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11 entries this month
 

The Beck Cemetery Carving, Conclusion, Part Two

16:10 May 28 2022
Times Read: 40


Dr. Davis urged George to insist at all times that his wounds were caused entirely by loose nails and splintering wood. What else, he added, could ever in any case be proved or believed?

But it would be well to say as little as could be said, and to let no other doctor treat the wounds.

George heeded this advice all the rest of his life until he told me his story; and when I saw the scars—ancient and whitened as they then were—I agreed that he was wise in so doing. He always remained maimed, for the majority of his achilles tendons had been severed, save any ability to walk straight; but I think the greatest injury was in his soul.

His thinking processes, once so reportedly phlegmatic and logical, had become ineffaceably scarred; and it was pitiful to note his nervous response to certain chance allusions such as “tomb”, “coffin”, and words of less obvious concatenation.

His story partially concluded that his frightened horse had gone home, but his wits never recovered. He changed his business title and service to the general public, but something always preyed upon him.

It may have been just fear, and it also may have been deep despair mixed with a belated sort of remorse for bygone crudities. His drinking, of course, only aggravated what it was meant to alleviate.

He continued to tell me what the doctor’s final words were to him.

“You kicked hard, George, for Goldie’s grandfather’s coffin was on the floor. His head was broken in, and everything was tumbled about. I’ve seen sights before, but there was one thing too much here. An eye for an eye! Great heavens, George, you got what you deserved. The skull turned my stomach, but the other was worse—the ankles of the corpse were cut neatly off! As if to force arrange the body inside!”


--End


COMMENTS

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The Beck Cemetery Carving - Conclusion, part one of two

13:56 May 28 2022
Times Read: 44


Instinct guided him in his wriggle through the transom, and in the crawl which followed his jarring thud on the damp ground. He could not walk, it appeared, and the emerging moon must have witnessed a horrible sight as he dragged his bleeding ankles toward the cemetery lodge; his fingers clawing the black mould in brainless haste, and his body responding with that maddening slowness from which one suffers when chased by the phantoms of nightmare. There was evidently, however, no pursuer; for he was alone and alive when Armington, the lodge-keeper, answered his feeble clawing at the door.

Armington helped George to the outside of a spare bed and sent his little son Edwin for the local Dr.. The afflicted man was fully conscious, but would say nothing of any consequence; merely muttering such things as “oh, my ankles!”, “let go!”, or “shut in the tomb”.

Then the doctor came with his medicine-case and asked crisp questions, and removed the patient’s outer clothing, shoes, and socks. The wounds—for both ankles were frightfully lacerated about the Achilles’ tendons—seemed to puzzle the old physician greatly, and finally, admittedly, frightened him. His questioning grew more than medically tense, and his hands shook as he dressed the mangled members; binding them as if he wished to get the wounds out of sight as quickly as possible.

For an impersonal doctor, Davis’ ominous and awestruck cross-examination became very strange indeed as he sought to drain from the weakened undertaker every least detail of his horrible experience.

He was oddly anxious to know if George was sure—absolutely sure—of the identity of that top coffin of the pile; how he had chosen it, how he had been certain of it as someone he knew and how he had distinguished it from the inferior duplicate coffin of Goldie’s grandfather.

Would the firm casket have caved in so readily?

How did George discern so much in the dark?


COMMENTS

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The Beck Cemetery Carving, Part Three

00:58 May 27 2022
Times Read: 59


About 3:30 in the afternoon, the thing must have happened. But, George remained calm and practical, He looked around for some tools he remembered seeing in a corner of the tomb. It was unlikely that the horror and strangeness of his situation affected him at all, but just being locked up so far away from where people normally go was enough to make him very angry.

His day's work was rudely cut short, and he might have to stay there all night or longer if a wanderer didn’t header in his direction soon. George quickly got to the pile of tools and chose a hammer and chisel. He then went back over the coffins closest to the door.

The air had become very unhealthy, but he didn't pay any attention to this as he worked, half by feel, especially on the heavy, rusty metal of the latch. He would have given a considerable expense for a lantern or a bit of candle, but he didn't have either. So, he stumbled around half-blindly and did the best he could.

When George saw that the latch was impossible to open, at least with the tools he had and under the conditions he was in, he looked around for other possible ways out. The vault was dug into the side of a hill, so the narrow ventilation funnel at the top went through several feet of dirt, making this direction completely useless. A hard worker could see that the high, slit-like transom in the brick facade over the door could be made bigger, so he kept his eyes on it as he tried to figure out how to get there.

Without a ladder in the tomb, George attempted to use the coffin niches on the sides and back as steps, but there was no way to get to the space above the door by any other means. Only the coffins themselves could be used as stepping stones, and he thought about the best way to set them up. He managed to concoct a way to reach the transom with three coffin-heights, but he could do better with four. The boxes were pretty even and could be stacked like blocks, so he started to figure out how he could use all of it to build a stable four-level platform.


To make it easier in his own mind, he finally decided to put a base of three boxes against the wall, then two layers of two boxes each, and then a single box that would be the platform. This set-up could be climbed without too much trouble and would give the desired height. Better yet, he would only use two boxes of the base to support the superstructure.

This would leave one box free to be stacked on top in case the actual escape at the apex of his build. So, he worked in the dark, heaving the inanimate remains of death with little ceremony as his tiny Tower of Babel went up step by step.

Several of the coffins started to break apart from the stress of being moved, but by the force of his angered wit in the black of the tomb, the tower was finally done, George sat on the bottom step of his grim device to rest his tired arms. Then, he carefully climbed up with his tools and stood in front of the narrow transom.

All of the walls around the space were made of brick, and he seemed pretty sure that he could soon chip away enough to get through. As he started swinging the hammer, the horse outside whinnied in a way that could have been encouraging, or was the animal making fun of him?
In either case, it would have made sense. The unexpected strength of the brickwork, which looked easy, was surely a sarcastic comment made against the vanity of human handiwork.

When dusk came, George was still working. Since new clouds had covered the moon, he worked continuously by feel. Even though he was still making slow progress, he was encouraged by how much he had moved the top and bottom of the opening.

He was sure he could get out by midnight. It was typical of him, though, that this thought didn't make him think of anything scary. He chipped away at the stone wall without being bothered by thoughts of the time, place, or people around him.

He cursed when a piece hit him in the face and laughed when it hit the horse outside, which was getting more and more excited as it pawed at the cypress tree. Over time, the hole got so big that he would sometimes put his arm or leg through it. As he moved, the coffins below him rocked and creaked. He found that he wouldn't have to put another on his platform to make it tall enough. The hole was already at the right level to use as soon as its size allowed.

George must have thought he could get through the transom at least at midnight. Even though he had taken many breaks, he was still tired and sweating. He went down to the floor and sat on the bottom box for a while to gather his strength for the final wiggle and jump to the ground outside.
The hungry horse kept neighing over and over in a strange way, and he sort of wished it would stop.

As he climbed back up the splintering coffins, he felt his weight very strongly. This was especially true when he reached the topmost coffin and heard the loud crackle that comes from a lot of wood breaking apart. It looked like he chose the strongest coffin for the platform in vain, because as soon as he put his full weight back on it, the rotting lid gave way, sending him two feet down onto a surface he didn't even want to think about. The sound or smell drove the waiting horse crazy, and it let out a scream that was too loud to be a neigh. It then bolted through the night, dragging the crazy-rattling wagon behind it.

George was now too low to easily climb out of the widened transom, but he gathered his strength and tried anyway. He grabbed the edges of the hole and tried to pull himself up. As he did this, he noticed a strange delay in the form of a drag on both of his ankles.

He felt fear for the first time.

No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't get away from the unknown grip that held his feet in place. Horrible pains, like savage wounds, shot through his calves, and in his mind was a vortex of fear mixed with an unquenchable thought that made him think of splinters, loose nails, or some other part of a breaking wooden box imbedding into his precious flesh.

