This weeks prompt: 25. Man visits museum of antiquities—asks that it accept a bas-relief he has just made—old and learned curator laughs and says he cannot accept anything so modern. Man says that ‘dreams are older than brooding Egypt or the contemplative Sphinx or garden-girdled Babylonia’ and that he had fashioned the sculpture in his dreams. Curator bids him shew his product, and when he does so curator shews horror. Asks who the man may be. He tells modern name. “No—before that” says curator. Man does not remember except in dreams. Then curator offers high price, but man fears he means to destroy sculpture. Asks fabulous price—curator will consult directors. Add good development and describe nature of bas-relief.
Derleth had run his antique shop for longer than some of his antiques had existed. A few paintings towards the back, caked with dust, were older than the store, but they were of such poor quality and little worth that Derelth didn’t think of them. The sign outside proudly informed the public that all interred artifacts predated the century and the automobile . It was an attempt both at luring some customers and deter many others.
Such enamored customers did not typically include the likes of Robert Crane. Derelth was reading his books when Robert Crane stumbled in. Robert Crane was the sort that newspapers referred to as “ a product of the lately dismal times”, or as Derelth said “the slag of modern furnace”. His face was puffed as his shirt, his eyes red on the edges from lack of sleep. His coat was a faded blue, far too large, and with worn faux fur trim. A package wrapped in brown paper was in his pale shaking hands.
“Can I help you?” Derelth asked, peering over his glasses. His books needed balancing, due to a recent number of recent antiques flooding the market. Prices had to be managed after all.
“Yeah, you buy stuff right?” Robert said, eyes darting around. Derelth frowned. He was not a fan of informal language regarding his properties.
“I beg your pardon?”
“You buy stuff? Like, rocks and pens and scrolls and the such?” Robert asked, his dilated pupils fixing on Derelth.
“I purchase, collect, and display artifacts, yes sir.” Derelth said slowly, the sir stinging slightly on his toungue. Robert Crane was the very last person that Mr. Derelth would ever call sir. A babe had more right to the term sir.
“Great. I’ve got a new one for you.” Robert said, placing the package on the counter. “Just finished it, should be worth maybe three hundred?”
Derelth stared apoplectic. He was a tad light headed for a moment as the phrase worked it’s way through the gears and pistons of his mind. Eventually, after a good deal of soul searching and mental repair, Derelth believed he, in fact, had heard the words “a new one” refer to an artifact.
“A…A new one?”
“Yeah, like I said, just finished it.”
“Sir,” Derelth said slowly, his voice dropping to the stern tone of an English teacher, “I do not purchase ‘new’ art. There is a gallery down the road, which might entertain your piece.”
“Nah, its too old for them, they wouldn’t get it.”
“Too old? You said it was just finished!” Derelth said, standing up and glaring at Robert, “Can you not read? The sign outside clearly states, in the King’s English, that only antiques predating the century will be sold here. Return in ten decades time, and then we shall talk about buying whatever this is.”
“I made it yesterday, but not here.” Robert said, as if he were explaining the fact that sky was blue.
“Where you made it has no bearing on it’s age. Its a day old, regardless where it was made.”
“Dreams are older than brooding Egypt or the contemplative Sphinx or garden-girdled Babylonia. And thats where I carved this wonder, this little nightmare, was off in the land of dreams.”
Derelth paused at that. Those words, they were not the kind to emerge from someone like Robert Crane’s mouth. They were old words, strange and alien in a faux fur coat.
“Well, I suppose I could see it then,” Derelth said, recovering a bit of his composure. “and better recommend a gallery for your artistry then.”
“I already told you its too old for all that. But you’ll get it when I show it I think.” Robert said, grinning far too wide for Derelth’s comfort. He carefully placed the package on the table. Such caution, Derelth reckoned, betrayed the shape as being of glass or other, more fragile material.
Robert’s hands worked like reverse spiders, rapidly and delectably weaving tears in the packaging. Tiny strips of brown butchers paper gave way as did the tiny bits of tape holding it all together. The fingers did an excellent job of fufilling that mystic paradox, obscuring the very thing they strained to reveal. Why, it was an effort to tell them apart, as Derelth watched them scurry back and forth along the paper, testing here and there for a possible easy tear.
But at last it was revealed. A great disk, maybe two feet in diameter, of carefully wrought stone. No, no Derelth said. It wasn’t quite stone. A bit too shiny, almost a more compromised smoke. Almost out of focus. Squinting, Derelth saw that the stone was finely carved. The flatness of the disk was do to the smallness of the detail. Retrieving a magnifying glass, he examined it. Along the edge were flood waters, a running river. Great fish and crocodiles were carved in minutia.
But the next line in showed more startling things. There were things that Derelth was familiar with, men with fish tails or the like. But the scene itself was not of frolicking mermen or the like, but rather villages and obelsisks being over run by alligators. Or rather, tree like things with alligator heads and arms in place of roots. Many heads decorated the strange creatures necks.
Derelth paused his examination there, slowly looking at the next layer, mountains that had mighty dragons and lions roaming in them. They are full teeth, and a number have skin carved to resemble great boulders. Some had no face or the face of insects, dripping mandibles. Some of the lion-dragons or their kin hearded lines of wild men, naked and miserable toward a mighty pile. Derelth’s eyes widened as he saw a great solar disk atop the temple and shrines.
“This does appear to be an old script. What did you say your name was?” Derelth said slowly, not taking his eyes off the disk.
“Robert Crane sir.”
“No, the other one.” Derelth said, glancing up. “The older one.”
“I don’t get your meaning. I went by RC once, few years back, but I don’t know any older name except when my mum called me Bobby.”
“Let me be clearer.” Derelth said, putting down his glass. “What did they call you when you made this?”
“Ah, I don’t know. I only remember when I’m, you know, there.”
Derelth paused, lost in thought. This was unexpected. The images were startling, but that was more due to their familarity than their shocking depictions. No, Derelth knew those images well. He had a book of them, in a vault in the back.
“Mr. Crane, I know a number of men who would be willing to purchase this, at a nearby museum.I’m willing to offer you a thousand for it.”
“A thousand? Mister, that’d be great, but you seemed a bit spooked by it.” Robert Crane said, slowly putting his hand over the sculpture.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I can’t have someone buy it who’s going to break it.”
“I assure you, I will do no such thing.”
“Still. Hows about something else, just in case? Have you got any of the waters, from the old rivers?” Robert asked, looking around expectantly, “I hear they can take you places.”
Derelth paused, thinking a moment before replying. The answer was a bit complicated.
“I will talk with some of my associates on acquiring some waters from the Gange or somesuch, if that is your price.”
That seemed to satisfy Mr. Crane, who smiled and left. Derelth stood alone with the piece, tempted greatly to smash it. But no, the board would need to see this. This was not something that came out of the times. The times were meant to put a stop to this nonsense.
As I said last time, this story will be presented in three parts. As this was the first and introductory part I find it…acceptable? My time working on it was not the best, and while it seems a decent start at times, it also doesn’t quite click on it’s own. What corpse did you uncover, dear brothers and sisters? Did it’s bas relief provide any terrors?
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