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Chapter 3: ARTICLES FOUND AMONGST MILO BRECKLIN’S PERSONAL EFFECTS

Albert James Pickett’s History of Alabama[i] Chap. 3

1759: The Tookabatchas brought with them to the Tallapoosa some curious brass plates, the origin and objects of which have much puzzled the Americans of our day, who have seen them. 1759 Such information respecting them as has fallen into our possession, will be given. On the 27th July, 1759, at the Tookabatcha Square, William Balsolver, a British trader, made inquiries concerning their ancient relics, of an old Indian Chief, named Bracket, near a hundred years of age. There were two plates of brass and five of copper. The Indians esteemed them so much they were preserved in a private place, known only to a few Chiefs, to whom they were annually entrusted. They were never brought to light but once in a year, and that was upon the occasion of the Green Corn Celebration, when on the fourth day, they were introduced in, what was termed the “brass plate dance”. Then one of the high Prophets carried one before him, under his arm, ahead of the dancers — next to him the head warrior carried another, and then others followed with the remainder, bearing aloft, at the same time white canes, with the feathers of a swan at the tops.

Shape of the five copper plates: One a foot and a half long, and seven inches wide; the other four a little shorter and narrower.

Shape of the two brass plates: Eighteen inches in diameter, about the thickness of a dollar, and stamped as exhibited upon the face.

Formerly, the Tookabatcha tribe had many more of these relics, of different sizes and shapes, with letters and inscriptions upon them, which were given to their ancestors by the Great Spirit, who instructed them that they were only to be handled by particular men, who must at the moment be engaged in fasting, and that no unclean woman must be suffered to come near them or the place where they were deposited. July 27, 1759: Bracket further related, that several of these plates were then buried under the Micco’s cabin in Tookabatcha, and had lain there ever since the first settlement of the town; that formerly it was the custom to place one or more of them in the grave by the side of a deceased Chief of pure Tookabatcha blood, and that no other Indians in the whole Creek nation had much sacred relics. (1) Similar accounts of these plates were obtained from four other British traders, “at the most eminent trading house of all English America.” (2) The town of Tookabatcha became, in later times, the capital of the Creek nation; and many reliable citizens of Alabama have seen these mysterious pieces at the Green Corn Dances, upon which occasions they were used precisely as in the more ancient days. (3) When the inhabitants of this town, in the autumn of 1836, took up the line of march for their present home in the Arkansas Territory, these plates were transported thence by six Indians, remarkable for their sobriety and moral character, at the head of whom was the Chief, Spoke-Oak, Micco. Medicine, made expressly for their safe transportation, was carried along by these warriors. Each one had a plate strapped behind his back, enveloped nicely in buckskin. They carried nothing else, but marched on, marched on, one before the other, the whole distance to Arkansas, neither communicating nor conversing with a soul but themselves, although several thousands were emigrating in company; and walking, with a solemn religious air, one mile in advance of the others. (4) How much their march resembled that of the ancient Trojans, bearing off their household gods! Another tradition is, that the Shawnees gave these plates to the Tuckabatchas, as tokens of their friendship, with an injunction that they would annually introduce them in their religious observances of the new corn season. But the opinion of Opothleoholo, one of the most gifted Chiefs of the modern Creeks, went to corroborate the general tradition that they were gifts from the Great Spirit. (5) It will be recollected that our aborigines, in the time of De Soto, undertook the use of copper, and that hatchets and ornaments were made of that metal. The ancient Indians may have made them, and engraved upon their faces hieroglyphics, which were supposed to be Roman characters. An intelligent New Englander, names Barent Dubois, who had long lived among the Tookabatchas, believed that these plates originally formed some portion of the armor or musical instruments of De Soto, and that the Indians stole them, as they did the shields, in the Talladega country, and hence he accounts for the Roman letters on them. We give an opinion, but leave the reader to determine for himself — having discharged our duty by placing all the available evidence before him.

(1) Adair’s “American Indians,” pp. 178-179.

(2) Adair’s “American Indians” p. 179.

(3) Conversations with Barent Dubois, Abraham Mordecai, James Moore, Capt. William Walker, Lacklan Durant, Mrs. Sophia McComb, and other persons who stated that these plates had Roman characters upon them, as well as they could determine from the rapid glances which they could occasionally bestow upon them, while they were being used in the “brass plate dance.”

(4) Conversations with Barent Dubois.

(5) Conversations with Opothleoholo in 1833.

****

7. Antique Muscogee Brass Plates[ii].

Tullahassee Mission, Creek Agency, WArk., 14th Sept., 1852.

Having understood that the Tukkabachee town or clan of Creek Indians, were holding their annual festival, (“the green corn dance,”) and that they would exhibit the much talked of “brass plates,” I determined to examine them, and therefore proceeded to their town, and camped for the night, on the 7th of August, 1850.

Before daylight next morning, I was aroused by the singing, dancing and whooping, of the Indians, and was informed that the dance with the plates had commenced

On reaching the place, I found 200 or 300 men assembled in the Square, with fires burning to give them light. About 80 or 100 of them were formed into a procession, marching with a dancing step, double file, around their “stamping ground,” which is about 240 feet in circumference. The procession was led by seven men, each of whom carried one of the plates with much solemnity of manner. After the dance was over, (which lasted about an hour,) I sent in my request for permission to inspect the plates.

The old chief Tukkabachee Mikko, came out and said that I could see them, on condition that I would not touch them. They profess to believe, that if any person who has not been consecrated for the purpose, by fasting or other exercises, six or eight days, should touch them, he would certainly die, and sickness or some great calamity would befall the town. For similar reasons, he said it was unlawful for a woman to look at them. The old chief then conducted me into the square, or public ground, where the plates had been laid out for my inspection. There were seven in all, three brass and four copper plates.

The brass plates are circular, very thin, and are, respectively, about twelve, fourteen and eighteen inches in diameter. The middle sized one has two letters (or rather a double letter) near its centre, about one-fourth of an inch in length; thus, AE, very well executed, as if done by a stamp. This was the only appearance of writing which I could discern on any of them.

The four copper plates (or strips,) are from four to six inches in width, and from one and a half to two feet in length. There is nothing remarkable about them. Like the brass plates, they are very thin, and appear as if they had been cut out of some copper kettle or other vessel.

The Indians cannot give any satisfactory account of any of these plates. They say that they have been handed down from father to son, for many generations past, as relics of great value, on account of the blessing supposed to be attached to the proper attention to them. They hold, that the health and prosperity of the town, depend in a great measure upon the proper observance of the rites connected with them. It is said, that this town is known to have had these plates in their possession for 200 years past.

There has been much conjecture about the writing upon them. Some supposed that it was Hebrew, and hence concluded that they might be descendants of the Jews. I was, therefore, the more anxious to see the plates, and very particular in examining them. But I could discover no appearance of writing, and not a single letter, but the above mentioned Roman letters.

Some have supposed the brass plates to be old shields. The largest one, (which I could not examine very closely,) appeared more like the remains of a shield than any of them.

But upon the whole, I am inclined to adopt the opinion given me by one of their dancers in the procession, that “they appear to have been covers for pots, or some other vessel, taken a great while ago from the Spaniards perhaps, in Florida.”

Tours truly,

R. M. Loughridge.

****

City of Wetumpka Brochure[iii]

Approximately 83 million years ago, at just around the end of the Age of the Dinosaurs, a large meteor impacted the Earth at what is today Wetumpka, Alabama. At the time, Alabama was covered by a shallow ocean. This didn’t prevent the meteor from causing a massive deformation of the underlying bedrock that still gives Wetumpka many distinctive features in the hills just east of downtown. These rugged hills form the five-mile wide impact crater.

Based on the geological nature of the rocks it is estimated that the meteor was the size of a football stadium and weighed approximately 62 millions tons. A meteor this size would deliver the explosive energy of 2.3 billion tons of TNT. Scientists can’t say for sure the composition of the meteor because geological surveys have failed to uncover any meteor debris.

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Notes on the Creek Culture (excerpt)[iv]

Each Creek town took great pride in maintaining certain sacred artifacts that were brought forth at various times during the Green Corn Festival. The most famous of these objects was the brass plates kept by the Creek town of Tuckabatchee. It is believed that these five brass plates might have been copper but the metal was of a strange nature that confused the identification. One legend holds that the plates were acquired from the Spaniards when the De Soto expedition passed through the Creek lands of Alabama. Another legend holds that the metal was given in its pure form to the Creeks by the Master of Breath from out of the sky and that it was the Spaniards who took the metal from the Natives. The Spaniards transformed the metal into the plates. Having been robbed of their sacred metal, the Creeks, under the leadership of Chief Tuscaloosa, fought the Spaniards at the Battle of Mabila in order to regain the brass plates.

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The Selma Tribune (excerpt) – 20 Mar 1982[v]

Archaeologists Still Hunting for Mabila

The Spanish Conquistador Hernando De Soto led an army of 600 men on a four-year expidition (1593-1543) through what is today the Southeastern United States. The most significant event of this journey was the largest battle in North American history until the American Civil War. It is now known as the Battle of Mabila and the 600 conquistadors were forced to fight their way out of the village while being attacked and harassed by upwards of 3000-4000 Native American warriors led by Chief Tsscalusa.

According to Spanish chroniclers, the cause of the battle was a calculated ambush that had been planned for some time resulting in the natives growing agitated at the tactics of the Spanish in their manner of forcefully taking key members of the tribes as hostage in exchange for food, precious metals, supplies, and safe passage through their lands. And while the Native Americans left no written, first-hand accounts of the battle, it is widely believed among them that the cause was due to the fact that the Spanish had forcefully taken sacred objects from the tribes. The Spanish having gone too far, the Indians lured them into the town, surrounded them and retook their rightful magic items.

Archeologists are still actively searching for the location of Mabila and there are many competing theories for where its location just might be. It is the Holy Grail of Southeastern United States archaeologists today.


[i] Albert James Pickett is considered Alabama’s first historian. This is an actual excerpt from Chapter 3 of History of Alabama. The brass plates were real and were mentioned in several sources.

[ii] This is an actual letter from R.M. Loughridge referenced in Information Respecting the History, Condition and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States.

[iii] Real Wetumpka city brochure.

[iv] Actual excerpt from a Creek Indian website.

[v] I invented this article but the content is mostly true.

Chapter 2: THE GHOULS OF COOSADA[i]

Manuscript mailed from the Gershom Asylum Annex of the Wetumpka State Penitentiary[ii]. Penned by Charles Kordish and addressed to Arthur Grosche[iii].

I had the nightmare again last night. It was horribly real; so much so that I awoke trying to scream and couldn’t go back to sleep till dawn. There were three of the chaklah’i[iv] circling me; closing in. They were hideous beasts. They were just as the Necronomicon and Cultes de Goules[v] described them: like large bats without wings, the hindquarters of a mangy dog, a muzzle full of long pointed teeth, and long, slender, humanoid hands, black and clawed. Their presence alone was suffocating!

****

They say I’m insane. Crazy.  Loony. Mad. Gone right off the deep end. Of course, they use their big twenty-dollar, psychiatry words to say it, but I know what it really means. They have labeled me a mental case. Is it true? I suppose it is when viewed through their eyes. Do I think I am? Well, that’s the real issue now isn’t it? I’ve heard it said that if you know you’re mad then you must not be. Seems rather paradoxical. I know I’m not crazy, but I can see how my captors would think I am; or at least was. My actions may have seemed aberrant, but my justifications were perfectly sane. And that is what they don’t understand, how I could justify the savage mutilation of four people.

The fact of the matter is that the human being is just barely out of its infancy. On the evolutionary scale we are just a tad above other great apes – they being our closest kin. And planet Earth is just a remote speck of inconsequential dust drifting through an infinite spatial universe. And if one were to then ponder the vast epochs of time that have rolled by then one would see that the Earth is really just an unnoticeable blip on the overall timeline of the eons. I say this to preface my tale because there are just too many fathomless horrors out there in the infinite abyss of this universe for us fleeting humans to honestly think that we have any semblance of a grasp on what we like to think of as “reality”. Our grand Scientific Method is a fine achievement within our own pathetic schemas of our species, but it is laughable to the myriad of alien things that lurk and stalk the starry canvas of the outer oblivion of space. There are just some things that would drive the vast majority of mankind insane if they were confronted with them even obliquely. One shudders to think what would happen to our fragile minds if we were to actually come face to face with the ageless horrors that have assumed a noticeable brushstroke on the canvass of eternity.

Those forces that have existed for a respectable chunk of time haven’t sat idly by and watched; no, they have been evolving and expanding. And they exert their influence from time to time. My whole motivation for writing this is to send out a warning to all who shall read this that there are some areas of knowledge that are best left alone. Areas that should be declared taboo and any caught encroaching upon them should be eliminated. I know this sounds harsh, but this is exactly the thing I took into my own hands to do. It cannot be stated enough that some areas of knowledge open avenues that lead directly to the fall of humanity. I guess, in a way, I potentially saved us all. See? There I go talking like a mad man again. But before you judge too quickly, hear my tale and then decide if the killings were justified. But if nothing else, at least see to it that no one else attempts to revive the abhorrent cult that I barely managed to suppress.

I refuse to give the particulars as to the cult’s object of worship for fear that by naming the thing it would only lead some to seek out more information about it and thus, fall into the grip of its long psychic tentacles. It should suffice the reader to know that I will only describe the behaviors and deeds of those five who were the cult’s core and refer to their “deity” as The Nameless One. By knowing the atrocious things they did one would be able to recognize any similar activities in the future and be able to act to thwart their revival. Chief among their blasphemous crimes against humanity are two-fold. The first is murder, but murder is a horrible deed committed by many around the globe and cannot be the sole diagnostic criteria. But the second, and most damning piece of evidence, is the ritual consumption of human cadavers. Yes, they were a cult of ghouls!

My discovery of their nightmarish depravity began with the random error of the postman. He accidentally deposited a letter to Professor Miller Hall in my mailbox. You see, the professor and I were next door neighbors in Coosada, just a few blocks from Coosada University. At the time I didn’t even know that he was my neighbor and I carelessly opened the letter, as it was mixed in with several other items of mail in my mailbox. I was opening each piece without even thinking of reading the addressee on the letter, perusing their contents and consigning them to either important mail to keep or the garbage as junk mail. When I opened the letter intended for Professor Hall and began reading it I was a bit confused at first. I quickly realized that the letter wasn’t for me and then I checked the address on the front and saw that I had received my neighbor’s letter. But the words of the first sentence had so captured my curiosity that I confess I figured the error was too far afoot now to refrain from doing what I knew to be a breach of privacy.

I can’t recall the words in that letter well enough to quote them verbatim, but I can certainly give you a synopsis. The letter was from an apparent colleague of Professor Hall named Nathaniel Billingsley who was an archeologist in Great Britain. At the time, I couldn’t piece together all of the information that Dr. Billingsley referenced, but it was enough to strike my curiosity and to also raise my suspicions that the two men were involved in some bizarre, taboo practice.

Dr. Billingsley and Professor Hall had obviously exchanged some cursory letters. The tone of this letter was such that he was very excited and wanted to come visit Professor Hall. He rambled on about a megalithic dig he had been involved with in Scotland at Skara Brae. He had deciphered the curious runic glyphs on many of the stone balls and ceramic shards that were found all around Skara Brae and Maes Howe[vi]. He didn’t specify the exact words but alluded to the fact that it confirmed that the ancient civilization practiced ritual cannibalism.  I gathered that Professor Hall had also proposed a controversial theory that the local Native American tribes had engaged in ritual cannibalism at some point in their past.

Dr. Billingsley then went on to talk about some of the similarities between the megalithic tribes of Scotland, the Native Americans of the Creek Nation, and many of the Pacific Islander tribes and how their rituals all seemed to point to certain passages of the Necronomicon and large portions of the Cultes des Goules. I had no knowledge at the time of these strange texts. The real excitement was in his telling of how he had successfully cracked the elusive text known as theVoynich Manuscript[vii] and that what at first seemed to be Hermetic writings were in fact expositions on rituals mentioned in the Cultes des Goules.

After reading the letter I was filled with a dread sense of uneasiness. I could only surmise that these men were involved in some sinister matters that were best left undiscovered and forgotten. I replaced the letter in the envelope and wondered what to do with it. Finally, I decided the best course of action was to place it in Professor Hall’s mailbox. He would obviously know that someone had opened the letter, but a gut feeling told me that I had better ensure that he didn’t know it was me.

****

Being a sane person locked up in an insane asylum is enough to drive one insane. My nerves are completely shot. Imagine that your only social interaction is with people who are completely mad. Most are pitiful souls who are harmless, but then there are those who freak me out. I’m terrified of several of the psychotic dregs who shuffle around this place talking to whatever mad lunacy they’ve fabricated in their addled brains. Percy is the worst, though. He is relentless in his ramblings. He’s always stalking me talking about the ancient dead who lay dreaming. Too many things he says sound like stanzas from the Necronomicon. And the way his smile twists into an evil grin as his eyes twitch. That daemonic cackle of a laugh! It’s like a sharp spike gouging into my brain! God, how I hate him!

****

As chance would have it, I was leaving my house on the day that Dr. Billingsley and the two creepy men who accompanied him arrived next door at Professor Hall’s residence. Professor Hall was a tall, thin man with a ring of gray hair around his balding head. He descended his front porch to greet Dr. Billingsley, who was a hearty man with a full beard and large bushy brows. The two men shook hands as if they were already old friends. The two men following Dr. Billingsley remained stone-faced and un-introduced. They were both swarthy-looking men. As I walked out of my house and to my car they both eyed me narrowly as if they were trying deliberately to repel me from their presence. Well, it worked. Those two men sent a chill right through me. I could tell from their looks that they were an unwholesome lot.

****

Having my curiosity thus piqued, I decided to see just what kind of research these men were involved in. To begin with, I investigated the work of Dr. Billingsley. In his younger days he had studied under the famous Professor Thom and was a colleague for a while with Dr. Robin Lomax. Their work centered around the rich legacy of megalithic culture that existed in Scotland, especially on the Isle of Orkney. The discoveries at the sites of the Standing Stones of Stenness, the Ring of Brodgar, Skara Brae, and Maes Howe revealed much about the peoples of the megalithic era, but they also created a lot of mysteries. It was obvious from the many standing stones aligned to various fixed points in the sky that the astrological movements and signs of the heavens heavily influenced these people. They were consumed with rituals of death and burial as testified by the many stone burial tombs. However, their runic writing system defied deciphering by all who tried until Dr. Billingsley claimed to have unlocked the key by some manner that he refused to divulge. His claim was that the writings, as well as evidence uncovered through archaeological digs in the tombs and midden heaps, had proven that the ancient people of what is today the Isle of Orkney, had been followers of a cult that worshipped a Nameless Deity and practiced this worship through rites of cannibalism.

Of course, Dr. Billingsley’s work had been vehemently opposed and had caused him to become an isolated outcast in the Archaeological and Anthropological circles of research and Academia. Even his colleague, Dr. Lomax, who was famous for his controversial theories on our common understanding of ancient human history, had distanced himself from Billingsley when he had espoused the outlandish claim that geographically separated cultures of ancient humans had all worshipped a common deity who demanded the ritual consumption of cadaverous flesh.

The really surprising, and what many considered a purely pseudo-scientific, claim was that he had deciphered the Voynich Manuscript by cross-referencing the runic writing of the ancient Orkadians with sections of the Necronomiconand the Cultes des Goules. And what he claimed was contained in the Voynich Manuscript was the ritual ceremonies, incantations, recipes, and spells of the ghoul cult.

****

Yesterday I was sitting, staring out of the barred window and daydreaming about the times I used to go canoeing down the Coosa River when Percy snuck up beside me and started talking about Roba el Khaliyeh and G’nar’ka[viii]. How could he know those names! My will was at its lowest and I lost it. I began striking him over and over. He fell to the ground and I pounced on him like a wild dog on its prey. I continued pounding my fist into his face. Blood flew and he curled up into a ball but I never relented. When the orderlies pulled me off of him he just laid there in the fetal position shaking and whimpering. The last time I felt that relieved was the night I set upon Billingsley and Hall with the ax. They moved me to solitary confinement, which is a goddamned blessing. Now, at least, I don’t have all of the crazies to deal with.

****

Professor Hall’s research paralleled Dr. Billingsley’s in many ways. Hall had studied Native American culture for numerous years with a particular focus on the tribes of the Creek Nation that once lived in modern day Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and Florida. This is what brought him to be a professor at Coosada University. Just within the local area were some of the locations of the larger Creek communities: Coosada, Wetumpka, Tallassee, Tuskegee, and Tukabatchee. Professor Hall had presided over a major archaeological dig across the Coosa River in the town of Wetumpka at what used to be the capitol of the Creek Nation known as The Hickory Ground. When the Poarch Band of Creek Indians wanted to put up a casino on the land, he was at the forefront of the faction of archaeologists and Creeks who wanted the sacred site preserved.

Where his research left the mainstream and really began to sound eerily familiar to Billingsley’s work was in his research of the burial customs of the Choctaws. The Choctaws had amongst their people the strange men called the bonepickers. They were unique in their role amongst their tribe. They covered themselves in tattoos that were unique to the bonepickers and grew their fingernails long and pointed. Whenever someone died, a tall scaffold was built near his or her home. The body was placed atop the scaffold for a set period of time – in most villages the time was four months but could be shorter or longer. It was typical for the women to visit the scaffold and wail and moan their plaintive sorrows.

When the allotted time had passed, it was time for the bonepickers to appear for their gruesome task of cleaning the bones of what remained of the rotted and decayed flesh. Once the bones were picked clean, they were gathered into a box or bundle and placed in a common house with other Indians who had died from the village. There would be much crying and chanting during this ritual, but once the bones were deposited in the village charnel house, then the mourning period was officially over for the family[ix].

