Skip navigation

Tag Archives: writing

It is said that fear feeds on itself.  I don’t doubt this to be true, but being equipped with such wisdom doesn’t diminish in the least any amount of fear once it has begun to feed.  Even though the rational part of the mind understands the unwarranted reason for such trifling feelings of uneasiness, it is the subconscious portion that whispers that such justifications are mere Potemkin villages erected by the mind in an effort to preserve all sanity.

You will think me mad, no doubt, to hear me confess that the doll was alive.  That is your right, but I advise such rash criticisms to be checked before hearing my testimony.  For no man is above such horrors when they grow so imperceptibly slow.  Yes, I would advise my story to be a warning of such slow gnawings of fear that eventually escalates into irrational outbursts of horror.

Not only did I suspect the doll to have a life of its own, but I also knew it plotted against me.  It was all very mental, you see.  Whether it was an evil force working through the guise of a doll or my own convoluted paranoia, the effect was still the same; and, of these two choices, I cannot honestly say which is more horrifying if proven to be the truth.

The first time I toured my elderly aunt’s house the doll had no effect on me at all.  I didn’t even notice the damn thing, to be honest.  My dear aunt was ill, you see, and I made arrangements to assist her in her convalescence.  The poor dear couldn’t manage by herself.

It was my first time to behold her exquisite manor.  I never had the opportunity to visit her on any happier occasion.  My aunt showed me around, but even this wore her out to the extreme.  I helped her return to her chambers and she drifted to sleep almost immediately.  So, I quietly closed her door and went downstairs to unpack and rest.

On the tour of the house she showed me to the spare bedroom, which I would be occupying during my stay.  The room had once belonged to my cousin, and my aunt had preserved it for all these years.  It appeared just as it had when Clara was a child.  The doll sat on a small child’s chair in the corner of the room closest to the foot of the bed.  It was a porcelain doll with brown hair in pigtails, tied with blue bows.  The bows matched the dress, which was frilly and lace adorned.  It wore white stockings and shiny black shoes.  It was about two-foot tall and sat on the chair slumped down to one side with its big glass eyes staring straight at the bed.  The effect wouldn’t have been so unsettling if it weren’t for the sinister, little smile upon its rosy-cheeked face.  It was truly an evil expression.

I didn’t notice it until I had been busy unpacking my suitcase for many minutes – hanging my clothes in the closet and placing them in the bureau.  It was then that, all of the sudden, I had the strangest feeling that I was being watched.  I instinctively turned to the door but there was no one there.  Then my eyes came to rest upon the doll.  I regarded it with little more than a cursory glance and resumed my unpacking.  I next went around the bed and retrieved my alarm clock and a couple of books in order to place them on the nightstand.  Again I chanced a look at the doll.  I placed no importance or second thought into these glances, but each time I moved to a different part of the room I stole a glance at the doll.  Its eyes followed me wherever I happened to be in the room.  It was really not such a fantastic thing.  Portraits are notorious for this quality if the artist captures the angle right.  And they are mere two-dimensional objects.  A fully three-dimensional doll should, theoretically, possess this quality in even greater range.  But it still gave me the creepiest feeling that I was being watched.

The remainder of the evening was spent with dear Aunt Sophie.  She awoke after her nap and came downstairs whereupon I prepared dinner for the two of us.  After dinner we adjourned to the living room to talk and catch up on family affairs.  The night was chilly so I stoked a healthy fire so that Aunt Sophie would be comfortable while we reminisced about my childhood escapades.  It was about this time that Aunt Sophie began talking about Clara’s death.  Poor Aunt Sophie broke down in tears talking about how much she still missed Clara, even after all these many years.  Clara and I were close in age until Clara passed away at the tender age of eleven.

I let her sorrow run its course while offering an occasional consoling word or phrase, but the cheeriness of our reunion was thoroughly quelled by the gloominess of the atmosphere that hung in the house after evoking the memory of Clara.

The subject changed to other things in an effort to lift the sadness but it wasn’t long lived.  I helped Aunt Sophie to her chambers once again.  She smiled at me and thanked me for taking time out of my busy schedule to help her through her lingering illness.  I assured her that it was the least I could do to assist my favorite aunt and then we said goodnight.  I returned to the living room and sat reading for a short time, waiting for the fire to burn low.  I was tired from my travels so I decided to retire to the bed and resume my reading.

I washed, donned my nightclothes, retrieved my book, and crawled into bed.  And there sat the doll – glaring at me.  I attempted to read but my concentration was destroyed.  I barely got through a paragraph before I was compelled to peer over the top of my book right into the face of that little fiendish expression.  I was being irrational, I told myself.  It was just a doll for God’s sake.  Just a child’s doll!  But its eyes tore right into me.  Its eyes would not stop imploring something of me.  Accusing me of something I could not name or know.  I became irritated and closed my book with a snap, extinguished the light, and rolled over to go to sleep.

Sleep didn’t come, as it should to a person who has been traveling all day.  I refused to look at the doll.  But I knew it was there.  It was still there watching me.  Knowing that I only pretended to sleep.  Knowing that I only pretended it didn’t bother me; but it knew all right.  It knew because it witnessed my annoyance.  It had the satisfaction of seeing my display of annoyance by slamming my book closed.

I awoke three times that night.  Each time I tried to resist looking at the doll but it was futile.  I couldn’t fight it and I looked to see the eyes staring right at me – the face smirking at my misery.  I wanted more than anything to just get up and reposition the doll where its face was turned away from me; but I kept telling myself that a grown man of sound mind wouldn’t bother with such inane actions.  Those were the acts of a child or a superstitious fool, not a grown man of mental soundness such as myself.  But, somehow, I endured the night.  When I awoke the next morning I expected the sunlight to have a calming effect.  The morning light is notorious for converting strange night thoughts into laughable embarrassments.  This wasn’t the case, however.  The doll’s expression was still there in the corner gazing at me in accusation.  So, I busied myself with changing clothes and grooming and such, trying my best to ignore the doll.  It was a useless attempt.

Finally, I couldn’t take any more of the eyes upon me and decided to reposition the doll.  Once I decided this course of action I immediately felt in control of the situation.  I promptly marched over to the chair and reached down to grasp the doll, but my hands stopped short.  I felt repulsion at the thought of touching it, like a person might feel at touching a maggot-ridden corpse of an animal.  I didn’t stop to analyze why this might be so. Instead, I reached down and grabbed the leg of the chair and turned the entire chair, doll and all.  The doll, which was already leaning over, fell from the chair and I instinctively reached out and caught it by the arm.  I was so repulsed by its touch that I quickly flung it back onto the chair.  So quick and sporadic were my actions that its arm nearly ripped completely off.  I felt ashamed of how ridiculous I was acting.  It was just a stupid doll!

At breakfast I decided to tell Aunt Sophie about the doll’s arm.  Of course I didn’t tell her how it really happened.  She would have thought me a lunatic.  I told her I accidentally bumped the chair on passing and tried to catch the doll.  She immediately got up and rushed into Clara’s room to see the doll.  I followed, a bit confused at her overreaction.

She picked the doll up and cradled it like an infant while investigating the damage.  I found this to be so repulsive that I had to restrain myself from slapping the nasty little thing out of her arms.  The doll knew I felt this way.  It stared at me the whole time with its smug little grin.  I knew that it was already plotting its revenge.

Then my aunt revealed to me the reason why the doll had caused her to react in such haste.  The doll was very dear to Clara’s heart and it was her closest companion all the way up till the moment of her death, which was in the very bed where I had slept last night.  I was completely unaware of the fact that Clara died in her bed.  I just assumed she passed away while in the hospital.  This knowledge laid upon me a new uneasiness, which only served to compound the sinister atmosphere of the doll.  Aunt Sophie said that Clara had named the doll Tiffy, which was a children’s pronunciation of Tiffany.  And now, suddenly, the object of my derision had a name – Tiffy.

Aunt Sophie took the doll away to her sewing room and commented that she would have to repair the damage later.  She assured me there was no harm done since the rip had occurred along the seam and could be mended without any indication that it had ever occurred.  I apologized and conveyed my relief that no permanent damage was done.  Of course these were bald-faced lies and I merely acted like I was concerned for Tiffy’s well-being when, in reality, I was rather sorry I hadn’t done worse.

I was, nevertheless, glad of the fact that the doll was removed from Clara’s room.  As long as the doll wasn’t around, my rest would be much better.

That evening after dinner Aunt Sophie and I once again adjourned to the living room before the fire.  I was enjoying an after dinner drink as we talked.  Then Aunt Sophie remembered the doll and retrieved it from her sewing room along with a needle and thread.  When she entered the room and I saw what she intended to do, my spirits plummeted.  The evening I thought would be relaxing and free of the presence of the doll, now turned out to be doubly stressful.  For, I not only had to endure its presence in Clara’s room, but also its presence in the living room as well.

As she worked on mending the arm of the beast it stared at me relentlessly.  Aunt Sophie talked as she concentrated on her sewing and was oblivious to my anger.  Conversation was strained because I was so furious.  I longed to snatch the doll from her hands and hurl it into the fire.  Its stare was so reprehensible.  As the needle went in and out of its arm it just looked at me and smiled as if to point out the fact that it was impervious to physical pain.  No, I knew what it meant even though there were no words.  That was the point see?  Its power was mental in nature.  It projected its grotesque and evil aura through the eyes straight into the mind.  And though you might think that the little beast was but an inanimate object and my hatred was misplaced, I tell you, there was most assuredly life there.  It may not have possessed life like you or I possess but there was a life present, an unnamable and unwholesome life that resided behind that atrocious smile and those accusing eyes.

I just prayed that Aunt Sophie wouldn’t finish the job.  But my hopes were soon dashed as Aunt Sophie announced her completion of the job, even going so far as to rise and offer the doll for my inspection.  I attempted a smile and commented on her handiwork but made no move to touch the creature.  The doll obviously thought this was befitting because it mocked me with its nasty little smile of triumph.  Then, to my horror, Aunt Sophie proceeded to take the thing back into Clara’s room and deposit it right back upon the chair.

I prolonged the inevitable all that I could, but I eventually resolved to go to bed.  Aunt Sophie had dismissed herself some hours prior and I passed the time reading.  I dreaded the thought of being in the same room with the doll again.  No matter how much I tried to convince myself of the absurdity of such fears, it still gnawed at my brain.  Finally, I decided to exert my true courage and go in the room without looking at the doll and go straight to bed.  And this is what I did.

I couldn’t go to sleep though.  I lay there knowing her big, glassy eyes were locked on me.  What manner of vile being could she be, I wondered?  A child’s toy! Oh No!  There was something much too sinister in it to be a mere child’s plaything.  She wanted something of me and that was certain, but what?  Why was she conducting the undoing of my sanity?  It couldn’t be the rending of her arm.  That came after it all began.  But I swear that as I flung her into the chair, she grabbed back!  I felt it and there is nothing that can remove that certainty from my head.

I could take no more.  My thoughts were swarming in intensity.  I couldn’t resist!  Knowing that her eyes were piercing me like knives!  I peeked out from beneath the covers and the sight was so horrible that I sat bolt upright in bed!  The horrid little beast had moved!  By God it had moved!  I sat staring at it, my breathing fast and hard, and my heart thumping so fast I thought I would pass out.

It occurred to me then that the doll hadn’t actually moved, but that Aunt Sophie had replaced it in a different position more erect in its sitting posture upon the chair.  I wiped my brow and tried to gain control of myself.  What a fool I had become.  I took a long, deep breath and regarded the doll.  “Tiffy.”  I said the name out loud, almost spitting the name from my mouth in disgust.

It may not have actually moved but its expression had changed.  I tried to convince myself that it was just because the doll was sitting more upright than before, but this, of course, was not true.  Its mouth was more twisted than the angle could account for.  For whatever reason why it plotted against my sanity, it was getting angrier the longer it took to accomplish my undoing.

I tried one more time to ignore the thing and go to sleep but it was useless.  I couldn’t bear the test of wills any longer and rose from the bed with a rush, growled at the little monster, and went into the living room to sleep on the couch.  I immediately fell into the most relaxing and comfortable sleep.

Then I was being awakened!  The doll’s hands were upon me and its eyes were no farther away than a foot!  I was had!  The beast had me!  I moaned in distress and came to my senses.  And there, replacing the doll’s devilish face, was Aunt Sophie.  She had risen in the middle of the night to find me asleep on the couch.  Thinking I had dozed off unintentionally, she awoke me and told me to go to Clara’s room and get into bed.  I couldn’t tell her the truth so I played along with her assumption and went to the room.

I was so tired that all I wanted to do was return to the world of sleep from which Aunt Sophie had snatched me from to deposit me once again in this tormented hell.  I could hear Aunt Sophie go in the kitchen to get something to drink.  I crawled under the covers and turned to my nemesis.  She mocked me like never before and I became furious.

“What – do – you – want – from – me?”  I said each word forcefully but quietly.  I thought to myself that eventually I would grow so tired that not even the doll could keep me from sleep.  But sleep did not come.  Only thoughts of those eyes ripping into my mind!  I prayed for sleep.  Even the sleep of death would be better than this agonizing torture upon my senses.

Thoughts of death made me think of Clara and her deathbed.  That is when it hit me – the realization of the doll’s motive.   Aunt Sophie said that Tiffy was Clara’s companion until the last moment of her life.  Obviously she saw me as an intruder on her mistress’ property.  The connection to the deathbed was such a strong psychical bond that an interloper would only breed ill will.  But my anger only grew.  Even with this realization I continued to stew in my hatred.

