Should some otherworldly creature have glimpsed a man briefly a number of years ago, and then attempted to recreate its form by imperfect memory, the result may have been the figure which stood outside my hotel room door that evening. It was insultingly wrong in a thousand minor ways, from the enormous protruding nose to the lidless, stark white eyes, from the thin lipped mouth that could not open to the four fingered, thumb-less hands, it was a blasphemy of God's creation.
When it reached as though to make for my throat, I slammed the door upon it. My mouth opened but I found that I had not the voice to scream. After a moment I restored enough presence of mind to throw the dead-bolt and back away from the door. Immediately thereafter the door began to rattle and shake as though struck repeatedly. By this point my voice had returned but I no longer felt an immediate need to use it.
Taking stock of my present situation, I felt a second, overwhelming sense of panic. Not as the first, when my life appeared to be in imminent danger, but a harried sort of confusion which results from having ample time to prepare but no idea how to do so. Upon my person I had but my pocket-knife and a book of matches from the hotel bar, besides my wallet and other sundries useless to the present crisis. My suitcase held clothing mostly, the outer pockets being occupied only with toiletries and my journal. A large glass door to the balcony provided a spectacular view of Mt. Meru but was otherwise useless, as my hotel room was on the third storey. The only egress was the door which was only just resisting access to my assailant.
When my second brief panic subsided I retreated to my suitcase and produced three leather belts, and removed a fourth from my waist. Hooking them together end to end by the buckles I wrapped the free end around the bannister of my balcony so as to form a loop, and by this manner I had an all-too-short rope with which to lower myself somewhat from my precarious perch upon the third floor. Clearly however I would have to drop the rather significant remaining distance to the ground. I hurled my suitcase over the balcony, in the hopes that it would provide some cushion for my descent.
If it did soften my impact with the cruel Earth, it did not do so to any perceptible degree.
I cared not to discover the ultimate fate of my former door or the toiletries which had been left behind. At all hours of the night one may discover a taxi at the entrance to these large, tourist-frequented hotels, and I hired one to remove me to another. My relief quite overshadowed my despair at having already paid for the room and now having to rent another, as full reimbursement would of course be made by Tiffany & Co., although my employers would doubtless have questions I would find awkward at this point to answer.
The remainder of the night passed without incident, although I slept fitfully. Those blank, lidless eyes returned to my memory each time I closed my own.
By the next morning I had convinced myself my brief glimpse of the monstrous features of my assailant had been the result of poor lighting, fear, and an overactive imagination, perhaps coupled with some ordinary deformity or unfortunate scarring afflicting an otherwise perfectly ordinary man. However as his actions were unmistakably violent I was of course right to flee. I have not engaged in roughhousing since the innocent scraps of my schoolboy days, and then I would normally emerge the worse for it.
My resulting lethargy was nothing which could not be cured by three large cups of the locally grown coffee, however, and after a bite to eat from a pushcart vender I was prepared to meet my employers at Arusha's Tiffany business offices.
My business contact was of course white, and American, having been sent to Tanzania to oversee the mining of the new gemstone Tiffany had taken to calling Tanzanite. I myself was less than impressed with this variety of zoisite, but Tiffany seemed certain they could leverage its rarity into high prices with sufficient marketing. I wish them luck, as I do not believe the average consumer is so easily manipulated.
I was briefly treated to a tour of the facilities, where they apply the heat treating process which transforms the unattractive natural bronze of the tanzanite to its lovely blues and purples. It was explained to me that the locals likely discovered this property of the stone after a fire or perhaps a lightning strike revealed it to them. From here they are taken to Jaipur, India for cutting, polishing, and finishing before being sent to the first world for purchase.
Upon my tour's conclusion I was introduced to my translator. He was a tall, lanky negro nearly half my age, and when he spoke it was with a British accent and tone wholly inappropriate to his countenance. I found his overall attitude to presume too much authority, but held my tongue as he was my only line of communication with the locals who spoke Swahili, and I intended him to be honest and forthright in this regard and not take advantage of my ignorance.
I had known before this point that the locals who were employed at the mines had refused to perform their labors, under pretense of supernatural happenings attributable to their tribal superstitions. Of these I knew little, only that the tanzanite gemstone was thought to bring peace of mind to its bearer. This was why I was given a Bantu translator rather than a white, as he would be familiar enough with the local superstitions to provide some context. My employer handed me an envelope containing the complaints of the locals and their rationalizations (if such a term could be applied) for their labor strike for my perusal. I was to investigate the mine and, using the geological expertise for which I was selected, provide rational explanations for the unusual events, correct them if possible, and, showing the workers the mine to be harmless, return them to their business.
