"Come now my child, if we were planning to harm you, do you think we'd be lurking here beside the path in the very darkest part of the forest..." - Kenneth Patchen, "Even So."
THIS IS A BLOG ABOUT STORIES AND STORYTELLING; some are true, some are false, and some are a matter of perspective. Herein the brave traveller shall find dark musings on horror, explorations of the occult, and wild flights of fantasy.
Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Friday, June 22, 2012
"One can't write a weird story of real power without perfect psychological detachment from the human scene, and a magic prism of imagination which suffuses them and style alike with that grotesquerie and disquieting distortion characteristic of morbid vision. Only a cynic can create horror—for behind every masterpiece of the sort must reside a driving daemonic force that despises the human race and its illusions, and longs to pull them to pieces and mock them."
Monday, June 18, 2012
Friday, June 15, 2012
THE NECRONOMICON CYCLE
In his Techgnosis essay, Calling Cthulhu, author Erik Davis asks why it should be that so many modern Magicians have embraced the Cthulhu Mythos as a magical model. From Anton LaVey's Cthulhu-inspired rites in The Satanic Rituals, to Phil Hine's Pseudonomicon and now, even, a group calling itself the “Cult of Cthulhu,” Lovecraft's hideous brood keep popping up in the workings of real-life sorcerers...almost as if trying to “break through” into our reality. To my mind, the answer to Davis' question is simple. H.P. Lovecraft gave the world a genuinely post-modern mythology without any real magical praxis. On the other hand, Austin Osman Spare, Peter Carroll, Ray Sherwin, and other Chaos Magicians gave us a genuinely post-modern magical praxis without a mythology. It was a match made, if not in Heaven, then in the black gulfs of the unfathomable void.
But what do we mean by “post-modern?” Simply put, “Traditional” thought embraced an anthropomorphic universe, ruled by a Deity and a hierarchy of intelligences, with Man created in the image of that God. In that model, Man could transcend the natural world through obedience and devotion to God. “Modern” thought, by contrast, saw the universe as a machine composed of forces and forms, governed by immutable laws. Man could eventually transcend the natural world by understanding how the cosmos functioned. Both of these models, despite several metaphysical differences, share the idea that man is significant, that he is somehow distinct from and superior to the rest of nature; in the first model by virtue of divine favor, and in the second by his intellect.
The “Post Modern” viewpoint, fueled by both modern sciences and the weight of the 20th century, rejects both previous positions as absurd. Biology has shown that species come and go, that where dinosaurs once ruled man now holds dominion, indicating some other species will eventually replace us. Physics reveals a cosmos of unimaginable vastness and complexity, ruled not by laws but by probabilities. The old addage, “what goes up must come down” must be readjusted to “what goes up has a tendancy to come down,” and you can never predict with 100% certainty what it will actually do. As Peter Carroll pointed out, if you roll a single die you could get any number from one to six. Roll six million dice and you will tend to get around a million ones. But you could just as easily get six million sixes.
In this light, the evolution of man is the result of blind chance; like a cloud which takes the shape on an animal on a summer afternoon. And in both cases, the form is only temporary. There is no intrinsic meaning, no truth, no logic, no destiny. The universe is essentially chaos, utterly beyond man's capacity to comprehend.
Lovecraft captured the essence of this by creating what many of his critics have called an “anti-mythology.” Unlike traditional mythologies, with basically human deities organized into human social groups (families, tribes, clans, etc), Lovecraft's “gods” are utterly inhuman; blind, titanic forces lacking sentience, organization, or purpose. With the possible exception of Nyarlathotep, they even lack individual identities (and indeed, even Nyarlathotep is so mercurial he defies easy description). Chaos reigns in his anti-mythos, and those who cling to reason in the face of it are broken and driven mad. To gain power from these beings, one must become like them, “free and wild and beyond good and evil, with laws thrown aside.” Individual identity and dualistic reasoning must be lost, and thus Lovecraft depicts his dark deities worshipped by orgiastic rites. Indeed, his tales often focus on atavistic regression, on humans gaining power by descending rather than ascending, taking on primitive forms which for Lovecraft are in fact our true selves. “...civilisation,” he wrote, “is but a slight coverlet beneath which the dominant beast sleeps lightly and ever ready to awake...”