Somehow, Professor Hall claimed he had uncovered evidence that indicated that the bonepickers’ ritual didn’t end with just cleaning the bones. He believed he had the proof to show that the bonepickers were a completely different sect of the Choctaw society who had their own deity and their own, unique worship practices. But most amazing was the claim that they too engaged in ritualistic cannibalism.

****

You have no idea what it’s like to be terrified so bad that you must scream or go mad! I try to scream but it’s impossible to do because I’m suffocating and struggling to just breathe. I imagine myself gasping like a fish out of water, my eyes wide from the terror of the chaklah’i closing in.

****

My real interest in what Hall and Billingsley were up to didn’t begin with the letter. It did spark my curiosity, however. That was further fueled when I saw the two men and Billingsley’s swarthy companions meet on the lawn. At that point I hadn’t done all the research on Hall and Billingsley to start piecing together what sort of monstrous work they were concocting. It was a few nights later that things took a sinister change.

It was during the wee hours of the night – probably one or two a.m. I heard a loud noise next door that woke me up. As I lay in bed listening I could hear voices as if in an argument. Fortunately, I didn’t turn on any lights or I’m afraid of what sort of attention would’ve been brought upon me. I crept from my bed to the window and cautiously peeked through the blinds. My room is on the second story on the same side of the house adjacent to Professor Hall’s house. From my vantage point I could see the side and back yard of his house. I beheld Hall and Billingsley engaged in an argument while the two thugs carried what appeared to be a large canvas bag between them. They were struggling with the load while Hall and Billingsley gesticulated over what appeared to be the direction which the two men should carry their bulky load. As I watched, I saw the two men readjust their load and this caused the end of the sack to open and a portion of a human body flopped out! This caused Hall and Billingsley to both erupt into a torrent of curses hurled at the two henchmen, and while they scrabbled to replace the body, Hall and Billingsley looked frantically about. I recoiled from the blinds thinking Billingsley had spotted me and sat against the wall curled beneath the window with my heart thundering in my chest. I expected a pounding on my door at any moment but, thankfully, none came.

****

You may wonder why I never went through the official channels and notified the police. They are inept and a corrupt bunch of fools. That’s why. When my dear wife Lizzy was murdered by some degenerate little thug for the mere contents of her purse, the police treated the investigation in a slipshod and half-assed manner. It was a damnably frustrating ordeal just to get one of their bungling lot to take the time to speak to me about their progress in the investigation much less to actually get off their lazy asses and attempt to find the little bastard who shot and killed her. It was my impression that they assumed that it was impossible to find the murderer when there was little evidence found at the scene of the crime. They didn’t even bother to try. So I decided to do my own investigative work and figure out just what sort of horrible crimes Hall and Billingsley were up to so that when I did decide to call the authorities, all of the evidence against them would be collected already.

****

The Voynich Manuscript is one of the most enigmatic books in existence. It has a strange history and has thwarted all the best cryptologists in the world who have attempted to decipher it. The historical record first mentions it being associated with that strangest of alchemical noblemen, Rudolph II of Bohemia. Rudolph reportedly paid an unknown seller the amount of three hundred gold ducats in 1586 to procure the manuscript. This was an extremely high price for the day to pay for one book. Some theorize that the unknown person had forged a fine fake and pulled the wool over Rudolph’s eyes. But while Rudolph was an eccentric man – he was known to employ astrologers, had a regiment of giants in his army, and was fascinated by games and codes – he knew alchemy and astrology well enough to be able to detect a phony. Besides, the manuscript was accompanied by a letter of inspection signed by none other than John Dee attesting to its merit and claiming that Dee believed the manuscript to be written by Roger Bacon himself. Rudolph entrusted the manuscript to his director of botanical gardens Jacobus de Tepenecz. Jacobus was entrusted with not only the task of growing all of the alchemical herbs and vegetables that Rudolph required, but was also overseer of Rudolph’s alchemical cuisine. At some point the manuscript mysteriously passed into the possession of a Jesuit monastery where it was placed and forgotten in their library. It wasn’t until 1912 that the scholar named Voynich discovered and presented it to the world to try and decipher. But no one was able to crack the language. One can imagine the ripple made through the Antiquarian community when Billingsley announced he had made a complete deciphering of the Voynich Manuscript. This excitement was quickly followed by waves of horror when it was discovered that his translation revealed the manuscript to be a spell/recipe book for a fiendish cult of cannibals.

****

Being removed from the other lunatic inmates was a welcome relief at first but at least they offered some semblance of human contact. Now I just spend my days brooding in isolation. Last night I had a dream about Lizzy. She was radiant in her beauty and smiling at me. I approached her and we kissed a long lingering kiss. And then to my horror I began to suffocate and tried to pull away from her. Her face and hands grew and closed around my head. It seemed like an eternity that I struggled unable to draw a breath. Finally I woke as if being yanked from submersion to the darkness of my cell. But just before I woke, I caught the glimpse of Lizzy. She was transformed into a hideous bat-like creature.

****

The next day after I saw the body flop out of the bag, I set up a watch on Hall’s house. It was just before noon that the four men left the house. I didn’t have long to act so I screwed up my courage and determined to take my camera into Hall’s house to take a photo of the victim. I snuck over the fence in my backyard that adjoined Hall’s yard and crept up to the back of the house. My adrenaline rush caused my heart to race and I felt exposed as I tried the back door. It was locked so I began to test each of the windows. It dawned on me that I didn’t really have a fully formulated plan on how to proceed should all of the doors and windows be locked. Then, to my surprise, one of the windows lurched up a couple of inches as I applied pressure to it. I managed to get it up high enough to wriggle through. Upon entering the house I paused to formulate an exit strategy should the group of four return. I shut the window I had entered through and then I located the back door and opened it. I locked it but left it open an inch or so. If they returned I would sprint out the back door closing it behind me and have to vault the fence back to the safety of my own backyard.

I wasted no time in scouring the house. Each room on the main and upper floors held no indication of any nefarious activity, though. The only other place to look was the cellar and as I opened the door onto the stairwell descending into its dark and musty depths, a cold shiver swept over my skin. There was a solitary light bulb that I turned on but it only seemed to add more ominous shadows to the stairs rather than dispel the dark. I was in a hurry, though, and I decided to quickly climb down and plunge into whatever might be waiting in the cellar.

I reached the bottom and found a switch, which lit another lonely bulb in the cellar. What it illuminated was a horribly grotesque altar that seemed to be dedicated to the worship and practice of some occult black magic. I was repulsed by the blasphemous nature of the whole décor of the cellar. There were strange idols all around, sconces of black candles, strange shapes and symbols adorned the floor and walls, and a table in the center of the room contained many books and several large knives. I knew immediately that this was where they had brought the body to do what now appeared some sort of dark ritual; however, I could find no trace of the body anywhere. All the signs of foul play screamed to me from this dark cellar. I felt ill at ease and knew that I could afford little time searching too thoroughly. I decided to take several pictures of the room. As I took pictures of the several books littering the table in the center of the room I paused tempted to browse their contents, but I figured that I could research them at my leisure if I took photos of their titles. There was the copy of what I would learn was Billingsley’s supposed translation of the Voynich Manuscript, the Cultes de Goules, the Necronomicon, the Nocturnicon[x], the Song of Morrighunb[xi], and the Book of Nod[xii]. I suppressed my urge to open these strangely named tomes and got out of the house as quickly as possible.

****

I have no visitors here because I have no friends or family left that could come see me. My parents passed away years ago. Lizzy and I never had the chance to start a family. She was taken from me by some sick-o druggie looking for some quick cash so he could get his next fix. That night that I killed Billingsley and Hall is still a fog. Hell, I’m not even sure it was me that took their lives. I just remember vaguely in my berserker rage that I fantasized the men were the embodiment of the punk druggie who killed Lizzy.

****

I was surprised when the large guard who insists that he be called an “orderly” came and got me out of my cell. He informed me that I had a visitor. I was taken into a room with a lone table and several chairs. The strange man sitting at the table rose when I was brought in. He was an athletic man wearing khaki cargo pants and a denim shirt. He had sandy blond hair and dark, active eyes. The man struck me as a cocky, jock type. Probably military or police background. The guard offered to place me in a straightjacket for his safety but the man gave him a wry chuckle and said that it wouldn’t be necessary.

He introduced himself as Tanner Wallace. I was wary of him because I thought he might be a detective or, even worse, somehow connected to Billingsley or Hall. He sensed my uneasiness and began to reassure me that he was on my side and believed that what I had done was justified. He said that he knew all about my “ordeal” as he called it. I asked him why he cared and he admitted that he really wasn’t sure himself. I didn’t know how to take that and he began to explain that he was merely here on behalf of a man named Milo Brecklin. Apparently Mr. Brecklin was a very powerful man who took a special interest in the things I had encountered – referring to the arcane tomes, occult rituals, and unexplainable events that transpired that night in the cemetery.

I was amazed at how many details he knew about the bizarre work and interests of both Hall and Billingsley. I grew a bit more at ease because I felt that he actually believed me, unlike the head shrinks who seemed to only humor me while secretly judging me insane. He explained that Mr. Breckline was a sort of crusader trying to stamp out secret cults and cabals that perpetrate the twisted rituals and practices of the ilk that Hall and Billingsley were trying to resurrect. He told me that Brecklin wanted me interviewed to see if I was legit. He promised me that he would report back to Brecklin and that hopefully Brecklin could use his considerable influence to free me.

Maybe he was just a fraud or it was some warped, new technique by the psychiatrists trying to dissect my brain, but it is my only hope that I can be saved before I suffocate or truly go mad.

****

After a very nerve wracking visit to Hall’s residence I sat down at my computer and began to research the cryptic names of the strange books in his cellar. The two that seemed to have the most mystery and stigma tied to them were the Necronomicon and Cultes de Goules. These two books were rare occult books of legendary stature in a very nebulous and underground world of dark magic and sorcery. I won’t go into all of various dead ends and blind alleys I combed on both the internet and on the phone as I looked for copies of these rare and cursed books, but I did finally uncover the fact that only a few libraries in the United States held copies of them. The two closest ones were Harvard and Arkham, two schools that were too far away to warrant a trip up the Eastern seaboard. Coosada University is much too small to have any books of such rarity – the university doesn’t even have a rare books room like Arkham has. I did get a lead from an employee at the library for a man who might be able to help me.

Surprisingly, the man was you, Arthur Grosche. And surprisingly, you ran a used bookstore right in Wetumpka just over the bridge in the old part of town. Thankfully, your side passion was hunting, collecting, buying and selling rare books. I drove over to your store and went in. There were no customers in the store and I found you behind the counter going through a box of paperbacks. You eyed me skeptically with your reading glasses riding the tip of your nose. When I asked you if you were Arthur Grosche you looked over the top of the lenses and sized me up before answering in the affirmative. I had made up a feeble lie about how I was doing research on paganism and occult literature for an article I was writing and then I asked you about the books. When I mentioned the names of the books I caught your full attention. You abandoned the box of cheap paperbacks and stood up while removing your glasses.

I hoped that the books weren’t so taboo to you that you’d brush me off but you seemed to regard them as more hype and hyperbole than anything else. You explained to me that you had definitely heard of these fabled books but had never actually seen a copy of either the Necronomicon or the Cultes de Goules. I asked you if you thought you could get me copies and if so, how much they might run. You told me that people in certain circles paid hefty amounts for even the poorest condition copies of them. You guessed that tens of thousands of dollars was probably the ballpark figure. 

It was at this point that I asked you if you knew just what sort of things were written in the books and what their histories were. You told me that the Necronomicon had been written by an Arab named Alhazred in the eighth century. Apparently Alhazred was exiled into the desert and turned to dark sorcery in an attempt to gain power and revenge over the ones who had banished him. The book chronicled his wanderings around the Middle East as he searched for the most shunned and forbidden secrets of necromancy and black magic. Supposedly Alhazred revealed in minute detail the spells and rites on how to conjure some really powerful demons. We’re talking messing around with some really dangerous beings. It eventually cost Alhazred his life. Supposedly he was flayed to death by an unseen demon in broad daylight in the middle of a busy marketplace.

The Cultes de Goules was written in the 1700’s by the Comte d’Erlette. Your knowledge wasn’t as good on it as it was on the Necronomicon, but you told me it was banned by the church because it was another book that gave explicit details on how to conjure demons. You said that what made it so reviled was that it condoned cannibalism and the consumption of the dead as a means of gaining power over the undead.

You then told me that you did have a few books that you thought might give me some more information on these books and other similar works. I told you that I was interested and you bade me follow you to a back room. After some looking around through stacks of books, you proceeded to present me with a copy of the Nocturnicon, which was one of the books in Hall’s house. You explained that it was a book of magic instruction heavily influenced by the Necronomicon. Another book you managed to find was called The Gates of the Necronomicon[xiii] which you explained was a book supposedly of some of the exact spells copied right out of the Necronomicon. The last book was an occult encyclopedia that had entries on both books plus a whole slew of other related materials and topics.

We chatted some more and I thanked you for helping me out with so much information. I bought your books and returned home to see what else I could learn about just what Hall and Billingsley might be involved in.

****

According to the copy of Radcliffe’s Occult Encyclopedia[xiv] that I bought from you, after death a body still holds a vital essence that is tied to the spirit of the person. Once the soul has been excised from the material plane this vital essence no longer resides in the body. Only then can a person be truly dead. A person who is dead but still retains their vital essence may be resurrected. They are said to be “undead”.  Both the Necronomicon and Cultes de Goulesdescribe two creatures that feed on the dead. These creatures happen to be bitter enemies. The first creature is the ghoul. They have a prominent part in mythology and most people have heard of them. The ghoul eats the flesh of the dead but only if it still contains the vital essence. Ghouls are described as being short of stature, having dark skin that is almost black, possessing slender limbs and distended bellies. The other creature is the chaklah’i. Where the ghoul is humanoid, the chaklah’i is more akin to a creature that runs on all fours like a wolf or hyena. They run in packs and are described as having a large bat-like face, a large mouth with long teeth, the hind quarters of a wild dog and long, slender arms that are dark and end in humanoid, clawed hands. Unlike the ghouls, they feast on the vital essence of a dead person instead of the tissue. They will also stalk a living victim and surround them. Their forms are not of the material plane and they will surround the victim in such a way that the victim suffocates due to the displacement of air. One can see how these two creatures are in competition with each other over a fresh cadaver, but feed on it in different ways. While rifling through The Gates of the Necronomicon I discovered spells for conjuring both these beasts.

****

I dreamt of a vast stairwell hewn into a steep, black mountain of a rock. I was stumbling down it. I was being pursued by something high above me on the stairs. I chanced a glance back and could see several of the ghouls coming down the mountain, their dark, hunched forms silhouetted against a roiling, gray sky. Panic swept through me as I tried to run and leap down several stairs at a time. Ahead of me the stairs ended in a large, iron gate. I struggled to open it but it was locked. Through the gate I could see that the stairs ended abruptly and beyond the end was an infinite, yawning, black chasm. Somehow I knew that I possessed the key – I just needed to find it on my person before the ghouls reached me. Frantically I searched my clothing and realized the key was hanging from a cord around my neck. I fumbled with the lock as I heard the motion of the ghouls behind me, their claws clicking on the rocks and their low, guttural moans growing ever closer. Finally the lock slid home and I turned the key and heard the clack of the lock releasing. I tugged with all of my strength to pull the massive gate open enough to squeeze through. I slid through, reached back to retrieve the key and felt the searing pain of a clawed hand rake my arm. I pulled hard and turned the lock as several ghouls slammed into the gate, their long, slender arms groping through the bars for me as I backed towards the chasm out of their reach. I regarded their horrible faces gnashing at me for a moment and then I turned to face the chasm. It was limitless as the empty void of space itself. The sounds of the ghouls were lost behind as the silence of the void engulfed me. A wave of vertigo overcame me and I began to sway. Steadying myself on a nearby rock a sense of peace settled over me like nothing I had ever felt before. Standing there staring into the void I thought that it must be what death would feel like. Empty and peaceful. But then a noise disturbed the void. At first it was faint and eons away. But it grew louder. It was an alien sound full of low rumblings and clickings and moisture. And in the far distance of the void I beheld a shape darker than the blackness of empty space churning and writhing and speeding towards me and I awoke.

****

All of the pieces of this mad puzzle fell into place the night I followed Hall, Billingsley and their two surly companions to the desolate cemetery off of County Road 17. I secretly watched them from my bedroom window and for some inexplicable reason, decided to follow them. I suppose that I had gathered enough information that I sensed that they were going on another lurid trip involving the acquisition of a body. Without over thinking any plan, I grabbed my camera, rushed to my car and covertly followed the men.

When I saw them pull into the cemetery I then realized that they were engaged in grave robbing; but they weren’t robbing graves for the mundane purpose of stealing jewelry from corpses, their intentions were far more sinister. I parked some ways back down the road out of sight and went carefully by foot so as not to make my presence known. I was nervous and felt electrified because I knew that if they saw, Billingsley would most likely send his two thugs to ensure their dark secret remained underground. I cursed myself for not having the small .38 I kept locked in my safe, but I would surely have not been able to tail them to their destination if I’d have taken the time to grab it. So I merely hid in the edge of the woods a good distance from them and watched for the time being.

The two large thugs carried shovels and I could see that they had chosen a grave that was fresh because the dirt was still in a mound. While the two goons began digging, Hall and Billingsley appeared to be consulting over a book – probably one of the occult grimoires I had photographed and been researching. Soon they began to perform an incantation of some sort; they lit what appeared to be incense, crooned a strange language and circled the grave. I remember being surprised at how quickly the two henchmen dug the grave. Apparently the digging goes much faster on ground that has already been broken than it does on earth that is packed.

While my nerves were on edge from the danger of secretly watching them knowing full well that if they caught me I would likely be murdered, the horror of their revolting endeavor didn’t hit me until the two men lifted the corpse out of the ground. The body just flopped over the edge of the grave and I could hear Billingsley castigate the two for how rough they were handling the body. Hall and Billingsley proceeded to place the body in a better position and perform another incantation over it while their two lackeys filled back in the grave.

I vacillated on whether or not to attempt to take a photo of them at this point but finally decided that it was too risky. For one thing, I wasn’t exactly an expert with the digital camera I had and wasn’t confident enough to ensure that I could turn the flash off – that would’ve given me away in an instant. Maybe just turning the thing on would have cast enough light to advertise my presence. I also thought I was too far away for the picture to show anything that would be conclusive proof. I decided to wait and follow them. I felt pretty sure they would repeat what they did last time and go back to the cellar at Hall’s house to perform whatever mad ritual they intended to perform. I figured I could get home and call the police so that Hall and Billingsley could be caught in the act.

****

The chaklah’i are just outside of this sphere. Why they taunt me, I don’t know, but I feel my time is slipping away. When they first came I thought it was the end; and when they failed to take me that first time I thought it was because they couldn’t. Now I believe that they are just waiting for the right conditions to slip through and take me. I have exhausted all resources on how to stop them. I’ve written to Brecklin for assistance, but there has been no indication that he has received my pleas. Even if I got out of this godforsaken asylum, I doubt that would matter to them. There is nowhere that I could go that those fiendish beasts wouldn’t be able to stalk me. The physical limitations of this realm are inconsequential to them. Now I must finish my tale and send it to you in the hopes that you believes me and will attempt to destroy those mad tomes that unlock the creatures of Hell.

****

I can’t stress enough how the perfidy of the police had filled me with a loathing and distrust of their competence. But I knew that I needed to call them as soon as this mad charade of black magic arrived at Hall’s house. I waited until the quorum of men had left the cemetery and then I crept back through the woods emerging at my vehicle. I crouched low and waited for them to pass by before cranking my car and following. Sure enough, the route led right back to our neighborhood.

I waited a safe distance down the street and watched them unload the body. I sat there several minutes weighing whether or not I should drive my car into my own driveway. I didn’t want to for fear that they might hear my car pulling in and suspect that I was on to them; so instead, I jogged down the street keeping to the shadows as much as possible. I fully intended on going directly into my house and calling the police – God! If I had done that I wouldn’t be in this hellish ordeal I’m in. Like the proverbial cat, I couldn’t resist slipping up to the low cellar window and peeking in. Of course they had blacked out the window, but there was just enough of a scratch of paint missing for me to look through and see a tiny restricted part of their ritual. I watched for a minute or two while it appeared that Billingsley was donning a black cloak. He was standing with his back to me and was thus blocking the view of the table. After that, he began waving his arms in a rhythmic pattern while I heard a chanting from within. I distinctly heard petitions to the Nameless God. Suddenly there was a flash of fire and Billingsley moved out of my field of vision. What I saw at that moment sent me spiraling into madness. I was overwhelmed with the absurdity of what I was seeing. To begin with, there were more than four men and a corpse in that tiny cellar. It appeared as if a throng of people were huddled around the body. I say people, some were people, but others were debatable on that. I recognized them from the description given in the occult literature. They were short with blackish skin – not the brown that we erroneously call black, but their skin was literally black. Their faces were sunken and cadaver-like. Their arms and legs were scrawny and knotty but their bellies were swollen. They were ghouls. Summoned to this plane by dark sorcery before my very eyes. This was enough in and of itself, but that wasn’t the only thing that short-circuited my brain. Lying on the table was a female corpse and the resemblance to my dear Lizzy was shocking. It was too uncanny for my poor brain to ignore. When I saw what these foul creatures were intending to do to that helpless woman, it was as if they were about to do it to my Lizzy!

After that it was all a blur. I found myself in an instant berserker rage. I sprinted to my house and grabbed the copy of The Gates of the Necronomicon, found the page of spells to summon the chaklah’i and ripped it out. I then went to my safe and retrieved my .38. I also procured an ax I had in the utility room at the rear of my house. Returning to the yard I began to read from the page while I made my way to Hall’s back door. I must have gone through the incantation several times until I decided to burst through the door. It was locked but I employed the ax to splinter it and charged for the stairs.