He might have yelled but instead kicked and moved around frantically -- he was almost out of his mind.

(more to come)


COMMENTS

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The Beck Cemetery Carving - part Two

03:51 May 25 2022
Times Read: 76


Since the village was small and the death rate was low, all of George’s so-called professional oddities could stay ‘unseen’ for a while. The cold weather made the undertaker even more tired, and he seemed to be even less careful than he usually was. He never put together more flimsy and awkward coffins or ignored the needs of a rusty lock on a tomb door as blatantly as he did when he slammed the tomb door open and shut with viewings.

When the spring thaw finally came, workers created graves and made them ready for the nine silent harvests of the grim reaper, who was waiting in the tomb. Even though George didn't want to move and bury the dead, he started the job on an unpleasant late March morning. However, a heavy rain bothered his horse so much that it stopped his work before noon, and after he had only put one body to rest for good. That was Duncan Reynolds, who was a hundred years old and whose grave was close to the tomb. George decided he would start the next day with Goldie Ferner, whose grave was also nearby. However, he put the matter off for three days and didn't start working until Good Friday, April 19. He didn't pay any attention to the day because he didn't believe in superstitions, but after that, he did nothing important on the sixth day of the week.

So, in the afternoon of Friday, April 19, George took a horse and wagon to the tomb to move Goldie Ferner's body. He later admitted that he wasn't completely sober, but he wasn't drinking as much as he did later when he was trying to forget things. He was just drunk and careless enough to irritate his sensitive horse. As he pulled it violently up to the tomb, the horse neighed, pawed, and tossed its head, just like it had done that other time when it was raining. The day was cloudless, but there was a strong wind, so George was glad to get inside the side-hill vault and get out of the weather. Someone else might not have liked the damp, smelly room with the eight haphazardly placed coffins, but George was heartless back then and only cared about getting the right coffin for the right grave. He didn't forget the criticism he got when another family tried to move their loved one’s body to the city cemetery where they had moved and found a familiar Judge’s casket under her headstone. 

The light was dim, but George could see well, so even though the coffin looked familiar. He had made that coffin for Goldie Ferner, but he threw it away because it was too awkward and flimsy. This was because he remembered how kind and generous Goldie had been to him when he went bankrupt five years earlier. He gave old Goldie the best he could make with his skills, but he was also smart enough to save the one that didn't work and use it when Goldie’s grandfather died of a deadly fever. The grandfather was not a nice person, and many stories were told about how vengeful he was and how long he remembered wrongs, whether they were real or imagined. George had given him the sloppily made coffin that he now moved out of the way to get to the Ferner coffin. This didn't bother him. 

Just as he realized it was another soul’s old coffin, the wind slammed the door shut, leaving him in an even darker dusk than before. The narrow transom let in only the weakest of rays, and the ventilation funnel above it let in almost no air or light. He had to swear as he stumbled his way between the long boxes toward the latch. In this gloomy dusk, he shook the rusty handles and pushed on the iron panels, wondering why the huge portal had become so hard to dart. Even though it was getting dark, he saw the truth and yelled as if his horse outside could do more than just neigh an uncaring response. Because the latch had been ignored for so long, it was obviously broken, trapping the careless undertaker in the vault. He was a victim of his own mistake. 

Or was it?

(more coming)


COMMENTS

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The Beck Cemetery Carving- a story

00:56 May 25 2022
Times Read: 87


As far as any opinion goes, there is nothing more insidiously incorrect than to assert that homely folks and wholesome souls are cut from the same fabric. You, dear reader, are the judge and jury in the tale of a bungling, thick-necked undertaker, and an unfortunate graveyard racket against a rustic backdrop. The narrative of George Warehot’s death allows me to tell of wild features and minuscule tragedies. 

The year was 1872, and Warehot changed the course of his personal care, but never revealed it to anyone close to him, for his health ailed in a manner few might recognize or even dare to treat. Dr Davison, the doctor he used to see, died several years back. The common explanation for Warehot’s illness around town was that they had trapped him in a receiving tomb of Beck Valleyway Cemetery for ten hours before being rescued by rude and obnoxiously mechanical means. While this story was undoubtedly true, George whispered dark things to me in drunken delirium occasionally. He was a single man, void of sociable personal connection and upright social esteem.

Before 1872, Warehot offered his services as Beck Valleyway’s town undertaker, and was a well abled primitive type. In this city, the practices which danced upon the townsfolk's lips and thus attributed to him would, in today’s terms, be unfathomable. Even in Beck Valleyway, the community would have shuddered at the ease in which its own mortuary specialist performed his duties, especially ‘laying out’ the deceased’s clothing beneath the casket’s lid with a sense of dignity and adapting the dead in proper pose and facial expression ~ all of which was done with haste and waste. But I don’t believe his character was crude. His skillet obviously presented a measure of serious lack, and he offered more distaste for elegant homage, however indirect.

I am at a loss regarding George’s life narrative, as I’m not used to telling this type of story. I believe the best place to begin in the typically cold month of December 1870, when the earth froze and prevented diggers of cemeteries from excelling at their craft.

(more to come)


COMMENTS

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NyxsKiss
NyxsKiss
01:43 May 25 2022

I look forward to reading more of your story





CoolFraming
CoolFraming
03:22 May 25 2022

Thank you. It's good to know someone might be reading. More is coming.





 

Getting Out - A story

16:17 May 24 2022
Times Read: 103


Melancholy is the state of the heart when memories of innocence bespeak of drudgery and loss. Absent is the soul who envisions solitary seconds of time in spacious gaps and maddening distances between, with dark decay and raging silence among dusty out-dated books, or upon scratched timepieces bathed in light and spread apart by naked veins of bare-branched trees. The gods of earth bequeathed utter dismay upon me and my abandoned, deranged, and disjointed soul.

I am persistently quiet and organically sewn into the fabric of my memories, especially when my mind searches to extend itself and hold the hand of another terrifying reality - the absence of human connection; I can only bury myself inside this thought's ashen state.

Where I was born exactly and to precisely whom I cannot figure, yet the walls which surround me scream the answer within the lowest frequencies just beyond the listening range of the human ear. Darkened crevices hide said vibrations, devoid of attention and full of the dust of time. The chunks of the earth in the slowly disintegrating hallways emanate scents, ignorant to sweet aromas, destined to resemble the offensive odor of human rot and to reveal untold numbers of human souls removed from the earth. Opportunity to affect my reality whispers between my dark daily perceptions.

Light escaped the fullness of my homely scene; night after night, day after day; not even small flames steeped upon candles proved adequate appraisal or comfort from the space surrounding me.

Yet my feet found a path toward a most unusual scene. Sunlight dared not peek its way inward, and its guilt lay with enormously thick tree trunks crowding outside my windows. Such depraved foliage squelched everything but the grey remnants of daylight lost upon the stony floor.

I moved toward the scene with careful footsteps to gradually enforce the vision awaiting me.

My appreciable squinting caught a single outlook, which reached a noticeable height above the immediate forest, but it was a failed perception; save the lost opportunity to ascend my outside structure with able feet upon this house's bricks. Curiosity strangled my attention and forged mental forceps upon my thought to escape this dark abode.

Might this day drive me down a path toward a life beyond these dreary walls?

I managed a steady stance to carefully maneuver through the stony frame and between the metal bars. The stone opening forgave my efforts and I slid harshly through despite acute pressure upon my sternum and spine. Partial light between the trees graced portions of my deformed face once my being shed the ache of stone and pale coldness against my being.

For a moment, the breath of life kissed me upon the lips and forehead, bestowing upon me hope for a new brand of freedom and among the gaiety of humanity. My feet managed to discover stony portions of solid steps.

The height of my anticipated descent fared higher than I had mentally measured. My hands held solid as did my feet. My mind spread open to the grand air and enthusiasm filled my bones to earn the throne of earth-bound stature -- until the stone shifted and my every grasp found the open air. My mind cried a terrified tear much larger than my hope as the ground below met the blunt impact of my existence, meant for the shallows of earth and the day descended into permanent night.