All this has much in common with the magic of Austin Spare, grandfather of the Chaos Tradition. For Spare, the “magickal energy of the universe, the force that interpenetrates all phenomena is non-human...(and) the magician, in order to avail himself of this force, (must) renounce his human belief systems, his dualistic mind, to achieve a state of consciousness that, as much as possible, mimicked the primordial.” He called this power Kia, and it was the core of his “Zos Kia Cultus.” Spare advocated atavistic regression into primitive modes of consciousness, de-evolution, if you will. This was possible, as the subconscious regions of the brain were in fact “the epitome of all experience and wisdom, past incarnations as men, animals, birds, vegetable life, etc, etc, etc,” and contained “everything that exists has and ever will exist.” In short, we all carry Innsmouth blood, and can become Deep Ones at any time.
This Dionysian mindlessness, which Peter Carroll calls gnosis, is both the goal of the Chaos Magician and the byproduct of contact with Lovecraft's Old Ones. It is a state where the ego is disintegrated, where all our false conceptions of “reality” and “self” are lost. Both Chaos Magick and Lovecraft's Mythos denounce religious and humanistic paradigms as artificial, comfortable illusions in which we attempt to escape from a universe vast, chaotic, and uncaring. Thus it was inevitable that the two should partner up.
The following rituals, then, are my own pages from the Necronomicon. They are rites of Chaos Magick clothed in the trappings of H.P. Lovecraft’s cosmic creations. Of course, numerous other magicians have taken their own crack at realizing Lovecraft’s fictional grimoire, but none of them ever seemed quite right to me. The (in)famous Simon Necronomicon, though an intriguing system of chakra/kundalini work, has very little to do with Lovecraft. Tyson’s recent Necronomicon: The Wanderings of Alhazred was inspired, but his follow-up, The Grimoire of the Necronomicon, was too steeped in traditional hermetic cosmology and Gnosticism to approach the sense of cosmic awe that Lovecraft imbued the Mythos with. While these works deserve their place on a magician’s self, they weren’t genuinely “Lovecraft” for me. So I set out to write my own.
The rituals herein fall into two kinds, “sorcerous” and “cultic.” The former address the supreme triad of the Mythos—Azathoth, Yog-Sothoth, and Nyarlathotep—and reflect the civilized and decadent sorcery of characters like Old Man Whately and Joseph Curwen. They are written for solo work, and lack any sort of religious quality. They focus on crossing the threshold of reality into the sphere of the Outer Gods, for the purpose of gnosis and channeling the power of Chaos back into the world. These rites are the ancient Ars Magia, the art of becoming a god to do your will in the world.
The second category of rites are theurgic in character. They worship alien beings and call upon them to grant favors. The sorcerer does not “become” the god, but rather a channel for its power.
ARS MAGIA: THE RITES OF THE OUTER GODS
At the highest levels of existence dwell the Outer Gods; Azathoth, Nyarlathotep, and Yog-Sothoth. These incomprehensible entities exist beyond the limits of human perception and understanding, beyond that place the Qabalists call the Abyss. Unlike the Great Old Ones—Cthulhu, Dagon, Yig, Y’gonolac, etc—the Outer Gods are truly cosmic beings, beyond time and space. They are omnipotent and omnipresent, responsible for the whole of creation, and while we address them as separate entities, they are in reality three aspects of the same thing. They are the Chaos at the heart of existence.
Azathoth can be glimpsed as the universe shorn of all notions of duality. If you strip away all human definitions, the blind, titanic, seething mass that is left is Azathoth. He is unconditioned reality. Azathoth is the universe as a swirling cloud of energy, a single raging storm, a “big bang” that never really ended. He is the Sulfur of the alchemical Tria Prima, the root of all matter and energy.