The sound from the door being hacked in must have caused one of the thugs to come investigate because I met him on the stairwell and proceeded to deliver a couple of rounds into him. He toppled backwards and I barreled down the rest of the way. The throng was thrown into disarray as I leapt into the room. It was all chaos after that. The last clear thing I remember seeing was one ghoul with a large piece of meat in its maw and Bilingsley leaning down over the corpse as if he too were taking a bite. At that moment there was another flash of fiery light and the chaklah’i were bounding towards the ghouls. Their howls were otherworldly and were returned with cries from human and ghoul alike. As for me, I just stood there firing willy nilly into the melee until all of the rounds were spent and then I began hacking at anything that moved with the ax. And then I blacked out.

Of course, the police were summoned by someone – likely a nearby neighbor – and arrived to find me lying unconscious with the ax still clutched in my hand. The four men were lying dead with more than just bullet holes and ax marks littering their lifeless bodies. As for the ghouls and chaklah’i, they were nowhere to be found. Most distressing of all, though, was that the corpse was gone as well.

No doubt it was devoured. I implored the detectives and psychiatrists to find the cemetery on County Road 17 and find the fresh grave. But they refused to attempt to exhume the grave – especially since I could not provide a name. It was futile for me to convince them or prove my innocence in any way.

I have no idea what terms I was beholden to for summoning those wretched demons, but obviously I owe them more and they’re getting closer to collecting each night.


[i] Coosada is a town across the Coosa River from Wetumpka. Both Wetumpka and Coosada were important places for the Creek Indians. Coosada doesn’t have a university.

[ii] There really is a prison in Wetumpka called the Tutwiler Prison. It is an all-female prison. I changed the name and made it a male prison with a ward for the criminally insane. The name of Gershom is a nod to W.H. Pugmire and his “city of exiles”.

[iii] The name of Arthur Groshe is a reference to Eugen Grosche who was an occultist. He was the founder and Grandmaster of the occult lodge Fraternitas Saturni.

[iv] Chaklah’i are creatures featured in Donald Tyson’s version of the Necronomicon.

[v] Cultes des Goules was created by Robert Bloch to be incorporated into the Cthulhu Mythos. It is a book of black magic written by Francois-Honore Balfour the Comte d’Erlette in 1702.

[vi] This is an embellishment but the inspiration for this came from the book Uriel’s Machine: The Prehistoric Technology That Survived the Flood by Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas.

[vii] The Voynich Manuscript is real. It is an illustrated codex hand-written in an unknown writing system dated to the 15th century. It has not been deciphered even after numerous experts have attempted it.

[viii] More references to Tyson’s Necronomicon.

[ix] This account of the Chocktaw bonepickers is true. The main embellishment I did on both the ancient Brits and Creeks were the accounts of cannibalism.

[x] The Nocturnicon is a book of dark magic by Konstantinos!. Apparently you have to yell his name because it’s always written with the exclamation point.

[xi] This is a reference to a story I wrote called “The Cantation of Not”.

[xii] The Book of Nod is a book written by David Gragert, Sam Chupp, and Andrew Geenberg that is a supplemental book to the game Vampire: The Masquerade.

[xiii] The Gates of the Necronomicon is a black magic spellbook written by Simon.

[xiv] I invented this work.

Chapter 1: THE CRONE OF BAT ISALND[i]

Mr. Brecklin,

I am writing this as you requested through your colleague Mr. Wallace. I’m not really sure how Mr. Wallace found out about the thing that happened in the small village in Fiji, but I’m sure some small news source ran a story on it somewhere. And I’m still not sure how he was able to know that I was at the resort at the time of the incident. He must be a good investigator and I’m sure that it wasn’t difficult to gain guest lists from the resort. At any rate, you can guess that I was a bit suspicious of him when I was first approached. Eventually, though, he was able to explain that you were his employer and that you had a special interest in cases like mine. From what I gather you are a wealthy man who has at his disposal the resources to investigate paranormal cases all over the world. I really don’t understand the motive for this, but wealth and eccentricity commonly go hand in hand. I must tell you that not only was I a witness to the incident, but I feel almost certain that I caused it. I don’t understand everything that happened but I hope that you’ll be able to provide a rational explanation that fits into the natural laws of this world.

Something bizarre did happen in Fiji and I really don’t know how to come to grips with it. I have never been one to put much stock in supernatural or paranormal phenomena like ghosts, ESP, UFOs, a close encounter with an E.T. or any of that X-Files type of stuff. While I admit that there are many strange things in this world that the brightest scientists just can’t explain, I would say I’m agnostic when it comes to God. I’m not going to bet my chips one way or the other on something that man hasn’t been able to agree on for thousands of years. And before this trip I had only experienced one unusual incident that could be considered paranormal. Wallace asked me to provide the details of that too. I really never believed it was a real paranormal experience but I’ll tell you just so you know.

The encounter was at my aunt and uncle’s house in Wetumpka, Alabama[ii]. They built this nice A-frame house by a creek when my cousin, my sister and I were teenagers. While they were building this house they began uncovering all of these Indian artifacts like arrowheads and pottery shards and stuff. So, it was obvious that the place where they built their house was once an Indian village of some type. After the house was built and they had moved in, they said that they would frequently hear someone walking around different parts of the house. They had a huge deck that was accessed by two sets of sliding glass doors. They said that they would hear someone walking across the deck and then go to investigate, thinking it was a real visitor, only to find the doors open but no one to be found anywhere.

Even as a young teenager I doubted that it was true. Until, that is, my family went to visit them one summer weekend . My sister and cousin were like 17 and 18 and I was only 12 or 13. So, being typical teenagers, they wanted to go out with my cousin’s friends. Of course, I wasn’t invited nor would I have wanted to go hang out with a bunch of girls. My aunt and mom gave them a curfew of 11 p.m. As I said, my aunt’s house was an A-frame and they had built this really cool loft in the upper part that looked out over the living room. They used it for an office area and it had a desk, bookshelves, and a couch that folded out into a sleeper, which was where I was assigned to sleep. The loft was built directly above the front door of the house. That night I fell asleep at around 10 o’clock or so. I woke up shortly afterwards to the sound of the front door opening and closing. I looked at the clock and it was about 10:30. I just assumed it was my sister and cousin coming home and went back to sleep. The next morning I woke up and went down to breakfast and my mom and aunt were discussing how they were going to handle punishing the girls for breaking their curfew. That’s when I asked them what time they got home and they said it was close to midnight. I then told them I heard the door open and close at about 10:30. No one knew what could account for it, though. My mother, aunt and uncle were sleeping and my sister and cousin admitted to breaking their curfew. What teenager would lie about getting home on time? It just didn’t make sense. I have to admit, I got a chill thinking about it. I just kept picturing this apparition coming into the house while I lay there, oblivious to its presence.

I believed, and still would like to believe, that it was my aunt or uncle getting up to let the dog out or something. Even though they didn’t admit to it. Maybe they just didn’t remember or didn’t check the time or something, I don’t know. But I don’t believe it was a ghost of an Indian coming through the front door.

As to the events in Fiji, that’s a whole other matter. My wife Kate and I went there for our honeymoon because it was recommended to be even better than Hawaii – our first choice. Kate and I flew into Suva, which is the largest city. It’s on the main island, although the island of Vanua Levu is just about the same size. From there we took a tiny little island hopper to Savusavu on Vanua Levu. I knew we were removed from civilization when we landed and the airport was nothing more than a corrugated tin shed. While we were there we had no cell phone coverage, no cable T.V., no Internet access, nothing – which was just exactly what we wanted.

When we arrived at the airport at Savusavu, Tevita was there waiting on us with a van. He was the Fijian tour guide who worked at the Koro Sun[iii] resort where we stayed. He was great. He greeted us with a huge smile and said, “Bula!’” That means hello in Fijian and everywhere you go the Fijian people are always so friendly and they always give you a cheery “Bula!” The resort was several miles from the airport on the Hibiscus Highway[iv].

The resort was pretty small. In my mind I pictured a resort as a huge condo, but it was actually very quaint. In the middle of the resort was the main building with the office, restaurant, bar, souvenir shop, a game room, and a swimming pool. Surrounding that were scattered numerous small bures – which is basically a hut. They were pretty nice, though. Each bure had a bed draped with mosquito netting, a small fridge, and a large stone bathroom.

There weren’t that many people staying there. We went in our summer, which is actually the winter down there. There was a couple from New Zealand, a couple from Switzerland, and a group of four from Germany; other than that, it was just the handful of Fijian staff and Kate and me. They also employed an Australian SCUBA instructor and diving guide named Dale. But we never got SCUBA certified so we hardly interacted with him until the very last day.

It was their little tradition to serve a group dinner every night at one large table, so we were encouraged to meet the other guests. All the Fijians seemed to speak English since Fiji was a British colony, I suppose. Of course, the Kiwis spoke English. The Swiss couple spoke numerous languages, including English. The Germans’ English were a bit rough, but they conversed well enough to join in conversations. Many times the Germans and the Swiss couple would carry on conversations in German, but there was never a lull in any conversations going on at dinner, especially after everyone got a few drinks in them. Everyone pretty much had breakfast on their own time because everyone was getting their days started at different times. 

Tevita, as I said, was the Fijian tour guide and he had a trip or activity planned every single day. One day we went and found a group of dolphins to swim with, another day we went snorkeling close to the resort, another day we did a jungle trek. The trips were free to whoever wanted to go along and it was usually hit or miss with the Germans and the New Zealand couple. They were a bit older, after all. The Swiss couple, Hans and Trudy, and Kate and I were the old faithful couples who went every day. All except one day that Hans and Trudy didn’t go.

That was the day that began the whole series of events. This particular day Tevita had scheduled a kayaking trip that was actually pretty cool. Since it was just the three of us going, Tevita invited a Fijian girl named Karalaini to go along. I didn’t ask, but I believe that there was something going on between Tevita and Karalaini. Anyway, the trip was very educational because the two of them told us all kinds of stories about Fiji’s history and some local folklore. One story that the locals believed was that the place where we were kayaking to was one of the places that their shark god Dakuwaqa[v] (pronounced duck-wah-gah) liked to frequent. The Fijians believe that he can change shape between a man and a shark. His image even appears on Fijian money.

Another story Tevita related to us while we were kayaking was about how Tevita’s cousin George had drowned in a freak accident near the spot where they said Dakuwaqa frequently rested.[vi]

There was nothing really horrific about the story itself; just that it stuck in my brain like an annoying little splinter. I can’t really explain why

We went tooling around this little inlet and these networks of small islands and then we took a break on one of the beaches and ate a lunch Tevita had packed. Then we went tromping around this tiny little island and Kate and I snuck off for some alone time in a secluded little grove.

After Kate and I had our little escapade in the jungle we headed back to the kayaks. Tevita had been adamant about us getting back to the resort before the tide changed because we could’ve been stranded out on the islands. Just as we started heading back I asked him about one particularly large island further out that had somehow struck me as rather ominous looking. Something about the island just didn’t sit right with my psyche. I couldn’t really put my finger on it other than to say that the island exuded an aura of doom and gloom.

Tevita then went on to tell me that the island was called Bat Island and there were ancient ruins on it called Nananu-i-Ra[vii]. The ruins were so old that no one knew who had built them. The crazy thing was that there was this old crone, a witch doctor or shaman or something, that lived in the ruins. Every full moon people would go see her because they believed she had magical powers and that she could heal the sick. Well, it just so happened that on our last night there the moon was going to be full.

We went back to the resort and spent the next couple of days enjoying our vacation, except I couldn’t get the story of Tevita’s cousin George out of my head.

Looking back on it, I don’t know why the story struck me. Maybe it was just the juxtaposition of such a beautiful paradise and a horribly traumatic death. The vision of morbidity stuck out in stark relief against all the vivid sights, sounds, and smells of such a perfectly enchanting world. Even these incredibly happy souls who were always smiling and greeting you with a cheery “Bula!” were not immune to the long, stretching tentacles of death and sorrow.

I realize that the Fijians had a notorious history because they used to be cannibals. I didn’t expect a bunch of people who have a reputation for cooking strangers to be so friendly. I also understand that the act of cannibalism was reserved for bitter enemies and not just anybody and everybody they bumped into and didn’t know. At the time I didn’t really dwell on why Tevita’s story kept picking at my brain. It just did.

Our last night arrived and the Koro Sun Resort held a Meke for all the guests. A Meke is pretty much the exact same thing as a Luau. The Fijians have slightly different traditions, but overall, the two are very similar. For example, the Fijians are really big on a tradition of sharing a drink called Kava. It’s used as a sign of goodwill between people. Kava, from what I could gather, is a type of pepper or root. The ceremony entails mixing the Kava powder in a large bowl of water. Then, you clap your hands one time to accept the cup when offered, drain the cup, and then finish by clapping three times.

It tastes pretty grungy, kind of like a cup of dirty water. But the Kava has a weird effect of being tingly and causing your lips to go numb. I did some research into it when I got back from Fiji and as far as I could find, the effect is euphoric and does have a slight narcotic effect on the face, but it’s not a hallucinogenic. After some good food, tribal dancing, some drinking of beers and some Kava, Tevita cornered us and asked if we were still interested in going to Bat Island. I had actually forgotten about it, but Hans was really curious to go check it out. So I immediately concurred and then we convinced Kate and Trudy to go as well. No one else wanted to go so the five of us set off in the boat the resort used to take guests out SCUBA diving. It took us about twenty minutes to get to Bat Island. We pulled up to the beach and there were many other boats already there. The moon was full but the island was still dark and gloomy. Tevita produced a couple of flashlights and gave one to Hans. We followed Tevita through the jungle as he picked his way along a path that was barely discernable in the swaying flashlight beams. Another fifteen minutes of hiking and I could finally see flickering lights ahead in the jungle, and then the sounds of drumming and chanting. It was like something out of a movie. We emerged in a clearing surrounded by broken ruins scattered here and there. The ruins were worn and covered in creepers and vines and other various types of jungle foliage. There were sections of weathered and worn walls or structures that were now completely unrecognizable after untold years of neglect and decay. Torches blazed all around and in the middle of the clearing was one huge fire. About this large fire danced twenty or thirty Fijians. Off to the side were several drummers pounding out a hypnotic tribal rhythm. We approached the throng of dancers and several of the Fijians gathered around the outside greeted Tevita and all of us as if we were guests at a church service. We were instructed to take a seat and watch the dancing and drumming. This went on for another ten or fifteen minutes more and then, abruptly, everything just stopped. The crowd parted and the crone emerged. This was Lelia. She was, by far, the most ancient specimen of a human I’ve ever seen. She was frail and withered and hunched over. Her skin was wrinkly yet stretched taut over her bones. Eerily, she looked like a mummy with long, stringy white hair. She shuffled with the help of a knotted walking stick to the middle of the circle of people next to the fire. There was a pregnant pause and then, just as suddenly as the drummers ceased drumming, she erupted into a moaning chant. Strange words babbled from her mouth as she rocked and waved her hands in the air. Then began a call and response with her and the crowd. She crooned a raspy phrase and the natives chanted short calls in unison. After this, people tentatively began to get up and move toward the crone. Tevita explained that the people were going to receive the shaman’s blessing in order to be healed of whatever afflictions they had.

After the natives went up for the hands-on portion, people began to form a line for what I would call “virtual” healings. Everyone who hadn’t been up already rose and formed a line, including us. Tevita ushered us into the line and we weren’t really clear what exactly was going on. Tevita then explained that we were supposed to tell Lelia the name of a friend or loved one who we wished for her to heal. The problem was that I couldn’t think of anybody. In hindsight, I don’t know why I didn’t just ask Kate who she was going to say, but, at the time, I was just caught up in watching the whole procession and ceremony that before I knew it, I was stepping up to old Lelia. It was a weird moment. I expected it to be like greeting an old woman at church, but she radiated a vibrant energy for such an old person. She took both my hands in an amazingly strong grip and I looked into her old, gray eyes. They were powerful. I gazed transfixed by her deep wisdom for a moment and then I was leaning towards her ear like the others before me had done. I got my mouth close to her ear and before I even realized what I had done, I said “George”. I guess the name that had been rolling around in my head just rolled right out of my mouth. At the time I didn’t think it mattered at all. I actually chuckled to myself about it.

The ceremony ended and we filed back through the jungle and went back to the resort. I asked Kate later in our bure who she had said and she told me a friend of hers who obviously hadn’t even crossed my mind. She asked me whom I had said and I suddenly felt embarrassed. But I told her and she laughed about it. Then she said, “Well, if she can heal a dead man, I’ll really be impressed”. We went to bed and I awoke a few minutes after midnight to the sounds of yelling coming from the village. Koro Sun Resort is only about a half mile from the closest village. When Kate and I first awoke we didn’t have a clue what was going on. I got out of bed and opened the door and that’s when I could discern that the commotion was coming from the direction of the village. I told her that it sounded as if there was something happening in the village and that I was going to get dressed and go see what was going on. She urged me not to leave her alone. I told her to come with me but she wasn’t too keen on that idea either. I told her I would just run down to the main office area and come right back after figuring out what was happening. She reluctantly agreed and locked the door behind me as I hurried down the path to the main lodge. I could still hear intermittent screams and voices shouting. Once I got to the main area I ran into Hans; Phil, the New Zealander; one of the Germans; and Dale, the Aussie SCUBA instructor. Dale was in the process of speaking to a group of terror stricken Fijians from the village. Hans explained that the Fijians were panicked because apparently, some creature had entered the village – probably a mongoose or wild pig running amok in the village. But I could tell it was more than an animal running through the village. These people were terrified. You could see it on their faces that they had seen something that had given them a real shock. I couldn’t understand what the Fijians we’re saying because they were speaking rapid fire Fijian. But I tell you, on several occasions I heard them say “George” and it sent a chill down my spine.

I didn’t go to the village but Dale retrieved his rifle and went down to the village with the Fijians. He returned shortly saying that whatever it was had been scared off into the jungle. He thought they were just a bunch of superstitious natives who had seen an animal and then fabricated a fanciful tale about seeing a ghost or monster of some type. I went back to the room and told Kate. She thought I was being ridiculous, but I was really shaken up myself. The coincidence was just too uncanny to fathom. I barely slept at all that night.

We left the next morning. Dale took us to the airport. But before we left I found Tevita and asked him what had happened in the village. The color drained from his face and was replaced by look of fright. He said, “I don’t know what it was. It was hideous and misshapen. But I swear that when it came into the light of the full moon, for a moment I thought it resembled my cousin George”.

That’s exactly how it happened, Mr. Brecklin. I don’t know if you can help with a rational explanation or not, but I anxiously await your thoughts on this matter and am curious to know just why you are so interested in it.

Yours truly,

Jonathan Spencer


[i] Bat Island is an actual island off the southern coast of the island of Vanua Levu, Fiji. Many of the events in this story are based on Kirsten’s and my honeymoon in Fiji in 2006.

[ii] This incident actually happened to me at my Aunt Nancy (Brantley) Cooper and Uncle Charles Cooper’s house in Huntsville, Alabama. I moved the location to Wetumpka to add a further connection back to Wetumpka. It was my sister Joanna and cousin Trace (male) who went out that night while I bunked in the loft.

[iii] The Koro Sun Resort was the actual place where Kirsten and I honeymooned. The owners also owned the Chipeta Sun Lodge where we were married in Ridgway, Colorado.

[iv] This is the actual ocean-front highway that runs in front of the Koro Sun Resort.

[v] Dakuwaqa is the shark-god and protector of the islands in Fijian mythology. He is depicted on Fijian currency. What made the setting of Fiji the setting of choice was partly because I had been there and could write about it, and partly because it provided a tie back to Innsmouth through Brian McNaughton’s story “The Doom that Came to Innsmouth” which appears in a book called The Book of Cthulhu. I didn’t use Brian’s character of Bob Smith but I did like the mention of a Fijian Island being the place where the doomed Smouthians fled to. I thought that the deity of Dakuwaga had similarities to Dagon and wanted to explore it.

[vi] This story is also true although I changed the names.

[vii] Nananu-i-Ra is actually in a different part of Fiji that I never visited. In Fijian mythology it is the point of departure for disembodied spirits, leaving this world for the afterlife. I borrowed it and transported it to Bat Island.

In those days Merlin the Druid was the wisest oracle in the land. His powers of prognostication were infallible. He had made many prophetic pronouncements, but the one that concerns this tale was his prediction that Trym Deeptroll, the most fearsome troll in the Black Mountains, would one day emerge from Fan Brycheiniog and come to Camelot where he would destroy the throne room and leave the Round Table in splinters.

Upon hearing Merlin’s prophecy, King Arthur proclaimed that any knight in his service who undertook the quest to vanquish Trym Deeptroll would be showered with accolades and riches for their heroic deeds. And so it was that Sir Brychan rose without hesitation and said, “Sire, Trym Deeptroll has dwelt in my lands of Brycheiniog longer than the memory of man. My allegiance has been pledged to you, Overking, from the day I set foot upon the soil of Wales, and it is for thee that I have defeated the criminals of Southern Wales and set myself a realm under your banner. And while trollkind have been pushed to the depths of the mountains, it is only just that I should turn my efforts downwards to them now that I have cleared the upper world of evil.”

King Arthur, swelled with admiration for this brave and capable knight, spoke saying, “Very well, Sir Brychan, it is fitting that you should undertake this quest as it is within your realm of Brycheiniog that dwells this vile creature who has been shown in Merlin’s vision to be the cause of such calamity.”

Sir Brychan left Camelot and journeyed homeward towards Southern Wales. He arrived at the Black Mountains and made his way to the mighty mountain of Fan Brycheiniog. It had been many years longer than most men’s memory since the trolls had emerged from the depths of the mountain and it took Brychan several days to find a cave that connected to the roots of the old mountain.

Down, down, down, he climbed and crawled until the passageways opened up wider and wider and the troll’s caverns were discovered to be grand and well-tended. Brychan, ever on guard for an attack was soon greeted by the immense troll Trym Deeptroll.

