“Well this is new,” Cassey said, and the surrounding walls echoed her words. She felt she should be scared, but after what she had been through already? This was tame in comparison. The portal behind her crackled, spilling violet light into a large room filled with shadows, and sinister shapes. She gave off a little violet light herself, had done for a while now. Cassey felt this should scare her too. In the kingdom of the mad, however, the sane woman was queen.
A laugh, more of a cackle really, escaped her mouth. It echoed and bounced off the walls to impact against…
There were dozens of them, large, brutish-looking horrors the size of bears. They had more limbs than a bear though, more limbs than any creature had the right to possess.
Cassey stepped between them carefully. They were static, but whether dead or frozen or sleeping, she didn’t know. Didn’t want to know.
This room, wherever it was, was the closest thing to Earthly reality she had encountered in a while. It still appeared monstrous. Better to be here, however, than the twilit abysses she usually found herself in.
Dark windows lined the far walls, three to a side, but there were no doors. This puzzled her, but she had encountered worse. As Cassey headed between the motionless shapes, she noted a slight violet shimmer on the wall ahead. It meant another portal, leading back to the screaming abyss, or perhaps another world or dimension not her own. Cassey was stuck wandering these dimensions until she found Gilman, or died trying.
Find Gilman, find the girl, she thought, and as she reached the wall, braced herself for what lay beyond.
Arkham. A quiet, old-fashioned place, one of those New England towns that had never quite caught up to the 21st century. It just sat languishing in its venerable history, checkered as it was.
Witch-haunted Arkham, witch-cursed Arkham… Cassey had heard it called these names and worse. The witch part was apt, certainly. She currently had a room in a guesthouse built on the old Witch House’s very foundations.
Sat in bed, the laptop kept her bare legs warm as she reread her notes:
Polly Hunter, the infant daughter of Brianna Hunter, missing for two weeks. Polly is the great-granddaughter of one Frank Elwood.
Frank Elwood was a fellow student of Walter Gilman (see below) who lived in the Witch House in 1929. He watched Gilman die, and was institutionalized for a year.
Walter Gilman rented an attic room in the so-called Witch House. A student of Non-Euclidean calculus, quantum physics, and folklore, he stayed in the room because it was rumoured to be haunted by the witch Keziah Mason.
(Note: research Mason at the library tomorrow.)
Gilman died 1st May 1929, apparently savaged to death by a rat.
Cassey paused, considering dying in such a terrible way. It seemed ludicrous really, but she guessed that back in the 1920s when people lived in hovels, it was a real danger.
In March 1931, the house was demolished after being severely damaged in a gale.
Is Gilman the key to this mystery, or is it Frank Elwood? Too much speculation and not enough information, and damn, do I hate cases that hint at the supernatural.
“Fuck do I hate cases that hint at the supernatural,” Cassey said and scowled at the laptop. A sudden scraping noise made her flinch in surprise. The source issued from the window to the bed’s right. Her heartbeat slowed when she saw a tree branch tapping the glass.
Damn this place has me spooked. Maybe I should rent a different room, or even find somewhere else to stay? Both seemed good options, but it was a nice room. It had freshly painted blue walls, a matching carpet… A little sparse on the furniture side maybe. A single wardrobe, to her left, stood beside the door leading to the bathroom. Straight ahead, a second door led to the corridor.
Gilman’s room, from what she had read in Elwood’s journal, was of far stranger dimensions. It triggered his imaginative mind into believing all sorts of weird things. Apparently, the room’s north wall had slanted inward, the low ceiling slanting downward to meet it.
Cassey tried picturing the weird configuration but felt too tired to form the image.
Something rattled, returning her gaze to the window. No, it wasn’t that. The sound came again, louder this time. She decided pipes in the walls sourced it, not rats, a problem Gilman had suffered decades earlier. This wasn’t surprising, Cassey guessed. The old house was ancient, even in his day.
She saved her work on the laptop, switched it off, and deposited it on the table beside her bed. Having already set her cellphone alarm for 9:30 a.m., Cassey hoped, as she climbed under the covers, for a good night’s sleep.
This was a dream like no other. She was hovering in an abyss crowded with strange objects, and bizarrely colored lights. Cloud-like nebulae loomed in the distance, their shapes organic, their colors fabulous. Chaotic sounds, an orchestra of instruments, screams, and metallic clanging, proved as confusing as the multicolored lights.
Below her, a perplexing gulf of shapes led to infinite depths.
