Monoliths. Ancient astronomical stone-gardens. Human-like statues beyond antiquity. All tap into our deepest sense of cosmic time … and cosmic horror.
As I moved down the sandy shore of the Woodell River, searching for rock samples, I stumbled upon a queerly stacked stone statue. Placed perfectly it was, on a large weathered rock, so much so not even the water moving across its base made it budge. It begged the question, “Who built this?”
Who, indeed, did build the small pillar of stone that seemed to speak in an unspoken language that not even a geologist’s mind could understand. Although it was strange, and built abnormally, I found it captivating. The statue seemed to have a force about it, something that pulled me towards its direction, kept me standing in the riverbed, and left me to wonder about its quixotic structure.
As the cool water rushed over my feet, and my eyes fixated on the stacked stones, I pondered, what type of person would create such an odd thing. Slowly, my imagination pieced together characters that seemed to be ripped from the fictional stories I have read over the years.
An old sage who lives in the woods, that builds to pay homage to the ancient gods who dwell in the forest; an office worker who needs to be among the water and trees to feel whole, to feel real, to be among nature and not an artificial setting. A father who is too occupied with his family during the day and night, so before dawn breaks, he sneaks to the river, to stack stones for his pleasure.
Lost in thought, I hardly realized I was back on the dirt trail, walking north towards town. As the sun trickled in through the green trees, and the clouds moved across the blue sky like lily pads on water, I quickly learned, my imagination did not satisfy my rapidly growing curiosity. I must know who or what he is, I thought, I must know why he stacks those small pillars of stone.
When I arrived in town, at the university, I spoke to my colleagues about the statues over lunch. They did not care much for who built the pillars, or the pillars themselves, but obliged me with a name. The name I find myself muttering in an empty classroom at random, the name that seemed to never leave my mind since that lunch; the name of a person I became determined to meet as if it was fate itself was pushing me forward, the name was – The Stone Man.
The plan was simple enough. I was to camp near the small river, wait for him to come stack his stones, and when he came, simply talk to him, ask him questions like who he was and why does he build those statues. Unfortunately, I discovered that he builds in several locations along the hiking trail, so I hoped luck was on my side that week, and he would come to the river.
It was a Sunday morning when I arrived, the sun was still sleeping, and a veil of fog blanketed the rushing waters. I quickly set up the tent among the trees, tossed my belongings inside, and sat behind the tent door’s mesh window, looking out into the scenery, hoping he would appear soon.
If I was correct, he would show in the morning, before sun rise. However, if I was not, instead of spending those precious hours sleeping, I would stare aimlessly out into the earthbound clouds. Although the small river and forest were a beautiful sight, nothing beats a well needed rest.
Several hours had past, and no movement except for the insects and small critters amongst the brush occurred. Eventually, when the sun was nearing its peak, I drifted off, allowing the comforting sensation of nothingness take hold of me.
While the burning orb in the sky hovered high above me, its rays pouring through the yellow plastic ceiling, filling the tent and my eyes with light, I was forced awake. As if I was late for an important event, I jumped up, unzipped the door, and looked out into the forest.
The mist was gone, the stream was softer, and on top of one of the half submerged rocks was one of those stone stacked statues. “Dammit! He was here! While I slept!” I shouted, when I stumbled out from the tent, rushed through the cool water barefoot, knelt down, and inspected the oddly designed structure.
It was impressive, to say the least. The bottom stone was obsidian; rounded, flat, and a sleek black color. The next one was sandstone; large, bulky, triangular, sandy red, and stood vertically. The following rock was shale; a dull shade of brownish yellow, thin, and brittle. The top stone of that weird work of art was limestone; triangular, pointy, had an emerald shade, and was placed vertically, one of its ends pointing up like an antenna.
I did not know how The Stone Man was able to gather and balance them in such a short amount of time, then escape into the forest without being heard or seen, but he did. He was, I learned, skillful in his strange ways.
Pushing through the growing strength of the river, I moved back to the shore, sat down in the sand, removed a snack bar from my bag, and started to eat. Looking up at the sky, I said to myself, “Little to do now that he came and went” taking another bite. “However, one thing is for certain, he comes before noon, but after dawn.”
It was Monday morning, the sky was soft blue, and the stream was calm. I turned in early the night before, to ensure I was awake before dawn, to catch The Stone Man in his act.
Sipping from a tin mug that held coffee I made over a small fire that was long extinguished, I watched the water gently move over the rock bedding.
