The Tumla

Categories: Case Histories

By Thomas Asbury & Alex Peery, (c) 1999

Dear Jonathon,

Since you are reading this, you can be fairly certain that I am dead, or worse than dead. If events have proceeded as I planned (I suspect that they have, since they depend solely upon that most ubiquitous of human qualities: greed) you are alone in the offices of Deely & McCarsen, attorneys-at-law, a fine cigar in your hand. There is a small sideboard behind you containing a Pinot Noir 1907.

As you sit reading at this conference table, in this private room, no doubt you have already opened that bottle, poured a generous measure, and sipped. Or was it more of a gulp? Consider: the texture, the taste, the bouquet all created over the span of a man’s life. Most men’s lives are worth less than that bottle, with their trivial joys and petty triumphs. Inside that bottle, refinement proceeds steadily and inexorably, while a man’s life stumbles along in fits and starts. A good wine improves with age. This is decidedly not so with humans. It’s a cruel trap, my son, a jest of the Gods, the process of aging and withering. From the moment you’re born, life consists of fading, forgetting, retreating. Dying. I read somewhere that, in terms of human perception, we have experienced half of our life by age twenty-six. Twenty-six! What kind of existence does that allow us? Cicadas have more time on this planet!

But now to business. From the apparent vantage point of having been outlived by a glass of wine, I have some things to tell you, a strange sequence of events. And since your participation will be required later, read with great care.

It began as a typical dream of old, rich men. I created this life, this existence! I alone am the author of my achievements not my parents, not my so-called friends, not our pathetic government, and certainly not, as you well know, my loving offspring. An old man’s hubris, perhaps, or even dementia, but this attitude lead me to two inescapable conclusions: that I deserve better than death, and the general run of humanity are little better than cattle, only more destructive and petty. The conclusion to be drawn from these two premises is obvious I was meant to live beyond my allotted span, and if some people had to die to achieve this, so be it.

Two years ago, as I’m sure you remember, my worthless third wife left me for another man. Wretched woman. The man was younger, of course, more attractive. That day, I looked long at myself in the mirror, and in way I couldn’t blame her. Lines on my face, lines of corruption and decay, the approaching horror of the tomb. I was a walking advertisment for death! This must not be! I, Robert Clarendon, would crush this obstacle as I had all the others that had stood between me and my desires. Nothing would stand in my way. Service in two wars and my career on Wall Street had purged my soul of useless illusions and moral squeemishness. Man’s true nature is thieving, decadent, murderous, cruel, sex-besotted, and above all, greedy. I didn’t go into seclusion two years ago because of the betrayal and loss of my lovely wife as rumour had it. No. I set out to learn the secret of immortality.

I thus began a quest for a new kind of knowledge. Not law and ledgers, accounts and amortization. A different wisdom. Now, I am no scholar, but the thing about having money is that you don’t have to be anything, you simply buy it. However, after consulting fruitlessly with a hundred idiotic physicians, I was somewhat at a loss. I had the money, but the fools who call themselves men of science didn’t have what I wanted to purchase.

I didn’t panic, didn’t lose hope. But I wasn’t sure where to turn next in my search. It was then that I was suddenly, shockingly reminded of a thirty-year-old business deal involving the leveling of several thousand acres of prime Brazilian rain forest, in the Matto Grosso region.

It was quite a shady deal, no pun intended. The on-site Indian liaison had initially performed adequately. But then, towards the end of the project, he had been released after returning from several visits with local tribes blabbing of some sort of quasi-religous experience in the deep forests. I thought at the time he’d probably drunk some hallucinagenic brew with the Indians and then thought he was an eagle, or something. After this incident, when inebriated, he would claim to have acquired access to some kind of special “powers.” Naturally, I paid him no heed (or severence), and fired him; his ramblings were beginning to threaten the success of the whole operation, which was, frankly, not quite legal. Most of his ravings were the sheerest absurdity alien Gods, other dimensions, montrous entities living in cities under the sea, and so forth. But he also spoke of a serum, a tasteless greenish liquid that had the power to slow the body’s aging processes. Even at the time, years ago in that dank green land, this serum business made an impression on me profitable new pharmaceuticals from the infinitely various rainforest flora were a reality. Of course, when I fired him, there was nothing in any way odd or disquieting about the situation. I was simply firing an incompetent manager, aged about twenty-five. That was thirty years ago. But when I had occaision to see him again, roughly two years ago, he still appeared to be a man of about twenty-five years old.

