A tale of a revolting horror!
(A short story by Terry Edwin Walstrom)
I, Father McClelland, upon penalty of punishments dire and never-ending, herein set forth the fruits of my investigations into origins and histories of uncanny invasion.
Please allow me to begin at the beginning. . .
Manuscript of Father Hector McClellan
I, a humble priest, so often passed along an eerie pathway; making my way breathlessly toward the town below that ancient Harrow-house which stood leering, clinging oddly to the cliff nearby.
Suffering the tell-tale tingling of my flesh as I drew near, I could not shake off my foreboding. Was mine a troubled conscience? I cannot say. I dared not utter a prayer on my own behalf. Heaven is deaf enough these days.
The dilapidated structure of Harrow-house, with its unkempt yard, beckoned one’s gaze. It followed the New England colonial lines of the middle Eighteenth Century—the prosperous peaked-roof, with two stories; all laid out above the lane found winding among the graveyard, the jagged trees; all within earshot of a gurgling stream.
Worm-infested rot invaded the air within half a mile of this eyesore, as though hell itself were given a lease inside its festering walls of dampness and decay. Neglected gardens fairly screamed from carnivorous plants which clung to the banisters like sinuous ivy reptiles in repose.
I walked on. . . feeling eyes on the back of my neck.
Whirling about to catch a glimpse of movement of the window curtains. . . I paused and shook off the dread and quickened my pace with a ramrod of stiffness in my spine. Nothing would deter me from my purpose this morning. Julia Wellman had summoned me from morning vigil, and the panic in her scribbled letter left me no doubt as to the urgency of her request.
“I can’t offer you any tea I’m afraid, Hector—lead pipes have contaminated our water. My anemia is worse, and—as you well know, my father died badly only months ago from this horrible—”
Julia Wellman had flung open the door to her small cottage before I had scarcely knocked twice, and flurries of words flew out like frightened birds. Alas, it was her nature never to bestow a formal greeting or smile when visitors arrived.
“—but I do have a pitcher of milk. I can pour you a fresh glass if you are thirsty from your trudge.”
After ten minutes or so, and having drained the glass of buttery milk I, while nodding occasionally toward Julia’s onslaught of words, raised my hand as though about to bestow benediction. It served the purpose of silencing her at once. She sat nearby pensively with her jaw hanging, as though panting for air. I began by smiling faintly and taking in a deep breath so I could complete a full sentence before the flurry continued on her part.
“I received your note by the hand of the messenger boy you sent. Having read it most cautiously—twice—I hurried here to offer whatever measure of solidarity might be within my power to—“
“They are here, Hector! I’ve seen two of them. Just as before, all those years ago when we were children in Alsace Lorraine. I’ve caught sight of them in the byways and on the ramparts, shuffling their awkward feet forward like pack animals. Their dead eyes never blink and their habits are all too predictable!”
“Wait! Are you certain?” She nodded with an exaggerated motion of her head.
The luminous tresses of her auburn locks cascaded in the brightness of morning light. I had not laid my eyes upon her since her father’s funeral, yet we now spoke as though not a single moment had transpired in the interim! I steeled myself for what I must say.
“I became a priest after exhausting myself in the war, Julia. All the senseless killing soured me on any future—I turned to God in vain protest against the ugliness of reality. I’ve deliberately forced myself toward belief and away from my own needs. Without divinity, I asked myself, how could humanity hope to set itself aright in the face of our brutal animal urges of war, beastly passion or our greed?”
Julia’s mouth closed and she heaved a deep sigh. Her incredible violet eyes bored through me at that moment and I felt like a fleshly man a lingering few seconds before catching myself again.
I clenched my jaw and pulled my lips inward to offer her the grimace of a Christian soldier hell-bent on battle with forces of darkness. My humanity submerged into the dark waters of self-denial.
Surprisingly, she smiled with the corners of her eyes. After all, she knew me well. She leaned far forward and placed her delicate porcelain hand atop mine. She patted my hand and leaned back again— slumping resignedly into the opal silk cushions of her couch.
“Hector, unless the power of the Church is prepared for what is coming, we must flee once again—and soon!” I assumed she spoke of some twenty years past when we parted ways in fear of our discovery.
“They already know, Julia—they’ve known for centuries! I’ve spoken to the Monsignor, and he to the Cardinals.”
She tossed her head back and laughed coldly. My blood chilled to hear the anger in her laughter!
“Of course they know! They’ve always known. Who else but half-mad monks could have done it—turning them loose upon the world?”
I jumped up and began striding back and forth in front of the windows as I ranted.
“The church is filled with politicians; cowards one and all! They control spies who merely keep Lingerers under constant surveillance in many lands. “
Julia bowed her head in resignation, as one might that had just been pronounced condemned.
