“Pastiche” is usually a dirty word in Lovecraftian circles. Memories of August Derleth classifying Cthulhu as a “water elemental” in his attempts at Christianizing the Old Gents’ work make today’s reader shudder in entirely the wrong kind of horror.
Robert DeFrank calls “The Mythos Path” a “pastiche,” and it does have elements of a Robert Bloch or other master’s technique at producing palimpsests of the Old Gent’s work. Like Bloch or Wandrei or others, he uses the names of the old “forbidden” books in a quick list, writes in a style reminiscent of HPL with its precise wording and its protagonist who has learned too much! but also like those writers, he has taken this pastiche style and made it something all his own. His treatment of the shoggoth idea in particular is astounding.
This is a longer work, and every word is worth reading.
(From the journal of Dr. Arthur Murphy, alienist on staff at the Canton Hospital for the Insane.)
I am a rational man.
This may come as a surprise to some of my acquaintances, considering my unconcealed love of weird literature, poetry and a near-obsession with the Hellenic myths, the traditions of which are the foundation of Western thought. But like the most canny of Greeks I eschew reliance on mysticism and see the imaginative works purely as a rich source of analogy for the human condition.
My dear wife Helen who knows me better than any other could testify to the truth of this statement. She understands best why I entered the field of psychiatry. It affords the opportunity to combine these two aspects of man’s mind, rational and non-rational, in a way that allows me to serve my fellows.
In addition, I have always possessed a strong empathic sense that made the healing of tormented minds a natural choice for me. The old fireside tales and folklore of my grandmother may have contributed to this facility. The ability to comprehend a superstitious soul and in part to even share in the delusions that hold the poor wretch in a grip of terror is a necessary first step toward prying my unfortunate charges free from those grim talons.
My fellow alienists have oft cautioned me in this regard, warning of the dangers inherit in so commingling with a patient’s darker nature and reminding me of those doomed colleagues who, unlike great Theseus, lost track of the thread of sanity while on his journeys in the Labyrinth. The more unfortunate cases are alluded to as if in pious cautionary tales.
And indeed, in my darker moments I despair for the future of the field of psychology. It has become plain to me that the complexities of the human mind can produce such astounding phantasies from its depths that only a poet could fully comprehend them, and it is the poet’s nature to obscure the driving mental passions. For the imaginative soul will erect monuments both exuberant and cumbersome over long-buried memories rather than exhume such fancies and examine them with a cold, critical eye.
In one respect I consider myself fortunate in that, while I am drawn to matters of the outre, unlike Poe’s pitiful lord of “The Haunted Palace” Goddess Reason ever reigns foremost the kingdom of my being. Were it elsewise the account I have just read would now render me suffused with fear for my very life. Or perhaps worse.
I jump, very near tearing the page under my errant pen. The sudden, panicked barking of dogs outside my window had called up apropos associations to the bizarre journal which I uncovered near that cabin deep in the uncut woodlands and scarce-trod hills of Massachusetts, having obeyed the mumbled directions of a man under the influence of hypnosis. An example of the manner in which the phantasms of man’s daemonic primal heritage of fearful superstition can find purchase on even a modern, developed mind.
There may indeed be an element of the prophetic in Jehovah’s words to Noah to the effect that the mind of man is inclined to evil from birth.
Yet I am confident that the cathartic act of submitting the now-missing patient’s journal for analysis as well as setting to paper the matter of how the manuscript came into my possession will serve as an exorcising agent for the disquiet that lingers wraithlike about me.
I find myself missing my Helen deeply now, though I know she is merely visiting her family in Cleveland and I expect her back shortly. She is one to whom I might always unburden my cares and fears.
The bare facts of the case have been widely circulated by this time. The scholars at Miskatonic University had a reputation as a queer lot, owing primarily to their delving into occult lore and rumoured involvement with certain shadowed events about Arkham, Innsmouth and Dunwich, as well as expeditions to far-off shores and Antarctic climes. In each case they acted either as primary participants or consultants to the authorities.
So no one was overly surprised when a warrant was issued for the arrest of Lawrence Eberhart, then the new assistant librarian under the venerable Dr. Henry Armitage, in connection with inquiries into the recent disappearances in and around the Canton area last year. Since the majority of the victims were transients, the vanishings had lasted approximately six months before authorities had taken notice, and had culminated in the widely publicized house fire that consumed the family mansion of celebrated biologist Horace Stanton and presumably Stanton himself.
Eberhart had vanished after the fire, but he had left signs of panicked flight behind him. Suspicion fell on the assistant librarian, but he was nowhere to be found, having cut off all contact with his former colleagues. He had abandoned even his new wife, Gillian, though by all accounts he was quite fond of her.
The manhunt dragged on for nearly a year before a certain Isaiah Cobb, a local man who acted as go-between for one of the myriad dealers in objects of antiquity and occult lore, happened to catch sight of Eberhart’s face on a public leaflet.
Through the haze of alcohol about his brain, Cobb recognized the features of the wanted man on the bearded face of a hermit to whom he had recently delivered copies of several old books and instruments of occult purpose. Having drunk his pay, Cobb found that the promise of reward outweighed the traditional distrust of outsiders and their ways and thought nothing of betraying a wanted client.
Eberhart had spent his year secreted in a log cabin deep in the woods of Massachusetts near the rustic town of Dunwich. He was accompanied only by a pack of vicious dogs and ventured outside for the sole purpose of visiting the odd ruins and standing stones that top many of the hills in the region.
A party of deputes was soon dispatched, and reports of what they had discovered after dealing with the hounds and subduing the fugitive found their way into my hands when he was committed to the asylum’s care. More, I later had occasion to view with my own eyes the expression of his disturbance.
Though ransacked by police in their search for evidence, an atmosphere of neatness had apparently been maintained in the cabin during Eberhart’s residence. The arrangement of a modern chemistry apparatus was as precise as the implements of alchemy beside it, and current books of scientific theory stood side-by-side with treatises of Medieval metaphysics that had narrowly escaped the purging flames of churchmen in earlier times.
The strangest feature, however, were the cabin walls themselves, which were covered with an abundance of arcane symbology that he was later to recreate in his own cell. The signs were drawn with precise attention to detail and relation to each other that gave the impression of geometric as well as lingual precision.
His disciplined scholar’s mind had not abandoned its ingrained habits though the baseline reality he operated from had become a sinking bog. This relentlessly logical approach to a series of patently fanciful imaginings was my strongest impression of the case and my primary reason for applying deeper study.
There was very little to be gotten from the man directly. Eberhart was manifestly uncooperative and refused to converse with me at all. His only coherent words were a demand for a trinket he claimed to have kept on his person at all times. A small metal disc, ancient and dull but engraven with a single clear sigil. A straight line with several shorter lines radiating from it to resemble a tree or a very stylized star stretched out as if from the perspective of a being traveling at great speeds through the interstellar aether.
