Ochre Sepulchre

Hraban Amsler came to the end of the forest path and continued apace. The sparse, charming wood thickening swiftly before him. Ochre and gold. Colors the harbingers of Fall.

He knew the route well and yet felt as if he’d taken a wrong turning. The feeling came unbidden into his mind, though the man knew he had taken the correct path, as he had countless times before.

After several minutes spent vainly attempting to recall his surroundings, he paused in a clearing and looked about, puzzled by the alien peculiarity of the place.

Skeletal branches scrapped the barren welkin as if in the throes of anguished fury and where once there had been stars there was now only ruts of deeper blackness, like scars upon shadow.

There was no wind; nor bird-song; nor cricket cry; nor the croaking of frogs; nor the gallop of deer; nor the skittering of skinks; nor the grunting of boar.

All about were bones and silence and nowhere was the path to Harrohane.

I swore I took the right path. And yet…

Amsler looked down at the watch strapped to his left wrist and muttered a curse. It was later than he expected, though the sun seemed not to have moved at all from when he left the well-worn path. If he didn’t arrive on time he was sure he’d be fired.

Amsler paused and rescanned the forest which seemed to be closing in about him. All about the trunks of the mangled wood were marks of wear, the bark torn and smoothed like deer-sign. He moved closer to the nearest tree, which bore no similarity to any species the man could recall, and bent to the smoothed area about its radius.

They were the marks of hands.

Human hands.

Hands moved by desperate, reptilian fear.

“What place is this?” Amsler wondered aloud, his breath coming cold before him, despite the oppressive heat of the vegetal enclosure. Again when he looked the trees had closed about him, the ground becoming thicker with snaking vines and grasping roots.

“Perhaps I’m dreaming.”

He felt his head as the sky became dark with the leafy canopy, the malevolent foliage drawing shadows upon the ground which danced as if in mockery and obscured the skittering insects which poured forth from flesh-sated soil and spilled like ocean waves against Amsler’s boots.

“Or hallucinating.”

The stalks of the ferns and trunks of the trees were now so thick about the man that the forty-by-forty clearing into which he had stumbled, had nearly disappeared, having now shrunk to the size of a living room.

“What I see, what I hear—this cannot be real, but rather some trickery—of my mind’s construction, or another’s. The marks upon the trees and the bones beneath them attests to the utility of panic. Even if this is some strange, new reality—which I do not believe—to react as my predecessors would prove fruitless. No, this is nothing more than a momentary fit of some kind. I know not its origins, but I know its solution.”

Steeled of mind, Amsler moved loquaciously forth, to a small stone mound in the middle of the clearing and there sat down upon it as branches reached out to him and insects flooded about his boots, exhuming the bones of the wood’s victims with their consumptive fervour.

He closed his eyes and inhaled as the stars, like arrows, fell from the welkin.

“I am unafraid of illusions, truthful though they be.”

When he opened his eyes the wood, and all within it, had gone. In place of the forest, a great sea of ash stretched out before him. The detritus began to shift, revealing a human form, skin cracked and glassy and breathless, and in its hand, a small bronze key, pristine amongst the flat, sandy expanse. Some fifty feet away from the ashen exhumation, a great manse stood out against the starless sky. Amsler observed the door of the house, which, like the key, was also of aged bronze. He bent to the curled corpse and trepidatiously reached towards the artifact.

An Inhabitant Of Carcosa (1886)

For there be divers sorts of death — some wherein the body remaineth; and in some it vanisheth quite away with the spirit. This commonly occurreth only in solitude (such is God’s will) and, none seeing the end, we say the man is lost, or gone on a long journey — which indeed he hath; but sometimes it hath happened in sight of many, as abundant testimony showeth. In one kind of death the spirit also dieth, and this it hath been known to do while yet the body was in vigour for many years. Sometimes, as is veritably attested, it dieth with the body, but after a season is raised up again in that place where the body did decay.

Pondering these words of Hali (whom God rest) and questioning their full meaning, as one who, having an intimation, yet doubts if there be not something behind, other than that which he has discerned, I noted not whither I had strayed until a sudden chill wind striking my face revived in me a sense of my surroundings. I observed with astonishment that everything seemed unfamiliar. On every side of me stretched a bleak and desolate expanse of plain, covered with a tall overgrowth of sere grass, which rustled and whistled in the autumn wind with Heaven knows what mysterious and disquieting suggestion. Protruded at long intervals above it, stood strangely shaped and sombrecoloured rocks, which seemed to have an understanding with one another and to exchange looks of uncomfortable significance, as if they had reared their heads to watch the issue of some foreseen event. A few blasted trees here and there appeared as leaders in this malevolent conspiracy of silent expectation.

The day, I thought, must be far advanced, though the sun was invisible; and although sensible that the air was raw and chill my consciousness of that fact was rather mental than physical — I had no feeling of discomfort. Over all the dismal landscape a canopy of low, lead-coloured clouds hung like a visible curse. In all this there was a menace and a portent — a hint of evil, an intimation of doom. Bird, beast, or insect there was none. The wind sighed in the bare branches of the dead trees and the grey grass bent to whisper its dread secret to the earth; but no other sound nor motion broke the awful repose of that dismal place.