He laughed at Brychan clad from head to toe in his burnished armor and brandishing his shield and sword. “So, Human Knight, you’ve come to hack down Trym Deeptroll? What cause have you for invading my caverns clad for battle? What are my crimes?”

Brychan, poised for deception, cautiously circled and said, “The great oracle Merlin has read the signs of Fate and have divined that you are plotting the ruin of Camelot. So, I ask you, what crimes have King Arthur or the Knights of the Round Table done to warrant such machinations from that foul brain of yours, Beast?”

Trym backed up and sat upon a great bolder. He was seemingly unconcerned about Brychan’s sword or his armored posture of battle.

Trym thought a moment and said, “Brychan mac Anlach, your father was of Ireland, and you are but a youngling, recently arrived in this land. I have been here far longer than you could imagine. When I first came here ages ago, this great mountain was called Bryn Y Hen, the Old Hill. For countless generations of man, I’ve lived beneath the earth and seen these mountains grow. In all this time, I and my brothers and sisters have had little concern for the lives of men. Occasionally our kinds have crossed paths, but we’ve left each other well enough alone to our own, respective realms. Now you come to me with this distressing news of accusations that neither of us seems to have any real cause for justification. Could Fate really be so stacked against us?”

At this, Brychan was suddenly perplexed. “I know not the nature of Fate’s methods. But I do know that Merlin is the greatest of his order. He has made many famous prophecies and every last one of them has come to pass. If he has seen the sign that you will cause harm to our great kingdom, then I must prevent that by whatever skill I can bring upon you.”

Trym placed his massive head in his hands and thought some more on the matter and then he said, “Suppose that Merlin were only predicting one possible outcome that might come to pass. For, right now, I have no intention of doing any harm to any man. But suppose you were urged to come here and attack me, and suppose, for the sake of understanding this, that you provoked me into anger. Maybe I hurt you or even kill you and take out my vengeance by attacking Camelot. What purpose do you serve in making this happen?”

“To the contrary, Troll,” Brychan exclaimed. “I have come here to ensure that you are slain so that you may not cause this vengeance!”

“Oh, ho!” Trym said holding a finger up. “So, you do believe that Fate can be thus thwarted, and that Merlin’s prognostication might only be a caution?”

Now Brychan was thoroughly cornered in his own reason. He relaxed his stance and rested his hands upon his sword pommel thinking the matter over. “Yes,” he said after a few moments thought, “I suppose my entire quest was an attempt to prevent Merlin’s vision. But what should I have done otherwise? After all, it was King Arthur’s call to arms that led to this journey to stop you.”

Trym chuckled and said, “Well, I’m glad you’ve come around to my way of seeing it; however, I would propose a more attractive solution that will prevent your or my deaths in this matter.”

“What did you have mind?”

“You’re no doubt familiar with the powers of trolls?”

Brychan was indeed familiar with the nature of trollkind. “Yes, I know that trolls have the ability to regenerate. If I were to lop off your mighty arm, you’d soon grow it right back. I’d have to sever your head from your body and burn the corpse to truly kill you.”

“Right, and how about our weaknesses?”

“Well, I know you prefer the dark as the sun will slowly turn your skin to a stone-like hardness. And I also know that the bite of well-forged iron also causes your skin to react in a similar way, although not quite so bad as direct sunlight.”

“Ah, not just the bite of iron, but even the touch of iron to the skin is a curse to the trolls.”

“And what does this have to do with matter, Lord Deeptroll?”

“I propose to bend the knee, as you men say, and pay homage to King Arthur; beg his forgiveness for any ill will that he might suspect so that he’ll see I’m not remotely concerned with harming anyone above ground. On the contrary, I would have him see me as a loyal subject, ready to defend rather than harm. But to do this, I’d warrant you’d want me reduced to a defenseless and vulnerable prisoner.”

And so it came to pass that Trym and Brychan stood before King Arthur. Trym had been transported inside of a specially made cage aboard a wagon that was more akin to an iron box than a cage.

Brychan explained to the King the entire conversation he and the troll had had and how Trym now wished to bend the knee to the King of Camelot and pledge his fealty.

King Arthur called for Merlin to attend the great hall and said to the old Druid, “Well, Merlin, what do you make of such attempts to thwart your prophecies? Is it possible that what you’ve seen in visions is but a possible outcome?”

Merlin, ever the enigma, said, “Sire, I have never seen a vision that didn’t come to pass. The prophecies aren’t something I interpret about possible futures; they are visions as clear as if they had happened from a memory of things already transpired. All I can tell you is what I observed in the vision. Trym Deeptroll was raging as a berserker of the Danes as he tore asunder the Round Table and the throne.”

After some deliberation and hearing all of the arguments for and against – even hearing the same and similar arguments from Trym as he had used on Brychan – King Arthur finally declared his judgement.

“I cannot, in my best conscious, jeopardize Merlin’s keen prognostication abilities. For, he has never failed to clearly divine the future when he has proclaimed a vision has beset him. Trym Deeptroll, it is with heavy heart that I say to you that I cannot free you and accept your fealty and then in turn let you go free. I do not trust your motive given Merlin’s vision. I’m afraid that you must be held prisoner until the time of your execution.”

Upon hearing this, Trym began to below from within his prison. His anger was vented in all manner of vile curses. And while Brychan had rightly known many of the abilities of trolls, one ability had evaded his knowledge. Trolls have the ability to burrow through earth and rock as easily as a crab burrows through sand. The iron box was truly impossible for the troll to escape, however, the box rested upon a stone slab and it was clear through the floor that Trym now made his escape beneath the castle’s foundation.

Hearing the cursing and rumbling from within the iron box, King Arthur and all the knights present in the great throne room all readied themselves for battle. Shortly thereafter, the box grew strangely quiet and for many minutes everyone waited and exchanged worried looks. Finally, one brave knight cautioned to peek through and slot in the cage and exclaimed, “Sire, it is empty!”

Two days passed with not any sign of Trym Deeptroll. King Arthur called for several brave knights to venture into the tunnel burrowed by the troll, but they ventured so cautiously that Trym had long disappeared into other natural caverns and become hopelessly untraceable.

Then, near midnight of the third night, a great commotion woke the entire castle and brought everyone to congregate in the great hall. They beheld, of course, the great troll king, Trym Deeptroll, in the final throes of his rage. He had emerged from the ground right into the throne room and immediately commenced thrashing and rending the legendary Round Table and the stone-wrought high throne until all were but splinters and rubble. Just as everyone descended upon the great hall, Trym disappeared once again into the ground, never to be seen again by the men of the upper world.

It was much later, after the many craftsmen of Camelot had rebuilt a much more impressive and sturdier throne, and after a more ornate and awe-inspiring Round Table had been unveiled to seat those fabled knights, that King Arthur asked Merlin the question. “Do you think I made the right judgment, my old mentor? What would have happened if I had shown the troll mercy and simply let him go back to his lair in peace?”

Merlin thought a moment and said, “Then I’m sure I would have seen a different vision, Sire.”

It was a bright Saturday morning in Greenwood, Alabama and Mike Gambrelle decided to use this morning to repair a hole in his roof.  The previous week he had noticed a small wet spot on the ceiling of his bathroom while a rainstorm beat down outside.  He made the decision to wait till Saturday, his day off, to track down the leak and repair it.  And now, he scaled the ladder with a hammer and a bucket of roofing tar in tow.

Mike scoured the roof until he finally found the root of the problem.  A nail had punctured one of the shingles and had finally rusted out leaving a tiny hole which had allowed water to make its way through the wood underneath.  He got the hammer and removed what remained of the rusty nail.  It was while he was in the middle of daubing the thick tar into the hole that he first heard the little voice.  It came quite unexpectedly into his head.  There were two very strange things about the voice.  The first thing was that the voice sounded like a coarse, raspy voice.  It was completely separate from his own inner voice.  The second and far more bizarre thing about the voice was what it said – “Peavine Falls”.  

This was not totally mystical to Mike, however.  He knew quite well what Peavine Falls was; it was just that Peavine Falls wasn’t a place he thought about very often.  Matter of fact, he couldn’t remember the last time he had thought of it, much less visited it.

Peavine Falls was the name given to a waterfall located in the woods at Oak Mountain State Park.  It was a popular place with a lake for swimming or boating, a park for grilling out and picnics, trails for hiking or horseback riding, and the long road that lead to the top of the mountain where the trail to Peavine Falls began.  It was a winding gravel road that seemed to go on forever.  Eventually, after passing some gorgeous glimpses from high atop the mountain, it ended in a small gravel parking lot.  Just under the stretching trees was the beginning of the mile long trail that descended gradually to the top of Peavine Falls.  It was really just a creek that cascaded down the mountainside to fall the sixty or seventy feet to the pool below the rock shelf.  It was still a beautiful, serene place to go and wade through the cool pool or just sit on the rocks and enjoy the peaceful sound of Peavine Falls.

Where the name came from, Mike didn’t know.  He had visited Peavine Falls probably a dozen times during his life, mostly during his childhood.  He remembered that there was a small wooden bridge that had been built over the creek right near the mouth of the falls.  Mike thought briefly about his memories of the place and the strange manner in which the little voice had come into his head.  Then the thoughts were forgotten as he resumed his hole-patching job.

That night Mike sat watching T.V.  Mike was not a very handsome man, had never been married, and worked in the computer business.  By most accounts, he was the stereotypical nerd.  He did have a girlfriend for a while, but he hadn’t dated anyone for several months.  All in all, his social life was in a rut.  After repairing his roof he had gone to his parent’s house to watch football with his mom and dad.  Now, he was back at home and bored.  While he sat watching T.V. he heard the little voice again.  It was the same raspy voice he had heard earlier in the day.  The voice said, “Go to Peavine Falls”.

Mike was caught so unexpectedly that he actually looked around the room for the source of the voice.  But there was no mistaking; it had originated within his mind.  He sat wondering if it had originated out of his own mind or if it were only manifesting itself in his mind.  Either way, it sure was a peculiar thing to say.  He could only assume that it was some aberration of his own subconscious mind.  But why would he be suggesting to himself to go to Peavine Falls?  Of all places to go to that was one of the last places he longed to visit.  Not that it was a bad place but because he just never really was that big a fan of hiking through the woods.

These things crossed his mind as he sat trying to understand the nature of such a strange phenomenon.  Eventually, his mind returned to the T.V. program he was watching and he completely forgot about the voice and Peavine Falls.

The next day Mike awoke to a beautiful Sunday morning.  He rose and showered and then went out for breakfast.  His plans for the day included very little.  He did, however, plan on going to the mall to do a little shopping.  Mostly, he just needed to kill part of his boring day.

He ate at a local restaurant called Mamie J’s Café, which served a very fine country breakfast on Sundays.  He took his time eating, drinking coffee, and reading the Sunday paper.  After about an hour he decided it was a good time to head out to the Galleria.  Just as he got into his car the voice spoke again.  But this time the voice was more pronounced and lasted longer.

“Go to Peavine Falls, Mike,” It said.  Mike froze upon hearing the return of the little voice.  He began to wonder if some malady was affecting his brain.  The thought also crossed his mind that he was going crazy.  He began to sweat profusely and warily looked around.  Then he decided to try and “talk” to the voice.

“Who are you and why do you keep telling me to go to Peavine Falls?” Mike thought.

“Why, Mike, I’m just a little voice in your head.  Rather like your conscience, you might say,” the little voice said.

“My conscience, huh?  Well, why do I need to go to Peavine Falls?  What’s there?”

“It’s not what’s there.  It’s who’s there?” the little voice corrected.

“Alright then, who’s there?”

“Well, that I can’t tell you.  It’s not because I am being vague or mean or anything.  It’s that I can’t see the answer just yet.  Maybe I never will; but I do know that there is someone there you must meet.”

Mike was really sweating a storm now.  He looked around hoping that no one saw him sitting in the car acting in a somewhat jittery manner.  He decided to crank the car up and get on the road.  He didn’t want the conversation to end so he kept thinking to the little voice.  “Why is it so important I meet this person?”  But this time the little voice didn’t respond.  It had apparently left.  Mike tried several more times to conjure a response, but it wouldn’t answer him.

Mike pulled the car over at a gas station and went in to wash his hands and face.  He returned to his car and slowly managed to regain his composure.  After thinking about it for several minutes he decided that it was just a weird manifestation akin to daydreaming.  “Maybe my life has become so boring that my fantasies are attempting to compensate in some way,” he thought to himself.  He finally departed the gas station and headed for the mall.

The Galleria was in Hoover.  It wasn’t a far drive but it was far enough to allow Mike’s thoughts to wander to other things.  He drove for a while and then it struck him; it wouldn’t be much further down the road to go to Peavine Falls now.  But just as he thought this, the little voice returned.  “No, Mike, you don’t need to go to Peavine Falls today,” it said.

“Why not today?” Mike thought.

“Because the person you need to meet is not there now.  But don’t worry, they will be there real soon.”

“How soon?  And why do I need to meet this person?”  Mike began to sweat again.

“Calm down, Mike.  You’re not going crazy.  There’s the little voice that tells you when something is right or wrong and then there is the little voice that tells you when something feels right or wrong.  I’m the second type of little voice.”

“What do mean?” Mike thought as he wiped the sweat from his face.

“You know, you’ve heard of people hearing an inexplicable little voice just before they get on an airplane that’s about to crash.  And they listen to the voice and don’t get on the plane.  Or they play the lottery and win all because there was a little voice telling them the winning numbers.  It’s like the voice ensures that you meet your destiny.”

“How soon will I meet this person and why is it so important that I meet them?” Mike asked.

“I can’t say exactly.  These things haven’t been revealed to me yet.  But as soon as I know I will let you know.”  And with that the voice was gone.

Several days passed without Mike hearing the voice.  He pondered a great deal about the strange little voice and his conversations with it.  He was really at a loss to explain what exactly was going on.  Finally, he thought he understood the nature of the meeting that would take place.  The best explanation he could come up with was that he would finally meet the perfect woman and that they would fall head over heels in love with each other.  This was the person that he was destined to meet at Peavine Falls for sure.  This only served to fuel his imagination with all manner of romantic fantasies over the next several days.

And then, late Wednesday night while he slept, the voice returned to rouse him.  “Mike, it’s time to go to Peavine Falls,” the little voice said.  It took Mike a few minutes to get his bearings but he realized what the voice had said and he looked at the clock – it read 12:26.

“What?” Mike said confused. “It’s after midnight.  Surely I can’t get in the park at this hour.”

“Oh, but you must, Mike.  And you must hurry.  The time to meet your destiny is at hand.”

“This is insane!” Mike said more to himself than to the little voice.  “There is no way I am gonna get up and drive out to Oak Mountain State Park at this hour.”

“You simply have to Mike,” the little voice countered.  “It’s your destiny Mike and your destiny can’t be ignored! Besides, if you don’t get up right now and go, I will not leave you alone.  I will become so annoying that you will wind up going just to be free of my voice.”

“What about after I meet this person?” Mike said.  “Will I be rid of you then?”

“Most assuredly so.”

So Mike got up and got dressed and left to go to Peavine Falls.  He knew that it was crazy but it really wasn’t any crazier than the events of the previous week.  Once he was in his car and driving down the road he asked the voice about the person.  But the voice didn’t respond.  So Mike stopped the car and made like he was going to turn around and go back home.  It worked.  The voice appeared almost immediately.

“What are you doing, Mike?” it said.

“I thought that would get you to come back,” Mike said smiling at his victory.  “Now, you either stay with me and keep talking or else I go back home.  Got It?”

“Fine!  Just as long as you hurry up and get there.”

“You said that it hadn’t been revealed to you yet about the person.  What about now?”

“I still can’t see the person but I know that the time is here.”

“You may not know but I bet you it’s a woman!  And not just any woman, but the woman!” Mike said excited at the proposition of meeting the right woman.

“Maybe so, Mike.  You never can tell with these kind of things,” the little voice said.

“Oh, I’m sure of it!” Mike said.

It wasn’t long before they arrived at the entrance to Oak Mountain State Park.  The ticket booth was empty and a metal pole blocked the entrance.  “Now what?” Mike said.

“Go around it,” the little voice said matter-of-factly.

“I’m not gonna go around it,” Mike protested.  “What if the rangers catch me?”  Mike got out of his car and began to call.  “Hello!  Anybody around?”  But there was no reply.

“Oh well, I guess you’re right.  But if I get caught what do I do?”

“Mike, you won’t get caught,” the little voice reassured.  “Remember, it’s your destiny to get to Peavine Falls!”

So Mike pulled through the grass around the pole and drove on through the park.  No one was around and no one saw him.  Soon he arrived at the gravel road that wound its way up Oak Mountain to the trailhead that lead to Peavine Falls.  As he got close to the top of the mountain the voice began to grow agitated.

“Oh my God!  Mike, you gotta hurry!  I see something bad.  There’s blood!  I see blood!  Someone’s hurt very badly!” the voice screamed and wailed.

Mike got out of the car and began running down the trail.  “Somebody’s in trouble!  That’s what this is about, isn’t it?  I’m supposed to be the one to save them!” Mike said to the little voice as he ran.  But the voice wasn’t listening to Mike.  It just kept on shouting for Mike to hurry because of the blood.

The trail was about a mile long but it was all downhill.  Mike ran on thinking that someone was obviously injured and in need of assistance.  Maybe they had fallen from the top of the falls.  It all made sense to him now.  His destined encounter wasn’t with the right woman.  Peavine Falls would be a rather silly place for such a thing.  But this made sense now.  The location was preordained all along.  His destiny was to save someone who had somehow suffered an injury at Peavine Falls.

Mike ran on and the voice kept on spurring him to run faster.  And then he knew he was close to the falls.  He could hear the sound of water as it fell from the top of Peavine Falls to the pool below.  The little voice was saying, “I see the person who is bleeding!  I see the person now!  I see who it is, Mike!”

Mike crossed a small wooden bridge that heralded that the end of the trail was indeed near.

“Who is it?  Where are they?  What is wrong with them?”  But just as Mike thought this he arrived at the big bridge that crossed over the top of Peavine Falls.  And there, standing in the middle of the bridge, was the figure of a person.  Mike stopped running and called to the person, “Hey!  Are you alright?”  No answer came.  Mike stepped out onto the bridge.  He suddenly realized that the little voice in his head had quit talking to him.  The figure on the bridge made no move or sound.  Mike walked cautiously forward.

“Hey buddy, are you hurt?”  Mike was now only a few feet from the figure and he could now see that it was a middle-aged man.  The man was looking down over the falls.  Upon hearing Mike’s footfalls on the wooden bridge he looked up.  Suddenly, Mike felt like something was wrong.  That is when the man pulled a gun out from beneath his jacket and pointed it at Mike.

“Wait a minute!” Mike said as the realization of what was about to happen dawned upon him.  “Please, don’t do it!  Please, God, no!”  Mike screamed and pleaded but the man just looked at him completely expressionless.

“I’m real sorry, mister,” was all the man said before he pulled the trigger.

The next day the top story on the front page of The Birmingham News read:

MAN KILLED AT PEAVINE FALLS

Authorities are scratching their heads at the events that lead to a shooting shortly after midnight last night at Oak Mountain State Park’s Peavine Falls.  Thomas Miller, 34, of Hueytown shot and killed Mike Gambrelle, 31, of Greenwood at the top of the waterfall.  The connection between these two men and the reason they were at Peavine Falls remains a mystery.  Sources so far are saying that the two men were strangers to each other.  Thomas Miller turned himself in at the Hoover Police Station at about 2:20 this morning.  He was reported to have been calm and cooperative with police officials.  When asked why he shot Mr. Gambrelle, his only reply was that a little voice had told him to do it . . .

I must begin with what we believed.  You will find it hard to comprehend that we believed in such obscure and inhumane things; but you must understand that it was all we were ever taught – it was all we ever knew.

The colony was called Primortikos, we were never told why.  Primortikos was located deep beneath the ice of the Jovian moon Europa.  The colony was submerged deep within the ultra-warm waters heated by the constant gravitational pull of Jupiter.  The water was holy, it was what surrounded and protected us.  It gave us warmth and sustenance, for man is mostly water anyway.  We were blessed because we had an unlimited supply of water and we were not even Citizens.  The Citizens on Earth had water too, but the water had been contaminated by the sins of thousands of years.  The Citizens of Mars were even less fortunate.  For Mars had not yet been tera-formed and all of their water came from Europa.  We supplied the Citizens of Earth, Mars, Luna, and Herkulese with our blessed, life giving water.  But that was not our only job.  We worked at thousands of jobs, each sub-person responsible for a specialized task or function.

My task was a Mech-Tech 2nd Class, a mechanical technician.  I specialized in the calibration of machinery based on all universal measurements.  This job led me to the discovery that would eventually shatter the beliefs of all sub-humans.

There were only three levels of humans on Primortikos: Citizen Scientist, Citizen Soldiers, and sub-humans or clones.  At the time we didn’t know what clones were, we had never been called anything but sub-humans.  All that we knew was that we were workers and not Citizens.

The Citizen Scientists were the highest level and leaders of Primortikos.  They were also equivalent to priests. They always wore white lab coats and white uniforms because they were pure.  They were rarely seen except on religious occasions or to announce the Transcendence of a sub-human to be with our God, The Shroud.  They lived deep in the lower reaches of Primortikos in seclusion.  No sub-humans were allowed in these parts for it was heavily guarded by barriers and Citizen Soldiers.  No one knew what the Scientists did, but rumors said that they attended to the Will of The Shroud.

The next level was the Citizen Soldiers, most were cruel and carried large electro-sticks.  They wore gray uniforms, and they were always present – always.  They performed their jobs mercilessly.  They knew The Scriptures of The Shroud by heart and would recite them while beating a sub-human for working too slow or complaining about the taste of their food.

Lastly, there was us.  We were sub-humans. We were the workers and we wore black because we were not worthy to wear anything else.  Our sole lot in life was to filtrate, bottle and ship the Holy Water of Europa for the Citizens of Earth and her colonies.