“I know what you are going to tell me, Hector. They have refused to take action. They have probably threatened you instead.”
I stood still. . . for a long moment. Tears welled in my eyes unbidden. I stared at Julia’s incredibly beautiful face. Her eyes brimmed with tears as well. She had trusted me all those years ago. How could she trust me now—a feckless priest, unable to summon the forces of goodness?
“We have two choices, Julia. We can run away and hope for a few more years of peace—or we can stay and fight this. We know at what risk, of course.”
“Of course!” She calmly closed and opened her eye slowly, as though starting a new chapter in a weary book which must be finished before sleep.
Both of us, having quietly concurred; long we remained in that room, silent as motes of dust suspended in a galaxy of tiny planets adrift in a miniature universe.
“I have a plan. Please trust me to see that you come to no harm, Julia. Can you try?”
Her chin lifted as she tilted her face toward me. She forced a feeble smile. She nodded, “Oui, Mon ami.”
IN THE CREEPING MOONLIGHT
Night had fallen as gray as chimney soot. Crickets and frogs from a nearby pond restlessly clicked and murmured until a rotted branch from the treetops broke loose and clattered downward in a vociferous splash. That was the end of night sounds for the remainder of the hour. Whispers of unseen personages, softly as cat paws, wafted here and there. The moon crept stealthily from behind the headstones inside the neighboring cemetery.
I took my position of sentry near the monstrous outline of the infernal house. By a hedgerow of brambles, I would hold vigil until morning undetected. The full moon glistened off the iron-railed steps and knocker and a deathly pallor of luminous fungus glowed along the window sills. Ancient bricks caught the rising luminous fire, igniting shadows along the roof eaves with a golden spill of liquid light.
Straightaway, a welcome breeze poured across moist ground like an invisible fog lifting the humid, stickiness of heavy air and twirling the shrill silhouette of a rusted rooster weathervane. A penetrating chill swept through me as that hulking shadow inside the house began oozing under the door, wavering on the threshold of the front stoop. It was there—unmistakable to my blinking eyes—a Lingerer—shuffling forward, slow, and menacing toward my hidden post.
The paralysis of my limbs caught me up in a stifling panic!
Not only could I not move to escape—I could not blink the sweat from eyes. I was forced to stare in horror as the ominous figure traced its languorous trudges toward where I trembled, trapped by my own rising terror—like a child of three shivering under a quilt! The smothering portent of its bulk slowly approached, as though a ghost ship into harbor; inexorable, formidable, and more menacing moment by moment! I found my voice and cried out like an abject penitent at the hangman’s mercy:
“Oh Christ—save me!!”
It spoke: “We have listened.”
My heart froze inside my chest! The sepulchral rasp of this hideous voice unhinged me at once;
I fainted dead away.
When I came to, I quickly surveyed my surroundings. It was unmistakable—I had been conveyed by uncanny means to the interior of that wretched abode!
I was attired in priestly cassock, full regalia, as though prepared for High Mass. The stench of rot made breathing nearly impossible. Topmost, near the ceiling, the narrow window transoms opened to reveal the edges of treetops and sky with a faint, gray wash of moonlight partly hidden behind slumbering clouds. The room was probably a basement.
I pivoted my head slightly to the left—terror flooded my brain! Three of the unearthly kindred lurked barely six feet away. I swallowed hard and made as if to speak—but the dryness of my mouth and throat choked off all words and only a thin croak was all I could force out to break the eerie silence.
“We are the Watchers. We were angels of old.”
Each phrase had been authored by a different silhouette. As my eyes adjusted to the inky blackness of my basement tomb, their faces emerged—as though corpses were being lifted from the murky depths of a dark river. I cringed and wrung my hands, twitching uncontrollably—this way and that—unable to look away.
“The vile sky god entombed us in the waters and our human tents collapsed.”
I tried licking my lips, but moisture was gone from my mouth and I found myself panting in terror at the whispered words of these entities clawing into my brain.
“We inhabit human forms uneasily now—we’ve lost our way. . . “The raspy voice trailed off sadly, as though its deathly regrets were impossible to bear.
In the suffocating silence which followed, I evened out my breathing and my head cleared enough for muscle spasms to subside and I found my strength returning slowly. Presently, I regained full possession of my body and senses. I teetered a bit and righted myself.
The human forms of the three personages remained rooted in place as though they were organic statues weirdly arrayed.
“I thirst.” The words I croaked came freely now. I felt my courage leap.
There was imperceptible movement in the shadows and a cup found its way into my hand. It was damp, cold and I could somehow smell that it was heavy with water.
I quaffed greedily and coughed a bit—then plunged in and finished the last refreshing drop.
