Bogleech.com's 2018 Horror Write-off:
Submitted by C. M. Kosemen (email)
C. M. Kosemen
Every old house in our city had stone tubs – built into the foundation of the structures. I was a young man when I learnt of their origins; and through that, of the Precursors.
New houses – built by people – were beginning to go up by then; but as a poor student, I could only afford to rent an old-type house. The old shopkeeper casually mentioned the origin of the old houses when I walked into his store, asking for nails in order to hang an old photograph. The builders of these houses – those two-storey, basalt-and-obsidian dwellings that perpetually seem covered with ashen-brown dust – were not human.
“Ah-those heavy-eyed-ones,” he said, “were here before us, and needed occasional baths for their eyes, and to breathe properly. Every night they slept in beds of water.”
I was surprised – who were “they”?
So, he said, they built their towns around this need and brought water, even to this parched plateau in this far-off, time-worn corner of the world. “Back when I was your age, I made a lot of money converting their old tubs to dinner tables by adding wooden panels on top of them!” the shopkeeper said.
“Heck, some of the mountain peasants who moved in afterwards were even using them as chicken coops! Of course, you could always ask a stonemason to take a sledgehammer to the things, but the tubs are resilient – the Precursors built them as part of the house’s main structure, and added the rooms around them afterwards… And one thing no one denies about them – they knew how to build…”
He remarked that only old men such as he remembered them, and another casual revelation – that a few of these Precursors still lived, back in his youth… I asked if he could explain further.
“One house in our neighbourhood still had one of them – everyone respected the creature, and it respected us newcomers in turn… Respected, and kept well apart. It eked out an existence by weaving silk scarves – before machines, you see, everyone had to make their clothing by hand! Heh! Every week the fishmonger’s kids took it buckets of squid and eels as the shipments arrived from the coast… I remember the green-glow of the lanterns it hung on the doorstep on special nights – my parents said it was some sort of a holy month for them, and I remember the whistling flute it played at the end of the lantern-hanging season…
Once, two brazen youths of our neighbourhood took offense from the monster’s music – they claimed it was blasphemous, and the bleached flutes it played out of the tiny, triangular window facing their alley were made from the hollowed-out bones from children’s legs. No such thing of course – but how could you convince the lads?! They almost broke in and killed the thing – but the whole neighbourhood intervened, and the hot-heads stepped back. But the flutes stopped after that, and so did the lantern-lights… Not that it mattered – the thing died a year afterwards, and a new family – one of our kind – moved in.
I still remember the body as they took it out of the house – it looked equally like a stork, camel, a human and serpent - and a few other things besides… It looked like a beast, but way it rested; you could still tell that the thing had lived a civilised – if you may call it, a human life…
They carried it out of the neighbourhood – by where the car-repair shops stand now – back in those days there was a Precursor cemetery down there, a garden of jangling monuments… Then the mayor had it walled-off, on the grounds that drunkards and quick-handed prostitutes were taking up residence there…
For two decades it stood, that walled-off little plot with cypress trees and blue palms overflowing from behind the tall, tile-topped walls; in plain sight, and out of mind… Once, after the Depression, a local merchant climbed over the walls and hung himself… His corpse rotted for weeks – the police only noticed it after all the crows and tooth-birds started congregating at the spot. After the Islands’ War, the place was demolished – and, well... Here we are.”
He concluded his long story with a guttural “cluck” sound.
I was flabbergasted. I had an inkling that such things had happened in the past – schoolyard rumours, parents’ talk on holiday dinners and the like – but meeting someone who remembered was a different experience. I asked the man why no one spoke about the Precursors anymore.
“No one can do anything about it – so why bother? Your parents probably knew more about it than they let on – but such is the way of this world… It’s an open secret, and one no one can do anything about… So, it’s best to ignore; everyone plays the blind man’s game, until they really forget...”
“Do you think there were others?”
“Others? You mean other people-things, like the Precursors?”
“But almost certainly… They built the tub-houses we still live in – but those ancient cisterns crouch silently on street corners, up in the old town… Or those carvings on the hills – with those squiggles and angular letters no one can make sense of… At school, do they still tell you they are the work of the Old… Old… Ah-Old-ermm…”
“Old Kings, yes…”
“Yes, thanks for reminding me! Now, ask yourself; how certain are you that the Old Kings were human kings?”
“Exactly! And that’s not the end of it! This world of us is old, son, and I think there used to be others out there, before us all... Layers and layers of lives; like coats of varnish on a rich man’s dining table! And who is to say there won’t be others after us either, no? Look at the stars, kid - the moon, or beyond the tallest mountains… There’s bound to be another prince like Alexander the Great up there; one who will do to us as we did to the Precursors, planning to come down and remake this world of ours...
“Eh? But what would I know; I’m just an old shopkeeper! Now, about those nails you wanted…”