The view above looked breathtaking. It resembled Van Gogh’s The Starry Night, but animated and alive. The huge mass, formed from strips of blue and white light, constantly consumed itself as it was reborn. Scores of swollen satellites surrounded the maelstrom. These weren’t egg yellow, like in the painting, but composed of strangely metallic hues.
Above the contorted mass, a dark blue sky held the hint of two titanic, glaring eyes. Rotating like Ferris Wheels, these stood pale blue against the darker background. The eyes of God? A god at least.
Cassey couldn’t see her form, and couldn’t move either. Her body felt different, however, strange compared to its waking world counterpart.
The shapes around her either resembled inorganic masses or pulsing, shivering objects with an obscene life about them.
The inorganic masses resembled cube clusters and DNA spirals twisted out of shape. Some were pyramids formed from multicolored bubbles, others, upturned, twisted bridges covered in blinking windows of light. They were puzzling to the eye.
The organic objects… were something else entirely.
There were bulging, living masses of bubbles that throbbed as they exploded and reformed. Arabesque-like forms, cancerous in their strange growth, consumed and re-grew themselves repeatedly. A massive being, resembling a spider and a centipede crushed together, shuddered and danced in the near distance.
The worst organics were those that appeared semi-human. Possessing limbs and faces, each had multitudes of both. They waved their hands placidly, grinned, or screamed from myriad faces. They reminded Cassey of Hindu deities, Shiva The Destroyer in particular. This invoked a terrible fear of where she was exactly, but part of her said: it’s all right, this is just a dream.
This didn’t help when one of the entities appeared to notice her. Those without faces were easy to discount. But those with eyes would scrutinize her on occasion, beckon and wave even. Dream or not, their attention was thoroughly undesired.
At times, an entity would disappear, leaving nothing but a violet shimmer in its wake. This occurred the opposite way too, entities appearing at random, and often, to her horror, materializing into a second being or inorganic object. The flailing aftermaths of these incursions caused the roaring, disordered sounds to rise to an unbearable cacophony.
What she feared most was that some warped being might materialize into her.
Like any dream that pushed against the bounds of sanity, Cassey tried willing herself awake.
The more she tried, the less likely it appeared that she could.
When one of the organic shapes floated up towards her, Cassey’s imperative to wake grew.
It resembled two fleshy cones, the bases meeting at the center. Fungoid shapes, orbiting like satellites, surrounded its strange form.
She felt her phantom heart beat faster at its approach, and impossible adrenaline flooding her unseen body.
The moment the cone-thing reached her, she found herself in motion. A terrifying sensation, the speed made her nauseous as the chasm’s myriad entities and objects flashed by. A mass of glassy prisms, materializing in their path, brought them to a sudden halt. A new noise appeared, a jangling tune she found familiar, distorted as it sounded.
Cassey saw vague shapes within the prisms: a section of the window, a woman in bed. When her own sleeping face appeared on a prism, a cold certainty hit her like a juggernaut.
This is no dream!
She sat straight up; found the room bright with morning light. Her cell phone sang the same tune that had assailed her in the abyss.
“Damn it, Arkham,” Cassey said, and stretched her arms, “I was hoping we’d get along.”
A long shower dispelled the residue of the bizarre dream, though, from bitter experience, Cassey knew there was more to it than that. Her friend Abe, now lost, possibly dead, said she had a sixth sense for strange things. More probably, she thought as she walked past Pickman Street’s quaint, wood-paneled houses, strange things had a sense for her.
She carried her laptop in a brown leather satchel slung over her shoulder. It felt heavier than usual due to the inclusion of her 9mm Colt Defender.
Arkham’s streets were wide, as were the sidewalks flanking them. Earlier, she had searched online for a library and found two: Miskatonic University’s Orne Library, and Arkham Public Library. She couldn’t be bothered with the red tape involved in trying to use a university library, so the public one it would be.
Cassey reached the corner of Pickman, turned right onto Garrison Street, and a few minutes later found herself walking past Miskatonic University’s quadrangle and campus. She recognized one tall, venerable-looking building from her web search: the Orne Library. Students dotted the campus, heading to classes or standing in groups chatting.
She reached an intersection, Lich Street the sign read, and as she crossed saw a small burial ground beyond the rows of wood-paneled houses. After a few more minutes of walking, she reached the Church Street intersection. The library stood ahead and to her right. Businesses, banks, and stores lined Church Street. Dozens of people walked the sidewalks. For sleepy Arkham, it was a packed thoroughfare.