Exhaustion, fear, anger, and repulsion all mixed together in a maddening blend of psychotic rage that erupted from me uncontrollably.  The smirk on the damned thing had changed again and the eyes finally succeeded in affecting my mental breakdown!  I rose from the bed with a scream and threw the covers off.  I grabbed the little demon up and began shaking it back and forth as I screamed, “Stop staring at me you damn little beast!  Stop staring at me!”  I shook and cursed and ranted as all of the pent up rage boiled out of me.  I couldn’t shake it hard enough I tell you!  I continued cursing and screaming until finally I caused Aunt Sophie to come running.  And just as she arrived in the doorway I took the doll by the feet and swung it round.  As I screamed, “Go be with your precious Clara!” I dashed the doll to the floor and raised my foot to stomp in its hideous, porcelain head.  But before I could deliver the fatal blow I noticed Aunt Sophie staring in horror at the scene before her.  Before I could do anything further she fainted to the floor, crumpling in a heap.

I regained my senses and rushed to her side.  The poor dear must have thought me a lunatic!  For that is exactly what I had become!  My condition was only a temporary malady, but how was she to know this?  She didn’t know the tortures I had endured from the demonic little imp.

I picked her up and placed her on the bed.  I checked for breathing signs.  Although faint, she was, thankfully, still alive.  The strain had been too much for her feeble condition.  My outburst must have appeared like shear madness to her!  But it wasn’t really me who caused this, no!  It was the doll!  The damn doll!

“It was the doll!” I cried.  I turned to finish the deed I had started, but I froze at what I beheld.  Tiffy’s eyes no longer watched me!  The eyes were now looking at the swooning form on Clara’s bed.  The eyes now looked at Aunt Sophie.

Dr. Middleton and Dr. Harris strategized a plan of how they were going to handle the patient Lucius Rivera as they strode the sanitized, white hallways of Rathbone Asylum.

“His nephew said that he was a very accomplished musician in his youth,” Dr. Middleton said.

“I have no doubt that at one time he was,” replied Dr. Harris.

“He even studied classical guitar under the Cuban Maestro Rubio Colon.”

“I’m sorry; I’m not familiar with him.”

“Well, anyway,” Dr. Middleton continued, “after nearly fifteen years of seemingly no interest in playing, Lucius suddenly began to hum snatches of music and to ‘play guitar’ on whatever surfaces were available to him – mostly just his own body or the air.”

“Hmmm, interesting.”

“Yes, we thought so. You can see that we thought it would be healthy for him to have a go at playing guitar again after learning from his nephew that he used to be a virtuoso.”

“Really? He was considered that good?” Dr. Harris said with some skepticism.

“Well, that’s what his nephew claimed anyway. We gave him the green light to bring Lucius’ instrument to the asylum so that Lucius might be reacquainted with the guitar.”

“From the sounds of it, the two still hate each other.”

Dr. Middleton chuckled.

Ever since John Graham, Lucius’ nephew, had brought the guitar, Lucius had been playing the most grating, discordant music ever heard. Not only was the music insufferable, but it had actually caused the staff, and especially the other patients, to become more agitated and cross.

Almost immediately one of the patients had broken down in tears while another began to rage and curse and strike at anyone who came near. The nurses and orderlies were at their wits end trying to placate the patients while the ward deteriorated into chaos and dysfunction.

One of the nurses had gone to Lucius and attempted to confiscate the instrument but Lucius retaliated by screaming at her and threatening to boil her alive as he obsessively hugged his guitar.

The next step in the protocol of the ward was to isolate the patient and notify the senior Psychiatrists on duty. Dr. Harris was the most senior staff member and Dr. Middleton was the treating physician on Lucius Rivera’ case.

The two doctors continued to discuss Rivera until they arrived at the door to his room. Dr. Middleton knocked.

***

Lucius Rivera sat in his sterile, soft cell mulling over the Baron’s revelations. For so many years Lucius had struggled to understand his plight, knowing that things were askew. It wasn’t until Baron Shadowmancer arrived that he had begun to learn the true nature of so many things.

The first major revealing was the nature of the stone pillow. That was difficult to figure out. But after Lucius had determined that the smooth stone in the yard was to become his seer’s pillow, then the rest flowed quite quickly. Lucius had managed to elude the baleful eyes and sneak the stone into his pillowcase. Almost immediately, his nightly visions had started in a glorious procession toward epiphany.

The first evening that he noticed the Baron’s arrival would be forever etched in Lucius’ mind. It was terrifying to behold. The Barron didn’t arrive alone – apparently couldn’t manifest alone. He had to come in the company of the Wild Witch. For you needed light to create the proper shadow. You needed the proper shadow to manipulate the gateway. At first, Lucius was confounded by the light, not realizing that the real power resided in the shadows behind him.

So, night after night, Lucius had lain in his bed as the yellow light summoned the Wild Witch and captured his awe. Mesmerized by her glory, he sat in fear and watched her cavorting in the light, not realizing that behind him the shadows danced too.

It was on the fifth night – for the Baron dealt in fives – that Lucius sat watching the play of light and heard a soft whisper from behind. Turning his head slowly and in growing terror, he saw the Baron towering in the corner’s shadows. Tears began to stream down his face as he realized the immensity of his power.

***

Under his old, murky delusions, Lucius had suspected that his demonic captors disguised themselves behind masks. The Baron had dispelled this notion by showing Lucius that there was but one mask that needed to be removed – it was the mask that shrouded Lucius’ vision. Once Lucius had knowledge of where to grasp the edges of that mask, he need only peel away the proper amount to behold the world as it really existed.

Lucius had not the wherewithal to remove it all at once; the world was just too alarming. It required degrees. But he had removed enough to see the two “doctors” entering his room in their true forms.

The two demons strode into the room on their insectoid legs and the one who called himself Dr. Middleton spoke. “Lucius, this is Dr. Harris and we’re here to talk to you about your guitar.”

Lucius smirked, seeing through their ruse. He decided to confront them openly. “Did you know,” he began as he sat up on his bed, “that Benjamin Franklin invented the insane asylum and then invented an instrument that drove people mad just so he could use the instrument to fill the asylums?”

“Lucius, I don’t think that is true.” Dr. Middleton began, but then Dr. Harris jumped in.

“Just a moment, Dr. Middleton, I’d like to hear more about your theory on Franklin, Lucius.”

“Oh, it’s no theory. It’s the truth. Go research it yourself, if you like. Franklin created the first modern hospital. In those days, doctors traveled from house to house in circuits, just as circuit judges did – that’s why they’re called ‘circuit’ judges. The first hospital specifically had a ward for the mentally ill. It was done quite purposefully. And then Franklin unveiled the glass armonica – an instrument that produced insanity by its haunting and ethereal tones. Even Mesmer used is to subdue his victims. Now, why do you suppose a genius like Franklin would create an insane asylum and then create an instrument to produce the very thing he was claiming to want to treat?”

“Oh, come on now – “

But Dr. Harris held a hand up to shush Dr. Middleton.

“Lucius,” Dr. Harris said, “I’ll have to do as you say and research this. But we are here because of the music you are playing on your guitar. Do you realize that the things you are playing are causing everyone distress?”

Lucius ignored Dr. Harris and looked at Dr. Middleton who was standing defiantly with his alien, insect arms crossed over his thorax. “Dr. Middleton, does my music drown the calls of your cicadas?”

“And what is that supposed to mean?”

“Just that I know your true form. You’re not fooling me anymore.”

Dr. Harris spoke again. “Lucius, we don’t want to completely revoke your guitar privileges; we just want to ensure that your playing doesn’t bother the other patients and the staff. Would you be alright with playing an hour three days a week under the right conditions?”

Lucius broke his glare upon Dr. Middleton and turned to look at Dr. Harris. “That’s alright, Dr. ah, Harris, was it?”

“That’s correct.”

“You may take my guitar. I’ve been playing under guise anyway. The world isn’t quite ready for the Baron’s true compositions. When and where shall I polish the rest of the pieces?”

Dr. Middleton spoke up. “Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons in the South Wing’s isolation room. I know you detest that room but it’s the only room where the sound cannot carry throughout the hallways.”

“Fine, fine. It’s only a temporary hindrance anyway.”

“Thank you, Lucius,” Dr. Harris said as he stepped over and took the guitar that was leaning against the wall.

“Yes, thank you Lucius,” Dr. Middleton echoed.

“You’re welcome, Gentlemen.” Lucius spat the last word with sarcasm because he knew they were creatures of the abyss. It was alright, though. The Baron had prepared him for this eventuality well in advance.

As the two doctors were exiting Lucius spoke up. “Oh, and, Dr. Harris, remember to look up the information on Franklin. But I must warn you, Do Not listen to Mozart’s Adagio in C for the Glass Armonica no matter how tempted you may be.”

Dr. Harris smiled and reassured Lucius. “Yes, Lucius, I’ll be sure and do that.”

After the two had gone, Lucius chuckled to himself. He knew that the demon Harris would give into the temptation and have to listen to the Mozart piece.

***

Claire, one of the night-shift nurses, and Bruce, one of the night-shift orderlies, sat at the nurse’s station chatting and drinking coffee.

“So, is it true that Dr. Middleton confiscated Lucius’ guitar?” Bruce asked.

“Yes.”

“Thank God we don’t have to listen to that infernal racket anymore, huh?”

“It’s hard to believe that he used to be an amazing guitarist.”

“What?” Bruce said.

“Yeah, his nephew was telling me that he used to be this incredible classical guitarist who performed all over the place. You know, it doesn’t surprise me. There’s something about him that makes me think there’s something going on with him that we don’t get.”

Bruce snickered at the absurdity of Claire’s statement. “Come on, now. Surely you’re joking. The guy’s as whacked as they come. He plays in the toilet water and talks to the corner, for Chrissake.”

“I know he’s lost his mind. I’m not trying to say he’s lucid, but I do think that there’s some kind of method to his madness that makes sense to him and no one else. For example, the talking to the corner. If you watch him, he only does it after dark when the hall lights come on. The light from the hallway casts a certain shadow in the corner that is kind of human shaped. It’s the shadow that he sits and talks to; no other time will you see him conversing with the corner.”

“That’s just creepy,” Bruce said.

“Yeah. It’s so bizarre. And I’ve watched him while he plays guitar. He’s actually pretty good.”

At this Bruce nearly spit his coffee out. “Now I know you’re messing with me, Claire. There is no way you can call that atrocious twanging, good.”

Claire giggled and continued. “I know it sounds horrible, but if you just watch his fingers, he plays the same patterns over and over quite deftly. The weirdest thing is that he’ll pause to tune the guitar and once he has it tuned, he’ll mess up the tuning in different ways before starting to play again. But then he’ll play the exact same patterns in that out-of-tune manner before doing it all over again.”

“Well, I think you give that kook too much credit. I think he’s just as nutty as the rest of these poor saps around here – maybe even worse.”

Claire smiled and said, “Maybe you’re right”.

“I know I’m right. Well, I gotta go walk my rounds. Thanks for the coffee, Claire.”

“You’re welcome.”

As Bruce moseyed down the hallway, Claire muttered to herself, “I wonder what it would sound like if it were in tune?”

***

Baron Shadowmancer: After the modulation to C minor, the piece also transitions to five-four time. Beginning on C on the fifth string, next go to E flat on the fourth string –

Lucius: Hold on. I can’t keep all this straight unless I have my guitar in hand. It’s too hard to remember all of it in my head.

Baron Shadowmancer: That’s alright, Lucius, you’re doing splendidly. Tomorrow you work on what we’ve covered and we’ll pick up from the C minor modulation after that.

Lucius: How much longer must we endure these arrangements?

Baron Shadowmancer: Not much longer. After you’ve learned this piece, I believe it will be time for you to go.

Lucius: Go? Go where?

Baron Shadowmancer: Out of this place, Lucius. Down south, I should think. Not too far; maybe the Springs or so. The time for your unveiling is very close at hand. But I want you to be ready – I want the Suite to be ready.

Lucius: I don’t know if I can make it out there. After all these years in here, I’m afraid I’d be lost. I’m afraid I’d just be . . . well, afraid.

Baron Shadowmancer: Lucius, my subject, my prodigy, my child. Lucius, you’ll be under my protection and my guidance. You have nothing to fear so long as you are the vehicle of my grand work. The Ne Plus Ultra of my creative output. My Magnum Opus.

Lucius: How will I get out, though? Those beasts are too watchful. Their cunning is too thorough.

Baron Shadowmancer: The one called Claire will help you.

Lucius: Yes, she seems nice. Are you sure she’s one of them. I’ve been so afraid to withdraw the mask and see her true form – afraid I’ll really see her as she is and then I’ll be devastated.

Baron Shadowmancer: That’s probably for the best. You must trust me when I tell you that she is one, but do not look upon her without the mask, Lucius. Even though she is one, she still will serve her purpose – for me; for us.

***

Claire and Lucius walked down the hall of the South Wing to the small, padded isolation room. A chair and Lucius’ guitar sat in the far corner.

Lucius smiled at Claire as he entered the room.

“Alright, Lucius, you have one hour and then I’ll be back to escort you back.”

“Thank you.”

Claire shut the door and then proceeded to go into the adjacent room. This room was dark but Claire didn’t turn the lights on. Instead, she left the door ajar so that light from the hallway could illuminate enough of the room.