“Nepenthe.” The eerie voice rasped that one word only.
“W-what, what is that you’re saying?” I caught my breath and felt the chill of the liquid as it coursed into my innards granting strength.
“He gave us Nepenthe and we revived—as we do for you, now.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Lazarus—he revived us with drink. He was lonely—the only one of his kind, until he found us.” My stomach began to curdle. Delicious warmth radiated from the center of my body. What was happening?
“The Christ brought him back from darkness of Elsewhere—but, no rest afterward. Everyone died—except Lazarus. Life came to mean nothing—sickening regret. Sadness and mourning dogged his steps, century upon friendless, empty century.”
Now the glow was saturating my blood. My heart was calmly thumping, moving the warm blood everywhere inside—even laying siege to my mind itself. Was it water I drank?
“We came for the daughters of men. We could not resist the beauty of their human form. We took them apart into our nature—but they betrayed us—they spawned Nephilim.”
Something in these words shook me awake! “Nephilim? Giants?”
“Not giants—such is myth.”
I found myself fighting off a growing sensation of surrender to the heat pounding at the threshold of my consciousness. I shook my head violently, as though it might help ward off the penetration into my brain.
“Wh-what does all this have to do with me?”
The three figures wobbled forward like awkward, hellish penguins closer to where I stood and the smell of pungent rot grew even stronger until the stench in my nostrils erupted with a slow bleed.
“Get back—get away from me—for God’s sake, please!”
Still they pressed closer and I fidgeted in panic to run—but, an unearthly hand gripped my arm and stilled my flight with such strength I felt a flash of supernatural power seizing me, paralyzing my will. Whatever was in my bloodstream had crashed through into my skull at last!
“Nepenthe works its charm within you. So listen carefully—when you awaken, summon Julia and bring her to us. We have many uses for her. Lazarus will reward you.” With that, once again I blacked out.
Dr. Rathbun sat next to the bed on which I lay, cleaning his spectacles and squinting up at me with a frosty look of petulance across his wrinkled brow.
“Your nasty habits are going to be the end of you if you can’t give them up, Padre.”
I sat up and the pounding inside my skull pushed me back onto the pillow in a searing pain which automatically slammed my eyes shut to any traces of light. I groaned unintelligibly.
Dr. Rathbun sighed and I could hear him as he shuffled over to the far end of the clinic. He mumbled as he moved about. The clinking of a glass container reached my ears, as did the unmistakable liquid report of some elixir he poured and stirred. Back he came soon enough to my bedside. I felt him rapping on my leg as if to rouse me from deep slumber.
“Up with you now and swallow this down before your hangover mitigates the godly spirit—if there is any—remaining inside you.”
An hour later, my head having cleared, the good doctor and I sat outside on a cobblestone terrace in full sight of a tranquil pond. His servant wobbled toward us with a tray of tea and some dainty goods. We noshed and nibbled like Trappist monks in abject silence, save for the occasional frog or egret lakeside.
Presently, the two of us dabbed the corners of our lips, then snuffled and grunted our way into conversation. He began with testy impatience. As he spoke, his wild, white eyebrows appeared to crawl about his forehead like the shadows of a moonlit tombstone.
“We found you face down in the main path leading to town, Padre. You know what that looks like to all your parishioners? It looks like a man the Devil has taken a fancy to, going about the business of Lucifer himself.”
My protests fell on deaf ears under that cloudless autumn sky. Finally, I stopped trying to persuade him I had not fallen into my cups.
“Listen Padre, what you do is your business. But, what this village needs is moral leadership. It already has its share of reprobates and drunkards.”
“Doctor Rathbun—I hear you. Please hear me—I am deeply ashamed. Try to listen anyway. Harrow-house is filled with unearthly fiends. Their most maleficent designs include Julia Wellman. I’ve been dispatched—if that’s even the correct word—to deliver her up for unspeakable use by the wretched castaways of hell who dwell therein.”
I had expected the temper of the old physician to erupt at my words. Not so. His expression and physicality transformed as he quietly lectured me as though I were a three years child. His annoyance mollified into sincere alarm.
“I fully grasp the demonic nature of your report, Padre. All too many of our town’s best folks have been laid to rest as a result of Harrow-house and its evil. If you have means of ending the corrosive spell and infestation—my ears are more than open and eager to listen. Otherwise, get the hell out of my office and I’ll thank you never to mention this conversation again as long as you live.”
As his exclamation rang in my ears, the distant peal of bells sounded from the chapel in town square.
Dr. Rathbun smiled.
“It’s your competition, the Protestants. You should see if they—as fellow Christians and guardians of the flock—will help wage war against the forces of satanic malevolence.”