I observed in the herbage a number of weatherworn stones, evidently shaped with tools. They were broken, covered with moss and half sunken in the earth. Some lay prostrate, some leaned at various angles, none was vertical. They were obviously headstones of graves, though the graves themselves no longer existed as either mounds or depressions; the years had levelled all. Scattered here and there, more massive blocks showed where some pompous tomb or ambitious monument had once flung its feeble defiance at oblivion. So old seemed these relics, these vestiges of vanity and memorials of affection and piety, so battered and worn and stained — so neglected, deserted, forgotten the place, that I could not help thinking myself the discoverer of the burial-ground of a prehistoric race of men whose very name was long extinct.

Filled with these reflections, I was for some time heedless of the sequence of my own experiences, but soon I thought, ‘How came I hither?’ A moment’s reflection seemed to make this all clear and explain at the same time, though in a disquieting way, the singular character with which my fancy had invested all that I saw or heard. I was ill. I remembered now that I had been prostrated by a sudden fever, and that my family had told me that in my periods of delirium I had constantly cried out for liberty and air, and had been held in bed to prevent my escape out-of-doors. Now I had eluded the vigilance of my attendants and had wandered hither to — to where? I could not conjecture. Clearly I was at a considerable distance from the city where I dwelt — the ancient and famous city of Carcosa.

No signs of human life were anywhere visible nor audible; no rising smoke, no watch-dog’s bark, no lowing of cattle, no shouts of children at play-nothing but that dismal burial-place, with its air of mystery and dread, due to my own disordered brain. Was I not becoming again delirious, there beyond human aid? Was it not indeed all an illusion of my madness? I called aloud the names of my wives and sons, reached out my hands in search of theirs, even as I walked among the crumbling stones and in the withered grass.

A noise behind me caused me to turn about. A wild animal — a lynx — was approaching. The thought came to me: if I break down here in the desert — if the fever return and I fail, this beast will be at my throat. I sprang toward it, shouting. It trotted tranquilly by within a hand’s-breadth of me and disappeared behind a rock.

A moment later a man’s head appeared to rise out of the ground a short distance away. He was ascending the farther slope of a low hill whose crest was hardly to be distinguished from the general level. His whole figure soon came into view against the background of grey cloud. He was half naked, half clad in skins. His hair was unkempt, his beard long and ragged. In one hand he carried a bow and arrow; the other held a blazing torch with a long trail of black smoke. He walked slowly and with caution, as if he feared falling into some open grave concealed by the tall grass. This strange apparition surprised but did not alarm, and taking such a course as to intercept him I met him almost face to face, accosting him with the familiar salutation, ‘God keep you.’

He gave no heed, nor did he arrest his pace.

‘Good stranger,’ I continued, ‘I am ill and lost. Direct me, I beseech you, to Carcosa.’

The man broke into a barbarous chant in an unknown tongue, passing on and away.

An owl on the branch of a decayed tree hooted dismally and was answered by another in the distance. Looking upward, I saw through a sudden rift in the clouds Aldebaran and the Hyades! In all this there was a hint of night — the lynx, the man with the torch, the owl. Yet I saw — I saw even the stars in absence of the darkness. I saw, but was apparently not seen nor heard. Under what awful spell did I exist?

I seated myself at the root of a great tree, seriously to consider what it were best to do. That I was mad I could no longer doubt, yet recognized a ground of doubt in the conviction. Of fever I had no trace. I had, withal, a sense of exhilaration and vigour altogether unknown to me — a feeling of mental and physical exaltation. My senses seemed all alert; I could feel the air as a ponderous substance; I could hear the silence.

A great root of the giant tree against whose trunk I leaned as I sat held enclosed in its grasp a slab of stone, a part of which protruded into a recess formed by another root. The stone was thus partly protected from the weather, though greatly decomposed. Its edges were worn round, its corners eaten away, its surface deeply furrowed and scaled. Glittering particles of mica were visible in the earth about it-vestiges of its decomposition. This stone had apparently marked the grave out of which the tree had sprung ages ago. The tree’s exacting roots had robbed the grave and made the stone a prisoner.

A sudden wind pushed some dry leaves and twigs from the uppermost face of the stone; I saw the lowrelief letters of an inscription and bent to read it. God in heaven! my name in full! — the date of my birth! — the date of my death!

A level shaft of light illuminated the whole side of the tree as I sprang to my feet in terror. The sun was rising in the rosy east. I stood between the tree and his broad red disk — no shadow darkened the trunk!

A chorus of howling wolves saluted the dawn. I saw them sitting on their haunches, singly and in groups, on the summits of irregular mounds and tumuli filling a half of my desert prospect and extending to the horizon. And then I knew that these were ruins of the ancient and famous city of Carcosa.

Such are the facts imparted to the medium Bayrolles by the spirit Hoseib Alar Robardin.