Yog-Sothoth is the entire sweep of time, space, and dimension. He is the illusion of form, the One that becomes the Many. All that he represents—aeons of time, the great black gulfs of space, the multiple realities all clustered together—do not and cannot truly exist, save as temporary shapes seen in the clouds. But because human beings perceive a linear universe of moments, and distances, and things, Yog-Sothoth is the very edge of our perception, the threshold of the universe as it really is. He is the alchemical Salt, the giver of boundaries, durations, and forms.
Between these two dances Nyarlathotep. Of all the Outer Gods, he alone seems self-conscious, and he alone interacts purposefully with humanity. He is the notion of duality, of individuality, of separateness from the whole, and yet at the same time he is its emissary. He is the darkness that defines light, the cold that defines heat, the madness that defines sanity. Quicksilver and mercurial—like the alchemical element linked to him—he flows between Azathoth the One and Yog-Sothoth the Many, mediating between them. He is the consciousness of existence, the universe that awakens and thinks it is an “I.” He alone is the Outer God likely to communicate in any way with the individual, working as a trickster to destroy common perceptions of “self” and as a guide or initiator leading the seeker into unconditioned reality.
Imagination called up the shocking form of fabulous Yog-Sothoth—only a congeries of iridescent globes, yet stupendous in malign suggestiveness…
- Lovecraft, “The Horror in the Museum”
The Mythos describes Yog-Sothoth as the “All-in-One” and the “One-in-All.” Other titles include “the Lurker at the Threshold,” “the Beyond One,” “the Key and the Gate,” and “the Opener of the Way.” We are told this entity is coterminous with all of time and space, “…not merely a thing of one Space-Time continuum, but allied to the ultimate animating essence of existence’s whole unbounded sweep…” (Lovecraft, “Through the Gates of the Silver Key). If the Old Ones exist outside of Space-Time, Yog-Sothoth is the portal through which they enter our reality, and through which the sorcerer may enter Theirs.
The description of Yog-Sothoth as an endless mass of spheres recalls the 6th Chapter of Crowley’s Book of Lies;
The Word was uttered: the One exploded into one thousand million worlds.
Each world contained a thousand million spheres.
Each sphere contained a thousand million planes.
Each plane contained a thousand million stars.
Crowley notes the title of the chapter, “Caviar,” was chosen as it is a substance made of many spheres. This image, and the repeated use of the phrase “the One and the All,” is suggestive of Yog-Sothoth, or at least that which this entity represents; namely the creation of the many from the one (or at least the illusion of such creation). Passing through Yog-Sothoth into our Space-Time, the Old Ones seem to become distinct individuals. Passing through Yog-Sothoth into Theirs, the sorcerer ceases to be one, merging with the whole of existence. In this way, Yog-Sothoth had been linked to Crowley’s Chronozon, the Guardian of the Abyss. Passing beyond Him means destroying the individual ego and experiencing the All, the “Night of Pan.”
The Lurker of the Threshold is thus an Opening and Closing rite. At the start of a ritual, it opens the way for the sorcerer to enter into the consciousness of the Old Ones. At the finish, it closes the gate after his return. In it, the sorcerer will identify himself with the All-in-One, becoming himself the “Hierophant,” the bridge and portal between worlds.
The Lurker on the Threshold
Let the Operant touch his brow, saying; Alpha kai ho omega
Let him touch the groin, saying; Protos kai ho eschatos
Let him touch the breast saying; Arche kai ho telos (1)
Let him throw out his arms like the sign of the cross, saying; IAO(2)
Let him go to the East and make the Spiral Star (3). Then shall he make the Sign of the Enterer and vibrate; Aforgomon! Let him close with the Sign of Silence.
Let him do the same in the North, vibrating; ‘Umr at-Tawil! Let him close with the Sign of Silence.
Let him do the same in the West, vibrating; Choronozon! Let him close with the Sign of Silence.
