I couldn’t have written this book without acknowledging the key role played by my dear friend, the keyboard. Well, I could have used a pen and paper and, if truth be known, I did use a bit for some notes and stuff but don’t tell the keyboard will you, she might get jealous.
In memory of H.P.L.
This preface comes before the main section of the book with its chapters, paragraphs, lines and words ahead of it and not after it. It precedes what comes after it, including any appendices and index. It is just ahead of the contents, by only a couple of pages though. I think it performs its task well. Perfunctory yes, but with a certain style I find missing in other prefaces. They tend to wind and meander, taking the reader on a journey of hitherto unknown preliminary ramblings when all you really want to do is start the book. You can’t though, because the preface is right there, bang in front of the start of the book! Still, although this book has one, I’m hoping it doesn’t fall into the same trap as that of other prefaces, delaying you, the reader from starting the book. I mean, let’s face it, you picked up this book to read the story, not the preface. Now, at this point, I have to stop and acknowledge a certain number of people out there who are fans of the preface. I absolutely, in no way want to offend ‘prefacers’ (and I hopefully have the politically correct terminology here) or ostracise them in any way. I welcome you into the fold, extending the papyrus of friendship and by including this preface, have hopefully assuaged your prefacical yearnings. Welcome.
So, in conclusion, now this is not the conclusion to the story, not a “Conclusion” with a capital C as such. See, this is just one of the problems we can fall into. We start the preface in all good faith but get carried away and before you know it, we’re concluding and we haven’t even started reading the story yet! I think there is a form of conspiracy, with collusion at the highest level, subverting the honest, law-abiding ‘Johnny-public’ into accepting sub-standard prefaces. We have to make a stand somewhere and I propose the line is drawn here! No more acceptance of misleading P’s (I can’t even bring myself to say the word). The Campaign for Real Prefaces – CamRePr
A Fear of the Dark
Being Part I of what is
The Rising Tentacle
It was an uncannily hot, still day in the summer of 1919. No birds sang, no field animals moved from their nests and not a person could be seen about their business. The air hung with an expectancy. The only motion was that of a creeping fog that made its way into the quiet, forgotten backwater of Mingsport.
‘Was it a fog though? I thought it more of a light mist, suffused with particulate debris adding weight and body to the mass?’.
‘No, that would have been a haze. If it had been thicker it would have been a smog, caused by atmospheric pollutants. A fog has a similar structure to mist but it’s all to do with visibility, from a meteorologist’s point of view’.
‘But it crept though?’.
‘Meandered, I thought it meandered but it did have a creeping dimension to it’.
This fog, mist, haze call it what you will presaged the coming of what was to be remembered by locals as ‘The Scary Summer’. Or to give it its full title; ‘The Scary Summer Where Things Came And Scared Many People’. These were a simple folk.
There is a saying in these parts
That which is old
Pray not just laying down
For many ancient times
May still yet come around
There is also a saying that
You can’t fish without a rod and line or you won’t catch anything
There were many others but they didn’t make much sense either so we we’ll move on.
HPL The Writer
Harold Peter Leftcroft wasn’t so much disorganised, as disorganised had got up, made for the door, managed to open it and run screaming, down the lane and out, over the hills and very far away indeed! Harold lived alone. A pretty woman had turned his head one day, had a good look and then turned it back again the other way. He didn’t have much luck with women. Or fish. He was a writer, a writer who guarded a deep secret and that guardianship was cleverly implemented by the absolute and encompassing disarray of any and every paper in the vicinity of his presence. He walked from the kitchen into the room and glanced toward the window which opened a view, down to the quayside giving the house its name; Quayview Cottage. Two brass ship lamps guarded the port and starboard of the mantelpiece above the fireplace and a brass spyglass completed its nautical counterparts, casting a nod to the painting of a ship on the chimney breast above. The clock in the corner ticked. It paused for a couple of seconds, then continued its ticking still devoid of its tock. It was old though, needed a breather every now and then, only fair really. I mean, day in, day out, keeping time without a thought for himself (the clock was male, as confirmed by the female timepieces he kept company with and the large minute hand). Not easy you know, always having to be punctual, always putting a brave face on the proceedings.
Harold was a writer, a frustrated writer. That is not to say he was frustrated at being a writer, far from it, he enjoyed writing, when he could. No, often he was frustrated from writing and found it difficult to get relief. Oh, that sounds decidedly dodgy, it wasn’t meant to, it’s not that kind of book. “Get on with it” boomed a disembodied voice from the ether. The narrator looked round (virtually of course because he didn’t exist), he looked sheepish and felt like some other kind of animal and then drifted back into the pretext of the book…
Harold sat down at his desk to the task of writing as he had on many previous occasions. He was hoping that this time was going to be different. Before, he had sat and found that the pencil needed sharpening or to be out of paper or that the nib of his pen was broken. He would become distracted and go and do something totally opposite, like walk and feed the fish at the Quay (no-one else did so he felt it a good community-minded task to perform. Everybody in the community thought he was a nutter!). The clock ticked, marking the pass of time, slowly and excruciatingly climbing to the zenith of midday. It didn’t tock though. ‘I must get that fixed’ he thought ‘It puts me out for the whole day’. However, funds were short at the moment. He had a small income from his one published work and it had to go a long way (a very long way, it felt like it was currently vacationing in the antipodes with no anticipated return date). The tick would have to continue, tockless for a time longer at present. This sparked an idea, a tick without its tock, alone, unrequited. Yes, the literary flow began to trickle. The damned pencil point! The trickle dried up, evaporating under the pointless midday sun.
With the writing on hiatus, Harold had risen from his desk and transferred to the bookshelf and picked himself a book he had been perusing on and off for several days. The book in question was an extremely old book he had found in a trading shop, down in the town. It was entitled ‘The Historical Significance of Coastal Customs’, an innocuous enough title but it had piqued his interest and proven to be far more interesting than he had first thought it was going to be. He was at a particularly relevant chapter in the book which dealt with devils of the sea, their myths and their pertinence to Mingsport and surrounding coastal towns. He sat in the winged chair he had, positioned in the corner of the room that afforded him a view out of the window, down across the town. A lord of the seas devils was presented as Dra’gon and this black deity commanded fish-like minions who could live half in and half out of the sea. This meant they could spend time on land, as well as time in the sea otherwise they would have had to spend all their time with half their bodies in the sea and half poking out, bobbing in the sea. That would have been a pretty pointless existence, like buoys warning people of their existence but unable to cause any devilment because they would had already warned people. Harold mused on this and was thinking about their female counterparts; Guorls (pronounced Girls) when he drifted into a sleep, the warm afternoon sun piercing through the window. His dreams wove an enveloping blanket of fish-headed monsters basking on rocks out in the bay, reading from oozing books that appeared alive, talking in strange tongues and burning passing sailors with blinding orange light from their cold, piscean eyes. The sea troubled him, its cold, inky form swelling and falling, swirling around him like cold, dead hands trying to pull him to death. He awoke with a start, not from the maelstrom of sea and sound in his dream but because of some external noise. A bump, followed by a brushing sound. His heightened awareness in the now darkened room put prickles on the back of his neck. He stood, disoriented for a moment then moved to the window. Looking out across the town, toward the quay and out across the bay as he had done many times before he couldn’t help thinking that something had changed. It seemed cold and callous although the stifling heat of the last few weeks had barely abated for the night-time. Lights twinkled as they had done but they seemed as cruel eyes are and one in particular, out beyond the quay, in the bay, brighter than the others seemed to be beckoning to him. He stretched and thought no more of it other than the vestiges of dream. He walked to the stairs, ascended and went to bed. That night a cat crouched, ran and jumped in the garden chasing clever, cavorting flies. A black-winged bird flew from tree to tree as if searching for rest. It was upstaged by the silent, glide of an owl hunting food and finding it. Other, more fortunate food rustled in the hedgerow guiding the path down into the town. And many other, less wholesome creatures made their night manoeuvres under cover of sleep.
Harold awoke to the knocking on the bedroom window by a large, senseless gull that did not stop its knocking until Harold had dragged himself out of bed, stumbling across the rug and swung the window open (after first retrieving the shoe he had already thrown at the window, in hope of moving the bird on, to avoid getting out of bed as previously outlined). His mouth tasted like the spatter the bird had left across his window on departure (‘just how had it managed to do that?’ queried Harold), his tongue the texture of the rug his foot was brushing against as he started to dress and as dry as feathers. The thought of brushing scraped around the inside of his head until he vaguely remembered the brushing sound he had heard the last night. But morning dismisses the evening’s queries as sun dismisses the early mist and he set off downstairs to remove the bird from his mouth.
His mouth now tasting like his own, he set off to visit the university library. Harold was following up on some information he had found in the book he had been reading. He felt it may provide a hook for his next book and a little research was the order of the day. As he left the front door to pass along the garden path to the gate in the picket fence, he was struck by two things; firstly, by the uncommon mist that had for a second day probed its way into the contours of Mingsport. Secondly and more pressingly he was struck by the jettisoning from tthat damned seagull that had woken him this morning. All over his jacket lapel. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and proceeded to smear the mess making an impromptu ‘buttonhole’. Mumbling, he turned and went back inside to make a better attempt at cleaning. He left once again but this time a little more cautiously but the bird must have returned to base for re-fueling. Closing the gate behind him, he set off down the lane and into the mist which rolled and lolled about the lane and alleyways of the town. The townsfolk that were out this morning each eyed him with suspicion, he greeted them and accepted the eyeing as affirmation, the mist flowing with the walk of his step. He reached the bustop and after some minutes the bus to the university and beyond pulled up.
On the bus, the short ride passed pleasantly and pulled out of the mist as it rose up to the university.
The mist that had so unexpectedly appeared the day previously and now, again today had a cloying effect upon the people it met and who lingered in it. It clung like overly sweet tobacco smoke in damp wool but had an underlying sour aftertaste. It clasped whitewashed walls, coated windowpanes and brought a general uneasiness. Some people felt it was hiding something, some one that flitted just out of view as you turned to see it. Some ethereal Puck. Was it just mischievous tricks of the mind or something more sinister borne on the unnatural mist?
A Visit to the University Library
There stood the Muscovado University. It had a sweet smell of success about it, turned sour only by the foreboding granite portal which gave passage to the hallowed hall. It had a rear entrance, a back passage if you will but people tended not to use this as much. Past students of the university; Old Muscovadians held the fact that they had attended this ignoble edifice with most high regard. None more so than the mystically named ‘Guardian’; the Guardian Muscovardian. This person took his role in the history of the university very seriously indeed, which was strange as no-one took him very seriously at all. Rumour had it that he was called Norman, Norm to his friends but no-one dared call him it. Passing through the main entrance, Harold noted the sign on a door to the left, just inside which stated that The Guardian was OUT in capital letters. This caught his attention because of the name, ‘The Guardian’ but also because he thought he saw a shadow move past inside his room, from underneath the door. He thought nothing more of it other than that The Guardian was IN (in capital letters).
Once in the edifice, one entered a time of its own. There was a smell of wood and beeswax and a warm honey-coloured hue that picked its illumination from the old, uneven panes of ‘sugar-glass’ windows about the entrance hall. Many of these windows had images and words in colours set into them portraying scenes, no doubt about the educating nature of this university. He mused on the vulgar Latin (some of it was down right rude!); ‘The Sweet Smell Of Success’, ‘Refined Through Learning’, ‘Sour Grapes’, Clean Me’, ‘Also Available In White’, ‘Through Learning To The Bra’s'… (Some of his translations may have been a little off the mark).
He was pulled from his reverie by an ‘excuse me, may I help you?’. A tall, thin gentleman stood attentively. ‘My name is Derek, I am the cleric’.
‘Derek The Cleric’ thought Harold. ‘Oh, I am looking for the Library’.
‘The library is up the stairs on the first floor and is sign-posted, sir. Is there anything in particular you are looking for? I may be able to help in my role as cleric’ suggested Derek.
Harold was reticent to divulge the full nature of his visit at this time, ‘I am interested in some of the old history of Mingsport’.
