A short, Lovecraftian story that I wrote while waiting for NaNoWriMo to start. Tomorrow the work begins on my real Nano, but I couldn't let this one go. Now I am sleepy, and here is some hopefully horror, though I think it's just simply confusing.
Even in this fever-dream, even when the lights of my life are dim and flickering, the memory of everything that came before skewed and distorted, even when my family and friends are nothing but monstrous caricatures in my mind, the beginning is all so clear.
I was on a boat.
There was a song about that, I think. A funny one.
But this was not a funny boat. This was just a regular boat, a sailboat, I think. Yes, there was definitely a sail. We were sailing to an island, an island that did not show up on radar, and did not appear on satellite photos.
We were supposed to be catching sharks. Not to eat, but to study. Catch, then release. Only keep them for as long as we had to. Just enough to learn something, then we set them free to have their happy shark lives.
Now we are caught.
The island was odd, like something out of a fantasy novel or video game. It was shrouded in mist, visible only barely when the wind was at its peak, and the mists would grow thin and stretched, but never disappear. Even on the island the mist is everywhere, but it never acts like a mist should. Sometimes you think you can see forever, off into a distance so infinite that it cannot yet be on this earth, something that breaks the horizon and damages the mind simply to see. Other times, the mists cling closely, thick as solid stone, blocking us even from ourselves. And yet always you can see the sun shining, though it be discolored, a sort of jaundiced green.
I can see it, and yet its light seems so weak, so cold. It does not feel like my sun, but I know it must be.
I am rambling, I think. I do not know sometimes if I am writing this or living it. Some things I see are false, visions of things that have not happened, but whether they will or not I do not know. Tenses seem wrong here, as inappropriate as curses in a kindergarten.
I must work to keep them straight.
We left the sailboat offshore, and came ashore in a dingy. The sand of the beach is inky black, and it glistens like obsidian. Past the sand the island turns to stones, then a soft, spongy dirt, from which spring mushrooms taller than any man. The only kinds of vegetation seem to be fungi, or thick, almost meaty moss that clumps atop every stone.
There were thirteen of us, I think. Thirteen that came ashore and five that stayed aboard. We had radios, but we quickly found they didn’t work. Every channel was filled with static, hissing in and out like breaths. GPS showed nothing, and our compasses span. Our smartphones worked in fits and bursts, randomly flashing on and off.
I remember too, the words were never right. You tried to write a note, and the suggested spelling would never be the right word. It was such a little thing, something you thought was strange. They were innocuous at first. Mush suggested not mushroom, but barn; stran suggested not strange but chicken. We laughed a little about it. Nervously, I think. Nobody was very calm. But we were scientists. Still are, I think. I don’t know if that title goes away when you die.
I was a Muslim, too, I think. I believed there was a heaven, and that Allah was real. I believed in good things, like honoring your family and helping those in need. This tense I know is right. I no longer am a Muslim. I know there is no Allah, and that no curses await me for my heretical betrayal.
If there is a hell, I am already there. Or will be. I don’t know if this can get any worse, or if it has.
Am I even writing this?
We found a monument on the island, like Stonehenge. Giant pillars of rock put atop each other, built in a circle on a high mound. Light came from plant-like growths on the rocks, curling nautilus spirals that unfurled into glowing fronds, waving in some unseen wind.
There was a doorway in the center, great stone double doors that stood open from the earth. The outsides were dented, maybe carved. We argued but the fact was the stone was too rough, too weathered to be certain as to whether there was writing.
There’s a stairway in the doors, spiralling down into darkness. The steps are uneven and irregularly sized. Some appear to be not stone or dirt but fossilized bone, but we cannot be sure.
Some of us don’t want to go down there. Sandy yells at us, says we need to get the fuck out of here. That there’s something wrong here, and we should let the military handle it.
Whose military? We are all from different places. We argue, each of us scared shitless but most of us too afraid to admit it. We want to feel strong, in control, even though we know we have completely lost it already.
Some of us leave. The unlucky thirteen turned eight.
I wonder if they made it back. If they got onboard the ship and just sailed away, back home to safety, to tell the military of this place.
I wonder if they will nuke us. I wonder if they have. Sometimes I see it happening, see the bombs falling, but there is something that eats them. A storm, a face, an endless maw.
Allah help them. I know she cannot help me.
The eight of us, went down the stairs. The walls of the well transitioned from dirt to clay to rough stone, then to carved blocks, fit together with incredible proficiency. I think there were stones like this somewhere else, something in South America where conspiracy theorists hired by the History channel talk about how man could never have made such things. The stairwell ends there, with the perfect stones, and branches off into tunnels, each perfectly symmetrical and tapered towards the top, like a rifle bullet. We try to count how many but each of us comes up with a different number. We argue. There is a statue in this foyer, in the center of the spiral stairs. I remember there was a pedestal, and atop it something strange. One of us said it was a flame, someone else a cupped hand, other the head of a squid. Someone speaks to me.