Let him do the same in the South, vibrating; Yog-Sothoth! Let him close with the Sign of Silence. (4)
Let him return to the center. “The All-in-One and the One-in-All. Yog-Sothoth knows the Gate. Yog-Sothoth is the Gate. Yog-Sothoth is the Key and the Guardian of the Gate. Past, present, and future are all one in Yog-Sothoth. He knows where the threshold was crossed and where it may be crossed again.” (5)
Repeat Step One.
And it was then that Nyarlathotep came out of Egypt. Who he was, none could tell, but he was of the old native blood and looked like a pharaoh.
- Lovecraft, “Nyarlathotep”
Described as a “tall, swarthy, man” resembling an Egyptian pharaoh (a description not unlike Aleister Crowley’s descriptions of Aiwass), Nyarlathotep is the only Outer God who assumes human form or who communicates with mortals in any meaningful way. Of course, this is not his only guise. Other tales would see him as a faceless, howling sphinx and a bat-winged, tentacled monstrousity. Indeed, it is said he has a thousand forms, a thousand faces, none of which are his true appearance (assuming he had one at all). Lovecraft, who first encountered Nyarlathotep in a dream, described him as “…horrible beyond anything you can imagine—but wonderful. He haunts one for hours afterward. I am still shuddering at what he showed.”
He was and is the messenger and emissary of the Outer Gods, said to be their heart and their soul. Lovecraft described him as the Black Man of the Witches’ Sabbat, leading mortals before the throne of Azathoth. He would also appear to be the central figure in the worship of the Mi-Go. It is fairly clear that Nyarlathotep is the link between sentient beings and the Outer Gods, the Face of God. Below the Abyss he is the Initiator, the Angel, and the Guide. To those unable to let go of their misconceptions, however, he brings only madness and ruin.
Having opened the Way, the sorcerer must next invoke the Crawling Chaos as his Guide. As the sorcerer made himself the bridge between the Outer Gods and the realm of men, he now identifies himself with Nyarlathotep as Their Messenger, Prometheus bringing fire to Earth. In the ancient tradition of hermetic magia, the sorcerer invokes Nyarlathotep and becomes His Son, embodying the god on Earth.
The Crawling Chaos
Let the sorcerer stand in the Center, facing the altar. Let him say; And it has come to pass that the Lord of the Word down the Onyx Steps shall descend. To Nyarlathotep, Mighty Messenger, must all things be told. And He shall put on the semblance of men, the Waxen Mask and the Robe that Hides, to go out among them to teach Marvels, and that He in the Gulf may be Known. (6)
Let the Sorcerer go to the East and make in the air the Eight-Rayed Star of Chaos. Let him thrust his dagger through the center and say; En arche ane ho logos. Then shall he behold in the East Nyarlathotep, the Heart and Soul and Word of Him that is in the Gulf, and do obeisance unto him.
Let the Sorcerer go the South and do the same, saying; Kai ho logos ane pros ho theos. Then shall he behold in the South Nyarlathotep, and do obeisance unto him.
Let the Sorcerer go the West and do the same, saying; Kai theos ane ho logos. Then shall he behold in the West Nyarlathotep, and do obeisance unto him.
Let the Sorcerer go to the North and do the same, saying; Pas dia autos ginomai. Then shall he behold in the North Nyarlathotep, and do obeisance unto him. (7)
Let him go to the Center. With Wand and Dagger, let him cross his arms over his breast in the manner of the ancient Pharaohs. Let him say; Kai ho logos sarx ginomai kai skenoo en hemin. Then shall Nyarlathotep also be in the Center with him, and he shall truly be the Anointed Son of a God. (8)
That last amorphous blight of nethermost confusion that blasphemes and bubbles and the centre of all infinity…the boundless Daemon Sultan Azathoth, whose name no lips dare speak aloud…
- Lovecraft, “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath”
Azathoth is “the monstrous nuclear chaos beyond angled space.” He is the Lord of the Outer Gods, the origin of the universe, and in all probability, its ultimate fate. Described as both a blind and idiot god, he is the monad, the undivided godhead unable to see or to know because there is nothing outside of Him to be seen or known. He exists eternally in the moment of first creation, before becoming aware of Himself (that self-awareness is embodied in Nyarlathotep) and before the first laws of the universe (embodied by Yog-Sothoth) took shape. His screams, and the daemonic piping of his courtiers, are the music of the Big Bang.