‘Ah, something for the weekend sir’ quite loudly and knowingly nodding said Derek and took a step backwards. ‘if you require further assistance just ask for Derek, Derek The Cleric’ and he turned and walked off. Harold turned around self-consciously, half-expecting women to be eyeing him suspiciously in disgust and men to be winking and nodding their heads in his direction. He harrumphed and made his way to the foot of the staircase. Each important-looking banister was topped with an enormous sculpture. A lion on the right, open-mouthed, mounted upon a globe, in turn mounted upon a plinth. A Dragon on the left, close-mouthed and sly, mounted upon a similar globe, in turn mounted upon a similar plinth. An engraved scroll stood proud at the bottom of each plinth. Beneath the Dragon was carved the word ‘Tayte’ and beneath the Lion was carved the word ‘Lile’. He ascended the stairs awkwardly. The stairs were of the type whereby you just can’t quite make the step in one smooth movement and end up performing a demented waltz and have to look back afterwards just to check to see if anyone had noticed. They never had but you still felt that they had. He fox-trotted the remaining two steps and arrived tripping at the first floor. He made his way to the library doors following an appropriately delineated sign that said ‘Library’. Large brass handles were set against large leather and button panels and far from inviting use, deterred it. They had heads of gorgon-like figures cast at the top of the handles with a long neck forming their bodies. ‘Tayte’ and ‘Lile’ had looked positively demure compared with ‘Johnson’ and ‘Johnson’ as he had for some reason decided to call them. He reached out his hand, pulled it back slightly then reached and pushed on and entered the library. ‘I am glad that’s over’ thought Harold taking a handkerchief from his jacket pocket and wiping his brow and his right hand which had somehow felt tainted. He put the handkerchief away, glanced over at the desk and a nameplate that introduced Dirk The Clerk as being in attendance but walked on hoping to avoid any more embarrassing moments.
‘Good morning sir, can I help’ shouted the Clerk at the top of his voice.
‘What is wrong with people here?’ thought Harold quite quietly in contrast to the Clerk and walked on.
‘Just shout if there is anything I can help with, thank you’ once again shouted Dirk.
‘Thank you’ said Harold.
‘Sshhh’ curtly hissed a couple of people sat reading in the library.
‘Sorry, sorry’ said Harold. His face was as red as a beetroot and he had to reach once again for his handkerchief.
The rows of bookshelves stretched out ahead of Harold, from floor, to near ceiling, each one alphabetised. He approached Z, his concentration had been broken, well, grabbed by the neck, strangled and thrown to the marble floor leaving its limp, lifeless body diffused. His shoes seemed inordinately loud and the more he tried to quieten his footsteps, the louder they seemed to get!
A ‘tut, tut’ could be heard from a disembodied library-goer.
Harold lifted his left arm in atonement and made slow, exaggerated steps to shelf Z. ‘Made it’ he thought, almost thinking his thoughts would be heard and disapproved of. Relieved at making the long (10-stride) journey to the shelves he rewarded himself with a now customary wipe of his brow with his now decidedly limp handkerchief. He teased it back into his jacket pocket like one would a small garter snake, should one take the time and have the inclination to do so. He picked up the first book his hand came to – ‘Zen and the Art of Handcart Maintenance’. He put it straight back on the shelf.
‘Pull yourself together man’ said the voice in his head (he double-checked it wasn’t the Clerk but it was far too quiet a voice to be so). He reached for the garter snake, dabbed his top lip, folded said snake into the semblance of a handkerchief and stuffed it into his right hand side pocket. He moved out of the Z zone and on to letter M.
The handkerchief hung limply half out of Harold’s pocket and was displaying his monogram of HPL against the green-grey of his suit. A slightly rotund character further ensconced in the M isle glanced at Harold’s outline presented against a streaming, particulate light that had entered by fenestration above the shelves against the far wall. He looked again, swapping the acknowledgement of the monogram from his subconscious into his conscious mind with attendant awe.
‘You’re him aren’t you?’ the character excitedly spoke, not as loud as the Clerk had been earlier but not too far off.
‘Am I?’ queried Harold, turning to see what further embarrassment called on his reserve.
‘Are you?’ quickly retorted the man.
‘I am Harold’.
‘Oh, I get you, incognito…’ nodded the man, tapping his nose with his fore-finger, ‘Mum’s the word’.
‘Is it?’ further queried Harold now at a loss, the embarrassment flood gates having been fully opened, the flood waters fully drained and leaving just a few last gasping fish in the mud at the bottom.
‘Oh, yes’ completed the now overly familiar gentleman. ‘Well, Dragon, eh?’ he continued.
‘It’s Dra’gon, actually’ ventured Harold, now in full volume vocal retort with this loud person.
‘Ooh, it doesn’t half Drag’on does it?’.
‘What?’ asked Harold.
‘The book. I’ve read it!’.
‘Ah, I see. You are interested in this…’ Harold paused to think of the right word.
‘History?’ finished the character, ‘let me introduce myself. I am Ber-naard Chester Voyd, I work at the museum’.
Harold raised his eyebrows (using the muscles of the eyebrow of course, it would have been silly if he had physically used his fingers and raised them). He was starting to warm to the man through a potential mutual interest in subject matter. ‘Hello Bernard’ said Harold.
‘That’s Burr-Naard’ said Bernard.
‘Sorry, Burr-Naard’ said Harold. The book in question was ‘The Marsden Book of Monsters’ – ‘Marsden’s Monsters has become the authoritative literary source of, well monsters today, encompassing all minor, major and really big players in the scene’ espoused the book’s preface (don’t get me started). It was open at the letter D with a full section with diagram of Dra’gon (pronounced Dray-gone). After a description of said monster or ‘major deity’ to give it its proper title and a bit of history, a smaller section told of ‘…a mist presaging the arrival of terror inflicted on a town of antiquity when the alignment of mordent nascence was once again met…’.
‘Pheeew, that passed me by’ indicated Bernard who had been hanging over Harold’s shoulder and reading the passage.
‘Mist…’ muttered Harold, not really comprehending Bernard’s attempts at involvement.
‘Yes, missed completely, Hah’.
‘Sorry? No, the mist that has appeared these last two days’ continued Harold.
‘I know, plays havoc with the papers at work, especially the old ones’, Bernard was in the conversation and was not about to get marooned now. ‘It has given me a bit of a chest also. I know Rosa, the little lady that cleans for the museum suffers in the same way. Mind you, she doesn’t seem the kind of person who keeps very good health. Yes, she was off the other month with some illness or other. I expect this mist is not what she needs right now’.
Harold had changed pages in the book to ‘The Old Ones’ and was just about to move on to ‘The Really Old Ones’ when he stopped and asked Bernard about the museum. ‘Does the museum have many old papers? ‘.
‘Why yes, there are boxes and boxes of un-catalogued parchments, papers and note-lets down in the basement. I am working through them little by little but there is only myself. In fact there is some dispute on-going with this university regarding ownership of some of the papers. They were bequeathed by a benefactor of the museum but the university maintains a prior claim to them’ said Bernard.
‘Could I pay a visit…’.
Harold was cut short by the appearance of Derek ‘Ah sir, I trust you have found what you are looking for?’.
‘Ah yes, thank you. This is Derek, he is the Cleric’ introduced Harold.
‘Hello, pleased to meet you’ said Bernard.
Harold made to depart and Bernard followed him, Derek stepped dutifully back but his eyes followed the pair as they made toward the the Clerk’s desk and the door. He placed three books on the Clerk’s desk.
‘Taking these books are we sir? Monsters, oooh very interesting reading’ bellowed the Clerk.
Harold cringed as each word grated more than the last. He nodded smiling, his silence over-compensating for the loudness of the Clerk. ‘Johnson and Johnson’s’ internal counterparts provided welcome relief and egress from what was decidedly the most stressful visit to a library Harold had ever experienced!
Exiting the university, Harold mentioned again about visiting the museum and the two arranged to meet that very afternoon at about 4:30pm. They parted, Harold deciding to walk back over country, rather than taking the bus. The mist had receded quite some distance, seen quite clearly from the vantage-point of the university grounds. As he set off away, he had the feeling that someone was watching him. He turned and saw a curtain move slightly in the left hand window next to the entrance, which must have been The Guardian’s window. He made off.
The day was turning out to be a pleasant one. The walk over the windswept hilltop, down towards Quayview Cottage took Harold via course grasses and summer flowers and calling birds. Back in his cottage, he had prepared himself a light meal of cheese, bread and onions and sat down to study the library books he had loaned. The afternoon passed and soon it was time to go and meet Bernard at the Mingsport Museum.
Away out at sea, white foam tops were being whipped into shapes. Spray danced, swayed and cavorted into an as yet unrealised form. A faint groan of pain swelled and shrank like the sea that spawned it. It sent the mist ahead of it, its herald. Each arrival into the town via the quay would embolden its scouring. First it would snake its way, probing, seeking, testing. Then, thicker and more confident it would wander like a stray dog who new the paths, passages and alleyways of its haunts.
Mingsport Museum of Antiquity
Harold had never really taken a notice of the museum before. He knew it existed and had passed it on many occasions since moving to the town, just over a year ago. He was glad of its existence, it added a comfort to his life but he had never had reason or inclination to visit it, until now. Two large stone steps flanked by iron railings led to a large, double wooden door with metal rings formed as rope for door handles. The skeleton of a shark’s jaw, that had seen better days stood proud from the wall to the right. It looked like it was yawning rather than gaping and Harold’s expectations dropped a little as he pushed at the door by its handle. Although the sun was still out, inside the building the light wouldn’t have disappointed the yawning shark. It could have quite happily laid down, pulled a blanket up around its missing neck and slept the sleep of the just. Various mahogany and glass cases presented equally soporific fauna from the surrounding locale. Just as Harold was about to check to see if he was wearing pyjamas, dressing gown and slippers and if the milky evening drink was still too hot to drink, Bernard’s face appeared out of the gloom, in alarm.
“The alignment!” exclaimed Bernard “I think it’s aligning!”.
Harold, now awoken from his stupor started to assemble the little information his new colleague had given him. “The alignment of mor…”,
“yes, that one! It is all here in the ‘Mingsport: Ritual and Custom’. Bernard was on a roll, “The book has been on display, under glass all the time I have been here but it was open at ‘Tipping The Fish’” He enthused. (‘Tipping The Fish’ was a day dedicated to the fishing origins of Mingsport whereby elders of the town would wear a fish strapped to their heads and parade about the town, ‘tipping’ it to each and every person they met. People prayed for a cool day as the stench could become unbearable!). Harold’s eyes followed his eyebrows upwards managing to keep a grasp upon the proceedings. “Here!”, Bernard snapped open the oversize portfolio and a faint echo proceeded around the hall trying not to wake the other exhibits.
The Alignment of Mordent Nascence
Little is known of the ritual, custom and/or history surrounding this alignment, save that back in antiquity, ‘The Sound Stone’ that stood up on the cliff above Mingsport marked an alignment, once every generation.
Local people are known to touch the stone for luck.
A sketch of the stone was presented.
Harold had read the entry in the book with Bernard delineating key words such as “Custom”, “antiquity”, “cliff”, Mingsport”, “generation” out loud. Although intrigued by Bernard’s audible amplification alluding to something, he was at a loss to put his finger on it. He looked briefly at the animals in cases, they didn’t offer any further clarification. Bernard was one step ahead and in answer to Harold’s silence he stepped back into the gloom from which he had appeared moments earlier then returned, scraping the carcass of a large mammal across the tiled floor no doubt awakened from its slumber in its case… No, Harold had got that wrong, it was an enormous book Bernard dragged. Although not small himself, Bernard struggled to lift the book to the table they were both now stood against and manhandled it into a readable position. The outer cover (several inches thick) was opened and dropped down with a resounding thud that had awoken all exhibits with a start into their ‘exhibit’ stances ready for museum duty. The opening of a few more pages ensured they stayed alert. There, about three-quarters of the way through the book laid a drawing of what appeared to be The Sound Stone, with people stood encircling it, arms up in the air and a moon and a star with fog all around. Something appeared to be emanating from the circular hole at the top of the stone. “stone”, “people”, “fo…”.
