The Tablets of the Gods: Dare you discover the mystery of the universe?
From the memoirs of Charles Dinglebury, the Victorian inventor and explorer.
I was in the library at the Gentlemen’s Club leafing through The Journal for Improving Knowledge, when I became aware of a certain muttering coming from the ‘Religion and Philosophy’ section. I did my best to ignore it but started to get the feeling that someone could be in distress. So I put down my journal and went to investigate. I was most discomfited by what I saw. Lord Montague Scott, one of the club’s oldest and most venerable members, was sitting in a chair, grumbling to himself in a most agitated state.
‘Lord Montague,’ I enquired, ‘are you alright, old chap?’
‘Where is it?!’ he said, showing no sense of awareness that I was standing in front of him.
I knew the old fella had been travelling in the Middle East and, since his return, he had not seemed well. Up close, I was shocked by his appearance. His eyes darted about underneath unkempt white eyebrows and a messy mop of grey hair. His clothes were dishevelled, with traces of sand on his tweed jacket, and I fancied there was more than a whiff of whiskey about him.
‘Lord Montague,’ I tried again, raising my voice for clarity, ‘it’s me, Charles Dinglebury. You don’t seem well.’
‘Eh, what?’ He fidgeted, his eyes dancing about. ‘Dinglebury?’ He looked about his surroundings wearily. ‘Where am I?’
‘You’re in the library at the Gentlemen’s Club.’
The thought seemed to comfort him. ‘Oh, yes, of course. Mind was elsewhere. Think I was trying to find something. Some sort of tablets.’
This was starting to make sense. ‘I see. You’re looking for your tablets? Well, I saw Dr Askew in the bar, I’m sure he could help.’
‘No, no, no,’ he said, ‘not pills. Tablets. Stone tablets.’ And then, unnervingly, he looked me straight in the eyes. ‘I’m looking for the Tablets of the Gods.’
Clearly he had lost his marbles. But I decided to play along in the hope it might help. Adopting my most therapeutic tone of voice, I said: ‘Tablets of the Gods, you say? Righto, there, there, let’s have a look, shall we? Come with me.’
I eventually found a book called The Dictionary of Religion, Mysticism and the Occult and flicked through until, sure enough, I found a short entry headed ‘Tablets of the Gods’. Lord Montague urged me to read aloud, so I obliged: ‘Mythical stone tablets believed to have been left on Earth by celestial Gods at the dawn of Earth’s Creation. The tablets are inscribed with the truth about the meaning and purpose of our existence on Earth. They have never been found, but supporters of this myth believe they are buried in the sands of Chaldea, in south eastern Mesopotamia.’
As I finished reading a most peculiar thing happened. A warm breeze fluttered the pages of the book and a cold chill went down by spine. When I looked up, Lord Montague had gone. I caught a glimpse him ambling out of the library as fast as his portly body would carry him; he was shouting: ‘Must find the tablets!’ Later, I heard he had been confined in his rest home under the watchful surveillance of a doctor.
The encounter was most disconcerting. Whatever these fictional tablets were they had certainly got a hold of Lord Montague’s imagination. I must admit, I too found something compelling about the idea of ancient hidden messages from the Gods but, as a Man of Science, I knew the notion to be nonsense. Even so, the idea would not leave me.
Over the next few days, I found myself gravitating frequently to the ‘Religion and Philosophy’ section of the Gentlemen’s Club library. I couldn’t get the idea of those tablets out of my mind. I searched high and low, but in only a few books could I find references to them. However, I did gather one crucial clue: it seemed that believers in the tablets were convinced they were buried in the hills near Um Qasr, a village north of the Persian Gulf.
By now the tablets were occupying my every waking thought. Finally, I could stand it no longer.
‘Come on, Kettle,’ I announced one morning, ‘pack your bags, we’re going to Persia.’
‘To buy carpet, sir?’ he said, looking puzzled.
‘No, something far more exciting. To discover the meaning of life!’
‘Ok, but maybe I buy small rug also.’
We undertook a long voyage by sea, and an equally arduous dessert crossing by camel, and eventually we arrived in the tent village of Um Qasr. We were isolated, surrounded by miles of sand.
In a small tea shop, Kettle and I considered our next step. As we chatted we became aware of a constant mumbling coming from the table behind us. Seated there was a colonial type, middle-aged, dressed in khakis but in disarray and clearly under the influence of alcohol. ‘Must find them,’ we heard him grumble amid other incoherent expostulations. Then, quite clearly, he said, ‘Tablets of the Gods!’ We were temporarily dumbstruck! We tried to interview him. Unfortunately, it was slow going. The man made no sense. His eyes wandered and any questions about the tablets caused him great distress.
We gave up and left the tent. We thought to wander through the village and speak to whomever would talk to us, but then we heard a voice behind us.
‘I can show you where the tablets are, though I will not go with you.’
We turned to find an Arabian, in an orange and purple striped kaftan. I decided to play it cool. ‘You speak English remarkably well for someone who hails from these parts. But what are these tablets you speak of?’
‘Oh, I’m sorry,’ he said, looking genuinely disappointed. ‘I misunderstood. I thought I heard you asking about the Tablets of the Gods. Sorry for troubling you. I will bid you farewell and make my departure. Good day, gentleman…’ He turned to leave.