The library, a one-floor building with a gabled roof, appeared to be a converted church. She looked both ways as she crossed, pausing halfway to allow a car to pass. As she reached the sidewalk, Cassey saw a large extension behind the church, constructed from newer, red bricks. She crossed the sidewalk, opened the left of two ancient doors, and found herself in a wide, brown-carpeted room. White pillars and rows of bookshelves lined the floor. Large tables stood between the pillars, holding bulky grey computers and printers.
A wide, blue-paneled counter stood to the left of the entrance. Cassey examined the racks lining the counter; saw leather bookmarks, chapbooks probably written by local authors.
Maybe ten people in the library were seated at tables or standing perusing the bookshelves. Without a visible custodian to guide her, Cassey headed towards the racks.
Half an hour later, and with the reluctant help of a teenage librarian, she had a pile of books and access to the library’s newspaper records.
The computer before her held the records, and from this, and the books, Cassey had found some interesting information.
A child disappeared at the time Walter Gilman lived in the Witch House. Anastasia Wolejko had been two years old, the same age as the current missing girl. As far as Cassey could see, Anastasia had never been found. It was a sad turn of events; one she hoped wouldn’t be repeated.
Through curiosity more than anything else, she had also looked up Keziah Mason. The ancient Essex County records she found described the woman’s 1692 trial in quite some detail.
In one transcript, the accused witch told presiding Judge Hathorne she could draw lines and curves that could transport her to other times and places. She also spoke of attending Black Sabbath meetings at a valley beyond Arkham’s Meadow Hill, and on an island on the Miskatonic River.
Her god, an entity called the ‘Black Man,’ appeared to be some version of the Devil, whom she had sworn an oath to before being given the secret name ‘Nahab.’
This information gave Cassey pause. The Black Man. She had read this name before, in connection to dark forces.
At some point during her trial, Mason had upped and disappeared from her cell. This incident certainly led credence to her being a witch, probably one of the few authentic witches caught during those awful witchcraft trials.
Mason had also claimed to own a familiar, some creature named ‘Brown Jenkin.’ This rat-like being had a human face and hands. It was her messenger to the Devil, some vampiric miscegenation that spoke multiple tongues.
Threads, leading to something. Cassey considered her dream, and what, if anything, it had to do with the toddler’s disappearance.
Polly, the great-granddaughter of Frank Elwood. Connected to Walter Gilman, and the old witch Keziah Mason.
Could this new disappearance be connected? Her sixth sense, as Abe used to call it, hinted at a yes.
Still fatigued after her poor night’s sleep, Cassey went to yawn. Her current location made her clamp it down.
Well, there’s no avoiding what I need to do next. She saved her notes and switched the laptop off. Her next destination: the home of Brianna Elwood.
After leaving the room, Cassey found herself in the non-place again, the nightmare dimension of sights and sounds. Some unknown time earlier, Gilman had deposited her here, leaving her lost and to her own devices. An arrogant action, really, now she could travel of her own volition. The place was a labyrinth though. Cassey imagined wandering it for years before she found her way home if this was even possible.
So far, she had learned two important things. One was what constituted a portal. Another: is what constituted Walter Gilman.
He was the key to escaping, but first, she had to find him.
From her hiding place, a structure resembling a massive multicolored Fu Dog, Cassey scanned the abyss hoping to spot him. So much was happening though. As she watched, a nearby cube cluster burst, becoming smaller clusters that shot off in different directions. Something resembling a squid, with electrical discharges for tentacles, drifted towards her before curling its limbs up and disappearing. One of the Hindu goddesses swelled massive, solidifying into a bright yellow sphere. The arms disappeared, and the faces began floating on the surface in random directions. One winked at her.
Their actions were mystifying. Cassey wondered if her own behavior appeared just as strange to them.
A small polyhedron, formed from strange colors and rapidly shifting angles, appeared nearby. It moved closer but made no attempt to attack.
Then Cassey saw the cone-thing, the form Gilman used in the abyss.
She left the Fu Dog, and traveling behind and between the organisms and structures, made a circuitous route toward him.
Cassey sensed more than saw the polyhedron following her; before a distinct ‘pop’ told her it had disappeared from the abyss.
As she trailed Gilman, the churning sounds of the abyss changed. A rhythmic, pounding beat arose to overpower the other discordant noises. The rhythm had a strange effect on her environment, the beings and quasi-buildings pulsing to the beat.