‘Yes, I can see’ cut in Harold.
There was a pause, they each turned to the other and slowly commented in unison ‘The alignment is coming!’.
Some time passed as the two characters busied themselves finding more books. At one point Harold had asked Bernard what he had meant when he had said ‘you’re him, aren’t you?’ yesterday.
Bernard answered with ‘I know, I know, keeping in character, my lips are sealed’.
Harold wished he had not asked and put it down to Bernard’s character trait – looney! They had found out that the author of the “Ritual and Custom” book was a local historian and had decided to meet with this person at their first opportunity. Further references to the alignment had been found and a picture of a not so pretty nature had started to emerge. The pair had the feeling that they were getting into shark-infested waters, with mouths that clearly looked like the gaping type, not the yawning type! The sun slowly lowered, shot some orange rays across its sky, catching the windows of the museum but eventually gave up the ghost and went altogether.
‘We need to go now’ said Bernard suddenly.
‘Why?’ asked Harold, still willing to continue.
‘Oooh, I don’t want to be hanging around this place after dark’ Bernard’s eyes widening as he spoke.
‘Why ever not, you work here?’ said Harold.
‘I know, but it’s scary’, Bernard’s wide eyes darted from side to side. Harold’s followed them, took in some picture his mind had conjured in response to the whites of the eyes, he assented and they were out of the door within a few seconds. The shark was still yawning but it was dark and seemed to complement the night air. Not for the last time, a faint brushing sound was heard briefly by Harold.
The next morning the fog had appeared again. Harold had retrieved his shoe from the windowsill (the gull had walked and hopped back and forth across the outside of the window in a kind of early morning dance-hall finale, until the sole of the shoe, via the windowpane had made its opinion known) and walked out and met Bernard down at 1 Upper Cut. This was the address given for Jeremiah Nule, the author, obtained from yesterday’s investigations.
Under stone steps that rose up to a door, in the dark recess, cloaked deeper by the fog a rat made bold its presence. It scurried, using its scaled tail to sense and observe the pair, arriving at the house of Jeremiah Nule. It was not itself observed. It rubbed its face with both hands then made off, dragging its fur across the greasy cobbles. Grime from the quay, a by-product from its purpose was a natural offence but something more, something unnatural stained those stones.
And Then There Were Three!
Boxes stood beside the outside wall of the building, 1 Upper Cut. They had crude pictures of scales and heavy measures stamped on the sides. They were obviously heavy weight boxes. Harold and Bernard entered the gate in the picket fence to the short path up to the front door. Bernard knocked the brass dolphin that hung there against the shiny black wood (it didn’t mind, it had done this sort of thing many times before, that was its main porpoise in life). A voice shouted and the sound of many bolts and locks being unbolted and unlocked ensued. The two made motion to speak as the door opened, but it didn’t. The back door which was only about four feet away from it, due to the particular nature of the curving walls of this beginning-of-row house did. The voice, not too distant was answering to non-existent callers at the back door which could then be heard closing and being locked. Bernard knocked again. The same sequence of events followed. The two however had decided to go around the house and beat the occupant at his own game. All that happened was that the doors opening were changed and the answering changed to ‘If I catch you…’. Harold put up his hand motioning Bernard to wait a moment and trotted around to the front door, knocked and the door instantly opened. A slender, intense gentleman with black hair and gold-rimmed glasses stood face to face with Harold.
‘Ah, hello’ said Harold backing up one step.
‘Hello? Hello? What is the meaning of this?’. There came a knock at the back door from Bernard. ‘There’s another one, this is un-be-lievable’ burst Nule.
This had clearly got the heckles of Nule up and before Harold could raise his ‘wait a moment’ hand, the man had flown at the back door, unlocked it and grabbed Bernard by the collar with both his ‘what the hell are you doing’ hands. Bernard held up his ‘what the hell is happening’ hands. A few minutes later, temper had abated, hands had returned to being distal parts of arms and confusion had become enlightenment.
The house was an interesting one. Interesting in the sense of a Penny Farthing being interesting when used as a mode of day to day transport. Books were piled, one on top of another throughout the main room. Framed pictures adorned the walls, there were interesting scenes of local antiquity, maps & charts and pictures that would need a lot more inspection to fathom out than the cursory glance Harold or Bernard could fit in. Porcelain figures filled every shelf that hung to the walls. The word eccentric spun to mind, pirouetted, pas de deux’d, performed the last act in Scene Three and came back for a curtain call. But both came to the same conclusion, that here was a man with similar interests and that three inquiring minds were better than one.
‘How may I help you gentlemen’ asked Jeremiah. Harold took up the story so far and detailed that which had brought them to this quaint house on the quayside. Jeremiah slowly answered ‘I didn’t think anyone would ever take any notice of what I had written but I have felt something with this mist’.
‘Mist’, echoed Harold, ‘Mist’ echoed Bernard. The three looked at each other and before long were knee deep in papers and books. After a good two hours, the three stopped to take stock of what they had learnt. This very house itself was part of the discovery. Jeremiah had known of its significance. It was mentioned in a document, its structure providing a safe-haven against “untold horrors” and “cleaving the sea smoke”. The alignment was further illuminated and it was shown to be linked to music of a sort; harmonic convergence. Were things really aligning at this place, at this point in time? Was the uncommon fog, for fog it had become from its initial pretencions as a mist, something more? What they had, were the threads of a dark tapestry that wove the history, pre-history, landscape and legend of an unseen world that had inhabited the crumbling ruins of New England.
‘Crumbling? New? How can it be crumbling if it’s new? Who writes this stuff?’ asked a disembodied voice, not for the last time…
Harold Peter Leftcroft had started out as a single person carrying out research for his new novel and was now in a team of three; Leftcroft, Nule and Voyd. Little did the three realise at this juncture that the fate of the eastern seaboard rested with what amounted to no more than a dodgy-sounding law firm. The eastern seaboard was concerned and wanted another juncture.
Silent gulls wheeled and circled above the languid grey-green town, taking one last look before the sun dropped from view. Once their curiosity had been satisfied, the town oozed into a silence that pooled in the small alleyways like spilt blood. With the sun gone and the last vestiges of orange light burnt to the ash of night, the things that honour the dark took up their shadowy residence.
Right of Passage
It was late morning when the knock came at the door, an unexpected knock and one that broke the mesmeric hold on Harold Peter Leftcroft’s mind that had come from the argument of two gulls over a piece of glittering stick. The hold, now broken, left the man thinking he had missed the point of something, maybe the stick but whatever it was, it was gone. At the door was the new acquaintance; Jeremiah Nule who knocked and veritably jumped in through the door, taking Harold aback.
‘You will never guess, you never will’ he said nodding and raising his eyes, ‘I have found something interesting’.
‘Interesting?’ questioned Harold.
‘Yes, interesting…’ he continued. He reached into his inside jacket pocket and started taking out a yellowing sheet of paper, looked around as if expecting peering faces to glare and make motion to take said paper by force then placed the paper on the desk. He pointed repeatedly at what was a very old piece of paper (or a very young piece of paper in cunning make-up. it’s so very hard to tell these days). Harold looked intently at the paper, it held a diagram. a plan of somewhere. ‘It’s a diagram, a plan of somewhere’ said Jeremiah (logical really). ‘A plan, of a passage, between the museum of a mutual museum friend and the Muscovado University! Links! Links everywhere!’. Harold couldn’t see the significance, it was hiding, perhaps in the passage? A puzzled look on his face must have told Jeremiah of this fact and he started to recount his thought processes. A picture of a butterfly came into Harold’s mind and fluttered around its recesses until he heard the word ‘Guardian’ (the butterfly then promptly fell to the floor of his mind motionless awaiting decay, the fate of all living things). The passage ran from the Museum to the room of ‘The Guardian’. Now that was interesting. Before very long, the pair were walking at a fair gate down to the museum. (The butterfly’s wings had started to decay and were ragged and torn. The wind from the momentum of the pair blew it to one side and out of inexistence).
At the door to the museum the shark skeleton welcomed, looking pleased with itself and as if it had put on a little weight since Harold’s last visit.
‘Shark!’ exclaimed Jeremiah. Harold quickly glanced at him and nodded. They went in, pleasantries were exchanged with Bernard, the Museum curator and soon the chart was out on a table being poured over like gravy over a Sunday roast. The entrance to the passage was hinted at as being below, in the basement of the museum. Bernard took the hint with no need for further elaboration and made for the back of the hall. In his haste, his open jacket caught an exhibit and sent it crashing to the ground. As in all these types of situations the exhibit was fragile, breakable and looked expensive. The other two watched helplessly as it fell in slow-motion to the hard, tiled floor of the museum and shattered into a hundred pieces (it might not have been exactly 100 pieces, no-one counted them but you get the picture). Harold and Bernard stood aghast, open-mouthed each wondering what to say. Jeremiah looked back but didn’t seem particularly that perturbed by the incident.
‘Wasn’t that expensive?’ ventured Harold, ‘It looked irreplaceable!’.
‘Oh, no there are many more of the “Seafarer” characters in storage. Now if it had been the fish… I’ll see to it later’ and off they continued. The other two followed, passing the broken terracotta figurine scattered on the floor, then noting the Seafarer-looking character standing proudly on its plinth, next to a ring in the dust where its partner-piece had once stood.
‘I think it was the fish’ whispered Harold emphasising the was.
‘Oooohh’ said Bernard. Harold bent down and picked up a small scrap of paper from amongst the shards of pottery. He put it straight into his worn jacket pocket as he had to keep from losing his companions as they left the hall and went on, down stairs into a gloomy basement, full of packing cases and racks of papers and books.
Jeremiah had lit a lantern and was swinging yellow light around the room ‘It is towards the corner’ he mumbled. He started tapping on the walls and stamping a foot on the floor. He then squeezed behind a rack that held all manner of old books. There was a scraping and the rack moved out a little making more space behind it then there was a hollow ‘bang’ and then another. ‘its here’ said Jeremiah triumphantly. The pair moved slowly to see what was there. Hidden by the rack for who knows how long was a door. ‘A door’ said Bernard. Harold looked at him. Jeremiah had his hand on a large, round rope-like metal ring.
‘you do realise that behind that door will be ages of cobwebs and damp and maybe even rats. I’m not sure…’ Harold tailed off his conversation wishing he had not started it.
‘Ah, there we are’. Clank! ‘its not too stiff’. Creak!. ‘its coming’. Scrape! Jeremiah was oblivious to what could lay behind the door, he just wanted to prove the document right. Harold gripped the shoulder of Bernard. Bernard tensed and brought his left arm up slightly, Both ready for a blast of stale air and whatever else would emanate forth. Jeremiah popped over the threshold of the door into the inky blackness. Harold and Bernard didn’t. Footsteps echoed away. The hesitant two leaned imperceptibly forward, as far as they were prepared to go at this point. Footsteps echoed approaching, much faster than they had echoed away. Jeremiah must be running back, from what? the door bumped open a little further, Jeremiah’s head loomed forth, Harold and Bernard shouted out in horror!
‘Come on, come on everything is fine, it leads right the way on’ encouraged Jeremiah.
‘Sorry’, ‘sorry’ mumbled the embarrassed pair.
The large rope-like ring door-handle was in point of fact a snake-like thing rather than rope as Harold noted and avoided touching. The passage was remarkably clear. It was dark, as passages under museums that nobody knows are there, often are but it had lost some of its expectant terror, not exactly “come in, sit down and have a cup of tea”, welcoming but passable. The lantern that showed the way swung in the stone-arched confines and the passage started to climb. Cobbles underfoot were a little slippery, presumably wet. The passage went on and on and on went the three in silence. There was no need to question direction as there was only one until at a point some time into the journey, on the left a black, gaping arch appeared. The three slowed, each looked then hurried on past, ‘on’ said Jeremiah and seeing he had the lantern, the other two saw no need to contest at this juncture. It started to get a little warmer as they climbed steeper and then to steep steps, cut into the rock (they had climbed shallower steps earlier). An iron railing loomed out in the yellow lantern-light and led to a door not dissimilar the the one they had initially opened some good half an hour previous. Bernard had removed his jacket and loosened his tie, Harold was dabbing his forehead with a handkerchief and Jeremiah held the lantern up revealing beads of sweat on his brow.