At this juncture I was supplied with a car owned by the company, and my translator and I departed for the tanzanite mines. He chauffeured as I read the documents provided me. Accident after accident filled the pages, some with admittedly horrific results. Mining equipment inspected just that morning would malfunction, cave-ins would occur unexpectedly in areas thought to be sound, creaks, taps, and all manner of noises could be heard in areas unoccupied by men, and tools, money, and food would go mysteriously missing. None of this was unusual for a mine, and I chuckled to myself as I recalled the legends of Tommyknockers in Britain and Pennsylvania.
If there was anything supernatural at all about these happenings, it was their alarming frequency; although more likely due to ineffective or absent safety measures. I was already drafting a report in my head to adopt conformity with the growing safety measures gaining popularity in America. There was even talk of formalizing a Federal mandate for mine safety and health, pending the success of the new Occupational Safety and Health Act expected to be signed by President Nixon later this year. I was sure that I would present a set of recommendations which would be decided to be too costly or impractical to implement, and the company would comply with the bare minimum necessary to return the workers to the mine. Accidents would decrease somewhat and everything would return to normal — not appreciably better or worse than before I arrived.
When we arrived at the mine, I saw a number of workers all but idle. None of them were in the mine, they were merely performing basic maintenance on machines that had obviously not been used in several days, and doing what work was possible on the surface, which was not much. Only the few laying rail could be said to be laboring at all, and I'm sure those few were the only ones actually being paid for being on the site.
My first question was, to my negro translator, why these men were here at all. He replied that the company had told them they could not leave for other employment, and must return every morning, even if they did not work, or they would face legal retribution for violation of their contracts. This was of course a bluff. As poor men living in a poor country, most of them could not read well and many not at all, and all of them feared the government and its police, which appeared to exert its influence at random and whim. Not a single one understood his legal rights and the company was taking advantage of this to keep them until their problems could be resolved to the company's satisfaction.
Of course I was not about to inform them of this, or risk my employment for no benefit to myself, and my translator's English was not understandable to them, so we could speak of such things freely.
Next we approached the men to question them directly regarding the happenings in the mine. The conversation was slow going, as everything had to be said twice, and often repeated and clarified due to cross-cultural difficulties in analogy and reference, with which we often unthinkingly sprinkle our talk. I slowly began to realize that the reports which I was handed were whitewashed with broad strokes. These men knew nothing of politics and what rational society expects to hear, they knew only the truth as they experienced it, and their stories were far different from what I had read.
It was obvious that the reports had been edited to eliminate the improbable at the expense of their accuracy. What seemed like the stupid mistakes of an ignorant workforce in print became understandable accidents which one had to admit could happen to anyone, regardless of experience or education.
When I mentioned the creaks and taps, I was laughed at. Laughed at! They were not taps as a hammer upon a rock wall, they were periodic and deafening impacts of some sort which caused the entire shaft to ring like a gong. Unexplained and unexplainable lights and shadows filled abandoned shafts, water would suddenly rise and recede for no understandable reason, and the missing items could not be explained by simple theft since the workers operated in small and intimate groups that had formed naturally because of pre-existing friendships and family ties.
But my blood ran cold when they lowered their voices to mention the creature which fit the very description of the thing which attacked me last night.
That night I slept in a third hotel, paranoid that I might be tracked back to the first or second by that person or thing which had somehow found me the previous night. Each mouse's scratch, every chattering passer-by, and any creak of the building's structure set me awake in fear of being discovered again by that shambling thing, but again the night passed without incident.
In the morning, after nearly an entire pot of coffee to replace the sleep I lost, I made my way once more to the company's building, and was lent the car again but not my translator. What I needed to know was ascertained the day before, and I was only given a list of words I might need to know in Swahili, such as "danger", "no", and "thank you", many of which I recognized from yesterday's conversation.
Upon arrival to the mine I once again saw the workers in their attempts to look busy, most likely doing what they could do stave off boredom until they were either released from their contracts or returned to work rather than operating under any actual instructions.
I must admit that the day before I felt an extreme discomfort at being the only white among a large group of these negroes, especially as I was there under a disadvantage, asking for information I needed and relying on a translator for its dissemination. Today however I was much more comfortable, as it was my intention to descend into the very mine where they feared to tread.
I took with me a lantern, a pick, and a hard hat into the depths. Although it was a bright and pleasant day outside, the mine itself was black as pitch and significantly cooler, as it tends to remain a more stable temperature all the day and even during the change of the seasons underground.