In times past this room had been used as an observation room. The shared wall with the padded cell was a one-way mirror. From Lucius’ point of view, it looked like a large mirror, but for Claire, it was a window. She could see Lucius adjust his chair and then almost lovingly pick up the guitar.

The room was equipped with a microphone and speaker so that Claire could have listened to Lucius, but that was unnecessary – she knew he would meticulously tune his guitar only to skew the tuning before playing. Besides, it wasn’t the audio she wanted to record, it was the visual performance.

Claire had already deposited a camcorder on a tripod in the room. She turned it on and ensured the angle and focus were correct, then she pressed the red record button and left.

***

Lucius wasn’t the least bit surprised that Claire had been the one to retrieve him and escort him to his playing session. The Baron had already told him that today was the day of his escape.

His patience and practice had finally paid off and he was ready to spread the performance now.

The Baron had requested that before he help Lucius escape, that Lucius play the entirety of the suite one more time. At the end of today’s session, Claire would help Lucius leave Rathbone Asylum for good.

And so, Lucius poured his heart and soul into his final practice within the walls of the asylum. And his performance was incredible.

After he had finished, he placed the guitar back against the wall and sat waiting for Claire to return.

Shortly, Claire opened the door and smiled at Lucius. “Okay, Lucius, are you ready to head back to your room?”

Lucius merely smiled pleasantly and followed her into the hallway. They took no more than a few steps when Lucius said, “Oh, Claire, one moment, please. I must look upon you for what you are.”

Claire turned confused and Lucius proceeded to peel the mask completely from his face so that he might behold her in her true form.

What Lucius saw was shocking – almost too shocking for him to believe, but the Baron had not lied. Claire was one of the insect things just as the Baron had warned him. He stood transfixed as the human-like covering finished sloughing off into a pile in the floor. Her head reminded Lucius of the head of some great praying mantis. If was triangular with two enormous compound eyes. The antennae wiggled, testing the air and then the strange, sideways mandibles opened and a horrendous screech issued forth like the forest erupting with the sound of a host of cicadas.

Lucius’ hypnotic stare was broken and he realized that now was the time to act. He lurched into the Claire-creature and struck the thing exactly how the Baron had told him. There was a brief struggle where the creature tried to use its insect appendages to fend off the attack, but Lucius persisted through his revulsion until the creature was still. Then Lucius took the swipe key from the body and returned to the isolation room to retrieve his guitar.

After that, it was a relatively easy task to use the key to exit out of the little used and empty South Wing.

Lucius Rivera was now free to introduce the world to the Baron Shadowmancer’s grand Suite Insanity in E minor.

***

“So, what do think?” Claire said. She and her neighbor Mike sat watching the video of Lucius playing guitar in the isolation room. Claire lived in an apartment complex and her neighbor Mike, who lived across the hall, was the first-person Claire had thought of who played guitar. Claire had wired the camcorder up to her television so that Mike could see the playing better.

“Wow! Even though you can’t hear it, you can see how well his playing is,” Mike said as he sat on the edge of Claire’s couch and leaned forward to study the playing of Lucius. “And you say that this guy attacked you and escaped the asylum?”

“Something like that. Attack might be a pretty strong word for it. He tackled me and took my swipe card, then he ran out before anyone could stop him.”

“I’m so confused, Claire. Why were you taping him and then he just ‘tackled’ you and fled? There’s something you’re not telling me.”

“What? You think I helped him escape?”

“No. I didn’t say that. It’s just all so weird.”

“Oh, it’s weird alright. Before he tackled me he literally clawed his own face. I mean diagonally across his entire face he dug all his fingernails in and just gouged long cuts across his face. He told me to stop and that he wanted to see me for what I was; then, I just watched in horror as he did it. The blood just started pouring from the wounds and then I started screaming. That’s when he tackled me and knocked me out.”

“What the hell! He knocked you out? Claire, I thought you said he just tackled you?”

“Would you relax? I’m fine. And I don’t think he was trying to hurt me or single me out. I just happened to be the one who was there when he decided to escape. He was just trying to go, ya know?”

“Do you think he was upset about you recording him?”

“No. He didn’t know I was recording him. At least I don’t think he did. Besides, he didn’t take the camera. He just took his guitar and my card and left.”

They sat in silence for a moment while Mike thought about the scene Claire had described. After a moment Claire said, “So, do you think you can learn what he’s playing?”

“I doubt it. Claire, I just plunk around on the guitar. I can’t even play fingerstyle without a pick, much less execute some of the things that guy is playing with his right hand.”

“Oh,” Claire said, her dejection evident in her tone.

“But I bet there’s someone who could.”

“Really! Who?”

“I don’t know. I mean I know a guy who probably can, though. I work with a guy named Ted who plays in a band. He’s a much better guitarist than I am and I bet he could do it. If not, I bet he knows someone who could.”

***

Lucius Rivera had made it to the Springs. It was a hard couple of weeks following his escape. He had no food, no money, no warm clothes, nothing but the guitar slung across his back. But the Baron had provided. Still, it was hard going and his spirit faltered.

He had crossed paths with other vagrants and homeless folks who had helped him to improve his situation ever so slightly. A ragged coat here. A worn-out pair of shoes there. A scrap of food to stave off the gnawing pains of hunger.

This particular day had been the best so far. He arrived at the mission for the lunchtime doling out of hot soup and bottles of water. It was like a feast to Lucius. Afterwards, Lucius wandered the nearby streets looking for a secluded alley in which to rest. He found a spot off the main path within an alley and sat down. His belly was actually full and he proceeded to unsling the guitar from his back.

Lucius ran his hand over his face feeling the long scabs from where he had finally peeled away the mask for the last time. Naked to the world and to the new reality he now inhabited, Lucius tuned his guitar and prepared to play his first real performance of the suite.

Prolegomenon to a Tragedy

The Baron Shadowmancer

And The Wild Witch Dancer

Infect like ritual

Or a growing cancer

Bonfires sprout elemental architecture

Great towers of licking flames

A phantasmagoric orgy

Of shadows and light

She dazzles the eye

A hypnotic beast of brightness

He subverts the mind

A mesmerizing demon of darkness

Lowdown and dirty is the night

Punctuated by conflagrations

The Witch’s Sabbat

Encircled by the Baron’s Madness

***

“The inspiration in a sense is my entire spiritual upbringing. Once you have a meditative life you start to see that the world is really far different than what it appears to be. What appears to be finite is really couched in the infinite, and the infinite imbues everything in our lives.”

~ Bruce Joel Rubin on the film “Jacob’s Ladder”

***

10 Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. 11 When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. 12 He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 There above it stood the Lord, and he said: ‘I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. 15 I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’ 16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.’ 17 He was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.’ 18 Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. 19 He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz.”

~ Genesis 28: 10-19

***

“Coronation Chair—the Coronation Chair was made for Edward I to enclose the famous Stone of Scone, which he seized in 1296 and brought from Scotland to the Abbey … Legends abound concerning this mysterious object and tradition identifies this stone with the one upon which Jacob rested his head at Bethel”

***

“Once I had a little game
I liked to crawl back in my brain
I think you know the game I mean
I mean the game called ‘Go Insane’

Now you should try this little game
Just close your eyes, forget your name
Forget the world, forget the people
And we’ll erect a different steeple

This little game is fun to do
Just close your eyes, no way to lose
And I’m right there, I’m going too
Release control, we’re breaking through”

~ Jim Morrison, The Doors


***

“According to my thinking, they were the universal, archetypal, psychologically based symbolic themes and motifs of all traditional mythologies; and now from this paper of Dr. Perry I was learning that the same symbolic figures arise spontaneously from the broken-off, tortured state of mind of modern individuals suffering from a complete schizophrenic breakdown: the condition of one who has lost touch with the life and thought of his community and is compulsively fantasizing out of his own completely cut-off base. Very briefly: The usual pattern is, first, of a break away or departure from the local social order and context: next, a long, deep retreat inward and backward, as it were, in time, and inward, deep into the psyche; a chaotic series of encounters there, darkly terrifying experiences . . .”

~ Joseph Campbell

***

Though this were madness, was there yet method in’t?

Madness

Madness and music

The artists of music, whether they be musician, composer, singer, songwriter, poet or performer

There are those among those ranks who skirt the threshold of genius and madness

The Curse of the Ninth

The 27 Club

But none more so than the ones who write their madness into their music

With Death looking over their shoulder

***

“Savage fancy, curiosity and credulity illustrated in nature myths– In these all phenomena are explained by belief in the general animation of everything, combined with belief in metamorphosis–Sun myths, Asian, Australian, African, Melanesian, Indian, Californian, Brazilian, Maori, Samoan–Moon myths, Australian, Muysca, Mexican, Zulu, Macassar, Greenland, Piute, Malay–Thunder myths–Greek and Aryan sun and moon myths–Star myths–Myths, savage and civilised, of animals, accounting for their marks and habits–Examples of custom of claiming blood kinship with lower animals–Myths of various plants and trees–Myths of stones, and of metamorphosis into stones . . .”

And of metamorphosis into stones!

~ Andrew Lang

***

We wear the mask that grins and lies, 

It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,— 

This debt we pay to human guile; 

With torn and bleeding hearts we smile, 

And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be over-wise, 

In counting all our tears and sighs? 

Nay, let them only see us, while 

  We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries 

To thee from tortured souls arise. 

We sing, but oh the clay is vile 

Beneath our feet, and long the mile; 

But let the world dream otherwise, 

  We wear the mask!

~ Paul Laurence Dunbar (afflicted with depression and died of TB at age 33)

***

I fell down from Grace

And my world was shattered shut

All those dreams of crystal youth

Were strewn about like dust

I fell down from Grace

And all hope was abandoned here

Soul turned gray and withered

Yet no one shed a tear

I fell down from Grace

And my mind became my cell

But I did hear someone laughing

On that journey when I fell

I fell down from Grace

About my neck I wore my sin

And so far all eternity

Until the Baron, he walked in

***

“Paganini was considered a genius, a god, a devil worshiper, anything but that of reality. There was a rumor, for instance, that when Niccolo was only six, his mother made a pact with the Devil and is said to have traded his soul for a career as the greatest violinist in the world.

Paganini was a legend. In fact, he was so amazing no audience could succumb to any type of disturbance during the trance he created through his musical renditions. After borrowing a Guarnerius violin for a single concert, the lender begged him to keep it for fear of coming under Paganini’s supernatural powers. He also won a Stradivarius violin in a similar manner by playing a technical piece by sight which was insisted that nobody could perform even after preparation.

Besides his superb technical ability, his cadaverous appearance led to myths of all sorts. He was tall and thin, had a long nose, a pale and long-drawn face with hollow cheeks, thin lips that seemed to curl into a sardonic smile, and piercing eyes like flaming coals. The rumor was spread that he was the son of the Devil. It was difficult to think much otherwise as Paganini dressed in black, played weaving and flailing, with skinny fingers cavorting over the strings, and contorted shoulders giving him the appearance of a giant flapping bat. Paganini’s every movement and every tone emanating from his violin seemed to support the 300-year-old myth that the violin was the “Devil’s consort” and that the violinist himself was the Devil. Some people, when in his presence, would actually make the sign of the cross to rid themselves of what they believed were his evil powers. He was once forced to publish letters from his mother to prove he had human parents.

For five years the Church, disturbed as to his orthodoxy, refused his body interment in consecrated ground, and so it was laid to rest in a village graveyard on his own estate. The people in nearby towns use to say that every night they heard the sounds of a ghostly violin emanating from that coffin. The legend of Paganini’s life lasted until the very end.”

***

Beethoven once contemplated suicide

Berlioz was afflicted by depression

Tchaikovsky was manic-depressive and may have died by suicide

Mahler was a manic-depressive

Rachmaninoff was afflicted with depression and dedicated his Second Piano Concerto to his Psychiatrist

Schumann suffered terribly from depression and once tried to commit suicide by jumping into the Rhine. He died in an insane asylum

***

“He has made himself a new ideal world in which he moves almost as he wills.”

~ Franz Grillparzer (the man who wrote Beethoven’s eulogy) on Robert Schumann

***

“The Berlioz centenary, which occurs this year, is being quite generally celebrated. There has been one Berlioz festival in England, and there are yet to be Berlioz concerts there. There will also be concerts in France, his native land, which did not appreciate him while alive, and in Germany, which discovered him. In Chicago this week Mr. Thomas will conduct a Berlioz program.

At the festival in England the composer’s ‘Symphonie Fantastique’ was played – a composition well known here. To The London Lancet, one of the leading medical surgical journals of the world, it must have been new, as that paper devotes considerable space to the analysis of the story of the composition, and refers to the music as bringing out all the ‘vague aspirations, the longings, the loneliness, and the horrible visions of insanity’. It naively remarks ‘it is not soothing music, but so far as one man can enter into another’s brain and convey his sensations to others Berlioz has certainly made his music a means in so doing. Medical men who have not heard this work should take the first opportunity of repairing this neglect’.

It is not exactly clear what the Lancet means by this, whether it thinks Berlioz was insane when he wrote the composition, or that he was describing the insanity of the musician with ‘the fixed idea’, who is the hero of it, or that the medical gentlemen could have an opportunity of studying the insane persons who go to listen to it.

Whatever it may be, it is gratifying to learn from this expert authority that insanity has to do with it in some form. There has never seemed to be any other satisfactory way of explaining this medley of opium dreams, funeral marches, witches’ Sabbaths, orgies, the dies irae, ‘Idea fixe’, and pandemonium of noise. As the Chicago orchestra will play this composition this week the doctors should follow the Lancet’s suggestion and be on hand for a diagnosis. If it shall turn out to be the work of insanity it may be of value as a curative agent in the lunatic asylums, upon the homeopathic theory of like cures like.”

