3LBE #3
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Papers From a Deserted House (in Lincoln)

by Markus Harmon

 

I did not answer the phone.

It was well past midnight when my voice mail recorded the message from my former college roommate, Andrew Fulton. The content of the message was garbled at best. Throughout most of the brief recording, there were sounds of wind and horrible thumps unleashed within the room he was calling from. The few phrases I could decipher gave me clues of what he was trying to relate. I could clearly make out the words “Yog’, “haunter’, and “dark”. Those words alone were enough to have me packing a fast bag for travel (and more) while replaying the message, trying to hear more.

We'd spent more than our free time at Miskatonic University in the archive wing of the library, pouring over obscure and half-destroyed records from the Innsmouth Incident, the medical journal of Dr. Herbert West, and struggling through near-unknown poetry searching for hints of R'lyeh or Cthulhu. Our arcane research had taken us beyond the works of the unwilling disciple Lovecraft, through every available cryptic note and fragment of his supposed sources, and not few quaint and curious volumes of forgotten lore. We had persevered through four years of dabbling in the occult. At the end of our time together, we had parted in smoldering frustration at the lack of results, but no less committed or friendly for that.

Our lives apart had taken on a semblance of normalcy unknown during the undergraduate years, as we both were forced to temper our desire for tracking the Elder gods with the simple routine battle against rent, utilities, and student loan payments. It rankled me, conforming to a society that pays for nothing but mindless labor.

Eventually the strain of full-time jobs had made communication between the two of us nigh-painful as we mulled over the time when we had been allowed simply to search. Gradually our correspondence had slackened, then ended completely. (Strange, how I still refer so casually to such earthly causes, when I know full well that we both continued our research more fervently than ever had been so in dormitory life.)

Andrew’s activities for the past five months I knew nothing about, but the message he left gave me a good indication that his studies had found better fortune than my own. Successful fortune, at least.

I awakened at four A.M. from the dream of a darkened city with strange angles that often troubles my sleep. I listened to his message first in drowsiness, then again in troubled anticipation. I was on the road to Nebraska within the hour.

Unfortunately he lived on the other side of the state, and I had nearly eight hours of useless travel with which to occupy myself. I listened to vocal tapes we had made of clues sifted from many manuscripts. They failed to explain where his breakthrough had come from. Each time I stopped the car from necessity, I would call, as I had from my home that morning. Each time I was met with the message that his phone service had been terminated. Yet still I tried, hoping against hope to hear his voice stop my anxiety.

I found his house using a city map in a phone book, and found myself at his door in minutes from the interstate exit, as he lived to the west of the sprawling city. I knocked and rang the bell several times without any response. Then I walked around the house, taking it in for the first time.

A squat one-level house, it was bare; no grass grew within the yard, and the pale yellow of the building made it seem sickly. There were no curtains or blinds, and the windows were open. The first one beckoned me, and I warily approached, one slow hand reaching out for the sill to steady my steps on the uncertain mud of the yard.

Sometimes, I feel that instinct and impulse are the most noble of human perceptions. This was one such occasion. Were it not for them, I would most likely be left-handed now. The object, some kind of gardening implement, cleaved the air recently evacuated by my right hand even as I saw the flash of motion. I fell flat on my back with a sound like >thuckblp<. I found myself shaking uncontrollably as adrenaline rushed through my prone form.

It was as I lay there helpless that I saw my friend Andrew Fulton, gazing down at me from the window. He held what appeared to be a scythe, the object from which my hand had narrowly escaped moments earlier. I am probably the only living person who could detect the faint showings of emotion — surprise and perplexity now — as they surfaced briefly around his eyes. His face had changed little over the years, and resumed its scholarly smirk, as he lowered himself to sit on the sill. “I find myself wondering,” he began, slowly stroking the burgeoning growth of hair on his chin, “exactly what you are doing lying in my lawn?”

“Cursing you,” I muttered, as I attempted to extricate myself from the muck.

“Too late for that by far,” he responded with a sigh.

“Come inside, old friend — only this time, by the doorway?” He gestured, then fully withdrew into the dark. Inside I heard retreating footsteps on the hardwood floor.

I felt my cheeks flush as the last of my dignity drained from me in a rush. But I managed to get my emotions from my face before I reached the front porch.

He appeared thinner, if possible, from when I had last seen him, which had then been near-emaciated. He was approaching thirty years old as swiftly as myself, but seemed younger than me. The aura around him was not one I had seen before. Standing on the porch, he leaned on the scythe as though it were a walking stick. Then he drew himself upright to speak.