---End


COMMENTS

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Ashes - A story

20:56 May 07 2022
Times Read: 137


"Greetings, Malcolm. I haven't seen you in a very long time,”Please come in!”

When I threw open the door, his skinny, awkward body flopped awkwardly into the chair, and he twisted his hat nervously between his fingers. His deep-set eyes had a worried, hunted look, and he looked around the room quickly, as if looking for something hidden that might jump out at him. His face looked old and had no colour. The corners of his mouth kept twitching.

"What's wrong, old friend? It looks like you just saw a ghost.”

I walked over to the buffet and used the decanter to pour a small glass of wine for myself and him.

"Have a drink with me!"

Malcolm to his glass, gulped it down quickly and went back to playing with his hat.

“Thanks, don't feel like myself."

"You don't look like it! What's up?" I said with warm concern.

I looked at him for a moment, saying nothing. I wondered what could be so important to this man. Malcolm was a man with a strong will and steady nerves, until this moment, when I detected a strong, uneven energy in the room. Malcolm said nothing until after his first cigar had been lit. It looked like he was no longer nervous after a few moments passed. And once again, his features resembled the strong, independent person I knew from before.

"Harry," he said at first, "I just went through the worst thing that ever happened to a man. I don't know if I should tell you because I'm afraid you'll think I've lost my mind, and I wouldn't blame you if you did. But every word is correct!"

He took a dramatic pause and blew a few smoke rings into the air.

I was happy that he spoke. I recalled some trait of mine that made people trust me, because they told me stories that some men would have given years of their lives to hear. 

Malcolm asked, "Have you ever heard of Professor Stan Allister?"

"You're not saying Arthur Stan Allister, are you?" "Exactly! So you know him, right?"

"I suppose so! I have known him for a long time. He quit his job as a chemistry professor at the college so he could have more time to do his own experiments, and he hasn't stopped. I even helped him choose the plans for his soundproof laboratory on the top floor of his house. Then he was so busy with his stupid experiments and he didn't have time to hang out with friends."

"Harry, you may remember that when we were in college together, I used to experiment with chemistry."

When I said yes, Malcolm explained, "About four months ago, I lost my job. Stan Allister put out a job ad, and I answered it. He knew me from college, and I could show him I knew enough about chemistry to get a trial. He had a young woman named Miss Marjorie Purdy do his secretarial work. She was one of those people who paid close attention to business and looked as good as she worked. She had been helping Stan Allister a little in his lab, and I soon found out that she really enjoyed messing around and making her own experiments. In fact, she spent almost all of her free time in the lab with us. It was only natural that we became close friends, and it didn't take long for me to depend on her when the Professor was busy to help me with hard experiments. I could never figure out how to stump her. That girl was like an unsinkable duck in water with chemistry. About two months ago, Stan Allister made a separate workspace for himself in the lab by putting up walls. He told us he was about to start a series of tests that, if they worked, would make him famous for all the time. He flatly said that we couldn't be his friends or confidants if we crossed him directly or indirectly. And with that declaration, Miss Purdy and I were left alone more and more after that. The Professor would stay in his new workshop for days at a time, sometimes not even coming out for his meals. That also meant that we had more time on our hands. Our relationship grew stronger. I became more and more impressed by the slim young woman who wore white from head to toe and didn't seem to mind messing with smelly bottles and sticky messes. She even wore rubber gloves. The day before today, Stan Allister asked us to come into his workshop."

Malcom's hat found itself twisted in conflicting directions as Malcom continued.

"'Finally, I've succeeded," Stan Allister exclaimed proudly, holding up a small bottle with a clear liquid for us to look at. "I have in my hands what it will be known as the most important chemical discovery ever. I'm going to show you how well it works right now. Malcolm, could you please bring me one rabbit?” He asked with a gleam in his eye. I went back to the other room and got him one rabbit we kept for experiments. He put the small animal in a small glass box that was just big enough for it, and then he closed the lid. Then he put a glass funnel in a hole in the box's top, and we got closer to watch the experiment. He took the cork out of the bottle and put it on top of the cage for the rabbit. 'Now it's time to see if all my hard work over the past few weeks has paid off or not!' Stan introduced."

Malcolm took a deep breath and continued.

"He poured the contents of the bottle slowly and carefully into the funnel, and we watched it trickle into the compartment with the scared animal. Miss Purdy let out a stifled scream, and I rubbed my eyes to make sure I wasn't seeing things. For where there had been a live, scared rabbit just a moment before, there was now only a pile of soft, white ashes. Professor Stan looked at us with a look of complete happiness on his face. His face was full of ghoulish joy, and his eyes were shining with a strange, crazy light. When he spoke, his voice had a tone that showed he was in charge. 'Malcolm, it has been your honour to see the first successful test of a medicine that will change the world,' he said. Everything it comes into contact with, except glass, will turn into fine ash right away. Think about what this means. If an army had glass bombs filled with my chemical, they could destroy the entire world. Wood, metal, stone, and brick—everything—was swept away before them. They left nothing behind but a pile of soft, white ashes, just like the rabbit I had just used in an experiment.”

Malcolm's hat no longer looked like a hat inside his hands as he ranted.

"I gave Miss Purdy a quick look. Her face was as pale as the apron she was wearing. We watched as Stan Allister put what was left of the bunny in a small bottle and labelled it neatly. I'll admit that I had an icy feeling in my head by the time he sent me away and we left him alone in his workshop with the doors shut tight. Once Miss Purdy was outside, she completely lost her nerve. She lost her balance and would have fallen if I hadn't caught her. The last straw was when I felt her soft, yielding body close to mine. I didn't care about being careful and held her tight to my chest. I kissed her full, red lips repeatedly until she opened her eyes and I could see the love light in them. After what seemed like an eternity, we came back to Earth for just long enough to realize that the lab wasn't the right place for such a passionate show. Stan Allister could come out of his hiding place, and if he found us making love, we didn't want to think about what might happen. For the rest of the day, I felt like I was in a dream. I can't believe I got anything done at all. My body was just an automaton, a well-trained machine, doing what it was supposed to do, while my mind flew off to faraway worlds where I daydreamed about fun things. This was an odd way to fall in love, I’ll admit, and my mind was bewildered. Marjorie worked as a secretary for the rest of the day, and I didn't see her again until I was done with my work in the lab. That night, we gave in to the happiness we had just found. I will always remember that night. The best thing that ever happened to me was when Marjorie Purdy said she would marry me. Another day of pure happiness was yesterday. My sweetheart and I worked together all day. The next night, we made love again. If you've loved anyone, Harry, like the only girl in the world, you can't understand how happy it makes you feel just to think about her. And Marjorie gave me back a hundred times what I gave her. She gave herself to me with no reservations. As I waited I needed something to finish an experiment today, so I went to the drugstore to get it. I’m speaking about today’s events now. I missed Marjorie when I got back. When I looked for her hat and coat, I couldn't find them. Since the rabbit experiment, the Professor had not come out of his workshop, which was locked. I asked the servants, but none of them had seen her leave the house, and she hadn't left me any messages.”

Malcolm paused, and his hands twitched, massaging his contorted hat again. He continued.

“As the afternoon went on, I got more and more upset. Even though it was getting dark, my sweet little girl still hadn't shown up. No work was on anyone's mind. I paced around my room like a lion in a cage. Every time the phone rang, or the doorbell rang, I held on to the hope that she would say something, but I was always let down. Every minute felt like an hour, and every hour like an eternity! Holy crap, Harry! You can't even imagine how much I hurt! I went from being thrilled and in love to being very sad and hopeless in my mind. I thought of all kinds of terrible things happening to her. Still, I didn't hear a word. I felt like I had lived a lifetime, but my watch told me it was only half past seven when the butler told me that Stan Allister wanted me in the lab. I didn't want to try anything new, but as long as I was in his house, he was my boss, and I had to do what he said.”