While I held the tin cup over my face, taking the last sip of the nearly cold brew, I heard a rusting in the forest. Quickly setting the mug down, I looked through the tent’s mesh window and saw an old man emerge from the trees, with a long gray beard, and adorning a patchy maroon robe.
Lifting his robe above his knees, he walked into the stream, knelt down, and started to build his strange form of art. I watched him like he was one of those foreign creatures from the zoo, inspecting how different his ways were to mine.
With calloused hands, he weaved a statue with pebbles and stone taken from the riverbed, never examining which stone he used, as if his hands contained eyes that could see which stones were correct and which ones were not.
Keeping quiet, I watched the artisan complete his work. When he finished, he pushed off his knees to stand erect. Then, just as he went to turn, his leg jerked, twisting above the kneecap, and he released a piercing wail into the air as his body collapsed into the water below.
He let out a moan and grabbed onto his thigh, pulling his leg out from between the rocks that previously pinched his ankle. Releasing his leg, he moved to his side, and used his arms to pull himself to shore, every movement sent anguish over his face.
As quickly as I could, I undid the tent’s door, sprinted out to him, and knelt down beside him. I tried to inspect his leg as much as I could, but my sight continued to wonder over his entire body, examining every little odd detail of the old man.
Under his robe was a white t-shirt with holes near the collar, and he was wearing gray shorts that looked more like swim shorts. His limbs were skeletal, and his cheeks were sunken in. His eyes were a foggy brown that seemed to widen every time he glanced up at the sky.
I snapped out from my curiosity, and looked to his leg. Near his ankle was broken, and I assumed, he would not be able to walk for some time. When I offered to help him, he refused by shaking his head, but after many pleas, he finally allowed me to carry him into the tent.
Once he was in the tent, laying on the tarp floor, water trickling down from his robe, he continued to writhe in pain. As he cried out to be relieved of his agony, he dug his fingers into his sunburnt thigh, and small beads of blood started to form under his unkept nails.
Leaning into the tent from the outside, in a frenzy, I said I would go get medical supplies from my home, only a few miles north from there, and return as quickly as possible. However, he must stay still and not move, lest he do more damage.
Although he tried to crawl away several times before I left, finally he realized he was better off staying put, and with a feverish nod, he agreed to stay.
When I returned with a sack filled with medical supplies; bandages, splints, and some pills to dull the pain, he was asleep, using my bag I left as a pillow.
As I kneeled down, and hunched over his broken leg, a memory flashed through my mind. A few years ago, on a trip with the university hiking club, we were trudging up a steep and slowly ascending trail, and one of the students tripped over an embedded rock, crashed to the ground, and fractured his ankle.
As the young man laid in the dirt, gripping his ankle and trying not to weep, one of the club leaders, Aaron Moore, taught me how to treat the man’s fractured ligament with a simple splint and some bandages.
When the memory started to fade away, I put that knowledge into action, and began working on The Stone Man’s leg. Fortunately he never budged, and by the time he woke up, his leg was bandaged and set with a splint.
After several attempts to start a conversation were ignored, we sat in silence, staring idly in different directions. I believed he was too scared to talk, or perhaps, too upset about his stone pillars. However, when I brought up the stacked stones, and for what purposes he would have to build them, his body shuddered, his eyes widened, and his mouth became agape.
Hurriedly he tried to scramble out into the river, but I was quick and pinned him to the ground, screaming that he must not move or he will damage his leg further.
As if he was a childish lunatic, he wailed and moaned for what seemed to be hours, until I pulled the pain killers from my pocket, and shoved them into his mouth, forcing him to swallow.
His body was not use to medicine, I soon learned, as the pills quickly surged through his veins, and in a few moments, he drifted into a lull.
Drugged and half conscious was not the way I wanted the meeting to carry on, but not everything can finish the way one would like, I suppose.
He awoke the next day, while the sun was high in the sky, and the sound of a crackling fire could be heard. His groaning alerted me he was awake, and I came in with two cups filled with coffee. Setting one down next to him, unsure if he enjoys the black brew, I sat across from him and blew on the steaming drink.
When I went to take a sip of my drink, he said in a low voice, “Did you stack the stones last night? Before dawn?”
I put my cup down, and shouted “Wha- what!? You can speak English!?,” almost stumbling over my words, and ignoring his question, I barraged him with questions. “What’s your name?
Where do you live? In these woods? If so, how? Where do you get your food?”
He repeated, “Did you stack the stones last night? Before dawn?”
“That is not important. What is important is who you are, where you came from, and how you continue to survive out here in the woods!”
