Hello dear readers! Today I’m doing something I haven’t done in awhile. I have a guest post to share with your from Kat with The Lily Cafe. Kat is incredibly supportive of authors and I love that I can encourage her in her own writing as well.
So without further ado, here’s The Tablet.
Professor Anna Langely, emeritus, though the word always rubbed her the wrong way, ran her thumb along the jagged edge. Her eyes, magnified through her thick lenses, stared owlishly and almost unblinkingly at the squiggles and lines, but her brain couldn’t put them together. What message was the ancient civilization that had carved this trying to send?
The man hovering over her shoulder was peering anxiously at the symbols carved into the stone tablet, twisting his fingers in a sweaty dance. She knew he was nervous; after all, it had been in his family for years, and the story passed down with it had been one of doom.
“Why don’t you give it to a museum?” she finally asked, turning to look at him, putting her back to the tablet lying on her impressively large mahogany desk.
He jumped away and wiped at his shiny forehead. She was surprised to see sweat running down his face. If he weren’t careful, he’d be making a puddle on her Persian rug. She frowned at that thought. It had been an anniversary gift from her husband right before he died, though it had been his fool idea to lay it out in her book-crammed office. She hadn’t had the heart to move it in the decade he’d been gone. Now she was starting to regret that decision.
“I can’t,” the young man muttered, not meeting her straightforward gaze. “Promised Gramps I wouldn’t let it out of my sight.”
“Look, George, I’ve seen this language before, but am no expert.”
“What does it say?” he asked anxiously, as though he hadn’t heard a word she’d just said.
Anna frowned, turning to one side, and tapped a fingernail against the tablet. What was wrong with this man? If she didn’t know better, she’d think he was about to destroy the world. Or was on something. Her eyes flickered to the landline, making sure it was well within reach. Just in case. You couldn’t be too careful with these young people these days. Too much time on social media and staring at screens was starting to melt their brains. And their bodies, apparently, what with the increased amount of sweat starting to roll down George Pernipulous’s nose.
“What does your family think it’s supposed to say?” Anna asked, trying to keep her voice even and her hands from picking up and flinging the heavy tablet at his thick head.
She could see him swallow hard. What had she gotten herself into? This was the last time she let some nut job call her up and do a translation. At eighty-five, she was through. Though she would miss the work. It kept her young. And alive. No matter how much she missed her late husband, she was still determined to see her little girl have her own little girl. Never mind the fact that fifty was a little old for her little girl to be getting married and popping out her own little girl. Then again, science had made some great strides.
Madeline would have gently taken her mother by the arm and guided her to a nursing home straightaway. She’d been telling her mother it was time to give her mind a rest, but how could Anna rest and wither away when she was still looking forward to a little granddaughter, a little girl she could teach everything her landscaping daughter wasn’t interested in?
That was really why Anna had picked up the phone the day before. The voice on the other hand had been shaky and maybe a little panicked, but his words had made sense. He’d requested a meeting so he could show her a tablet inscribed with an ancient language. Well, ancient languages were her domain even though she was eight-five and that young whippersnapper of a boy had bounded into her office the day she’d cleared out, promptly and proudly claiming her space as his own. As though he knew anything about ancient! He probably considered something like modern French to be ancient, not the Etruscan and Phoenician she was proficient in.
But this George Pernipulous hadn’t sounded threatening. A little shaky, but mostly curious. She was curious, too. A tablet with a language no one else on Earth had been able to decipher. She may be eight-five, but she wasn’t dead! There was nothing like an old relic with a dead language on it that could make her feel young and dreaming of the days she used to impart her impressive knowledge to young twenty-year-olds who would take it out into the world and do good with it. Or give birth to children who would become so enamored with screens that they began to melt.
Now, as Anna stared off into space, George flapped a hand and his eyes darted around the room filled with dusty books, antiques clustered around the edges, and small tables littered with pages of cramped writing. He licked his lips and reached for the heavy stone tablet.