As I made my way into these depths it occurred to me that one of these black men could hide completely invisible in some forgotten black nook, should they wish to do me some harm or otherwise play some prank which would encourage me to report that the happenings were indeed supernatural in origin. These thoughts did nothing to improve my growing paranoia at learning my assailant had been seen by others, in the very caverns in which I was descending.
Underground one quickly loses one's sense of direction. Mine shafts can turn so gradually it is impossible to notice due to the lack of distant features with which one can orient oneself. Furthermore the constant downward slope acts against the brain's expectations that surely a hill must be just ahead, ground is, on average, level! When I finally looked back I could no longer see the entrance nor even the light on the walls from it. My only light now was my lantern, my field of view limited to a few degrees in front of me, giving me an odd sort of tunnel vision and leaving me all too aware of my blindness to the left and right.
As I descended, the mine seemed to be getting darker. This was of course impossible, it was already as dark as dark could be. Further descent should have no further effect. My lantern's fuel was nowhere near consumed. Confused, and tired, I sat down for a moment. Strange that such a short walk should leave me so breathless.
I awoke above ground once more, the workers having pulled my limp form from the depths of the mine when they saw my lamp go out. In my confusion and distracted worry I had not taken precautions, and fell victim to choke damp. I would have died if it were not for their quick rescue, for which I repeated again and again the word meaning "thank you" from my list of Swahili.
The bad air would need to be pumped out and new air pumped in the mine, and I would not be able to return until tomorrow. In the meantime I decided to use my afternoon traveling to Mt. Meru before returning to the city of Arusha, as I had wanted to see for myself the collapsed East side of the volcano from some massive eruption in its distant past. Since Arusha was to the southwest this would require driving around to the other side.
It was getting dark by the time I returned to Arusha, the adrenaline from my brief, and stupid, adventure having faded to the excitement of viewing the spectacular volcano. It was on my way back, as the sun was just setting and I had only just turned on the headlights, when I saw that misshapen creature again by the side of the road! But this time, the advantage was mine!
I swerved the car to run his grotesque form over, to shatter it with the grille of the car, to grind it into the ground under my wheels. But the expected impact never came. The wheels lost their grip on the road and the car slid almost sidewise, I clutched the steering wheel and tried to countersteer, but it was too late, I was out of control. The right side of the car scraped a tree by the side of the road, jarring me terribly before spinning the car around 180 degrees and finally coming to a stop.
I got out to inspect the damage and look for the creature's remains, and was doubly disappointed. The creature was nowhere to be found, and the car, aside from some superficial damage, had two flat tires on the right side. I had only one spare.
After the squeal of the tires and the crash of the body panels against the tree, the cold dusk seemed oppressively silent. I was only just able to re-light my lantern with trembling hands and look around. At first I seemed to be alone, and then I was startled by a pair of glowing eyes, but as it turned and ran it was obviously just the lantern's reflection of some small animal's keen night vision.
The car was useless, so I would have to walk. As it turned out I was closer to the mine than I was to Arusha, so I had a decision to make. I could trudge my way back to the city, a long, long walk indeed in the quickly fading light, or I could head back to the much closer mine in the vain hope that someone might still be there. I chose the mine. Perhaps foolishly, but you could not understand unless you were there and forced to make the hard decision yourself, with that creature out there somewhere.
It seemed like hours, but I knew it couldn't have been that long, before I reached the mine. It's amazing how much slower one walks when constantly looking over one's shoulder and jumping at every noise in the brush. As I had feared, the mine was deserted. The workers had done their duty for the day and gone home, although this meant that the shaft would be clear of choke damp. My adrenaline was shooting through my system far too heavily to possibly attempt sleep, and the mine would be just as dark in the daytime as it is at night, so in I went.
The overwhelming darkness of the mine overtook me faster this time, as there was only moonlight to light the entrance. My lantern again lit a small cone in front of me, limiting my sight to that claustrophobic tunnel vision. It played over the nooks and crannies of the mine's walls, creating weird and ever changing shadows to play tricks with my imagination. Here a hand, there a face, here some long dead corpse, each one to vanish when the light trained directly on them.
I nearly jumped out of my skin when the first crashing impact sounded, as the workers said, ringing the entire mine shaft like a gong. I couldn't tell where the sound came from, where the impact was made, it seemed to come from all around me at once. The miners from Pennsylvania claimed the Tommyknockers would tap at the walls to warn miners of an impending cave-in, but this was no gentle tapping. It was as though the hammer of God had been thrown down on top of the whole mine.