It was a relic of great value to him, he insisted, but when I searched through Eberhart’s rough attire in the asylum storage I found no trace of such a device and could only conclude it to be either lost in the struggle or simply a product of his unbalanced imaginings. Of the latter I was more inclined to believe, due to his unwillingness to specify either the sigil’s origin or how he had come to possess it. He would only hint ominously that the charm afforded its bearer protection against monstrous forces beyond the ken of mere mortals.
When Eberhart learned of the disc’s disappearance he flew into a frantic rage. The fit only subsided when I provided him the chalk with which he painstakingly scribed his cell in the manner described. Soon his walls were covered with elaborate runic symbols of a language not spoken on this Earth since long before the ascendancy of Khem and the pharaohs. This occasion afforded my first glimpse of this so-called Elder Sign as it took shape under Eberhart’s chalk.
My interviews with him were an exercise in futility. Having completed his painstaking depictions the poor wretch lapsed into a near-catatonic state. Of the nightmares that tormented him he would mutter only snatches of intelligible phrases. He spoke of eldritch creatures of an alien origin more distant than the furthest star and yet closer than the space betwixt a crack on the wall. Of abominations that walked in the semblance of men though the simulacrum went no deeper than the skin.
Belief in such hidden enemies is a common aspect of delusions of persecution, as are the rituals one invents to protect oneself. Thus I was inclined to allow Eberhart to carry on this unconventional form of occupational therapy.
The authorities had their own hypothesis, to wit that Eberhart and absent Stanton had become enamoured in some manner of witch cult or mystery religion imported from a foreign land. The sort of pastime the rich and idle engage in to scandalize their peers by engaging in debaucheries and ingesting opiates. Perhaps the fire had resulted from carelessness in performing some ritualized Bacchanal orgy.
This idea only partially satisfied me, since the work Eberhart produced during that period do not argue a mind dissolute with inebriation. For another, the guess did not take into account the missing persons.
Perhaps Stanton had taken the rituals down a darker path than Eberhart had liked, prompting him to sever their partnership. But then why not expose Stanton? What hold had he over Eberhart?
I am no detective. My interest was entirely concerned with curing my patient’s mind and understanding the pressure that had spurred his flight from reality. However, the police were pressuring me to unearth some sanity so they might begin their interrogations.
In the end, I utilized hypnosis as a shortcut to unraveling the Gordian Knot of Eberhart’s mind. I proceeded with caution, however, as I was aware of the mind’s vulnerability to suggestion and tendency to phantasize.
The results were initially poor, yet led to a find of enormous value that I will address later. Under the mesmeric influence he spoke only of a certain stone ring and of some object buried thereunder. A repository for secrets he would not allow to the fore of his mind no matter the inducement to part with them.
The opportunity did not arise to test the veracity of his claims until very recently.
My patient was not short of visitors. Certain professors from that college—notably those possessing a familiarity with the occult lore that has made Miskatonic University so infamous in certain circles—visited my patient on several occasions. In each instance I was obliged to cut the interview short on the grounds of Eberhart’s continued overexcitement resulting from their gentle but queer questions and promptings.
A tearful Gillian Eberhart also visited the asylum, but her husband refused all contact with her. Afterwards, it was reported to me that he spoke in his sleep about his wife and how he dared not stay close to her for fear she would fall under the shadow of those unnamed terrors that hunted him without mercy. I remember shaking my head at such noble but deluded gallantry and vowing to double my efforts at restoring the poor man’s sanity for this reason alone.
However, the Miskatonic scholars were of some value to me, having some knowledge of Eberhart’s past they repeated to me the information they had provided the investigators. They confirmed Eberhart’s long friendship with Horace Stanton, missing and presumed burned alive in the conflagration that destroyed his family home, and provided further details to both personalities.
Stanton was, I gathered, the natural leader of the two. Bold, charismatic, clever and well-spoken. Eberhart was quieter. More timid and inclined to follow rather than lead.
They had been boyhood friends and constant companions while studying at college, though in different fields. Eberhart’s specialty dealt in literature, folklore, history and the study of ancient tomes while Stanton had a talent for the more practical sciences, especially in the fields of physics and biology. His paper detailing possible paths Darwin’s theory of evolution might take various species in far future epochs is a landmark to this day, though his suggestions concerning how man might direct those paths to ends of his own desire were disturbing to many.
They had grown apart after graduation, when Stanton traveled to the famed Galapagos Islands to personally observe the myriad variations on a theme that Darwin noted in his studies. Stanton then continued his travels to Egypt, the Far East and further and—so the rumours went—more exotic ports.
However, Stanton sought out Eberhart immediately upon returning to these shores and the two took up their old friendship with renewed enthusiasm. The Miskatonic scholars spoke a great deal about Eberhart’s frequent visits to the Stanton mansion in the months leading up to the blaze.
The renewed association was manifestly profitable for Eberhart, since his work improved to an astonishing degree. Dr. Armitage reported Eberhart translating certain ancient texts with an accuracy and insight to put the most practiced scholars to shame.
The work was also apparently taxing, as shewn by his increasingly furtive and haggard manner. This distress was not shared by Horace Stanton, who maintained his customary mien of confidence and sartorial contempt for those around him who he regarded of lesser mind and ability. Indeed he was often flushed with a fierce new joy.
Then there was an apparent falling out between the two of them one week before the fire. Eberhart abruptly broke off all contact with Stanton. Stanton himself retreated into seclusion. The disappearances began to accelerate at that point.
In addition to supplementing details concerning my patient’s life and habits, the Miskatonic scholars’ intimate acquaintance with the bizarre subject matter in which poor Eberhart had delved provided a component to his disturbance. In the interest of further understanding the forces that had shaped his mental terrain I went so far as to make a trip to this Miskatonic University in Arkham.
I journeyed by train and trolley. The last leg of the trip was a close and irritating ordeal I was obliged to share with a couple of passengers who discussed matters of great weight with the particular attitude of authority evidenced by the spectator. These included opinions on President Roosevelt’s New Deal and the possibility of the country joining the new Great War on the side of Britain against the restored German State and its allies.
I ignored them and gazed, rapt, out the window. I was struck by the sight of those little communities isolated by bogs and marshlands and tangles of wild woods. Such places suggested the manifold possibilities of foul dens where horrors might lurk and breed. Surreal impressions shadowed my mind even before I first trod the streets of legend-haunted Arkham.
Arkham. That ancient community caught my roving fancy from the first moment I set eyes on its huddled, sagging gambrel roofs and crumbling Georgian balustrades. History saturated every brick and bound the fading community with the same ubiquitous presence of mortar. The very breeze carried the delicious, musty scent of ancient diaries and genealogical records, whispered hints of unmentioned scandals of bygone years.