‘A door’ whispered Bernard. At least he whispered it thought Harold.
Jeremiah reached for the ring handle ‘woah, no. Wait! hissed Harold ‘We don’t know where it leads to’.
‘I know, let us find out’ enthused Jeremiah and turned the handle. The mechanism was much smoother than at the other end of the passage but no light streamed forth, it was still pitch black. Jeremiah’s hand pushed forth into a coarse material and then light streamed in, temporarily blinding the three. As their eyes became reaccustomed to the light, they saw a thick velvet-fronted curtain covered the doorway and that doorway led to the room, the inner sanctum of “The Guardian”.
The room was small and was apart from the main room that people visiting “The Guardian” on university business would have been received into. It was full of objects and the sweet smell of an incense hung in the air. All was quiet and once again Jeremiah stepped forth into unknown territory. Harold’s handkerchief once again saw action, he wanted to shout out but knew it would have been the wrong thing to do. His tongue was stuck to the roof of his mouth and wouldn’t have let him anyway. Jeremiah looked around the room, peered over onto a table, looking at documents thereon. Then, the last thing anyone wanted to hear – something! Muffled sounds from without. Panic struck. Harold turned to run and knocked Bernard over in his haste. Jeremiah turned and once again deployed his technique of knocking things over but this time caught a statue as it toppled. He ran for the curtain and wrestled with it, won the battle and slipped out, through the door. One last check before closing the door illuminated a dark cloaked, hooded figure through the slightest of cracks through the curtain. Terror gripped his heart. What he saw that day or night he never divulged to a soul.
The lantern-light danced wildly as if taunting the triumvir of investigators, showing glimpses of the passageway, then snatching it from view leaving them as blind as moles. They ran, hearts pounding, hoping not to be followed, not knowing if they were. After a time they slowed partly because each could hear no pursuit but mainly because each was not particularly in any great shape to sustain the punishing run. All was remarkably quiet. The tunnel seemed to absorb sound, footfall was dampened, all each could hear was the over-beating of their own heart. At length, they reached the end of their foray, staggering to the door, squeezing past its presence (they did not have the energy to move it). It was Harold who pushed the door closed, turning the snake-ring and feeling its rough underbelly. He looked at the ring turned out horizontal and felt he saw rough rings on the inside of it, he vaguely thought of an octopus but tiring and aching he was glad to release it. They emerged from behind the rack and each with their backs against it, pushed it closer to the door than it had been. Jeremiah blew out the lantern and placed it on the rack. Each looked at each, ‘tired’ said Bernard. For once, Harold didn’t have the heart to be in the slightest bit annoyed with his statement of the obvious.
Not much was said. Each left the museum, ‘tomorrow’ said Harold as he stepped out (he had caught Bernard’s trait for monosyllabic statement of the obvious!). As they made off, out into the night unbeknownst to them, a silent, black crow stood shining in the moonlight, against the tiled roof of the building across from the museum. It watched intently and intelligently. The three dispersed, time settled, then with apparent purpose, the crow flew silently off.
It was the early morning of the night, the dead time when no fearing soul is abroad. The lap of the sea against the wharf wall played its unending, undulant rhythm. Pallid moonlight moved across the damp cobbles like a foetid disease. The fog hung like forgotten people waiting to be asked to participate in the proceedings. It was only a rat that felt at home, moving in and out of the light and shadows in this lonely place, this lonely time. If you had foolishly ventured to go out into this hung place, you could have been forgiven for thinking you saw a figure move shiftily through the streets that night. You could have been pardoned for not mentioning its inhuman gait as it dragged what seemed to be a limb across the same cobbles you had just passed over. However no clemency could have been appealed, for the gnawing of the fibres of your mind after that night’s sojourn.
It was early morning, too early for most to be about but the loud morning call from the gulls, was muffled by the thick, dense fog that hung around the window frame. It seemed as though they were mocking the ache and weariness felt by Harold after the night’s exertions. He drifted back to sleep but woke an hour later, the fog having filled his room (he had left the window slightly open the previous evening). He could barely see his hand in front of him and breathing was difficult. His arms and legs felt like lead and he lay there, energy-less, unable to move. The fog moved like sediment in the sea, it had a hypnotic effect and Harold dozed. Upon waking he felt he should be up but could not summon the strength. He dozed some more. Upon waking again, it was only his sheer will, bolstered by his sense of having to continue with his investigations, a quest as he thought of it, that enabled him to rise. Unbeknownst to him at this time, his companions were experiencing a similar retribution for their night’s excursion.
The fog was complete. It filled the whole of Mingsport making any journey slow and difficult. The disorienting nature of the fog confused Harold’s sense of direction and he found himself miscalculating distances, slowing down and edging forward, arms outstretched to fend off branches from trees he had walked too close to or hedges and fences he came up against unexpectedly. Although dull, grey and light-less, the day was warm. A stifling warm. He made for the museum. The fog had started to recede as it had on previous days but each time it had lingered a little longer. He reached the steps of the museum and the shark greeted him, as though smoking casually from a pipe, the last remnants of the fog dissipating at his approach. Bernard came to the door and opened it, he had obviously been waiting for Harold’s visit.
‘Well, I don’t mind telling you, last night was an eye-opener and no mistake!’ greeted Bernard, shaking Harold’s hand.
‘The fog is getting worse each day, it is not natural’ said Harold.
‘Not natural’ said Bernard.
The two decided at once to make for Jeremiah’s house to discuss what he had seen last evening , in the room, behind the curtain. Harold and Bernard’s not knowing loomed like a dark spectre, their minds running down unknown roads to places they had never been and ending up at cul de sacs they had no wish to be. They marched over to Upper Cut. Progress was a little swifter than Harold’s earlier zombie-like walk to the museum had been as the fog had relented a little and they arrived at the first building in the street.
Knocking on the door, the pair stood side by side not expecting a repeat of their first visit. They waited a natural amount of time but upon no-one answering the door Harold wrapped again using the big knocker (steady). They waited a little of a more unnatural amount of time. Still no answer. The knocker was knocked again.
‘You be waantin’ th’old feller thar be you?’ spoke a fisherman who had appeared at the bottom of the gate holding a net. Bernard queried Harold, Harold got the jist of what he was saying and answered ‘yes, Mr Nule’.
‘Mister Nyule be him?’ said the fisherman.
‘Yes, Mr Nule’ retorted Harold. ‘Nule’ called Bernard nodding his head.
‘Him not bee inn’ replied the man.
‘You saw him go out? enquired Harold.
‘No, but he not inn or bee opening the door!’ laughed the man.
An exasperated pair had one last look at the door, it didn’t move so they made their way down the path to where the fisherman stood at the gatepost.
‘The boat be coming in’ he said quite at random.
‘The boat be coming in? I mean what boat?’ said Harold.
‘Boat?’ echoed Bernard.
‘The fog, an’ the lights and the creeping things…’.
He turned and started to make off towards the quayside. His walk had a gate (not the one he had just been standing at) and he gave the impression he was on the deck of a boat, swaying with the play of the waves.
‘The Mission be a’coming home…’ tailed off his voice as he melted into the scene of the busying quayside.
The pair mused upon the event and walked around the other entrance to Jeremiah’s house and knocked at the door.
‘Try the door’ said Bernard and reached for the handle. It opened, the door was not locked and as it opened the opposite door could just be seen to be closing ever so slightly. Harold made over to it and opened it. Just as he did, he could see a dark-cloaked figure make off out of view from beyond the gate. He turned.
‘Harold’ snapped Bernard and rushed into the room. There in a chair slumped the figure of Jeremiah Nule, his face contorted in a grimace, unmoving. The two attended to the seemingly lifeless figure. He was alive but could not be roused.
‘I saw someone, some thing outside, he had been in here’ said Harold.
‘It is as if he has been scared, well terrified!’ exclaimed Bernard.
‘Did you see the person?’ asked Bernard ‘Who was it?’.
‘I didn’t get a good look at him, if a him it was’. Harold made Jeremiah a little more comfortable. Jeremiah groaned, barely perceptibly.
‘I think he is coming round’ quietly intimated Bernard. Their colleague, for colleague is what he had become in these strange times looked ashen, as if the colour had been drained from him, as if the life had been drained from him. He was however, coming round. He said very little over the next hour. Harold and Bernard helped him upstairs to his bedroom, ensured he was comfortable and had come back downstairs and were discussing in hushed tones, what to do next.
‘I think the person was something to do with last night’ whispered Harold.
‘Really?’ even more quietly whispered Bernard.
‘The fog is unnatural, The Guardian is unnatural, the books we have read – unnatural’.
‘Unnatural’ followed Bernard.
Harold stood up ‘let us go’.
‘Go? Go where?’ said Bernard half standing.
‘Let us go back to the Museum’ Harold purposefully replied as he strode off towards the door. Bernard made to follow, straightening as he crossed the room. The cogs in the mechanism of his mind were whirring, driving the vacant expression on his face. They locked the door ensuring the safety of Jeremiah who slept peacefully now, save for the occasional jump in his dreams.
As they made their way from Upper Cut to the Museum they had a choice of roads to take. Harold chose the road he had not used previously, the quieter road. He chose this for sake of change rather than purpose but began to realise he had not walked down this street before even though he had seen it many times. Bernard followed. On the right hand side of the street, in amongst the houses was the occasional shop. One of these shops was a book shop; “The Sign of the Tentacled Pentacle”. Its large shop sign hung motionless in the still pervading fog. Harold afforded a look at the makeshift stall of books set out in front of the bookshop window as he passed it. He then peered into the gloom of the window itself. Old books, ancient books, papers and manuscripts lay in the window – dull greens, old blacks, parched sands, ink stain blues, mottled earths, all, the colours of antiquity. As he moved his face closer to the windowpane a hideously distorted face with bulging eyes and a stretched side of face loomed up, inches from Harold’s. He let out a yell and pulled away from the window, Bernard following suit. The face moved toward the door and slowly opened it.
A woman, with a pretty face could be seen, famed by the door, in the dark of the shop. ‘Did I scare you?’ asked the woman in a pleasant voice.
‘Oh, no. I was just…’. Harrumph, he cleared his throat. ‘I was just clearing my throat, yes that was it’.
‘Throat, yes, clearing’ followed Bernard.
‘Allow me to introduce myself’ continued Harold. ‘Oh, you need no introduction.
‘I am well aware of who you are and your patronage to my bookshop will be most welcome. Do come in’ said the bookshop owner who’s eyes had not moved from their contact with Harold’s since their meeting through the distorted glass pane in the window. Harold was drawn into the shop through its ornate door with its highly polished brass door handle in the shape of what resembled a folded octopus arm. Bernard followed, avoiding to touch said door handle, caught a brown leather brogued foot on the lip of the step up into the shop and tripped forward, pushing Harold off balance and into the lady bookshop owner. He grabbed aimlessly at the white flounce of her dress which ripped and came off in his hands as he went down to the floor.
‘Aahhh’ she screamed trying modestly to cover her bases. Harold looked up at more white flounces of undergarments this time, went bright red and started apologising profusely saying ‘sorry, sorry’, from the absurd position of the floor of the shop. Out of the shadows of the shelves of books stepped a large, thick set man with a straight set face, a plain suit of clothing and what seemed to be a surgically-removed sense of humour. Harold had climbed to his feet and had proffered the aforementioned flounces back to the lady who was much more at ease now, having material to cover herself with.
‘This is Mister L’ said the lady to the thick set gentleman who stood by bookshelf F: Fairies, Flowers and Frankincense (following a precursor to the Dewey system but which never really caught on).
‘Yes’ he curtly replied.
‘My name is Victoria, Victoria Anoria Tennington and this is Carlton. Welcome to The Sign of the Tentacled Pentacle – if we can’t find it, it hasn’t been written!’ she ended with a beaming smile.