He clenched his hand and slammed his fist against the ground, some coffee spilling out onto the floor. Shouting now, “Did you stack the stones last night?! Before dawn!?”
“No! No! I did not stack the stones before dawn, or last night! Why does those stacked stones matter more than who you are!?”
Rolling onto his back, looking up at the tent roof, he muttered, “We are doomed… so very doomed.”
Crawling over to him, I asked, “Doomed? How are we doomed?”
Without breaking sight with the ceiling, he continued to mutter. “Doomed… we are all doomed. Doomed… we are all…” then he slowly dozed off, and a tear trickled down the side of his face.
It was nearing dusk when he awoke, still rambling nonsense. I came into the tent, and went to replace the now cold coffee I left him that morning with a fresh one. However, before my hand reached the tin handle, he snapped over onto his side, grabbed my arm, and dug his sharp nails into my skin.
“Do you want to know why were are doomed? I will tell you why,” he said while looking up at me with red outlined eyes, and saliva dripping from his mouth.
With a trembling body, and wide eyes, I stared down at the lunatic who held me still. For a man with no proper nutrition, he was strong, for I was unable to get away from his grasp no matter how hard I tried.
“The beacons I stack. The ones you consider pillars. Keep an evil at bay, a great evil. An evil that is so great that it must live in Space, because the Earth is not large enough to contain it. I do not know why it waits in the sky above ours to feed on us, or why it has picked Earth as its feeding dish, but it has!
“The beacons send a signal, a signal that we humans cannot hear or see. The signal sent tells it that it still cannot come to Earth. That, if the Great Evil tries, it will collapse upon itself, because of the Earth’s strong gravity.
“However, what this evil does not know, that it can come down to Earth. It can break through our atmosphere and crush us under its titanic body. With the beacons, and the emitted signal from them, in some cosmic language, it speaks to the Great Evil and tells it that it is unsafe, for it will die under its own greatness.
“Now we are doomed. Doomed! The beacons must be made before dawn, every day, to keep the evil away. It has been two days since the beacons have not been made. It is on its way. Four days with no beacons, it will come and destroy us, the Earth, and everything that you have come to know…”
He pulled me down, locked eyes with me, and shouted. “Unless! You allow me to build the beacons! You must allow me to build the beacons to keep the evil from coming and killing us all!
“If not me, maybe, you! You can build the beacons! You refuse me to build them, so you must! You must save the planet! Just build them the way I have! Obsidian, sandstone, shale, and limestone! In that order! Obsidian. Sandstone. Shale. Limestone.
“Sizes and shape do not matter! Only the shape of the limestone matters! Make sure it is pointy, like a triangle, and one of the corners points up, to the sky!”
He shouted, and as his quick words echoed through the tent, his mouth frothed, and saliva spat out from his mouth, splashing onto the floor.
“The water here, in the river, is blessed with energy that helps ward off the Great Evil! There are spots on Earth that are blessed, to ward off the Great Evil, and this river is one of them! Another, I believe, is somewhere across the ocean, in a city called Cherry Brooke…
“Do not ask me why or how they are! Perhaps the gods from above, beyond our universe, walked these waters eons ago, and some particles of their flesh are still embedded deep below the surface, and the energy from their incomprehensible celestial strength flows up through the soil, and lives within the water?Maybe, but, truly, I do not know! However, I assure you, that they are blessed!
“Ensure me that you will build the beacon, in these waters, the way I described it, before four days have come! Ensure me! If not, we are doomed!”
The Stone Man was becoming The Mad Man, I thought. He spoke in such a frenzy I could hardly comprehend his words, however before he begged me to build his beacons, I came to understand him completely.
The stones kept an evil away, and after four days with no stones, the evil comes, and we perish.
Setting that thought aside, I attempted to ask him more questions about who he was, why he builds the beacons, why the river, how was the water blessed, who are the gods beyond our universe; the Great Evil, what was it, what did it look like, how would one know if it was near; everything and anything my mind could conjure up that related to his ravings.
However, he ignored my questions, and continued to repeat the same insane rant from before. The beacons, the Great Evil, and the planet being doomed.
Quickly I grew tired of trying, and disallowed him to build his beacons with a broken leg, and refused to build them for him.
At this answer, he screamed into my face, the stench of his breath nearly making me vomit, freed my arm, rolled over, and started to weep.
While The Stone Man wept and eventually fell asleep, I stood outside, looking up into the cloudless, star filled, night sky. The moon’s glow colored everything a soft white, giving the river a milky look.