The atmosphere undoubtedly contributed to my mental state as I pored over some of the university library’s outre manuscripts, including the ancient Book of Eibon, the vile Unaussprechlichen Kulten” of von Junzt, the Pnakotic Manuscripts and even the dread Necronomicon of the mad Arab, Abdul Alhazred.
I found the experience highly disquieting. As I read, it seemed I could hear the daemonic voices that had tormented the writers of those old texts as they gibbered and prophesied from the deep obsidian cracks in the skin of our reality, recalling racial memories of man’s most primal self, crouching in abasement before cosmic forces he could not begin to comprehend in a time before the reign of rationality.
But it was as I turned the dusty yellow leaves of Alhazred’s blasphemy that a fit of drowsing overtook me. I must surely have drowsed, for never could an experience so clearly hearken to the dream within a dream of which Poe speculated in verse.
To the fugue of my senses it appeared the very fabric of the world melted and I peered backward across illimitable terrain and boundless aeons whence man’s earliest forerunner would one day stir from muck and slime under the careless prodding of an Elder Race.
Rearing structures and the monstrous things that shaped them—yes and may one day shape them again filled my mind in a landslide of horror that shocked me to wakefulness and the mercy of partial nepenthe.
There is no lamp of reason in such stygian realms, only the ghastly witch light of some terrible eldermost pharos, and the eldritch horrors so illumed are vistas of such Cyclopean horror to cause the poor wanderer to yearn for the swaddling darkness of insanity—
(Narrative breaks off.)
The subject matter was, as I have said, valuable; nonetheless I was eventually forced to sever this brief acquaintance and bar the men from my patient’s presence, and I have not ventured near Miskatonic University and the secrets it holds since. There is no profit in reviewing such subjects when the patient who might have benefited from these studies has vanished.
The disappearance of Eberhart from his padded cell three days ago caused a stir within the institution that reverberated throughout the county, but thus far neither the dedicated investigations of the authorities nor the zealous vigilante activity of the townsfolk have turned up our runaway madman.
The break was distressing, but not entirely unprecedented. The only other escape had occurred some years ago when Lawrence Williamson, an inmate suffering from progressive mental divergence and odd physical abnormalities fled with the help of a confederate and eluded authorities until the trail vanished at the shadow haunted town of Innsmouth where the fugitives’ abandoned car was found.
In this more recent case, however, there were no clues at all nor any trail to be seen. The absence was affected at night and not discovered until the arrival of the staff the next morning and the sight of the night guard, a slovenly fellow by the name of Emmanuel Pike, asleep at his post.
I could see no way Eberhart could have escaped. Not only was he locked in his cell, I had taken the step of having him secured in a straitjacket. The measure was extreme, but necessary, for I had ordered his chalk taken away and his walls scrubbed clean and Eberhart would have torn open his own veins and repainted them with his very life’s blood had he no other mode of scribbling.
Since I had cut all ties with Eberhart’s scholarly associates I had resolved that he should likewise break with such signs of his delusion as part of his treatment since any therapeutic value they might entail was long past. He was deaf to my explanations, responding with only screams of Biblical passages exhorting protection, combined with incantations I recognized from the dark books of Miskatonic University’s library.
Pike himself was of little help and his fancies and obfuscation served only as a fruitless distraction from the case. The fellow insisted at first that no unauthorized person either entered or left the premises, however both the authorities and myself detected clear signs of anxiety that bespoke dishonesty or worse.
The inspector was a hardheaded man with no patience for nonsense. He pressured the guard with the determination of a bloodhound on the scent. Eventually Pike’s reticence was broken, but the resulting statement proved more troubling than his stubborn silence, and of little use to the practical inspector.
The guard described restless spirits prowling the halls in the days leading up to the vanishing. He spoke of strange sounds like to voices or the hideous parody of human voices just beyond the range of the audible and bearing no relation to the normal run of inmates’ rantings to which he was accustomed.
Pike spoke of other sounds, as of some obscene movement sliding behind walls and floor, calling to mind grotesque images of turgid, gelatinous substances oozing their semisolid way through the confining spaces of pipes and ventilation shafts.
Indeed, the Pike’s account recalled to my mind a certain delusion that had recently become common among the inmates, centering on supposed whispers issuing from the asylum’s sinks and drains. Visual hallucinations soon came to accompany the auditory, and the patients’ accounts became increasingly consistent.
This, coupled with a foul odour that called to mind something of great mold and decay that filled the halls with an alien pungency and undoubtedly contributed to the sensation. A maddening case, according to the custodial staff, since a source of the noxious stench cannot be located. Indeed the custodians have reported that the nooks and crannies of the asylum have been supernormally clean of late.
I find little wonder that a healthy but susceptible mind like that of Pike—doubtless addled by superstition and drink—would prove fertile soil for the collective psychosis. I must further document the case. Such a study may prove useful in my proposed paper dealing with the contaminant nature of hysteria.
To be baldly honest, even I have found myself afflicted with a slight aversion to glancing in the direction of drains and certain as-yet-unplugged mouseholes at the thought of obscene mouths and bright, blinking eyes peering from the spaces between the walls.
The guard was evidently an imaginative fellow, for he took the aberration further than the rest when he recounted the thing he claims to have seen the night of Eberhart’s disappearance when, he insists, the horrors had their culmination.
Even now I vividly recall Pike leaning forward in his seat, eyes bright and imploring with the pathetic desperation of a puppy gazing mournfully from the black gulf of a well into which it had fallen. The pitiful expression of a creature plunged into a strait beyond its ability to comprehend or traverse.
He had been sitting back in his chair, he said, unable even to doze off for his muttering nerves, when he heard a new sound.
It was, he said, a queer sloshing noise that the poor man could only compare to a bladder filling unto bursting with some foul, viscous ooze being squeezed to the very point of explosion and released, the process repeated in quick succession.
An amazing thing, the alchemic theurgy of words mated to a febrile mind. I find it arduous to maintain a clinical distance from the narrative. I find myself slipping into his place, alone in that place of confinement and madness as that obscene, gelatinous squelching grew steadily nearer with the regularity of footsteps.
Where this a description of some true event, I would opinion that spastic nerves and twitching muscles had more to do with the guard’s burst of action than any courage he could muster forth, but the urge to look one’s destroyer squarely in the face cannot be discounted.
Pike sprang to his feet, his bulky form making a clumsy pirouette to face the hallway leading into the depths of sanitarium.
The gorgon apparition he then described proved this apparently simple man to have a surprising depth of imagination and a talent for expressing horror simply via grotesque parody of the familiar, for it was Eberhart who walked down that hall. Eberhart and yet not Eberhart, so Pike insisted through that thick back-country accent.
He spoke of how Eberhart had swelled abominably as abscesses bulged from his frame and how the sloshing repeated every time the horror shifted the weight of its monstrous bulk.