I do not know where I was born. I always assumed we were all born on Primortikos.  My earliest memories were of being educated in the General Education schools by adult sub-humans.  There were always exactly 211 children in each class, and we were named by our number.  My name was 144. In my lifetime I knew of seven other 144’s.  After General Education graduation we went on to our job training which we would do for the rest of our lives.  After we graduated from Vocational School, we were given the title of our profession to further identify us.  So, my name became Mech-Tech 144.

After Vocational School graduation I went on to my job which I would do for the rest of my life.  I spent most of my time with Mech-Tech 76 who was my mentor.  She was a Mech-Tech 1st Class and a very intelligent woman.  One day I came to work, and she had Transcended.  This is when I first became suspicious that the Shroud was not God.  Mech-Tech 76 was not worthy to become Number 212.

Transcendence to Number 212 was the highest and noblest event that could happen to a sub-human.  Only a truly worthy and perfect person would be chosen for 212.  I knew Mech-Tech 76 better than anyone did, and she was not worthy for Transcendence to 212.

Water was our Holy Life Giver, and the Shroud was our God.  The Shroud was the name given to the essence of Water.  The Spirit of The Shroud moved through all people both Citizen and sub-human.  It covered, surrounded, and protected us, thus the name the Shroud.  The Shroud spoke to us through the Citizen Scientists.  As I said, they acted as priests.  We rarely saw the Scientists, but occasionally they appeared before us to announce the message and will of the Shroud.  Their messages were written down and became The Scriptures of The Shroud.

The Scientists would always quote the same verse when the Shroud chose someone to transcend to Number 212.  Just like the day that Mech-Tech 76 became Number 212.  I arrived at work to find her belongings cleaned out of her workstation.  I was bewildered.  My bewilderment didn’t last long because soon a Scientist flanked on either side by two gray uniformed Soldiers arrived and made the announcement: “The Shroud has blessed us with his presence and once again has moved among us.  He has seen into the heart, soul, and mind of Mech-Tech 76 and found her to be a worthy specimen and creation.  The Shroud has blessed Mech-Tech 76 and taken her to be with his Holiness.  Mech-Tech 76 is now 212.”

And then all of the sub-humans cheered and applauded in praise of Mech-Tech 76’s accomplishment and The Shroud’s benevolence.  But my enthusiasm was hollow.  I was stunned.  I knew Mech-Tech 76 well and I knew that she was not worthy of 212.  Or maybe I was deceived into believing that the Shroud would not find someone like Mech-Tech 76 worthy of 212.

Mech-Tech 76 was not a particularly religious minded woman.  Over the years we had occasionally broached the subject of our religious beliefs. Mech-Tech 76 held the opinion that the Shroud was not a real being, that the Scientists had just fabricated him to control us. This was the most unheard of blasphemy anyone, human or sub-human, could ever say or think.  But Mech-Tech 76 didn’t care.  She mostly kept her opinions to herself but would occasionally point out other ways that the Soldiers and Scientists controlled us.  Like the day we were working in the Filtration Deck.  Mech-Tech 76 said, “Have you ever wondered why we need to purify the water?”

“To remove impurities from the water,” I replied.

“If the water is so Holy M.T. 144, then why does it have impurities?”

“I don’t know, why?”

“Don’t you see?  That’s one thing that they’ve never been able to explain away with this whole Shroud nonsense.”

“Watch your mouth, Mech-Tech 76!  If a Soldier hears you, you’ll be made a negative,” I said looking about to see if anyone was in earshot.

“Relax 144,” she said unconcerned.  “I don’t know what all goes on here but please don’t let yourself be brain-washed by their lies.  Always remain skeptical of what they say.”

I later figured out why it was that Mech-Tech 76 was chosen.  It was her intelligence.  Mech-Tech 76 was a very organized and expedient technician.  She was the master of our profession and learned new mechanical systems extremely fast.  I couldn’t have asked for a better mentor.  It was these qualities that the Scientists looked for in the clones they had engineered.

As for what happened to a person after 212, that was another matter.  No one really knew but The Scriptures of The Shroud said that three things happened: 1) You went to be with the Shroud, 2) The Shroud transformed or granted you Full Human Status and 3) Full Human Status meant eternal life.  Otherwise, if you died before reaching number 212, it was said your memories were wiped clean, you were re-cycled and born again to try to live perfectly at which point you would be chosen for 212.  But, as for specifically what happened, it was unknown.

But Mech-Tech 76 had committed an unforgivable sin; she had blasphemed against The Shroud.  It rarely happened, but when it did the Soldiers would drag the individual off beating or electrocuting them while reciting verses from The Scripture.  These people were said to be reduced to a negative number.  What happened to them after the Soldiers removed them was unknown, but The Scriptures said that a blasphemer would never be reborn, would never have a chance at 212, and would live an eternal existence of damnation and frozen pain.  The shroud would not tolerate such insolence.  So, you can see why I was confused at Mech-Tech 76’s selection for 212.

I remembered something Mech-Tech 76 had told me once.  I had said that her blasphemy would earn her damnation as a negative.  She told me that there were probably many blasphemers in their hearts but they would never become negatives.  It was because the Scientists couldn’t catch them at their blasphemy.

It wasn’t until years later that I realized the truth and the enormity of it leveled everything I had believed in.  It happened when one day I arrived at work and found that my work-order required me to go to an area I had never been before.  It was an area that was forbidden.  It was an area that was heavily guarded, an area where the Scientists carried on their religious activities.

It was the calibration of a thermometer that they wanted me for.  I was met at the guarded entrance to the area by a very high-ranking Soldier who was, unlike any Soldier I had ever met, very polite.  He explained to me that we would be going to one of the deepest areas of Primortikos and that I would be recalibrating a thermometer in a submersible vehicle that the Scientists used to venture into the water’s of Primortikos for religious rites.  He also told me that we would be seeing many Scientists and that I was not to talk to any of them unless spoken to first.  Of course, I wouldn’t dare because two gray suited guards who accompanied us would see that I stayed quiet.

The four of us got onto an elevator and descended for an extremely long time.  I was led along several corridors; some barren and some with many Scientists involved in some tasks I could not understand.  We went down another elevator and eventually came to a domed room with a pool of water in the center.  Suspended above the pool was some sort of vehicle obviously used for going in the ocean through the floor.  It was very hot in this room and steam rose from the water.  I was able to look in the pool and could see that there were occasional bubbles rising to its surface.  The bottom could be seen far below shimmering and distorted by the bubbling water. I stared transfixed by the geological formations and the currents of hot water rising from fissures.  This was the first time I had ever seen the bottom of the ocean.

A Scientist entered and I reflexively bowed my head in respect.  “Hello, Captain,” he said to my escort.

“Hello, Dr. Sawyer,” He replied.

“Is this our technician?”

“Yes, sir.”

“What is your name?”  He said to me.  This was the first time a Scientist had ever spoken to me.  Actually, this was the first time I had ever seen a Scientist speak to any sub-human directly.  I felt so intimidated.

“Aaaa…um Mech-Tech 144, Your Holiness,” I stammered.

“Do you know why you are here?”  He asked.

“My…my work order was to calibrate a thermometer, sir,” I replied.

“That is correct.  What is the universal standard measurement of temperature?”

“Celsius, sir,” I answered.

“That is correct.  But, 144, here in this temple, it is the Shroud’s will that the Holy Water be measured as the Ancients did.  Are you aware of the scale the Ancients used?”

“No, sir,” I said.

“It is a scale called Fahrenheit, named after Saint Fahrenheit.  I will give you the chart that converts Celsius to Fahrenheit so you can calibrate the thermometer.  Do you understand, 144?”

“Yes, sir,” I replied confused but not wanting to show it. I had thought that the Shroud had decreed all the universal measurements.  That’s what made my job so prestigious.  But now, this priest was telling me to ignore the universal measurement in this case and that it was the Shroud’s Will.  I didn’t have long to ponder this though, but I did know something about this whole situation was not right.

The Scientist continued as he handed me the sheet with the conversion chart on it.  “The thermometer is in the submersible pod.  Follow me.”

We entered the small pod.  It basically had a pilot’s seat, a co-pilot’s seat, and a small cargo area.  Not much room.  The Scientist showed me where the temperature read out was and I got out my equipment and started working.

The first thing I had to do was enter the conversion formula on my calibration equipment.  Immediately I noticed something peculiar.  Freezing point on Celsius is 0°, on Fahrenheit it is 32°; boiling point on Celsius is 100°, on Fahrenheit it is 212°.  Our holiest number, 212.  Maybe that’s why The Shroud had a sentimental attachment to the Ancients’ system.

But what I found next changed my life forever.  I was tracing the line that led to the actual thermometer that was in contact with the water on the outside of the pod.  The wire led into the cargo area to a small back door.  As I was tracing its path behind a small bench set into the hull, I found an inscription crudely etched in the wall.  It said:  212=death, 76.

My blood went cold, and a chill ran down my spine.  Mech-Tech 76?  Could it be?  Then everything she had told me came back to me.  She was right.  What if they were going to kill me and tell everyone I had become number 212?  But no, this couldn’t be.  Too many people had known my work-order; too many saw me leave work.  It never worked that way when someone became 212.  No one ever saw them before they disappeared.  I nervously went about finishing the job.  The Scientist hovered over me, and I felt that at any moment he would assault me.  But all I could think about was what happened to Mech-Tech 76.

“We should take the pod underwater to verify the calibration,” the Scientist said.  I froze with fear.

This was it.  I would be taken away never to return.  Obviously, Mech-Tech 76 had been in this same spot and had known that they were taking her away to die.  They would probably tell everyone that I had Transcended to 212.

The Scientist ordered one of the guards aboard and I sat helpless as we descended into the ocean.  At first my anxiety was such that I felt I would go berserk but I managed to remain composed enough not to raise any suspicions.  The guard eyed me with contempt at first, but the underwater scenery eventually lured his gaze.  My own nervousness subsided as I too was drawn in by this rare glimpse outside of our habitat.  Enormous rock shelves heaved up into the ocean.  Thousands of jets of boiling water gave the whole barren landscape a shimmering appearance.  Behind us the habitat of Primortikos receded until I was able to behold the entire structure.  It looked like some alien virus that has invaded a gigantic aqueous cell.

Then ahead we entered what appeared to be a grotto of enormous jellyfish.  Huge man-made bubbles filled with some kind of viscous goo swayed in the currents.  There were hundreds of them undulating near the ocean floor, all secured by long tubes to an elongated black structure.  The goo could be seen flowing through parts of this strange machine.  I caught a glance from the Scientist as if he were watching my reaction.  I braced myself but I still began to tremble.

I wracked my brain for a solution to my predicament.   I took a mental inventory of the contents of my equipment bag.  If attacked, I could use a screwdriver as a weapon.  It wasn’t much against the lethal elecrto-stick the guard carried, but it was something.

“The readings taken from this area are consistent with what we know the temperature to be,” the Scientist was saying.  “I need to take the sub up to the where the ocean begins to reach freezing point to verify that we are getting an accurate reading.  After that we will return.”

I didn’t know what to think.  A part of me felt like I was out of danger but another part of me felt like this was the end.  Then an idea hit me.  If I was doomed, so be it.  There was little I could do.  But, if I was just along for the ride like the Scientist said, then I still wanted to know what happened to Mech-Tech 76.  After this was over, I would never have an opportunity to come here again.  The area was just too heavily guarded.  But I did have a decimeter microphone.

A decimeter is a device used for measuring noise in high noise areas.  Mech-Tech’s used them for calibrating certain types of equipment.  If I could remove mine from my bag and leave it on board then maybe I could monitor the sub the next time someone Transcended to 212.  It was risky and I was terrified, but I had to know the fate of Mech-Tech 76.  As discreetly as I could I removed the device.  It was merely the size of a pen. The guard had lost interest in me and was now enthralled in the ascent of the sub.  Slowly and quietly, I removed the microphone and turned it on.  Then I slid it amongst electrical wires inside a box in the hull.

Large pieces of ice began to appear ahead of us, and the Scientist brought the sub to another halt.  “Everything seems to be normal,” he declared.  “We can head back now.”

To hear those words was like a weight being lifted off my shoulders.  We returned to the room where the submersible was housed.  The Scientist thanked and blessed me, and then I was escorted back out.

Back in my small living quarters I took the decimeter that was used to measure the decibels picked up by the microphone and wired it into a small speaker.  Then, every night I listened for any sounds in the pod.

Over a week went by with nothing heard.  I began to wonder if something was wrong.  Maybe the equipment wasn’t working or, even worse, maybe the Scientist had discovered the microphone.  But then, finally, one night I heard two men talking.

First voice – “This is the submersible we use to take a clone to be injected into the boiling waters at the ocean’s bottom.”

Second voice – “And they suspect nothing with why they are here in this colony?”

First voice – “No, Governor, they believe that it is their god’s will and they are being called by divine intervention to be with their deity.”

Second voice – “Unbelievable.”

First voice – “We keep them ostracized from our scientific activities.  They think we are priests of their god.”

Second voice – “Any success in producing spontaneous life?”

First voice – “We have perfected the method of making the clone DNA into primordial ooze and injecting it into the water; but, as of yet, we have not had success at an organism recombining the material to form a primordial organism as on Earth.”

In medias res. I am running through the forest, fear coursing through my body, limbs tearing at my face, and an uncertain darkness behind me. The cave was there, despite the hopes that it was all a farce of reason. Not a big cave; just a void in the rocks. A blotch of the world that portends doom. A hole in the universe that cannot truly be empty. The Murklor lives there. As I stood pondering the veracity of my senses before the blank space of the rocks, I heard a chittering followed by a deep moan. I staggered backwards and then heard a sickly, wet slithering. Now, I’m running from madness.

****

Backstory of my life. From an aspiring artist to broken man in 8 easy steps. 1. Choose to have a passion as a sculptor – that is, a guarantee of poverty and obscurity. 2. Meet a girl and fall in love in art school. 3. Get married and realize that your welding skills are only useful for earning money by getting a construction job. 4. Have children and place all of your time and passion for art in the remotest corner of your life. 5. Fall off of a scaffolding and shatter your pelvis and five vertebrae. 6. Get addicted to pain pills while you suffer through three surgeries and eke out a living from worker’s comp payments. 7. Augment the pill addiction with alcohol and chain smoking to help drown the sorrows of your pathetic life. 8. Push your wife to the edge with your self-loathing, addiction, and poverty until she divorces you and takes your kids.

That was three years ago. What we like to call “rock bottom”. The last three years weren’t exactly sunshine and candy canes either. But that is really where the path to the Murklor begins.

****

What does rock bottom look like? Let me show you while Jim Morrison serenades us.

Well, I’ve been down so goddamn long that it looks like up to me 
Well, I’ve been down so very damn long that it looks like up to me 
Yeah, why don’t one you people c’mon and set me free

Sloppy drunk in some hole-in-the-wall bar off the side of the highway. Some redneck trucker sits beside me as we both try to outdrink each other way too early in the day. Most of the conversation is inane blather about sports or women or crude jokes that are full of machismo and a show of masculinity that would give two bulls in a standoff a run for their money. I make some errant comment that questions his boasting manhood and things spiral quickly out of control. The next thing I know, I’m out in the parking lot and we’re cursing each other while he rolls up his sleeves above his trucker’s tan. My drunken mouth continues full barrel even while a part of me knows I ain’t got a chance in hell against this behemoth of a guzzler. He swings a haymaker and I feel like I dodge it but the whiskey ensures my reflexes are as thick as mud. Bam! To the ground I crumple and he throws in a few kicks from his pointy-toed cowboy boots just to make sure I get the message. A few onlookers snicker and escort the burly trucker back inside while I curl up and bleed.

I said, warden, warden, warden won’t you break your lock and key 
I said, warden, warden, warden won’t ya break your lock and key 
Yeah, come along here, mister c’mon and let the poor boy be

Drunk, high, and feeling like being alone is the last thing I need, I decide that it’s a right genius idea to go see Jess and the kids. It’s been weeks and for some reason, I’m 100% sure that she is missing me and ready to welcome me in and have a good time. As I come careening into the driveway, a wave of confusion washes over me as I try to figure out whose blue Dodge is parked at my house – well, I believe it’s still my house regardless of what some ten-dollar-word-spouting judge might say. As my liquor-addled brain grapples with this new information, I come to the obvious conclusion that Jess has herself a new beau. My mood goes from a horny green to a red stick of dynamite in zero to sixty flat. What follows is a blur of screaming, door pounding, window punching, Jess screaming, kids crying, sirens wailing, hurled slurs, scuffling, a police baton, and off I go cuffed and stuffed to spend the night in the slammer.


Baby, baby, baby won’t you get down on your knees 
Baby, baby, baby won’t you get down on your knees 
C’mon little darlin’ c’mon and give your love to me, oh yeah

I’m crawling across the bed of some shit-hole, seedy motel towards the hooker whose about to give me the best night I’ve had in weeks. She takes a long drag of her cigarette and goes over the terms of our business deal one more time. I assure her that I’m good for the money. She reiterates the terms so I pull out my wallet, pull out the bills and fling them across the bed. Satisfied, she gets up to get a drink from the bottle that I’ve already knocked a considerable dent in – the second bottle, I should say. She knocks back a swallow and comes to the bed. Heavy handed and a little too aggressive, I try to help her undress. Later, after growing furious with embarrassment and frustration, I scream at her to just take the fuckin’ money and get out even though I was too drunk to get it up.

 


Well, I’ve been down so Goddamn long that it looks like up to me 
Well, I’ve been down so very damn long that it looks like up to me 
Yeah, why don’t one you people c’mon, c’mon, c’mon and set me free

****

The long slow road out of Hell is not a straight climb. It entails a lot of backtracking and false roads that lead to dead ends. For every five steps gained, there is another three steps back. It entails such pride-eroding things as hearings before a judge, jail time, court ordered addiction treatment, supervised visits from the Department of Human Services, divorce court hearings, and, my personal favorite, mental health sessions. Dr. Lisa Carlson had been my counselor for the past several years while I slowly and painfully put the broken pieces of my life back into some kind of semblance of normalcy. And so now we come to the real part where our story begins. The part I’ll call the “first session”. Of course, it wasn’t our first session together; but it was the first session where she used hypnotherapy to try and see if it would yield favorable results for my struggle with addiction.

The goal was to have me enter a relaxed state where she would ask a series of questions about the root causes of my addictions and then give me a series of subconscious commands that would, over time, help me to overcome those urges. I listened to her soothing voice as she talked me through several exercises designed to slip me out of a conscious state and into a deep trance-like state. It was truly relaxing and I felt as though I were being drawn into a warm cocoon of bliss with layer upon layer of silky wrappings enfolding me one atop the other. Deeper and deeper I fell into warm, cozy nothingness. And then the next thing I remember is waking violently as the tentacles of the Merklor began to dig through the shells of the cocoon trying to reach me.

I found myself writhing and screaming upon the couch in Dr. Carlson’s office as if I were trying to throw off the grasp of some unseen foe. As I gained my senses and realized where I was, I looked at Dr. Carlson and froze in terror. She sat looking at me with the exact same expression upon her own face.

****

“Mr. Fox, sometimes experiences are so traumatic that we lack the ability to cope with them. The mind can’t adequately process the trauma and pushes the experience into the far corners of memory and down deep in the subconscious. It’s a survival technique that humans have evolved. But even though these memories are repressed, the trauma still exerts a negative influence upon our psyche. They create an imbalance, or pressure, that must be relieved through other avenues of the mind. They manifest in thought patterns, bad habits, self-destructive beliefs, dysfunctional behavior, nightmares, or feelings of guilt.

“Many times, the root cause of alcohol and drug dependency can be found in trauma that has been repressed within the subconscious. In many studies of veterans of war and survivors of car wrecks, the subjects had completely blocked the memories of the traumatic events. Like I said, it’s a survival mechanism that we inherited through our evolution. An artifact of the mind.

“When I placed you in a hypnotic state, I had a straight line to your subconscious mind. I could converse with the part of you that is no longer hiding behind the wall of self-preservation. Usually, the subconscious merely reports the details of traumatic events with no emotional attachment and this allows the therapist to gather information that can be directed in a controlled manner during regular therapy sessions.

“But, your case is different. The other day when I hypnotized you, you encountered a trauma so raw, so visceral, that it shocked you out of your hypnotic state. Whatever your trauma was, it was bad. Honestly, I’ve never seen someone react to their repressed trauma the way you did. It was if you were reliving the experience.

“I don’t even know exactly what is was, either. It was like you were being attacked by someone or something. Mr. Fox, you were screaming at it. You called it The Murklor. Does that mean anything to you?

Mr. Fox, are you alright?”

****

Murklor. The word crept around the corners of my brain for days since the first session. A gnawing, ever-present word that transformed and changed. Knowing the name had unlocked something deep within me. It had set things in motion. It inspired, bewildered, and left me feeling nauseous and mentally drained. It alluded to too many unpleasant ideas. It twisted the chains of thought back upon themselves and turned them into dirty, filthy non-sense. It “told” me strange things in many strange ways – like why is the root of terrible and terrific the same but one means fearful and the other means exhilarated? Terror lives even in the good times. It was deep and full like sub-bass groans that resonated in your chest cavity. It was flitting and sneaky like insects within shadows. It was mocking and irreverent like buffoons or jesters. It was downright evil like a serial killer with a high IQ. It was tall and grim like the undertaker of a dark, Western town. It was all that is wrong with the edges of a sinister world. Grimy, shadowy words latched onto the word Murklor leaving slime trails throughout my brain. I knew there was a struggle brewing. A dark storm building in my life. But somewhere deep down in the bowels of the tempest resided a grotesque and misshapen mollusk with a pearl within it. And as I pried my way into that glimmer of light in the oceanic depths, the name hummed and thrummed like a chant of the Black Mass. Designed to instill fear, it was atomically just a word. Just a name. And I clutched onto that pearl of knowledge because my only true hope to escape the leviathan was to believe that by knowing the true name of something, is to possess the key to its power. Little did I know at that time that the Murklor knew my true name much more intimately and thoroughly than I could ever know its true name. In short, I was a damned, doomed fool.