It was a momentary distraction, but enough to make her lose sight of Gilman.
He had disappeared behind a quasi-building, a slowly rotating, many-sided labyrinth. She swooped towards it, avoided a collision with the newly appeared polyhedron, and found herself hovering before an array of slippery gold planes.
A portal, she realized as the planes converged and moved towards her. She saw a flash of multicolored light, experienced a sudden inertia, then found herself back in human form.
Cassey stumbled and fell, landing on her hands and knees upon a floor of black hexagonal tiles shot with green veins. They felt warm to the touch. With wary movements, she stood and looked around. This time she had been deposited on a rooftop terrace surrounded by metal balustrades. Of Gilman, there was no sign.
Damn, I missed him, or maybe he entered a different portal?
Wherever she was, Cassey didn’t like it. The air tasted coppery, like diffused blood.
Beyond the balustrades, an immense, shining city stretched off to the horizon. It looked improbably, impossibly vast. Who or what could build such a thing? Not human hands, she felt certain. Many of the titanic, sky-piercing buildings were built from brass, silver, or gold. Others were formed from worn, weathered stone, hinting that the metal structures had been constructed at a later epoch. There was a strangeness to their dimensions, something uncomfortable to the eye. Many of the towers leaned at dangerous angles, cubes and cylinders topping delicate spires or hanging suspended from corners and curves.
The sepia-tinted sky above held three blazing green suns.
This is something new, she thought and stepped across the tiles towards the balustrade. Alien, but not as alien as the chasms she usually found herself in.
The chest-high balustrade stood wrought with delicate designs, and was constructed from a shining metal, possibly silver. The designs included small figurines Cassey thought she recognized.
“Oh shit no.” Having paused before the balustrade, she edged closer to it.
Those rigid, barrel-shaped forms, the bulb-like heads, and bases, the tentacled arms protruding from the center of the barrels. They topped the railings in one continuous row.
On a case some months earlier, Cassey had encountered one of the horrors the statuettes depicted. Even decayed, mummified, and impossibly old, it had killed without mercy, couldn’t comprehend mercy, from what she experienced during its psychic attack.
“Elvira,” Cassey said, remembering the girl the elder thing had driven insane.
A sudden dizzy spell sent her stumbling forward. She grabbed the balustrade for support, and lurching against the metal, knocked a statuette off. It tumbled down the side of the building, an endless-looking drop as it passed other, lower rooftops.
Cassey gasped. Sinister shapes were moving across one of the rooftops. Tiny with distance, they were still recognizable from their spidery gaits, and their familiar silhouettes.
“No.” the word left her mouth as a weak croak.
Musical pipings drifted up from below. She knew they had noticed her, and saw small, fan-like wings unfurl from their bodies.
Cassey turned in horror and found herself face-to-face with Walter Gilman.
A leering grin crossed his wasted face, revealing bared, yellow teeth.
“You stink of a witch,” he said, his ice-cold breath ripe and charnel.
He opened his mouth wider, revealing a green, anemone-like mass.
The sounds he produced matched the pipings from below, noises growing terribly close in the seconds since she turned her back on the balustrade.
She left the library and headed down Church Street. An online map had placed Hunter’s address, 15 Crane Street, as fairly near her current location.
In the distance stood the graveyard-covered hump of Hangman’s Hill. It felt like a dark omen of things to come. A sudden shiver made Cassey glad she was on a street busy with commuters. As she walked, she passed banks, mini-malls, and a New Age store called ‘Bewitched Arkham.’ Window signs offered psychic readings, tarot, and incense. She caught a whiff of the latter as she passed the open entrance.
It wasn’t long before she reached an intersection. She crossed the street and turned left onto West Street. Soon after, she passed the university again.
West Street stood lined with newish-looking, wood-paneled houses. She crossed again and turned right onto Crane Street.
Her trepidation had grown since leaving the library. It swelled when she reached number 15. The house was large, constructed from silvery, grey-paneled wood. The second floor had a bay window above the front door; the entrance inclined a few meters in. Cassey headed up the step and searched the doorframe for a bell. There wasn’t one, so she rapped her knuckles against the door’s blue wooden surface.
A voice said something beyond the door, followed by footsteps. Cassey took a deep breath, releasing it when the door opened.