Peering up, I could see something that I never noticed before. A greenish purple sphere, moving slowly across the blackness above. It looked like some type of comet, but it did not have the long colorful tail trailing behind it, nor was it any color of any comet I knew of.
“That’s odd” I said to myself, “Once I get back to the university, I will speak to one of the astrology professors about this.” Although my words ceased, my thoughts did not.
I did not know much about comets, or Space entirely, being a geology professor, I frequently focused more on the planet than what surrounded it. One thing was for certain, the colors of the comet above were uncommon; however, to a more advanced mind, it was possible they were common. For all I knew, it was a regular comet, an object that soars through space aimlessly, composed of frozen gases and rock.
Although my mind raged with possibilities, I came to the conclusion the time for examination was not then, and more information was needed to assess the unusually colored space rock.
Giving up on the comet, with a stretch and yawn, I moved back into the tent. Laying down next to The Stone Man, I closed my eyes, and drifted to sleep.
Kneeling next to the small fire the following morning, poking at the burning wood with a stick, I looked up to see the green-purple comet was still there, and even larger; no — not larger — closer. I refused to believe The Stone Man was correct, so I looked back to the fire, placing a water filled tin pot above it, and watched the water slowly come to a boil.
Henry, he later told me was his name, was still unable to move. I believed he refused to move for more reasons than just his broken leg. It was likely he was too afraid to leave the tent, that the tarp ceiling somehow protected him from the Great Evil in the sky he continued to obsess about.
Truly, I thought, he was a mad man who spent too much time away from society, and being among the animals, insects, and trees has left him with no grip on reality. It was unfortunate and sad; however, soon I would take him back into the city, and he will adjust to modernity… one way or another.
When night came, Henry was fast asleep when I entered the tent. Putting as much distance between each other, I laid down, and quickly fell asleep.
Waking drenched in sweat, I could see the sky, through holes burnt into the tent’s ceiling. It was a blazing mix of red, yellow, and orange, it looked like the sky was replaced by the sun.
Stumbling to my feet, I moved barefoot through the open flapping door, and peered out over the river. No longer was the Woodell River a place where cool waters flowed calmly downstream. It was now an empty, dried out, deep, chasm.
With sweat stinging my eyes, and with the feeling of my blood boiling, I looked to the sky. The comet from before was eclipsing the sky; not the moon, stars, or the sun could be seen beyond its titanic frame. It was no longer green and purple, but red, orange, and yellow, and waves of dark blue flames moved over its body.
Staggering back, barely able to stand in the blistering heat, I glanced over the horizon and saw that it ablaze, as were the the trees that surrounded the river. The flames were so giant it was as if they were burning holes into the troposphere.
Stumbling forward and tripping, I crashed to the ground, the top half of my body falling over the edge of the river. Looking hazily down I could see Henry, at the bottom of the chasm, building his beacons, with a large smile across his face.
His skin was burnt and bleeding, parts of his bones protruding out from his skin, and his wide eyes were boiling, like water above a flame, as he stacked the stones.
I shouted to him with a frothing mouth, while tufts of my hair fell around me, “What is happening!?”
He looked up with a grin, his teeth showing beyond rips in his flesh, and mouthed, “We. Are. Doomed.”
I awoke in a cold sweat when a flash of light painted the air white, and rain crashed against the tarp ceiling. Looking to my side, I realized Henry was missing, and the tent door was open.
Jumping to my feet, I ran outside, and shielded my eyes with my arm. Through the veil of water, I could see Henry, trying to build one of his beacons while laying in the river. Waves surged over him, and the strength of the tide was nearly dragging him underneath.
“Henry,” I screamed. “Henry! Come back into the tent! It is pouring, and the tide will pull you under! You will be dragged out to sea if you do not get out of the river! Or worse! You will drown!”
He continued to stack his stones while I screamed from the shore, either ignoring me or the sound of the heavy rainfall blocked out my cries. Nevertheless, I pushed through the sheets of water, and the rapidly growing river, towards him, still screaming for him to get back to shore.
It was helpless, I thought, for him and his beacons. Every time he stacked one stone on top of another, it would crumble under the tide’s strength, or the power of the wind would force it down.
After a few minutes, I was hunched over him, grabbing his arm, and dragging his body across the riverbed towards the shore. He fought back, kicking and writhing in my grasp, but with both hands clasped around his arm, I had the upper hand, and we slowly, but surely, neared the shore.