Malcolm's hat took painfully large wrinkles, and I swore it was about to scream in agony. He ranted more.

“The door to the Professor's workshop was cracked open. He told me to shut the door to the lab and come with him into the small room. In my current state of mind, my brain took a picture of every tiny detail of what I saw. On a marble-topped table in the middle of the room was a glass case about the size and shape of a coffin. It was almost filled to the top with the same clear liquid that had been in the small bottle two days before. On a glass-top table, to the left, was a new label on a glass jar. I couldn't stop myself from shivering when I saw it was full of soft, white ashes. Then I saw something that almost stopped my heart. On a chair in a far corner of the workshop were the hat and coat of the girl who had given her life to me. This was the girl I had promised to love and protect as long as I lived. As the truth hit me, my senses went numb, and it filled my soul with horror. There's only one way to explain it. Those were Marjorie Purdy's ashes in that jar!’

Malcolm tore at his hat with a fierce determination, and his voice elevated another pitch.

“The world stopped for one long, terrible moment, and then I went mad—stark, staring mad! I don't know what happened next, but the next thing I remember, the Professor and I were in a terrible fight. Even though he was old, he had almost as much strength as I did, and he was also calm and sure of himself. He pushed me closer and closer to the glass coffin. In just a few more seconds, he would mix my ashes with those of the girl I loved. I tripped over the office sofa and managed closed my fingers on the jar of ashes on the edge of the table. With one last superhuman effort, I lifted it high above my head and smashed it down hard on the head of my enemy. His arm relaxed, and his limp body fell in a senseless heap to the floor. Still acting on impulse, I lifted the silent form of the Professor and carefully lowered the body into the casket of death! It was over in a moment. Both the professor and the liquid were gone. In their place was a small pile of soft, white ashes. As I looked at what I had done, the idea went away, and I had to face the cold, hard fact that I had killed another person. I had an odd sense of calm. I knew there wasn't a single piece of evidence against me, except that I was the last person known to be alone with the Professor. There was nothing left but ashes! I put on my hat and coat and told the butler that the Professor had said not to bother him, so I was leaving for the night. Once I was outside, I lost all control of myself.”

Malcolm's hat was completely torn apart in two.

“My nerves were all broken. I don't know where I went. All I know is that I went here and there without a plan until I ended up outside your apartment just now. I felt like I had to talk to someone, like I had to get my mind off of things. I knew I could count on you, old friend, so I told you everything. So here I am, do what you want with me. Now that Marjorie is gone, I have nothing left to look forward to in life."

When Malcolm said the name of the girl he loved, his voice broke and shook with emotion.

I leaned across the table and looked into the eyes of my friend sitting in the big chair. Then I got up, put my hat and coat on, and walked over to Malcolm, who had his head in his hands and was silently crying.

Malcolm's eyes met mine.

"Malcolm, pay attention. "Are you sure that Marjorie Purdy is dead? Are you one hundred percent sure that the ashes in that jar are Marjorie Purdy's ashes?"

"What am I doing here, Harry? And where are you going?"

"Then you don't know for certain. You thought you knew what was going on because you saw the girl's hat and coat in that chair and you concluded the aashes must be from Marjorie. The Professor must have taken her somewhere. Come on, what did Stan Allister say to you—"

“Harry. I do not know what he said. I'm telling you, I went crazy!"

"Then you should follow me, Malcolm. If she's not dead, she must be in that house somewhere, and if she is, we'll find her!"

We flagged down a taxi on the street, and in a few minutes, the butler let us into Stan Allister's house. The butler gave us the key to the lab and let us in with it. The workshop's door was still open.

I looked around the whole room. There was a closed door to the left of the window. I walked to the other side of the room and tried to turn the knob, but it wouldn't move.

"Where will that take us? It’s just a hallway where the Professor keeps his tools. Still, that other door should open," I said.

I took a step or two back and then put a well-placed kick on the door. Another, and another, and still another, and the lock's frame gave way. Malcolm yelled something he couldn't say in a hush and ran across the room to a big mahogany chest. He chose one key on the key ring, put it in the lock, and with shaky hands, threw the cover back.

"Harry, here she is! Hurry! Get her outside where she can breathe!"

Together, we carried the girl's limp body into the lab. Malcolm quickly put together something that he forced between her lips. With the second dose, she slowly opened her eyes.

Her confused eyes moved around the room until they landed on Malcolm. Suddenly, her eyes lit up with happiness as she realized who he was. After the first few minutes of seeing each other again, Marjorie l told us her story.

"This afternoon, after Malcolm left, the Professor told me to come into the workshop. The professor often sent me on errands, so I thought little of it and brought my hat and coat with me to save time. He shut the door to the small room and attacked me from behind without telling me. He beat me up and tied my hands and feet together. I didn't need to be gagged. As you know, there is no noise in the lab at all. Then he brought out a big Newfoundland dog he had gotten from somewhere, burned it up right in front of me, and put the ashes in a glass jar that was sitting on a table in the workshop. He went into the foyer and took the glass casket out of the chest, where you found me. At least, it looked like a coffin to my scared eyes! He made enough of his nasty liquid to almost fill the bottle. Then he told me that there was only one thing left. That was, to do the experiment on a person!"

She shook when she thought about it and continued.

"He talked for a long time about how lucky anyone would be to give up his life in such a way and for such a reason. Then he told me in a calm voice that he had chosen you, Malcolm, and that I was to be a witness. I passed out. The Professor must have been afraid of being broken into, because the next thing I remember is waking up in the chest where you found me. It was too hot! Every time I took a breath, it got harder. We had spent a lot of time together in the last few days and I thought of you. I was worried about what I would do without you. I even asked God to kill me, too. My throat got dry and sore, and everything turned black in front of my eyes. When I opened them again, I found myself here, with you, Malcolm," she whispered in a shaky voice. "Where is the Professor?”

Malcolm led her into the workshop in silence.

She shivered as the glass coffin got closer to where she could see it. Still not saying a word, he went straight to the casket and took a handful of the soft, white ashes in his hands.

He then let them slowly fall through his fingers.

~ End


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Labrynth of Death

00:46 May 06 2022
Times Read: 152


I had been slowly but surely coming to terms with the dreadful conclusion that had been creeping up on me. Gurganta Cave is a vast and labyrinth filled cavern, and I was completely, hopelessly lost. My strained eyes failed to catch any indicator of where I should go next. Where was my way out?

My reason could no longer entertain the slightest doubt when I looked out at the beautiful world and saw the blessed light of day. As for hope, it was dwindling.

As a result of a lifelong study of philosophy, I found some satisfaction in my calm demeanour despite the fact that I had frequently read about the wild frenzies that were thrown upon victims of similar situations.

I stood quiet as soon as I realised that I had lost my way ~ completely.

The knowledge that I had likely strayed beyond the normal scope of an ordinary search caused me to lose my cool for a fraction of a second. My final resting place - this cave - was as welcoming as any churchyard's grave, I thought, and the idea of it was terrifying. Alternatively, its majestic quality was more tranquil than depressing.

I was certain that starvation would be my final fate. I was aware that others had gone insane under similar circumstances, but I was confident that this was not my fate. My misfortune was entirely my own doing, as I had wandered off the regular tour group without the guide's knowledge and had been unable to find my way back after spending over an hour in the cave's forbidden passageways.

After only a few minutes left on my hand-torch, the pitch-black depths of the Earth's core would completely and almost palpably envelop me and this chapter of me would close its pages.

During the waning, unsteady light, I pondered the exact circumstances of my death as they might occur. Such a train of thought led to a remembering of an account of a colony of ill people who had sought health and tranquilly in this grotto's seemingly salubrious air.