~ Chicago Tribune, December 6th, 1903

***

Step by step, alone I crept

Step by step by lonely step

And then I felt a brushing touch

A gentle voice that whispered much

About which note and tone of choice

About the timbre and the voice

About the inflection of the string

And how to make the guitar sing

Step by step, together we crept

Step by step by maddening step

***

“The glass armonica’s ghostly notes will cause insanity in its musicians and listeners! At least this is what was thought to be true in the 18th century. People were frightened by the armonica’s sound due to it’s strange interactions with the human brain and ears. Benjamin Franklin invented the glass armonica in 1761 after being profoundly moved by the sounds of the glass harp.

The glass armonica’s sound is perceived by human ears differently than other instruments because its range is between 1,000 and 4,000 hertz, the human brain compares ‘phase differences’ between the left and right ears to triangulate the origin of the sound rather than comparing volumes. This causes hearing disorientation and a ‘not quite sure’ feeling about where the sound is coming from.”

***

“Mesmer treated patients both individually and in groups. With individuals he would sit in front of his patient with his knees touching the patient’s knees, pressing the patient’s thumbs in his hands, looking fixedly into the patient’s eyes. Mesmer made ‘passes’, moving his hands from patients’ shoulders down along their arms. He then pressed his fingers on the patient’s hypochondrium region (the area below the diaphragm), sometimes holding his hands there for hours. Many patients felt peculiar sensations or had convulsions that were regarded as crises and supposed to bring about the cure. Mesmer would often conclude his treatments by playing some music on a glass armonica.”

***

“Mr. Mesmer then seated him near the armonica; he had hardly begun to play when my friend was affected emotionally, trembled, lost his breath, changed color, and felt pulled toward the floor.”

***

“There were accounts of the instrument being banned by physicians who cited possible ill effects including prolonged shaking of the nerves, tremors in the muscles, fainting, cramps, swelling, paralysis of the limbs’ and seeing ghosts.”

***

Fifteen years in this asylum

I cry and cry

I laugh and laugh

Mostly at the exact same things

There’s no distinction between these scenes

Just my particular state of mind

***

“Pennsylvania Hospital was founded in 1751 by Dr. Thomas Bond and Benjamin Franklin ‘to care for the sick-poor and insane who were wandering the streets of Philadelphia.’”

***

“A similar expansion took place in the British American colonies. The Pennsylvania Hospital was founded in 1751 as a result of work begun in 1709 by the Religious Society of Friends. A portion of this hospital was set apart for the mentally ill, and the first patients were admitted in 1752. Virginia is recognized as the first state to establish an institution for the mentally ill.”

***

I want to be a little bird

And fly out of my mind

I want to sing a song of hope

A tune for all mankind

Mostly, I want to be free

The entire nightmare culminated on an unusually cool night in August.  That was the night the scarecrow got his revenge on Uncle Nash.  I didn’t understand what was going on until after that night.  You see, I thought the scarecrow was after me.  Aunt Leda caught me one day after Uncle Nash’s death standing in the burnt spot where the scarecrow used to stand just gazing at the house.  It freaked her out pretty bad because she knew my preoccupation with the scarecrow. She didn’t believe that it was the scarecrow that killed Uncle Nash and thought I was crazy for talking about such things.  I guess she thought that I was really crazy standing there after the scarecrow was gone.  I can’t blame her, but I wasn’t crazy.  I was just on the verge of figuring the whole thing out.  All I was doing was trying to see the house from the scarecrow’s vantage in order to determine whether or not he could see inside the house.  When I realized that he couldn’t see inside the house that’s when I knew that he hadn’t been after me.  I was scared for my life and didn’t even think that it was Uncle Nash he was after all along.

I guess I should start from the beginning in order to give you the whole story.  You probably agree with Aunt Leda and think I’m talking a bunch of nonsense.  The first thing I need to tell you is how I came to live with my aunt and uncle way out here in the middle of Indiana.  My mother died when I was just a little baby so I never even knew her.  She got real sick when I was about to turn a year old and the illness killed her.  My dad tried to raise me the best he could but he had a hard time.  He traveled a lot with his job and was always leaving me with this or that person.  I didn’t have a very stable parental figure in my life those first several years.  Finally, my mom’s oldest sister Leda offered to take me in.  Dad used to come by and visit pretty regular but as the years went by I saw less and less of him.  Sometimes it makes me mad but he and I never really saw eye to eye on much anyway.

I remember the day Uncle Nash built the scarecrow.  I watched in fascination as he fabricated the creature right in front of my very eyes.  I helped where I could but he did most of the work.  He started with an old pair of coveralls and an old flannel shirt.  We stuffed the hay and patted, bent, and kneaded the straw until the body was the shape he wanted.  Then he took a ratty pair of boots and attached the feet.  Next he gave his creation hands in the form of old gardening gloves.  He took an old burlap bag and made the head.  The first thing he did was cut out two eyeholes, then he drew on the nose and mouth, and finally, he stuffed more hay into the bag.  The first time I beheld the face I thought it looked odd.  Not odd in a scary way because the expression looked like a happy expression.  It was weird in a lot of ways.  It didn’t look real, yet it didn’t look fake, either – almost like it was both alive and dead at the same time.  I can’t really describe it any other way.  But it did look happy at first.

Uncle Nash attached the scarecrow to a cross with its arms outstretched and then we hauled it out of the barn and stood it up in the spot I told you about earlier.  My bedroom was on the first floor of the house and I could look right out of my bedroom window at the scarecrow.  It was about 50 or 60 yards across the lawn and just inside the cornfield but that was plenty close enough for me to see it staring in my window.  At least I thought it could see in my window.

Uncle Nash and I stood back from the newly erected scarecrow and admired his creation.  “Billy, it needs one more thing to make it complete,” he said to me after a moment.

“What’s that, Uncle Nash?”

“A hat.  Run to the barn and fetch me that old straw hat hanging by Trixie’s stall,” he instructed.  Trixie was one of our milk cows.  I hurried off and returned with the straw hat in a matter of seconds and he hoisted me up so that I could place the hat on its head.  While I was up there my face was just a few inches from the scarecrow’s face and that’s when I saw something strange in the scarecrow’s eyes.  Something I can only describe as sadness.  When Uncle Nash lowered me down and I was able to behold the final product I noticed the entire expression had changed.  It no longer looked like the smiling, happy face in the barn.  Now it had drooped a bit and taken on a horrible look of anger.  It made me feel very uncomfortable.

I had drapes on my window, thank God.  I never used to close them until after Uncle Nash put the scarecrow up.  The first few nights weren’t too bad and I didn’t really even pay much attention to the scarecrow.  There were a couple of times that I happened to look out the window and see him there at the edge of the corn.  I didn’t look long because I felt my skin crawl.  It was like he was staring at me.

It was probably on the fourth or fifth night that I looked out the window and thought I saw him move.  At least, that was my first impression; and you know what they say about first impressions.  But, then I just told myself it was the wind that did it.  Well, the next night I couldn’t resist watching him again.  I hid behind the drapes and peeked out because I felt for sure he wouldn’t move if he knew I was watching him.  It wasn’t long before I saw him moving his arms; and there was no mistaking that it wasn’t the wind because the corn was as still as a rock.  Boy, did I ever have a tough time trying to go to sleep that night.

It was the next day that we found the first dead crow.  I was following Uncle Nash and he happened to walk right near the scarecrow.  I didn’t like walking that close to the thing but as long as Uncle Nash was with me I did it.  He would’ve thought me a pansy if he new I was scared of his scarecrow.  Anyway, we were walking by it and I was making an effort to keep my eyes away from its face.  That’s when I saw the mutilated crow.  I pointed it out to Uncle Nash and he knelt down to take a closer look.  Its wings and head had been ripped clean off of its body.  Uncle Nash grunted in confusion and mumbled something about a wildcat in the cornfield then we left.  But the strange thing is that I saw Uncle Nash glance back at the scarecrow.

That wasn’t the only crow we found torn apart like that.  After that we started finding them all over the place.  At first they were always close to the scarecrow but one day I walked upon one a good hundred yards or so from the scarecrow.  I froze stiff as a board and stared at it thinking of the implications of what I was seeing.

Then one night I peeked out the window and saw the scarecrow’s cross was empty.  It took a second for my brain to register what I was seeing but then I saw a boot disappearing into the corn and I screamed.  It scared me so bad I went running to Uncle Nash and Aunt Leda and told them about how scared I was of the scarecrow and how I thought he was alive.  Of course they thought I was a certified loon.  Uncle Nash was a stern man and he wouldn’t entertain any non-sense at all.  He was going to make me go back to bed but thankfully Aunt Leda intervened.  After that I was allowed to sleep in their room on the floor whenever I got too scared, which was pretty much every night.

I should mention that I never went to church until I moved in with Aunt Leda and Uncle Nash.  Since living with them I had started going with them to Sunday School like clockwork.  It was a ritual that I enjoyed quite a bit because I love good stories and we always came home to the best meal of the week.  I mean, I loved Aunt Leda’s cooking all the time, but on Sunday she put a little extra effort into her cooking.  Anyway, it was the stories I had heard at Sunday School that affected me most about the making of the scarecrow.

While we were making the scarecrow I kept thinking about God making Adam.  I know that the Bible says God blew into a bunch of dust but seeing Uncle Nash building a straw man made me think about it all the same.  It was like Uncle Nash was creating new life.  That’s why the scarecrow looked happy.  But then, when we built the wood cross and mounted the scarecrow on it I began to think of Jesus and how he was crucified.  And that’s why the scarecrow looked sad.

Now I’ve finally figured it all out and I realize that the reason he was angry and wanted revenge on his creator was because he was crucified so soon after being born.  It’s like he was enslaved the moment he was born.  Stuck up on that pole unable to do anything but watch and plot.

Keep in mind that I hadn’t figured all this out at the time.  I was just plain scared of the thing without really being able to explain why.

Aunt Leda’s sister, my Aunt Peggy, lived in Cincinnati and she came down with a real bad illness.  Aunt Leda volunteered to go and help her out for several days.  I begged her to take me but she wouldn’t let me.  I had to go to school and help Uncle Nash with chores.  Well, as I said, Uncle Nash wouldn’t put up with any craziness like being scared of scarecrows and sleeping on the floor at the foot of their bed so I had to return to my room.

The next few nights I didn’t sleep very well at all.  It was all I could do to keep from running upstairs to Uncle Nash.  Then, on the third night after Aunt Leda left was when everything came to a head.  That’s the night the scarecrow killed Uncle Nash.  I was lying in bed with the light on trying my best to keep my mind off of the scarecrow.  I remember I was reading a comic book.  It was probably about 11:30 or so when I suddenly heard a noise outside.  I’m telling you my heart sunk and a chill spread over my whole body.

I figured that I could either sit and be scared or I could peek out the window just to be sure that there was nothing there.  Slowly I crept to the side of the window and peeked around the edge of the drape.  And there was the scarecrow with his face pressed right up to the glass searching the room with his vacant eyes.  I jumped back and screamed as loud as I could.  My mind was yelling at me to run but I was frozen solid.  The scarecrow disappeared from the window just moments before Uncle Nash burst into the room.  I was crying a flood and trying to explain to him what had happened but he would have none of it.  He took a look out of the window, closed the drapes, and said, “The scarecrow is right where he’s always been out in the cornfield.  Now I want you to quit talking this childish nonsense about that darn scarecrow and go to bed.  It’s late and you gotta get up and go to school tomorrow.”

He turned and left and I thought to myself that he had been lying.  The only way to see the cornfield was to turn my bedroom light off so I knew that he didn’t see the scarecrow when he looked outside.  After Uncle Nash left my room I shut the door and locked it.  Then I climbed in the corner of my closet and hid trying the best I could not to cry too loud.  It was about ten or fifteen minutes later when I heard Uncle Nash scream.  I didn’t move, though.  I was in too big of a shock to do anything but sit and rock and try to keep my whimpering as quiet as possible as I waited for the scarecrow to arrive.

The next morning I was roused from my torpor by a policeman breaking down my door.  Everything was a flurry of faces and questions.  I remember telling the authorities about the scarecrow and asking about Uncle Nash.  Of course they thought I was delusional and that I was making up the story to compensate somehow from the shock of discovering my Uncle Nash’s lifeless body in his bed and having to spend the night alone with his corpse.  Then, the next thing I remember was being in Uncle Nash’s room with a whole bunch of people.  Uncle Nash was lying on the bed with a physician over him.  I could see his eyes staring dead and vacant at the ceiling.  His old, wrinkled face was frozen into an openmouthed look of horror.

The doctor announced to no one in particular that it appeared he had died of a heart attack but I knew that he had really died of fright.  That’s when my eyes came to rest on the straw on the floor and I knew that it was the scarecrow.  I retreated from the room unbeknownst to all of the officials.  There was only one thing for me to do – destroy the scarecrow.

I went directly to the barn and retrieved a can of gasoline and matches then proceeded to march out to the cornfield.  I had to work fast because if the police discovered that I was missing from the house they would stop me.  I half expected the scarecrow to be gone never to return, but as I crossed the yard I could see him upon his cross.  My steps slowed and a wave of apprehension spread through me.  The fear rose in me making my hands shake so bad that I nearly dropped the gas can.  I thought about Uncle Nash’s face frozen in that final scream I had heard echoing in my mind all night and his eyes now vacuous like a dead fish’s eyes.