Flashes of white light filled the air haphazardly, letting me catch glimpses of Henry’s drenched body. His hair and beard soaked and mangled against his face, his maroon robe drenched, and his bruised broken ankle with no split or bandages.
Finally we made it to the shore, he had given up the fight mid-way, and allowed me to drag him towards the tent with no struggle. But as we neared our shelter, he looked up towards the sky, then faced me, and shouted, “WE ARE DOOMED!” I did not understand him completely. We were safe, away from the river, only a few steps from the tent, so I shouted back, “What do you mean!?” Then he pointed with his boney finger upwards, to the sky.
Removing one hand from him, I used my free arm to block the rain from my eyes when I looked up to see the greenish purple comet from before. However it so near that it appeared as if I could reach out and touch it.
It was completely purple with green swirls twisting and slithering over its solid body, like snakes in the grass. Suddenly, before I could sprint to the tent for safety, a thin horizontal line formed over its body. Slowly it opened to reveal a titanic white eyeball with no pupil, with a green colored iris. Within the iris were millions of purple misshapen beings that swayed in the green liquid, as if the color was a pool, and they were performing a strange swimming dance act.
I could not move, nor could I close my hanging jaw or my wide eyes, and more than just rain streamed down my face when a thundering shriek echoed from the Great Evil, sending thousands of vibrations through the air that flung me onto my back.
As I withered in the wet sand, crying and wailing, the Great Evil moved nearer, and I regretfully watched as small black holes ripped open on each iris being’s body. Smokey red lines poured out from each opening, lines twisting and weaving across the white abyss that surrounded them, which came together to create a hellish pattern of veins that seemed to connect to some unseen alien organ on the Great Evil’s backside.
Before the continuous thundering shriek blew out my eardrums, before the Great Evil fed me to its alien offspring within its iris, before my sanity was blown away — everything became a blinding white, then an engulfing black…
Waking up on the ground, sand crusted against my face and clothes, my wet black hair stuck to my face, I hazily looked around to see Henry was gone, and so was the Great Evil. The sky was an azurite blue, and the sun was hidden behind a curtain of white clouds.
The storm had passed, and so had The Stone Man.
I did not know how long I laid there, perhaps an hour or two, until I stumbled to my feet, packed the tent and my things, then staggered back into town, ignoring the hikers and joggers along the way.
Daring not to speak about that day, or The Stone Man, to anyone, I kept the week’s events to myself, only writing them down in this journal. So perhaps, one day, it will make sense to me, or I will be able to comprehend some things that have come to pass.
However, one thing is for certain is what Henry obsessed about, in his mad ravings while laying in the tent, were true, so unspeakably true. Those stacked stones he spoke of were beacons, beacons that warded off the Great Evil from this planet, and that the Woodwell River is blessed, blessed by some unknown force.
What he did not explain was how or why they did, or if there were other Great Evils out there, that protected the Earth in the same way. Or if there others like him, like Henry, those who queerly build beacons with Mother Nature’s devices, to fend off the cosmic creatures above.
What I do know is this: I dare not question nor look deeper into the unknown depths of knowledge he possessed, or how he came upon that knowledge.
However, I have tried looking for anyone who knew of Henry before he became The Stone Man. Through countless questions and dead ends, I learned that Henry was once a student at the university, twenty or so years ago. He studied geology, physics, astrology, and cosmology.
A professor of astrology, Mr. Bagley, remembers he was once a great student. But it appeared with every passing week, he became more and more disheveled. He started to show up to class late, or not attend at all, and when asked questions in class, he would rant and rave about how nonsensical the subject was, and would speak of creatures in Space. Ones who lived beyond the outskirts of our universe, that lurked where no light could reach, waiting to consume everything that we have come to know and understand as reality.
Eventually, Mr. Bagley said, he stopped showing up completely, and after a week, dropped out of the university. No one knew where he went after that; not even his parents, who later gave up looking for him after five years.
I did not question Mr. Bagley, or anyone, further about Henry, learning that some things are better to accept than to question.
Thus, every two days, before the sun rises, I hike the three kilometer trail, turn east, move down the rocky hill, and come to the Woodell River. There, I kneel in the cold waters, over a weathered rock, and start to build a beacon, following Henry’s instructions exactly: obsidian, sandstone, shale, and limestone, one angle pointing up, towards the sky.
Sometimes, when I am lost in the artisanal act, I can hear in the distance people moving down to the river. I can feel their fingers point towards to me, and I can hear one whisper to another, “Look, there — that’s The Stone Man.”
I like things and black coffee.