###


—by Ambrose Bierce, first published in the San Francisco Newsletter, December 25, 1886

Aedh Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven (1899)

HAD I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.


by W.B. Yeats

The Silence & The Howl | Part 10

§.10


Harmon stood within the melting hall once more. The light in the distance so bright he couldn’t bring himself to look at it. The man from which the centipede had emerged stood once more, bathed in albescent resplendence. Fear quickened Harmon’s pulse as he shaded his eyes and pressed down the hall, compelled by desires he did not understand. When he stood within ten feet of the man he realized that it was not a man at all but a statue of a androgynous human, cast of obsidian or some like substance and it seven feet tall and smooth hewn by impossible skill. The statue’s left arm was elevated, palm facing up, its right arm declined, palm facing down, as if it were pushing in equal measure against the welkin and the earth. Where the obsidian creature’s stomach would have been was a gaping black hole and from it issued forth a ominous skittering that began as a whisper and increased in volume with every step towards it Harmon took. When he stood directly before the statue, within distance of embrace, the sound blared like a war-siren and he fell to his knees with the force of it, screaming as a million voices swarmed upon him, speaking forth in dreadful unison, their words indiscernible.

Loathsome legs, insectal and countless poured from the hole as ears gushed from Harmon’s eyes.

*

“Harmon. Harmon?”

Harmon’s eyes flew open as Lyla shook him. He rolled over in his bed to face the naked woman where she lay, her supple curves blue neath the light of the moon.

“You were making noises in your sleep.”

“I hope I didn’t wake you.”

“Bad dream?”

“Yeah. Keep… having a similar one. Same thing keeps happening over and over again… there are these voices and…”

Lyla leaned against Harmon and gently caressed his still heaving chest, teasing about his nipples and the small patch of hair between them. He pressed her to his breast and kissed her crown whereupon she looked up at him and kissed him upon the lips and slid her hand slowly down his chest and stomach to his slowly swelling cock. Harmon groaned and gripped her right breast in his rough and calloused hand, prompting a little gasp to escape Lyla’s thick, red lips and her eyes to roll and her body to sway gainst his own. Shortly the duo were swept up in passionate embrace and as the woman’s body shuddered neath his own, Harmon kissed her upon her nose and pulled slightly away.

“I love you, Bluebird.”

She said nothing and looked away and drew him closer to her body, forcing him deeper inside. Moaning. Moaning. Moaning. Digging her nails into his back until he bled.

*

The Silence & The Howl | Part 6

§.06


Harmon stood still. Paralyzing terror the whole of his form. The room was dark. A light visible in the distance. White and beckoning. The walls dripped viscously as if composed of oil or some like substance. A figure, human-like and yet not human, stood silhouetted by the albescent radiance surrounding. The man reached out to touch the effulgent entity whereupon, from the figure’s stomach, the form of a great centipedeal creature issued forth as if it had assumed the place of the sapient’s intestines and yet caused no outward signs of vexation to its host. A multitudinous choir lit up that seemed to come from everywhere at once, at first a garbled din, the voices swiftly coalescing and increasing in volume and rendering themselves decipherable.

*

Harmon woke and lay motionless. The afterimage of the dream linger yet in his mind, vivid but fading. It were a commonality of his life as far back as he could remember that his dreams had always been foreboding and filled with malice. Something was always chasing him or watching him, just beyond the plane of all perception. Some people said that dreams were omens, others would say they were the unconscious mind processing repressed or unrecognized memories and desires. Harmon didn’t really care either way. If an omen, it was unclear, if an unconscious wending, it communicated nothing to his higher cognition. Useless. He rose up on the bed and ran a hand through his dark, wild hair, rose and dropped to the floor, stopping his face with his powerful outstretched arms just before it collided with concrete. Muscles bulged and tensed and burned as the man reached the fifty sixth push-up. Fifty more and he rose and showered, shaved and dressed in a black T, blue jeans, gray socks and steel-toed leather working boots. The phone rang. It was Swain. No work due the rain. Harmon said “alright” and hung up. He cracked a beer and sipped it slowly, savoring the heady aluminium and hops-bathed flavors as he ascended the stairs from his room in the basement to the living room where stood his table. In short order, a notebook had been placed upon the table and the scratching of pencil thereupon filled up the house for hour after hour until the sun had risen full above the jagged, bleeding line of the horizon.

Harmon leaned back in the creaking wooden chair and observed his work and nodded with approval. His Bluebird looked beautiful.

The Silence & The Howl | Part 4

CHAPTER FOUR


After the showing ended and the gala closed Lyla, Serena and Harmon walked out of the school and drove down to one of the small, chic cafe-bars which had recently cropped up to celebrate. They set themselves down in the aromatic cedar interior on spotless red booths where shortly thereafter a pretty middle aged woman with a tight T and cowboy boots ambled over and asked what they wanted to drink. The girls ordered microbrewed IPAs, Harmon ordered Milwaukee’s Best. The trio sat in silence, drinking and looking around at the rambunctious patrons, smiling dumbly before Harmon, a quarter of the way through his beer, broke the silence.

“So, how’d you two meet? At school, I imagine.”

Serena nodded, “Yeah, I met her, hm, yeah, it was the first day of class. We had life drawing together. She was really good and we just got to talking.”

“I seen your paintings.”

“What did you think.”

“I thought they were very pretty. Kind of erotic though.”

“Though?”

Lyla cut in, sneering, “He’s a prude.”

“Ain’t that I’m prudish,” he arched his brow, “As you well know. Just that everything is oversexed. It detracts from the sacrality of the act.”