She had only spoken to Brianna on the phone, so felt taken aback by the young woman’s beauty. A little shorter than Cassey, she had shoulder-length, raven black hair, and deep blue eyes set in a delicate face of incredibly pale skin. The woman wore a red jumper, and white trousers with floral patterns.
“Brianna Hunter?” she asked at the woman’s quizzical expression.
Her face lit up with a smile. “Miss Bane, come in!” she said, and backing off, opened the door wider.
Cassey followed her into a long, narrow corridor, shadowy but for the light from the entrance and the shaded window on the far wall. The walls were light green, and the ceiling, and floor formed from beams of darkly polished oak.
Brianna paused at a door to Cassey’s left. Cassey closed the front door behind her, heard the lock click shut, and followed her into the room.
The room, the lounge she guessed, bore the same dark oak floor and ceiling as the corridor. The walls were papered red, with white dots.
Two black leather couches faced one another at the center of the room. Between them were two cardboard boxes, their brown surfaces stained with dried patches.
“Please, Miss Bane, have a seat,” Brianna said, pointing to one of the couches. She paused, turning to Cassey. “Would you like tea? Juice?”
Cassey shook her head, stepped forward, and took the proffered couch.
“No thanks, that’s alright. And please, call me Cassey.” She pulled the satchel strap from her shoulder and shrugged out of her jacket.
Brianna took the couch opposite, and straightened the fabric on her trousers with her hands.
“Where to begin,” she said and smiled at Cassey sadly.
The light from the room’s single window gave Cassey a better look at her client. Her eyebrows and lashes were as black as her hair, the latter thick but natural. Cassey wondered at her heritage, thinking foreign, Middle Eastern maybe.
Brianna’s blue eyes were lighter around the pupils, like eclipses. There was a fragility about this woman’s beauty, a sadness betrayed by the hint of dark rings under her eyes.
“The beginning,” Cassey replied with her own sad smile, “is always the best place to start.”
“Well, our mutual friend put us in touch, soon after, um,” Brianna sniffed, “Soon after Polly disappeared.”
Their mutual friend, Harold Peabody, was a man that knew of Cassey’s dealings with the supernatural. He thought this case would be right up her street.
Brianna had turned silent, ruminating over her daughter’s disappearance, Cassey guessed. She continued the conversation for her.
“I read your grandfather’s journal, thank you for sending me that, and of course, I have what you told me on the phone. I also did my own research.” Cassey felt a growing unease at the woman’s silence; busying herself, she opened her satchel, removing her paper notepad.
It appeared Brianna was fighting back tears. The woman took a deep breath and straightened herself. Holding out her palms, she breathed slowly for a few seconds. “I’m sorry. This…” She shook her head. “The police in Arkham has selected blindness about this stuff, anything that even hints at the unseen. I guess they’ve experienced so much of it. Have so many unsolvable cases.”
“That’s no excuse,” Cassey replied, unable to think of anything better to say.
“Yeah true,” Brianna looked up, and stared at her with damp eyes. “I remember what I saw that night, that shape in the darkness with the violet tint. It was a man, and damn, he stank of brimstone. There was something with him, a small thing with greasy fur. It laughed at me before they disappeared.”
Cassey shivered, and felt goose pimples form on her forearms.
“Grandfather Frank.” Brianna continued. “He always seemed wary; always worried that the events with Walter Gilman weren’t ended. And this…”
Silence fell between them. Cassey opened her notepad, and flicked through it for something to do.
“There were books and papers,” Brianna continued.
She leaned forward, and opened the box to Cassey’s right.
A smell of aged paper, thick with mildew, issued from the box. Cassey suppressed the urge to sneeze.
“These were his things, I found them in the attic, earlier this year after he died. I’m sure they’re from the Witch House, a lot of old books and papers dealing with devil worship. Most of them are half-destroyed or crumbling to dust.” She rooted through the box, intent on finding something. “There was some metal thing, depicting a monster. That’s in the local museum. There were bones too, many belonging to children. I don’t know what happened to those.” She paused, took a breath, and reached deeper into the box.
“There is this one other thing, something my grandfather kept.”
Cassey felt a distinct unease as Brianna’s hand left the cardboard box. She held a small cigar box, old and faded with the words “White Owl” barely discernable on the lid.
Brianna handed it over and Cassey, putting her notepad in her lap, gingerly accepted it.
“This is only part of what they found,” she said as Cassey lifted the lid. “The rest of the skeleton was mostly destroyed. The paws were like a monkey’s, and the face, well… It’s supposed to be a rat.”