I recalled that they had instead found death in a strange and ghastly form in the grotto's steady, uniform temperature and pure air. I had noticed the sad ruins of their shoddy huts as we passed by with the group much earlier in the tour I strayed from.

And I had wondered what kind of strange effect a prolonged stay in this vast and silent cavern would have on someone as young and healthy as myself. The time had come, I grimly reminded myself, for me to settle this matter, provided that hunger didn't force me out of this world too quickly.

Even though I had exhausted every possible route out of the cave, I was determined to leave nothing undone, so I resorted to shouting in the hope that my cries would draw the attention of the guide. Despite my best efforts, I was unsuccessful.

My cries for help seemed to have no effect, and I was convinced that my voice, amplified by the black maze's numerous ramparts, was heard only by me. Then, all of a sudden, I heard the sound of soft footsteps on the cavern's rocky floor, and my attention was immediately drawn to it. Was my salvation about to be completed so quickly? What if all my dreadful fears had been for naught and the guide had tracked me down in this limestone labyrinth because he'd noticed my unannounced absence?

I was about to resume my cries for help as I pondered these questions in my mind, but in an instant my delight was replaced with terror as I listened; for my ever acute ear, now sharpened in even greater degree by the complete silence of the cave, bore to my benumbed understanding the unexpected and dreadful knowledge that these footfalls were not like those of any mortal man.

His boots would have made an audible sound in the silence of this subterranean area, like the sound of several sharp and incisive blows. There were no loud bangs or thuds, but rather soft and quiet ones, like those of a feline. Moreover, when I listened closely, I noticed that at times I could hear the sound of four feet falling instead of two.

I was convinced that my cries had attracted a wild animal, perhaps a mountain lion, who had wandered into the cave by accident and was now following me. It occurred to me that I might have been given a death that was less painful than that of starvation.

Although my instinct for self-preservation had lain dormant for some time, it rose to the surface, and I made the decision to sell my life at a high price in order to avoid a harsher and longer ending. Should I have made myself an obvious target or allow the hunt to be sustained and manage a few more moments to breathe painlessly?

Because of this, I decided to remain completely silent, hoping that, in the absence of a guiding sound, the unknown beast would lose its bearings and pass me by. It was not to be, for the strange footfalls continued to advance, the animal evidently obtaining my scent, which in an atmosphere so completely free of all distracting influences as is the cave, could probably be followed at great distance.

As a result, I gathered around myself the largest rock fragments that were scattered across the floor of the cavern, and, with one in each hand, waited for the inevitable outcome. Meanwhile, the deafening patter of paws was getting closer.

The creature's actions were certainly out of character. Most of the time, the tread resembled that of a quadruped, walking with a distinct lack of coordination between the rear and front feet, but on rare occasions, I had the impression that only two feet were actively engaged in locomotion.

A creature that had paid the price for its curiosity to explore one of the fearful grotto's entrances was bound to confront me, and I wondered what kind of animal it might be. The eyeless fish, flapping bats, and scurrying rats in the cave, as well as some of the common fish in Blue River, were likely food sources for it.

It was during my terrible vigil that I imagined how the physical structure of the creature had changed as a result of living in the cavern for so long.

Then, with a start, I remembered that even if I killed my adversary, I would never be able to see its face because my torch had long since gone out and I was completely out of matches. My head was tense to the point of being frightening. From the sinister darkness surrounding me, my irrational imagination concocted a slew of ghoulish and frightful images.

The dreadful footfalls approached closer and closer. Despite the fact that it appeared as if I needed to scream, my voice would not have been able to respond if I had attempted it. I was paralysed with fear and unable to move.

When the time came, I was afraid my right arm wouldn't be able to launch a rock at the approaching thing. It was getting closer and closer as was the steady pat, pat, pat of the steps.

Despite my terror, I could hear the animal's laboured breathing and realized that it must have come from a long distance and was therefore exhausted. The spell was suddenly broken.

In order to reach that point in the darkness where the breathing and pattering could be heard, I threw the sharp-angled piece of limestone it contained with full force, guided by my ever trustworthy sense of hearing. I heard the thing jump and land at a distance away; it seemed to pause.

So, after making the necessary adjustments to my aim, I fired a second larger rock, and this time it was successful; with a rush of joy, I watched the creature fall to the ground, apparently still lying prone and unmoving. Reeling against the wall, I was almost overcome by the euphoria that swept over me.

When the heavy, gasping breathing continued, I realized I had done nothing more than wound the creature. All interest in further investigation had waned by this point. An unfounded and superstitious fear took hold in my mind at last and I decided not to approach the body or continue throwing stones at it so that its life could be extinguished.

The alternative was for me to sprint back in the direction I'd first arrived at full speed in my frenzied state. I was startled by a noise, or rather, a series of noises. They had transformed into a series of sharp, metallic clicks in the blink of an eye. This time, there was no doubt.

Then, as I looked up into the vaulted arches above, I yelled, screamed, and even shrieked with delight as I saw what I knew to be the reflected light of an approaching torch. Even though I had claimed to be a self-confessed "reserved" person, I found myself stumbling over the ground at the feet of the guide as I recounted the terrible events of my life to him in a most meaningless and idiotic manner, while simultaneously overburdening him with my professed reluctance and gratitude.
At long last, I awoke to a semblance of my normal state of mind. As soon as the group reached the cave's entrance, the guide noticed I had vanished and, using his own innate sense of direction, set out to thoroughly search the passages immediately ahead of where he had last spoken to me.

It took him about four hours to find me.

After he had finished telling me this, I began to think about the strange beast I had wounded a short distance back in the darkness, and I suggested that we use the rushlight to find out what kind of animal it was.

With the help of my companion, I made my way back to the scene of my harrowing encounter. An object that was whiter than the limestone itself was soon spotted on the floor. We both gasped in amazement as we cautiously approached the creature, which was by far the strangest of all the unnatural monsters we had ever encountered. It appeared to be a large anthropoid ape that had escaped from a travelling zoo or circus.

This creature's hair was snow-white, likely due to its long stay in the cave's inky confines, but it was also surprisingly thin and sparse, with the exception of its head where it was so long and abundant that it draped over the shoulders.

My previous observations had shown me that the beast alternated between using all four limbs and only two at various points in its journey; this was explained by the unusual inclination of the limbs. Finger and toe tips were covered in long, claw-like claws. As previously stated, the whiteness of the entire anatomy seemed to indicate the absence of prehensile hands or feet, which I ascribed to the creature's lengthy stay in the cave. There appeared to be no tail at all.

The creature's respiration had deteriorated to the point that the guide had drawn his pistol and was ready to use it to kill it, but a sudden noise from the creature caused the weapon to fall to the ground. It's hard to put into words what that noise sounded like.

Unlike any known species, it had an unnatural tone and I wondered if it was the result of a long period of silence, broken only by the sensations of light entering the cave, which the creature had never seen before. The sound, which I can only describe as a low-pitched chattering, was intermittently heard again. The beast's body seemed to twitch with a brief burst of energy.

Suddenly, the animal's paws jerked, and its limbs contracted and the white body rolled over so that its face was facing us. I couldn't pay attention to anything else for a brief moment due to my shock at seeing the eyes in such a way.

Deep, jetty black eyes contrasted horribly with the snow-white hair and skin. In the same way as other cave dwellers, their eyes were completely devoid of iris. When I looked closer, I noticed that they were set in a face that was less prognathous and far more hairy than the average ape's. The nose could be clearly seen.

The thick lips opened, and a series of sounds sounded from them, before the thing slowed down and fell to the ground.

While clutching my coat sleeve, the guide began to shake violently, casting strange, shifting shadow patterns on the walls around us.

No movement was made by me, but my horrified eyes were fixed on the floor ahead of me.

In its place, awe and wonder replaced fear as we realized that the sounds uttered by the traumatized figure lying stretched out on the limestone had revealed an incredible truth to us.

I had killed a man!

The shriek I heard next was not of a bystander - it was me!