I shook my head and held up both hands in a gesture of pleading.
“Dr. Rathbun, this hellish foe will defile Julia, desecrate her innocence and her spirit of goodness. I am to deliver her into their abode, but neither Protestants, nor Catholics nor kings can stop them. Only me—only me!” I held my tongue and waited. He stared. I continued. “Will you assist me?
The old man gave a startled motion of his head, and then he froze and stared intensely again into my eyes for the longest moment; as though weighing a mighty decision before he spoke.
“When you say deliver Julia—explain yourself.”
I stood and grasped the doctor’s elbow. Together we followed a gravel path down to pond’s edge. I inspected the surrounding terrain with trepidation as I had once done in the war; surveying for some tell-tale glimpse of the enemy; then turned to face the old man. He was a head shorter than I, as he stood facing upward, leaning in to catch my whispers. Ours was a surreptitious conversation fraught with quick sideways glances of terror.
“These are living creatures whose nature once was divine. Their lust for human, fleshly pleasures of women tore them from their rightful dwelling place above. They were wiped from the Earth by Almighty God’s vengeance long, long ago. Being eternal creatures—they could neither die nor return to the heavenly realm. A kind of stupor overtook them. Their nature degenerated into a prison of the mind—a darkness of unbearable sadness and purposelessness. Another lost soul took mercy on them—a man named Lazarus.”
“I know of but one called by that name. Surely you’re not saying—“
“None other—raised from the pit of death by friendship and miracle by the Christ—Lazarus resurrected to unending life. It proved an unendurable curse. As he lived, his family, friends—all—aged and died.
As an immortal, loss and bereavement paved his pathways until he could suffer it no longer. His tortured mind moved him to attempt to hasten Judgment Day, that all mankind might be set right again.”
“How in God’s name could he effect such an event?”
“Lazarus sought apprenticeship with Egyptian priests and alchemists, studying the Book of the Dead. His curiosity knew no bounds. These uncanny paths eventually led back to hosts of apostate beings.”
“An astonishing report. What do you mean when you said led back?”
“Lazarus distilled carnivorous plants called Nepenthaceae, from which the elixir *Nepenthe is derived. Administering this drink succeeded in engendering stupefaction of the senses. Woes of immortality seemed to go away. A real sense of living—even with lowered consciousness—became possible again. “All told, this misguided odyssey led where none could have imagined. Lazarus sought his fellow immortals that he had known in Tartarus as he lay asleep in death. He gave them succor.”
“Dare I ask?”
“These loosed, heinous spirits could now inhabit human forms again, but without intellect or purpose. Theirs was a limbo of preternatural half-light and half-shadow; a quicksand of unrequited pantomime.”
“I don’t think I fully understand.”
“They sought the company of women in the daily routines of humanity; going and coming; walking, standing, lying down and pretending to sleep. They passed unnoticed by the lot of us because their movements appeared so—dare I say it—normal and ordinary.”
“They were—what?—going through the motions of a real life, but without fully realizing what it was?”
“Let me explain. When Julia and I were small children in the French village of Alsace Lorraine, we began to take heed of their awkward peculiarity through people-watching. We made a game of it. We tried to predict where this and that individual was going and what they might do next.”
“You and Julia Wellman did this as children?”
“We continued many years until almost adults. It was innocent, childish amusement.”
“I see. I see—go on, continue.”
“As a result of our innocent pastime, we grasped there was a mystery connected to certain—let’s call them dullards—persons who seemed drugged, torpid, but who maintained otherwise ordinary movements. We observed them incessantly, following them hither and thither, thinking it great fun. It became, at a certain point in time, quite obvious—these dullards were merely lingering. Lingerers (as we called them) would invariably walk, hesitate, and stall like a child’s wind-up toy. They would lean against a wall or tree with this perfidious stare in their blanked eyes! It was amusing at first. Later it was puzzling. Finally, we realized it was genuinely horrifying. These—these things—would follow women to their homes and lurk about in their closets and under their beds! They craved intimacy, you understand. Once their prey turned out the lights and fell to sleeping, they emerged committing vicious, deliberate acts of vileness.”
“Oh-my-god!” Dr. Rathbun’s eyes were bulging in apoplexy as he began trembling anxiously.
“Julia and I discovered this by chance. We followed one Lingerer after dark. We observed with astonishment and disgust as it crawled through a bedroom window and secreted itself under a young lady’s bed. When finally it pounced in violent lust, we began screaming to alarm the neighborhood and rouse the constable to action. Soon after, the two of us reckoned the wisdom of our escape. How foolishly we acted! No authorities would dare believe any offense other than that of an imagined Night Terror had occurred. So, in disgust we traveled a great distance and ignorantly convinced ourselves this manifestation was entirely local. We were wrong; we were terribly, terribly wrong.”