Again I confess a sense of disquiet, as though I were not sitting in the security of my own study with a bust of Pallas Athena near at hand—a concession to my love of the romantic but signifying the sovereignty of reason while offering homage to Poe. It is well dusted, I notice. Helen’s usual meticulous care. Why has Helen not yet returned—?
(Narrative breaks off, then resumes.)
Even through the screen of his—
(The word “memory” is faintly discernible beneath a manic attempt at obliteration.)
—imaginings, his final glimpse before a merciful Hades carried this unlikely Persephone into welcome unconsciousness haunts my mind, the blasphemous manner in which Eberhart’s features discolored and swelled from his face as though he were drowned and bloating with water in the space of heartbeats. The way his eyes and ears and nose and mouth slidacross his skin like boats across the water’s surface …
Thus ended Pike’s account. He knew no more, he claimed, than did the rest of us who arrived that morn to discovered him senseless and Eberhart vanished without a trace.
Having unburdened himself, Pike cradled his face in his hands and wept silently. It is truly amazing: the weight of a story woven from dreams, the ravings of madmen, shock and guilt over negligence. The inspector, however, was in no mood to appreciate the tonic of catharsis and was occupied with tearing up his notes and cursing time wasted.
However, I was not yet satisfied to forget the subject until a further question was answered. While the inspector unceremoniously disposed of his notes he asked scornfully how it was that the eldritch abomination had passed Pike by. That he had seized on this detail, though only to deride, evidenced that a mind well trained in investigative procedure was never entirely at rest. Had he allowed his keen perception to focus on the object of his contempt, he would have seen as I did the expression of realization that crossed the guard’s face.
Gnawing curiosity sent me to accost Pike after his interrogation and demand a further recounting. The man protested, but feebly. His resolve was already breached and though threats of dismissal meant nothing to him—depression or not, he would not continue his employment as porter for this abode of the damned, he said, for twice the salary—promise of a good reference weighed against a ruined reputation sufficed to render up the lamb’s blood that had effected this passover.
From his breast pocket he withdrew a small metal disc and pressed it into my hand with every appearance of eagerness to be rid of it and all it entailed, combined in equal measure with a species of reluctance. His was the face of a man adrift on a shoreless sea and clinging to a repugnant corpse as his only flotsam.
I did not need to look ere knowing what I would see graven on the pitted surface. At first I was reluctant to do so much as glance, but I am no craven cleric refusing to peer through a telescope for fear of a daemon-inspired glamour.
When I cast my gaze down at the tree-like symbol I felt a quiver on my skin that vibrated to the very marrow of my bones. The sensation cannot be very different from that of a shade who looks upon the coin that will pay Charon for his ferry trip across Styx.
It is an effect I feel even now, for the wild barking of the dogs calls to mind the vicious scrutiny of Cerberus. The house is cold and lonely this evening. Helen has still not returned. Her cheerful interruptions would be a welcome distraction at this moment.
Now I pause and withdraw the disc from my pocket. I examine the sigil Eberhart was so desperate to possess, but I cannot bear to have it in contact with my skin for too long. The psychosomatic affect is quite pronounced, for the very substance of the metal feels queer, as though some magnetic or radioactive property emanated from the humble medallion. More, the line and its branching rays hint at epochs of horror that I tremble to contemplate. It is as though I am made to share some portion of the mind that first carved this enigmatic symbol.
I gave half an ear to Pike’s explanation. Greedy rifling through the possessions of the hopelessly condemned. The finding of the odd sigil and the idea of selling it to a dealer in objects of antiquity. The unwillingness to part with it in the face of the comfort it unaccountably offered when the intangible haunting commenced.
I let him go his way then, and he left me with this piece of material evidence conjured by a madman’s brain. A small seed well watered by the readings of demented mystics, from which the insanity had sprouted and thrived.
I glance at the clock on my study wall. Helen is later in returning than I expect. I had thought—perhaps hoped—to be interrupted before now. No matter. I will continue. The concentration will drown out the wild barking of my neighbor’s dogs.
Despite the ongoing investigation, the asylum has grown calmer during the past few days. Eberhart’s vanishing has served as a restorative to the disquiet minds of the other inmates. Hysteria for the most part has faded and sightings of visual and auditory abnormalities have ceased. I must make a study of this case, dealing with the nature of placebo and its psychosomatic effects.
The coinciding fact that the odd odour has begun to fade has probably also contributed to the change.
The investigations continue into Eberhart’s disappearance, but without fruit. There were no clues in his cell. Not even dust. Indeed, the cell and the hall outside were unusually clean. One might assume both had been freshly waxed, the floor was so slick.
I gather the authorities are watching Gillian Eberhart in the event her husband should attempt to contact her, but I hold grave doubts this will yield them results. Eberhart was consistent and methodical in his insanity. The terror that spurred his flight would likewise compel him to shun Gillian through baseless fear for her safety.
In any case, I took the opportunity to examine my notes of Eberhart’s speech while under hypnosis and elected to venture north and east once again, this time to visit the woodlands of Dunwich far from civilization, where Eberhart had lived in hiding for a year.
There I beheld with my own eyes the domed hills like sentinels crowned with standing stones.
The locals were a rough and surly lot, unlettered and poor, embittered and mistrustful of outsiders as waves of immigrants and cheap shops and buildings of soulless modern manufacture came to displace the world their fathers had built. So the Men of Iron rusted and fell to the Greeks’ forefathers, as the Hellenic myth went.
My persistence and a tactful offer of money earned me grudging directions and I soon found myself trekking woodland paths to Eberhart’s cabin. My local guide was named Joshua Whatley, a wiry youngster of about fifteen who had already begun to acquire the closed, hardened cast of one who has been used hard by life.
Police tape still barred the scene of the investigation, but as the area was deserted I defied that stricture. Whately remained outside, claiming to have “No truck with thems as goes chasin’ the hill devils.”
I had been shewn photographs of Eberhart’s cabin by the investigating officers, but the experience of walking through the domain where my patient had spent his year in hiding both from the police and from his own daemons served to reactivate the empathic sense that had withdrawn after my exposure to the occult tomes at Miskatonic University.
After an examination of the cartouches that covered the walls I turned my attention to the various implements both scientific and otherworldly that had been arranged with precision about the cabin. The orderlyness was evident despite ransacking by the police and the subsequent neglect during Eberhart’s confinement.
While there, I also beheld an extensive of map of the region displayed on a poster board. The stand had been knocked over and a muddy boot-print was prominent where it had been trod upon, but on righting it I saw that it had proven a central prop to Eberhart’s delusional dream-quest.
I saw that tacks had been set at various sites corresponding with domed hills and ancient ruins in the deepest woods. Indeed I could tell the map had been extensively redrawn in several places to shew features not found on the standard chart.
