I had ever seen. It was vaguely human in size and shape, but there were things very wrong with it.
"Rog," said I, "would you be so kind as to tell me the species of origin of that cranium?"
Roger, still grinning like a lunatic, answered, "I call them Homo Reptilia. They were real, my friend. As real as you or I. And they were building before any civilization of the ancient world."
I shook my head incredulously. "This is ridiculous, Roger. Certainly if these things existed, there would be further proof. This…this could be an unknown animal, or a deformed human."
Rog held up the skull. "Look at it," he said. "Really look at it. Look at the spacing of the eyes, the cranial ridges, the structure of the jaw and its small predatory teeth. All reptilian. But look, look! Look at the internal structures, the sinus, the brain cavity. Look at the size of it, man! Their brains were as big as ours!"
"And just what happened to them?" I inquired, my patience with his lunacy growing thin, though admittedly I had no explanation for the origin of the skull. "If they were such marvels, where are they now?"
"I believe I know the answer to that, my friend, if you will just bear with me a little while longer."
I nodded and he continued.
"I located a text within the underground complex. It was in a script unlike any that I or any other educated man had ever seen before. But as luck would have it, some of the local tribesmen were familiar with the temple site and, through their traditions, the tale of the ancient people. They translated the text and it told a fascinating tale.
"According to the legend, which I am certain now is no legend, the lizard people, called Oa, lived in peace with the local human tribes until It'sa, one of the gods of man, offended Traal, a god of the reptilians. For many centuries, the gods and spirits of the land waged war on each other. In the end, the gods of man triumphed and banished the Oa underground, where they perished within a handful of generations and were forgotten. The text goes on to say that on the brink of great upheaval, when the gods of man are at their weakest, the Oa shall return and take their rightful place on the surface, reaping bloody vengeance on mankind for the sins of their gods."
"But what does that mean, Rog? 'The brink of great upheaval.' This is 1914, man. We are civilized people. What great upheaval could weaken the so-called gods of man?"
"Of that I cannot speculate," Rog admitted. "But I tell you, I believe."
"But why, Rog?"
Roger downed the last of his drink before answering. "Because, dear boy, I have met Traal and he has told me so."
I am embarrassed to tell you, the reader, that at this point, I demanded that Roger leave my home at once. It was clear to me at the time that he had completely lost his mind. I could not know then how wrong I was, but I am merely a human man and subject to the weaknesses inherent within.
For two days, I confined myself to my home. Roger came calling thrice but I refused to receive him, so certain was I of his madness. But on the third day—that is to say, today—my curiosity got the better of me.
I sent to him a brief telegram comprised of just six words: "I SHOULD LIKE TO KNOW MORE."
He replied that I should meet him at his home at eight this evening, just three hours prior to the writing of this manuscript. And oh, how those hours seem like lifetimes ago!
I arrived promptly at eight, as I am wont to do (I believe very strongly in punctuality, but that is neither here nor there), and was met immediately by my friend. He led me into his den, a room so thoroughly filled with treasures from his travels that one could scarcely move for fear of knocking into some priceless historical piece from as far off in geography as it was in time.
Fresh straw littered the dusty and threadbare rug and a number of wooden crates stamped with all manner of exotic locations sat with lids ajar, their contents cradled in ratty nests of packing material.
Roger offered me a drink but I declined, wishing to remain clear-headed for what threatened to be an incredible and altogether insane conversation.
"I cannot thank you enough, my friend," Roger proclaimed. "My tale must be told, lest I begin to doubt that it even transpired."
"My dear Rog," said I, "That has still to be determined. However, I am willing to listen to your conclusion."
Roger nodded. It wasn't until that moment that I beheld just how altered his appearance was from just the other night. His skin glistened with a sheen of sweat and his complexion was sallow, even sickly. There was a subtle weakness in his stance and I believed that his malaria had perhaps returned.
"I am fine," he assured me, as if reading into my private thoughts. "I must relate my story." He then proceeded to spin a tale of primordial gods, older than the concept of time, ancient already when our life-giving sun first flared into existence and shed light into our dark corner of the cosmos.