Daniel Shrewsbury was by then living in Massachusetts, in a town called Arkham, where some business had by chance taken me. (A boring real estate transaction which need not concern us here.) At one point, I arranged a meeting so I could personally consult the local contacts for various phases of the project. And who should one of those contacts be but Daniel Shrewsbury, former manager and rainforest mystic! I recognized him immediately he did not appear to have aged a day since I had last seen him thirty years ago, though I kew for a fact that he was at least fifty-five! Even if I hadn’t remembered his face, those heavy-lidded yet piercing black eyes, I could still have identified him by the strange ring he’d gotten from the Brazilian Indians, which he still wore on his left forefinger. The setting looks to be white gold, etched with grotesque runes. The stone is an emerald, I think, but deeper and darker. I once saw it in the pitch darkness, and it was unnaturally distinct from the surrounding mirk, like an afterimage lingering on the retina when the eyes are closed. And when struck by direct light, the ring shone with a color I can’t name a definite color, but not one of this universe. It was disturbing to look at. He claimed that it was worn all over the world as a sign of servitude to certain dark powers.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

That was the longest meeting of my life, I can tell you. When it was over, I signalled to him that I wanted to speak with him.

Of course, he knew exactly who I was. He didn’t seem angry about me firing him years back. In fact, he kissed ass with the best of them obviously, money was important to him. I couldn’t totally convince myself that this man could give me what I wanted, yet there he sat, living proof that aging could be stopped! That serum he had raved about so long ago had to be the key, and I was determined to get my hands on it.

He was evasive at first, wary. But apparently his new religion had not made Shrewsbury immune to the almighty dollar. I made him understand that price was no object, and I was persistent. Eventually, he agreed to tell me what he knew. He made me swear all sorts of dire oaths of secrecy first, all having to do with the crazy mythology he had picked up in the dark Brazilian wilds. I wanted to hand him a check in exchange for extended life, but he said it wasn’t going to be quite that easy.

This proved to be an understatement.

The details of my initiation started off predictably enough. (And expensive, and paid for by me.) Midnight gatherings in abandoned warehouses; days spent poring through priceless, ancient manuscripts; blasphemous rites conducted deep in the Massachussetts back country with other like-minded fanatics. There were disgusting ceremonies involving young women which Shrewsbury enjoyed like a pig. I asked repeatedly about the elixer, but Shrewsbury would always say, “Only when you are ready.” Well, I played the patient student, biding my time and enduring all his melodrama. As you’ll see, it eventually paid off.

During the course of my education, Shrewsbury and I travelled a great deal. We went to Istanbul, Ponape, and Angkor Wat in search of arcane tomes and enigmatic cromlechs. We visited the Library of Alexandria oh, yes, it still exists! We kept vigil at the Black Stone in Hungary on the Spring Equinox, and I felt in the air around me a viscous, evil substance defying sanity. And under the hideous, mocking ice of Antarctica, I saw something of which I will never speak. At this point my skepticism was beginning to waver.

And there were dreams. Dreams of cyclopean basaltic ruins of horrid, stupefying antiquity. Dreams of gibbering, slavering things invading gambrel-roofed houses from the interstices of insane angles in space. Dreams of the enigmatic ocean surface being disturbed by the sudden rise of an enormous something which I always awoke too soon to see clearly.

And there were summonings, attempts at contact with entities that were either the lowest imaginable forms of life in this universe, or the Gods that control it, or both. When I heard their names pronounced, it was as if I’d suddenly remembered some horrible thing that I had long tried to forget. And, one night, I saw something.

It’s impossible to describe its appearance exactly. Some sort of inhuman, robot observer might report that it was a black, amorphous, heaving mass. But it was also a multi-colored conglomeration of bubbles, or spheres, at the same time. And it was a feeling, too. It was the very shape of despair, the shadow of the outrage of the human body subjected to inconceivable torments. It was somehow more real than anything I had ever seen. And at that point I became a believer. Totally. If only you had any idea of the utter insignificance of humanity in the cosmic scheme of things, son, your mind would shatter! But you always were rather weak.

At any rate, I knew my preliminary education with Shewsbury was over. I had seen enough. Now it was time to act, to make the deal.