Serena stifled a chuckle and took a big swig of her beer. She found serious use of the world “sacrality” quite funny.

“What does he say when you two are getting it on?”

“Serena!”

Serena puffed up her chest and imitated Harmon’s gravely voice and stolid pose.

“Evening, ma’am, was wondering if ya’ll might kindly undress fer me.”

“Nah. I never ask her too undress. Only orders with me.”

Lyla, embarrassed and tipsy, punched Harmon in the arm whereupon he cracked a grin and threw his arm about her and pulled her close and kissed her crown. Lyla smiled and kissed him back, upon his lips, firm and briskly and he flushed a little, his heart skipping a beat.

“Well, aren’t you two just precious.”

“Don’t know about me. But she sure is. Most precious thing I have.”

Harmon looked to Lyla. For a brief moment, her smile faltered.

*

Do They Play Chess In Heaven?

For as long as he could remember, Jerome Buckle wanted to be a king. “One day,” he told the moon, “I will be a king and I will promote you to the rank of sun.” He read every book about the dark and middle ages he could get his youthful hands on, supplied by his grandfather and, shortly, came to learn of chess. He felt instantly drawn to the aesthetics of the game and endeavoured to learn its peculiar mechanics, the better to extract its mysteries. He played game after game against his grandfather, losing every time. Even after perpetual defeat he refused to give up and one day he took his grandfather’s king, knocking it off the board with a triumphant “ha-ha!” His grandfather smiled and nodded stoically and congratulated the boy and then picked up the chess-piece and placed it gingerly back upon the board.

“That was very good. But you shouldn’t gloat if you win.”

“Sorry.”

“Don’t apologize either.”

“Yes, sir.”

On his eighth birthday he came to understand the futility of his desires; he would never be a king. President, he decided, would suffice. He wondered if they let presidents wear crowns…

A month after his birthday, his grandfather didn’t come home from work at the car plant at the usual time. Some hours later a woman came by who Jerome had never seen before, round-faced and cold-eyed. She curtly told him her grandfather was very ill and that he had to go to the hospital. “Cancer,” she said.

Three months later Jerome stood in the city hospital before his grandfather’s bed. He was confused. He didn’t recognize the person on the bed until they spoke.

“Jerome… come here.”

The stranger on the bed held out a long, withered hand. Beckoning. Death himself made corporeal. Jerome knew then that it was his grandfather, this shrunken husk of man, filled over with tubes, lips bluish, bloodless and crusted and even still couldn’t bring himself to move.

A month later he stood over his grandfather’s coffin, fighting back tears. Those tears turned to rain which he watched out the window of the orphanage that had become his new home. He didn’t like it there. No one knew or cared to play chess. Failing to find a worthy opponent he resolved to play himself and spent every sunset and rise at the tiny little desk set up for him in a chair far too large for his tiny frame, clinking the small wooden pieces of his grandfather’s chess set across the board with tactical precision and judicious forethought. He beat his late grandfather and he beat himself and shortly he had a new opponent in Catherine, the cold-eyed woman who had picked him up and driven him to the city hospital. He was told she was to be his guardian. When she walked through the door and knelt before him at his desk he was silent for nearly a minute before he turned and spoke.

“Do you know how to play chess?”

She said she did but that there was no time to play games and, obediently, he went. He followed her until they were at the door of her car and then took off running. He wasn’t entirely sure what he was doing be he didn’t care for the orphanage nor the woman who was to be his guard and keep.

She let up a howl. He paid no heed. By rise of sun he found himself in the park where his grandfather used to take him. Two old men moved to a table. They were playing chess. Their weathered faces palled by whorling puffs of smoke, eyes cheaply sunglassed against the midday glare. Buckle walked cautiously up behind the pair, like a hunter stalking prey, the sound of his sneakers muted by the gently swaying grass. Aromatic and teeming with a horde of things unseen, nameless and skittering.

“You play?”

Buckle froze behind the aged willow tree he was peaking round. He was confused why the old man with the orange cap, the shorter of the two, would be asking his opponent if he could play the game when it was clearly already underway.

“You play, kid?”

The old man inquired again, without turning. Buckle was momentarily taken aback. He considered turning and running, but the man’s kindly tone implored him to stay. Belatedly, he moved fully out and around the tree and stood before the table. Neither man, looked at him. They were focused on their game.

“Yeah. I’m not very good though.”

“Course not. You’re – what?”

“Eight, sir.”

“Polite for your age.”

“Try to be, sir. Looks like you’re winning.”

Finally, the man with the orange cap looked up at the boy and smiled faintly.

“I’d better. Running out of time.”

“Sir?”

The old man with the orange cap paused considering his next words carefully.

“Cancer. You know what that is, kid?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, I got it.”

The man with the orange cap smiled wider, revealing crooked teeth, and puffed on his pipe, staring down his friend with triumphant expectation until the tall man shook his head.

“You wily sonnofabitch.”

“Checkmate, Frankie.”

“Damn it. Good game, Joe.”

Joe shook his friend hand and then looked to the kid.

“Hey Frankie, you mind giving up your seat?”