“Welcome, Marcus. Enter here, and abandon every hope.”

“I think I nearly did. Why did you greet me with a scythe?”

“I was not expecting visitors.”

“You called me, weren’t you expecting a guest?”

“The guests entering through my windows are seldom ones I’ve invited.”

“Fine,” I exhaled my anger, and inhaled some semblance of control, “I'm sorry I came to your window. But you didn’t answer the door, and I thought you were in trouble because of the phone call.”

Andrew’s eyes dropped apologetically. “I am very sorry I attacked you. I seem…” his voice drifted off, then he finished distastefully, “high strung.” His smile is a true ghost of one, and it came to his face now.

“But under the circumstances, I am holding up rather well. Come in, let’s get you cleaned up.”

His house was void of furniture save throw pillows on the bare floor, and a multitude of unlit candles in various holders. He walked into a room and closed the door behind him, after gesturing toward what I assumed was the washroom. I managed to remove most of the muck from my hands, hair, and face, but the pants were ruined. I retrieved another pair from my car, quickly changed, and left my coat and pants soaking in the water of the tub. When I passed the door, I had heard a low susurrus of sound inside his room. I couldn’t make out the words, but I recognized where it had come from.

I opened the door without knocking, to find Andrew standing at a lone table in the center of yet another meager room. The first window to my left was the one I had attempted to peer in.

Then I saw the volumes on the table and gasped. The Book of Eibon, De Vermis Mysteriis, the Liber Ivonis, what appeared to be the Nyhargo Codex, and the folder I recognized as our hand-copied Necronomicon lay before him. He continued to chant as he moved two candles methodically around and over a pentagram carved into the wood of the table. A pentagram cornered with complex symbols I had only ever before seen three of. Until tonight.

“Have you gone categorically mad?” I asked him. He did not reply. “These are not forces that you can control. They will destroy you, or at the very least what little mind you have. I don’t know how you gained this knowledge…”

“I found the Doctor, Marcus. The one mixed up in the last of the Starry Wisdom business.” He would not look up from the table as he said, “I traced him through three countries, and more aliases than you would believe. Beyond all logic, he was Doctor Smith when I finally caught up with him in Senegal. Dressed in red, he traveled from city to city, conducting underworld demonstrations of magic and science. These tomes were in his possession. They are now mine.” He exhaled fatigue. “He hunts me, using the forces at his command. It must be Nyarlathotep in human form. It and the Hounds. They will be here soon, but I hope to be ready for them.”

I was stunned into silence for a minute as I pondered his words. He had tracked and robbed the messenger of the Outer Gods, one rumored to be the incarnation of their telepathic power. What chance had we against the Crawling Chaos, no matter what his incarnation at the moment? The Hounds of Tindalos were rumored to only hunt those who traveled in time, so I found it hard to accept that those fell beasts were involved. Either he was clinically insane, or the servants of the Old Ones would destroy us at any moment. Not the best of choices.

“Why did you begin this thing, Andrew? There had to be a point where it could have stopped short of this. If what you say is true, we are both doomed.”

“I knew what was necessary. Marcus, if you understood all I have learned with these volumes and the Aturum Des Montos. I have stolen knowledge from the Outsiders, the gods beyond our plane of existence! I have faced the Mighty Messenger and traveled through time to escape it. You do not understand the power of…” He stopped raving and leveled his gaze at me.

“You still dream of the city?”

I drew back, startled. My dreams had begun after I had stopped talking to him. There was no way…

“I saw your spirit there, while I was making my escape. You were looking around in awe, taking in the impossible angles, the darkness. Had you attempted, you would have truly been there, seen me. But you thought it a dream, and dismissed it and yourself from that plane and time.

“It is the call, Marcus. The Old Ones are attempting to recruit or subvert you. Failing that, you will find yourself hunted as I am. The Tind'losi Hounds were there, they have your scent now.”

I shuddered as I slowly shook my head. “No.” I felt myself growing angry, “It was just a dream. Nothing more.”

“There’s no such thing as 'just a dream,' my friend.” Then he again took the candles in his hand. “Now I must continue my attempt to summon help from the darkest caverns.”

His intonations began again, the summoning of Nyogtha sounding similar to those I had already read, but slightly more involved. I wondered about the volume he had mentioned, the Aturum. Had he stolen that from the Magician in Red as well, or had he used its knowledge to start this madness? I felt that he was nearing the end of the invocation, and mused that all the literature I knew stated that Nyogtha was imprisoned in a cavern reputed to be in New Zealand.