As Shrewsbury and the ancient tomes explained, the culmination of transformation into an “immortal worshipper of Cthulhu” was the opening of a doorway, or gate, into one of the other realms, or dimensions. Shrewsbury was less than explicit, but I gathered that I would interact with a being, or node of non-reality that would alter my molecular structure, confering upon me a finite measure of the extended life I sought. But that was not all. Once back in our world, I was to consume a specially prepared elixir, without which I would not only not gain extended life, but would be torn apart by the alien forces that would then be seething within my body. This was what I had been waiting for. Here was the elixir vitae, the secret of rejuvenation and youth!

I’ll never forget that night when I travelled beyond our universe for the first time. Shrewsbury led me to an old building along a deserted stretch of the Miskatonic, outside Arkham proper, where we proceeded down to the ancient root cellar. There we were joined by, not the black-cowled throng I was expecting, but merely one vacant-eyed man in a stained, rumpled business suit. Shrewsbury leaned down to scan the man’s slack, staring face intently, saying over his shoulder that a sacrifice was necesary to open the gate. He also added that this particular sacrifice was especially significant, since the victim was part of something called “Delta Green,” which I gathered was some kind of goverment agency opposed to cults and practices like this. As Shrewsbury chanted some barbaric ritual in a guttural tongue, he produced a gleaming knife and plunged it into the man’s breast! The man did not make a sound, and I realised that he had been heavily drugged. His eyelids fluttered, then he slumped over to his right and onto the floor. In shock, I wrenched my gaze from the corpse back to Shrewsbury, who leered at me with the purest evil I had ever seen.

Don’t misunderstand me, Jonathon. I have seen death many times. And if men must die that I might live, I don’t give a damn. My shock was merely useless social conditioning, and faded quickly. Good thing, too, because at subsequent sacrifices, I was more than just a witness.

The point is, to gain extended life, you have to travel in these other dimensions, and to do that, you have to sacrifice a victim to open the gate. I began a series of these travels, and when I returned, always the elixir. But by now I was after more than mere extended life: I wanted immortality! And this brings us to the Tumla.

For a sucessful inter-dimensional journey and return, there must exist a material nexus which maintains the entry and exit points to our dimension. This “Tumla”, as it is known in the ancient tongue of the plane-walkers, can be any tangible object, but should be of material value or meaning to the traveller. The Tumla must remain inviolate during the journey. If the Tumla is lost or destroyed, the dimension’s doors are forever closed, and one is lost on the other side. Sounds horrible, yes? From what I’ve learned in the past two years, it is a fate more terrible than the human mind can comprehend.

An ancient procedure from a blasphemous book called De Vermis Mysterious describes having someone watch over the Tumla to protect it while the traveler is elsewhere. Shrewsbury told me of once guarding a confederate’s Tumla (another emerald ring, this one an icon of a secret ancient Outer God cult, at one time quite extensive and infamous for frightful acts of vengence). When he told me this, I wondered what would happen if I travelled with someone else’s Tumla.

Supposedly, you cannot take physical objects to the Outer Planes, since, unlike our souls, they are completely attached to this earthy coil. But since the Tumla is inherently a kind of bridge, a lifeline connecting two modes of reality, I surmised it must exist simultaneously in both dimensions. Items of other dimensions carry strange and wondrous powers when brought through to alien worlds. Consider the Ark of the Covenant, the Dark Kris, or the Holy Grail: none are native to our dimension. I theorized that, if I carried Shrewsbury’s Tumla with me, I would no longer be a bystander, learning bits and pieces from afar. I would be an active participant in the outer planes creating and destroying, feared and worshipped, striding through space-time like a god. Of course, I would always leave before arousing the gaze of those too horrible to name, and return before Shrewsbury was any the wiser.

Obviously, there was some danger of losing or destroying his Tumla while on the other side, and thus closing his path back if he were travelling dimensionally at the time. Also, since each Tumla can only hold a single pathway from one plane to the next, by using his Tumla a second time, I might erase its previous connection. If this were so, he would be untethered and lost for all eternity. An acceptable risk, considering the possible gains.