Eberhart had also drawn a webwork of lines radiating from the hills in what seemed to be complex networks of tunnels. I was reminded of a hypothesis advanced by certain experts in the fields of anthropology and folklore concerning tales of subterranean realms and pathways to allow for quick and secret progress and sudden ambush or abduction. Such possibilities were a possible seed from which tales of “Little People” had sprung.
Also present was a calendar on which various dates were marked out in colors corresponding to the tacks on Eberhart’s map. I recognized such dates as May Eve, Hallowmass and other times of import to the Witches’ Sabbats.
Finally, I saw one or two disquieting objects. Small figurines of obvious age molded in the likeness of fantastic beings, for no Earthly evolution could have shaped such creatures as were depicted, though I was quick to recognize one as a member of a barrel-shaped, starfish-headed Elder Race referred to in the Miskatonic books and by the participants in a famed expedition to the Antarctic.
Of the other—an upright, insectile crustacean thing—I do not care to speculate.
I was reluctant to handle the statuettes for any length of time, as it seemed to me they each carried a variant of the same semi-magnetic field which emanated from the Elder Sign I carried on my person. An intriguing example of psychological suggestion.
Each statuette was tagged a different color, again matching the sites on the map. Eberhart had clearly not been idle here, but of the precise nature of his work and details of his experiences there was no sign.
However, I saw that my destination was among those sites marked on the map. A fortunate turn of events, since young Whately had flatly refused to accompany me the full distance to the ancient hilltop fane. “Not for love nor money’d I git near ‘un a them devil hills! No sir!”
The map would stand in the stead of my guide thanks to Eberhart’s details, and I copied the area in question on my notebook. I was already planning the final leg of the journey in my mind.
I fancied my empathic sense only grew as I hiked. Indeed I had been becoming steadily more conscious of a sensation of being watched, as though an unseen presence lurked among the fluttering leaves, more intangible than the unseasonable mist that rose from the grass and as ominous as a storm cloud on the horizon.
This called to mind the outbreak of mass hysteria of invisible eldrich abominations that had overtaken Dunwich in 1928, doubtless fueled by the credibility of the Miskatonic scholars who were involved in the business.
As we drew nearer to our goal, at one point crossing a gorge linked by a rickety bridge, I felt the sensation of that presence traveling with us, still unseen but near at hand. A foul smell, not unlike gasoline and compost, tainted the air. No animals moved through the woods now, and though my intellect suggested the possibility of hidden distilleries my fanciful imagination whispered of ghouls and trolls under bridges.
Of its own accord I found my hand brushing the pocket wherein the Elder Sign lay, as though to assure myself of its continued presence.
I soon came in sight of the path leading up the hill and away from the empty, too-silent forest.
So began the final leg of my quest to the ruined fane. My mind continued to present images of dementia, for it seemed at likes I walked in a great procession of shadows or echoes imprinted still in the aether of this world. Men and women robed in translucent colours and sporting strange jewelry, crowned with headpieces of alien design and conforming to mathematics not known to this Earth. Figures that wielded odd instruments not designed to interact solely with this dimensional plane.
And I walked with them these humans and those things among them that were not , either in part or altogether, while around me and from my own throat issued the chant of “Ïa! Ïa! Cthulhu fhtagn!” and “Ïa! Shub Niggurath!” until we reached the hilltop where the Black Winged Things circled overhead among alien constellations.
Vistas opened up around us so that we know walked in an alien landscape superimposed on forested hills of Massachusetts as a palimpsest might hold the impression of earlier writing. Alien lights cavorted in the firmament and bizarre geometric shapes that flew overhead and rose in nonlinear crags around us in pillared lanes to our goal.
Flute pipers greeted the pilgrims with strange tunes and a tall, Dark Man of Egyptian features and robed in scarlet awaited us. “Nyarlathotep,” the devotees breathed in awe and terror. “The Crawling Chaos.” He who is the Great Messenger of Those from Outside, from whose hand all abundance and all chastisement flowed, and who stood forth to accept praises and offerings on Their behalf…
I awoke, having collapsed on the hilltop. The space was deserted save for the strange stones that my overtaxed brain insisted had been raised by alien hands.
Beset by chills, I withdrew a small spade and attacked the patch of ground determined only to be done with this task and gone from this place where—far from the comfort of my study and the reassuring sounds of civilization—it seemed the skin of our world was stretched thin to the point of transparency by forces of such magnitude as would blast body and mind to obliteration.
Nor were my hallucinations to end. As I dug it seemed to me that the very hill reverberated with a deep and rhythmic vibration, as of shapes impossibly vast moving in a ritualized dance, and when I at last struck a solid object about two feet down and lifted a small box into the early evening light, a voice ascended into the open air as well.
Not a human voice. For all that it spoke human words the effect was such of a parrot repeating the sounds around it in brazen but uncomprehending mimicry.
“Larry my good lad! Give us a hand here!” in an imitation of suave tones. “Come now dear Inspector, a policeman’s pay doesn’t promote a life of luxury does it? And vermin must be cleared out.” and another voice, different yet oddly the same. “Horace how can you dare? You have gone too far! Too far! You have doomed us both!”
Only at that moment did I recognize Eberhart’s familiar tone in the unnatural voice. Then: “Tekeli-li! Tekeli-li!”
I saw young Whately on the way back down the hillside, but he had his back to me and would not come near when I called.
“Not going near them devil places! No! Not there! Cursed! Cursed they is and all thems as touches ’em!”
His voice had an artificial quality, like a speaker of a foreign language given English phrases to read. Though he might be told the meaning and read with feeling, the words would only be noise.
Then he wandered out of my sight again. I could barely see him through the screen of trees. Eventually I was left to return to Dunwich and the bus station on my own, though the sense of being watched has never left me.
And now I come to the meat of the matter and the object of my quest: Eberhart’s journal. The librarian’s account of events leading up to his year-long disappearance and his subsequent activities. It is so exact and detailed it borders on tedious at times, but I will relate a summary of the contents and transcribe certain interesting passages.
My discovery was of a profoundly disconcerting nature for twofold reasons. Firstly, the tale that follows is remarkable in both its coherence and its consistency of detail, lending a degree of verisimilitude to Eberhart’s account of his experiences which though astounding to a degree approaching absurdity nonetheless utilizes higher reasoning in the service of the daemonic fancy.
In the second case, Eberhart has clearly drawn the structure of his madness from those foul manuscripts that infest the shelves of Miskatonic University. The subject of his delusions are extrapolated from those hints or horror contained in their pages, which he has wedded to the most current of scientific findings.
This stands as a lesson for us all: while Reason has ever been humanity’s light in the darkness of superstition and savagery, if carelessly employed it can also serve as a bridge to the most frightful Plutonian gulfs.