"Inside the heart of the temple," he related, "was a chamber. But to call it a chamber is to call a cannon a flyswatter. The irrational thought that I had somehow reached the center of the earth possessed my mind for longer than I prefer to admit."
At this juncture, Roger was pacing the room like a caged lion. Sweat poured freely down his face now; he looked overcome with fever and quite ill.
"In the center of the chamber," he continued, "stood an altar, seventy feet high if it was an inch. The altar was wrought in gold and some strange black metal which I have never before seen in all my years.
"It was molded after a hand with splayed claws which I immediately recognized as belonging to the lizard-like Oa. Within the fingers, sitting snugly in the palm, was a flawless red ruby the size of a bull African elephant. And it seemed to cast a glow from its own internal light, rendering everything with a ruddy tint.
"And as I stared into this heavenly crystal, hours must have passed; or maybe it was even days, for when next I became conscious, I felt a stubble of beard that I cannot explain. I had only that morning shaved. In this missing time, I remember I was shown things. I was shown the vision of a god. He identified himself as Traal, a god of the Oa people.
"He took the form of an Oa and spoke to me, but not in conventional words; Traal spoke within my mind. He showed me images of the might of the Oa people at their height. And he showed me their fall."
The more Roger spoke, the more unhinged he seemed to become. He tied his fingers in knots as he told his tale and looked to me to be verging on physical pain. But he stubbornly insisted on soldiering on.
"Traal related to me that the world was as the dawn of a new age, one of death and despair. He said that the gods of mankind were warring with themselves and that soon—oh, so very soon!—their war would spill out across the globe and the time of the Oa would once again be at hand.
"And then he touched me," Rog said, a sudden vitality shining in his eyes. "I was touched by a god!" he proclaimed, clutching at his breast. "He imparted into me a piece of himself. He told me that I would play an integral role in the rebirth of the Oa. And what an honour it will be, my friend! The Oa were such a terrific and noble race!"
It was at this point that I felt compelled to stop him. "Roger," I said, "you are my oldest and dearest friend and it pains me to my very core to say this, but I implore you to seek help! Come with me to the doctor, for you are clearly ill, delusional!"
"No!" he cried. "No! I was touched by the divine!" Quite startlingly, he suddenly keeled over onto his knees. "The time is at hand, my friend! Even at this moment, the Oa god works through me, resides within me. You shall soon gaze upon the Oa form as it bursts forth from this feeble shell of humanity. And you, you have the honour—and it is a great honour!—of being the first falling stone of the coming avalanche. You will become one of us, one of the Oa. I could not pass this onto anyone else. It is my final and greatest gift to you."
With that, Roger let out a terrific shriek that seemed to shatter my soul and an unearthly sense befell the room. I felt an energy in the air, as one senses before a large storm. The lamplight flickered and then died, drenching the den in total darkness.
From the floor, I heard the sounds of ripping fabric and bizarre animalistic grunts and growls. As my eyes adjusted to the lack of light, they began to perceive a shape writhing about on the floor. It looked—and I know how incredible it sounds—inhuman. I was so afraid that I fled Roger's home with great alacrity, scarcely slowing until I had traversed the twenty blocks to my own home and my feet hit the paving stones of my drive.
No sooner had I bolted the door than I set out to document my frightening experience, a habit I picked up from my dear friend, whom I left on the floor of his parlour. A part of me hopes that I have overreacted, that the florid language and compelling earnestness of Roger's narration had simply hypnotized me, convinced my mind that his delusions were reality.
But as I jot this down, my hand shakes with the realization that that is not so; for as irrational as it may seem, the events of this evening have played out exactly as I have experienced them and related them to you.
Even now, I hear a shuffling outside my home and I know that it is Roger, that it is the creature he has become. It is only a matter of time before he gains entrance. It is only a matter of time before I, and all of you, have lost our humanity to the Oa. Just a matter of time.