Her name, Natalia, I think. She is from Ukraine. She says we should go back, that she doesn’t like it here.
I agree, but something holds me back. Something that is pulling me forward. Some primate urge to know, to understand.
Someone else agrees, but the rest of us trade eyes. We share the same urge, the same drive. The agreer is a man. Derek, I think. American. The only one of us that does not speak a language besides English. We laughed about it behind his back, in English. The only one all the rest of us shared.
Some joke about Imperialism, the scope of the American ego.
Someone says we should choose a tunnel. To make sure we all chose the same one, we hold hands like schoolchildren and tie fishing line to our belts.
The places we are from seem so small right now. Our languages so crude and withered, shrunken forest trees dying from drought.
The tunnels bend at impossible angles but remain straight. We discuss the impossibilities as we vomit, our brains and bodies made sick as we attempt to understand. Gravitational lensing, someone says. Dimensional rifts. Someone says drugs. Me, I think. I hope it’s just drugs.
I know it’s not drugs.
We walk the corridor for the briefest of eternities, crossing countless branches, hopefully staying straight. Someone is leaving a spraypaint trail, but it never seems to stay. The hallway bends straight and it is gone.
Somehow we find a room. It is vast and egg-shaped, with stepped platforms building up from the bottom. There is a machine in the room, silver and phallic, a bulbous telescope floating in the open air. Mushrooms caps the size of hands grow from the bottom of the machine, each a different, sometimes impossible shade. A color that is not black, but you cannot see, almost so it is invisible, just a hint in the corner of your eye. But you can feel them all with your hands, you know they are real.
One of us, a man. Zhang, thinks the mushrooms caps are control. He grasps them in his hands and tries to twist and turn them. There is a moment, a blink, and he is gone. We scream and shout and curse. Then we see the fishing line, still between us, connected as though he was never there. Then we don’t shout, we don’t scream. One person curses. Another cries. Somebody says something about folding space, stuttering over her words.
Five of us now.
We tried to go back through that hallway. Sometimes we would see the spraypaint, sometimes we wouldn’t. We walked and walked, but the hallway never seemed the same.
Then it wasn’t the same. Instead of perfect blocks everywhere there was a recession, a little alcove.
No, not an alcove, a depressed window. A bubble projecting off the wall, translucent through the still perfect-fitting stones. We can see through it, see something moving. A great mass, wet and fleshy, moving through brightly colored pools, the surrounding ground veined and pulsing, slowly, like a heart. Wisps of light flicker about, giving us a glimpse of eyes, deep and knowing.
Eyes that look into our souls, and we find ourselves bared. We are stripped down, torn apart, broken into our respective fundamental elements. Someone manages to pull us away and we fall to the floor, each of us crying, each of us confused and afraid.
That is when I forget my name. I still cannot remember.
There are some memories I do not think are my own. I was a Muslim, I am a woman, I think. But sometimes I see myself as a boy, a memory of Christmas morning and singing in a boat going down the Seine trying to seduce a young woman who is laughing. I do not think I did any of these things. But it is getting hard to tell.
There is a young woman. Her name is Marceline, and she is from a suburb of Paris called Vincennes. We go on a date in the middle of the night, and have sex, giggling as we almost overturn our boat.
Something was watching us, then. Watching me now. I think it will forever watch me, that there is a piece of it inside me.
We ran from that alcove, ran down the tunnels not worrying where they lead, never wondering if what we were running towards could be worse than what we had left behind.
The tunnels branched further and at some point fishing line snapped. Five became four as one more was lost in the psychedelic halls. I think I saw an arm grab her, three-fingered with pebbled skin and cracked, crystal claws.
Her name was Rosa, Rosa Johnson, and she was from Nigeria. She studied sharks because animals didn’t murder or lie, and sharks easier to understand than people. Something very terrible happened to her once.
I don’t like to remember.
I seem to know a lot about her. Maybe she’s me?
No, no. I was a Muslim, I think. I had a name, different from Rosa Johnson. Something in Arabic, something that my mother gave me.
I do not think I had a father. If I did maybe not a good one. It is hard to remember.
We find another room, or another room finds us. Sometimes it feels like the latter. The walls are still stone, black and featureless, the seams so thin they can barely be seen, and not at all felt.
Something is moving beneath me. This room is alive. I can feel it.
There is an alien sky above us, gas giants circling where moons should be. I don’t know much astronomy, but something tells me they should never be that close. Stars matching no constellations I have ever seen move across the dark purple sky, sliding down behind living mountains.
The stone walls give way to green, muscular strands, layered atop each other to form rolling hills, covered in glowing pustules that are hard to the touch.