“Sure. Here kid, take a load off. I’m gonna go grab a coffee.”

Buckle took the tall man’s seat and folded his hands on his lap as the old man took a puff on his pipe and looked right and left and then back to the kid.

“Where are your parents?”

“They went out to eat.”

“They don’t mind you being out here?”

“Nah.”

“You wouldn’t be lying, now would you?”

“Nah.”

Buckle moved his leftmost pawn up a square as a bird swooped down from the sky and began pecking furiously at the ground. Shortly, the avian withdrew a long, thick, wriggling worm, took a few hops and fluttered off into the breeze.

The old man took his turn and then leaned back and followed the child’s eyes.

“My names Frank. Whats yours?”

“Jerome.” He was focused on the board, on the shimmering wooden forms. He imagined them alive and rattling steel and roaring as they trampled their foes beneath their ruthless, clattering heels.

They went back and forth, back and forth until at last the old man won. Buckle looked down at the table, ashamed of his inferiority.

“Hey, don’t look so glum. You gave me a run for my money.”

Buckle looked up and when he did he didn’t seen an aged-ruined man in the twilight of his life, but a mighty warrior, clad in shimmering male. He nodded to the old man. He was right. He had given him a run for his money. A storm began to brew and the willow whipped up a song whereupon the boy looked off into the gathering outer dark and thought of his grandfather.

“Mister, you think they play chess in heaven?”

The old man thought on that a moment and then shook his hoary head.

“Gods only play with dice.”

The Photographer’s Dilemma (II)

“That fucking bastard.”

Ariadne Campbell mouthed the words under mint and marijuana tainted breath as she beheld the large five foot by five foot drawing which hung upon the pure white wall of the gallery pulling all present eyes towards it with is grim and imposing majesty, even as it repelled with its stark audacity. The picture was of a middle aged man, muscular and nude, holding the sun in one hand and the moon in the other, standing astride a continental rendering of the globe, a crown upon his head and upon his face, a peculiar mask that bore some similarity to those of the Venetians. Despite the ornate, facial covering, she recognized the man, the model. The peculiar almond eyes and distinctive hardness of his jawline was unmistakable.

Derrick J. Graham. D.J. for short.

As she stood with clenched fists, her face twisting into a wreakful grimace, the click and flash of a camera followed swiftly by a sonorous, demure voice.

“I thought you might come. Its been a while, Ms. Campbell.”

She spun instantly to behold Lynder Partridge standing before her, camera raised to his face. He smiled and slowly lowered the machine and then gestured to the illustration which hung upon the wall, back-lit by pure, white light.

“What do you think?”

“I think you stole my model.”

“Stole?”

“He used to work for me.”

“Precisely, he used to. Or did you forget that you’d fired him after a temper tantrum? Forgive me if it should displease you, but you really shouldn’t have blamed the man for your work, he was just a prop, you were the director. He cannot be held accountable for the failings of your work, anymore than I could blame my graphite for botching one of my drawings.”

“I didn’t come here to be lectured.”

“Then why did you come?”

She shook her head and gazed off towards a crowd in the distance. Lynder swiftly followed her gaze and lit upon a tall, muscular blond man with a ridiculous multi-colored plaid shirt, rolled up to his elbows.

“Ah,” Lynder nodded to himself, “You’re here for him. Calvin, right?”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I understand what that gaze means. I can see why you like him. He’s very handsome.”

Ariadne screwed up her face in a mixture of amusement, confusion and disgust.

“What are you, gay?”

“Must I be to have a proper appreciation of masculine beauty? You like him, don’t you?”

“More than you.”

The ghost of smile traced a faint line across Lynder’s smooth, pale face which sharpened the contours of his cheekbones under the sterile white gala lights, whereupon his luminous blue eyes flickered with a strange intensity. He nodded slightly, but not to the woman.

“Do you know why you don’t like me?”

“Because you think you’re so much better than me.”

“I am better than you, Ms. Ariadne, that is precisely why you don’t like me.”

“Fuck you.”

Lynder continued on, heedless of her rising temper, his face expressionless save for his eyes which projected an intense and dreamlike yearning.

“The inability to acknowledge one’s betters, in the arts, as in anything, is the surest sign of an overflow of passion and it is precisely your undirected passion which blinds you, which keeps you from admitting the obvious – that my work is superior to your own, that your own is merely ancillary to yourself, that you are but a medium, a vessel, unable to craft a vision to mold the world – which keeps you from accepting any criticism whatsoever. Mind well that the inability to accept criticism is an implicit expression of the belief in one’s utter perfection. One can scarcely expect to make strides when one believes that technique has reached its apex.”

She hated him, hated him more than anyone she had ever met, yet still she stayed and listened, intently. Despite her inner protestations, his words filled her with fascination. Momentarily, the trim, dapper man checked his form-fitting silver wristwatch and raised his brows slightly.

“I must take my leave; I promised Mr. Derby an interview for his paper on my recent works. Do take care.”