What lay between the clumps of old, dried-up straw made Cassey’s stomach churn.
Something with him, small with greasy fur. It laughed at her.
The skull wasn’t like a rat’s at all. It more resembled a human skull but deformed with a bulging frontal lobe, the eye sockets too far apart. Large, uneven yellow fangs arrayed its mouth. To imagine it living… A monstrous thing, a travesty of life; it needed destroying, not kept inside a box.
Cassey closed the lid in a hurry.
Brianna stared at her intently. She snapped out of it when Cassey held out the box.
“No, please take that, and the other things too,” she said. “Maybe you’ll find some clue as to who took my daughter.”
Or what took her, Cassey thought and stared at the innocuous-looking cigar box.
Cassey returned the boxes to her lodgings by taxi. The boxes, though light, were too cumbersome for a single trip, and she didn’t feel like seeing Brianna twice in one day. Not that she wasn’t friendly, or pleasant to be around, but her grief was palpable.
She had the contents arrayed across her bed. As Cassey examined them, the possibility of solving the case looked small, at best.
The girl is dead, I just know it, she thought, and instantly regretted it.
She sat on a chair she had borrowed from the dining room downstairs. With her elbows on her knees and her hands under her chin, Cassey scrutinized the items.
Books, papers, one solitary photograph… the skull remained in its box. That was something she didn’t need to see again.
But it all seemed connected, the rat-thing Brown Jenkin, the man shrouded in violet that took Polly.
And this… junk.
The boxes had held three books: Cthäat Aquadingen, De Vermis Mysteriis, and one called The Book of Nonterraqueous: or of Things Not of the Earth, Air and Sea. The first two were falling apart, their brown leather covers half-rotted. Cthäat Aquadingen had a large chunk missing from its top left corner. The Book of Nonterraqueous appeared newer, though the spine was hanging off. It had a red cloth cover and gilt lettering.
There was an abundance of loose papers too, ragged and browned with age. Some were covered in crabbed, faded handwriting, strange symbols, and magic circles. She couldn’t decipher the language. A few loose pages appeared to be Arabic. Drawn in brown and red ink, they resembled blueprints in design.
Pages of darker content held scenes of torture, people torn to shreds in a woodcut style quite convincing in its monstrosity. The numbers and scrawled writing put Cassey in the mind for instructions for torture. She certainly didn’t like the brown stains that resembled aged, bloody fingerprints.
There were also drawings of strange creatures interacting with people: spidery things covered in human faces, dogs with children’s heads, and women dancing and copulating with amphibious beings. One of the ugliest pages depicted two bearded men, naked apart from their cloaks. Each held a scythe in one hand and a crying infant in the other. Crude images of human organs spotted the area below their feet, feet that were actually cloven hooves.
The books and papers had a musty, acrid funk about them. Cassey realized that unless she wanted to endure that smell for the remainder of her stay, she would have to change the bed sheets.
The photograph caught her attention, and she leaned forward to retrieve it. Holding it two-handed, she examined the black-and-white image.
It depicted two men, standing side by side wearing suits and waistcoats. The one on the left, taller than his companion, smiled. He wore a dark suit. His hair was dark too, possibly black. His companion stared moodily at the camera. He had light-coloured hair, and a suit probably grey or light brown. The chain of a pocket watch dangled from his waistcoat.
Pocket watch. Cassey scrutinized the items on her bed and saw a tarnished gold watch.
She turned the photo over, deciphered writing almost faded to nothing: Walter and Frank, Jan ’29. Returning the photo to the bed, she retrieved the pocket watch, and examined the ivory face. It had stopped at 3:33. Turning it over, she found words on the worn surface:
College Graduation 1925
Well Done Son.
“Every girl’s crazy about a sharp-dressed man,” she said, and the watch started ticking.
It came as such a shock that she flung the watch onto the bed. It landed face up.
A lump formed in her stomach and groped its way up her throat. Cassey watched transfixed, as the seconds’ hand made its journey towards the twelve positions.
From nowhere, a pair of hands dropped onto her shoulders. A blinding flash followed, and then, she was somewhere else.
Gilman was a master of these strange dimensions, Cassey, a mere novice. Atop the dreadful terrace, the pipings filled her ears. She flinched as he lunged at her.
“They shan’t have you,” he whispered, and a blinding flash followed.