Simply put, Azathoth is Chaos; raw, undifferentiated, unconditioned. He is the blank sheet of paper that might become anything, the die that might roll any random result. From the human perspective, a perspective conditioned by “this” and “that,” Azathoth is pure madness. But He is also pure power, the potential for anything to be, anything to happen. He is thus the Supreme Lord of Magick.
To invoke Azathoth is to achieve gnosis, a blank or empty state where the ego is shattered, the mind ceases to function, and consciousness expands to the breaking point. Here where the borders between conscious and subconscious are obliterated, acts of Magick are possible.
The Daemon Sultan
Let the sorcerer prepare the sacrament. Then with the Voice of Nyarlathotep shall he speak; OL SONF VORS G GOHO VOVIN VABZIR DE TEHOM QADOM ZIRDO L IAIADA DS PRAF A LIL ZIRDO CIAOFI CAOSAGO MOSPLEH TELOCH PANPIR MALPIRGI CAOSG ZAZAS ZAZAS NASATANATA ZAZAS AZATHOTH ZAZAS! (9)
Now shall the sorcerer make the offering and the sacrifice. (10)
The Lurker on the Threshold may be called upon again to close this rite, or some other manner may be employed.
Greek “Alpha and the Omega, beginning and the end, first and the last.” See. Revelation 22:13. This part of the ritual establishes the sorcerer as the center of the universe, the axis mundi, and begins his identification with Yog-Sothoth as the face of Chaos which generates order and kosmos.
IAO is a Greek vocalization of the ancient Hebrew YHVH. The three letters here may be taken to represent the three faces of the Outer Gods; “I” being the conscious “I” of these deities, Nyarlathotep; “A” being Azathoth, the first and the source; “O” being all encircling Yog-Sothoth, lord of the spheres.
The Spiral Star, as a congruence of spheres, better suits the nature of Yog-Sothoth than the traditional pentagram. See the picture at the lead of the article.
These names are forms of Yog-Sothoth. As Aforgomon he appears in the tales of Clark Ashton Smith, the god of time and space. As ‘Umr at-Tawil he is “the prolonged of life,” a Dreamlands version that may represent Yog-Sothoth in his capacity to return the dead to life. As Choronzon he is the Enochian devil, a being named by Crowley as the Lord of the Abyss, standing between the sorcerer and passage into the highest levels of being.
The sorcerer should see himself as enclosed in his own sphere, surrounded by many hundreds of millions of others. These all should collapse and condense into his single sphere as he moves into the final stage.
Of course, the “Waxen Mask and the Robe that Hides” refers to the sorcerer’s own flesh. This is a very ancient rite, the rite of invoking and becoming a god. As the face of the Outer Gods aware of being a “self,” Nyarlathotep is “Kia,” the unconditioned “I” which wills and experiences, but lacks external attributes. Once one strips away the “am this” and the “have this” from the “I,” he discovers his own Kia and finds it is indistinguishable from any other. He becomes in sense Nyarlathotep, who has a thousand masks.
Greek “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and God was the Word, and from this all was made.” Nyarlathotep is the “messenger” of the Outer Gods, Their Voice and Their Word. He is the Logos, the Word that creates and shapes both consciousness and the experience of reality.
Greek “And the Word became flesh and dwelled amongst men.” The Word has been “heard” by the sorcerer, who now becomes that Word. It has been given flesh. The sorcerer is now a Mask of Nyarlathotep, a Son of God.