With that he left out of the gala as the crowd swirled around him like a tidal wave of flesh, the ceaseless increase of their murmuring swiftly drowning out his elegant footsteps and obscuring him from sight entire. She’d been so absorbed by his words and presence that she’d wholly forgotten that the man had taken a photograph of her. The woman’s mind raced, she feared what of her that portrait would reveal. She cursed him under her breath and turned to leave but paused when she spotted Calvin once more, he was speaking with Graham some distance away on the far side of the gallery, beside two large statues that seemed to have been welded together from heavy scrap, each of a titanic knight, one with a shield, the other, a sword. Momentarily, a woman, young and curvy, with skimpy, form-fitting clothing, sided up to Calvin and whispered something in his ear, he pulled a face and the next instance she kissed him with a mischievous twinkle in her eye and he took her by the chin and kissed her back passionately. Then the trio laughed, oh, how they laughed. Ariadne felt they were laughing at her, sneering, conspiring.

This gala, just like the last should have been mine! Just as Calvin should be mine, not that disgusting slag’s. I know her, I’ve seen her around, nothing but a drugged-up whore. What does she have that I do not? Is it her money? All those greenbacks from e-begging and lascivious strip-shows? Is it because she has a spot in the gallery and I do not? Is it because she knows and probably fucks the old pricks who run the artmag scene? How did my sweet Calvin ever get so mixed up with people like her? Its not fair. Its not right. Its not how it should be… none of it.

Ariadne’s heart pounded like a misfiring engine, eyes going large with dreadful rage, like an owl in the moonlight, her fists balled, knuckles white. She hated to admit it, but Lynder was right about one thing: she wasn’t taking putting herself into her works. She was acting merely as a medium, afraid to ply her hand, afraid to reach unto the world and mold it, to fit it to her design.

No longer.

 

INTERVAL ONE | THE SEVERING

IN MY DREAM | I lay upon a bed, hard and uncomfortable, unable to sleep, swaddled in darkness. After a single heart’s beating the wall to my abode exploded in tandem with a furious howl that left a dreadful ringing to hover ghastly upon the air. A strange, dim, reddish light flooded the room. Stunned, I rose and slid off the bed, feeling something sticky, something wet.

Blood.

Aghast I fled out of the hole in the ruined tenement but emerged only into a yet larger pool of blood. So shocked was I at the heinous fluid that I neglected immediacy and surroundings both and when I took in what lay before me, horror subsumed all.

A hundred thousand bodies, in various states of undress, hung from great sheets of barbed wire that stretched for miles in either direction, so thick that the grisly conglomeration blotted out the horizon; their blood spooling out from pierced and maggot-ridden flesh like huge, undulating worms. Approaching the closest column of twisted steel I reached out my hand to touch one of the corpses thereupon. Before my hand could clasp its decaying and sanguine flesh it hissed and squirmed and reached out towards me.

Screaming. Screaming. Screaming.

Breath caught in throat, heart thundered in chest, eyes bulged and hairs stood on end. I left off out the scene and tore across the seemingly endless field of blood as the grey and wasted clouds parted from the sky, revealing a black sphere, like a tiny imploded sun, which oozed with a black and viscous substance that drizzled out over the ruptured skin of the world. Miles upon miles of seething black liquid scorching all.

Suddenly a howl erupted from behind me. Low, furious and vaguely human.

I turned to behold a man, wrapt all in bloody bandages, wadding through the life waters with single minded purpose, his movements ferine and jittering; the creature’s eyes nothing more than pools of void, lightless as the star-rent welkin and his mouth sewn shut with strands of its own hair. Behind him he dragged a thick and wooden club to which was affixed a sharp and heavy stone. Another howl and the crude ax sliced through the left side of my abdomen. I leapt aback and cried out for aid. Cried out in vain, splashing through the blood and rheum and suddenly then the chittering of teeth as eyes and hands and tongues and distended chest cavities filled over with multiplying strands of heaving hair rose up from out of the ruddy filth and slithered about my chassis as the ululatious axman brought his cudgel down into my skull.

Then, nothing.

The Third Visitation | The Red Duomo

IN MY DREAM | The red duomo loomed over me, suspended between a bottomless mist that had a bizarre solidity, enough to maintain the weight of a full-grown man and the endless ambit of a shimmering and starless sky, black save for a strange-flickering of blue-lightening, threshing the skin of the void like great and arcane flails. Curiosity overwhelmed my mind upon gazing up at the high and imposing facade which looked to have been carved of ancient stone and after a moment in nervous contemplation of my circumstance I took a step forward whereupon I heard the voice of my ever-present companion, echoing throughout my mind in a hundred discordant tongues.

The tempation of curiosity leads thee down a path which thou art not prepared to tread. You know nothing of what lies beyond this portal, yet, in thy errantry, thou hurries forth without a care. Most unwise.

What therein could harm me? Some monstrosity? If you know, speak.

It is not monsters which thee should fear.

You speak in riddles! Plainly now.

If from this much thy cannot glean even the smallest morsel of wisdom then, for thy understanding, it is not. Experience is the greatest teacher. Step forth, fool, and see what awaits.