Still, even if the unfortunate madman is never recaptured, I am confident that this queer journal will serve as a guide to other alienists in the quest to understand and heal the mind, and perhaps in the analysis I might find some grain of truth at the base of his dementia.
The hour is late, but sleep eludes me, and I will not rest easy till my Helen is under our roof again and the wild barking dogs will awaken me no matter if I doze.
(From the journal of Lawrence Eberhart, assistant librarian at Miskatonic University.)
I have often heard of the shoggoth. The word echoes among the ancient pages of forbidden texts and the ravings of certain dreamers and cultists, but even the wildest rumour pales when one is confronted by a shoggoth in all its abnormal, unhallowed might.
Though I clutch the invaluable Elder Sign tight in my hands and my intellect assures me that this device of the vanished Old Ones is proof against the monstrosities they shaped, still the atavistic terror persists at the thought of the shoggoth that even now stalks me, what it has done and would do again.
Horace, Horace, for all your brilliance you were a fool to toy with powers we poor men cannot begin to grasp!
I first heard of the shoggoth as concrete entities rather than imagined bogeys such as the chupacabra of Mexico or the Mi-Go of the Himalayas and these very hills when Professor William Dyer of the geology department and his party returned from their ill-fated voyage to the Antarctic. Like my fellow Miskatonic scholars, I was entranced by the hieroglyphic history of Elder Times the explorers bore home with them.
I shuddered in horror at the cunningly-crafted cartouches depicting the abominable creatures, grotesqueries that would haunt the dreams of Goya, and my vivid imagination recoiled from Dyer’s closing description of his and Danforth’s mad flight through the corridors of that labyrinthine mountain city at the pole of the world as they were pursued by one such daemonic beast.
All the while it piped “Tekeli-li! Tekeli-li!” in dissonant imitation of the Masters it had butchered, preceded by the foetid vapor that poured from its bulk and leaving in its wake a floor obscenely smoothand slickwith the slime of its passing as it oozed with terrible speed down the alien hallway.
The shoggoth are the residue of a time long before the age of man’s dominion, ere the roving of the Picts or the rise of Hyperborea and Lemuria or the Fall of Atlantis. In the primordial aeons before the Thunder Lizards walked, before the first life crawled from the oceans and turned their eyes to the sun and stars, in that epoch did the Old Ones descend upon our cooling world from the stellar gulfs and raise their towering cities.
Of the Old Ones there are many kinds on many different continuums of space-time. A full account even of mankind’s meager knowledge and hapless speculations is enough to fill the shelves at the library of Miskatonic University, but I speak here of the barrel-shaped starfish-headed Elder beings that were once Earth’s masters.
The shoggoth are the product of their reign and in part their destroyers. Created and bred to be a race of servitors, the shoggoth are without fixed form. They are merely ovoid sphereoids of protoplasm with a diameter of about fifteen feet, yet from this simple foundation are such multifaceted edifices of nightmare raised!
Though possessing no shape of their own, the shoggoth can imitate any feature of the anatomy. Organs of sensation, ingestion and—dear God!—digestion take form and are reabsorbed when no longer needed. Tentacles and other appendages capable of crushing power and delicate manipulation extend from the central mass as necessary. By such efforts had the shoggoth raised the great cities in accordance with the Old Ones’ designs.
I recall Dyer’s description of the pustule-like blinking eyes and tooth-filled mouths that coalesced and floated on the membranous surface of the horror that rose from the Antarctic city’s Stygian depths.
But I have seen worse. By the God I no longer believe in I have seen worse!
The Old Ones had wrought better than they knew, for the adaptive facilities and infinite versatility of the shoggoth soon became the bane of their Makers. Infinitely malleable. Bred to survive in any environ from the ocean’s depths to the Arctic heights to the empty void between the stars and all that falls in between. With such adaptability the shoggoth came to develop volition of their own and even rudimentary intelligence. With the passage of epochs they became more imitative. More independent. More aggressive.
When the ages had passed and that Elder Race had become weakened by the approaching ice and fallen into a decadent decline that was a mere memory of their past glories, it had been the shoggoth that had struck the final killing blow.
They are gone, those Old Ones. Time and the cold has obliterated all save some few who sleep in icy entombment in a world that has passed them by. The only remnants are the ruins that lie undersea or in distant corners of the Earth, some few of their tools and trinkets, exaggerated legends among degenerate cults, and the shoggoth.
The former slave race now rules the abandoned ruins and scrawls graceless imitations of their Makers’ elegant cartouches upon stones, just as they utter chance phrases of the Old Ones’ language in a grotesque attempt at emulation.
Horace later told me that it was this very notion of infinite mutability and mimicry that had caught his attention and awaked the blasphemous possibilities in his mind.
Oh Horace! The joy I felt on seeing my closest friend step through the doors of the library of Miskatonic University is not to be described. We had shared everything together, he and I. How I regretted the lack of courage that bade me decline his offer to accompany on his long-planned voyage upon graduation.
And indeed, mayhap my influence could have restrained his terrible ambitions ere he ventured where no man should go and unleashed the horror that consumed him and stalks me with merciless fervor.
Ah, but do I deceive myself? Did I ever truly wield influence over him as he did me? I, who gave him everything I had? Gillian my dear, appropriate wife, how much I regret your pain in knowing that the deepest part of me could never be yours!
I recall with perfect clarity how he fixed me with his fathomless, dark eyes and saw through to my deepest self. The knowing, half-sardonic smile and the way he was wont to stroke his rough, ticklish beard as he talked. His voice was the same. Deep, rich and silken, almost hypnotic as he spoke of the places he had been and the things he had seen on his journeys.
He hinted of the discoveries he would show me were I bold and discreet, then he enfolded my hand in his, and as always, I could not resist.
On the Galapagos Islands Horace had witnessed wonders of variety in observing how the branchwork of the Tree of Life grew under the influence of colliding stimuli. His fascination grew as he continued his travels, looked with wonder at the interplay of flora and fauna and thus conceived manifold ways in which life could be molded to suit man’s purposes.
He also spoke with contempt of his encounters with the pseudo historians, anthropologists and the scientifically illiterate fantasists who dared call themselves biologists in the pay of Heinrich Himmler and their expeditions to construct a revisionist history glorifying the Aryan race. As foolish as the Stalinists with their four-harvests-a-year plan.
He concluded that their goals were laudable, even admirable, but their science was flawed. Like the world’s religions with their the equally admirable goal of controlling life, the Nazis and the Communists were too blinded by dogma (in their case, the dogmas of race and class) to be truly effective.
“You have to understand what life is before you can control it, and aren’t we commanded to have dominion over the world?” He spoke with the amused cynicism of one who believed in nothing but power.
He then began to speculate how evolution might work through the epochs upon such metamorphic monstrosities as the shoggoth.
