The Case of the Man of Ash: Chapter 5

A Detective Booth Mystery by B.T. Wallace (Rated G)


I had spent a lot of my time investigating the disappearance of a man that held an interesting life, but I would not learn of his story until I dove into his journal. After all, it was all I had that was written in his own hand. I will admit it was difficult to read, as the man did not seem to write in the regular sense of English. Words were spelled phonetically and not accurately. This was when I began to assume I was dealing with a simpler individual. Even this would prove wrong, but I was not ready to admit it then, and I might not admit it now. This is a small leap in the story, one I realize might infringe upon the depths of mystery that began to unveil themselves. 

I first decided to open the journal when I returned to Giuseppe’s residence. It was getting on towards dark, and I had figured out how to use the gaslights in the house. Electricity was not something this man seemed to be interested in. 

I read the journal from cover to cover, and I gleaned quite a lot of information about the life of this man, who, as it turns out, was an archeologist, and having studied at Cairo, London, and even in Rome, it seemed my missing person had quite the history. His greatest goal seemed to discover a purpose for the cyclonic cylinder that Emily Curwen had given me. 

I pulled it out of the case and set it on the table in the living room. I stared at it for a moment to gather my thoughts and thumbed through the journel again. It was in a place that had a charcoal rubbing of some kind of stone. I could not make sense of it: the image did not look like anything I’ve seen before, and the crude relief appeared to be in triangle shapes in different directions. The cylinder of quartz is what was described in the journal to contain a cyclonic effect when held in the hands of a descendent of this individual named Al Hasan ibn Adi. 

 This name sounds completely Middle-Eastern, and in the journal, there is a year referencing this individual: 1254. According to Giuseppe, this man had been slain during a Mongol invasion against some Islamic people of the time calling themselves “the Adawiyyūn”. This was some lesser sect of inconsequential size that seemed to have found an ancient artifact that gave their leader power over the living and the dead. This pushed my knowledge completely outside of my own expertise, but not of my resources. Back in Portland, I have a friend who works in the University Achieves and is an avid historian who might have some clue. 

Again, I turned to the journal of the man whose house I currently occupied for my research. The house itself did not provide me with any evidence with which I could deduce what had happened to the man. Instead, it all seemed a bit out of time—the entire home felt ancient, not simply old, as though it had been in this spot for a long time, perhaps even before the neighborhood homes came in. There was evidence that this area might have been wide open land; it would explain the larger farming plows in the back along with the remnants of horse drawn carts. There were no electrical upgrades at all inside the house, and if one wanted to light the exterior of the home, there was a gas light on a post next to the gate by the road. Other than that, nothing in this home felt modern, and that seemed a little odd. What would leave a man living in a home with no modern equipment? There was no sign that Giuseppe was an Amish person, nor even part of the Mennonite community. He simply lived in a home of such simplicity that it felt strange to me.

In my thinking, I had found myself pacing in a circle that led from the foyer into the kitchen, around the table in the library and living room area. Before too many paces, I began to notice that the floor creaked in only one spot. The entire house had been floored in cedar wood with wax to seal it from that tricky wear and tear associated with time. The creak was right next to where the stairs would climb to the second floor, and the creaking was not the only odd thing in the area—there was a sagging feeling to the floor. When I put my weight on the spot and did a slight bounce, the floor gave just enough. I got down on my knees and looked along the wall edge and the floorboards. There was an obvious spot where the boards lined up in a straight line. I went to the kitchen, found a butter knife, and returned to the spot. I stuck the knife down into the crack and lifted and, sure enough, part of the floor lifted just slightly. A hidden door. 

Of course there was a hidden door. What old house—in the middle of a nowhere town and without a basement—would not have a hidden door? This was not odd, and felt more than downright blaringly noticeable. I kicked myself for not realizing it earlier. I had walked this route when I first was documenting the house, and now, just as I am trying to tie everything together, there is a hidden area under the house. 

I pried the floor up and found not a wooden step ladder leading down, but carved bedrock stone steps leading down into a dark passage that smelled quite damp and strongly of mildew. I did not have a battery light, however, I did take a lantern and light it. The glass was a little cloudy from age, and had a slightly blue tint which bathed everything in inhuman colors. 

As I was descending the bedrock carved steps into the unknown space beneath the house, the scent of mildew and damp earth seemed to wrap around me like a cloak made of heavy wool. The lantern, giving off the bluish hue, did not help with the atmosphere. I had already thought I had experienced enough ghastly quirks that one more would most likely do me in. I ventured further down, and by the time I reached the landing, I had reckoned twenty-two steps. These were not as steeply made as the stairs leading to the upper level of the house, but I had definitely traveled at least two stories down. 

The landing opened up into a wide room after a short hallway. There were no doors; it simply led into a chasm of a chamber. I could hear a soft lapping sound some place in the distance, and as I drew nearer across the large room, I found a pool of water. 

Well, I had told myself then that it was clear and pristine, but it was not. The color of the water was the darkest black of caustic brackishness that even the stone around the pool was darkened by its manifestation. The smell from the pool must have been the odor intoxicating the air. I knelt down and shined the light upon the surface long enough to determine that the water was gently moving and rippling. My conclusion was that it led by cavernous passageways to the bay upon which the fisheries sat upon old docks. 

As I lifted the lantern again and examined the room, a glinting area drew my attention and I walked towards it, stumbling once over some book which had dropped and was covered in a greenish yellow fuzz that I did not want to identify. The glinting that had caught my eye was some kind of knife, if I could call it that. The blade itself was made of the shiniest metal I have ever seen, and it curved back upon itself in the shape of a sickle—except the sharp side was not along the inner curve, but along the outer edge. A couple of candles of beeswax upon a candelabra were easy to light and gave me the first glance of the colors around me. The lantern had bathed everything in a muted blue light, falsifying all it touched. Now, the true color around me shone through. 