Dr. Rathbun’s face paled and he collapsed like a discarded accordion in the damp mud next to the shimmering pond. I moved to help him and he waved me away. He hugged his knees close in to his body and shook his head slowly side to side. He exhaled in a long slow breath and spoke quietly.
“This must be stopped! Am I to understand you have a workable plan? How can I possibly aid you?”
A cruel smile found its way to the corners of my mouth. I carefully nodded.
“Yes Doctor. I need the most potent poison you can lay hands on in as large a quantity as you can provide.”
Dr. Rathbun jerked his face toward me, inspecting my expression for verification of my resolve.
“Fulminate of mercury—it’s the best I can do.” We shook hands and made our way toward his office.
Dies Irae" (Day of Wrath)
The remainder of the afternoon passed quickly; my conference with Dr. Rathbun having provided me with the means toward the end I had long sought. It only remained for me to take council with Monsignor Reynard Gautier to entreat him for extreme unction necessitated by the lethal nature of my enterprise at Harrow-house.
I found him in the Chapel, toddling about with the feather duster, flicking at the leather volumes along the Chapel wall, humming to himself an aria from his beloved Verdi. His corpulent bulk glistened with perspiration as he waddled along toward the sacristy. I hailed and immediately entreated him with all the serious arguments I could muster for the performance of Last Rites upon my person.
A half hour wasted in rebuttal, Gautier finally relented; his conscience having been assuaged by force of the sobering report I offered, concerning implacable forces of evil at work less than a mile from his sleeping quarters. The Monsignor turned to me gravely and commenced the ceremony straightaway as I knelt as the penitent before him.
“Do you persevere obstinately in manifest grave sin?” His jowls shook as he intoned with solemnity.
“I do not. I embrace the redemption of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
Consecrating oil appeared and the ceremony continued. It dripped upon my head and coursed down on all sides onto my collar. Sacred Latin phrases echoed all about me although my mind wandered to the final hours of my fateful and rapidly approaching conflict. Deep in thought, I missed every detail, until Raynard bid me rise.
“Thank you Monsignor. May I inquire if Julia Wellman successfully received Last Rites as well?”
The flabby forehead of Raynard Gautier furrowed introspectively for a second and he nodded assent.
“You must know some very high officials of this Church who owe you great favors, Hector. All of this is off the books.” He snuffled disapproval as he turned and motioned for me to leave. But, as I wiped the oily residue from my face and hair, Gautier wheeled about with surprising alacrity and barked at me.
“About these matters it is forbidden that I speak—but speak I shall! Are you aware of Lazarus’ hand in all this?”
I took pause and weighed his query most carefully. How deep was his knowledge of these infernal matters?
“I know only what the fiends have vouchsafed to my ears. What can you add to this—anything at all?”
Raynard Gautier’s face darkened. He waved me toward the rear of the Chapel and we passed through a curtain into an alcove. He pursed his lips as though poised to bestow a kiss, but then only drew uncomfortably close enough to whisper in my ear.
“Lazarus was Christ’s boon companion—more intimate than St. John. Concerning the intimacy of union and profound brotherhood, all scriptural reference was long ago removed from holy writ. Mortal eyes are unworthy, or so I am given to understand. Before his earthly entombment in human flesh, our Lord and Savior dwelt in heavenly high places with this very same Lazarus—but in spirit body. Does this surprise and amaze your intellect?”
I nodded, numb to the depth and number of conspiracies which had sprung from corruption of this universal Christian institution. My heart quickened as I listened in rapt consideration of his tale.
“The entire story of Lazarus is unknown to most of the entire inhabited earth, you realize?”
Again, I nodded obtusely.
“Secret archives contain books so old—so sacred—“He broke off as though suddenly overwhelmed by the outrageous turpitude of the entire plan of God, the Church and Satan himself.
“Go on—tell me!”
“I’m sorry. This isn’t easy for me. I’ve never told another living soul. As I was saying, while in heaven, three of them had determined to rescue the Father’s plan from the calamity Lucifer had wrought in Paradise. . .”
I interjected automatically—“Three? Who do you mean to place in this arrangement with the Son of God besides Lazarus?”
Gautier squinted and cleared his throat before proceeding. “Satan—the covering cherub himself; not the same entity as Lucifer, you realize . . . don’t you? Or do you?”
“I am astonished, but I’ll keep silent in my ignorance. Please continue.”
“There is more than one Trinity, my good Brother in Christ!”
I simply shook my head and opened wide my eyes in innocence as a man soon to be enlightened.
“I did not know any of this.”