The next moment she was in the monstrous abyss, louder and more chaotic than ever. The constraint made things worse, for whatever answered for Gilman’s limbs here held her tightly. He moved quickly, the abyss flashing past as they shot towards some unknown destination.
Cassey felt helpless, terrified. The small polyhedron flew ahead, guiding Gilman as the sounds of the abyss accelerated towards some unfeasible, maniac climax.
She struggled, hoping that like a nightmare, she could shake herself awake.
This did nothing but make Gilman speed faster, as did the tumbling polyhedron.
The pulsing, banging beats increased to such a tempo that everything in the hellish dimension started to shudder around her.
Another flash and Cassey felt fresh air on her face. She stumbled to her knees and landed on damp, spongy earth.
She breathed deeply, the fresh air feeling good in her mouth. Still… where am I?
“Gilman?” she asked hesitantly and rose unsteadily to her feet.
“Damn.” Beyond a cluster of weeping willow trees, Cassey saw the lights of Arkham, the Miskatonic River’s dark snaking form to the town’s left. She had been deposited in the woods atop Hangman’s Hill.
Stars sprinkled the dark blue sky. A chill wind made her hug herself.
Cassey turned and gasped.
A gibbous moon, high in the southwest, illuminated a terrible apparition.
Gilman wore a frayed grey suit. His skin was white, greasy looking. Even from a distance, she could smell a sulfurous reek. Apart from the photo, the brief glimpses in her bedroom and atop the balustrade, this was her first clear look at him.
“My dear,” he said. The ghoulish grin on his emaciated face, those eyes, so huge and staring… whatever he was now, it was no longer human. As if to confirm this, his body rippled; strange bulges moved and pulsed beneath his threadbare suit.
Cassey backed off a few steps, and his grin grew wider.
“I’ve been watching,” he said, matching her movements with a forward gait, “since you arrived.” Gilman halted, and raised his hands with a beckoning gesture. “Once you’re marked by the Black Man, you’re a lodestone to his acolytes.”
“Like fuck I am!” Cassey yelled, and turning right, rushed through the trees.
Unused to the earthly environment, her balance went awry. She stumbled into a tree, this was all she could do to remain standing.
Cassey saw gravestones beyond the hanging branches; their weathered, lozenged shapes leaned at precarious angles. Beyond them, three tombs stood in a row, the second and third along bright in the moonlight. They stood unevenly, like the earth was slowly absorbing them into the hill. The entranceways were open, each leading to a deep, charnel darkness.
Cassey stepped forward and then froze. Violet light filled the inside of the third tomb.
A tall figure emerged from the tomb. Human in shape its twisted body towered over seven feet tall. Its robes were tattered and crimson. The figure paused, and a wide smile crossed its face.
Ice water flooded her veins. Cassey wanted to run, but her legs wouldn’t obey her. The light behind the figure flickered then disappeared, though he, for she now saw his face clearer, still had a violet shimmer about him.
The man was bald, his skin jet-black.
The Black Man.
His shrouded eyes had a violet tint to them. He raised his right arm, aiming a slender, beckoning hand at her.
Cassey heard rustling, and smelled sulfur. A hand grabbed her neck and roughly dragged her forward.
“Come along girl,” Gilman said. She struggled, but he raised her to her tiptoes, making it impossible to fight.
The pain in her head and neck was excruciating; she felt so helpless. Cassey’s fear grew as they neared the tall, robed figure.
Then, she saw his eyes: they bore three glowing violet irises each.
Cassey struggled in renewed panic, and Gilman threw her to the ground.
Winded, she stared at the robed figure. The bottom of his cloak shuffled, a small face popping out from between the folds. Cassey released a choked cry at the pink, gruesome visage that appeared part rat, part human. It grinned, tittered, and Cassey felt her consciousness waver.
“Stay awake you,” Gilman said and clouted her across the head. “Here.”
Cassey felt something cold and angular being pushed into her hand.
She looked up and saw a knife, the obsidian blade long and wickedly curved.
The rat-thing laughed again, that awful, mocking twitter.
Cassey found she could barely breathe.
Movements returned her attention to the black man. Pulling his cloak back, he revealed an unconscious child, lying in the crook of his bare, muscular arm. Dressed in dirt-stained blue pajamas, she had long, raven black hair.
“Do it. Complete the ritual!” Gilman barked, gripping her hand with brutal strength.
“Complete the ritual,” the rat-thing repeated in a tiny, scratchy voice.