Finding a suitable flat surface, I put the lantern down and picked up the knife. As I held it in my hands, I suddenly felt dizzy and nearly dropped it, but I clung to it tightly and could not seem to set it down or let it go. That was when I heard the whisper, and it was not the gurgle of the water at the edge of the chamber. It came from something else close by. 

I looked to my right and, using my free hand, I brushed off a layer of dust and cobwebs that was covering the blackest stone I had ever seen. Two pieces of a tablet of obsidian sat broken, but nearly touching. I placed the knife down, reached over, and drew the two pieces of stone together. Lettering upon the surface seemed to glow for a brief second, and I could hear the sound, the whisper again—guttural noises and sharp hissing sounds, along with what sounded like, “Ah boa pah-ri Yah ga sow tah-t.” 

Whatever it was—that sound, that language—I heard it many times already, but never this clearly. I now found myself staring down at some kind of black tablet of unknown origins with unknown script inlaid with gold. I gathered up the two tablets and the knife, and picked up the lantern. 

There did not appear to be anything further underneath the house. The entire cavern, in its appearance, felt older than the house. Could it be that this had been here long before this land was known as the United States of America and that this was even Oregon? The possibility of its ancestry left my mind reeling in how ancient this cavern was; the house itself was old, possibly early Oregon Territory age. Instead of answers, it seems I was handed more pieces of a puzzle that was packaged without a border. I returned to the stairs and walked back up to the main floor. 

The evening had morphed into night, and I put on the gas lamps throughout the house. I put the items recovered into a briefcase, then sat down to scribble notes into my pad. It was while sitting that I heard an odd thrumming sound—it was not the same as the cavern below the house. Instead, it was as if electric power was arcing up the wires of some Tesla invention. I looked around and could not see anything causing the sound within the house, until I happened to catch a glimpse of my suitcase that held the cylinder. There was definitely something going on. 

As I approached and opened it, I realized the source of the thrumming and flashing light was nothing more than this small thing. I held it up, and when my hand fully encompassed the circumference, my entire arm went numb, and I dropped it. It fell back into the suitcase and, as quickly as I could, I zipped it shut. The thrumming continued, but this time it was not coming from the case. I heard it coming from outside.

As I approached the front door and swung it open, I looked down towards the river. I could barely make out much because the fog had collected in the distance. I could not even see the dock from my vantage point any longer. The fog had become so dense, and the night became shrouded in shadow. The sound of the waves crashing into the pier was soon replaced with a scraping, thrumming, thud. That seemed to move along the wood of the pier. Something caused the sound, and my eyes seemed to follow the scrape, thrum, thud as it beat its way along. The sound shifted slightly, and the fog approached with it, creeping nearer into the town. Like a glacier wave, the fog drifted into town, blocking out the illumination from street lamps and other bits of light. 

The scraping, thrumming, thud was replaced with the sound of dragging, thrumming, squishing. It came closer and closer to the house. I stood affixed to the door, my fingers gripping the frame with whitened knuckles as my eyes remained transfixed on the creeping fog. From out of the darkness, twin lights appeared, and the sound of a car horn, coming from just outside the fog. 

I could hear the engine roaring as the driver put the pedal to the ground. Within a moment, I could see that it was that black Ford of the agent who drove me from Fort Stevens. He was waving his arm out the window, shouting that we had to go. I ran into the house, grabbed my suitcases and the jar of dust, and dashed from the house as quickly as I could. 

I darted to the vehicle and threw open the passenger door. I could hear the weird noise clearly, like an awkward, three-legged animal. There would be two thumps, one right after the other, then the sound of scraping, and all the while, a loud thrum could be heard. It moved slowly, yard by yard, and it was getting so close, now the fog itself was hiding from view all but the neighborhood. 

I climbed into the car, and the agent was yelling something. I could not hear the words because of the overwhelmingly loud noise in the area. Over our heads, a loud rush of wind clapped a sonic bang and suddenly, as if for no reason, Giuseppe’s house exploded. Not blew up. More like something huge slammed into it hard. In that instant, terror overcame both of us, and the car sped out of the area with rubber squealing and engine roaring. We raced from the area as quickly as the Ford engine could take us. We did not stop nor did we slow down, unless a curve in the road forced our deceleration. We only stopped when we had to pull off the road once we got to the airport on the outskirts of Astoria. 

“What in the world was that?” I asked. “Was that a bomb that blew up that man’s house?”

“No, it was not a bomb. We have not actually seen anything like that on this side of the country before,” the agent said.

“What does that mean?” I asked.

“Well, here is your stop,” he said instead of explaining. “There is a plane ready to take you back to Portland. It leaves within thirty minutes. Once you land, there will be a car to take you home.” The agent reached across my lap and opened my door. “Don’t forget your bags, sir.”

I got out of the car and did as I was instructed, then, after a curtsied farewell to the agent, I made my way to the airport waiting terminal. I booked a return flight, which was already prepped and awaiting my arrival—which would have been out of place, except for the interactions between myself and the agent. As I approached the DC-17 airplane, it was a buzz of military personnel, not a civilian aircraft that I expected to be flown on. 

One soldier took quick note of my approach and flagged me down. He ran to greet me with a quick pleasantry about the evening and took my bags. He escorted me to the ladder, well up into the plane, and guided me to my seat. The airplane was clearly a troop transport craft, and not as neatly furnished as the plane my friend flew. There would be no stewardess or inflight snack aboard this flight, of that I was certain. I buckled myself in, and wondered about the situation. No matter who I tried to flag down, no one seemed interested in answering my questions about it.

To be continued…

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