****

The Nightmares are to be mentioned now. It is their turn to take the stage in this tragedy. The play would not be complete without their little number. And what a motley cast of performers they are, too. You’d think their costumes would be dark grays and blacks, but, no, they are actually an eclectic play of houndstooth, paisley, Jacobean, argyle, plaid, and herringbone, just to name a few. The Nightmares, with their skeletal faces, do bring things that are dark and gray and black and rotten and then the performance turns from burlesque to horror in no time flat.

The cave is a recurring motif, for sure. I mean, it wouldn’t be the Murklor’s handiwork if the cave weren’t a prominent feature of the plotless plot that is a bad dream. Most times I’m outside of it gazing at its limitless darkness. Other times, I’m just inside the mouth struggling to make my eyes adjust to something that is felt but not seen. And on a couple of occasions, I’ve been a feature of the wall – like a fly wrapped in a spider’s sticky web.

The groping appendage is a favorite of the Murklor, too. Most times, it’s a sickly, wet tentacle. Sometimes it’s an insect-like feeler with stiff hairs and pointy, bifurcated claws. It could be dead tree limbs, knotty roots, or thorny brambles. One time it was curling, elegant wisps of fog. The effect is usually the same, though.

Finally, there’s the voice. Not really a recognizable voice, but a sound of something inhuman, alien, and foreign. More of a sound that shouldn’t be. A language of madness. The communications of something so strange to the human idea of language that one is left feeling insignificant and frail before it. The best way I can describe it is what a human voice sounds like to an ant as the human crouches over the ant and narrates the act of squashing it.

I never see the end of their performance. I never get the plot, just the story arc. I never get a coherent whole. Just flashes, snippets, images, and vague feelings. I wake violently and then proceed to sit struggling with the demons of addiction. For it is at those times that I could use a good drink or a calming drug the most.

****

Dr. Carlson: “Ken, I want you to close your eyes and relax. Turn loose now, relax. Let a good, pleasant feeling flow all across your body. Let every muscle and every nerve grow loose and limp. You feel warm and soft like melting chocolate. Beginning from your head, your face, your neck; every muscle is relaxing. Continue down your body, your arms, chest, and back are sinking into the couch. Your legs and feet are going limp. All your weight is being supported by the couch because all of your muscles are completely relaxed.

“Now just concentrate on the flow of your breathing. The rhythm of each inhalation and exhalation is deep and relaxing. Let your mind slip into the stream of the rhythm of your breathing. Droopy, drowsy, and sleepy. Calm, relaxed, and peaceful. Whatever happens you will not be harmed. You’re in a calm, safe place and your emotions are at peace. You’re detached from anything that happens like a disembodied spirit watching with no fear of being touched or harmed.”

~Later~

Dr. Carlson: “Ken, when you were younger, was there somewhere close to where you lived that had woods and a cave?”

Ken: “Yes, we lived close to a state park. There were lots of woods that all the neighborhood kids played in. And there were lots of hills and rock formations. The deeper into the park you went, the more mountainous the woods became. I wasn’t allowed to go too far into the forest, but I did it anyway. That’s how I discovered the cave. It was a scary place and I don’t want to talk about it.”

Dr. Carlson: “You don’t have to talk about it, but I think it will help. You’re in a safe place and there is nothing in the woods or the cave that can hurt you now. Was there someone in the cave that hurt you?”

Ken: “Yes. The Murklor. But I don’t like talking about him.”

Dr. Carlson: “And who or what was the Murklor?”

Ken: “He’s the darkness. The mouth of madness. He’s the personification of the abyss. The voice in your head that poisons your soul. He’s the one who wraps his long, thin tentacles around your body and makes you create. He’s the demon muse that drives you to the heights of artistic beauty and then demands that you repay him with blood and misery. He’s the conductor. He’s some strange entity that came down from the oceans of oblivion to lurk and wait for the moment to infect like a malignant tumor that will spread over the minds of its hosts. He’s the morphing, changing face of evil that is always nearby. He’s the creature in the labyrinth who is just around the corner while you run frantically like a mad rat. He’s insanity incarnate! He’s the face of hell – “

Dr. Carlson: “Mr. Fox! Calm down, Mr. Fox! It’s alright.”

Ken: “He’s manipulation and malicious misery! He’s the creature under the bed, the troll under the bridge, the spider in the web – “

Dr. Calrson: “Mr. Fox! Wake up, Mr. Fox! You are awake!”

Ken: “He’s the voice in the killer’s head! He’s . . . He’s . . . Oh, God! Where am I? What is this place?”

Dr. Carlson: “It’s alright, Ken. You’re in my office and everything is alright.”

Ken: “I’m alright?”

Dr. Carlson: “Yes, Ken. Everything is alright. You were re-experiencing a bad memory. But it’s just a memory.”

Ken: (laughing crazily) “Oh, Lisa, don’t you see? He is real.”

****

It was obvious that Dr. Lisa Carlson was in over her head. I was next referred to Dr. Seamus McGrath. He wanted me to go into an inpatient program that he would oversee. Great, another 21-day program that yields nothing but frustration. Let me tell you how these things go. The staff is so busy that they have no time to talk to you one-on-one. They medicate you to calm you down and you’re basically just a walking zombie whose moods have been so chemically neutralized that you don’t really care that you’re being shunned by the staff. They put you in the company of other people who are equally medicated but you find just as irritating as the overburdened staff. You’re expected to participate in group sessions where you have no good reason to talk about yourself with complete strangers and when you are forced to answer a question you feel isolated and unfairly exposed. You don’t really care what others are going through because you don’t know them and you’re dealing with your own crap. In the end, you just tell the staff what they want to hear so you can get the hell out of the program. But Dr. McGrath was different.

He actually spent time with me one-on-one. He asked the right sorts of questions. He actually listened to my responses. He was keen. He was good at what he did. He approached my case as if he were trying to solve a great mystery. He knew the methods and tools to access the deepest reaches of the mind without having to use hypnosis or other crude trickery. Where Dr. Carlson was doing psychotherapy with a mallet, Dr. McGrath was doing it with a laser scalpel.

Which is to say that he managed to gain access into the lair of the Murklor. It was a place he had not bargained for. It most certainly was a place I never wanted to return to. I had repressed it from all of my conscious memory. What he uncovered there was twisted, dark, and disturbing. Things that he never expected to encounter. Things that would haunt his dreams as well. The Murklor would do its damage on his psyche as well before things were done. In essence, Dr. McGrath was in over his head too. But we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves, aren’t we?

****

“Did you ever take anyone else to see the cave where the Murklor lived?”

That one simple sentence was like opening a floodgate. Dr. McGrath posed it and then just sat back and waited while I reeled from the bombardment of childhood memories that swarmed through my brain.

We waited till after lunch to meet up at the edge of the woods on the trail. Our parents wouldn’t expect us home until dinner time so that gave us a good five hours to make it to the cave and back. I was the one who discovered the cave; Eric and Nate hadn’t been there yet. I had actually been to the cave several times. I didn’t tell them about the Murklor. The Murklor had told me that he wanted to introduce himself in his own way. Left to his own devices, Eric would have never gone for this excursion. The only reason he was going was because Nate and I had insisted. He had voiced all manner of reservations and reasons why it was a bad idea, but, in the end, we drug him along. Nate, on the other hand, was all in. He was the most rebellious one of us and when I had brought it up, he was ready to leave immediately. I was the one who had to convince him that we should wait till after lunch so that our parents wouldn’t get suspicious.

Eric, always the thinker, had brought a backpack with a bottle of water and some snacks. He acted as if we were going on a two-day journey. The only thing Nate brought was a small radio. He was the music lover of the group and liked to have his rock ‘n roll wherever he went. I brought a hatchet and a flashlight. The two looked at the hatchet questioningly as I met them at the trail head. “The cave isn’t on any trail,” I explained. “The woods get pretty thick leading to it and we’ll need to clear a path.”

“Then how did you find it?” Eric asked.

“I was lost. I was trying to get up the rocks to get a better view of the park so I could find the trail again when I stumbled across it,” I lied, but it sounded good enough to keep them from prying further.

“Well, then, let’s get going,” Nate said turning on his radio.

We walked and talked and joked and sang and the afternoon was warm and pleasant. When we got to the place where we left the trail I deliberately took a path I hadn’t taken before so I could keep up the ruse of using the hatchet to clear limbs from our path. As we got close to the cave there was a change in the atmosphere. Suddenly the aura became somber. A shadow passed over the forest and things felt chillier and the trees pressed upon us more. The strains of Pink Floyd’s Careful with that Axe Eugene filled the air giving the scene a surreal vibe.

We stood before the cave opening and the Murklor hissed. I sensed Eric’s unease but Nate kept up a show of bravado. The Murklor stirred its appendages and a sticky, slithering sound escaped the darkness. I think Eric would have run at that point but I stood behind him urging him forward. Banded together, our fears were harder to act upon. It’s odd how the company of others will do that. Our trio edged into the cave mouth with the flashlight thrust before us like a mighty sword. The Murklor was not the least bit intimidated by us. If anything, he found us amusing.

A low, rumbling chuckle flowed down the passageway as the Murklor came to greet its new guests.

****

The music starts with the bass guitar playing a D note in octaves. Then the organ enters softly. The drums and guitar are so soft as to barely be heard. Richard noodles around with the Phrygian mode on the organ while Roger occasionally inserts strange sound effects from his mouth that are reminiscent of some primal, haunting animal.

June 15th, 1975. Two boys have been reported missing in the Pine Bluff Forest National Park. The two boys, Eric Thompson, age 12, and Nathan Williams, age 12, were last seen Thursday, June 12th, after leaving their nearby houses around noon.

As the guitars become more prominent, David begins to accompany several notes with his voice adding to the growing mood of anxiety and surrealism. Roger continues to make breathing and crying noises interspersed with whispers of the title’s warning phrase.

A third boy who was with the two missing youths in the forest has said that they became separated while playing in the state park after lunch. Local police and park rangers have made several searches with no results thus far.

Suddenly, Nick’s drums erupt into rolls that usher in the wild screams of Roger and then the piece charges into a franticly haunting, psychedelic groove.

Authorities and volunteers of local residents are putting together a larger search that will canvas the entire park. This search will take place tomorrow, Monday, June 16th, at 10:00 a.m.  Anyone interested should contact the Teller County Volunteer Hotline at 1-800-855-3220.

****

After Dr. Carlson’s failed hypnotherapy attempts and before I went into Dr. McGrath’s inpatient program was when I made the trip back home to visit Pine Bluff Forest. I drove by my parents’ old house where I had grown up. That was a rather melancholic experience. I didn’t stop there; I just slowed down and looked at it as I drove by. Too many emotions were tied up in that place to acknowledge. I had enough negative emotions to deal with by going to the forest.

Why did I do it, then? I really can’t say. It was like an instinctual drive. An urge that needed to be satiated. Like the Murklor, having been named and remembered, was exerting its call again. All of that was an unconscious beckoning.

I think on the conscious level I rationalized it all away. I would go there, attempt to find a cave that probably didn’t even exist, and realize that it was all a fabrication of my deep, dark psyche. A phantom story that played some dark part in my addictions. Just a made-up story that contained symbolism and no substance.

Oh, how wrong I was! I parked and entered the park upon the trail. My feet walked it as if they had just done so yesterday, taking me far into the woods to the point where I needed to leave the path and begin my climb up to the cave. There was no deviation, no hesitation, or no confusion of the route. I didn’t even question this until I began to pick my way through trees, scrub, brambles, and stones. As my progress slowed I asked myself what the hell was happening to me. Why did I know this route so well after so many years?

I must have blacked out. My consciousness hit a zone of bizarre time warping and blurriness. The next thing I can distinctly recall is when I found myself standing outside the cave mouth and hearing the Murklor chitter, moan, and then move. That’s when I ran like a tortured animal escaping its prey.

****

Kennedy. It is time to come see me again.

Oh, God, no! Please, Murklor, just let me be.

You know that’s not possible now, young Kennedy.

Why?

Because I have a gift for you. But you’ll have to bring me a gift first.

I don’t want a gift.

Oh, but you do, Kennedy! This gift will be of such value that you’ll thank me for the rest of your life.

What is it?

I can’t tell you until you bring me a gift first.

Really, I don’t want to. Can’t we just be done with this and you leave me alone?

KENNEDY! I don’t think you understand. If you don’t bring me this gift, then I will do horrible things to you and your family. Hells beyond your dreams await my command!

[sobbing] Oh, Murklor, please, NO!

Don’t spurn me, Kennedy! You will bring me what I ask for!

Please, Murklor, what is it? What is this gift?

I want you to bring your two friends to behold me in my full glory.

[through tears and sobs] No. Why, what are you going to do to them?

I will do nothing but show them my immensity. But you will bring an ax for a little game.

Murklor, what kind of game?

YOU WILL DO THIS! Or this is what hell awaits you!

[nightmares rack the child’s mind]

[crying] Oh, God! Noooooooooooooooo!

****

I didn’t tell Dr. McGrath about my visit to the cave just prior to entering his program. Thankfully, the Murklor wanted it that way; we had entered a very complex cat-and-mouse game, you see. According to the Murklor, Dr. McGrath was of the mind that I was on the verge of confessing to the killings of Eric and Nate. The Murklor made me another offer in exchange for bringing him another gift – Dr. McGrath.

With little real freewill in the matter, I was left to the bidding of the Murklor. He was orchestrating the show now. So, while I danced with the crazily-robed, skull-faced nightmare clowns, the Murklor set to plotting an end to poor old Dr. McGrath.

The next few sessions were all a setup that played into Dr. McGrath’s plans to draw me out as the confessee. Of course, I didn’t actually confess. I just insinuated a great deal.

Then the Murklor told me to drop the question that would lead to the climax of the show:

“Dr. McGrath, do you think Exposure Therapy would help me? Do you think we could go to the cave?”

****

[Day Room of the East Ward, 3rd floor of Rathbone Asylum. Patient Fox and Patient Dithers sit by one of the barred windows. Patient Fox is regaling Patient Dithers with a story. Patient Dithers is near comatose and does not comprehend Patient Fox. Undaunted or unaware, Patient Fox talks to Patient Dithers as if he were an equal party of the conversation.]

“The Murklor told me that Dr. McGrath had contacted a Forest Ranger by the name of Peterson to accompany us. McGrath told me it was because Ranger Peterson knew the area and would be assisting us. In reality, Ranger Peterson was there to take me into custody should we happen to find the suspected remains of Eric and Nate.

“Oh, the remains were there, alright. I knew that too. But the Murklor had everything under control. He wanted two more gifts.

“The tricky part, you see, was taking another ax without the Doctor or Ranger knowing it. Fortunately, it was chilly that day and I strapped it to my torso underneath my coat. I just had to pretend to be a nervous wreck about the whole thing to keep them from getting suspicious.

“I ain’t gonna lie to ya, though, I was still very much afraid of the cave and, of course, the Murklor. He just exudes terror.

“Anyway, we made it to the point where we left the trail. I had to really ham it up that I couldn’t exactly remember. There were some false starts and backtracking and whatnot. All in all, I made a good show of forgetting exactly how to get to the cave. But we finally made it to the cave.

“I really laid it on thick then. At one point I was even cowering behind a rock. They bought it hook, line, and sinker. You could tell that Ranger Peterson was itching to get in that cave and have a look around, too. But he didn’t want to leave me for fear that I’d take off should he find something in there.

“Finally, I reluctantly allowed myself to be escorted into the cave on the arm of Dr. McGrath. And that’s when the fun started.

“The Murklor is a master of drama, let me tell you. He didn’t make his presence known until they got far enough into the cave to see the two “X’s” still standing there. I guess you could say that they were my first two sculptures. Two big “X’s” of crossed timbers – both of them still had the skeletal remains of Eric and Nate on them.

“I have to tell you that the sight made me sick. Even though I was expecting them – the Murklor had told me, ya know – I still wasn’t prepared for the sight. All these years and it was like I was back in my childhood again. Terrified, shaking, and wretchedly sick.

“Dr. McGrath and Ranger Peterson were the ones that the show was for, though. Dr. McGrath let out a sound that might come from a little girl. It was actually a little funny. Ranger Peterson handled it a little better. He was just angry and disgusted. He turned to me and said, ‘What did you do, you nasty little shit?’

“I said, ‘It wasn’t me! It was Him!’ That didn’t really register until He came. The Murklor groaned a deep growl that echoed from somewhere deep within the cave. There was just a bunch of confusion then.

“All around us things in the shadows started moving. They moved with a sticky, wet sound. It was the arms of the Murklor cutting off their escape.

“Then the Murklor spoke. It welcomed them into its lair and then it told me to take the ax and go. Go and find the timbers to begin the erection of two new sculptures for his new gifts!”

Professor Wentfield burst through the door of the lecture hall cursing under his breath about his own tardiness.  Hardly any of the students scattered about the hall even raised their gaze to acknowledge his late entrance.  He made a beeline for his prodigious podium and flopped his overflowing, leather satchel on the top before rummaging out a few pieces of paper that he set aside.  Then he deposited the satchel on the floor by the podium and prepared to address the class.

Professor Wentfield was a frail man of average height.  His hair was disheveled and a tad too long.  He had a little gray running through his hair and showing in his scruffy beard.  His nose was angular, but his eyes were bright blue and intelligent, although tinged with a trace of cynicism.  He wore a corduroy beige jacket with brown leather patches on the elbows, a wrinkled white shirt, brown tie, khaki pants, and brown two-tone shoes.  Just before he spoke, he realized that his briar pipe was still protruding from his mouth.  He set it down on the podium and cleared his throat.

“Today we will continue our study of ancient Egyptian burial practices by discussing the sarcophagus.  A sarcophagus is an ornamental receptacle where the corpse or mummy was placed.  The name – sarcophagus – is derived from the Greek sarx meaning ‘flesh’ and phagein meaning ‘to eat’.  The reason is that it was believed the limestone ate the flesh of the corpse instead of the natural processes of decomposition.  In ancient Egypt the royal mummies were usually placed in sarcophagi made of alabaster.

“Mr. Dutton, what were some other common materials used to make sarcophagi?”

Keith Dutton was caught off guard.  He stammered something inaudible as his face flushed red.

“Thank you for that eloquent answer, Mr. Dutton.”  A ripple of giggles traveled across the lecture hall.

*

Ross Wentfield was an anachronism.  A man born into a world moving in fast-forward.  A man who cared not for electronic gadgets, pop culture, shrinking circuitry, the multi-colored glow of high-density pixels, instant communication, or the ability to cross the world in mere hours.  Ross would have been more at home in a historical era before the industrial age.  Furthermore, Ross loathed the fact that God cursed him to endure the mad, chaotic world that whirred by around him.

For twenty years of his adult life, he had struggled to find his niche in the world of light speed, all the while feeling like a tired tortoise amidst rapid rabbits.  As might be expected, those elder times were the natural place where he sought solace.  Ross devoured ancient history as if his mere knowledge of those times would somehow transport him back there.

Affecting the role of the archetypal college professor, Ross hoped to create an artificial island of the ancient world he so longed to inhabit in the midst of the rampant technological future he so despised.

But as each new class of post-modern students with MP3 players and cell phones attached to their bodies like cybernetic appendages drifted through his classes with their trancelike stares and android expressions, Ross began to not only hate the modern age, but its modern inhabitants too.

These weren’t eager minds looking to study the vast history of their race; they were mechanical and uninteresting boors operating on a rote program like a robot set on autopilot.  Sure, they talked, laughed, and made intelligible speech, but it was all feigned, phony, and worst of all, so very shallow.

While Ross’s interests spanned all of ancient history, his special interest was in ancient funeral practices.  From the ostentatious pyramids of Egypt to the grandiose flaming longboats of the Vikings, Ross was a renowned expert on the burial practices of most ancient cultures.

Ross had written many journal articles on the symbology and pageantry entailed in the act of sending the dead to the hereafter.  But his dream was to finally write a comprehensive book chronicling the many similarities, differences, procedures, and rites of the more prominent civilizations in just how and why they performed such majestic and intricate funerals – some individuals even spending their entire lifetimes constructing elaborate tombs in which they hoped to secure their immortality in the afterlife.

His teaching schedule at Florida State University was brutal and even more demoralizing to such a man as Ross, who saw the world as an incredibly chaotic blur.  It was during one of his gloomier moods when he was feeling the overwhelming weight of the modern world upon his back that he finally determined he had to do something to fight back against his growing cynicism.

And so it was that Ross decided to take his summer vacation in full – something he had rarely ever done – and complete his lifetime’s masterpiece – the most extensive and definitive text on ancient burial rites.  But there was more to his plan.  Not only would he take this time to write his book, but he would also need the perfect work environment in which to do so.

Ross decided to rent a secluded house in the country and officially declare himself on sabbatical from teaching – at least until the fall session began.  The only things he intended to take with him were a couple of suitcases of clothes and toiletries and several boxes of lecture notes and scholarly articles from which to compile his book.

After acquiring the services of a real estate agent and spending a couple weekends of virtual house hunting, Ross finally found the perfect little cottage.  Once all the paperwork was in order it was just a matter of a few weeks before the spring semester was over, and he was able to leave.  At the end of April Ross packed his run down 1961 Austin Healey with his bags and boxes and set off for his summer hermitage.

The house was a Cotswold Cottage nestled in the woods not far from Marianna, Florida.  The property it sat on was well-wooded and tucked away from the country road that ran by it.  Ross turned onto the gravel drive and paused to take in the view of his new summer home.

The cottage was a two-story, asymmetrical house with casement windows.  It had a large stone chimney in the middle of the house and a steep gable roof of deep red shingles.  On one side of the upper floor was a small dormer window.  On the opposite end of the house was a bay window overlooking a large flower garden – a perfect place to take a break and enjoy the fresh air or a toke of his pipe.