Enochian “I reigneth over you sayeth the Dragon Eagle of Primal Chaos. I am the First, the Highest, that dwell in the First Aether. I am the Horns of Death, pouring down the Fires of Life upon the Earth.” Having become Nyarlathotep, the language of the ritual changes from earthly and human Greek to Enochian, the cosmic tongue invented/discovered by Messers. Dee and Kelley. Nyarlathotep speaks on behalf of Azathoth here.
The nature of the offering and sacrifice has been left intentionally vague. The Magus—for he is no longer a sorcerer having become a Son of God—may wish to perform Sigil Magick here, consume some sort of Eucharist, or perform some other act of Magick. The sacrifice may consist of blood or sexual fluids, and should be accompanied by entering gnosis.
Thursday, June 14, 2012
Wednesday, June 13, 2012
Monday, June 11, 2012
Denise was unconscious when we bundled her up and carried her to Elijah’s truck. Blood still seeped from the corners of her mouth, and somehow her pallor was getting worse.
I kissed her once she was safely in the truck, pressing my face against her cheek, smelling her hair. My eyes were stinging with tears, and I had the feeling I was never going to see her again.
“I love you,” I whispered in her ear. “I’m going get this thing. It’s all going to be fine, I swear.”
I kissed her a final time, and stood motionless as the truck rolled away. As it rounded the bend, I turned my back and tried to find some courage left.
I had work to do.
I headed for the sheds, my footsteps heavy in the snow. I had to keep moving, because if I stopped for even a moment, the absurdity of what I was about to do would resurface, and I would lose my grip. I envisioned my mind just snapping, and Elijah coming back up the hill to find me grinning, giggling alone on the mountain in a bad Dwight Frye parody. So I kept my motions mechanical, going through this like it was the most routine thing in the world. Letting my body carry it out unburdened by thought.
I unlocked the shed and squeezed my way past the wood pile, taking a hatchet off the wall. Then I picked up the ax I had tripped over the day before and started hacking away at the wood just below the metal head. I didn’t need an ax…it was the strong oak handle I was after.
I was still hacking away when Elijah returned. “She’s down there with my mother,” he said, reading my troubled expression. “She should be safe enough while we do this. There’s plenty of day left before night.”
I nodded grimly. “Okay. Let’s get it over with.”
I had hacked the oak ax haft into a reasonably sharp point, leaving the metal blade in the sawdust on the floor. In the tool shed, we found a pair of shovels, a pick, and a large sledgehammer. Neither of us said a word about what we were going to do.
The walk from the woodshed to the grave under the old oak was one of the longest I had ever taken. The yard seemed to stretch out impossibly long, a football field of bare white snow. With each step, the tree loomed larger, its naked branches scratching at the face of a stone gray sky. I am not sure either of us were prepared for what we found underneath it.
No snow had fallen on Stephan Schroeder's grave; or if any had, all six or seven inches of it had melted down into the earth. All around it, the snow was deep and unmarked--only here was the soil exposed to the sky. The surface was covered with decaying leaves, glued to the earth by thin tendrils of fungus. Small beetles and worms wiggled in the topsoil, apparently kept alive and warm by whatever was lying beneath.
We stared at each other in shock, until finally Elijah lifted his shovel and drove it deep into the naked ground. The ground was unfrozen, and an unpleasant scent, something like rot and mold, was oozing up from the wound he had made.
Taking up my shovel, I joined him, and we began the long work of working our way down into the earth.
After about ten minutes or so, we were both gagging on the stench. But the earth was soft and easily removed, crawling with filthy life. It heaped up around us on the spotless snow, while the sun continued its winter arc down towards the mountain tops. We tried to ignore this fact as we shoveled.
The only way to get through it was to not think. Not to think about why this patch of ground refused to freeze, not to think about the stench, not to think about the thing that we might find lying at the bottom of this grave. For my part, I also tried not to think of my wife and child dying just a mile or two down the hill. None of this was easy to do.
Despite the cold, I was sweating. Muck and filth was covering both of us, and for some reason the ground was growing muddier and more damp the deep we went. It was also beginning to stink even worse. After going down a few feet, the bottom of the grave was starting to fill with some brackish fluid that stank like old blood. As we dug, it spattered over our faces and clothes.