Tears began to stream down my face but thinking of the scarecrow killing Uncle Nash succeeded in replacing the fear with anger.  I unscrewed the cap and as soon as I arrived before the scarecrow I began splashing the gas onto him.  I looked into his face and I saw that now his expression was one of evil satisfaction.  A devilish and hateful grin mockingly jeered at me, for he had finally completed his hell-spawned mission of killing Uncle Nash.  

As I circled him splashing as much gasoline onto the ratty coveralls as I could his head turned to watch me.  Then his arms began to move as he worked at disengaging himself from the cross.  I made a trail of gasoline from him across the dirt and once the can was empty I dropped it and stepped back.  He had nearly freed himself by the time I pulled the box of matches from my pocket.  I kept glancing from the matches to the scarecrow trying to hurry and get a match out of the box.  He was freeing his legs.  I struck a match and dropped it but nothing happened.  The match had gone out.  The scarecrow dropped from the cross.  I struck a second match cupping my hands around it as I lowered it to the ground. Then there was a resounding whoof as the gas erupted in flames and raced across the dirt.  The scarecrow was advancing towards me.  He looked at the fire not comprehending what it meant until it was too late.

The scarecrow burst into a roaring conflagration.  The flames caught on the dry hay that was his body and threw up great licking flames along the cross.  I stood and watched in amazement, oblivious to anything else.  I took great pleasure in seeing the scarecrow thrash about in pain.  It was screaming a high-pitched whine that didn’t belong to any creature I had ever heard.

Finally, it fell to all fours and tried to crawl towards me.  I just stared at its blackened face and backed away slowly.  Then it fell to the ground and tried to make one last effort to reach out a hand towards me.  Then, it died.

I kept staring at the burning remains of the scarecrow until a voice of one of the policemen broke my attention.  I looked up to behold a sight stranger than anything I dared imagine.  In a circle about the scarecrow, the cross, and myself – filling every available inch of the cornstalks – were thousands of crows watching the scarecrow burn in perfect silence.

The old man said it would happen.  He said that Simon would forget the route to the bay.  Now, in the early morning dawn, Simon clambered across the rock-strewn shore straining his gaze into the bay for a glimpse of the isle; but it was too dim to discern anything through the thick fog.  All that he could see was the glass-like surface of the calm, dark water receding into the wispy mist.  He cared little for routes now.  The destination was the sole focus of his mind.

Simon looked like a figure from a by-gone era traversing this rugged shore in a long, woolen, white cloak.  He looked closer to an ancient druid than a well-to-do gentleman.  The old man was adamant about the cloak – going so far as to supply the garment himself.  He said it was the only attire that would ensure the meeting would take place.

Simon was beginning to wonder if he had discovered the wrong inlet when he spotted the boat mooring about fifty yards down the pebble-ridden shoreline.  He turned in its direction and picked up his pace in anticipation.  Arriving at the mooring, he quickly began to inspect its ancient structure.  The wood was aged, but timeless.  Not of any tree that had grown on this Earth for an unimaginable epoch of time, it appeared dark and shiny.  The metallic fastenings and accoutrements were of a metal no man could have identified.  They had a luster completely alien to anything Simon had ever seen.  He rubbed his hands over the wood and the metal fascinated by their texture and timelessness.

As he exercised his sense of touch, his gaze once again strained for the island.  Still concealed by the copious amounts of fog, it was useless to strain the eyes.  It was not like growing accustomed to a darkened environment.  No amount of re-focusing or iris adjustment would penetrate the cottony, ghost-like haze rising from the surface of the dark waters.  But it didn’t matter to Simon.  Oh no, he knew by the mooring, which his hands still caressed, that this was the destination he so longed for.  But now it was time to find a hiding place, for Death would be arriving soon to meet the Ferryman with another load of his precious passengers and this was the spot where the transfer of cargo would take place.

Simon picked his way up the eastward slope of the bay to find a place of concealment amongst the large boulders.  He wanted to find the perfect vantage point to witness both the island and the boat landing.  Finding a low spot behind a large rock outcropping, Simon squatted down into the cool shadows and tried to find a comfortable position to wait for the dawn’s events.

Simon turned his gaze from the misty bay towards the inland direction from which Death would be coming.  He tried to imagine in what form Death would appear.  Would it be as the Grim Reaper, with his black, hooded cloak and harvest sickle poised above his head like the antithesis of a halo, walking slowly in front of the dead as a shepherd leading its doomed flock?  Or would he be riding some nightmare steed and come with the long line of the dead, shackled in tow?  And then it struck Simon that he had never asked the old man in what form that ghastly apparition called Death would appear.  How very odd this seemed to him now.

Simon had more-or-less stumbled across the eccentric old man while in transit aboard The Juleinder from America to Scotland.  That particular night was a pleasant night – neither too cold nor too muggy.  A cool breeze was blowing out of the North Atlantic.  Simon went out onto the promontory bow for a cigar to complement his cognac after dinner.  He was enjoying the cool, night air when the old man joined him uninvited.  Rather than being put off by the intrusion, Simon was more than welcome for the company. “Delightful night is it not?”  The old man announced in a Scottish accent as he looked out across the sea.  He could have been talking to anyone, but Simon was the only one within earshot.

“Yes, sir, it is that.  Would you care for a cigar my good man?”  Simon offered out of politeness.  “They are from my farm in Winston-Salem.”

“That would be magnificent,” the old man replied.  Simon produced another cigar and assisted the old man with the lighting.  The old man took a long draw on the cigar, smacked his tongue and lips as if tasting a piece of cake then he exhaled the smoke and nodded in approval to Simon.

“Excellent cigar, lad.  So, you own a tobacco farm you say?”

“Yes, sir, it is a family business my father started, and I am now the chief executor of the estate and the family business.  The name is Simon Bancroft,” Simon said offering his hand in formal greeting.

“Pleased to make your acquaintance.  I am the Earl Roland McDermott.”

“Ah, a nobleman.  I am honored by your company,” Simon said in surprise.  He didn’t expect this elderly gentleman to be more than common folk.  Simon leaned his back against the railing of the ship and regarded the old man.

“Yes, but I am afraid it is little more than a title in this day and age.  I was out of my homeland for quite some time on business and upon my return I was saddened to discover that my family had mismanaged my estate and land holdings.  But, I am happy to announce that I have made great strides in the recovery of my estate and am just now returning from a very productive business venture in the United States.”

“Well,” said Simon growing more intrigued by this mysterious old man of royal blood, “I am pleased to hear of your recovering good fortune.  As I said, my business is the tobacco business, but my pleasure is something entirely different; and, while it is your business that brings you to my homeland, it is my pleasure that brings me to yours.  I should very much like to talk to you about my hobby so that maybe you can assist me on my trip.  I am quite a bibliophile, and I am going to Scotland in search of some antiquarian books.”

“Oh, you are a collector of classical texts then?” the old man said, his eyes lighting up with interest. 

“Well, in a sense, yes; but, to be more precise – books that are of an occult nature,” Simon said cautiously, not sure exactly how the elder gentleman would receive this.

The old man’s face broke into a broad grin and he said, “My son, I believe now it is me who must congratulate you on your good fortune.”

The two men talked through the night until the first tentative rays of light topped the distant, unobstructed horizon.  They did not even pause to enjoy the beautiful sunrise, so enthralled in tales of the arcane and forbidden.  The Earl told stories of ancient and forgotten locales that so intrigued Simon that Simon could swear the man had actually been there.  It wasn’t until late into the night, and several cognacs later, that the old man finally told of his intimate knowledge of the Isle of the Dead.  While at first Simon was skeptical of this tale, he was more than impressed with the Earl’s knowledge of the occult and especially rare books.

After making landfall the Earl invited Simon to his estate just north of Perth.  He promised him that it would be worth his time and promised fine hospitality.  Simon had several appointments in Edinburgh with book dealers but promised to rendezvous with the Earl at his estate in four days’ time.

Any doubts Simon had about the Earl’s integrity were quickly abolished upon beholding the Earl McDermott’s impressive library.  At first, he was thinking of avoiding the estate altogether but something in the old man’s mannerisms had arrested his intrigue.  The old man seemed to be a man out of place in the current day even more so than the average elderly person who is not “with the times” – almost as if the old man were from a bygone era of time.  Fortunately for Simon he decided at last to visit the estate, partly out of disappointment in his book hunting in Edinburgh and partly out of a peaked interest in the vague timelessness of the old man.

Upon beholding the rare and well-preserved texts in the library at the McDermott Estate the two men once again descended into conversations of the occult and arcane.  It was on this evening that the Earl McDermott swayed the conviction of Simon in regards to the existence of the Isle of the Dead.  The old man had been there himself!  Not only did the old man discover the location and visit the exact spot where Simon now waited amongst the rocks, he had met with Charon!  Yes, the old man had met with Charon, the Ferryman of the River Styx; and the Earl promised Simon that he too could make that same journey!

Simon was, of course, skeptical in the fashion of any man with sound reason.  That was when the Earl escorted Simon into the underground tunnels that led through secret, subterranean passageways, which appeared to have been carved from the rocks under the Scottish soil in ancient and mythical days.  Through twisting labyrinths of lichen and niter covered stone they progressed until they arrived at the Earl’s hidden prize – a small, circular room lined with ancient tomes.

“Here you will find the most forbidden and ancient works, dating back through the epoch of the human soul into the distant and remote infancy of our race.  There have existed many dark and secretive societies throughout time.  From the most sinister tribes of the darkest jungles to the most horrific and power mad dynasties.  What is represented here very few men would believe and even fewer have seen,” the old man spoke in a delicate whisper as if speaking his words too loud would invite the presence of ill forces.

Simon browsed the books without touching them in an awe he had never felt in his life.  The old man said, “It’s all right, go ahead and touch them.  I encourage you to read them.  Many are in languages that this Earth has not heard for eons of time; but these here are in Arabic, Sanskrit, Latin, and Greek.  These here are the ones that have been translated into English.”  Simon reverently touched the thirty or so books the old man had indicated.

“I will leave you to read now,” he said preparing to return to the main part of the mansion above ground.  “I shall return to retrieve you when dinner is ready and we shall discuss the things you have read.”  The old man left, the light of his lantern creating a flickering orb of light on the stone walls that slowly disappeared into the darkness of the tunnel.  Simon watched the old man go and then he began to devour the books like a stray dog on scraps.

It was in these forbidden and ancient texts that Simon discovered the most shrouded and clandestine knowledge ever uncovered by the human species.  Forces of such magnitude and mystery that most men would laugh in disbelief should they be touted in a public forum.  But here, here in these books, Simon found indisputable reason, logic, explanation, and even proof of things many cultures had only hinted at and few had directly encountered.  The ramifications of these things were mind-boggling, terrorizing, and even maddening.  When the old man returned to announce that dinner was ready, Simon was swarming with questions.  His entire outlook on reality had altered and he viewed the world in a new and radically alien comprehension.  The Earl smiled as one being “in the know” of some inside joke.

“You have plenty of time to read to your heart’s content.  Come now and let us eat and talk about the things you have read thus far.”

It was over dinner that the Earl offered to arrange the meeting between Simon and Charon.  “It was many years ago that I learned the name of Charon – his real name I mean.  It is essential to the task of meeting him to obey certain rites.  Charon used to be a mortal just like you or I and he has a mortal’s name.  It is imperative to speak his name when the time is right or else he will not heed you.  Charon is descended from the Germanic tribes and his name is Wilhelm Fruehling.  You must call to him his full name in order for him to be lured back to the shore,” the old man said pausing to take a long sip from his wineglass.  Simon had never had such exquisite wine pass his lips before.

“What do you mean, lure him back to the shore?”  

“You must wait till Death has delivered his cargo and departed,” the old man explained.  “Charon will come from the isle to the shore to meet Death when Death comes.  You must wait till Death has departed.  Death must not see you.  Must not.  As soon as Death leaves, you must hurry to call to Charon.  He has to prepare his cargo, but it doesn’t take long.  He will push back out into the waters, and you must call to him before he gets too far.”

“Will I be able to ride with him into the Underworld?” Simon asked.

“Yes,” said the old man.  “You must also wear a cloak like the one Charon wears on this journey.  You must be as inconspicuous as possible in the Underworld or else suspicions will be raised.  If you’re discovered, you may not ever return to this world.”  Simon leaned back heavily in the ornate and high-backed chair.  The thought of actually taking such a journey had his head spinning.  This on top of the knowledge gleaned from the books in the Earl’s secret repository was too much for one evening.  The Earl recognized this and saved the trouble of an excusal.  “My servants have prepared a room for you.  You have had quite an eventful day.  Get some sleep and we will have plenty of time to continue talking tomorrow.”  Then, just as the Earl was about to ring a bell sitting on the tabletop, he paused and said, “One more thing you must promise.  Never, ever, mention one word of the passages below my manor to anyone.  There are very few people in the world that know of their contents.  Do you swear to never tell a soul about it?”

“I promise.  On my word as a scholar and a gentleman, I promise,” Simon said looking the old man straight in the eyes.  “I thank you for allowing me into your confidence.  You are a most gracious host.”

“You’re quite welcome Mr. Bancroft.  I see something in you that I haven’t seen in anyone for quite some time. A trait that is very rare and very unique.  I think it is a combination of curiosity, fortitude, and a desperate need to know the truth.  Now I bid you goodnight and sleep well.”  Then the old man rang the bell and a servant arrived to escort Simon to his room.