“All well and good you did not! Satan is not his heavenly name. That was Judas. The three of them, Jesus, Lazarus and Judas agreed upon the roles each would play in rescuing Father Yahweh’s broken plan for mankind. As you may well know and agree, this rescue went awry. Mankind was delivered a Messiah murdered by the Romans and betrayed by Judas; Lazarus was felled by Judas’ own hand, and Judas joined the demonic castaways from the angel rebellion in Tartarus.”
I held aloft a trembling hand signaling his revelation to end. My head hurt and the clarity of my vision had fogged like a window pane on a winter’s morn. I was losing balance. I thought I knew right from wrong, east from west and sky from earth. Now, I was certain of nothing. I was surrounded by lies, corruption, mythology and the shady revelations of crooked men. I did not have the breadth of wisdom and knowledge necessary to untwist the crooked path of Church, heaven or demon.
“I have to go now, Monsignor Gautier. Thank you for your blessings and the—um, effort you’ve taken to apprise me of where things stand. I cannot know ‘What is Truth?’ Pontius Pilate notwithstanding. Farewell.”
The large prelate frowned at me as I turned to leave. I could feel his glare on the back of my neck as I headed toward the sunlight just outside the heavy doors. It felt the same—this tingling sensation as yesterday and the day before when I had passed Harrow-house. This realization gave me quite a start.
As the weighty oak doors swung closed, I heard Gautier’s laughter echoing against the paneling, ceiling and statuary inside the Chapel. A chill coursed down my neck and my pace quickened toward doomsday. I wrestled with his words which had come straight from the mouth of madness!
The Uncanny Vision
Long I stood in self-pity.
At nightfall, two mocking stars appeared, shaming me by their magnitude and measureless distance until the squirming soul within my fleshly husk shrank into a nothingness from which rage struggled vainly to escape.
I set my mind to its task. Clearing all but Julia’s face from my head, I set about fueling my gnawing rage by imagining the disgusting fate which lay in store for her. Such vile passions as these monsters harbored in their damnable thoughts would violate her flesh, mind, and innocence! They meant to ravish her, certainly. But, they also meant to penetrate her flesh with ravenous fangs to rip the soul from her body. Or worse!
What if they determined to impregnate her womb with a blasphemous spawn of Judas’ vile seed? How long could Julia’s sanity cling to her humanity if this evil brood enslaved her to eternal, rapine violations by the treachery of Lazarus’ weird alchemy?
What were their ultimate powers and designs? I cringed and cried aloud at my puny flesh and fragility before the vastness of this evil divinity! Should I stoop to prayer to an Eternal Father from whose bosom sprang the origins of every possible suffering? Should I plead to His majestic indifference that He might hear my wail? Instead, I cursed heaven itself with flecks of spittle flying from my intemperate lips.
I shook my fist at the empty sky for all the silent witnesses in heaven to behold—that I—nothing but a bloodless flea in a sea of garbage, should dare hurl my apostasy against the throne of Almighty God!
The memory of Alsace-Lorraine suddenly conjured itself before my tear-burdened vision, and I suffered the sharp pang of remembrance like a dagger’s point, tipped with Eden’s serpent-toothed venom.
There in my uncanny vision stood Julia at her bedside, gazing into her grandmother’s antique mirror, brushing her tresses for the count of one hundred strokes, as she did every evening. Behind her, the candles sputtered from the fragile movement of air borne by her motions. Hidden in deepest blackness beneath the canopied bed, I beheld the infernal red eye of the salacious predator nested silently, biding its time until its quarry came within reach.
Next I beheld—and look! The crawl of midnight, as it swept past the clock’s large face, dead center of XII. The shuffling and scrabbling of claws sounded faintly beneath the tick-tick-tick of midnight’s death and morning’s resurrection.
My heart quickened as this squalid, hoary hellion rose up, unfurling wings, and spewing spittle; madly thrashing in the silhouetted outline of autumn moonrise. Ravenous with bestial passion, it fell upon the slumbering figure of Julia and ripped off the coverlet and sheets just as her terrified scream screeched madly from her soul to her lips. Her hands instantly covered her nakedness before the enormous appetite of this Priapus! The blast of its maggoty breath, as it plunged into her, shook the gauzy drapes of the canopy as though a window had been torn open by the gust of an equatorial typhoon.
“No-o-o”, I screamed and leapt forward on the pathway to Harrow-house as the vision vanished, and my outstretched arms seized hold of—not the imagined foe—but the stinging brambles of a hedgerow along the rise to the cellar door. I heard myself cry out in agony, not only from searing white-hot pain of the injury, but from my ineptitude in rescue—if only from that of a Phantasm!
Panting and weeping, I whimpered and licked the blood from my palms as though I was nothing but a clumsy hunting hound utterly fooled by the wily treachery of a fox. I shook my head and cursed myself, just as the third star of evening appeared above the horizon as Passover began.
