Manx Rune Parchment

While vacationing in upper Michigan, Lewis Barnavelt receives a strange parcel of mail containing a page torn from a book and a peculiar piece of parchment covered with strange writing [The Tower at the End of the World].

The page torn from the book contains an engraving of King Solomon upon his throne, as well as something quite horrible lurking in the shadows of his seat of power:

One side of the page was thickly printed with a Latin text in Gothic lettering. The other side was taken up by a steel engraving, a scene rendered in densely cross-hatched lines of ink. On the right, a king sat on an ornate throne, a stern expression on his bearded face. His outstretched hand held a scepter. On the left side of the picture stood four soldiers. Between them cowered a mysterious figure in a hood and cape. You couldn't tell whether it was a man or a woman [27-8].

In the lower right corner of the illustration, the throne of King Solomon cast a deep black shadow. Only as he stared at it, Lewis realized it wasn't a shadow at all, but some kind of creature. It hunkered beside the throne, its spidery limbs hugging itself. Its body seemed to be covered with matted, shaggy black hair. Just visible at its left shoulder was its right hand, nearly skeletal. Like Solomon, it was pointing its finger toward the cowled figure as if in accusation. But worst of all were the eyes, round saucers that seemed to glow at the viewer with an inner hatred [28].

But the sketch is not the only evil thing Lewis finds in this adventure. A tiny slip of paper escapes from the envelope, but "the slip was parchment, not paper, and it felt odd in his fingers, as if it were writhing with some life of its own. Marching across the slip in three rows were some very strange angular letters. They had been drawn in rusty-red ink, and they made no sense at all to Lewis [30]." Lewis is right to think the paper felt alive. Later, in the company of his uncle and close friends, Lewis removes the parchment from the safety of his wallet and is surprised when it comes to life:
It wriggled disgustingly in Lewis's hand. With a cry of alarm, Lewis flung it away. The parchment streaked for an open window, hit the screen, and fluttered wildly, like a moth beating it wings frantically, trying to escape. Mrs. Zimmermann sprung up at once. "Don't let it get away!" she yelled.
Jonathan lunged to the window. The parchment had found the edge of the screen and was trying to worm its way through the tiny gap between the screen and the windowsill. With a loud slap, Jonathan clapped his hand over it. He pulled it away from the window. For a moment it writhed visibly in his grip. Lewis had the strange impression that it was furious, that it was filled with hatred for all of them. [64]


Manx Runes

Mrs. Zimmermann describes the runes as Manx, thereby created by the Norse population on the Isle of Man during the Viking Age, mostly in the 10th century. Strickland interestingly ties together two sinister scraps of paper from two different short stories by M.R. James, Casting the Runes and Canon Alberic's Scrap-book, into one hair-raising tale - all prompted by Lewis innocently accepting some mail.

To begin, while stopping off at the General Store for supplies, Lewis encounters a stranger that offers him a bit of forgotten mail, asking ever so politely, "May I give you this?" [25]. Compare this to Mr. Dunning's visit to the Select Manuscript Room of the British Museum and his run-in with a man named Karswell in Casting the Runes:

...[Mr Dunning] was settling the one he wanted first upon the desk, when he thought he heard his own name whispered behind him. He turned round hastily, and in doing so, brushed his little portfolio of loose papers on to the floor. He saw no one he recognized except one of the staff in charge of the room, who nodded to him, and he proceeded to pick up his papers. He thought he had them all, and was turning to begin work, when a stout gentleman at the table behind him, who was just rising to leave, and had collected his own belongings, touched him on the shoulder, saying, 'May I give you this? I think it should be yours,' and handed him a missing quire.
Here suggests a nod to the story Canon Alberic's Scrap-book, where an old album is found to contain a drawing of a Biblical scene involving King Solomon:
On the right was a king on his throne, the throne elevated on twelve steps, a canopy overhead, lions on either side-evidently King Solomon. He was bending forward with outstretched scepter, in attitude of command: his face expressed horror and disgust, yet there was in it also the mark of imperious will and confident power. The left half of the picture was the strangest, however. The interest plainly centred there. On the pavement before the throne were grouped four soldiers surrounding a crouching figure which must be described in a moment. A fifth soldier lay dead on the pavement, his neck distorted and his eyeballs starting from his head. The four surrounding guards were looking at the king. In their faces the sentiment of horror was intensified: they seemed, in fact, only restrained from flight by their implicit trust in their master. All this terror was plainly excited by the being that crouched in their midst.
James later describes the creature:
At first, you saw only a mass of coarse matted black hair: presently it was seen that this covered a body of fearful thinness-almost a skeleton, but with muscles standing out like wires. The hands were of a dusk pallor, covered like the body with long coarse hairs, and hideously taloned. The eyes, touched in with a burning yellow, had intensely black pupils, and were fixed upon the throned king with a look of beast-like hate.
The restless parchment device, attempting to free itself and cause eventful death to its owner, is also seen in Casting the Runes:
In it were the quires of small-sized scribbling paper which he used for his transcripts: and from one of these, as he took it up, there slipped and fluttered out into the room with uncanny quickness, a strip of thin light paper. The window was open, but Harrington slammed it to, just in time to intercept the paper, which he caught.
While the piece of parchment gives Dunning a period of three months to live, the translation prescribes an even shorter time for young Lewis, forty-eight days. Strickland even goes as far to mention M.R. James specifically, having an old German professor of magic reference an article by a man named Karswell that explains Lewis' predicament: "in English you will find a fiction about such a spell in the writings of the great-ghost story author M.R. James. It might be worth reading [80]."