The black man stepped forward, and pressed the toddler into Cassey’s free arm.
No, she thought in desperation and clutched the child against her chest.
“NO!” she shouted as her arm was forced towards Polly’s prone form. A painful struggle followed, but Cassey managed to rip her hand away from Gilman’s grip. She turned, and with a sweep of her hand, slashed the blade across his throat.
Gilman’s angry expression became one of slack-jawed shock. He shuddered, gagged, and fell to his knees. Dark fluids spurted from his mouth, the slit in his neck.
Cassey was just getting her breath back when something small and heavy struck her back. Tiny hands clawed at her, teeth began digging into the nape of her neck.
A cry of agony escaped her throat. She flipped the bloody knife, reached around, and stabbed downwards.
A shrill scream followed, and the rat-thing released its hold. Cassey turned to see it limping off past the black man.
His head tilted his expression one of curiosity.
She climbed to her feet on shaky legs, and pointed the gore-stained knife toward him.
“God or not, you’re not getting her! You hear me?”
Her raised hand wavered, but her resolve did not. “This child is coming with me.”
The black man smiled and bowed. A large toothy grin crossed his face.
“Of course,” he said, and his voice sounded surprisingly light, musical even. “A bargain then. A trade. Do you offer Gilman up, as your sacrifice?”
Behind her, Gilman issued a loud gasping sound, then, “No… NO!”
“Take him,” she said, “Take the bastard to Hell.”
The words felt like a covenant, but there was no taking them back now.
Still pointing the knife, Cassey turned and edged right. She put Arkham at her back, the black man and Gilman before her.
The rat thing, Brown Jenkin, had returned to its master’s feet. It scowled at Cassey, a very human expression, and clutched a tiny hand against the dripping hole in its chest.
Gilman crawled towards the woods. His movements looked painful. She felt glad about this.
The black man nodded at her, closing his weird eyes for a moment.
Polly struggled in her arm, reminding Cassey of how heavy the toddler had become.
She let the knife slip from her hand, hugged Polly to her chest, and turning, escaped down Hangman’s Hill.
As she descended, Brown Jenkin tittered behind her.
“Arkham, you’re really not that good for me,” Cassey said and started her car. The night before had been clear of nightmares, thankfully, and she had slept soundly.
After leaving Hangman’s Hill, she returned Polly to her mother. Brianna cried, and the child cried. Cassey didn’t, was far too numb for emotions. Her psyche had been too blasted by the events of the past two days. Just two days, wandering the maddening abyss, exploring alien worlds.
It felt like weeks, but she didn’t question it.
Still absorbed in her thoughts, Cassey drove slowly down Pickman Street.
She hadn’t charged Brianna for her services, just the expenses for staying in Arkham. Overjoyed at having her daughter returned safe and sound, Brianna told Cassey she could keep her grandfather’s stuff.
Those dubious gifts were accepted, and when Cassey returned to her lodgings, she burned them up in the alleyway behind the building.
She reached an intersection and turned right, leaving Pickman Street to drive down Garrison. She passed the university and Lich Street, slowing to a halt at the Church Street intersection. The old library stood across from her.
Nice place, she thought, hope I never see you again.
The lights turned green, and continuing down Garrison Street, she took the left at the River Street intersection. The street was aptly named, for to its right stretched the Miskatonic River’s wide, sluggish form. The river shone metallic blue in the morning light.
To her left were rows of warehouses, some dilapidated and abandoned, others boasting fresh coats of paint.
Cassey passed a ‘Speed Limit 30’ sign and slowed the car. Police intervention would be undesirable right now. Had Brianna contacted the authorities, and mentioned her name? What could she possibly even say to them, that Cassey rescued the child from otherworldly monsters?
She sighed, loudly. Ahead, River Street took a gentle right curve. Beyond it, she saw the boundaries of Arkham, open fields beyond.
There was a bridge to cross at Ross’s Corners, then a twenty-minute drive to Salem. According to her GPS, this would be followed by a four-hour journey to New York.
“I’ll be counting the miles,” she said with a grimace.
The warehouses ended, replaced by rows of weeping willow trees. Beyond them, Cassey saw a hint of Hangman’s Hill, that place of horrors, nightmares unbound. The trees thinned, giving her a clear view of the tombs and gravestones crowning them.
Was that a tall figure, standing between the tombs, dressed in crimson?
“Trick of the light,” Cassey told herself and departed Arkham without looking back.