Yes, somewhere from a closeted memory, I drew down on the significance of this night. This was to be the night the lamb is sacrificed! Abaddon passed through the land slaying all First Born in Egypt. It was the time of Christ’s sacrifice and—suddenly I knew! I was too late! Julia was already inside Harrow-house beyond the reach of my ridiculous plan. My head was bursting with the agony of conflicting urges, passions and emotions.
Clearly I must act. I removed the Fulminate of Mercury from my coat pocket and rushed feverishly into the steep step-well leading down into the cellar abyss of Harrow-house.
Into the valley of Death
I had clutched the mercury fulminate bottle in my hand as I loped breathlessly up the grassy rise toward the cellar entrance. Dr.Rathbun had convinced me of its efficacy rather quickly by demonstrating the powerful detonation possible of only a few grams. He’d hurled the fifty gram bottle against the unsightly tree stump which spoiled the pathway from pond to terrace behind his office. The tremendous blast rattled windows, deafened neighbors and lifted the offending stump aloft into the air. It seemed to stall implausibly before plummeting into the waters of the pond with a voluminous splash, whereupon it vanished instantly as though it had never existed.
Now I flung myself headlong into the festering squalor of the house’s interior bowels, brandishing two-hundred fifty grams of Rathbun’s incredible weapon as though I were a cavalryman astride the stampeding steed of Tennyson’s Light Brigade!
"Forward, the Light Brigade!"
Was there a man dismay'd?. . . Not tho' the soldier knew. . .Someone had blunder'd!
Theirs not to make reply. . . Theirs not to reason why. . . Theirs but to do and die. . .”
Immediately I was inside.
I Am Become Death, the Destroyer of Worlds
My expectations instantly dissolved into worrisome confusion. The noxious murk of shadows no longer lingered inside the basement—instead, there were genteel arrays of flickering candles alight upon a formal table setting, greeting my wondering eyes. Twelve massive oak chairs of Rococo design; silverware both gaudy and elegant, and eleven guests in formal attire sitting motionless, met my gaze in stiff-necked silence as I rushed in and skidded to a dead halt.
A gaunt man, with sunken cheeks and cadaverous haunted eyes, stood gesturing and beckoning with his bony hands, bidding me to fill the twelfth chair. I could not see the faces of the guests inasmuch as they were overshadowed by some eerie envelope of impenetrable gloom. The metallic ding of an ancient clock struck discordantly, signaling the entrance of what my eyes apprised to be servants pushing serving carts laden with a bounty of dinner offerings of every aroma imaginable both seductive and disturbing to my faltering senses. I cautiously approached the scene as though I feared the floor itself might give way underneath my wary steps, and then I eased myself gingerly into the plush velvet cushion of the seat itself, hardly knowing what to expect.
On my last visit to these surroundings I had choked back my words fearfully. Tonight, in view of the surprising stage setting, I was encouraged to discover the timbre of my speaking voice. I asked my question to test my courage. It rang clear and confident, even if I felt nothing but trepidation within.
The gaunt man inched his head a few inches forward into a swathe of eerie light which captured his visage in a green tinge. The eyes were heavy-lidded under overhanging brows thick with coils of dark arches. He wore a monk’s hood which created an aura of medieval antiquity and somber sobriety as he spoke.
“Yes and no.”
His words seemed to come from another place other than his throat. His parched and fulsome lips moved hardly at all.
“As a matter of tradition, it could be viewed as such—yet, we both know something entirely other worldly is in store—do we not?”
I swiveled my head slowly to my left trying to squint through the uneven light to capture some convincing vision of my fellow guests. In this I failed. I could determine by the outline of each silhouette, every silent figure at that table sat facing me and our mysterious host.
“I’m not a fool, Sir. I’m of the opinion you already know my full identity and yet I am at a disadvantage as to yours.”
I let that hang there for many ticks of the ancient clock. Presently I heard his lips part as he inhaled to reply. And yet he closed them and exhaled slowly without uttering a word. Finally he spoke.
“We are being rude to the other guests at our table. It’s time we began the feast.”
With the clap of his hands four servants moved forward and removed the covering lids atop each platter. I don’t know what I expected—or maybe I do. I half reckoned the platters might contain pieces of Julia’s lifeless corpse! So, it was with enormous relief I choked back my tears, thanking heaven under my breath as I beheld an exquisite presentation of lamb.
“Rack of lamb?” I half-heartedly spoke, as if only to myself.
“Hardly that.” The sepulchral figure quickly replied.
“What then?” Driven now by curiosity, I took the bait.