The literature was proved wrong at that instant. A dark, shuddering mass began to take shape before me. The binding circles on the floor I knew to be useless against it, but they seemed to be providing a focal point for the summoning. Then I realized for the first time the danger to which Andrew was subjecting us. The creature before us was regarded as a rogue element by everyone, including the Elder Things who granted it power. They were the beings who had attempted to imprison it.

Even as these thoughts possessed me, one slimy arm of shimmering night whipped out from the center of the creature. The blackness engulfed Andrew’s head in an instant, and I felt a soul-rending shriek in my mind. The Thing That Should Not Be was not pleased to be summoned as a bodyguard for a mortal.

The Vach-Viraj Incantation sprang to my mind as though I had planned for this occasion. It was possible Andrew still lived, although shuddering blackness was swiftly engulfing his body. I began to intone steadily.

“Ya na kadishtu nilgh'ri stell-bsna Nyogtha;”

The mass before me ceased to shudder, though all sign of my friend was gone.

“K'yarnak phlegethor l'ebumma syha'h n'ghft.”

Glowing red coals numbering eight, possibly eyes, began to glow within the creature.

“Ya hai kadishtuep r'luh-eeh Nyogtha eeh,”

The creature drew itself up slowly as though trying to flow through molasses.

“S'uhn-ngh athg li'hee orr'e…”

Unlike the attack on Andrew, the entire creature fell over me in a wave, attempting to smother and engulf me before the incantation’s last words were uttered.

Occasionally, I feel that instinct and impulse are the most noble of human perceptions. This was the second such time in a matter of minutes. During my college years, I had learned of Nyogtha and its weaknesses. In response, I learned the Vach-Viraj Incantation. Then I had a small ankh tattooed on the outside of my left ankle. Both of these are anathema to it.

As Nyogtha made contact with me, it exploded into countless small globules of darkness, filling the air, flattening against walls and floor, shattering the raised window. I fared little better. I was flung through the door. The wood splintered around me, and I felt a bone in my arm break as it hit the frame. My impact with the floor was no gentler. As I felt myself losing consciousness, I shouted the closing word of the Incantation:

“syha'h!”

I awoke several hours later, crumpled awkwardly on my broken right arm. There were still some splinters of wood imbedded in various body parts, but those could wait. I found the Aturum in the basement of Andrew’s house, with his luggage. The book is now mine, along with the other arcane volumes and all Andrew’s notes on the mysterious Dr. Smith. I hope I do not face him soon. He could be much more of a chore than Nyogtha. Andrew is either dead or wishes he were. The powers of suffering these creatures have at their command is beyond human comprehension. Andrew deliberately provoked beings of great power and paid his price. Perhaps I will find him in a dream. Now that I understand them, I can teach myself to control them. Or perhaps I only think that I can.

My own sin seems much slighter. Like Adam and Eve, I sought knowledge, and have angered those who have been chosen to rule. Unlike Adam and Eve, I have some modicum of power over these beings, and through study of the volumes I now own, will soon have more. If I am to be hunted, I will not allow myself to be defenseless prey. Perhaps I will soon suffer an unspeakable end, but before then, I will cause every being opposing me to wish they had not sought to find me.

But this madness has awakened something in me, something that I’ve longed for during years of an eight-to-five job. I leave this sheaf of papers and walk into the night. I have no friends, and am surrounded by powerful supernatural enemies, by unspeakable madness, by never-ending fear.

Yet somehow, for the first time in years, I feel in control.

 

 

Markus Harmon Haunted continuously by his conscience taking the shape of a ferret, this unfortunate has been both haunted and writing for several years. Or at least he claims as much when cornered — or perhaps the ferret claims it, that much is unclear. This is known: The man is as real as any of us; physically speaking. He works for some institution of higher learning (how much higher is unclear). His work is reputed to involve the internet in some capacity. He does not harm animals, although occasionally he forgets people as if he were unused to them. He had NOTHING to do with the infamous Noodle Incident. He is not a pawn in the game of life, (although he has played one on TV). And, although he’s written much, he’s submitted little, and published less. His story owes great debts for style and material to Lovecraft and Bloch. He lives near Denver, and has been known to quote Aristotle and the Amazing Randi in the same breath, which is quite a lot to say for one person.


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ISSUE #3

October 1999

FICTION

ART