“Goodnight, Earl McDermott.”

It seemed like an eternity but was really only about fifteen minutes before Simon realized that the sun was beginning to burn through the fog.  Instead of a roiling mass of fog above the water there were now thick columns of fog.  It was still very dark since the sun was just rising and was still obstructed by the overcast skies.  

Then Simon thought he heard the sound of water.  Could it be?  Yes! There again was the unmistakable sound of water being disturbed!  Very faint but it was there.  It was the rhythm of an oar dipping into the water.  Simon strained once again to locate the origin of the sound.

It continued for several minutes, slowly getting closer and closer, louder and louder.  And then, finally, the ferryboat emerged from the fog far out in the bay – a ghostly figure standing in the boat.  Its gaunt body draped in a white cloak just like the one Simon wore.  A long pole was in its thin hands, and it rowed with the slow precision of a dead leaf falling from a tree in autumn.   Charon’s face wasn’t visible.  The cowl of the hood hid any trace of a form beneath.  Simon’s heart was racing.  He beheld the boat and its occupant the way an old woman would behold an apparition in the night.  He forced himself to swallow hard and tried to regain his composure.  He was shaking and his breathing was labored and irregular.

Could he still go through with it?  Did he possess the will to rise from his haven amongst the rocks and approach this being that radiated such gloom and utter despair?  He seriously doubted if he could.  He could not tear his gaze from this figure.  He watched for many minutes as Charon made slow but deliberate progress to the boat mooring.

Simon was completely oblivious to the gradual increase in the brightness of the morning.  As Charon continued to get closer to the boat mooring Simon suddenly realized that the day had dawned and that the fog had lifted.  He turned his gaze back into the bay and beheld the awesome sight of the Isle of the Dead.  It was the most enigmatic and majestic terrestrial object he had ever beheld.  Most of the isle was a U-shaped, granite cliff.  The height and sheer vertical surface was staggering.  Simon estimated that these cliffs must be about forty or fifty feet high, but it was difficult to gauge such dimensions due to the distance and with no reference for measurement.  The inside of the “U” formed a small lagoon that was enclosed by a wall.  This wall was made of large rocks stacked in such a way as to form a barrier that extended from the tips of both arms of the “U” and met in the middle in two pillars of stacked rock that formed an entrance, or doorway into the lagoon.  In the very middle of the isle grew gigantic Cypress trees that towered over the lagoon.  These large Cypress trees cloaked the lagoon in an ominous darkness and prevented the eyes from penetrating that which the lagoon contained.  The most mysterious and strangest aspect of the isle was the queer doorways in the cliff walls at infrequent intervals.  No two doorways were at the same height and there appeared to be no steps or ladders with which to access these openings.  Each one looked as if it were designed with a different architecture from a different epoch of time.  One appeared to be in the Greek fashion with large, ornate columns flanking the arched aperture while another was little more than a hole in the cliff face.  Simon could not determine the purpose of these openings, but he knew that the isle was the gateway into the Underworld.

A noise of rattling chains aroused Simon from his hypnotic inspection of the isle.  Turning to determine the source of this sound his eyes found Charon reaching the boat mooring.  Simon thought that the sound was coming from Charon and the small boat, but this was not the case.  The sound was coming from further up the shore.  The squeaking, jangling sound was coming from the crest of the hill.  It was a wagon.  The wagon was black and square.  Simon had seen a similar looking wagon one time when a huckster had come through his town selling some kind of magical elixir.  But this wagon looked far more disturbing than the huckster’s flashy wagon.  Two thunderous black steeds with long flowing manes hauled this wagon; and the driver of the wagon was none other than Thanatos, Prince of the Dead.

Charon reached the boat mooring before the wagon of Thanatos but did not exit the boat.  The figure of Charon began to prepare a large burial shroud upon a platform inside the boat.  Meanwhile, the ebony wagon of Thanatos continued its rattling descent from the hill until it halted before the ancient pier.  The horses shook their massive heads and snorted steam into the clammy dawn.  Thanatos sprung off the wagon surprisingly quick – his black cloak swirling about but not revealing his form beneath.  He went around the back of the wagon and just as he was about to be lost from Simon’s point of view he stopped and turned.  Simon’s heart twisted in his chest as he froze in fear.  His breathing halted and his skin crawled with a million chemical needles of terror.  The eyes of Thanatos could clearly be seen beneath the cloak cowl, red and searching.  The moment lasted for only a brief second but to Simon it was the end of all perceived time – an eternity of doubts and fears in one agonizing second.  Then Thanatos disappeared behind the wagon to retrieve his cargo.

A large, amorphous mass of undulating souls was herded from the wagon.  Distinct body parts could occasionally be seen emerging from the main body of the mass as Thanatos, the Reaper of Souls, nipped around them as sprightly as a dog about sheep.  They were driven onto the pier and then aboard the ship.  Once onboard the boat they were wrapped in the shroud that Charon had prepared, at which point they became as still as the bodies which they had so recently vacated.  Upon completing the placement of the shroud the souls took on the form of one, single dead body lying on the platform in the boat – still and lifeless.  Thus they were set for their final journey into the Underworld.

Thanatos, having delivered his cargo, bounded back across the mooring, swung into the driver’s seat, and set his steeds in motion.  The wagon lurched and began to climb the hill.  Charon, having settled the souls, untied the boat, picked up a long pole, and pushed away from the pier.  Simon watched the wagon receding, his heart thundering in his chest as he waited for the right moment to emerge from his concealment.  The boat was drifting further out into the bay, and it seemed as if the wagon would never disappear.  Simon feared that his window of opportunity would be lost and that he would never have this chance again.  The moments were tense, and his gaze kept flitting back and forth between the wagon and the boat, trying to determine the right moment.  Finally, he could not endure another second, so he cautiously rose and began a low run towards the boat mooring.  The wagon was just cresting the hill.  He reached the mooring and ran to the edge.  He looked back to see the wagon disappear, and then he turned, raised his hands to his mouth and began to call out, “Wilhelm!  Wait!  Wilhelm Fruehling, come back!”

He kept calling, not knowing if his cries were reaching the vessel when finally, the figure turned and looked back.  He heard!  Charon heard his real name!  The boat began to slowly turn under the guidance of the mysterious figure.  Simon tried with all of the ocular intensity he could muster to penetrate the darkness of Charon’s cowl, but to no avail.  Slowly the boat made its way back to the pier and Simon grew more and more uncomfortable.  The morning fog had now completely lifted but the sky remained overcast and gloomy.  The sunlight only served to provide a sickly, yellow glow giving a surreal aura to the day.

The boat reached the mooring for the second time with a soft thump.  Simon still could not see the face of Charon.  An awkward moment passed as the two figures stood in silence and then Simon began to speak.

“My name is Simon Bancroft, and I am an acquaintance of the Earl McDermott.  He told me how to get here and that you could take me to the Underworld.  He said that I should call your real name and wear this cloak and that I…”

Simon trailed off into silence as Charon lifted one skeletal hand in a gesture of silence.  Then Charon extended his hand and motioned for Simon to board the vessel.  This was it!  Simon’s mind was flooded with conflicting impressions. Excitement, trepidation, and bewilderment all fought for superiority of Simon’s emotions.  He went to lift one foot towards the boat and was suddenly struck as if he were embedded in a thick viscous fluid.  His foot was sluggish and felt as if it weighed a hundred pounds.  This physical feeling was accompanied by a similar psychological feeling of weightiness.  It was as if this decision to climb aboard carried with it great ramifications and a strong will to continue was required.  There was no doubt for Simon though.  His mind resolved long ago to attend this journey.

The feeling passed as quickly as it arrived, and Simon’s foot reached its destination in the boat.  Once aboard, Simon stood just a few short feet from Charon – the body of the dead souls lying between them.  Charon leaned forward as if studying Simon’s face then he raised his hands to his hood and pulled it back to reveal his skull.  Simon stared transfixed into the dark orbits of Charon’s eyes – so vacant yet, so full of life.  The two regarded each other for several moments.  Simon couldn’t help but feel a sense of the macabre as he gazed upon the grinning visage of the Ferryman to the Underworld.  But, strangely, he felt in no danger from this deathly form.

Charon straightened back up and offered Simon one of his skeletal hands.  Simon looked at the hand.  Did Charon intend to shake his hand in greeting?  Simon found this normal gesture so out-of-place in this fantastic setting that he hesitated in confusion for a second.  Then he lifted his hand and wrapped it gently around the frail hand of Charon and said, “Nice to meet you Wilhelm.”  But the hand of Charon was not as frail at it appeared.  The bones of the hand locked around Simon’s hand in a grip that was inescapable.  Simon at first winced and then he tried to pull away, but it was useless.  What was happening?  Simon’s eyes darted back and forth between Charon’s face and their locked hands.

“What is the meaning of this?  Let go!  Let go of me you beast!”  Simon shouted and pleaded trying to free himself desperately from the clutch of Charon.  His struggle was met only with the demonic grin on the skull of Charon.  Simon continued to scream and fight until something altogether unexpected occurred.

Simon fell into a shocked silence as the transformation began.  The tissue of Charon began to reform around the bones.  Tendons, ligaments, vessels, and muscles all weaving and knitting together at an incredibly fast rate.  Simon was so transfixed by the regenerating man in front of him that he didn’t notice the opposite happening to himself.  By the time he realized, his hand was nothing more than exposed muscle and veins.  The air was filled with the wet, sticky sound of tissue and blood churning and roiling along the two men’s bodies.  The horror of the situation struck Simon as he realized what was happening.  But now he was helpless to do anything.  He couldn’t even speak now that his mouth was no more than a bony smile.

The transformation ended and Wilhelm stood before Simon as he looked before he became Charon.

“Vell Mr. Bancroft,” Wilhelm said with a thick German accent, “I bet you are regretting coming to zis place now.  No?”  Simon looked at his skeletal hands, turning them back and forth.  “It vas a long time ago that I vas in your place and your Earl McDermott vas here vhere I am now,” Wilhelm continued massaging his newly formed face.  “Don’t vorry zough, one day I shall find you a suitable replacement and send zem here.  But, until zen, enjoy your living hell in ze Undervorld.”

With this he began to laugh uproariously as he climbed out of the boat.  Simon tried to follow him, but he was overcome with the same feeling of extreme heaviness that gripped him before.  This time, however, he didn’t possess the strength to fight it.  Wilhelm saw him struggle and turned to say, “Don’t bozer trying to get out Mr. Bancroft.  It is a fruitless effort.  Believe me I tried for years; and now I must be gone but not before I have zanked you for freeing me from zat God forsaken damnation.”

He danced down the pier and began to jog up the hill.  Simon watched him go, helpless to do anything about it.  All Simon could think about was the brewing hatred he felt for the Earl McDermott.  When he got out of this accursed state, he would murder that deceitful bastard!  That was a promise he intended to carry out and all of the legions of Hell could not stop him!

Wilhelm halted part-way up the hill and called back, “In case you are vondering how long I vas in your current state I must tell you I lost count after about twenty years!  But, if I vas to guess, I vould say fifty years is about right!  Oh, and don’t vurry about Earl McDermott!  After I find him and kill him myself, you vill get your revenge vhen Thanatos brings him back here!  Goodbye Mr. Bancroft!”

Simon watched him until he crested the hill and was lost from sight.  How would he recognize the Earl in that amorphous conglomeration of souls?  Simon looked at the sheet covering the communal body in the boat and wondered.  He reached down and slowly raised the corner to peer at what was underneath.  The sight he beheld would come to be a common sight for him over the years that followed.  But the first time a person beholds a sight so disturbing there can be no words to describe the torment and disgust.  Simon recoiled from the body in shock.  It was a writhing mass of contorted faces groaning and pleading for mercy.  Some were gaping open, and others were twisted in grief and pain.  It was their eyes!  The utter hopelessness of their damnation was reflected in their eyes!  But every day in the years that followed Simon would force himself to take inventory of everyone, looking each one in the face until he found the man who had sentenced him to this demented prison.

When Wilhelm got out of sight of Simon, he began to talk to himself.  After all, it had been quite a long time since he had exercised his vocal cords – or had any for that matter.

“Poor Mr. Bancroft.  His hell is only just beginning.  I haven’t the heart to tell him that Earl McDermott rode the boat vith me yesterday.”

________________________________________________________

The artwork that inspired this story was originally done by the Swiss artist Arnold Böcklin. He did several versions of the same image with slight variations. The following are three of his versions:

Several artists have creation their own versions of the picture. Here is a version done by H.R. Giger (of Alien artistry fame).

The artist Guang Yang did this variation that incorporates Cthulhu in it.

Finally, this next image is a panel from the graphic novel Dune done by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson. The illustrators of this are Raúl Allén and Patricia Martín. Notice what picture is hanging on the wall.

The Russian artist Ksenia Svincova, who goes by the name Iren Horrors, created this image of the ferryman Charon.

These next images are results from the AI Artist program Wonder with prompts “The Isle of the Dead” and “Charon”.