‘I am so sorry for the unorthodox entry sir’ he said addressing Carlton. Carlton didn’t move, or say a word or breathe (well he did technically breathe. Oxygen did actually pass through his nasal passage, down his trachea, it bifurcated at the end of his trachea, into each bronchus, a little passing down the right bronchus and little down the left, on into the bronchioles, eventually reaching the alveolar sacs where gaseous diffusion did take place. But you wouldn’t have thought so from just looking at him).
‘Oh, that’s quite al-right, isn’t it Carl?’.
Harold couldn’t help thinking that this didn’t make things any better where ‘Carl’ was concerned. Carlton said nothing.
‘I’m sorry, I tripped’ offered Bernard as an icebreaker but more in a tap with a soft sponge way than a large, ocean-going ship with a strengthened hull and an ice clearing shape at its bow one.
‘Don’t worry about Carl, he’s just overprotective’ said Victoria. Harold winced.
Soon, the unfortunate incident of the dress and its unauthorised removal was forgotten. Victoria had changed into an even flouncier number, Harold and Bernard had been offered tea, Carlton was still quiet but the conversation had got quickly around to the fog.
‘The fog has been getting thicker and staying longer. It has been building’ said Victoria.
‘It has and we believe we know what it is building up to!’ said Bernard. Both Victoria and Harold turned their heads to look at Bernard. It was the most animated they had seen him be.
‘We do’ said Harold.
‘You do?’ said Victoria.
‘Yes, we do’ said Harold and Bernard together.
‘Do you’ said Carlton in a flat monotone which made both Harold and Bernard turn uneasily and smile insanely, nodding slightly. They were overcompensating to keep Carlton happy. It probably did more harm than good. With the total verification that the belief of the reason for the building fog was known, the conversation moved on. Words like “Mordant Nascence”, “tunnel”, “prophecy” and “scary” were bandied about and everyone was completely absorbed in theorising about the meaning of life, the universe and something, that they had neglected to notice Carlton stepping out of the back room, that they had retired for tea into, until his return. Upon that return, he placed an old book, opened at some specified page onto the table amidst the fraternity. Everyone stopped and looked up at Carlton, he nodded his head down toward the book, they turned their heads bookward. The book was old, very old. The pages it was open at were yellowed, the black ink faded but it spoke volumes. An old drawing of billowing clouds which were taken to be fog by the group immediately took their attention but it was the subsequent text that engrossed them all. There, in black and white (well, faded very dark blue and pale, mottled yellow) was the Mordant Nascence, expounded for all to comprehend
Heralded by fog , a ship will come in, after a long time at sea bringing an ancient evil with it.
‘But what does it mean?’ asked Victoria.
‘Could it mean that the end of the world is coming?’ asked Bernard (he was getting quite chatty).
‘I think it means…’ Victoria stopped not knowing what it meant. ‘What does the ship symbolise?’ she continued.
‘And the fog’ said Bernard.
‘Perhaps it means the fog heralds the coming of the ship from out at sea that brings evil?’ said Harold rather dryly.
‘Yeesss’ said Victoria totally missing the sarcasm in Harold’s explanation.
‘That’s it!’ exclaimed Bernard who too thought that a door to the inner sanctum of revelation had been opened. A silence ensued. Harold wondered how they were ever going to proceed with the lack of wit assembled.
‘It must be all those books you’ve written that give you the cutting insight into just how all this works’ uttered Victoria dreamily. Harold did a double take, now puzzled. Carlton seemed to clear his voice. Harold now wondered even more.
The rain that had started as spots, spreading across the surfaces that it touched like an accelerated mould colonising its host, gradually increased its presence. Quite soon it started to spatter, like the spill from an eviscerated victim. Later it ran as blood runs from a freshly originated corpse, pooling in the hollows of the uneven ground it finds itself upon. The grey day generated by the grey rain clouds sucked life and colour from the images people saw as they went about their daily businesses. The coming rain dampened but did not halt the enthusiasm of their daily lives. They were unaware that this aqueous herald went about his business with deadly sincerity, seeping into people’s consciousness, dampening their thoughts. All were lulled into a false sense of continuance. Then the rains came.
It Never Rains But It Pours
’What do we actually know?’ said Harold, more to himself than anyone in particular.
‘There is one thing we do know. It is raining.’ said Carlton.
Everyone immediately looked at the window. It must have been raining heavily for Carlton to break silence. It was. It must have been raining heavily for some time because the windowpanes in the large bowed window at the front of the shop were saturated. Water streamed down and over each small pane of grass and the rain lashed against the house in rhythmic pulses. The party, for a few seconds were mesmerised by it. After this brief pause in the gathering of what had become a self-appointed protection committee for Mingsport, Harold managed to reign in his compatriots to focus them upon what they did actually know.
‘The university, The Guardian, the tunnel, the Museum. The Museum!’ Harold stopped. He felt into his jacket pocket and felt the small scrap of paper he had found amongst the shards of broken pottery from the figurine in the museum. Opening it out he pressed it flat in the middle of the table. The figure of a carved stone with a hole in it near the top was drawn on it and it matched exactly the picture on the right page of the open book next to it.
‘Look’ said Bernard in an exclamatory manner. The others turned and looked at Bernard as each had been able to make the mental leap required and Bernard felt goatish (the severe form of sheepish).
The picture in the book was of The Sound Stone that had been seen once before in the Museum. The scrap of paper was a crude outline copy but the book contained a detailed print. The stone had carvings all over its surface. Most were tentacular in nature or “un-nature” as the subject was of no natural origin and it was apparent to Harold that there were specific patterns, made by holes or “hand holds”. The image was repulsive but at the same time held a viewers attention.
‘What is it?’ asked Victoria.
‘It is The Sound Stone’ replied Harold.
‘Sound Stone’ echoed Bernard.
‘Sound Stone?’ echoed back Victoria, ‘it sounds ominous’.
Discussion was raised and in the amalgam of hints, findings and guesswork was born a company that would be taken to the edge of reason and dangled over its precipice in a very scary way indeed.
‘I think it has stopped raining’ said Carlton in his cold, deadpan way. As the company looked to the window, they saw banks of light grey cloud streaked across the sky like torn paper whose feathered edges formed fantastic landscapes. Dark grey billows hung in front like the rolled up curtains from some necromantic theatre awaiting final curtain call. The sky in-between glowed an unnatural sickly, pale green. All waited, as if anticipating dark revelation. Then the rain came again.
What had been thought of as rain previously, was not. It was an approximation, a sham simulation. This was rain. Rain in all its fluid tyranny. It came in at every door, it infiltrated any gap in a roof, it saturated everything it found, it filled everything that would hold it. And it began to rise.
Throughout the night the rain continued. It ran into the cellars of houses and shops and warehouses and rose to fill them. It spilled into the ground floors of buildings, washing possessions away in its wake. people moved up, into their bedrooms for safety and comfort. Never had anyone seen such a deluge. They wondered and cursed and prayed. In the deep of night when people had managed in some form to rest, the temperature began to cool. It could have been mistaken for the damp that now pervaded all but it continued to drop. The rain still continued but it was a shadow of its former self. It was a little after this temperature fall, when people had pulled their covers a little tighter around themselves and exhaustion had crept into their bones like a thief creeps into the shadows to wait, that the boat came in.
It was ushered in through the night like a coffin to its crypt, flanked by its pallbearers of wind and rain. It tainted the water, shone sickly upon by the wan moon as it approached the harbour wall. Would that were all, people would have had reason to flee, shunning the town, blotting its existence from their memory. It was not all. As the boat came to rest against the wall, lolling silently like a bloated corpse in the water, there spilled forth a blasphemous issue from the hold. It made its way in some profane fashion, out onto the heathland, up to the stone, inexorably drawn.
When The Boat Comes In
No-one knew exactly when the boat came in. It was unseen, at an ungodly hour. It rose and fell with the waves, slicking like oil, a sickly film of waste on the surface of the water. Its old sea-worn boards scraped against the stone harbourside sounding like the grinding of rotten teeth. The rope, flung across the stones slithered as the boat rocked back and forth, like a lazy poisonous serpent sated on prey. The gangplank thudded down onto the walkway like a corpse dropping from the gallows. Then there was silence. A silence before the cargo issued forth from the hold, down the waiting gangplank and out, into the town streets. While the full force of the storm had abated, the rain still fell and lashed, as the wind whipped it. A cold dread, a grip of death splayed out from the chill, slow creeping procession of nightmare-wracked figures as they made their way through the streets, tainting its path and heading with purpose.
If what had just transpired were to be seen by any unfortunate soul, it would not have been communicated. Not by earthly tongues. The scene, so abhorrent in its portrayal would have cleft tongues to roofs of mouths, seared retinas and rotted brains leaving unintelligible, babbling husks. This terror however had its purpose. It aimed at some goal and in that, some previously mentioned unfortunate would surely meet accident with crawling horror!
The morning was wet and a sour tang hung on the air. Harold and Bernard had left the bookshop after spending the night there, trapped by the storm. They were up before anyone else had stirred and had mind of visiting 1 Upper Cut. The devastation of the storm was all about. Mud had flowed through the streets and had deposited at various natural hollows throughout them. Lobster nets had been upended and thrown as if in some strange game and were now left, as if trying to catch a new prey. A dead dog was left pushed up against the wall of a building, its legs wrapped around a drainpipe as if clinging but in death rather than life. As they neared Upper Cut, fish were scattered lifeless all about. The ‘Tipping The Fish’ ceremony seemed positively fragrant by comparison! It took no need of imagination to see the cats of the neighbourhood soon gorging on this black booty. As they approached 1 Upper Cut it could be seen that the worst damage had been caused here, with the door to Jeremiah’s house open. Caught between the picket fence, by the gate was a large leather-bound volume. Bernard picked it out, smearing mud away from the cover and hence the title of the volume – Scriptum Ominosus. Expecting to find a storm-ravaged room, with contents spilled forth and enveloped in mud, they were thwarted. All was as it had been when they last visited, apart from one thing. The horror that both Harold and Bernard had expected to find of Jeremiah drowned did not materialise. He was not where they had left him sleeping, he was not in the house at all. Relieved, with thoughts that he had somehow recovered from his ordeal and escaped the wrath of the storm they made to leave. Pulling the door closed after the sea-horse had bolted and shaking mud and saltwater from their shoes they stepped out down the path and into the street. A curtain from next door but one twitched. An eye (with its attendant head and body. It wasn’t just and eye floating in mid air) disappeared from view and the curtain twitched back into place. The place, apart from that motion was as still as the grave.
Harold and Bernard had decided to separate and go to their separate houses to rest, freshen and generally come to terms with the ‘goings on’ of the last couple of days. They would meet again the next day. As Harold was walking back up towards Quayview Cottage, across the street from him two people were lifting a body to its feet between them. The female character was weeping, the male’s face set grim. The body appeared lifeless and was but what could be discerned from Harold’s brief view was a contorted face. The contorted face of someone having died in agonising horror. The two undertakers of necessity looked across and shunned Harold. He felt conscious of having looked and stepped on.
The mud that had spilled around the streets like dull, congealed blood had started to dry, set and crack as diseased skin has a want to do around the corners of an unfortunate’s mouth. The ghost procession that had wended its way from the ship and through the streets of the storm-lashed town, had gone to ground. It shunned the day preferring the dark still of the ground’s fissures, waiting. As the light of an overcast day drained away into a wan evening, the dread ghost characters stirred. The moon cut knife-like through cloud and lit the Sound Stone forming a beacon for the processing characters to fixate their dreadful purpose. If anyone could have witnessed the ululating cacophony, the manic motioning of ragged character, the sickly vision of putrid adoration vomited forth upon the stone, their sanity would have been ripped from their being like meat from a freshly culled animal bone. This was not to be, for in truth all were too afeared, staying in their homes with the scant protection they afforded.
Light Around Stone
Harold awoke slowly from a deep sleep to the sound of a swishing against the windowpane. He walked over to the window, gathering his thoughts as he went and pulled back the curtains. Thick fog blocked any view from the window, all that could be seen was the seagull pressed up against the glass who, startled at the moving curtains, flew off leaving a pattern wiped into the glass from the damp and grime of the fog. The pattern seemed to form a word. It read; ‘squark’. Harold was unable to ascertain what time of day it was due to the thickness of the fog, day had broken but as to when and how was impossible to tell.