-- End


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Moon Light - a short story of fright

03:38 May 04 2022
Times Read: 167


Whenever the moon shines on known and beloved scenes, it can make them look strange and eerie.

My nocturnal jaunts to the liquid garden took place during the dreamy summer of drug-induced blooms and muggy seas of leaves, during which the moon looked down in all its dreamy glory. Walking by the crystal stream, I noticed unexpected ripples tinged with crimson light, as if the calm waters were being sucked into other, unknown oceans.

White lotos flowers fluttered from the banks and sank into the stream one by one. Petals chased one another inside an opiate night-wind as the moon-cursed waters rushed menacingly under an arched, carven bridge.

The stream swung and swirled with the terrifying resignation of calm, lifeless features.

The scene was never finished under the full moon; instead, there were new vistas of trees, paths, flowers, shrubs, stone idols, and pagodas, and the yellow-litten stream curved around grassy banks and under grotesque bridges of marble as I ran along the shore, crushing sleeping flowers with heedless feet.

There were whispers of sadness from the lips of the lotos-faced dead, and I followed them as the stream became a river, and joined the shore of a great, unnamed sea in the marshes.

On that sea, the cruel moon shined, and strange odours hung in the air over its still, unspoken waters. My heart ached for a way to catch and study the lotus-faces that had vanished as I watched them fade into the night.

It wasn't until later that night that I realised what I had been looking at all along: antique spires that had almost been exposed by the waves, and white columns festooned with green seaweed.

I frightened at the thought that all the dead, and its lingering creatures, had gathered in this deep location, and I was afraid to converse with the lotos-faces again.

When I watched a black condor fall from the sky and land on a wide reef, I would have liked to question him and inquire about individuals he had known when they were alive. If I hadn't been so far away, I would have asked him this question, but he couldn't be entirely seen as he approached and then escaped the enormous reef.

Under that falling moon, I watched as the tide receded and the spires, towers and roofs of that desolate, wet city shone brightly. After a few minutes of watching, my nostrils began to close in an effort to keep the odour of the world's dead out of my nose. Surely all of the churchyards' bodies had congregated in this forgotten location for puffy seaworms to feast on.

The wicked moon hung low over those horrors, but the puffy worms of the water didn't need it to get their energy from the darkness. I felt a chill from afar out where the condor had gone, as if my flesh had caught a horror before my eyes had seen it, as I observed the ripples that indicated the movement of worms beneath.

Because the seas had receded so much, I could clearly see the massive reef's rim, which had been obscured by a thick layer of sand. It was only when I saw that this reef was really the black basalt crown of an enormous and hideous creature's head.

I yelled in fear that the creature's hideous face might come above water and that its eyes might glance back at me as the humid moon slithered away.

And to get away from this unrelenting beast, I jumped into the filthy shallows, where fat sea-worms feast on the world's dead amidst weedy walls and sunken streets.

END


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Garnod's Fate - a story

01:10 May 03 2022
Times Read: 176


There was a lot of noise in Garnod because they had seen smoke in the Hills of the Beast. Because of this, it must have been a sign that something was going on. For it spat lava and made the earth shake as it moved treacherously. People in Garnod agreed to kill the Monster and keep his hellish breath from scorching their minaret-filled city and toppling their alabaster domes when they gathered. 

Dozens of the townsfolk came together by torchlight to fight against the Beast in his hidden hideout, ready to do battle. With the coming of night, they marched in staggered lines into the foothills under the bright moonlight. It was easy to see a burning cloud in the sky above them. It was a sign that led them to their goal. 

Truthfully, their spirits descended into sad depths before they saw the enemy. And as the moon waned, and the dawn came with bright clouds, they wished they were home and rejoicing merrily inside their laugh-enriched abodes. As the sun came up, they felt revived, shifted their spears, and kept walking the rest of the way. 

It was dark even when the sun came out. 

Clouds of sulphurous smoke hung pall-like over the world, and the Beasts's sullen puffs signaled its conquering intent. 

They scampered over the hot stones because the little flames made them want to eat their envisioned barbecued food specialities from home.

 "But where is the Beast?" whispered one person, afraid and hoping that the creature would not see the question as an invitation. In vain, they looked for something to kill. 

There was nothing to kill. 

So they took their weapons and went home, where they set up a stone tablet that said, "Being hounded by a fierce monster, the brave citizens of Garnod set upon it and kill it in its fearful lair, saving the land from a terrible fate." 

The tablet was difficult, hard to read, and something obscured it badly. I could not discern the other details of the account when our archeological team from Minnesota pulled that stone out of the layers of lavas and beastly teeth's remnants.

-end


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Slices of the Future - a story

15:27 May 01 2022
Times Read: 194


It is midnight.

Before dawn they will find me and take me to a black cell where I shall languish interminably, while insatiable desires gnaw at my vitals and wither up my heart, till at last I become one with the dead.

My seat is the foetid hollow of an aged grave; my desk is the back of a fallen tombstone worn smooth by devastating centuries; my only light is that of the stars and a thin-edged moon, yet I can see as clearly as though it were mid-day.

Around me, on every side, sepulchral sentinels guard unkempt graves; the tilting,
decrepit headstones lie half-hidden in masses of nauseous, rotting vegetation. Above the rest, and silhouetted against the livid sky, an august monument lifts its austere, tapering spire like the spectral chieftain of a lemurian horde.

The air is heavy with the noxious odors of fungi and the scent of damp, mouldy earth, but to me it is the aroma of Elysium. It is still terrifyingly still with a silence whose very profundity bespeaks the solemn and the hideous.

Could I choose my habitation?

It would be in the heart of some such city of putrefying flesh and crumbling bones; for their nearness sends ecstatic thrills through my soul, causing the stagnant blood to race through my veins and my torpid heart to pound with delirious joy for death is life to me!

My early childhood was one long and monotonous apathy. Strictly ascetic, wan, pallid, undersized, and subject to protracted spells of morbid moroseness, the healthy normal youngsters of my age ostracized me. They dubbed me a spoil-sport, an "old man", because I had no interest in the rough, childish games they played, or any stamina to take part in them, had I so desired.

Like all rural villages, Gorham Village had its quota of poison-tongued gossips.

Their prying imaginations hailed my lethargic temperament as some abhorrent abnormality; they compared me with my parents and shook their heads in ominous doubt at the vast difference.

Some of the more superstitious openly pronounced me a changeling, while others who knew something of my ancestry called attention to the vague mysterious rumors concerning a great- great-grand uncle who had been burned at the stake as a necromancer.

Had I lived in some larger town, with greater opportunities for congenial companionship. Perhaps I could have overcome this early tendency to be a recluse.

As I reached my teens, I grew even more sullen, morbid, and apathetic. My life lacked motivation. I seemed in the grip of something that dulled my senses, stunted my development, retarded my activities, and left me unaccountably dissatisfied.

I was sixteen when I attended my first funeral. A funeral in Gorham Village was a pre-eminent social event, for our town was noted for the longevity of its inhabitants. When the funeral was that of such a well-known character as my grandfather, it was safe to assume that the townspeople would turn out en masse to pay due homage to his memory.

Yet I did not view the approaching ceremony with even latent interest. Anything that lifted me out of my habitual inertia held for me only the promise of physical and mental disquietude.

In deference to my parents' importuning, I mentally left to give myself relief from their caustic condemnations of what they called my unfilial attitude, I agreed to physically accompany them.There was nothing out of the ordinary about my grandfather's funeral unless it was the voluminous array of floral tributes; but this, remember, was my initiation to the solemn rites of such an occasion.

Something about the darkened room, the oblong coffin with its somber drawings, the banked masses of fragrant blooms, the dolorous manifestations of the assembled villagers, stirred me from my normal listlessness and arrested my attention.

Roused from my momentary reverie by a nudge from my mother's sharp elbow, I followed her across the room to the casket where the body of my grandparent lay. For the first time; I was face to face with Death. I looked down upon the placid face lined with its multitudinous wrinkles and saw nothing to cause so much of sorrow.