The vast majority of legends mentioning the shoggoth placed them in far-off lands beyond the sight of civilization. Under the sea, in foetid swamps or subterranean caverns beneath glacial mountains. But perceptive Horace had discovered a thing others had overlooked. That these tales only took into account that were recognized as such!
Stories abounded of debased cults that have survived in hidden places through the ages, the arts they practice and the creatures they keep. The shoggoth must eat. Hence the tales of foul rites, prayers and sacrificesto monstrous abominations, shoggoth accidentally domesticated by the ignorant cultists who meant to worship them as oracles of dark and terrible Powers just as other savages had done with their bear-totems.
Horace had heard of these debased rites, and yes he had participated. His body wore the marks of the trials and initiation he had undergone before these cults would admit him to their deepest mysteries. Such were the so-called “witch-marks” so ardently sought out by zealous churchmen. And should a disagreeable but innocent old bedlam or two be burned for the sake of a misplaced mole, well, they would logically conclude, God will know His own and the victims’ earthly property would find its way into righteous hands.
Back to the matter at hand. Surely the shoggoth might have learned to respond to this cultivation in such was as to increase the favorable treatment?
But it was the wild shoggoth that fascinated him, how they hunted.
“A swamp Larry? A cave? Ha! Why not stroll down a city street, right in the open? Why not, once they took on the features of men and contractedthat bulk into a human frame? Predators, Larry, and throughout the millennia man has been their prey!”
An unholy light gleamed in his eyes then in an expression I knew well: delight in secret knowledge and the power it gave him.
He called to my attention all the varied attributes of camouflage Nature has gifted to Her children to thrive in their environs. The stripes of the tiger and the spots of the leopard. The jumping spider that mimics the ants it hunts. The plants that put forth a pleasing form and scent to trap insects. The firefly that flashes a false mating call to draw unwary suitors to their doom.
And he hinted at the paths something wholly unnatural this Earth might take.
“Variations on a theme, Larry. Variations on a theme,” he said to me. “They’re imitative. Never forget that, Larry. Made to be infinitely malleable. They’re predators, and the first trick in the predator’s arsenal is not to be seen.
“They are cunning devils. Floating through our civilization like amoebae in a pond, absorbing other little critters when they’re hungry. Taking one form and then another to draw their prey close. Streetwalkers mostly. Never any shortage of that type. Or maybe one’d go through a whole family now and then. Gobble up Dad on the way home from work when he stops to get himself a taste of something new and sweet on the side, then go the rest of the way home wearing Dad’s face. Comes in, the wife and kids go to hug him…
“Can you picture it, Larry? A beloved face swelling out of shape like a balloon, eyes and mouths popping open all over the skin as it reaches for you—”
That is as much as I can bear to write. I should have fled his presence, I know that now, recalling that dread glimpse of the Void to which his soul had sunk. Ah, but he was brilliant. So very brilliant despite his contempt for self-important society and its mores. “Anthills, that’s all they are Larry. All those kings and presidents and dictators. All those bishops and mullahs. Just ants lording it over other ants.”
Who else could have guessed the full range of the shoggoths’ attributes merely from the cultists’ accounts of chance phrases gibbered from the aftermath of the sacrifices, cross-referenced with the poor victims’ backgrounds.
For when a shoggoth wrenched off its prey’s shrieking head and sucked out the soft innards, it also absorbed into itself the chemical pathways in the nexus of the brain that stored memories. And those memories were retained.
In its jellied bulk a shoggoth held every entity it has ever consumed, and like writings on a palimpsest a past victim’s features and thoughts can be coaxed forth.
Vast realms of potential spread out before me. Researching history is a painstaking process of piecing together disparate accounts of events and speculations of the chief players’ motives to create a woefully incomplete picture of the past. A firsthand view from one who actually lived in that time—no matter at what strata of society—was beyond priceless. There was a degree of intimate detail about then-prevailing concerns and modes of thought that simply cannot be equaled.
With a well-traveled captive shoggoth, one could shine a blazing spotlight on any epoch. Together we could plumb the depths of history for its treasures.
Now we come to my part. Horace had knowledge of the hard science, but he needed my extensive expertise in history and language in the interrogations.
My first visit to Horace’s mansion left me pale and trembling, but I maintained my composure under Horace’s amused eyes even during the tour of the windowless wine cellar, the threshold of which was branded with the Elder Sign. Even when facing that which was pent therein.
The creature approached the doorway wearing the face and form of a transient and babbling meaningless phrases until Horace blew the powder of Ibn Ghazi upon the figure, forcing it to revert to its true shape.
I confess a scream built in my throat until Horace brandished a metal disc bearing the Elder Sign and compelled obedience from the captive, making it withdraw across the slicked floor into shadows.
There are ways to check the shoggoth, so Horace informed me. Chiefly the Elder Sign acts as a ward against them and other such monsters. Partly it is through the sigil’s inherent potency and partially because during their aeons of subjugation the shoggoth had been so intensely conditioned by their Makers to respond to the symbol that recognition and response has been passed down as part of their racial memory.
The cultists know the workings of such signs. The gestures and incantations and the conditions under which they will function have been passed down through the ages, scribed in wizard’s books such as the aforementioned eldritch Pnakotic Manuscripts and the ill-famed Necronomicon.
Horace was not unconscious of the irony: a man of science reduced to such antics. He was like a savage left in control of machinery he could not begin to understand and who must treat the operator’s manual like holy writ. Yet he had no choice. The sigil was of alien origin and interacted with energy and planes of existence we do not comprehend.
“I don’t know how much of it’s genuine and how much is just mumbo jumbo, but no point taking chances is there? The last owner of this trinket could swear to that.”
He had found the Elder Sigil in the ruins of a mountain castle in Romany. The former domain of an ill-famed Baron Ferenczy who, Horace said, had been part of a fellowship with similar ambitions but had toyed with forced beyond their ability.
The first and most obvious question to my mind involved the feeding of our resource. Horace laughed when I suggested the purchase of cattle. There was food all around, he said, and of no cost.
Thus I learned of his habit of roving the worst ports of call and dens of vice, accompanied by our foul minion. Of the disappearances under cover of mist and the coatings of stinking slime that were the only signs left behind.
Such excursions were invariably at night, for the shoggoth always has some initial trouble holding the form of someone it has recently absorbed. The features tend to shift until the creature marshals its will to hold the eidolon in place, and even then a sudden shock can cause a grotesque slip.
“Walking the dog,” he called it, and he assured me there would be no problems. He had bribed a police inspector to point out likely targets and not to look too closely at the aftermath.
I should have protested. Yes I should have. But I was always a weak man. Horace was persuasive and it all happened out of my sight, and I was enthralled with the secrets I was learning. Choice scraps of knowledge from a Macedonian solider from the time of Alexander. Slivers of precious lore from the land of the pharaohs. Burning candles from the Dark Ages and firsthand glimpses at the Renaissance. Such lengthy talks directed my studies in unnumbered new directions.