Bernard awoke due to the calling of his cold left arm that had been hanging out of the sheets and down toward the floor. It felt like someone else’s. He snorted and sat upright in bed.
Both men made their way down their respective stairs and prepared for a day of uncertain action enforced by the blanketing fog that hung against their windows. They had agreed to meet at the Museum and were to prepare to meet any eventuality. Bernard looked down at his shoes. The brown leather brogues were caked in the mud from yesterday, the punched leather holes filled, forming a smooth caricature of the shoes. He left them on the tiled kitchen floor and went to fetch a pair of brown boots. He had coupled these with a sturdy brown checked suit. Harold by contrast wore a favourite dark blue suit that, although of a quality had seen better days. He chose old black boots. These too had formed an affinity for mud. The mud from both their shoes seemed particularly strange, at once both waxy and fluid with the feeling that it could change and flow like water at any moment. Both men felt an urgent need to visit the little boy’s room.
Bernard had arrived at Harold’s house at approximately 11 o’clock. The walk up to Quayview Cottage had been enshrouded in thick fog. The air had the texture of cotton wool soaked in vinegar. Harold had the the large leather-bound volume found in the picket fence at Jeremiah’s residence laid out on a small occasional table (it was always a table, not changing with the waxing & waning of the moon into some other-worldly object and then back. It just that it was occasionally used!). He was avidly pouring over the tome trying to glean some knowledge pertinent to the task at hand. Namely, stop the evil from utterly enveloping the town that, having been heralded by the fog (‘or was it a mist?’. ‘Let’s not go over that again!)’ was now holed up in some place or places unknown awaiting to attempt some thing or some things that would definitely not be good.
‘It is in here – somewhere’ said Harold exasperatingly to no-one in particular. ‘I know it is’.
‘What is it you are looking for?’ questioned Bernard after entering the house, placing his coat on the winged chair arm and standing over Harold.
‘Something’ said Harold acknowledging Bernard with a glance.
‘Try looking here? said Bernard who pointed to a fold of one of the pages of the book that was barely visible from the side.
Harold opened it at the aforementioned page where a small piece of paper had been inserted. The paper was a scrap and it had been hand-written in ink, in a rushed manner. The pages that had been holding the scrap of paper revealed images of wailing people and a chant, italicised in the middle of the right hand page. The “words”, if words they were (for they were not words that could be interpreted by earthly minds) were of some strange tongue. Harold, without knowing started reading through the chant, word by word and line by line but by the time he had arrived at the third line he felt nauseous and as if gripped by some unseen force of terror. The room started to spin and although continuing to read was the last sensible thing for Harold to do, he felt bidden to continue further. As a searing light and tearing scream started to rip through his mind the only thing that saved Harold’s fall into insanity was the tugging at his left elbow by Bernard. Harold caught sight of Bernard holding the scrap of paper, now unfolded and read the words ‘Do Not Read The Chant!’. The talons of fear that had near eviscerated his mind evaporated and he steadied himself against the table.
‘Well spotted Bernard’ said Harold.
‘I thought it was important, you seemed to be a little, distant’ said Bernard.
Harold placed the scrap of paper over the chant covering it from view and took stock of the rest of the text and images. Many words were written in stilted English and tortuous prose but in essence, the section of the book talked about how absolute, catastrophic evil would be brought about to dwell and grow in the ceremony of The Alignment of Mordent Nascence. A map clearly showed the Museum and its tunnel leading to the University. It also showed the side tunnel and that it led directly to the Sound Stone. Both Bernard and Harold slowly rose from pouring over the blasphemous tome and took a step backwards, slowly turning to look at each other. As they did this, a wisp of brown smoke curled up into the air from the scrap of paper that was covering the written chant. The words were burning themselves into the scrap and at this, in unison, they both grabbed the cover of the book, lifted and slammed it shut.
‘Well, things are hotting up! exclaimed Bernard.
‘Indeed!’ agreed Harold, ‘one thing is clear – we must stop the ceremony’.
Bernard pondered for a second or two then ventured a tentative ‘one thing is unclear – how?’.
Harold had endeavoured to explain the outline of a plan which in actual fact had mounted to little more than going to the Sound Stone, via the side tunnel from the Museum to take a look and try and stop it! It had been bolstered with words like ‘Thwart!’ and ‘Foil!’ but Bernard had seen straight through this and had commented on the fact. This had hurt Harold’s feelings, ‘I’m sorry, but there it is!’ hadn’t helped either. They had agreed upon the fact that Victoria and ‘Carl’ could lend weight to the proceedings (Carlton especially in view of his build) and they set off to collect the two companions.
Victoria had jumped at the chance and Carlton moved his head perceptibly giving both Harold and Bernard the confidence of his ascent. Victoria had gone to change into something more appropriate. She had been gone some time, a little more and then some! Harold and Bernard had images of black boots, a leather mask and various other sartorial embellishments as their imaginations would allow running through their minds. They were not disappointed.
‘Very, appropriate!’ exclaimed Harold.
‘Very, sensible!’ exclaimed Bernard.
Their expressions had been both inappropriate and not sensible.
‘Very well, shall we get on’ said Carlton.
‘Of course’ and ‘quite right’ were bandied about interchangeably by Harold and Bernard, each aware of encroachment upon Carlton’s in-sensibilities.
Creeping through the day fog (or was it a… cut it out!) the gang of four made their way to the Museum, arriving at the door under the scrutiny of the shark who followed their progress.
‘What a beautiful shark’ said Victoria walking up the steps into the Museum. You could have been forgiven for thinking that the shark almost smiled in a self-conscious way. ‘What a wonderful Museum, it’s so Museum-like’ she remarked upon stepping in through the doorway, ‘What exemplary exhibits’ she continued. Harold and Bernard were becoming unnerved and Harold motioned the party to move toward the corner where the steps led down to the basement. ‘Oooh, a little Seafarer’ said Victoria but more quietly as the gravity of the situation started to take effect. They made their way down the stairs one by one; Harold, Carlton, Victoria, and Bernard following up a very nice black leather clad rear (steady, this is a family story!). At the book rack covering the door, previously pushed hard up against it, Harold started to pull. Carlton effortlessly took hold of the rack and moved it away. He was now finding his niche in the gang. Harold took the large, round rope-like metal ring to the door and turned it and pulled. A faint noise emanated from far within.
‘Oooh, what a quaint noise’ whispered Victoria.
‘Hhmmpphh’ said Carlton (quite articulate for him really).
‘Ooh’ said Bernard loudly as the handle to the leather whip Victoria had hanging from her belt poked him in the dark’.
‘Quiet. If you please’ whispered an annoyed Harold.
‘Sorry’ whispered Bernard.
‘Ooh, sorry’ whispered Victoria.
‘Mmm’ whispered Carlton.
They set off with Harold holding the lantern Jeremiah had lit and held previously. It cast a sombre glow not least because of the uncertainty of where Jeremiah had disappeared to.
As they made ingress into the bowels of Mingsport’s hill that stood brooding over its clutch of buildings in silence, the faint noise that sounded ‘quaint’ to Victoria now took on its true quality – not quaint at all! After several minutes march in the general direction of forwards, Victoria whispered although quite loudly ‘are we there yet?’. Harold halted abruptly, the lantern swinging with momentum casting wildly absurd shadows about the tunnel wall. The abrupt halt caused a cascading stumble as Carlton pushed into Harold, Victoria came full stop up against the immense wall of Carlton and Bernard felt the thump of that blasted whip handle where he had rather not, again! Harold took a deep breath with which to berate his companions but felt better of it and just simply stated ‘no’. The rest, although abruptly initiated was welcomed by all and they took the opportunity to try and accustom their eyes to the vagueness of the dimly lit tunnel. It was smoothed stone and cobbled underfoot and the party were nearing the left hand side tunnel. The noise previously heard had got louder and though more distinct, less recognisable. ‘We will press on’ said Harold. He stepped off and the others followed in succession. A little farther on, the side tunnel presented itself as a rough, gaping mouth into which they had to pass. The lantern discerned the tunnel structure for them. Rough stones arched around the opening and the side walls were rough, not smooth like the tunnel they were in. A warm, foetid air issued forth and it was altogether un-inviting, not the place they wished to go.
‘Here it is. The side tunnel. Here…’ said Harold inspiring a negative confidence in their direction of choice.
‘So this is it then?’ said Bernard.
‘Yes, it is this one’ replied Harold.
‘Al-right then’ returned Bernard.
The four walked extremely slowly towards an unnatural warmth, a growing distasteful reek and an unheard of music. At first it was perceived as a rhythmic pulsing, from the tunnel of limestone. A sound sinuously emanating from deep within the subterranea. A melding cacophony of sounds. What was this music (if music it was)?. It seemed to come from the very rock itself, this, rock music!
‘What is that sound?’ asked Harold more to the air than anyone in particular.
‘By the shifting of minor barre chords both up and down from the stringed instrument a dissonance is produced’ said Victoria.
‘The drumming has a dry, empty tone, there are definitely double bass and blast beats being incorporated’ came in Bernard.
‘The vocals, if that is what I am hearing are harsh. There are both guttural rasps and high-pitched shrieks intermingled in there’ said Carlton in a perfectly normal way.
The other three stood wide-eyed and open-mouthed, staring at Carlton.
‘It is true, I can definitely hear the gutturals’ agreed Bernard.
The mouths closed and eyes went back to their respective normal sizes and Harold started off again, nodding in agreement with the sentiments expressed.
‘Black metal’ said Victoria.
‘Sorry?’ inquired Bernard.
‘There is a piece of black metal on the floor, be careful not to trip on it?’.
‘Oh, thank you’ returned Bernard feeling tentatively with his right foot, finding nothing and then following on.
They made their way tortuously down. The air became more foetid and dank and apprehension increased in the party. Footfall was uneven and unnerving and time seemed to pass slowly. The twists and turns of the unnatural fissure through darkness produced a disorientation which increased the group’s already growing anxiousness. Step by step the intrepid gang of four made their way towards whatever awaited them at the tunnel’s terminus.
Up above the tunnel, at its terminus stood the Sound Stone. Darkness had fallen now and a storm had picked up. Wind lashed rain against the pillar and lightening danced about the sky up above, occasionally sending down forks of light to strike its peak. All around, people from the town had gathered and were chanting and throwing their arms in unison towards the stone, some fingers outstretched.
A building cacophony of nature assailed the walls, trying to tear at the plaster and prise it from its purpose of protection. A flicker of ghost-light, wailed throughout the colour spectrum building a fear of entrapment that rose in his mind. A desperate run, a hope of escape dashed upon the jagged smiles on the faces of the processing figures. A silent scream tailing off into a dead night.
Departure From The Norm
The rain lashed at anything it could in cold fury, it did not hold from its singular purpose.The house, 1 Upper Cut was so positioned as to face the storm full on. It felt the full force but in so doing it also split it as it had done so with the fog. The storm was forced either side of the house, channelled port and starboard and hererin was its undoing. Had the full force of the storm and the ensuing progeny from the boat hit the town in its entirety, it would have utterly destroyed it. The confluence made in the stream of storm by 1 Upper Cut saved the town but it did not save Jeremiah Nule.