Chapter 13: VIRTUTEM SUPERANDI MORTUIS

June 16th, 2013

Inspector Simpkins,

My name is Jonathan Spencer and I must first explain to you that it was not I who stole your case file on Milo Brecklin. The person who stole it was Tanner Wallace and I’m sorry to report that he is now dead. Every page is accounted for and you’ll notice that I’ve included one additional letter. It is the letter I received from Tanner Wallace requesting my help, dated March 24th, 2013. The reason I include this letter is so that you’ll see that Wallace was already close to uncovering the thing that you were no doubt trying to uncover yourself.  My only knowledge of Brecklin goes back to the original letter I wrote to him at Wallace’s and his behest. Brecklin responded with some vague response that said he may at some later point contact me depending on certain outcomes to information he was looking into. I never heard from either one until Wallace contacted me this past March. Oh that I had never responded to Wallace’s wild entreaties to help. But I was curious about the mad suggestions in his letter and thought that it couldn’t hurt to at least hear him out. How wrong I was.

I will set down here the events of what happened and maybe the holes will be filled, the questions answered, and the whole story explained. It is a mad tale to tell and, while I think we have incurred a major victory over those vile forces of ancient chaos, I believe that the war is ultimately a futile struggle. The reason I tell you this story is so you’ll understand and continue the work that Milo Brecklin went to his grave pursuing. I cannot do it. I have seen things that have shaken my soul and left me despondent, morose, and full of hopelessness. I have become a shell of man who wallows in depression and believes that the cosmos is a bleak and cold place where mankind will meet its inevitable doom. Our time will be brief, meaningless, and forgotten under the tread of forces much too great to comprehend fully. Once you have received this, I will be long gone so don’t even bother trying to find me.

After receiving the letter from Wallace, I replied back and told him I would be interested in meeting with him. We agreed to meet in Boulder at Brecklin’s estate. Of course I was skeptical about him saying I had this power he called Virtutem Superandi Mortuis. But what happened in Fiji was still an unanswered mystery that I had never fully come to grips with. The first thing that Tanner did to bring me around was to produce the case file that you and Division 212 were compiling. You have no doubt wracked your brain trying to figure out how someone broke into your high security facility and stole the files. Tanner said that it was actually easier than you might think. After all, he was in a Special Forces unit that specialized in going into places where they weren’t supposed to be and getting out undetected. After reading the case file and hearing him explain many other questions I had, I began to understand that this was something much more complicated than I had first thought. The fantastic nature of so many things made the talk of strange powers over the dead seem like just another element in a convoluted web of incredible and clandestine conspiracies of dark magic and paranormal phenomena. After talking for quite a while, he told me that he had exhumed Mr. Brecklin’s remains.

Tanner showed me to a room in the basement where Mr. Brecklin’s coffin was sitting on a large table. He asked me if I wanted to look inside and I gave him an emphatic “no”. I wanted to wait until the time was at hand before looking in there. We spent another day waiting on the Devon Schottenreich to arrive because we were clueless as to how to proceed. I had only used my so-called power once and that was completely by accident. Tanner apparently had a similar story. He didn’t even know if he really had the power for sure.

The next day Devon arrived and he and Tanner talked for quite some time while I mostly listened and asked questions. Maybe you expected to find out that Khalid al Fasid to be Brecklin’s murderer but I learned from them that Fasid had been dead for many years. Apparently, it was Devon and Tanner, with the orchestration of Brecklin, who had been Fasid’s downfall. This was all a part of the retribution from the Ain Hith incident and the end result was the death of Fasid, the then High Priest of Cthulhu. Tanner and Devon had also secured the metallic meteor taken from them on that expedition. Then who had killed Brecklin? Tanner and Devon had theories but didn’t know for sure.

I also learned why Tanner was in Antarctica and why he was so affected when Brecklin was killed. Tanner had gone to Antarctica to retrace the path of the Peabody Expedition[i] in order to discover those strange ruins that lay somewhere in the nether mountain ranges of that frozen wasteland. It was another attempt of Brecklin’s to discover answers to the metal and the Spawn of Cthulhu for purposes which none of us could completely figure out. The strangest part of the whole expedition was that Tanner and Brecklin were linked through some strange sorcery so that Brecklin’s mind inhabited Tanner’s body remotely. Brecklin could explore the ruins firsthand but still be back in Boulder. Apparently, whoever killed Brecklin knew that he was vulnerable and chose it as the right time to strike. The resulting sudden abandonment of Brecklin’s mind from Tanner’s body was a psychic shock to Tanner’s mind and that is why it took him so much time to recover.

Devon gave Tanner and I a crash course in magic that left me reeling from the inundation of knowledge I never dreamed existed. I made sure to copy down some of the names of the arcane tomes that he used to educate us in our task of raising Milo: The Book of Azathoth[ii]The NecronomiconGhorl Nigral[iii]Cultes des GoulesDe Vermis Mysteriis[iv], and Las Reglas de Ruina[v]. Inspector, you might be quite familiar with these abominable texts, but if you’re not, I would recommend approaching them with the utmost caution. Their forbidden knowledge holds the key to some of the most deeply disturbing mysteries of our place in the cosmos. To this day, I am still struggling to come to grips with just the limited amount of information that I was exposed to. Unfortunately, I don’t think I can square that knowledge with any worldview that doesn’t leave me wallowing in the depths of depression and I feel the only escape is of a final sort.

Once Devon felt that we were sufficiently prepared, he set about preparing the room where Milo reposed in his coffin. He explained that the use of our powers was augmented by certain signs, symbols, and other artifacts. Finally, the evening arrived when he declared that everything was in order and we adjourned to the basement. I must say that the candles, symbols adorning the walls and floor, and open tomes felt like we were going into the most blasphemous of black masses. What really gave me a shock was the body of Milo Brecklin laid out on the table. He was mottled with discolored splotches and bloated quite a bit. Rigor Mortis had set in and his arms were locked out at wholly unnatural angle. It was my first time beholding a corpse in such a condition and my mind immediately went back to Fiji. I thought of Tevita’s cousin George and thanked the Lord that I never beheld that shambling nightmare that I had unwittingly unleashed on that poor village. I only hoped that Devon and Tanner were right in their assessments of what this mysterious power of Virtutem Superandi Mortuis could achieve. What really left me worrying was the fact that Devon had taken the precaution of placing a loaded double-barrel shotgun near at hand just in case things didn’t go quite as planned.

Devon began by reciting from The Necronomicon and Tanner and I would echo certain phrases that Devon had coached us on – their alien pronunciations were barely expressible in many places and I wondered if the language was even invented by humans. The rhythm and pace of the incantation began to take hold of me and I drifted into some type of hypnotic state – partially aware and partially dream-like. Time took on a convoluted quality and I can’t really say how long this went on for, but at some point Devon gave me the nod to begin my portion. I placed my focus on Milo and began to recite the passage Devon had me memorize. Over and over I said it and a change began to occur with my vision. Everything became blurry and colors started to coalesce together. I reached out a hand and placed it on Milo and a faint light began to radiate from him. It slowly grew in intensity until it filled the room. There was a wobbling kind of shimmer in the light and a low moan escaped from his mouth. And then, suddenly, the moan turned into a great scream of anguish. I recoiled in surprise and my vision returned to normal. I felt weak; drained of all energy and thought I would collapse. Devon was beside me, helping me to remain standing as he yelled at Tanner, “Now, Tanner! Now! The spell!”

Tanner rushed over and clutched Milo while he chanted a different incantation that he had memorized. The screaming subsided and slowly Milo began to change. His body morphed, undoing the process of decay in just mere moments. Devon had assisted me to a chair and I sat there in my enfeebled state staring in disbelief at the transformed Milo Brecklin. His eyes fluttered open, he gazed around the room in bewilderment for a few seconds and then a huge smile spread across his face followed by peals of deep, full laughter. The laughter was infectious and pretty soon Tanner and Devon were laughing too; I just stared with my mouth hanging open and wondered if I had just lost my mind.

Later, we sat around Milo’s large dining room table listening to him recount the last weeks of his life as he gorged himself on a dinner fit for a king. His resurrection had left him famished. Milo explained that it was Saul Lupov who had replaced Fasid as the new High Priest of Cthulhu and the two were in a battle to accumulate as many of the Star Spawn of Cthulhu as possible – Lupov wanted them to hasten the awakening of Cthulhu and Milo wanted them to prevent Lupov’s mad plans. From what I gathered, the Star Spawn of Cthulhu were artifacts which act as a gateway for consciousness of the ancient Deep Ones. These Star Spawn came from the deepest reaches of space in some long forgotten epoch of time with the Deep Ones. They appear in various guises but most people would mistake them for strange metals.

Milo thought he was winning the chess match with Lupov because he had managed to secure many of these artifacts, but Lupov was well aware of Milo’s location and chose the opportune moment to attack him and take the artifacts from his mansion. Tanner asked Milo if he had any idea where Lupov might be taking them. I don’t know how he knew it, but he replied, “The Wetumpka impact crater.” And within the hour Milo, Tanner, and I were driving to a local airstrip where Milo kept his private jet. Devon remained at Milo’s estate to pore over those accursed tomes in search of something Milo had instructed him to find. We flew to Alabama and landed at a small airport just outside of Coosada. On the way Milo laid out his plan to us. The plan seemed insane to me but the previous forty-eight hours of my life had been one madness piled atop another. I asked him what made him so sure that Lupov would be there. He explained that he had learned why the crater was so important to the Cthulhu cult. It was the location where the Great Cthulhu and his Star Spawn had landed on Earth in the dark, distance past. He further explained that if his assumptions about the moon phases were correct, Lupov would be active this night – it was the 25th of May; a full moon.

Milo had an SUV waiting for us at the airstrip. Before setting off to Wetumpka, Milo phoned Devon and the two conversed for nearly a half-hour. The entire time, Milo wrote copious notes filled with strange words, symbols, and diagrams. It took us less than thirty minutes to snake our way through the backwoods of Wetumpka that led to the caldera of the impact crater.  Tanner drove and we navigated by his GPS. Milo directed Tanner to pull over at the bend of a dark road and we all got out. Tanner rummaged through a backpack with God knows what gear in it and produced two flashlights. He also pulled out a machete and a pistol. Milo said, “We’re going to need a different sort of weapon tonight.” Tanner didn’t even acknowledge the comment as he shoved the pistol into the small of his back and thrust the backpack at me. With me carrying the backpack, Milo carrying his notes, and Tanner leading the way hacking the foliage with the machete, we set off into the thick woods.

After what seemed like an eternity of steady progress through the thick forest, we eventually saw a light emanating through the woods in the distance. Milo ordered us to quench our flashlights and we began to creep forward as quietly as possible. Painstakingly slow and stealthy we inched forward until we could finally behold a small fire burning atop a large stone altar. The flickering light from the fire illuminated what could only be the figure of Saul Lupov draped in a large cloak. He was kneeling before a large, ornate book reciting some foul spell of conjuring in the wispy, hissing syllables of a grotesque dead language. As he chanted, he rocked back and forth with his hands raised to the night sky.

Scattered about Lupov were numerous objects of various shapes and sizes. All of them appeared to be metallic and many of them reflected the firelight in shimmering dances of light which had me mesmerized; colors that no man had yet seen or named. These were, of course, the Star Spawn of Cthulhu. And, as I watched, I saw these strange metallic objects begin to change and morph and even move across the ground as if imbued with life!

We watched from the cover of the trees for several minutes and then Lupov reached up to the cowl covering his head and pulled back the hood. What I beheld sent a shock through my body and I reflexively gasped in horror nearly giving away our position. Where there should have been hair upon his head, there was a mass of writhing, churning tentacles. They were long and slimy and the skin was lumpy and venous. Each one ended in a sort of rudimentary mouth that seemed to suck or grope the air as if searching for something to latch onto. The effect was made all the more nightmarish by the flickering lights cast by the fire, the shimmering colors of the metallic objects and the sickly, yellow glow cast by the full moon high above.

I stared bewildered by the shock of what I beheld and tried to control my nerves, but things suddenly took a drastic turn for the worse. Suddenly, my attention was drawn to another figure entering the circle of firelight and I realized that it was Milo Brecklin. He had heard something in that alien babbling that had alerted him to the fact that it was now time to strike. The only recognizable words I could make out were “Cthulhu” and “R’lyeh” from Lupov. Milo held the notebook beneath the beam of one of the flashlights and began to chant a different but just as alien phrase while casting what appeared to be a fine powder before him. I felt a tugging at my back and spun around in fright swinging wildly. Tanner ducked the haymaker I had sent his way and grabbed me shaking me to my senses. He was merely trying to get the backpack from me. While removing the backpack Tanner and I were startled by a piercing shriek. It was Lupov howling in fury like some wild monster. He had finally seen Milo.

Lupov left off his chant for a moment as the rage spread across his deformed face. He started up another phrase that was thick and low, apparently trying to counter what Milo was conjuring. Then he broke into a full run and slammed into Milo, smoothly tackling him and driving him to the ground. Tanner leapt away towards them pulling something from the backpack that looked like a large, cruel dagger of some unknown substance.

It was at this moment that I first noticed the smoke. It was low to the ground and seemed to be forming a great circle around the stone altar. Dark and sinuous, it began to coalesce and swirl in an increasing counterclockwise motion. Lupov drove several strikes into Milo’s face but Milo continued to chant the weird phrase through the blows. Then Lupov lowered his face to Milo’s and the tentacles shot forth and latched onto Milo’s head. Milo howled in tormented pain. Tanner arrived just then and grabbed Lupov by the back of the head and raised the dagger high. The smoke had begun to thicken considerably and the last thing I saw of the three men before the smoke completely enveloped them was the Star Spawn of Cthulhu wash over them like a liquid, metal wave and Tanner driving home the dagger into Lupov’s back.