But while my interests were largely academic, Horace thirsted for things of a more practical nature. Wanting to please him, I did my best though I always conducted my talks from across the rune-guarded threshold if not through the closed door itself.
The occasional cry of some voice from a contemporary time threw me into shudders of revulsion. Perhaps they were from those hapless miscreants whom Horace had judged unfit to exist as anything but sustenance for his oracular monster. Man is accustomed to the role of supreme predator. He does not like to reminded that he too can be prey.
I think the creature began to understand my distress, for soon it stopped speaking in those tones. Not out of any benefit for me I’m sure, but because it was in the process of becoming domesticated and would offer pleasing behaviors to earn good treatment.
I suspect it might have produced their screams for Horace on demand, and often.
But I must now speak of that day when our tower of Babel at last fell. Horace had acquired odd appetites as well as knowledge in his travels, and he regarded no limitations regarding cultural taboo or religious blasphemy.
It soon became obvious that Horace had a more than intellectual interest in the thing. The appetites he acquired in only grew with the indulging. What sorts of organs might a shoggoth be induced to manifest? What acts might it be compelled to perform?
I walked in on him discovering the answers to those questions.
“Poor Larry! Poor lily-white Larry!” Horace laughed afterward, advancing upon me while I retreated down the hall of his mansion while the Elder Sign in his hand gave off malign waves. “Never any imagination. Never any nerve. Ah, but you endear. You’ll keep on being of use to me, never worry of that. I’ll take such pleasure in seeing your baby face on my pet. Shoggoth! Come! Feed!”
That blasphemous call of “Tekeli-li! Tekeli-li!” The vicious sound of a terrible bulk oozing and sliding through wine cellar doors!
The savage within awoke and I did the unthinkable. I attacked Horace.
He never would have expected it. But how else could I have succeeded in wrestling the precious sigil from him?
I fled then. Fled out into the night and left Horace, alone and without defense as the loathsome slave bore down upon its tormentor.
I returned to my own home and collapsed, but the nightmare did not end, for though I kept away from the Stanton house, still Horace was seen, or at the very least his image was seen, in his window and walking about town. And still the vanishings continued in numbers greater than the authorities could conceal.
Nor did that which I fled forget me. I oft saw strange movement out of the corner of my eye and heard gurgling motion just beyond the estimated influence of the Elder Sign which I kept on my person at all time.
With the Elder Sign in my possession, I dared return to the site of Horace’s madness armed with kerosene and an intent to purge with fire that which I had helped to loose upon civilization.
To no avail. The sewers provided means of escape for the beast, and it has stalked my steps ever since. I have severed all connection with good Armitage and my fellow scholars, and with Gillian. Poor, ill-used Gillian. But it is for her own protection, lest the shoggoth seek to absorb my acquaintances and take on their features in an attempt to draw me near.
It has tried approaching me as Horace. Is it truly intelligent? I do not know, but it is instinctive, adaptive and predatory and it has my scent. I write this in my hideaway deep in the woods where I search the old places for secrets that might help me drive off this curse, and still it haunts the tunnels that riddle the hills. The vaporous mist and the stench gives it away.
I must be cautious. The police hunt me as well, suspecting some involvement in the conflagration and the strange events that had preceded it. I shall conceal this journal, for it may be of use to another, but for me it is naught but a testament of shame.
Beware all ye that read these pages, for there are vistas not meant for human feet to tread and sights not meant for human eyes to see.
(From the journal of Dr. Arthur Murphy.)
So ends the narrative. A truly astonishing mixture of phantasy and realism. I know it astonished me to find that there truly was a Baron Ferenczy in whose ruined home Eberhart maintains that this Elder Sign was found, and indeed Professor Dyer made a famed voyage to the Antarctic in which several brave men were lost. He has since been loudly attempting to dissuade all similar expeditions.
And I cannot rest my mind without thinking of my final encounter with young Whately, and of what features I would have seen had he turned around.
I find the story interesting, even as it repels me, and not merely due to the implication that by scrubbing the walls of Eberhart’s cell and binding his hands, in effect left him helpless in the face of the advancing monster.
I study humans. It is my life and livelihood. But if the things I read were true I have been privy to realms where humanity is naught but a speck of dust blown about by uncaring cosmic winds to a fate both unknown and unavoidable save by the desperate, short-term actions that one heroic scholar or another might attempt.
There is no noble Zeus, no golden Apollo or wise Athena reigning with order and justice with man as their special creation. No, there is only the blind idiot Azathoth the Daemon-Sultan, the omnipresent and omnipotent Yog Sothoth, the all-consuming and all-birthing Shub Niggurath—
(Here the narrative again breaks off. The words Ia! Ia Shub Niggurath! Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young! are scrawled over and over for some space.)
—only Nyarlathotep and the vanished star-headed Elder Things, the eternal Race of Yith, and Great Cthulhu who waits and dreams in His sunken city of R’lyeh.
These are not the passionate gods of man’s ancient eidolon, the terrible but glorious exalted archetypes of febrile minds risen from sloping apedom to encounter a world of mysteries and terrors with only newfound Reason to guide them. These are not grand Hellenic gods raised up in celebration of humanity and its future.
These are not even the most ancient of man’s gods, the mauling bear, the antler crowned stag and the idol of Spider or Toad that crouched on stinking heathen altars and thirsted for blood. These things at least were the product of man’s fears and man was their focus.
Even Satan values us. The winning of human souls is the reason for his existence.
But these Old Ones are of true alien spheres. As uncaring as stars that first met man’s new-formed reason. But while the stars offered inspiration and an orderly universe these creatures of Outside are utterly beyond our knowing. There is nothing in them that man’s mind can match in his experience. There is nothing in them that we might comprehend. The Old Ones who walk serene and primal do not regard us at all, save as objects of transitory amusement and irritation, and then our frail human frames and fragile human minds will break and scatter like dust in the aether at their touch.
There is no hope left for me in science, nor any comfort in scripture. I have beheld man’s true and shabby place in this dark corner of the Cosmos and now know us to be merely one of many amoebae dancing frantically around Great Azathoth’s Throne to the chaotic fluting of his minions. Our reason is a small candle flame against the all-encroaching darkness, and we dare not look too far…
But enough of fancy! There is naught to fear from a madman’s dreams. Ia! Ia! Cthulhu fhtagn! There is no substance to Eberhart’s ravings! I cast the Elder Sign away! Ia Shub Niggurath! I tell you there is no uncanny reason for the sudden silence of the dogs! The sounds of movement that I have heard outside my door this past hour are no simulacrum’s exaggeration! The voice that even now calls my name is that of my beloved Helen!
I will go to my study door and throw it open immediately upon completing this account—my dearest is impatient, for she pounds upon the door—I will go and embrace that which waits beyond.
For I am a rational man.