Elijah lost his stomach first. He heaved himself over the side of the grave and started vomiting, loosing the contents of his stomach up on the surface. I ignored him and continued to dig.
Three feet. Four feet. Five…it had to be five. Neither of us expected to find a coffin; according to his mother's account, old Grandpa Conkley and his friends had just buried the bodies in the earth. But as we went deeper and deeper, a terrible cold was beginning to squeeze my chest. There was no sign here of human remains, no body, no living corpse. All we had found was mold and insects, and sickening puddles of purplish blood.
"Jesus, Elijah…he's not here."
Elijah shook his head. "He's got to be here. Dig."
After twenty or thirty more shovels full of dripping mud, we both fell into a kind of frenzy, tearing the muck up as fast as we could. Overhead, the light was growing dim, and horror scenes from a dozen old movies were playing through my head. But we had gone deeper than any normal grave, and now, suddenly, the earth was turning hard, frozen, and stony.
Stephan Schroeder was not there.
Dropping my shovel, I collapsed, gasping, against the muddy wall of the grave. My chest felt like it was on fire, and my heart was pounding. We stared at each other with horrified incomprehension.
"Where can it be…" I asked, my voice more shrill than I wanted it to be. "I don't understand."
Elijah, helpless, shook his head. He looked older than usual, his skin gray under all the mud. The exertion, combined with decades of cigarettes, was clearly taking its toll on him.
"We just assumed it was like the movies," I said, finally. "But it isn't…maybe it doesn't have to be. Jesus Christ…maybe he lies here year round, except winter. Maybe then he's free to walk around, whether it's day or night."
Elijah stared at me in mounting horror. "Oh God...it was day, when I spotted him hunting...I just didn't think..."
I nodded, my heart feeling like someone had just punched through my ribcage to wrap a fist around it. "We have to get down the hill. Fast."
I crawled my way out of the loose grave, feeling like some monster in a low budget zombie movie. Panting, I helped Elijah out, frowning at the growing shadows and the darkening of the light.
Mountain Hollow seemed to be watching us as we shambled up the hill, towards the truck. The house seemed to realize something terrible was happening to it, that it was being abandoned again. I wondered if it feared suffering the same fate as its predecessor.
Slumping behind the steering wheel, Elijah did not look well. He was coughing almost as badly as Denise had been, wheezing to catch his breath. I put my hand on the older man's shoulder, both panicked and concerned for him. "Are you okay, Elijah? Do you want me to drive?"
He shook his head, but the coughing fit would not stop. He seemed to be getting light-headed from it, wobbling a little in his seat. After a couple of minutes, he looked at me and nodded helplessly, leaving his keys dangling in the ignition. We stumbled out of the truck to exchange places, just as a fresh curtain of snow started to fall.
The engine rumbled, complained a little, and then came to life. The smell of gasoline filled the cabin of the truck. I clicked on the headlights and started to back out into the drive, glad of the old truck's weight in the snow.
I had seen this drive in so many seasons. The pale green of spring, dusted with flowers, heavy green summer buzzing with insects, golden autumn and its carpet of leaves. Now, gray winter loomed down on me, blowing against the windshield, turning the poplars into shadowy towers of white. There was something so final in the view before me. I think I had decided, even then, that Mountain Hollow could never be home again.
I pressed the accelerator lightly, wanting to gun the engine, feeling a terrible sense of urgency. But I restrained myself, as I always restrained myself, fearing the awful bend in the road. Conkley was still gagging beside me, his window rolled down for fresh air. Others were also present here in the car, or at least I felt they were, crowding all around us. The dim shapes of the Schroeders, dead these many years. Maria, who lingered in the house that she loved just a few weeks too long, and my parents, their argument never finished, dead on this very road.
I seldom prayed, but as I clutched the steering wheel I begged whatever God could hear me not to add my wife and unborn child to the heap of ghosts shrouding this truck.