Ross let a tranquil smile spread across his face before continuing down the drive and parking.  He retrieved the key from an envelope the realtor had sent him and let himself in.  The interior turned out to be even better than the exterior.  The living room was the center of the house and from it, doors led to all areas of the house.  The ceiling was vaulted, and the fireplace dominated the wall.  Although there would be no need for its services during the sweltering Florida summer, it still provided an atmosphere of down homeness.

The kitchen was quaint, but the bay window provided the illusion that the kitchen was bigger than it really was – plus, the view of the flower garden was perfect.  Ross could already see himself drinking coffee, eating breakfast, and watching the birds and insects roam the flowerbeds still damp with the morning dew.

The master bedroom was on the ground floor and Ross immediately fell in love with the possibilities it afforded for his work.  On one side of the bedroom was a small alcove with a desk nestled inside.  This time Ross let a huge, toothy smile break across his face.

Everything about the small cottage was perfectly cozy.

*

The next morning Ross enjoyed his breakfast and coffee just as planned.  He then set about the task of unloading the Austin Healey and unpacking.  Having done this, Ross showered and stepped outside to enjoy the flower garden and smoke his pipe.  It was only late April but already the thermometer read 92 degrees.  The worst part about the Florida heat was the oppressive humidity, but the flower garden was shaded by several palm trees, a magnolia, and a tall cypress tree.  In the middle of the garden was a small wooden bench supported by cast iron legs.  A welcome breeze swept through the garden as Ross sat on the small bench to pack his pipe.  Now this is perfect.  I’ll set up my writing area on the desk in the bedroom and in no time, I’ll have a daily work schedule.

And that’s exactly what Ross attempted to do.  His routine would consist of waking at 7 o’clock and making coffee and cooking breakfast.  He would enjoy his breakfast at the bay window as he caught the morning news and drank coffee.  He would then shower and set straight to writing at the desk in the bedroom.  Depending on how well the writing was going for the day he might take a break at 10 o’clock to have a pipe in the garden.  He would pause for lunch at noon and return to writing after an hour.  His “work day” would end at 5 o’clock.

Ross tried to settle into this routine quickly and efficiently except there was one unusual hurdle.  On his first full day of his routine, he paused from writing a passage on megalithic tombs.

The term megalith means large stone.  Megalithic tombs are tombs that are usually built above ground and are constructed so the tomb is encased by large stones – usually slabs.  Many cultures would cover the tombs with earth or smaller stones and the practice of decorating the tombs was common.  Much archaeological evidence has been found to support the theory that burial rites such as feasts and funerals were common among many megalithic cultures.

Ross paused because the temperature of the room had noticeably fallen.  He had goose pimples on his arms.  This place has a hell of an air conditioner.  He rose and went to find the thermostat.  After a few moments of hunting, he found it in the living room and was surprised to see that the thermostat was set at 78 degrees.  The thermometer on the thermostat was reading 65 degrees, though.  Confused, Ross fiddled with the controls and, having satisfied himself that he had shut off the air completely, he returned to writing.  But the temperature remained cold.  Ross returned to the thermostat and fiddled with it some more, but the temperature continued to hover at 65.

On Saturday Ross decided to make a trek into Marianna and buy some groceries and several items he had jotted down.  He never would have predicted to need the last item on the list – a sweater.

The sweater helped to fend of the chill but the problem with the air still persisted.  No matter how much Ross attempted to finagle the thermostat, the whole house remained downright cold.  Ross placed a call to the realtor and explained his dilemma.  The realtor promised to contact the house’s owner and get back with Ross.

The second week drew to a close and Ross still hadn’t heard from his realtor.  His writing was coming along swimmingly, but the chill was becoming a huge aggravation.  Ross began making frequent trips out to the garden just to warm up.  On Saturday morning Ross phoned the realtor again and she explained that she was unable to reach the owners since they were in Europe vacationing.  She promised to send out a maintenance man to investigate.  Ross, not feeling very reassured that this would happen in a timely manner, decided to once again drive into Marianna and purchase, of all things, a space heater.

*

On Monday things took an even more unusual turn.  Ross had his space heater running beside his desk and was in the middle of writing an introduction to crypts.

In medieval times crypts became common burial choices for prominent people.  The crypt was traditionally built beneath churches, chapels, or castles.  By the 1800’s the building of crypts had become traditional practice in family estates of wealthy families.  These family crypts were incorporated as either freestanding mausoleums or included in the main structure of the estate – either in the cellars or as attached portions of the main structure.

At this point Ross paused because the chill was still encroaching upon his desk.  The space heater had definitely improved the situation; it was making a valiant effort in the local battle but was failing to make much progress in the war.  This house feels like a crypt.  The thought had no sooner passed through Ross’s mind than a decidedly sinister wave of dread spread through his body.  It was as if a transformation had taken place.  Suddenly, the house took on a new aspect to Ross’s perception.

To shake away the funk he was feeling, Ross decided to step out to the garden and have a smoke.  The day was a brilliant day with not a cloud in the sky.  The heat of the sun felt refreshing to Ross, and he stood in the sun for several moments while he packed the bowl of his pipe.

As he sat on the bench and lit his pipe he regarded the house.  It repulsed him somehow.  Like suddenly finding out a person you share close proximity with has a highly contagious disease.  Ridiculous.  I’m being completely ridiculous.  There is nothing queer about the house other than a faulty cooling unit.  Hell, I should be thankful that it’s overcooling rather than not working at all.  I wouldn’t even be able to stay in it at all if the air conditioner didn’t work.

Ross finished his pipe and continued to convince himself that his feelings toward the house were completely irrational.  Having steeled himself to return to his book, he decided to try and help the space heater by shutting the bedroom door.  Surely the space heater can manage to heat just the bedroom.

So, Ross closed the door and sat down at the desk to pound away at the chapter he was writing.  His goal was to work until lunchtime.  He typed away and the heater did a superb job of heating the room.  Ross even shed his sweater.  He worked for a solid hour and then he paused from his typing.  The chill had returned.  Turning, Ross froze in horror at the sight of the door standing wide open.

*

That night Ross awoke to the sound of footsteps crossing the upper floor.  He had only been upstairs once and that was when he first arrived.  His inspection of the upstairs had shown it to be only a couple of rooms and empty except for the sparse furnishings typical of guest bedrooms.  He had no reason for going back upstairs after that.

Now he was sitting up in bed, his heart galloping in his chest as he listened to the slow creaking crossing the ceiling.  His mind swarmed trying to figure out what the sounds could be.  The idea that there could really be a person upstairs was ridiculous.  Yet, his eyes played across the bedroom looking for something that could be used as a weapon.  The only thing he saw was an umbrella.

The creaking could now be heard descending the stairs.  Ross slipped from the bed and retrieved the umbrella.  He was a frail man and certainly no fighter.  He crouched behind the dresser trembling in fear, trying to control his breathing, and weighed his options.  Is it really someone in the house?  What if it’s no one at all but just my imagination?  The creaks are too faint.  It could just be noises that houses make.  But what if it is someone?  What if the door opens and they find me?  Do I stand a chance?  Should I run for it?  Should I try and reach the car?

And then Ross realized that the creaking had ceased.  Somehow this made the entire situation worse.  Now he was faced with the dilemma of whether he should go and investigate.  He was terrified and deep down he knew that he had not the fortitude nor the courage to open the bedroom door and walk into the living room.

How long he sat crouched beside the dresser he didn’t know but it seemed like an eternity.  The house remained deathly quiet and eventually sleep overtook Ross.  He awoke in the wee hours of the night, his muscles cramped from sleeping in such an awkward position.  His fear had passed, and he groggily rose and slipped back into bed.

He awoke later than usual the next morning to the disturbing sight of the open door.

*

Ross was paid a surprise visit by the real estate agent later in the day.  He was sitting in the garden having finished a bowl from his pipe when the large silver Cadillac pulled in the driveway.  He knew it was the realtor by the large placards adorning the sides of the car.

Ross rose and walked to greet the real estate agent who he had only known through phone conversations.  He was pleasantly surprised to see that Mrs. Jenkins was a very attractive woman.  She looked to be in her early thirties.  Her hair was brownish-blond, stylish but not overly done.  Her pantsuit was beige with matching high heels.  The blouse beneath the jacket was white satin, cut just low enough to be stylish and sexy but still smart and business-like.  Her makeup was conservative for she didn’t need much to enhance her natural beauty.  She removed her large sunglasses and walked over to intercept Ross.  Ross noticed that she wasn’t wearing a wedding ring as he smiled and stretched forth his hand as he greeted her.

“Ah, Ms. Jenkins I presume?”

“Hello, it’s nice to finally meet you, Mr. . . . I mean, Professor Wentfield.”

Ross was temporarily at a loss for words as he took in her large, white smile and deep green eyes.  “Please, call me Ross.”

“And you can call me Annabelle,” she replied.

“Very well, Annabelle.  By the way, that is a lovely name.  I don’t think I’ve ever met an Annabelle.”

“Oh, it’s from a poem by Poe.  My mother was a huge fan of his poems.”

“Yes, yes, I’m quite familiar with it . . . so sad but romantic too.”

“Well, that’s my mother for you.  She always was attracted to things that were melodramatic and a bit morbid.”

“So what brings you out here?”

“Oh, yes, I spoke with the owners about your cooling problem.”

“Great.  Come on in and we can talk in the, uh, ‘igloo’ as I like to refer to the house.”

Annabelle accepted Ross’s invitation to sit and have a cup of coffee while she explained that the owners had told her that the problem with the house was with the thermostat.  They had had a problem with it before and had it fixed but apparently it needed to be completely replaced.  They had promised to have a fix-it man that they knew to come out and replace it.  Annabelle had no idea how long this would take.  Ross had no real reason to doubt the owners but something in the back of his mind told him that it was all a lie.  He sensed that there was a darker explanation lurking underneath it all.  Of course, he didn’t want to admit this to Annabelle. He was too entranced by her beauty and was too busy trying to affect the role of a man that she would be interested in.  Was he actually flirting?

As he watched her car retreat down the drive, he felt giddy.  Fool!  I was acting like a damn schoolboy.  Look at how gorgeous she is.  She would never go for someone like me.  She was just being polite and here I am acting like an idiot.  How embarrassing!

*

Ross dreaded the oncoming night.  While it was still daylight, he at least had the courage to thoroughly explore the upstairs and ensure himself that it was quite empty.  Then he checked the downstairs and made sure everything was locked up tight.

That night Ross had the most unusual dream.  He had never had a dream so vivid in his life.  He ran across large rocks that fell away to the crashing waves of the sea.  Ahead, higher up the rocks, fled the slender form of Annabelle.  She wore a long white gown that the wind threw into an ethereal flurry behind her.  He ran after her calling her name over the pounding surf and the howling wind.

Cresting a rock, he saw her disappear in what appeared to be a gray mausoleum built into the façade of the cliff.  Arriving at the mausoleum, he looked inside to see Annabelle reposing on the marble slab of the tomb in the most seductive and sultry pose.  She tilted her head back and beckoned him to have her as she pulled her gown up.  Overhead the winds shrieked, and angelic air spirits cavorted in wild ecstasy.

Ross entered the mausoleum and approached Annabelle.  Suddenly he was on her and the rapture of their union was washing over him.  The surf pounded the rocks, the air elementals howled, and Annabelle sang out in pleasure.  Her cries turned into a hideous scream and Ross looked down to see he was embracing a decimated corpse and that it was he who was screaming.

The sea was roiling and churning, and the air spirits were fleeing.  Something ominous was approaching the mausoleum.  Ross turned to the open doorway, and he could see that the raging sea was spitting up demonic faces of death and decay.  The cold arms of the Annabelle corpse were wrapped tight around him, holding him in place as he stared at the open doorway waiting to see what hateful creature would appear there.  He sensed the harbinger of doom getting closer and closer and then he was waking up, crying out.

*

Two weeks passed with no unusual occurrences.  Even though Ross didn’t have the nightmare again, the memory of it continued to haunt him.  On several occasions he caught himself daydreaming about Annabelle and would frequently take out her business card and toy with the idea of calling her, but he never summoned the courage to go through with it.

The chill in the house persisted and he continued to run the space heater as he wrote his book.  The door remained shut and Ross thought that maybe the strange things he had experienced with it were just the fancies of his imagination.  But ultimately, it was just the calm before the storm.  One day Ross was writing about the history of King Mausollos, the Persian satrap of Caria.

Of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, two were constructed for purely funerary purposes.  The only one left standing, and by far the most famous, is the Great Pyramid of Giza.  The lesser known tomb was built to house the remains of King Mausollos, the Persian satrap of Caria.  It is from this structure that we have acquired the name of the mausoleum.  A mausoleum is traditionally a free-standing structure that serves as a monument and housing for the dead.

The original Mausoleum of Mausollos was the idea of his sister and wife Artemisia after he died in 353 B.C.  Artemisia, losing her beloved brother and husband, wanted to build him the most stately and elegant tomb as a commemoration.  The Greek architects Satyrus and Pythius were commissioned to design the tomb.  The structure stood 135 feet tall and each of the four sides was adorned with sculptural reliefs.  Four Greek sculptors were hired – Timotheus, Bryaxis, Leochares, and Scopas of Paros, each to contribute their artistic skills to one side of the tomb.  The tomb was so majestic that it was considered by Antipater of Sidon to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Suddenly, a strange sensation overcame him.  It was a feeling of being closely scrutinized.  As if someone were trying to read his thoughts.  Ross had a vision of someone watching him flash through his mind and then a chill breeze swept across the back of his neck.  Ross jerked forward and spun around.  The door was standing wide open.

Ross fled the house.  He grabbed his shoes, his wallet, and keys and ran to the Austin Healey barefoot.  He fumbled with the keys and dropped them as he tried desperately to crank the car.  It roared to life, and he slammed the gears as he kicked up gravel in his haste to flee.  He decided to drive to Marianna in an effort to put distance between himself and the house, but as he drove, something unexpected happened.  The feeling of being watched didn’t diminish.  Instead, the feeling grew!

This is insane, he thought as his eyes quickly darted looking for the source of the watcher.  Now I feel even more vulnerable than I did in the house.  Was that someone in the field?  That car – is it following me?  It’s not just isolated to the house!  This is nuts!  I’m nuts!  I’m losing my mind.  It’s ridiculous that there could be something that’s watching me – that’s after me.

It was in the back seat.  Now it was crawling over the headrest.  His throat constricted in a spasm of chokes and coughs.  It was tearing at his lungs.  Tearing at his mind!

My God, it’s just my mind imagining that something’s there!  But I didn’t imagine the door!  Oh no, there’s no way in hell that I imagined that the door opened.  I know I closed the door.  Whatever opened the door is the same thing that’s doing this – that’s after me right now.  It wants me to return to the room!  No!  Wait!  It’s just the opposite!  It wants me to come out of the room because it can’t enter the room!

And then Ross was slamming on the breaks and lowering the gears.  Tires squealed as he threw the car into a turn and raced back to the house.  He struggled to decipher the feelings, all the jumble of sensations and events that were twisting his mind and nerves.  He gasped for air and struggled to remain as calm as possible.  For whatever reason there was a presence that was after him.  Whether it was just a fancy of his mind or a real force outside of himself was irrelevant.  All he knew was that when he was in the room it couldn’t enter.  It could only open the door and watch him.

*

Thirty minutes later Ross nervously paced the room as he puffed his pipe.  The door was securely closed but, unfortunately, it didn’t have a lock.  Ross feverishly wracked his brain for a solution to his dilemma.  Everything’s unraveling.  My plans for my book.  All I wanted was to have a quiet summer writing my book.  But this thing had to corrupt it all.  What is it about this room?  Wait a minute!  It is the book!  The thing is because of the book.  I have to finish the book to vanquish it!

So, Ross attacked the typewriter like a fiend.  He typed without pause for at least an hour before the tell-tale chill wrapped its icy fingers around his neck announcing that the door had opened.  Ross rose cursing and screaming at the presence in the next room.  Before closing the door, he yelled into the empty living room.

“I know you’re there!  I can sense you!  And I also know that you can’t cross this door!”  Then a maniacal laughter erupted from Ross’s throat as he slammed the door and returned to the typewriter.

It was only minutes later that the door flew open again.  Ross tried to ignore the presence and kept on typing. As he typed, he could feel the presence invade his mind – as if it were glaring right into the heart of his soul. Still, he forged ahead and did his best to concentrate on his work.  No matter how hard he tried, the assault on his sanity was too much to block out.  The only solution was to ensure the door remained closed.

Ross decided his course of action and bolted through the living room.  Immediately he felt the dreaded sensation of something menacing on his heels.  He knew what a person being chased by a wild predator must feel like.  The fear that forced his heart to accelerate and his adrenaline to surge propelled him on.  He was at the front door and frantically twisting the knob.  He flung the door wide and shot towards the car.  Then a hard swipe across his heel made him stumble and he was falling into the gravel of the driveway.  He instinctively put his hands out and went sliding.  He didn’t take the time to nurse his scraped and bleeding hands.  He recovered and kept running.  He could feel it bearing down upon him.  He arrived at the trunk of the car and quickly attempted to slide the key into the lock.  There was the brief sound of metal scraping metal and then the key was in, and the trunk was opening.  Ross felt something slam into his back and fell forward into the yawning trunk.  He struggled and flailed.  His hands locked around the small toolbox he kept in the trunk, and he twisted trying to fend off his assailant.  Ross gnashed his teeth and squirmed free of the trunk.  He felt the icy grip on his throat again.  But it wasn’t enough to prevent him from scrambling back to the house, the toolbox clanging and his hands bloody.

He made it into the bedroom and collapsed panting and gasping for air.  He had made it!  He slammed the door and then he shoved the dresser in front of the door.  He knew it would take more than that though.  He opened the toolbox and rummaged through it until he found the hammer.  He turned to the large armoire.  It took only a few moments to empty it of the clothes.  Next, he began slamming the hammer into the armoire, ripping pieces of wood off.  As each piece came free, he used it to nail over the door.  After several strips were secured over the upper part of the door, he moved the dresser and continued dismantling the armoire.  Finally, there was no free space left around the door frame on which to secure another strip of wood.  He had done it!  He had completely closed off the doorway.

Ross let the bloodied hammer fall to the floor and then he used the bed spread to wipe away the blood from his palms.  It was time to finish his book.

*

An ossuary is a repository for human bones.  The receptacle can be a hole, a box, or even something as large as a mausoleum or church.

Probably the most elaborate and infamous ossuary is the Sedlec Ossuary in the Czech Republic.  It is located beneath the Church of All Saints, a Roman Catholic chapel and popular cemetery.  The cemetery’s rise to popularity was due to the piety of one of the abbots named Henry.  He made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land at the behest of King Otaker II of Bohemia in 1278 and returned bearing soil from Golgotha.  The consecrated soil was spread over the abbey cemetery.  This made the cemetery become a desirable location for people all over Europe to want to be buried.

When the Black Plague swept through Europe the cemetery was overwhelmed with the bodies of the dead.  The cemetery was expanded.  In the 1400’s a Gothic church was built on the site.  During its construction many remains were unearthed and the first designs of the ossuary were incorporated into the church.

In 1870 the ruling Schwarzenberg family commissioned an artist and woodcarver named Frantisek Rint to tackle the task of sorting and ordering the stacks of bones.  No one was prepared for the outré results of Rint’s work.  The grotesque artistry of Rint is astounding.  He created ornate chandeliers of bone with skulls prominently incorporated.  Long garlands of skulls snake across the ceiling, sconces of bones support candles, and monstrances of bone flank the altar.  The Schwarzenberg family crest was completely rendered in human remains.  Rint even signed his work by leaving his autograph written in human bones.

Ross stopped typing as the space heater fell silent.  Immediately the temperature of the air inside the room began to plummet.  There was a sudden change in the presence.  It was no longer hovering outside the door.  Now it was in the room!  It had all been an elaborate trick – just a demonic game of cat-and-mouse.  Ross stood and the room spiraled madly around him as the truth of his predicament dawned upon his addled mind. The presence was swirling around him like a maelstrom now.  A dour sense of doom spread through Ross’s body.  Professor Wentfield collapsed against the door of the bedroom cursing under his breath about his own foolishness.

June 10

I had a visitor today. Looking back on it, I should’ve just hid and let him believe that no one was home; but I didn’t know what he wanted and it could’ve been important. In the end, he was only a door-to-door salesman and I wound up mumbling apologies through the cracked door before shutting the door back and locking it. And now I have become obsessed with checking the locks.

I phoned Dr. Kaplan – of course, he was with another client and didn’t call me back right away. When he finally did, we talked about the salesman and the distress that it caused me. It was his idea to start keeping a journal so that at the next session, we could address the frequency of my calls to him. You see, he thinks I call him way too much, but I don’t think so. Sure, I call him from time to time, but it certainly isn’t an abnormal amount.

Since the salesman left I’ve checked the locks and cleaned the door eight times. I know that is too much. I know that. I can judge what is too much even though I can’t stop myself from checking. Dr. Kaplan is just a busy man and any interruption from a silly woman with OCD is too much for him and his busy schedule.

June 11

I miss having a pet. I used to have a cat named Ajax, but he was too dangerous. I don’t mean that he was aggressive or anything of that nature; he was just too much of a risk to my health. Cats – well, any animal for that matter – are either carriers of disease or attract other vermin that carry disease. Jeff was kind enough to find Ajax a good home, but I still miss having someone else around – even if it is just a pet and not another human.

Dr. Kaplan assures me that my Hypochondria is all in my head just like the OCD is, but I don’t care. I know my body and I know when unclean things in the environment affect my wellbeing. When Jeff took Ajax and I cleaned the house, I felt better almost immediately. Still, I get so lonely here with no one to talk to. I wish it were easier to just get out and go but the world is so fraught with danger and disease. It takes all of my courage just to make it to Dr. Kaplan’s office for therapy. And after I get back safe and sound to my apartment, I’m so exhausted that it takes me days to recover from the venture.