It’s hard to say whether it was Lupov or Milo who had succeeded in their respective spells because whatever demon that crawled forth from the abyss at that moment didn’t choose sides. All three men were taken indiscriminately back into the void from which it crawled. The smoke had formed a huge pillar that completely shut out the firelight and a loud rumble announced the arrival of the beast. It was as if the earth were violently heaving forth some massive behemoth. I wasted no time in hanging around to behold much more. I ran out of primitive, naked fear through the dark woods not even noticing the briars and branches that tore at my body. A cold wind rushed past me and I glanced back one last time to behold a malformed, giant appendage emerge from the smoke. It had to be nearly ten feet long and looked like the antennae of a giant insect. At the tip of it was a massive compound eye that scanned the darkened woods and I swear to God that it locked on me! But then I heard the final cry from Milo Brecklin through the chaos of the blackest insanity I have ever known. “Tekeli-li! Tekeli-li!”[vi] And then I ran and never looked back again.

Once I was out of that accursed forest, I entertained the idea of contacting the local authorities, but what would I tell them? So, I just drove. After a while I decided to call Devon and explain to him what had happened. After hearing my frantic retelling of the night’s events, he told me that there was no use contacting the police. He assured me that they would find no trace of the three men.

I suppose that there is nothing more to tell. My testimony, along with this box of documents, gives the entirety of the tale. I trust that you will have the fortitude and the resources to take this information and continue the work of Milo Brecklin, for now I see just how important his work was.

And finally, as for me, don’t bother trying to find me. The chaos and the fear have enveloped me to the point that I can longer escape their sway. By the time you read this, I will have ended this madness!

Good luck and Godspeed, Inspector!

Jonathan Spencer


[i] This is a reference to At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft.

[ii] This is a reference to The Book of Azathoth Tarot Deck created by Nemo.

[iii] A Cthulhu Mythos invention by Willis Conover and used by Lin Carter.

[iv] A Cthulhu Mythos invention by Robert Bloch that translates to “Mysteries of the Worm”.

[v] A Cthulhu Mythos creation by Joseph S. Pulver which translates to “The Laws of Ruin”.

[vi] A reference to The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket by Edgar Allan Poe and At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft.

Chapter 12: LETTER FROM TANNER WALLACE

24 Mar 2013

Jonathan,

You may not remember me but I sought you out on behalf of Milo Brecklin in order to encourage you to write him and tell him the details of your brush with the paranormal while in Fiji. I’m not sure whether or not you and Mr. Brecklin stayed in touch with each other but Mr. Brecklin passed away this past December. The things I’m about to tell you may or may not come as a surprise to you – depending on how much Mr. Brecklin has told you – but I believe that your help could be of the greatest importance to stopping something that could unleash untold horror upon the world.

To begin with, I believe your experience in Fiji was not the result of the old witch on Bat Island. I’ve come across information that suggests it was in fact you who caused (albeit unintentionally) the resurrection of that drowned Fijian. I also believe Brecklin suspected this and that is why he sent me to seek you out. I worked for him for many years and failed to realize that he was seeking out people like you (and now I see I’m one too). There were others he had recruited who knew of their power and I witnessed them use it. What is this power? It’s called Virtutem Superandi Mortuis, or The Power to Control the Dead. There were twins girls who had it and I knew them. They were murdered back in 1989.

I’m not completely sure what sort of power I possess but I believe it is similar to yours. There was an incident that happened to me back in the Army during the early 80’s. I was a part of a highly specialized Special Forces unit. On one particular mission a good friend in my squad accidentally caught our Captain selling valuable, Classified intelligence to a known terrorist. It was an elaborate mission in Yemen in an area where we weren’t supposed to officially be operating. The mission was supposed to be to assassinate this terrorist leader. Tuck burst in on the Captain to tell him that we had enemies closing in and witnessed the dirty deal going down. The Captain turned his pistol on Tuck and shot him. That’s when I came in and found Tuck bleeding and thought he was dead. I rushed to his side and, miraculously, he came to and was apparently completely healed. Not a scratch on his body, but still covered in blood. So he comes to and begins screaming about the Captain shooting him and that he was selling State secrets and all kinds of crazy stuff. I was confused and panicked because the enemy had begun to engage our guys outside. The Captain, meanwhile, is claiming that Tuck is out of his mind and that it was the terrorist leader that shot Tuck. We had to get the hell out of there right then and there and as we’re making it to our egress point, Tuck gets shot again. But this time I wasn’t able to get to him. We had to leave him. After that I was confused about what happened. I didn’t realize until just recently that Brecklin suspected that Tuck was telling the truth and the Captain really did kill Tuck only to have me cure him.

I don’t think I can heal anyone that’s been dead too long, though. Looking back on it, I think Brecklin suspected this too. If I am right, you can bring the dead back to life, but they still are in the condition they were in just prior to being resurrected. It’s like you can call their life force back into their body. I, on the other hand, can restore the dead, but only if a certain amount of their life force remains in them.

Jonathan, if I’m right, together we can bring Milo Brecklin back to life and he can finish what he started.

I NEED YOUR HELP!

Desperately,

Tanner Wallace

Chapter 11: NEWS OF THE BIZARRE

News of the Bizarre – July 27th, 1996

Priest Claims Meteors Cause of Demonic Possession

Father Jonathan Baldwin[i] is a priest with a hobby for stargazing. The amateur astronomer claims that his interest in the starry void began when he heard the story from a death row inmate of how the murder the condemned was accused of committing was really caused by an alien that had taken possession of his wife after a meteor strike in their backyard.

Father Baldwin admits that the story was a tough pill to swallow, but it spurred him to investigate the occurrence of reported possessions by demons that followed the occurrence of meteor sightings. The data was what was too compelling to ignore. After years of collecting data and building charts and tables of such possessions and meteor activity, the priest turned astronomer is convinced that some sort of alien intelligence is tampering with humans in an effort to study them.

Most interesting of all the discoveries was the fact that a meteor shower immediately preceded the outbreak of the Salem Witch Trials. Mere coincidence? One can only hope.


[i] This is a reference to the story entitled “The Juggernaut” I wrote in Tome of Horror.

Chapter 10: LETTER FROM JIMMY YELLOWBIRD

February 24th, 2006

Dear Mr. Brecklin,

You inquired about the brass plates used during the Green Corn Festival and whether or not they were still in the possession of the Creek Nation. Two of the brass plates are here at the reservation housed in the Creek Council House Museum[i]. Our history of these revered artifacts reaches far back into our tribe’s past. There are numerous legends about their origins, but the one most commonly believed to be the truth is that they were acquired from the Spanish Conquistadores when Hernando de Soto trekked through the Creek lands in what is today the state of Alabama during the 1500’s.

Plans were in the works to relocate one of the plates to the Creek exhibit in the museum at Coosada University in Coosada, Alabama, thus bringing them back to their home for the first time since the Trail of Tears brought them to Oklahoma in 1834. We were working with Professor Miller Hall in the Archaeology Department at Coosada University who was the one who initially began the project. Unfortunately, he has since passed away and the University has dropped the efforts to acquire it for their museum exhibit. This was some twenty years ago or so.

We no longer use the two brass plates for any ceremonies. Replicas have been created and they are the ones used in the ceremonies currently. If you would like to visit the museum I would be happy to show you the two plates; they are truly a marvel to behold.

Jimmy Yellowbird

Curator, Creek Council House Museum 

Muscogee (Creek) Nation

Okmulgee, Oklahoma


[i] While it is true that the brass plates were transported to Oklahoma during the Trail of Tears, it is not true that they reside at the Creek Council House Museum. The whereabouts of the plates are a mystery.

Chapter 9: LETTER FROM DR. NICOLAS STEIGER

12 August 1991

Gershom Asylum for the Criminally Insane

Wetumpka State Penitentiary

Dear Mr. Brecklin,

I have to say that when I received your first letter and read of your theory of a shared delusion amongst the inmates of Gershom Asylum, I was quite skeptical. I don’t think I have ever heard of a case of group delusion existing within a community of the insane. Most of the mentally deranged live in a world of their own fabrication or a warped sense of reality that prevents them from seeing beyond their own narrow perceptions, however distorted, of reality. In other words, they are withdrawn and lack empathy for the perspectives of others that they might adjust their perceptions to match societal norms. Even if one were to hypothesize that one influential member of the community had somehow infected their own ideas into all the other inmates, I wouldn’t think that it would have much effect beyond maybe one or two weak minded individuals. Now, however, I have to report to you that certain things witnessed by me and my staff have caused me to return to your letter of several months ago and reevaluate the situation.

It’s hard to say which patient was patient zero – and I know you adamantly contend that the cause cannot be traced to any one patient, but I refuse to believe that. I must maintain the view that there is one patient influencing all of the others because I cannot believe that the source is some manner of pseudoscientific or fringe belief such as ESP or channeling or some such nonsense. There must be a perfectly rational and natural explanation no matter how unlikely the outcome.

Tracing things back to patient zero has been fraught with problems but I think a likely candidate is one patient I will simply refer to as Percy. I’m probably skirting the lines of confidentiality just by writing you and describing the phenomenon; I certainly don’t want a complete breach of patient confidentiality. You should understand this, but I do think that you deserve a description of the circumstances since it was you who first brought it to my attention. How you first caught wind of this is still a mystery but I shall explain some of the things we have witnessed.

One of our staff recalled the earliest known incident between Percy and another inmate. The staff member couldn’t recall the specifics of the things Percy was saying, but they’re pretty sure that it was quotes from that abhorred book you sent me. This particular inmate was so distressed by the things Percy was saying that he attacked Percy. We were forced to move the patient to solitary confinement. Unfortunately, the patient died shortly thereafter so I can’t interview him at this time.

After we began monitoring the things the patients were saying more carefully, I had the staff write down specific phrases that possessed common themes. I collected these notes and compared them to the copy of the Necronomicon that you sent me. As I said, that book is an abomination and I can only surmise that Percy must have memorized the damned thing. The patients mentioned many of those devilish names: Yig, Yog-Sothoth, Azathoth, Shub-Niggurath, Nyarlathotep, Dagon and Cthulhu. They mentioned many of those strange places: Carcosa, R’lyeh, Leng, Irem, and The Nameless City. They would quote random snippets of lines, phrases, and passages from the book as well.

In response to your specific inquiry into mentions of Cthulhu and his Star Spawn, yes, these were the main gibberings and phrases being uttered by the inmates. There was much talk of the “Metallic Children of Cthulhu”, the “Multihued Seeds of Cthulhu”, the “Star Spawned Metalloid Ones” and other such phrases and references.

The most common phrases were the following three, which virtually every inmate had apparently memorized through sheer repetition:

“That is not dead which can eternal lie, And with strange aeons even death may die.”

“Eternal is the power of Evil, and infinite in its contagion! The Great Cthulhu yet hath sway o’er the minds and spirits of Men, yea, even tho’ He lieth chained and ensorcelled, bound in the fetters of The Elder Sign, His malignant and loathly mind spreadeth the dark seeds of madness and corruption into dreams and nightmares of sleeping men.”[i]

“In dark places we shall banish to the deepest recesses of strife, but their kind shall never vanish for even in death, there is still life.”[ii]

There were two incidents that struck me as the most bizarre and unsettling. The first occurred one night when Percy was found in his darkened cell, huddled in the corner. He was reciting the following passage over and over in a rapid whisper:

“Many and multiform are the dim horrors of Earth, infesting her ways from the prime. They sleep beneath the unturned stone they rise with the tree from its roots, they move beneath the sea and in subterranean places, they dwell in the inmost adyta, they emerge betimes from the shutten sepulcher of haughty bronze and the low grave that is sealed with clay. There be some that are long known to man, and others as yet unknown that abide the terrible latter days of their revealing. Those which are the most dreadful and the loathliest of all are haply still to be declared. But among those that have revealed themselves aforetime and have made manifest their veritable presence, there is one which may not openly be named for its exceeding foulness. It is that spawn which the hidden dweller in the vaults has begotten upon mortality.”[iii]

The last incident occurred one late night when the orderlies called me. I was on duty that night and they roused me from slumber in my office. When I entering the cellblock, I heard all of the inmates chanting in unison the following atrocious phrase:

“Ph’nglui Mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.”[iv]

I wouldn’t have known how to spell the horribly alien sounding words if not for the book you sent. I know not what it means, but I copied it just as it is written and there is no mistaking that this is what they were chanting.

And there you have it, Mr. Brecklin. I’ve reported it just as I’ve observed it and I await your response to explain how it is you knew about the mass delusion. More importantly, I hope the information you provide can help me further the research I’m conducting because frankly, I’m currently at a loss to explain just how it is that Percy can so thoroughly affect a community of people who should not be so easily corralled into participating in his mad delusions.

Looking forward to your response,

Dr. Nicolas Steiger


[i] Written by Lin Carter in “Dreams from R’lyeh: A Sonnet Cycle”.

[ii] This is another reference to “The Cave” in Tome of Horror. This epigraph actually has several references within it. The term “In dark places” is a reference to a song by Crimson Glory entitled “In Dark Places” that recounts the luring of a man to a watery death. The term “still life” is a reference to the song “Still Life” by Iron Maiden which is eerily similar to “In Dark Places” in that it also recounts the luring of a man to a watery death. The entire epigraph is very similar to Lovecraft’s famous Cthulhu couplet.

[iii] Written by Clark Ashton Smith from “The Nameless Offspring”.

[iv] From “The Call of Cthulhu” by H.P. Lovecraft. Translated as “In his house at R’lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming”.