I froze in my tracks and waited for any sign of weakness in the shaft, knowing I was insane for being down here alone. If anything happened there was no one to come to my rescue. I could break a leg, or cut myself, or bang my head and suffer a concussion... death would come slowly as I bled to death or suffocated. But I could not bring myself to go back up to the entrance. Up there the creature could come from any direction. Down here it was limited to behind me, and in front of me, and once I had reached the end of the shaft I would only have to worry about behind me.
When I finally did, I was caught by the most astounding sight. At first I thought it unbelievable that in the walls I was seeing huge chunks of raw, bronze tanzanite, the size of my fist, waiting to be plucked from the mine and heat-treated to their blue luster. This mine held a fortune, whether or not Tiffany & Co. managed to create a market for these stones. But when I finally reached the end of the shaft I was awestruck beyond the capacity for rational thought.
There in front of me, covering the whole width and height of the shaft, was a sheer, solid, slightly curved wall of tanzanite, as smooth as polished glass. As my lantern's light played around it I realized it was curved smaller at the top than at the bottom, in an approximation of an egg shape, I guessed, if the curve stayed true all around. This was the largest gemstone ever discovered!
I reached out to touch its perfect smoothness... screamed when that deafening impact sounded a second time, resonating through the whole shaft and sounding nothing like any impact on rock and dirt should.
It was then that I noticed I was casting a shadow on the wall of tanzanite, which was impossible since my lantern was on the floor beside me. I turned around and saw a dim light coming from far up the shaft, and froze. The source of light was coming closer, and the light brighter. It did not bob up and down like a man walking with lantern, it slid smoothly down the shaft like a cart on tracks, but the tracks did not come down this far.
Then the water started to come in, from where I do not know. One moment the floor was dry, the next it was damp, and then a puddle had collected, and grown, and the level continued to rise from no source until it was ankle deep. I plucked up my lantern before it could become extinguished and found a nail in a support timber to hang it from, all the while never taking my eyes off that light that was slowly making its way down the shaft.
And then I heard the shuffling. That terrible shuffling noise I had never heard before but could instantly place. It would be the sounds that creature made when it moved, its shambling, shuffling gait, as though it were uncomfortable in its own body, unsure how to use it.
I was not the least bit surprised when it came into view. I was expecting it all night, and the long period of waiting had turned stark terror into relief that it finally showed itself.
"What is it you want?" I screamed at it. "What is it you don't want me to see? What do you want to stop me from doing?" I knew its mouth-less lips could not reply, but I had to get the words out for my own benefit.
Fear became rage as I pulled my folding knife from my pocket and opened it. I charged the thing's shambling form, I hated its appearance, I hated its ugly parody of the human form, I hated its hooked nose, its lidless eyes, its hands with no thumbs, its stark white, albino skin, its too-long arms and that patch of fur that could not be called hair on top of its head. I hated it! It took everything beautiful about man's graceful form and twisted it into something grotesque and deformed, either by some paranormal joke or just the ignorance and carelessness of whatever being crafted it.
I drove my knife again and again into its shoulder and torso and threw the thing against the mine wall, wounding it half a dozen times before it threw me to the wet ground. I landed badly on my elbow, and dropped my knife somewhere in the ankle-deep water. All the while its non-functional mouth that could not even open never made a single sound, and all the while the light continued to get brighter as its source slowly descended the shaft. I no longer cared about it. I wanted to kill this thing that had been pursuing me these three straight nights and had no other thought on my mind.
The thing had some unholy strength to match its unholy appearance, but it was as stupid as it was strong. It appeared to know nothing but how to grapple, and if I could stay free of its grasp I might yet claim victory over it. I rose from the cold, wet floor and again shoved it into the wall, hoping to bruise it upon its rough texture or perhaps break a rib, but it seemed impervious to pain as neither that nor the cuts from my knife seemed to give it pause.
It again threw me to the floor of the mine, and I again landed badly, bruising my leg and my back in the process. It hurt to move, but my fear and rage were stronger than the pain. As I put down a hand into the inky black water to rise up to meet it again, I felt a smooth wooden handle meet my grip. I lifted from the water a pick axe, a weapon with which I might destroy this creature.
But it was nearly upon me already, rushing toward me with an awkward and unnatural flailing of limbs and those stark white eyes locked with mine. We wrestled around and around in the water, each of us trying to take the upper hand to smash the other's form into the hard and uneven rock floor. Fortunately it knew as little of dirty fighting as I did of protecting myself from it, as I left my groin and throat open to attack far too often. A human opponent would have bent me over in pain and dispatched me.
I finally broke myself free from the creature's grasp and rose up, backing away slightly to try to find the best spot to drive my pick into its hateful shape, and the momentary pause in the fight gave me time to think, and that gave me time to fear it once again. The thing was immune to pain, I had stabbed it half a dozen times and it was no worse for it, although it bled blood that was not blood red, rather the red of a child's watercolors. I had no idea how to kill this thing, but given time it would most assuredly kill me!