June 12

Angela used to call me at least every other day but I’m afraid that her mother’s illness has consumed her. Jeff is certainly a good brother and tries his best to keep tabs on me, but he never called as much as Angela. I’m really glad that Jeff found such a good girl as Angela to marry – she and I really became close until her mother found out she had cancer. When she called and told me, I became obsessed with her mother’s symptoms. I was only trying to help. But, eventually, it led to me becoming obsessed with seeing the symptoms in myself and all I wanted to talk to Angela about were the similarities between her mother’s illness and mine. I mean, I believed I really had breast cancer too.

Then I got the call from Jeff. He was nice about it but I figured out that Angela couldn’t talk to me about the cancer. It was too hard on her. I went to the doctor and demanded all the tests that could diagnose breast cancer but they didn’t find anything. I’m still not convinced.

The point is, I guess, that I miss having Angela check in on me and I miss having someone to talk to. It’s not like I don’t have anyone at all, just not someone who is regular. That’s all.

June 13

I have an appointment with Dr. Kaplan in four days and I’m already preparing myself for the trip. It’s not far; the office is only ten blocks away. Still, it might as well be across the Brazilian rain forest as far as I’m concerned. There’s just so many things out there that are waiting to attack me – germs, filthy hand rails, infested door knobs, diseased beggars, street  urchins, ruffians, people jostling me on the street, the riff raff of society all spreading their pestilence. All it would take is one miniscule bacterium to do me in.

I know it is irrational, but that doesn’t change the way my mind works. Hypochondria is not a rational disease. Actually, Dr. Kaplan has requested that I call it Health Anxiety – that’s the new term for it. I still like Hypochondria, though. Did you know that Hypochondria originally meant “below the ribs”. It was a reference to tummy aches. Over the years it became synonymous with symptoms that a doctor can’t cure.

Even though I’m freaking out about the trip to my appointment, I’ve refrained from calling Dr. Kaplan. See, I don’t need to call him every time I have a suspicious looking mole or some door-to-door salesman comes by. I can fend for myself.

June 14

Today I’m going to write about my daily routines since this is something that Dr. Kaplan wants to focus on at our next appointment. To begin with, I must explain that my number is five. This only makes sense to a person with OCD. Everything I do ritualistically, I do in fives. I wake up at 7:05. I should clarify that I set my alarm to 7:05 and that’s when I get out of bed. It’s not like I ever have a full night of uninterrupted sleep. I toss and turn and worry all night long. Many nights I will just lie awake in bed for hours at a time. Nevertheless, I get up at 7:05 regardless of the amount of sleep I actually got during the night.

When I get up I immediately brush my teeth and clean my bathroom – not a thorough cleaning like I do later in the day, but just a cursory cleaning so I can use the bathroom, brush my teeth, and shower. I brush my teeth five times throughout the morning while showering and getting dressed. I do not shower unless the tiles are sparkling clean and the whole bathroom smells like chlorine.

During my shower I perform a thorough examination of my body for any lumps, lesions, or changes to my skin. Anything new, I’ll document on a piece of paper so that later I can research it on the internet.

After I shower, I wipe down the shower and begin to wash whatever clothes or towels are dirty from the previous day. I never have dirty laundry sitting around. After that, I go and check the doors and windows to ensure they are locked. I’ll do this routine throughout the day at certain times. Then, it’s time for breakfast.

My food intake is exclusively Vegan. I will not eat cooked meat because it can lead to disease, especially if improperly cooked. Animals are disease carriers anyway, so I just avoid them. I also refuse to eat any processed food. Again, it just leads to illness and disease. I realize that vegetables are risky too. I subscribe to a whole foods delivery program so that I don’t have to leave the house to shop. The company delivers all my fruits and vegetables and any other Vegan foods I need to my house once a week. Still, I soak all of my fruits and vegetables in a solution of vinegar and grapefruit extract that naturally removes and chemicals or bacteria that might be on them.

Anyway, my breakfast is mostly an acidic-based meal and then the rest of my meals for the day are generally rich with vegetables. For breakfast I’ll have a glass of purified water with lemon, a half of a grapefruit or oranges, a bowl of grapes or raspberries, and an English muffin with jam.

I wash my dishes and utensils before and again after I eat. This can turn into a ritual cleansing quite easily and many days I wind up cleaning the kitchen five times.

After the kitchen is spotless and has a nice chlorine smell, I turn on the T.V. and catch the latest news. After the news I like to listen to a talk show on the radio on homeopathic medicine. I know Dr. Kaplan will not approve of this – nor, especially will my Primary Care Physician Dr. Ramsey. Still, I enjoy the callers’ questions and Dr. Weiland’s philosophy.

If I’ve discovered any unusual bumps or blemishes, I’ll take the time to research what they might be on my computer. This typically turns into a lengthy bout of reading about diseases all the way up until time for lunch. Before lunch, I’ll clean the kitchen and then usually have a salad with a side of potatoes or rice. After lunch, it’s time to clean the apartment.

Once the apartment is thoroughly clean, I’ll work out, shower again, and then take a nap. My workout usually consists of Pilates or Yoga with some type of aerobic video – I have several that I’ll rotate through. Exercise is very important to good health.

After my nap I’ll have a snack and watch a movie or T.V. show. It just depends on what I’m currently into at the moment. I pretty much spend the evening after dinner either watching T.V., reading, or surfing the internet. I’ll do that until 11:00 or 12:00 at night before finally going around and checking all the windows and doors at least five times before finally going to bed.

So you see, my daily routine is not that out there even though I know that some of the things I do might be considered a bit eccentric.

June 16

My Health Anxiety began with my mother’s illness. I was only 8 years old when she found out she had Lupus. The disease affected her in numerous ways and she battled it for a long time. I was 17 when she died. When she passed away, I felt a ton of guilt. A part of me believed that it was partially my fault. I know that doesn’t make sense, but it was how I felt, nonetheless.

I became so familiar with her disease that I began to believe I was suffering the same symptoms. A rash on my face, fatigue, painful joints, headaches, hair loss – the lists goes on and on. And each time one of those symptoms popped up, I immediately knew it was the worst case scenario. I had my mom’s genes that meant that I, too, was destined to die of Lupus.

As each test came back negative, I refused to accept it. I just deftly attributed it to either the doctor’s error in accurate diagnosis, or the fact that I really had another disease.

Even today, I still believe that I’m carrying some new strain of a debilitating disease that leaves doctors baffled with how to categorize it. Logically, I know this is crazy. In reality, my days are consumed with worry and despair over my health.

June 19

I’m finally getting around to writing about my doctor’s visit the day before yesterday. I meant to do it right afterwards, but it has left me so exhausted that I’m just now feeling like writing about it tonight.

I made it to Dr. Kaplan’s office without incident. Even with the heat of summer, I still put on a thin wind-breaker and hold it tight about my neck as I dart to the doctor’s office trying to avoid any contact with the throng of humanity on the sidewalks and streets. Still, I managed to navigate my way there without brushing into anyone.

It wasn’t until I saw Dr. Kaplan that things went south. He was the worst and I don’t care if he reads this next time, although I don’t think I’ll be going back to that horrible man! We began with small talk, which was alright, and then he asked about my journal. I handed it over and waited while he read the entries. Then, he removed his glasses and hit me with the most condescending look. From then on it was horrible. He’s so judgmental it just gets right under my skin!

He began by telling me how I pushed Angela away by making her mother’s condition about me. The nerve! I did no such thing! And then he had the audacity to critique my daily routine and tell me it was unhealthy and abnormal! He has no idea!

Oh, there was more. More than I care to vent and fume over. I shut down after we had strong words and let him go on lecturing me while I just sat there seething. In the end, I walked out of there with a script in my hand for some medication called Lexapro that he wants me to try out. I don’t think so. Just some more crap to pollute my body and alter my mind.

But all that wasn’t the real bad part; I mean it was bad, but not bad in the same way. The thing that has really left me shaken is the man from the alley I encountered on the way home.

As I rounded Pikes Peak Avenue headed towards the park I passed an alley and heard this homeless man playing his guitar. Even though I was walking at a brisk pace, I found myself slowing down. There was something about the tune he was playing that was so captivating. It’s hard to describe now, but I just remember that it was so melancholy yet somehow soothing.

What happened next is really beyond my faculties of reason. I literally fell into what I believe to be a state of hypnosis. Somewhere deep in my mind I still had some type of awareness, but I was lost as if in a dream landscape.

The melody continued to wash over me as I stopped and retreated to the alley’s opening. Soft, dark waves of gloomy notes flowing one into the next lulled me into a trance. God knows how long I stood there and my eyes closed as I descended into the music. It was so sad, yet so beautiful. How could such a creature as this make such music?

I had the impression of floating high into the air – maybe it was an out-of-body experience; a dream-state roving composed of bits and snatches of sensations. Whatever the case, I beheld the city from high above as a hive of activity moving at high speed in blurry pandemonium while directly below me in a tiny circle of calm slowness I saw me and the guitarist alone with the music.

I began to descend ever so slowly while I watched myself walking towards the man. He was so engrossed in playing that I don’t even think he saw me. The music still came in soft, undulating waves as the haunting melody pulled me along. Closer and closer I descended still mesmerized by the song and watching the entranced me walking in a languid gait towards the filthy guitarist.

And then I saw, to my horror, that the real, physical me below was intent on approaching and touching the vagrant! But the part of my consciousness that was displaced – the rational me – was not going to re-enter my body in time to stop my hands from touching the horrible creature spinning that wicked, diabolical tune!

I strained with all my willpower to reach my body before it happened, but it was no use. Just as I reached my body there was a mad mix of sensations. A chaotic swirl of noises and images and feelings all churned up into a quick torrent that sent a shock through my soul. As I came to myself, the first thing that hit me was the sadness in my heart. The song still swirled in the air about me. Through the hazy blur of my tears I saw that I had reached my hand out and was caressing the man’s face!

The most horrible part of the whole thing slammed into me then. The man quit playing and turned his face up towards me with the most saturnine smile I have ever seen. It was then that I beheld his face. He had four long scabs running diagonal across his face and my hands were caressing those grotesque, encrusted sores!

I screamed. I ran. I made it home, locked the doors, and then I must have showered and scrubbed my hands for hours. Even after that, I returned to the bathroom at least every hour to scrub my hands again and again and again. Just writing this makes me want to wash again.

As if that all wasn’t bad enough, now I have that cursed melody sounding in my brain over and over.

June 21

I’ve made a concerted effort to quit washing my hands at least every hour but it’s so hard. The urge consumes me. It’s so bad that I feel I have to wash to release the pressure.

I found myself humming the melody to that damn tune while I was cleaning the kitchen and when I realized it, it scared me. I don’t know what happened or how to explain the incident in the alley, but I think it might have just been a dream. It’s so unlike me that it couldn’t have been real.

I started researching memory lapses and blackouts and I’m relatively sure that’s what happened to me. It’s the only reasonable explanation.

June 22

Last night I had a strange dream. At least I think it was a dream. I think it was like when you awaken in the night and you’re in that zone between sleeping and waking where you mix reality with your dream. I must have been dreaming about a mold or some other type of discolored spot on the wall that just wouldn’t come clean. This makes sense because I have such a fear of disease and filth that my nightmares tend to be about my inability to be clean enough or be healthy enough.

Nevertheless, when I awoke I instinctively looked to the wall where the spot was located in my dream and saw, to my horror, that there was in fact a spot on the wall. Groggily I arose and went to inspect the spot but it was only a shadow!

It was so weird because then I lay in bed and watched the spot wondering if I saw it in waking and unconsciously incorporated into my dream, or if I dreamed it first and then it just so happened that the shadow took on the shape of the spot in my dream?

June 23

Jeff came to visit today. At first I was so glad that he had made time to come by. Having my brother visit is such a rare thing that I was quite literally giddy. As it turned out, though, he’s about as much of an ass as Dr. Kaplan.

I knew the visit was bad the moment I let him in the apartment and he said, “Jen, you look terrible, are you getting any sleep? And this place smells like a swimming pool!”

I mean, what kind of greeting is that and how am I supposed to respond? Did he really expect me to be all cheerful and happy after he waltzes in here and starts in on me?

Things didn’t get any better from that point on, either. All he did was chide me for being such a recluse and obsessing over how clean everything is. He has no idea what I’m going through.

To be honest, I don’t even know why he came by. He claims that he was worried about me after he and Angela hadn’t heard from me in so long. He acts like it was my doing but it was he who put an end to Angela’s and my relationship. Does he really think I don’t remember that? And do you show your concern for someone by barging in their home and berating them about their lifestyle?

I was so furious by the time he left that all I wanted to do was work out. I figured a good sweat would burn off some of my anger. I went up to my room to change into my workout gear and noticed something strange. The place on the wall where the spot was in my dream was really discolored. At first, I thought it was a trick of the light, but as I got closer, I saw that it was true. There is something odd about that patch of wall.

I never did my workout. I wound up venting my anger into cleaning the wall.

June 24

Awoke again last night hearing that tune in my head. While I hate the song, I find myself humming it as I clean. I tried to go back to sleep but it was useless so I just watched the wall. As I watched I noticed that the shadow seemed to move. It wasn’t anything startling or even very specific. It was more like breathing. A pulsing to the rhythm of the tune playing in my head and my own breathing.

Now that I’m fully awake I know that it was the tune playing in my head that caused my own breathing to match it and that the shadow only appeared to be pulsing to the rhythm of my own breathing – just an optical illusion, right? But at the time I was certain that it was the shadow leading the whole thing.

I’ve become obsessed with the shadow on the wall and I actually caught myself just staring at it as I was sitting on my bed putting my shoes on.

June 27

I spent the last several days researching memory lapses and became quite overwhelmed with all of the information. I’m sure that the incident with the homeless guitarist wasn’t real. I believe I had an episode of dissociative amnesia brought on by the stress of my doctor’s visit.

I also believe that the hallucination with the man in the alley was of a dreamlike nature – a waking hallucination dredged up from my subconscious. The part that really has me perplexed is the tune he was playing. Did my mind concoct that too? Is the repeated playing of it in my head because I created it, or did I hear it somewhere else?

There’s now another shadowy spot that commands my attention. I can’t say if it’s a completely different spot or if it’s connected to the other spot on the opposite corner of the wall. I spend what seems like hours in my room cleaning the walls or just sitting on my bed humming that melancholy melody.

June 28

Angela called last night to see how I was doing. I told her about Jeff’s visit and how irritated it made me. She claimed to have no idea but I’m not so sure.

She seemed to be pleasant but now I distrust her and Jeff. I tried to be nice back to her but wound up making an excuse to get off the phone. I’m just so confused these days. I miss the times when we were close and could talk.

I had all of these conflicting emotions about the whole thing so I went to clean the wall and became so engrossed in the scrubbing and humming that I began to hear a chant. It had to be a figment of my imagination but it seemed so real.

The lyrics to the weird song were frightening to me too. But now I’m beginning to see Jeff and Angela for what they really are.

July 2

I now spend the majority of my day caressing the walls – they are so clean that the shadows roam freely over them. I just sit and hum, and sing, and listen to the things they say.

The wisdom in their whispers is earth shattering. I see so many things that I never saw before. I’m beginning to realize that this illness wasn’t something that originated in me, but was planted in me by the ones out there.

July 8

I can only paraphrase their messages to me. I now see that one must sometimes pass through the fire to emerge on the other side as a new creature. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes after being burned alive. Like a butterfly awakening from a cocoon after a long period of transformation.

I see now that my life encased in this place, encased in my neurosis, my disease, my isolation, was all meant to be a cathartic process. Now, thanks to the shadows engulfing me, I have been purged. Leached of my sickness and given a clear path out of here.

They showed me worlds that shimmer and places of abundant peace where my new form will roam free. Free to wander those other lands only hinted at in their dim, ghostly visions. I know now that my flight above the guitarist was but a prelude to a journey I’m now ready to take.

Across the vast gulf of space and time there are worlds waiting to be seen. But before I can mount up with wings, I must set right the wrongs leveled on me by Dr. Kaplan, Angela, and Jeff. My preparation for tonight’s dinner has been meticulous but I must not falter. I must face this last obstacle with resolution and a steel will. My new friends have counseled me and taught me and opened my eyes to so much new knowledge that I sometimes feel an amazing sense of awe at the things the shadows say.

“All is not lost, the unconquerable will, and study of revenge, immortal hate, and the courage never to submit or yield.” — John Milton, Paradise Lost

___________________________________________

The ship was already in dire straits by the time it floundered off the coast. Most of the crew had perished and the ship had taken a heavy pounding by the storms that seemed to follow one after another for months. There were only a handful of men left and these were quickly slaughtered in the surf by the savages that hid along the coast.

Only Cristobol survived the ordeal, and this was purely by luck. He had been left for dead among the other men by the natives and had swooned in and out of consciousness for three days. Finally, another rainstorm passed, and he was able to quench his thirst from lying on his back, his mouth open in a rictus of agony from the arrow wound in his side.

There were days when he thought the wound too infected to heal properly. He managed to satiate his hunger on the crabs and clams that frequented the tidal pools.

At one point, after his strength returned and his wound was nearly healed, he was able to make it to the careening wreck of the ship by floating upon a log. He managed to retrieve what little remaining supplies were not ruined and return to the beach.

Fortune smiled upon him again as the days passed and the savages failed to return to the beach, for if they had, he would have surely perished. But the day came when he felt strong enough to leave his lonely beach and explore inland.

Cristobol traveled through the wilderness for many weeks regaining his vigor and learning the land. He soon discovered a primitive tribe called the Nikaras inhabiting an expanse of open plains. The explorer possessed technological advantages over the tribe’s people such that his steel sword, firearm, armor, strange clothes, and flint made him seem a supernatural being to the people.

The tribal structure was presided over by a council of elders and warriors among whom was a man named Jaqard. He was the prominent member of the council even though there was no one leader among them. Jaqard was keen, perceptive, and always kept justice foremost in his mind.

Cristobol was also an intelligent man and very resourceful. He immediately sought to use the primitives’ awe to elevate his station in life. Cristobol made use of his technological tools to strike fear into the hearts of the natives and they soon began to glorify him as a god. So Cristobol played the part of God, making himself the new god-king of the Nikaras. He bade them to erect a great structure on which he sat atop it on a great stone throne. He bade them to hunt the beasts of the plains and feed him and to offer a portion as sacrifice to him in return for his favor. He bade them to offer jewels and gold in exchange for prosperity. He bade them to prostrate themselves before him in supplication. He bade them to sing his name in prayer and chants. He taught them that the blessings of their lives were due to his pleasure and that the sufferings of their lives were due to his displeasure. And only Jaqard among all the Nikaras questioned the authority of Cristobol.

During a great ritual of feasting, chanting, and prayers presided over by Cristobol atop his great stone throne, Jaqard confronted Cristobol. He stood at the base of the great stone stairs leading up to Cristobol’s throne and challenged Cristobol’s miraculous powers. The Nikaras were shocked and stricken with fear at Jaqard’s audacity and blasphemy. Many whispered that Jaqard was brash and merely wanted to become what Cristobol was – a god-king. But Cristobol would have none of this insolence. He stood up and bellowed his displeasure. Then he raised his musket rifle into the air and fired. The thundering crack struck fear in the Nikaras so that they prostrated themselves on the ground trembling in prayer. Not Jaqard, though. He held his defiant stance with fists clenched, jaw set, and eyes locked on Cristobol’s. Cristobol descended the stairs in great strides and leveled his musket pistol at Jaqard, firing another deafening shot.

The ball struck Jaqard in shoulder sending him reeling in pain. A great gasp erupted from the tribe and Jaqard was forced to flee across the plain and into the woods while behind him loud paeans of exultation for the mighty power of Cristobol were sung.

Jaqard was wounded and banished, but he survived alone in the wilderness.

One day Cristobol learned from his subjects that there was another tribe in the woods beyond the plains called the Hiknaar. These people were primitives like the Nikaras except, rather than hunting the beasts of the plain, they harvested fruits and vegetables from their great gardens and orchards in the wilderness. Cristobol was intrigued and decided he needed to extend his influence over these people as well.

So Cristobol appeared before the Hiknaar much as he did with the Nikaras and awed them with his technological powers. The Hiknaar soon fell under his influence and were commanded to worship Cristobol as their god-king. Cristobol required of them the bounty of their orchards and were commanded to give as offering much of the harvest of their fruits and vegetables. He told them that to break this commandment would be to cast great disfavor upon them and they would be evil forever in his eyes and punished by torture for the remainder of their lives. But Cristobol took great interest in the behavior of the Hiknaar. They were a curious tribe to him. And while he maintained his great stone throne on the plain amongst the Nikaras, he spent many days visiting and observing the Hiknaar.

It wasn’t long before Jaqard, now recovered from his wound, discovered Cristobol’s plans to ensnare yet another tribe under his control. So Jaqard decided to subvert Cristobol’s attempts. Jaqard visited the Hiknaar while Cristobol was not around and convinced them that Cristobol was a charlatan and merely a man like them. His words rung true with many of the Hiknaar and they began to doubt the authority of Cristobol.

Cristobol visited the Hiknaar and found them gorging on the fruit he had proclaimed to be his by divine right. Cristobol’s anger was stoked by their blasphemous acts, and he raged at them with fire and muskets. The Hiknaar were stunned with fear and the Nikaras were commanded to take the Hiknaar captive. Cristobol held true to his word and the torturing of the Hiknaar tribe began immediately. They were called wicked and condemned to pain and suffering.

Many confessed in their pain that it was Jaqard who had come to them and planted his words of discord in their minds. And so it was that many renounced Jaqard and renewed their worshipful allegiance to Cristobol. Cristobol saw fit to release these Hiknaar from their suffering. But many had seen through the façade of Cristobol’s charade, and they endured a lifetime of torture until the end of their days.

The End