Although aware of the storm raging outside the confines of his domain, Jeremiah did not heed it. He had recovered somewhat from when Harold and Bernard had last found him but he was however changed. He was engrossed in the review of papers, books, pamphlets and maps. He had, calling upon all his deductive resources and a not inconsidreable memory finally found an explanation for the “goings on” as he liked to put it. However, at the zenith of the storm even he could not ignore it. He rose from his favourite winged chair, worn at the edges from overuse a couple of parchments dropping from his lap as he did so and looked toward the left hand window to see a horizontal stream of rain and debris flying past in continuous stream. He felt more alive than he had ever done, for he now understood the meaning of a near lifetime’s work. Within those few seconds the storm started to abate, the bite of its fury had been sated and it relented a little. Jeremiah returned to the large, heavy book he had been studying and had placed on the floor by the chair. There was a knock at the front door. Jeremiah looked up but instead of worrying who or what could have been abroad that foul night or instead of jumping up to answer the door, took a piece of paper, folded it and placed it between certain pages of the book and closed it. The knock came again. He rose, closed the book and pulled it under his right arm and walked slowly toward the door. He purposefully opened the door slowly and there, in the saturating rain stood a dark cloaked, hooded figure. He knew the figure for it was the same one that had so struck terror into him the day previous. It held no terror now. It slowly raised its head, the cowl covering most of it still, dampened by the rain revealing only cold, cruel eyes. An arm raised under the heavy cuff of the cloak and Jeremiah stepped from the protection of 1 Upper Cut for the last time. It should never have come to this but the unfairness of life is visited upon deserving and undeserving alike. In the undeserving category, Jeremiah stood near the top but the cloaked figure held sway over a part of his mind by the evil doings played upon him. Jeremiah was unable to resist but was not as fully broken as the figure had thought. Somewhere, in the vast, brilliant mind of Jeremiah Nule a spark of light was kept alive. It was kept alive just long enough to allow him to drop the book for his newly found companions to find, wedged in amongst the picket fence, pointing the way to a salvation from desolation that was to be visited upon Mingsport.
The figure drew Jeremiah away into the rain, into the dark, into the night and into the nadir of his life. As they made their slow way in that dead time they were caught up in the procession issuing forth from the boat. It was this that finally broke Jeremiah Nule. The sheer horror broke his mind, the spark was snuffed out. His collapsed, lifeless body was borne by unnatural means amid ragged terrors up toward the Sound Stone and into the ground. So ended the life of Jeremiah Nule.
It felt like the fracturing of the mind. The dark and damp and stench all mingled like some unholy alliance bringing insanity to its consummation. A pervading smoke entered where it would, exploring, seeking. It obscured vision, blending the real with the unreal. Searing white light burned into the retina and gut-wrenching sound ripped eardrums. And then there was silence.
As the group made their way on, the heat grew and the rough-hewn walls of the side tunnel were wet, the air was hung with foul moisture. The noise previously described pounded and pulsed as they made their way ever on. They finally reached a cavern where the tunnel opened out and up above, through a column in the roof a cold blue/white light flickered and danced. It was lightening for the tower went up to the ground and somehow opened out to the now night sky. A large group of people stood together, some held instruments, strange instruments the group had never seen before. They were adorned with writing in some strange language; “jhackthsomn”, “Thammaa”, “Fthendeer”. Each of the gang of four stood agog as if mesmerised by some double-necked serpent, unable to move, held by what they saw in front of them.
These “people” in the cavern were predominantly the issue from the ship that had come in but there were also people from the town, cultists. They had sold their soul but if truth be known they had never known its true value. They were not of sound mind, they were of weak mind. They were unheeding of the dangers that were put before them. They were trapped and once trapped could not free themselves like the lobsters in the pots they tended. They had played with the dark as if it were some parlour game and they had paid with their very being. They stood, mesmerised before the ships issue. One of these people stepped forward.
‘Ahh Mr L, we have been expecting you!’ exclaimed a self-appointed leader with a whiny voice.
‘You have me at a disadvantage sir. You know my name but I do not know yours’ said Harold confidently but the terror of the situation crept through his voice.
‘My name is of no consequence’ he further whined.
‘It is if we want to call you anything’ interjected Bernard. Victoria nodded approvingly.
The man sneered then whined further ‘you come to join our festival, at an opportune moment’. Above the band of people continued making the unholy noise the light show continued to enhance the terror and it all seemed to be building to a finale. The leader whined on barely audible above the maelstrom of sound ‘soon the alignment will be complete and all will bow to the darkness and I will be seated on the darkthrone’. A smoke started to build and fill the cavern much like the fog had done in the town (or was it a… one more and you’re barred!). ‘The faithful above who call upon the great lord Dra’gon await his bidding’ screamed the leader (there was still a whiny aspect to his voice, you know the type, it really grates and puts you on edge).
‘Did he say dragon? Is there a dragon in here? Is that why it’s so hot? No-one said anything about dragons and in a confined space as well’ rambled Victoria hysterically.
‘No, it’s ‘Drey gon’, Drey gon a deity, well an unholy one’ calmed Bernard.
‘Are you sure, I mean if you are sure…’ Victoria replied returning to as much of her self as she could.
‘Yes, quite sure’ said Bernard. He wasn’t quite sure. The menace was palpable and the shadows that had danced ominously now encroached and seemed to step down from the walls. Just at the point when all seemed lost and a vile fate felt inevitable, the eerie sound of a melodic tune played on a flute wound its ophidian way around the labyrinthine tunnel into the chamber. The fog (Don’t even think about it!) parted and started to clear, terror was borne in the eyes of the terrorisers, the screaming turned into, screaming. Suddenly the gang of four stood in direct line of the only exit, to which the unholy band started to make for. They issued forth like some black floodwater, the group pinned themselves against the sides of the cavern entrance, the flute melody danced its way in and reverberated around the cavern. The black river flowed out but a ghostly phosphor-green apparition appeared, standing before the four. The blurry shape could just be made out to be Jeremiah Nule! He seemed to be trying to say something but was suddenly pulled back, out of the cavern entrance and through the tunnel, collapsing into the black stream. Bernard looked at Harold.
Victoria asked ‘What was that?’.
‘Not what, who?’ replied Harold.
‘That was our old friend, Jeremiah Nule’ said Bernard wistfully.
‘Not so old’ jumped in Harold.
‘He looked like he was getting on a bit’ said Victoria.
‘No, not old old, not so old a friend, we had not known him long. He saved us’ replied Harold.
‘Was he? Was he a ghost? ventured Victoria.
‘I am afraid so’ said Harold.
‘It’s a bad show’ said Bernard angrily and all four stood in silence for a few seconds lamenting the passing of, of a person half the gang had never heard of or seen before…
‘We must make haste’ said Harold eventually and they set off out of the cavern, back down the tunnel. ‘One thing puzzles me’ continued Harold as he led the way back.
‘Oh, and what is that?’ asked Bernard.
‘How did that cultist chap know I was mister L?’ continued Harold.
‘Ah, your reputation precedes you’ said Bernard proudly. ‘Oh?’ said Harold.
‘And he’s probably read your books’ said Victoria but she was out of earshot and her comment fell to the rough, dank floor of the tunnel. They reached the main tunnel opening and there was no sign of the fleeing terror it had, flown! Harold led the now exhausted team out to the right and back toward (what he and all the others hoped was) sanity and a cup of tea. Once back up in the Museum after pushing the rack back into place, checking it was secure, pushing it again and then pushing once again just for really good measure, the group disbanded. After much insistence from Harold that he would be fine walking home alone, Victoria and Carlton headed back to the Sign of the Tentacled Pentacle, Harold walked with Bernard to the end of the street where his flat was, then set to walk back up to Quayview Cottage. The fog (that’s better. See, you can do it if you really try) had dissipated and the moon shone down on the town of Mingsport as it slept the sleep of the just, just about.
Harold had a lot to think about. The night’s events were just starting to sink in but the apparition of Jeremiah saddened him. He also could not help thinking that Jeremiah was trying to say something as he was wrenched away into dark oblivion. He also could not help thinking that he had seen something, two small red lights to the left in the distance of the main tunnel, as they had turned right to head back home. He also could not help thinking about Victoria in that black get up but he was tired and he made his way home without incident. Each slept well and late into the day.
The sun rose that morning and had uninterruptable reign across the town. Its folk busied themselves clearing away debris and cleaning away mud. In the day’s light they had a sense of security but they had been lulled and it was false. The night’s festival had not been stopped, it had been interrupted and something buried deep under the hill overlooking the town had been disturbed, awakened, roused.
A New Dawning (or I Am Not Hanging That Around My Neck!)
Three o’clock had just chimed and the clearly visible sun shined out, glinting on the cold blue-green sea. The gang of four strengthened through adversity had met at the SotTP and were feeling pretty damn good about themselves. Bernard had purchased a newspaper on the way in and the paper-seller had been expounding the recent “goings on”;
‘Read all about it! Lots of fog, the rains come, big storm, then it suddenly stops!’. The Mingsport Messenger was not known for its literary prowess.
The adventurous deeds of prowess that had been displayed that evening grew with each telling, if it had been a fish it would have been a whale!.
Harold however could not help feeling all this was a little premature. ‘I cannot help feel all this is a little premature’ said Harold (See, I told you he did).
‘How so?’ said Bernard.
‘Yes, do tell’ said Victoria.
‘Hmmph?’ said Carlton.
‘Well, it all seems a little easy, as if something is missing. If you look at what happened in the cold light of day (no-one wanted to look at it by lantern, in the warm tunnel, at night), all we did was disturb their ‘Festival’‘ said Harold building what he thought was a compelling case.
‘Was that not enough? said Victoria.
‘Who was the ‘Festival’ for?’ pondered Harold. All sat in quiet until Harold stood and went to get the large book they had been looking at the previous day. Victoria and Bernard started talking about the previous evening again.
Harold was looking for something. Carlton was looking at Harold looking for something. Harold didn’t know that Carlton was looking at Harold looking for something.
‘Aha!’ shouted Harold making Carlton jump, ‘sorry old chap, I didn’t mean to startle you’ he immediately said.
‘That’s quite all right’ said Carlton to everybody’s amazement! ‘Well, it’s getting boring not having a speaking part in this story’ he continued.
‘True’ said Bernard nodding.
‘It is true’ agreed Victoria.
Harold looked at Carlton, then back to the book and continued. ‘I need you all to search for information, try looking in books we haven’t looked in yet’.
A little later Victoria called out ‘I have found a book on faeries, Ooh look, a really pretty one!’.
‘That is not quite what I had in mind although well done for trying’. He returned to the tome and read a little more.
‘Here it is, see here’ he pointed to a left hand page entitled
Amulets, Talismans and Totems
What you need and why!
A User’s Guide
Descriptions of various charms were elucidated including;
• The Amazing Amulet of Amnett - this amulet imbues the user with the ability to lift and transport very heavy objects with apparent ease
• The Talisman of S’HITHITSTH’FA’AN - use this when S’HITHITSTH’FA’AN (then the rest of the line on that page was obscured)
• The Totem of Skrow Tem - protection against scratching. (Skrow Tem studied the black arts and summoned various minor demons and created this talisman as all the demons he summoned had sharp, scratchy claws and he kept getting scratched)
Very useful as he was sure these all were, it was the amulet of Erektotep the Third that caught his attention. The amulet in question looked like the Sound Stone but with a hat on and below it, two round chambers looking like two caverns.
‘Two caverns. Not one but two!’ he exclaimed. ‘We did not really explore the cavern’ he continued.
‘No, we just wanted to get out and quite right too!’ returned an indignant Bernard (Victoria was nodding).
‘But there did seem a lot of people or ghosts or whatever you would like to call them in the cavern did there not? Harold continued determined to make his point.
‘Far too many’ said Victoria to Bernard.
‘It is because there is another adjoining cave and there we shall find the answer to this riddle’ said Harold, his point made.
‘Is there a riddle? asked Victoria.
‘I do not recall a riddle’ said Bernard.
‘I am not aware of any riddle’ said Victoria.
‘It’s all a riddle to me’ said Carlton (He’s warming up now).
Ignoring the furore that had broken out about the non-existent riddle Harold lifted the book, open with both hands (a not inconsequential feat considering the size of the tome) and showed the pages to the assembled group. ‘I need one of these!’ he said pointing to the picture of the large phallic-looking amulet of Erektotep the Third.
‘I have seen it’ said Victoria.
‘You have, Where?’ said both Harold and Bernard in unison.
‘Where?’ followed Carlton (remember, he’s speaking now).
‘At the Museum. I saw it as we passed through last night. It stood out’ she said. ‘We are going to go back to the Museum and the tunnel and the cave thing and the dragon aren’t we?’ said Victoria, hysteria starting to rise in her voice.
‘There is no dragon, remember?’ said Bernard.
‘Oh yes, silly me. All right then, off we go’ said a calmed Victoria.