I bristled at the entities’ barbed remarks and steeled myself to ascend the portal and enter the duomo. Inside I found myself walking down a long hallway lined with mirrors and clocks, whose arms were frozen at different times. The hall let out into a grand foyer which was covered over in a thick silky carpet of a sanguine hue much akin to the chandeliers which hung in thick and odd-angling bundles from every possible surface of the ceiling. Across the red I moved, covered over in red light and there beheld two branching paths, the first was another corridor down which I could see a glistening golden mask where the eldritch light ebbed from almandine to tanzanite. The other path cut off to the north and therein was a temple and an altar and a woman upon the altar. The offering table was swathed in red cloth and the woman upon, naked; tracing the laylines of her body with slow, sensuous movements; at length she gestured to me and though I could not see her face, covered as it was by shade, it seemed as if she were smiling, eyes twinkling like fallen stars. Instantly, I began making my way to the female, my heart pounding, knocking gainst my ribs like the kettle drum of some agued madman; to touch her, to feel her warm embrace, to trace the gorgeous curves of her body and to kiss her plump and shimmering lips, red as blood, were to the working of my fevered imagination to reach a state of absolute perfection.

I could hear the rumbling of the entity within me. He was displeased but his echoing voice was drowned by the barbaric increase of my lust. Shortly I stood before the woman, her hair writhed above her, as if suspended in invisible liquid and a darkness masked her face, a darkness that seemed to have a solidity all its own. I extended my hand and she took it and pulled me close as the entity burst through the inner sanctum of my mind, wreakful and scolding.

Leave this place. She means to drain thee of thy passion. She-

Silence!

Deign to lecture me, boy? Thee might as well cut thy wrists. What passion will well once it has been exhausted in this frivolous, disgusting dance? Have thee forgotten thy purpose?

I did not answer. Did not listen and instead cupped the mysterious woman’s breasts with strong, sinewy hands, to her infinite delight. She moaned and tore at my clothes, tossing them free of my pale, tensing flesh and pulled me upon the altar and kissed me upon the lips, her loins grinding ‘gainst my own, swelling my hardness, eroding all sense of place or time or purpose. The darkness upon her faces swelled as I thrust my manhood within her warmth, spilling out upon me like some distended abyssal cephalodpod; feelings of confusion, bliss and terror mingled all and washed over the totality of the soma liken to a wave of crystal mist. As my thrusts became ever more wild and animalistic the darkness grew and as it grew the red cloth rose and grew, shifting strangely all about the room as if it were possessed of a mind of its own. It merged with the darkness, becoming as a floating river of blood and wrapt about me; first the wrists, then the torso, then the neck. I gasped. Unable to breath and, as the blood river tightened upon me, unable to move. The woman giggled and stroked my chest from where she lay below and then dragged one, long sabre’d nail down my pectorals, slicing through my flesh and drawing a ruddy, gushing line; a living art display.

I screamed and screamed and screamed until the blood river slithered about my mouth and down by throat; filling up my lungs til the grotesque liquid spilled out my nose and dripped in heavy globs upon the skin of man and woman alike.

You were right. Hear me, ᚲᚺᚨᚨᚱᛁᛉᚨᛚ and forgive my impetuousness!

Forgiveness breeds weakness. Yet, it is not my forgiveness thy utmost desires, but rather, assistance.

Both.

Will thee promise to listen when next thou art advised?

I give you my solemn promise!

Good.

The woman, still cackling maliciously, drew her claw down to my stomach, but when she attempted to pierce my flesh once more, her sword-like nail clattered ineffectively against a blackened carapace which glistened abhorrently under the temple’s rubied hue. She gave a hideous roar and slammed her claws ‘gainst my chest with all her might, yet that assault too afforded her nothing, for the entities chitin had ensconced my body. I could feel his power flowing through me and merging with my own. I gave a shout and tore free of the living blood river and spit up the remnants which resided within my lungs and grabbed the woman about the head and without expression crushed her skull between my obsidian hands.

The Second Visitation | The Sea of Corn

IN MY DREA M | I stalked along a dusty road which ran betwix two fields of corn that stretched beyond the line of sight and vanished into the space between earth, horizon and sky, the liminal realm where Apep lay with baited breath for the encroachment of his eternal foe. Each stalk, higher than the highest man and certainly higher than the five foot, eight inches of blood and bone and flesh.

A strong wind gusted in from above and shortly thereafter, a sound in the corn. A steady and readily multiplying thrumming, liken to the sound of footfalls, but unlike the footsteps of any normal man. My heart raced and my breath quickened as something moved beyond at the periphery of my sight, fear subsumed me and pressed me to its bosom. With haste, way was made into the cornfield, stalks flying by, as if accelerated through some cosmic convergence; shortly, a clearing with an old scarecrow. I braced myself against the farmyard prop and listened. Nothing. Straightening, I caught the mischievous wyrm-of-breath which sought its escape from my heaving lungs, longing to return to its brethren in the clouded realm of the lunar dancers where they thundered to ancient and draconian rhythms.

Back in, back in! I require thee! Fuel for my engine. Fuel to flee this queer plot.

The next moment there came a dreadful creaking. Wood. The scarecrow was moving! It’s head spun about in unnatural, inhuman contortion to stare at me with it’s blank, black sack-hole eyes. Then it leapt from its wooden perch, leapt at me! The next moment was a blur of motion, my feet hitting the husk scattered ground hard and fast until I was long and good and free and clear of the animated farm ornament and his clacking and odd-angled limbs of wood and hay and cloth.