A great sigh moves through the earth, and we flee back through the door, into the safety of the ever-shifting, ever even hall. We are careful to hold hands, the four of us left.
We do not bother with fishing line knots.
In the tunnel, we sit, exhausted, and hoping that walls are as solid as they seem, and nothing will come through them. We try to figure out what’s happening to us, to see.
Their faces are all so clear but I cannot quite place them, I share their memories but not their names. Only when we are dead do things become clear, do we become solid, unchanging. Not the body; that goes the worms and the bacteria, or whatever there is here. Someone says something about time, whether with the space bending at all, what happens with the time. WIll a hundred years have past when we return?
If we return. Whether all that passes is a moment or a millenium, outside, I do not think it will matter. None of our minds is whole anymore.
Everything on our Earth seems so small right now. Our cities, our monuments, the things we thought we understood. The things we didn’t understand. That space we labelled God.
Eventually we say we have to move, but there is a weariness to us all. An unspoken agreement that yes, we are all going to die here. There is no search for answers now; we know we will never understand. Not in our lifetimes, or any.
Someone shares a canteen with me, and I realize I cannot remember the last time I had a drink. I wonder too, why I feel no need to pee, or shit. The smell answers that question, and the darkness in the others’ pants.
One more of us is taken in the hall. Jans, from Germany. Munich, I think. His favorite color was blue, and he always talked about the street vendors in Munich like they were the greatest thing in the world.
Those bratwurst did taste good.
Was I him?
No, no. Because he must be dead. I am not from Germany, I am from somewhere else.
I was Muslim, I think. I am female. I think.
We are all scientists.
Three of us left. We search for spraypaint, try to find meaning in our GPS and smartphones. Our compasses do not even spin, now.
Someone taps out a few notes on their smartphone, tries to send a text with tears dripping onto the screen.
The suggested words are no longer chicken, no longer barn.
Instead, they say endless. They say death.
I tap out a note and find that it says, in a language that is not my own,
Open the Door, Open the Way.
There is a word that follows. Maybe a name, but maybe that is the fault of the human mind, searching for meaning in any jumble of syllables.
A prophecy? Some sort of divine warming? Something to do, to save ourselves? We are so powerless here I cannot imagine we have any sort of actual utility. Nothing we can do will change anything. Our every action is miniscule on the grander scale. I could say universal, but I am not so sure that what we have seen is within that minute realm.
We walk through the hall and find our way to a darker turn, though such a term feels like a laughable moniker. The stone walls, perfect and even become broken and bent, and not in the way that it was before. Cracks and wide seams, cool water, smelling like petrol, dripping from the walls. Our flashlights fail us, the batteries flickering out and leaving us in the dark. No one cries out. In a way, it is comforting. We can only rely on touch, and nothing lies to the hands.
We hold hands, and stand in a circle, unwilling to go on.
Someone cries that they cannot go on, that this has to be the end for them.
We say we need to sleep. That we are too tired, that there will be no way out if we keep pushing ourselves. We need to use our heads to escape, or there will be an endless death for all of us.
We sit down to sleep, to rest our heads. Someone takes out their smartphone and puts it between us; the screen flickers, almost like a real flame. An electronic campfire that gives no warmth.
I am unsure if we slept, just as I am unsure if we sleep now. How awful it is to be so uncertain of everything. Every other thought a question, an attempt to define this nebulous existence that is all that I know.
Something comes, in nightmare or in real, and when we find our senses, three is become two. Another gone; we do not venture down that hall, do not discover what lays beyond the broken stone.
The tunnel branches and folds, always the same, until we find the alcove again. This time, we do not look through. We crawl on our hands and knees until it is passed, then we run, the sight of something familiar, even if it is darkness and evil, gives us hope that we are finding the proper way.
Then the hall opens, a portal into wide-open space, the light of galaxies and stars hard and cold. The edge of the universe visible like the horizon from the edge of the atmosphere. A curvature in everything, beyond which there is a place where we cannot go, we cannot see, but something is. A grand Thing, an Elder Thing.
It speaks to us, the words sibilant and sinister, alien and yet so human.
One of us takes out a knife, a long steel thing with one razor sharp edge. One of us cuts his throat, lets the blood spill out into space, freezing into tiny drops of ice, the only things that twinkle.
Two becomes one, and now I am alone. Have I always been alone? Was it just me, all this time? Do these dark walls lie? Am I in truth in some asylum, locked within padded walls and wrapped in cloth.
No. I know, as I write this, wherever I am, that I was not always alone.
His name was Pierre, and I think we had sex once.
It’s just me now. The past becomes blurred, the now inconsistent. The future, oddly clear.
Open the Gate, Open the Way.
Cthagn b’ sothoth i’aven, utoor qtha i’a.
I know my old name now, but there is only room for one.