Instead, grandfather was immeasurably content, blandly satisfied. I felt swayed by some strange, discordant sense of elation.

So slowly, so stealthily, had it crept over me, that I could scarcely define its coming.

As I mentally review that portentous hour, it must have originated with my first glimpse of that funeral scene, silently strengthening its grip with subtle insidiousness. A baleful, malignant influence that seemed to emanate from the corpse itself held me with magnetic fascination.

I felt my form change without conscious thought, as my whole being seemed to charge with some force. My eyes were trying to burn beneath the closed lids of the dead man's and read some secret message they concealed. My heart gave a sudden leap of unholy glee and pounded against my ribs with demoniacal force, as if to free itself from the confining walls of my frail frame.

Wild, wanton, soul-satisfying sensuality engulfed me.

Once more, the vigorous prod of a maternal elbow jarred me into activity. I had made my way to the sable-shrouded coffin with leaden tread; I walked away with a newfound animation.

I accompanied the cortege to the cemetery, my whole physical being permeated by this mystic, enlivening influence. It was as if I had quaffed deep draughts of some exotic elixir some abominable concoction brewed from blasphemous formulae in the archives of Bealzabub.

The townsfolk were so intent upon the ceremony that the radical change in my demeanor passed unnoticed by all, save my father and my mother; but in the fortnight that followed, the village busybodies found fresh material for their vitriolic tongues in my altered bearing.

At the end of the fortnight, however, the potency of the stimulus lost its effectiveness.

Another day or two and I had completely reverted to my old-time languor, though not to the complete and engulfing insipidity of the past. Before, there had been an utter lack of desire to emerge from the enervation; now vague and indefinable unrest disturbed me.

Outwardly I had become myself again, and the scandal-mongers turned to some more engrossing subject. Had they even so much as dreamed the true cause of my exhilaration, would they have shunned me as if I were a filthy, leprous thing?

Had I visioned the execrable power behind my brief period of elation, I would have locked myself forever from the rest of the world and spent my remaining years in penitent solitude. Tragedy often runs in trilogies, hence despite the proverbial longevity of our townspeople, the next five years brought the death of both parents.

My mother went first, in an accident of the most unexpected nature; and so genuine was my grief that something honestly surprised me to find its poignancy mocked and contradicted by that almost forgotten feeling of supreme and diabolical ecstasy.

Once more my heart leaped wildly within me and it pounded at trip-hammer speed and sent the hot blood coursing through my veins with meteoric fervor. I shook from my shoulders the harassing cloak of stagnation, only to replace it with the infinitely more horrible burden of loathsome, unhallowed desire.

I haunted the death-chamber where the body of my mother lay, my soul thirsting for the devilish nectar that seemed to saturate the air of the darkened room. Every breath strengthened me, lifted me to towering heights of seraphic satisfaction.

I knew, now, that it was but a sort of drugged delirium which must soon pass and leave me correspondingly weakened by its malign power, yet I could no more control my longing than I could untwist the sailor knots in the already tangled skein of my destiny.

I knew, too, that through some strange evil curse, my life depended upon the dead for its motive force; that there was a singularity in my makeup, which responded only to the awesome presence of some lifeless clod.

A few days later, frantic for the bestial intoxicant on which the fullness of my existence depended, I interviewed Gorham's sole undertaker and talked him into taking me on as a sort of apprentice. The shock of my mother's demise had visibly affected my father. I think that if I had broached the idea of such outre employment at any other time, he would have been emphatic in his refusal.

As it was, he nodded acquiescence after a moment's sober thought. How little did I dream he would be the object of my first practical lesson!

He, too, died suddenly; developing some hitherto unsuspected heart affliction. My octogenarian employer tried his best to dissuade me from the unthinkable task of embalming his body, nor did he detect the rapturous glint in my eyes as I finally won him over to my damnable point of view.

I cannot hope to express the reprehensible, the unutterable thoughts that swept in tumultuous waves of passion through my racing heart as I labored over the lifeless clay.

Unsurpassed love was the keynote of these concepts, a love greater-- far greater--than any I had ever borne him while he was alive. My father was not a rich man, but he had possessed enough of worldly goods to make him comfortably independent. As his sole heir, I found myself in rather a paradoxical position. My early youth had totally failed to fit me for contact with the modern world, yet the primitive life of Gorham with its attendant isolation, palled upon me.

Indeed, the longevity of the inhabitants defeated my sole motive in arranging my indenture. After settling the estate, it proved a straightforward matter to secure my release, and I headed for Doroboro, a city some seventy miles away.

Here my year of apprenticeship stood me in good stead. I had no trouble in establishing a favorable connection as an assistant with the Fordsham Corporation, a company that maintained the largest funeral parlors in the city.

I even prevailed upon them to let me sleep on the premises for already the proximity of the dead was becoming an obsession. I applied myself to my task with unwonted zeal. No case was too gruesome for my impious sensibilities, and I soon became a master at my chosen vocation.

Every fresh corpse brought into the establishment meant a fulfilled promise of ungodly gladness, of irreverent gratification; a return of that rapturous tumult of the arteries which transformed my grisly task into one of beloved devotion yet every carnal satiation exacted its toll. I came to dread the days that brought no dead for me to gloat over, and prayed to all the obscene gods of the nethermost abysses to bring swift, sure death upon the residents of the city.

Then came the nights when a skulking figure stole surreptitiously through the shadowy streets of the suburbs; pitch-dark nights when the midnight moon was obscured by heavy, lowering clouds. It was a furtive figure that blended with the trees and cast fugitive glances over its shoulder; a figure bent on some malignant mission. After one of these prowling, the morning papers would scream to their sensation-mad clientele the details of some nightmare crime; column on column of lurid gloating over abominable atrocities; paragraph on a paragraph of impossible solutions and extravagant, conflicting suspicions.

Through it all I felt a supreme sense of security, for who would for a moment suspect an employee in an undertaking establishment, where Death was supposedly an every-day affair, of seeking surcease from unnamable urgings in the cold-blooded slaughter of his fellow-beings?

I planned each crime with maniacal cunning, varying the manner of my murders so that no one would even dream that all were the work of one blood-stained pair of hands. The aftermath of each nocturnal venture was an ecstatic hour of pleasure. Pernicious and unalloyed; a pleasure always heightened by the chance that its delicious source might later be assigned to my gloating administrations in the course of my regular occupation.

Sometimes that double and ultimate pleasure occurred! Oh rare and delicious memory!

During long nights when I clung to the shelter of my sanctuary, I was prompted by the mausolean silence to devise new and unspeakable ways of lavishing my affections upon the dead that I loved the dead that gave me life!

One morning Mr. Fordsham came much earlier than usual, came to find me stretched out upon a cold slab deep in ghoulish slumber, my arms wrapped about the stark, stiff, naked body of a foetid corpse!

He roused me from my salacious dreams, his eyes filled with mingled detestation and pity.

Gently but firmly he told me that I must go, that my nerves were unstrung, that I needed a long rest from the repellent tasks my vocation required, that my impressionable youth was too deeply affected by the dismal atmosphere of my environment.

How little did he know of the demoniacal desires that spurred me on in my disgusting infirmities?

I was wise enough to see that argument would only strengthen his belief in my potential madness it was far better to leave than to invite discovery of the motive underlying my actions.

After this I dared not stay long in one place for fear some overt act would bare my secret to an unsympathetic world. From town to town, I traveled from city to city. I worked in morgues, around cemeteries, once in a crematory anywhere that afforded me an opportunity to be near the dead that I so craved.

Then came the world war.

One of the last to return was me. Four years of blood-red charnel Hades ... sickening slime of rain-rotten trenches ... deafening bursting of hysterical shells ... monotonous droning of sardonic bullets ... smoking frenzies Hell's fountains ... stifling fumes of murderous gases ... grotesque remnants of smashed and shredded bodies ... four years of transcendent satisfaction.In every wanderer there is a latent urge to return to the scenes of his childhood.