We started around the bend, and my heart was racing. The swirling snow made it impossible to see more than a few feet ahead. All around us the mountains and trees had been reduced to dim and hollow shapes, shadows without substance. They were only patterns in the snow. Conkley had finally stopped gagging, both his hands on the dashboard as I fishtailed a little entering the bend.
i swear mike, she intentionally waits until the last minute, just to keep us there longer
My mother's voice echoed in my ears. My lips kept moving of their own accord, soundlessly mouthing "…please…please…please…" I wasn't sure who I was asking for what.
Damnit, jackie, could we not do this again…
Elijah bolted upright in his seat and shouted, pointing dead ahead. At first, I had no idea what he was talking about, so preoccupied in my memories, in the past.
But as my eyes fixed themselves ahead, through the veil of snow, I saw what he saw standing in the pool of the headlights. And this time, there was no doubt what I was seeing.
He looked no older than a boy of nineteen, my height, maybe less. His dark hair was matted to his skull, caked with mud and earth. He still wore the uniform they had buried him in, the fabric worm-eaten and filthy from years beneath the ground. There, right in the middle of the road, he seemed fearless of the truck rushing down on him. His lips were stretched in something that could have been a smile, a snarl, or a leer. There was no way to tell, because the thing in front of us had long ago forgotten how to make any truly human expression. His teeth were purple-black, his lips dripping wet with blood.
For this, fifteen years ago, my father had swerved. Instead, I pushed my foot down on the accelerator, aiming the car for him. Half a lifetime of anger and pain erupted, and I made some kind of unintelligible scream. Conkley raised his arms as if to ward off some kind of blow.
It never moved, but I could swear in the brief seconds before impact it had faded, dissolving into the snowy air the way an alka-seltzer dissolves in water. There was no bump, no impact. We only plowed our way through snow and air.
I slowed the truck and stopped at the end of the bend, hopping out before Elijah could prevent me. I had no idea what I would do if he was out there, but I was well past the point of reason.
But there was nothing. In the red tail lights of the truck I saw only snow, and darkness, and our own tracks in the road.
The front door of the Conkley's home was wide open, swinging in the wind.
My knees went weak when I saw it, and the dark house rising lifeless before us. Elijah shouted something and hurtled up the steps. I couldn't make myself move.
After a minute or so, I found him weeping in the living room, his large shoulders shaking. Mrs. Conkley was lying flat on her back, her lips drawn back into a scream, eyes bulging. I had seen the expression before. Her Bible was on the floor beside her, right were she had dropped it while gaping at the terrible figure that must have appeared to her in the room.
I can't explain the icy calm that held me. They say it might have been shock, but it felt more like helplessness and resignation. There was terrible pain, but I felt it only distantly, as if it belonged to someone else entirely. Everything went strangely quiet, as if someone had turned the volume down. I could see Elijah weeping, but I could no longer hear it. The only clear sound was my heart pounding in my ears.
My feet carried me forward into the next room, seemingly without any guidance from my brain. What I found in there, on the bed, was not Denise. Denise was long gone, having abandoned this life at least an hour or two before. What I found was a ruin, a pale husk spattered with what was left of her blood. He had ripped open her blouse, and I found myself staring at what used to be her belly (now just part of an anonymous corpse). I wondered if the tiny life inside her was also a mummified husk, nestled neatly inside her for the rest of eternity.
I had fallen to my knees (when had that happened?), and took the hand of the body in front of me. It felt dry, stiff, and cold.
And all the air just went out of me in a rush.
Tomorrow, I decided, I would go back up the mountain. I would take her with me. We could sit awhile, together, in the house that I had always loved as a child, reminiscing.
And then maybe I would tear up all the floorboards, in the house, in the sheds, in the barn. I would search everywhere I could think of for Stephan's corpse. I would find him, and then burn everything down around him. Because I knew, in the deepest chambers of my heart, that as long as he lay in unquiet slumbers, I would never sleep easily again.