“If you can’t tell me, I’ll take it somewhere else.”
She was eighty-five, not stupid. With a frown, she yanked it up from the desk and cradled it almost possessively. When would she next get the opportunity to hold a piece of ancient history, one not claimed by one museum or another?
“Don’t be ridiculous, George,” she snapped, ignoring how heavy the thing was. “Just tell me what your family thinks this is.”
“A warning,” he whispered, a haunted look floating into his sky blue eyes, eyes that seemed to turn ever more sky-like until she had to blink when they turned white to get them back their blue color. “A warning from an ancient civilization to us, telling us of our impending doom.” His voice faltered and he had to clear his throat. “And maybe a way to save us all.”
She frowned as her eyes strayed back to the tablet. She ran one hand over the surface, the tips of her fingers carefully, lovingly tracing the lines and squiggles. There was an entire line in the middle that was completely abraded. She ran one finger over it, feeling the rough lines of what was left and the smoothness likely acquired by millions of fingers running over it for goodness knew how many years, decades, centuries.
Then she frowned and held the tablet to her nose. Though, because of the weight, she ended up more bent double to make tablet and nose meet.
No, not abraded, she thought as she blinked at the section. It had been completely removed. What had it said?
“I don’t know, George,” she said slowly, moving her nose away. “It looks more like a description of an ancient city. It talks about a thriving metropolis that was ruled by a kind king. But this king died one day and his successor was prone to excesses. The city’s wealth was spent and the city floundered and died.”
George nodded, his fingers twisting so hard she began to think he was trying to break them. “Yes, that’s true.”
“Where is this warning, George?” she asked tersely, coming to the end of her patience.
“Can’t you see it?” he asked, his voice a few tones higher than normal, his eyes wide, the sweat rolling off of him and onto her lovely Persian in waves.
She frowned, trying to ignore the damage being done to her rug, and her eyes returned to the tablet. She ran the fingers of one hand over the surface again. “See what?”
“The line in the middle,” George said, his voice reed thin and high pitched with panic. “The warning is there. Right there. You can see it, can’t you? You must!”
Slowly, Anna shook her head, frowning at the dark puddle around George’s feet. Her Persian was never going to be the same again. “That line has been abraded, almost completely rubbed out. What did it say?”
Agitated, George grabbed the tablet back and stared hard at it. His eyes darted back and forth, the panic emanating from him starting to stink up her office. Her nose twitched. She wasn’t sure which was worse: the odor or the sweat. There was something very wrong with this man and, if Madeline ever heard of this, she’d be whisked off to a nursing home whether or not she liked it.
“You don’t see it,” he muttered, his shoulders sagging and his knees giving out so he could sink into the puddle of his own sweat. “You’re the last person in this world who knows this language and you can’t see it.” He looked up at her, hopelessness and fear twisting in his eyes. “You don’t see it.”
“No,” she said flatly, crossing her bony arms over her thin chest. “There is nothing there.”
“Oh, but there is,” he moaned as he sank back on the heels of his feet, the tablet thudding dully on the Persian. “It’s all there, but only one of divine grace can read it. I thought it might be you since you’re the only one who can read this language. But I was wrong and now we are doomed.”
“Pull yourself together,” Anna snapped, turning to undo the latch on her window and throw it open. The stink was getting worse. “No one is doomed.”
His eyes were hollow as he lifted the tablet and clasped it to his chest. He looked up at the grandfather clock ticking its way to midnight. The will to live seemed to have gone out of him and the image of a noodle came to Anna’s mind.
“It doesn’t matter,” he said softly. “We will learn of our doom in two minutes.”
Two minutes later, the only thing to be heard in the office, aside from the ticking of the clock, was a very soft, very pointed, very short expletive coming from an eighty-five-year-old throat.
Kat blogs at The Lily Cafe about books, food, writing, motherhood, life…anything that strikes her fancy. But under it all, she looks for the story involved. As she says, she “lives and breathes stories.”
Thank you, Kat, for sharing this story!