A few months later I made my way through the familiar byways of Gorham.

Vacant dilapidated farm houses lined the adjacent roadsides, while the years had brought equal retrogression to the town itself. A mere handful of the houses were occupied, but among these was the one I had once called home.

The tangled, weed-choked driveway, the broken window panes, the uncared-for acres that stretched behind, all bore mute confirmation of the tales that guarded inquiries had elicited that it now sheltered a dissolute drunkard who eked out a meager existence from the chores his few neighbors gave him out of sympathy, especially due his mistreatment by a beleaguered wife and undernourished child who shared his lot.

Someone entirely dispelled the glamour surrounding my youthful environment; so, prompted by some errant foolhardy thought, I next turned my steps toward Doroboro.

Here, too, the years had brought changes, but in reverse order.

The small city I remembered had almost doubled in size despite its wartime depopulation.

Instinctively I sought my former place of employment, finding it still there but with an unfamiliar name and "Successor to" above the door, for the influenza epidemic had claimed Mr. Gerham, while the boys were overseas. Some fateful mood impelled me to ask for work. I referred to my tutelage under Mr. Fordsham with some trepidation, but my fears were groundless my late employer had carried the secret of my unethical conduct with him to the grave. An opportune vacancy insured my immediate re-installation.

Then came vagrant, haunting memories of scarlet nights of impious pilgrimages, and an uncontrollable desire to renew those illicit joys. I cast caution to the winds and launched upon another series of damnable debaucheries.

Once more the yellow sheets found welcome material in the devilish details of my crimes, comparing them to the red weeks of horror that had appalled the city years before. Once more the police sent out their dragnet and drew into its enmeshing folds nothing!

My thirst for the noxious nectar of the dead grew to a consuming fire, and I shortened the periods between my odious exploits. I realized I was treading on dangerous ground, but demoniac desire gripped me in its torturing tentacles and urged me on.

All this time my mind was becoming more and more benumbed to any influence except the satiation of my insane longings. Little details vitally important to one bent on such evil escapades escaped me.

Somehow, somewhere, I left a vague trace, an elusive clue, behind not enough to warrant my arrest, but sufficient to turn the tide of suspicion in my direction.

I sensed this espionage, yet was helpless to stem the surging demand for more dead to quicken my enervated soul. Then came the night when the shrill whistle of the police roused me from my fiendish gloating over the body of my latest victim, a gory razor still clutched tightly in my hand.

With one dexterous motion, I closed the blade and thrust it into the pocket of the coat I wore. Nightsticks beat a lusty tattoo upon the door.

I crashed through the window with a chair, thanking Fate I had chosen one of the cheaper tenement districts for my locale. I dropped into a dingy alley as blue-coated forms burst through the shattered door.

Over shaky fences, through filthy back yards, past squalid ramshackle houses, down dimly lighted narrow streets, I fled. I thought at once of the wooded marshes that lay beyond the city and stretched for half a hundred miles till they touched the outskirts of Gorham.

If I could reach this goal, I would be temporarily safe. Before dawn I was plunging headlong through the foreboding wasteland, stumbling over the rotting roots of half-dead trees whose naked branches stretched out like grotesque arms, striving to encumber me with mocking embraces.The imps of the nefarious gods to whom I offered my idolatrous prayers must have guided my footsteps through that menacing morass.

A week later, wan, bedraggled, and emaciated, I lurked in the woods a mile from Gorham. So far, I had eluded my pursuers, yet I dared not show myself, for I knew that we have sent the alarm broadcast. I vaguely hoped I had thrown them off the trail.

After that first frenetic night, I had heard no sound of alien voices, no crashing of heavy bodies through the underbrush. Perhaps they had concluded that my body lay hidden in some stagnant pool or had vanished forever in the tenacious quagmire.

Hunger gnawed at my vitals with poignant pangs, thirst left my throat parched and dry. Yet far worse was the unbearable hunger of my starving soul for the stimulus I found only in the nearness of the dead.

My nostrils quivered in sweet recollection. No longer could I delude myself with the thought that this desire was a mere whim of the heated imagination. I knew now that it was an integral part of life itself; that without it I should burn out like an empty lamp. I summoned all my remaining energy to fit me to satisfy my accursed appetite.

Despite the peril attending my move, I set out to reconnoiter, skirting the sheltering shadows like an obscene wraith. Once more, I felt that strange sensation of being led by some unseen satellite of Satan.

Yet even my sin-steeped soul revolted for when I found myself before my native abode, the scene of my youthful hermitage. Then these disquieting memories faded. In their place came overwhelming lustful desire. Behind the rotting walls of this old house lay my prey.

A moment later, I had raised one of the shattered windows and climbed over the sill. I listened for a moment, every sense alert, every muscle tensed for action. The silence reassured me.

With cat-like tread I stole through the familiar rooms until stertorous snores showed the place where I was to find surcease from my sufferings. I allowed myself a sigh of anticipatory ecstasy as I pushed open the door of the bedchamber.

Panther-like, I made my way to the supine form, stretched out in a drunken stupor. The wife and child -- where were they? -- well, they could wait. My clutching fingers groped for his throat.

Hours later I was again the fugitive, but a newfound stolen strength was mine. Three silent forms slept to wake no more.

It was not until the garish light of day penetrated my hiding-place that I visualized the certain consequences of my rashly purchased relief.

By this time, the bodies must have been discovered. Even the most obtuse of the rural police must surely link the tragedy with my flight from the nearby city. Besides, for the first time, I had been careless enough to leave some tangible proof of my identity my fingerprints on the throats of the newly dead.

All day I shivered in nervous apprehension.

The mere crackling of a dry twig beneath my feet conjured mental images that appalled me. That night, under cover of the protecting darkness, I skirted Gorham and made for the woods that lay beyond.

Before dawn came the first definite hint of renewed pursuit the distant baying of hounds. Through the long night I pressed on, but by morning I could feel my artificial strength ebbing.

Noon brought once more the insistent call of the contaminating curse, and I knew I must fall by the way unless I could once more experience that exotic intoxication that came only with the proximity of the loved dead.

I had traveled in a wide semicircle. If I pressed ahead, midnight would bring me to the cemetery where I had laid away my parents years before. My only hope, I felt certain, lay in reaching this goal before it overtook me.

With a silent prayer to the devils that dominated my destiny, I turned leaden feet toward my last stronghold. God!

Can it be that a scant twelve hours have passed since I started for my ghostly sanctuary?

I have lived an eternity in each leaden hour. But I have reached a rich reward. The noxious odors of this neglected spot are frankincense to my suffering soul! The first streaks of dawn are graying the horizon. They are coming!

My sharp ears catch the far-off howling of the dogs! It is but a matter of minutes before they find me and shut me away forever from the rest of the world, to spend my days in ravaging yearnings till at last I join the dead I love! They shall not take me! A way of escape is open!

A coward's choice, perhaps, but better-- far better -- than endless months of nameless misery.

I will leave this record behind me that some soul might understand why I make this choice.The razor! It has nestled forgotten in my pocket since my flight from Bayboro.

Its blood-stained blade gleamed oddly in the waning light of the thin-edged moon.

One slashing stroke across my left wrist and deliverance was assured.

Warm, fresh blood spatters grotesque patterns on dingy, decrepit slabs.

Phantasmal hordes swarm over the rotting graves.

Spectral fingers beckon me.

Ethereal fragments of unwritten melodies rise in a celestial crescendo.

Distant stars dance drunkenly in demoniac accompaniment.

A thousand tiny hammers beat hideous dissonances on anvils inside my chaotic brain.

Gray ghosts of slaughtered spirits parade in mocking silence before me.

Scorching tongues of invisible flame sear the brand of Hell upon my sickened soul.

I can--write--no more!

END


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