‘One further thing’ she suddenly asked. ‘What is the hat-like thing on the end of the amulet?’.
‘I expect it is for protection’ said Harold.
‘It will be dark by the time we get to the Museum. Have you noticed? It is always getting dark when we go to do anything like this’ said Bernard.
It was true and like all who lived in those times, they had a fear of the dark! Before rushing out, at Victoria’s insistence they ate (It turned out that Carlton was a remarkably good cook) and Victoria went and changed into another ensemble for the evening’s sojourn.
She returned wearing an outfit with a bustle and promptly asked ‘Does my posterior look big in this?’.
Everyone agreed that the voluminous garment didn’t exactly make it look smaller but that was not necessarily a a negative thing. However, it was all handled quite tactfully considering the room was full of males and it was pointed out that the extra material was sure to come in handy, at some point. She did however turn around in a huff and went back and changed. Meanwhile Bernard adjusted his lapels while Harold hitched up his trousers and sucked in his waist. When Victoria returned in a two-piece suit and riding boots they were ready for the off. The four set out for the Museum.
On the way, Bernard insisted on calling in at his residence to collect something. They approached Apartment 2B Quiet Street.
’I have never been here before’ said Victoria out loud.
‘Ssshh’ said Bernard pointing to the street sign. He rushed in while the rest of the four waited in the hallway. Bernard returned seconds later with a wooden case inlaid with brass. ‘I have been saving this for just such an occasion’ said Bernard. ‘This duelling pistol has been in my family for generations’.
‘It does look old’ proffered Harold.
‘The craftsmanship is superb, go on, just feel that. It is weighted to perfection, finely balanced’ continued Bernard unaware of any scepticism that hung in the hallway like last evening’s meal. The hand grip cover promptly fell to the floor.
‘It’s falling apart, you can’t use that!’ stated Harold.
‘No, no it’s fine, really’ said Bernard defensively, ‘This piece’ (he picked up the fallen piece from the floor and dusting it off with his hand) ‘just slots back into place. It is supposed to come off for cleaning purposes’. He gently placed the gun back in its velvet pouch, smoothing the nap of the material and placing it carefully into the wooden case. A piece of shot dropped out of the bag on to the floor and ran across the black and white checkered tiles of the hallway. Bernard flicked the shot with the side of his right foot, out into the garden hoping no-one had noticed and looked around alert and ready. Once again, the four set out for the Museum.
The wind started ruffling the trees. It built slowly but erratically, whipping pieces of discarded rubbish up and around, pulling at laden branches and it knocked against a bell that plaintively rang an un-rhythmic alarm. It continued to build until it growled like an angry dog. As they approached the Museum, the shark could be plainly seen as the previous visit’s had had him enshrouded in fog. A bent piece of branch from an old tree from the previous storm had been pitched up, into the shark’s mouth giving the appearance that he was smoking a pipe.
‘How surreal’ said Carlton.
‘Surreal is our bedfellow in these strange times’ said Harold.
‘That shark has a pipe in its mouth!’ exclaimed Bernard. As they entered the gloomy interior of the Museum, the moon flickered light in through the windows as clouds raced past.
Harold asked ‘where did you see the amulet Victoria?’.
She moved in and over to a case that housed the amulet of Erektotep the Third and pointed.
‘I see what you mean about standing out’ said Bernard.
‘It has a presence’ replied Victoria.
‘Never mind what it looks like, it may afford some protection’ and he motioned for Bernard to open the case and retrieve the amulet. He handled it with disdain, holding it at a distance between thumb and forefinger.
‘It has a small thong, use that’ said Harold.
‘I am not hanging that around my neck!’ exclaimed Bernard thoroughly horrified.
‘Oh, give it here’ said Victoria and grabbed the thing and placed it around her neck.
Everyone else felt not a little uncomfortable and so moved off toward the steps down to the basement. Down they went and over to the rack. Harold assumed his position at the front of the gang and off they traipsed once more, the lantern swinging but everyone felt a little less anxious compared with the previous evening. This was not a good thing!
‘What is up there?’ said Victoria pointing in the continuing direction of the main tunnel then realising that no-one could see that she was pointing.
‘The tunnel continues on to the University but we turn here again’ said Harold.
The party turned into the side tunnel as they had done the night previous. Their pace slowed as they progressed to where, only twenty four hours ago the unholy cacophony has assaulted their ears, nose and throat (and various other parts of their body). All that could be heard now was the wind that was somehow making its presence heard even though they were several layers of strata below the surface. Inching their way toward the cavern they approached what now looked like a deserted stage or looked at in another way, an altar.
And in the twinkling of an eye
And in the twinkling of an eye
Like some cold, distant star in midnight sky
Sanity, in balance hangs but by a thread
While unknowing folk sleep inchoate in their bed.
Abomination reaches forth its tentacular arm
And all that holds the world from sured harm
Are men and women as you and I be
Who barter freely with their insanity.
End Of Level Boss
In the cavern the gang of four looked around, looked at each other then the three looked at Harold, expectantly.
‘Well, we have to, we have to look around and find the second cave. It must be around here somewhere’ said Harold. He looked around the cave holding the lantern at arms length hoping to discover some entrance in the wall but did not. He kept up the pretence that this was actually a meaningful use of time. Meanwhile, Victoria had walked over to the “stage” and was discovering something actually useful. The dais, she thought of it more as a dais rather than a stage was set back against the back wall of the cavern. Although it was made out of stone with all the solidity stone affords, where the back met the cavern wall it seemed less distinct. She made her way up, over the platform to the back right hand corner and there discovered a gap. A large brass sconce leant out from the floor towards the front of the platform. It had been lit the previous evening and she had mind to light it again to afford a little more light upon their explorations. She grabbed the sconce and lifted it (it was just a little shorter in height than she was but not much). Upon removal from the floor and its metal cradle, a door at the back opened.
‘Look what I have found’ she called over ‘bring that lantern over to light this candle’.
The others quickly walked over to the door and Victoria.
‘Well done’ said Harold lighting the candle from the lantern. The light shone in, behind the door and everyone screamed as a horrific, contorted face loomed back at them.
‘Back you demon’ shouted Harold himself backing away (the others had made space for him to do so, purely out of courtesy you understand).
Seconds passed that felt like hours and then Victoria plucked up the courage to say ‘Are you the all-powerful, unholy horror of ancient legend seen in the books of our study?’ in a terrified voice.
‘No, but thanks for the compliment love. No, I’m the Gatekeeper. You see, you don’t just get to walk straight in to see… Hey, wait a minute! You’re him aren’t you?’ said the Gatekeeper to Harold.
‘I beg your pardon’ said Harold.
‘You’re him, H. P. L.’ the Gatekeeper continued in hushed tones.
‘How on earth did you know that?’ asked a flabbergasted Harold.
‘Your handkerchief mate’ said the Gatekeeper.
Harold looked at his pocket and saw his handkerchief hanging out with his initials ‘H.P.L.’ clearly displayed. ‘I just don’t…’.
‘You can go straight in’ said the gatekeeper.
‘Oh, thank you’ said Victoria tentatively and the four moved forward into the void.
‘Tickets please!’ bellowed the gatekeeper scaring the four almost to death and stopping them in their tracks. ‘Just kidding’ he laughed, ‘on you go’. The four continued on more than a little annoyed but they didn’t show it, just in case…
What awaited them could not be described, should not be described! It (for he or she could not be used as the thing was indeterminate) had always been here in some form. It had lain dormant for aeons in the bowels of the earth. It had been invoked from its forced slumber by the coming of the boat. It was aided by cultists from the town. It was initially fed, later en-shrouded by fog. It was these three forces that had conspired to raised the unholy deity.
‘Come in’ said a wet, gravelly voice that sounded like a toilet of treacle flushing. ‘Do you have a fear of the dark?’ it asked.
‘No, we fear nothing’ shouted Carlton indignantly.
‘What?’ said Harold, Bernard and Victoria in unison. This was not the time they wanted Carlton to find eloquence of voice.
‘Hughh, Huugrhh, Huurrgghh’ it replied with a dripping malevolence ‘seldom has anyone come to my lair with such boldness, never has anyone left’.
‘Carl-ton!’ said the three with a rising nervousness.
Carlton, who now held the sconce pushed it forward revealing what hid in the dark. To their utter and absolute horror, the sight that met their eyes that night, in the deep cavern, under the hill that overlooked Mingsport cannot, as previously mentioned be described, but I’ll have a go.
An amorphous, pockmarked, undulating mass of green-brown flesh that oozed a puss-like slime from surface holes, burnt every sense each of the four possessed. It leered although its face was barely recognisable as a face. It beckoned but it had no fingers as such to beckon with. It breathed raspingly through an orifice it used for a mouth.
Bernard struggled to open the wooden case that held the gun he had been holding underneath his arm (what on earth possessed him to bring the case in the first place I do not know), he struggled to get the gun out of the velvet pouch and when he did and aimed the gun in the general direction of the entity, the hand grip cover promptly decided to fall off, again. He really did try to get shot into the gun, he really did but in the end he just hurled the gun itself, and missed!
Harold shouted hysterically ‘the amulet, use the amulet Victoria!’.
Victoria fumbled for the amulet under layers of clothing and when it finally emerged it had lost its little hat and she didn’t know what to do with it anyway. ‘How do I use it?’ she screamed back.
‘Hold it erect, hold it erect! was his reply (a little distasteful but hey, whatever floats your boat!).
At this, the monster laughed its vile guttural laugh once more ‘Hughh. Huugrhh. Huurrgghh. The amulet of Erektotep the Third. I have not seen that for many years’.
Carlton was more successful. He screamed in a high-pitched (rather female) sort of way and hurled the sconce in blind panic, in the general direction of the monster, setting fire to the surrounding environs which were remarkably flammable. All this happened as the monster’s tentacles of loathsome slime slithered their way across the damp floor to within footfall of the four. At the same time, writhing snakes of what purported to be hair, of a fashion (but of no fashion I have seen in any hairdressers this side of the abyss!), reached out across the void toward their heads.
It was just at this moment that the Gatekeeper returned. ‘If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times you’re not to bother the nice people’ he said to the tentacled horror. He saw the fire and turned to the four ‘Hey, you can’t do that! I have to live here you know. You can’t just go setting other people’s property alight. It’s a blatant disregard, well for other people’s property that is. I don’t know, you come in here without so much as a by your leave, upsetting people. You should know better, you really should’. He moved toward the growing inferno and this was the queue that the four needed. They looked at each other, looked at the conflagration (it had grown from its inferno status), looked at the tunnel they had entered by and then ran screaming. That was all they remembered.
In the cold light of day, the four met and tried to make sense of what had happened that night but it was impossible for them. A part of each of their minds is, for the most part closed to them, it is given over to madness, they do not willingly go there. They have forgotten what they saw. What was seen that night by the townsfolk of Mingsport will not be forgotten in a hurry. They saw the gale blowing with unnatural force. They saw, high up on the hill, the smoke, steam, yes fog, call it what you will billowing from the Sound Stone. They heard it creating its unholy music and in that unmentionable night, a new saying was born; fear the dark. No-one really knew what had happened that night, the terrors that the four had gone through and that it was they who had thwarted the abomination. They had no clue as to how close they had all come to oblivion. They were clueless. Only the four, who went down into that mephitic pit now know what terrors lurk in the dark recesses of the world. They know and fear the dark.
Oh, one last thing. Yes finally, the deep secret hinted at in the opening lines of the story you hold before you and have been desperately waiting to have revealed.
‘Oh no we haven’t’.
‘Oh yes you have’.
‘Get on with it!’.
Harold was still perplexed by the fact that so many people seemed to know him. He found it strange that so many people, whom he would not have considered to be in his target demographic must actually read female romantic fiction! You see the only published novel by Harold Peter Leftcroft is “Forgive me, my darling” published under the pseudonym of Cecilia Blackthorne. You, the reader obviously know otherwise but Harold, to this day still doesn’t have a clue! More recently he has however given up female romantic fiction (well, there’s no money in it anyway!) in favour of horror writing, based upon his exploits.