The dimensions are infinite, but they are ordered into a kind of hierarchy, and from my studies I knew that our plane of existence is far away from that of the gods and their immortal realms. If I could just peer into the eternal void on one of the Outer Planes, I knew that would be enough to drown my soul in the so-called Endless Well, imparting to me untold powers, far beyond those gained by imbibing the serum. Unfortunately, Tumla travels are somewhat limited in range from the dimension of origin, so I needed a way to extend that range. A simple extrapolation gave me the answer: use my partner’s Tumla to travel a second time while in a higher dimension, thereby jumping even further into the abyss, to the realms only inhabited by the Old Ones.

So Jonathon, here it is at last! All my work, earthly and otherwise, had come to this final stage, with the ultimate prize awaiting. With careful preparation, one last inter-dimensional trip, leaving Shrewbury stranded in another dimension, would make me immortal. Would make me a god.

However, even if everything goes the way I plan, my studies clearly indicate that I am still not assured of finding a way back. There are a number of reasons for this, but they all stem from the inescapable truth that mortals are ill-equiped for such unnatural, mind-altering travel. We are like microbes in a multiverse of giants, but I am learning and getting stronger. I shall play and beat them at their own game!

However, as I said earlier, since you are reading this something has gone wrong, and I require your assistance. I may be lost in a foul, contorted reality of which you cannot have the least conception. I may be dead at Shrewsbury’s treacherous hands if he somehow learns of my betrayal, but that I rather doubt. He is, frankly, a simpleton who lucked on the elixir and never realized the enormous potential of the Tumla.

Why do I turn to you? I have learned in my long life to trust in no one but myself. But in this instance, I have little choice. Someone must watch over my Tumla, and perform the necessary rites in case of trouble. I chose you, my only son, flesh of my flesh. Business partners, so-called friends, even spouses are not to be trusted when you are a man of my wealth. But you, Jonathon, I gave you life! Still, we haven’t had the warmest of relationships, and you may be unmoved by my plight. After all, if I’m gone, you inherit a lot of money, right?

So I have taken measures to instill a certain, let us say, enthusiasm, for the task ahead of you. You see, I’m counting on the fact that you are as greedy as all the rest of humanity, myself included. In order to encourage you to do right by your old man, I have temporarily ceded control of my fortune to the firm of Deely & McCarsen, lock, stock, and barrell. Oh, it does my heart good to imagine your eyes bulge and your heart quicken as you read these lines! But not to worry. Upon my death or disappearance, the estate will revert to you in its entirety, just as in the old will if you follow my instructions to the letter. Rest assured, those shysters in their upstairs offices have all the information they need in order to verify that you do this. If you do not, well, there’s always the unemployment line. But you’re a smart boy, and I’m sure it won’t come to that.

In the sideboard next to the cigar-box you will find a large manilla envelope. Inside are a lighter and an ancient parchment. Recognize the lighter, Jonathon? Yes, you gave it to me many birthdays ago. Now it has even more significance that’s right, it is my Tumla. It is the only part of me that exists in this earthly dimension , indeed, it is my path to immortality. And you will use it to bring me back.

The procedure is simple, but must be performed carefully. Let’s just say that mistakes might allow the passage of, not just me, but certain others. All the other materials you will need are on the table in front of you. Above all, GUARD THE TUMLA AS YOU WOULD YOUR OWN LIFE.

Here is what you must do. . . .

* * *

Setting aside the letter, Jonathon opened the envelope and removed the lighter. Smiling, he lit one of the cigars his Dad had so thoughfully provided. Taking up the letter again, he carefully tore out the section containing the instructions pertaining to the Tumla. Again using the lighter, he set the section afire, letting it burn itself to ash in the glass ashtray. After a cursory glance, he did the same for an old, withered sheet of parchment covered with strange, crabbed signs. Tucking the remainder of the letter in his pocket, he got up from the conference table and took his leave of the offices of Deely & McCarsen, smiling at the pretty receptionist on his way out.

After a brisk, twenty minute walk, Jonathon stood at the end of a deserted Boston pier, sunset over his shoulder as he looked out over the cold Atlantic. He threw the lighter far out over the sea, and watched the fading light glint off its surface as it arced down and under the waves. He thought of the ease with which he would contest the will on the basis of insanity, now that he had a letter detailing his father’s madness, in his father’s own hand. As he breathed deeply of the sea air, he absent-mindedly toyed with the ring on his left forefinger: a ring that shone with the most peculiar color.

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