The mouth holes of the eleven shrouded dinner guests opened and horrible rumblings of mad laughter came forth, as if by rehearsed signal to unnerve me. This rude expostulation trailed off and quiet swelled to fill the void.
“The correct question would not be ‘What’ but ‘Who.’
At this very moment the clouds parted from their hanging place and a brilliant beam of Passover moonlight struck the face of my host. His wizened features lit up as though splashed in kerosene and lit with a match. I drew in a sharp intake of breath, so malformed was this hideous face! Simultaneously I cognitively latched on to the full import of his enigmatic description of this unholy meal.
“Christ Almighty,” I exclaimed without intending it, “what are you telling me—you murderous fiend?”
I must have jerked about in my chair and lost control of my muscles in that instant. My ears recoiled with a fearsome pressure.
Something went completely and inexplicably wrong with heaven and earth—the floor under the dinner feast table appeared to pivot down and around underneath us setting everything into a spin. The entire lot of us pivoted upside down until we hung like houseflies from the ceiling of a sub-basement—somehow defying gravity—not spilling a morsel of the food laid before us.
Vertigo swamped my mind and my corporeal self twisted internally as though my innards were the contents of an overturned bucket of slop. The room had spun as if in a nightmare. Now, as ludicrous and improbable as words might convey the situation, we were momentarily like stalactites hanging unmolested by the force of gravity, topsy-turvy and helter-skelter simultaneously.
Just when I would have thought nothing could worsen my present condition, the entire structure of the massive mansion shook mightily with a tremor so tempestuous and sudden, I disconcertedly began screaming like a small child set upon by ravenous wolves. “The madness! The madness!”
Straightaway, moorings in the foundation cracked aloud and a mighty explosion of rotting timbers gave way to the rumbling pops and cracks of an upheaval and disruption from every direction at once. The situation felt as though we had been swallowed by a monstrous fish, and the beast had been harpooned, driving it mad with death fits and spasm to shake loose its tether; in the process every tendon, joint and bone had snapped in final death rictus!
What was happening? Was I going to be crushed, mangled, quartered and destroyed? No sooner had my courage abandoned me for utter despair than the entire dwelling collapsed all about us as though this was ground zero for an aerial bomb squadron’s payload. But—then it struck me! Fulminate of mercury!
I had blown all of us to smithereens inadvertently!
AFTERMATH and WARNING
Half conscious or half mad, I awoke to find myself clinging to the branch tops of the orchard near the ruins of Harrow-house. In my stupefaction, I imagined winged angels lifting me away from the blast. I cannot testify as to the veracity of such a claim. All I truly swear is this: I was unharmed but unhinged.
No trace of Julia was ever found. I choose to believe (without proof) she had already fled to parts unknown for safety and to begin a new life. That she did not inform me by letter, telegraph or personal message doesn’t sway me whatsoever. If I were in the clutches of evil, it is obvious this information would be at risk, exposing Julia to God knows what calamity. Her choice was the right one.
Month upon month followed the demolition of that festering squalor where once a vile structure stood. I busied myself. Surveillance and crowd-watching occupied my every waking moment. The tell-tale signs of odd behavior were nowhere evident. I changed my schedule regularly so as to make my goings and comings unpredictable to any who might attempt to evade my scrutiny.
I took it upon myself to travel from village to village, city to city, country by country in the final years of my life. This manuscript have I prepared for any who might believe what is surely unbelievable by any common standard of reality. It is my torch to pass to the generations which follow on.
Please remain alert! Keep watch and do not let yourself be lulled into a false sense of security. The Lingerers are still with us. . . some place, somewhere hidden among the thronging billions. Do not be afraid to trust your instincts for survival. If you should observe someone who lingers. . .stalls. . .goes about addled and without apparent purpose to their daily routine. . .it is my behest to you—whoever you are, wherever you may be—keep vigil. Develop a suspicious concern. Investigate them, please—for the sake of all that is holy! Do not let them get away! My strongest Christian intuition compels me to believe in the years yet to come, violations of human flesh will abound. Murders, rapes, the feasting on flesh will appear to be the work of pathological monsters among humankind. Don’t be quickly convinced they are human—I beg of you! Consider, however remote the possibilities—these may be the unholy Lingerers!
The above manuscript was bequeathed by a Monsignor Gautier to his brother and then passed into a private collection of letters and fine volumes until its discovery by an antique maven in the mid-1980’s. He was sufficiently impressed by the message contained therein to take upon himself the expense of publishing and distributing it wherever he found a sympathetic ear or eye ready to heed its admonitions.
(The above story was written on a whim after reading three short stories by H.P.Lovecraft. I wanted to see if I could pull off a horror genre in the style of 19th century writers. I hope I succeeded in entertaining you.)