Ann K. Schwader
Accordingly, I began by transcribing the bottle’s inscription. Although the text was not lengthy – only three lines, deeply incised in a curious spiraling slant — this proved more difficult than I had anticipated.
To begin with, a strong light source and considerable magnification were required to reveal each symbol. The clay’s ground quartz admixture made the text shimmer and shift as I worked, and I found myself forced to rest my eyes after only a few minutes of concentrated effort. Worse, when I returned to my labors, I often found that what I had previously written no longer matched what I saw.
Though these differences were slight, prior experience with ancient scripts made me wary. If these lines held some arcane meaning – as I already suspected — any error might be critical. Only by several hours’ copying and recopying did I finally achieve a stable version; even then, I wondered what a fresh reading next morning might reveal. Appending a list of the sources I had consulted in vain, I laid my work aside in favor of a late supper and a half-bottle of wine.
Perhaps it was that indifferent burgundy, followed by a brandy nightcap to quiet my mind that brought on the dreams. I am ordinarily a very sound sleeper, untroubled by such phantasms.
Or I was once.
Awaking some hours later to the metallic tang of my own blood, I discovered that I had bitten my lower lip badly. More blood dappled the pillowcase, and my throat felt raw. Seizing a handkerchief from my bedside table, I blotted my lip as best I could before struggling into dressing-gown and slippers, then heading downstairs to my study.
I could not have said at the time why I did this. Nor what I expected to find there. Some fragmentary dream-memory simply nagged at me, and it was with considerable relief that I found my desk and papers undisturbed.
My uncle’s bottle (which had borne a hideous significance in those dreams) still lay where it had the night before, on a scrap of black cloth beneath my desk lamp. But was it truly as I had left it? Folding the cloth carefully around the fragile thing, I picked it up for a closer inspection with my hand lens.
At that moment, my wounded lip broke open again.
Encumbered as I was – the lens in one hand, the bottle itself partially uncovered in the other — I could only watch as one fat droplet spattered the ancient clay. Rather than staining it, however, my blood simply vanished. It was as though the incised surface had absorbed it, leaving only a fading shadow.
Unnerved, I moved to set the bottle back down. As the liquid inside shifted, it emitted a sound I can only describe as keening – far louder and more resonant than the whine I had imagined earlier. Another drop of blood fell from my lip. Rather than striking the carpet, as it certainly should have, it slanted toward the artifact in my hand and disappeared.
I have no clear recollection of the next few hours.
Round Four of “The Perplexity from a Place Abroad” can be found here.
This portion of “The Perplexity from a Place Abroad” (c) 2014 Ann K. Schwader