Horror Humor Literary Fiction Satire Science Fiction Historical Poe Pastiche

Tempora Mutantur

By Anatoly Belilovsky
Apr 5, 2019 · 989 words · 4 minutes

Photo by Jeff Burak via Unsplash.

From the author: About those rays on Lady Liberty's head...


April 1, 2848

Bidding farewell to the Shah of Stalinpour was in itself a week-long affair, what with the opening of the Museum of Glorious Antiquities and the orgies to follow, but now Pundit and I are happily embarked upon the Starling, sailing up the River Vulgar toward the Belomor Canal. There we shall rendezvous with the elephant teams to help us reach the Arctic Ocean before the start of the monsoon season.

I am ashamed to report that my state of inebriation has caused me to embark without my books or toiletries. It is fortunate that I have Pundit for my cabin-mate; he is seemingly prepared for every exigency, and his collection of papers on the Savage Continent is like nothing I have ever seen. And—a most agreeable surprise—he speaks not only Swahindi and the tribal Anglic dialects, but my native Pa-Russki as well!

I have also made acquaintances among the crew. I endeavored to make certain that the ship is amply provisioned against becalming or marooning, taking great pains to conceal my irrational dread of anthropophagia. The Captain has informed me that the seas along our route are teeming with fish, and victualing is among the least of his concerns. I find this most reassuring.

 

April 15, 2848

The Starling has all sails to the wind, but even so, barely makes six knots, and I am sick of mackerel for breakfast. I am almost devoured by ennui, so much so that I had to fight the temptation to jump overboard during our lengthy transit of the coast of Greenland. Were it not for the crocodiles that infest the shallows I should have swum to shore, and to perdition with my duty to science. The nightmares, however, of long, sharp, dagger-like saurian teeth tearing my flesh have kept me firmly ensconced in my stifling cubicle.

Pundit, bless his soul, has his research to occupy his attention. He uses terms like “elision” and “epenthesis” to explain his theories, to wit: that the key to understanding lost civilizations lies in the painstaking analysis of toponyms and ethnonyms.

I had long known that Amrikans were so feared by their neighbors that their very name was derived from the same Indo-European root, mri-, as the Latin “memento mori.” The meaning of the suffix, Pundit informed, has not yet been conclusively determined. “Kanuks” were the Amrikans’ neighbors to the north, and “Killers of Kanuks” is one possible etymology. In my own language, Pa-Russki, the name parses as: “Umri”, which is “die” in the imperative, and “Kantsi”, or “ends.”

Pundit has shared with me a theory rarely discussed in Academia: that “kan” refers to cannibalism, of which the natives were often accused. Having recovered from a momentary swoon, I hastened to point out that this accusation is to be found only in texts written by their adversaries, and should therefore be taken with a modicum of skepticism. Of course, no surviving records show the least scintilla of friendliness to Amrikans; perhaps they had no friends, but only slaves and enemies.

I cannot wait to start my excavations, if only to prove this theory wrong.

 

April 20, 2848

We have gained a following wind, and the Captain has altered course lest we bottom on the shoals of Boss-Town or the reefs off Rod Island. The Gulf of Broke-Land is no more than two days’ sail away!

As Pundit subjects each map notation to his linguistic analysis, it amazes me how even the names of the Amrikan cities reflect their violent past: Bayonette and Hack-and-Sack, and War-Sing-Town, the ancient capital, to the South, where the Great Spear and the Giant Five-Sided Shield were found some years ago. It is difficult to dispute the depictions of Amrikans as bloodthirsty, rapacious savages.

 

April 23, 2848

We have dropped anchor in the calm, clear waters off Broke-Land. Already I can see—or at least imagine—the outlines of buried treasure in the contours of the sediment. Tomorrow, we dive!

 

April 26, 2848

I spend as much time as I can at the bottom, looking for artifacts under thick layers of sand. We have uncovered pieces of a great idol that once stood at the mouth of the harbor, north of the slave pens on Hell-is Island. We found a granite pedestal in the shape of a shuriken; near it, a hand clutching the hilt of a broken katana sword, and a stele with an eroded inscription in Anglic. It will be the very first piece I shall bring up, for Pundit’s perusal.

 

April 27, 2848

I am seized by dire apprehensions. Pundit has deciphered the partial inscription, at first glance simply a demand for slaves: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses...

I cannot, however, reconcile with the Amrikans’ well-known brutal efficiency the desire this inscription professes for inferior workers or indifferent breeding stock. Could this be a demand for sacrificial victims?

Pundit suggested, half in jest, that it is a request for alimentary imports. I told him off quite sharply, of course, but the possibility cannot be dismissed. My sole consolation is that so far I have seen nothing to indicate anthropophagia among the extinct natives. Still, much remains to be explored. And so I consign myself to my uneasy dreams.

 

April 28, 2848

Oh, the horror!

Pundit has not spoken to me all day; the shock to him is as great or greater. As for myself, I have been unable to eat. The great bronze idol that bore the ominous inscription—

We found its head!

And near it—

The sight shall haunt my nightmares till the end of my existence. Seven in number, long, tapered, dagger-sharp, each over two meters long—

No, I cannot bear it. I close my eyes and see them as they must have been, centuries ago, blood running down their gleaming edges—

What manner of people—

People? Demons! Fiends!

Who but the most depraved of savages would endow their deity with such monstrous, wicked teeth?

 

This story originally appeared in Stupefying Stories Showcase.