‘No, no,’ I said hastily. ‘Sorry, I was trying to play it cool but it clearly didn’t work. Yes, we are looking for the tablets and would appreciate any help you can offer.’
‘Ah, very well! I’m glad of it.’ He pointed at a rocky outcrop in the near distance. ‘Behind those rocks, you will find a cave. The tablets are in there.’
‘That very straight forward!’ said Kettle, who, like me, had anticipated that tracking down the ancient mystical Tablets of the Gods would be more of a challenge.
‘Is that it?’ I said. ‘That simple?’
‘Yes, that’s it,’ said the Arab. ‘Careful where you step because the rocks are quite sharp.’
‘Well, thank you very much. Tell me, how can I pay you?’
‘No need for payment, but take this.’ He handed me a business card that read ‘Professional hypnotist’, together with his name, Abdul-Alim, and his address in Um Qasr. ‘In case you have need of me.’
Puzzled, I accepted his card and bowed. Two hours later we had located the cave.
It was dark and eerie. I had a strange sense of foreboding. Though it was hot, I felt cold and dizzy. There was a palpable sense of the supernatural in the air.
‘Do you feel it, Kettle? The tablets must be close.’
Kettle was struggling to keep his eyes open. ‘Feel ill, sir. Must sit down.’
While Kettle tried to gather his senses, I scoured the cave. My fingers hurt; they were curled up like claws. My bones ached. A hot wind blew inside the cave, and I thought I heard the sound of laughter, though – when I looked up – Kettle had his head in his hands and was groaning, not laughing.
I continued my search, sifting through the loose sand. Then, in the furthest and darkest corner of the cave, I glimpsed a flash of white light, like sunshine reflecting off metal. Something in me knew I had found our quarry. I walked towards it, feeling as though I was wading through thick treacle sponge. There was an awful screaming in my head. I galvanised all my strength. Just a few feet further and they will be mine! The last few inches were the most difficult of all – I felt as if my body might break apart. But I fought on and – finally – I was able to reach out and take hold of the mysterious objects. Immediately, I felt airy and light. In my hands were two tablets that appeared to be made of a light pliable metal, the nature of which I’d not seen before. And on them were markings in a strange tongue.
I showed them to Kettle, who had also made a quick recovery.
‘I am going to translate them post haste.’ I took my Chaldean-English/English-Chaldean dictionary out of my satchel, along with a pen and a notepad, and set to work. The strange markings yielded to my investigations remarkably quickly, and revealed a deeply powerful message, as follows: ‘Time no go quick. Stop. Yes. Cannot go back. Not go forward. Pardon? Yes. But maybe no. We all sleep. Where is it? Put on the violin [or other stringed instrument]. It is good. Yes.’
I read the message out loud to Kettle. Paused. Read it through again to myself. Looked at Kettle, and said: ‘Now either I’m very stupid or this is utter gobbledegook!’
Kettle frowned, looked at the tablets, then said: ‘You have tablets upside down. You translate wrong way. Start again!’
And so I tried again. But how I wish I hadn’t! The message, as it unveiled itself, filled me with horror. My stomach churned. My heart was racing so much I thought it might explode. Kettle, who was reading as I wrote, ran out of the cave tearing at his hair and clothes, and crying out to the heavens: ‘Let it not be so!’ I threw the tablets to the back of the cave, tore up my notepad, and fled back to the village. I had seen into the abyss. My heart was filled with terror. I did not know whether to get dynamite and blow up the cave or walk straight out into the dessert never to return. All I wished for was oblivion and escape from the prison of the words I had read. Then a small notion took a hold of me. ‘Find the hypnotherapist,’ I said out loud. ‘Find him immediately.’
And so I did, and I told him I would pay whatever he asked if he could wipe from my memory everything that had happened in the last two hours. And from Kettle’s memory too. He agreed. He put us under his magical spell and, when we awoke, we were physically drained but of peaceful mind. I had no memory of the last two hours.
‘How did I get here?’ I asked Abdul-Alim.
He said we had just met in the local bar and had expressed an interest in his profession, and so here we were being hypnotised.
His explanation sounded reasonable. But then I remembered three hours earlier. ‘Of course,’ I said, ‘how silly of me to forget. We’ve come here in search of the Tablets of the Gods. Do you know where they are?’
Before he could stop himself, Abdul-Alim had pointed at the cave, before slapping his forehead. I had no idea why he did that, but we didn’t have time to question him.
Two hours later we were approaching the cave. I felt a strange sense of foreboding and an even stranger sense of déjà vu.
Anyway, the reader can probably guess what happened next. Basically, exactly the same thing as before, culminating in Kettle and I racing back to Um Qasr where Abdul-Alim hypnotised us to forget the horror of the tablets’ message.
In fact, we went through this process several times because, each time, although Abdul-Alim did a good job, it was a challenge to eradicate all the problematic memories without wiping out important information. But, finally, Abdul-Alim got it right! He left us able to remember how we had found the tablets but not what the tablets actually said – also leaving us with enough memory of the unpleasant experience that we would not want to repeat it. We were cured!
Kettle and I were lucky. We had seen into the abyss and learned the true nature of reality. Though we’ve forgotten what that is, it would seem that knowing the ultimate meaning of life is enough to send a mere mortal insane.