By the time it pulled itself to its feet once more, the light coming from further up the shaft had gotten so bright it was difficult to look directly at. It illuminated the whole shaft to the point where I could, for the first time, see clearly all the features around me. The creature was standing in from of a t-shaped cross bracing of timbers, and I had an idea... if only I could find my knife!
I only had one swing at this, and heaved the heavy pick for all my bruised and scraped form was worth. What fortune was on my side in that instant I will never know, but I drove the pick into the creature's flailing forearm just below the wrist, and continued the swing to impact the crosswise timber behind it, nailing its arm to the beam.
I frantically scrambled through the shallow water, scraping my fingers across the jagged rocks and mine floor, desperately searching in the general area I thought I dropped my knife, hoping against hope that the thing wouldn't be fast enough to use its other arm to pull the pick out of the timbers.
I almost couldn't believe I found it. I turned and used both hands to drive the knife into the creature's other forearm, again just below the wrist. It struggled and pulled but I had all the leverage, with its other arm nailed to the crossbeam. With some doing, I manipulated its arm up and drove my blade into the other side of the crossbeam, successfully nailing its other arm to it.
Thus crucified, it was helpless.
In my rage I beat it about the head and neck until my fists were sore and my knuckles felt like there were about to crack, but I derived no satisfaction from my efforts. Its mouth could not open, it could not scream, it could not cry, and it could only make a weak parody of bleeding its thin, watercolor-red blood.
And the light up the tunnel blinked out, leaving me with only my lantern. And the waters began to recede.
Again I walked over to the great curved wall of tanzanite. Again I put my hand against its cold, smooth surface. But this time, I did not so much as blink when the pounding hammer of God sounded its fury throughout the shaft. I'd beaten it, whatever it was. And I intended to collect my prize.
Upon closer inspection, the tanzanite couldn't have been a solid egg shape as I had originally thought. This smooth wall was only a thin veneer, almost but not quite transparent. I searched the floor of the mine, and found a healthy sized rock that felt good in my hand.
As soon as it became apparent what I had intended to do, the creature began to struggle more vigorously than before. My eyes widened as I saw the skin between its sealed lips begin to stretch... and then tear. Its jaw worked its way down until it had managed to rip open a mouth for itself, hideously jagged by some wayward strings of meat that flapped against its face as its crude blood poured down its jaw and neck down its chest. And it spoke one word.
I clobbered it over the head with my stone hammer, and it finally fell quiescent, hanging forward away from the t-shaped timbers against which it was imprisoned.
And then I turned to the thin plate of tanzanite, and with a single swing the entire façade shattered into a thousand shards to the floor. Then I saw that it was an egg shape after all. A hollow egg.
And on the floor in the middle was what, to all outward appearances, was a human infant.
It turned its head to look at me with disturbingly intelligent eyes, and then stood up as would an adult.
"Thank you for freeing me." The baby said, in plain and clear English that terrified me more than any shambling, silent motion the creature before had been able to produce.
"What was that thing I fought?" I managed to stammer out.
"That was my guardian, the servant of my enemy. He will be displeased that you have freed me, but you have my gratitude."
"And who are you?"
"I have been called he who devours the moon. I have been imprisoned here by my enemy for a long, long time. It will take a while for me to get my strength back. Tell me, what do I look like to you?"
"You are an infant." I replied.
"Then I will have to grow up first. When I am an adult, I will be ready to finish what I started. But that will be some time, and you have made a powerful enemy. I will have to give you a gift before I go."
"And that's the end of the recording? That's his whole story?"
"Yes, after this he just started screaming. It was two hours before he finally shut up, and that was with the tranquilizers."
"When was this again?"
"Late October, 1970. Not long after the tanzanite mine opened. The miners found him huddled in the corner, babbling to himself. Of course, it was in English, and they only spoke Swahili, so we don't know what he was saying. He'd quieted down by the time they got him back to Arusha. Didn't say a word until he got back to the US and they stuck him in here. Damn shame, I hear he was a good geologist until he went nuts."
"Cold night out tonight. You doing anything after shift's over?"
"Eh, gotta get up early tomorrow and help my kid finish his halloween costume, thanks though. This is gonna be the first year he gets to go trick-or-treating with his friends instead of his parents."
"Heh, they grow up so fast. Say, when was the new moon?"
"Couple days ago, why?"
"Shouldn't it be a waxing sliver by now?"
"Well, where is it?"