They are coming. To rend and tear. To rip and gnash. To sund and split.

Alack, again that voice, ringing in mine ears as if it were emanating from my vary brain! It was HIM. He who I had encountered in my last dream, he who had loomed over me upon the endless stair in the limitless hall. I could not see his centipedal form but could feel his presence, pulsing, not around, but within me.

What will you do? How will you gird your pathetic flesh? Can you? You can barely keep up this pace. Already your legs slacken, your pulse soars and your pores slick over with wetness. The whole of the body subsumed by fear. Feeble.

Shut up!

Anger will not avail you. I did not bring you here. You have no one to blame but yourself.

I’m not the one chasing me – now – get out of my head!

The scarcecrows close upon you. You cannot outrun them for they do not tire.

Get. Out. Of. My. Head.

The words poured out of my mouth this time, no longer merely contained to my mental sanctum; as if the foreign entity within me had expelled all speech, as if his consciousness had begun to displace my own. Control swiftly dissipating. Tension and dread the whole of my form, form the whole of my world. Was this how it was to end? Was I to die sad, harried and alone in a nowhere cornfield? I would not allow it. This was not my design.

Your imagination rebels against demise, for you can picture a life beyond your present circumstance… the will is lacking.

The will? Did he expect me to fight them? Still running haplessly, I shot a glance behind; the scarecrows where everywhere, numbering in the hundreds, lumbering through the corn with savage increase, their forms horridly skeletal in the failing, amber light.

Why aid me, ᚲᚺᚨᚨᚱᛁᛉᚨᛚ?

An amused laugh echoed throughout the endless caverns of my mind.

Why not? Better you then they. They’ve no imagination. They are no artists. They are no creators. They are husks and nothing else besides.

Tell me then, what am I to do?

Find the ship that lies to the north.

I nearly gasped for my route of escape had taken me south. To find the ship the entity spoke of I would have to transgress against the skeletal horde.

The choice is a simple one. Your coward’s heart or me. Decide.

I glanced out at the field, roiling out and beyond the horizon’s fathomless edge. He was right, there was no escape. Steeling the nerves and focusing my will I turned upon my heel and rushed the grotesque conglomerate. The first scarcecrow, feeble and rickety was as a brickwall and against it I was powerless. The creature pinned me to the ground, it’s sightless gaze piercing the outer sanctum of my mind; tearing into my flesh and reaving great and bloody gashes upon the ground. I shouted out in desperation.

ᚲᚺᚨᚨᚱᛁᛉᚨᛚ, help me!

The moment the words had left my mouth my skin was covered over in chintinous plate as dark as pitch, hard as obsidian and ‘gainst this newest skin my foe’s ravishments were rendered superflous; its scrawny wooden-straw arms dinging off my glistening carapace. Strength such as I had never experienced before surged throughout my body and with the lightest jerk of my arm I tore the monster’s head from it’s miserable body and threw it into the oncoming waves of its fellows. Charging through the rest was as if I were but passing through a shallow shrub and when fifty had been rendered by my hand a great galleon of clockwork rose up from the sea of corn, a ladder hanging from its side. Climbing aboard, it instantly began to rise, though it unhelmed and empty.

Standing upon the bow, the ship floating across the top of the stalks as if fording mighty waves, I looked down upon my inhuman form and smiled.

The First Visitation | ᚲᚺᚨᚨᚱᛁᛉᚨᛚ

IN MY DREAM | I stood upon a great stair in a endless hall, below which was a voiceless chasm, above which were the voices of a multitude. Tongues in discord liken to the rattling of leaves under a gale. All was lightless, save for a single beam upon the landing & when I stood thereupon the voices spoke as one & the hall was filled with a centipedal chittering. From the amniotic null arose the form of a great and monstrous being with a chintinous carapace like as that of a centipede. The wondrous thing enwrapt the stairwell and filled up the whole of the room and shuttered the light with its chthonic frame and spoke in a million concordant tongues.

D e v o u r 

My heart knocked ‘gainst my ribs; paralysis the whole of my form and, in that moment, my name. With great courage I steeled my nerves and forced myself to behold the towering entity, to muster the inner strength to hold it in my gaze. It was not the being’s size which impressed and terrified me, but rather, the tilt of it’s head, inquisitive and inhuman and the luminous sheen of it’s eyes, like coal-fire in the night and the pleasing tenor of it’s cacophonous voices. Yet, the creature did not move forth in a manner to threaten.

What was to be devoured?

A l l  t h a t  i s  t h a t  c a n n o t  b e c o m e

Even me? Will you devour me as well, creature? I inquired with the last and fading remnants of my courage. The titanic centipedeal being moved forth ever so slightly and, thought it had no lips, it seemed to smile.

O n l y  p a r t

When?

A l r e a d y

A strange sensation then in the pit of my stomach and when I looked no stomach of my own was left, but only a black and chitinous shell, like the carapace of a scarab. I opened my mouth to scream but the tongue was drowned by a dozen skittering legs which then slithered from my throat | I AWOKE AND KNEW HIS NAME.

ᚲ ᚺ ᚨ ᚨ ᚱ ᛁ ᛉ ᚨ ᛚ