A Loathsome Beast

A Word.

Although we may not know it, or, at the very least, we may not think about it, we live in an age of rampant outward discovery and rare inward reflection.  Sure, often enough, we subject ourselves to, what is aptly named, various forms of psychotherapy and self medicating.  What we are most concerned with, however, is outward appearance.  Even those of us enough willing to take a chance on ourselves, fall prey to our need to be revered.  Selfishness is unavoidable.  We preoccupy ourselves too often with preaching our good deeds.  And in that style, altruism cannot exist.  What then of those who are able to project their internal conflict en masse?  They are demonized.

For all of our best intentions (the best laid plans of mice and men), we are closer to the brink – to piercing the veil – than even the most cynical of horror fantasy writers can possibly imagine.  What lurks in the deflection of human vanity is much worse, much more hideous, than can be described by senses.  We have seen the beast – its true nature – and will do our best to protect you, but it is, most likely, too late.

1.

 I was there with my wife, Marte de Selby.  We were discussing how we might get closer to one another than physically possible.  To my horror, Marte pulled out a blade and began slicing ribbons of flesh from her forearm.  I tried to stop her, but as close as I could get, I was unable to stop her.  I was transfixed, paralyzed and helpless.  My eyes would not close – they wanted to see it, they wanted to drink it in.  Pools of crimson reached my toes and I fell.  I fell backward, or at least my mind did, into the blinding light – darkness is reserved for those who do not understand.

 That was two years ago.  Marte, my wife and my love, ritualistically brutalized herself to death.  I hadn’t thought it possible.  Although I’ve had no formal training in physiology, my time at University taught me the basics of the human mind and body.  I am of the impression that the mind will not allow the body to inflict such horrendous harm to itself – that the mind will just shut down.  Obviously, I’ve been misinformed.  My wife was not the first, nor likely, will she be the last.

 On that day, two years ago, I woke up and panicked immediately.  I was still standing.  Marte was still standing, though her eyes were dull and lifeless.  Shocked, I looked at the floor.  Nothing.  I distinctly remember the blood oozing through floorboards, but surely, some residue would have remained.  Nothing.  Moreover, Marte had nary a scratch or cut on her body.  She was in perfect condition, but dead.  I stared at her in amazement.  How could anyone do that to themselves without any indication of mental instability?  Then my mind replayed the event and broke me from my analysis.  I was headed in the wrong direction.  The question isn’t how, but why and more importantly, where?  Where were the cuts, the blood?  Why was Marte standing there in animus?  What had possessed her to commit this atrocity?

 I arrived late to the meeting.  Quince was already there taking in the aromatic coffee.  Quincy Lyfeld served with me in the war, as my bunkmate in college, and as my best-man when I married Marte.  He was only a few months younger than I, but hadn’t near as much worldly experience.  He is about a foot taller than me with blonde, almost white hair slowly receding away from his forehead.  Quince is brilliant but not driven and has almost an obsessive nature – a perfectionist.  I can always rely on him with whatever I had on my mind.  Lately, that has been a lot.

 You see, I am a schemer.  After my tenure at the University, I took up an apprenticeship with a local attorney.  I was a man of the law, a man who is, unfortunately, devoid of any sense of surprise and astonishment.  I’ve become cynical and supremely confident to a point where I can woo or alienate whomever I want.  I’m a salesman of sorts, a salesman of dreams and depression.

 “Hello Guy,” Quince said dryly, “Why is this meeting so urgent that I needed to be here in the drop of a hat?”

 “Well,” I said flatly, “I think I’ve found it.”

 “Really,” Quince retorted, “I’d hoped you’d given up on that nonsense by now.  You understand that you are travelling a path that will lead nowhere but your demise at the hands of your obsessions?”

 “Big words, Quince.”

 “I’ve told you many times, there was nothing you could have done to save her.  What Marte did was unfair to you, inhumane, but you can’t spend the rest of your life trying to figure it out.”

 “Quince, I understand your apprehension.  I know you are not a fan of the occult and devil worship, but I need your help.  Have you heard of what some refer to as nameless cults?”

 “Yes, Guy, but those are works of fiction.  Nothing like that has ever existed, nor ever will it.  Our society is far too educated to believe in such nonsense—as are you!”

 “Yes, well, I was speaking with a man the other day; I believe his name was de la Ploer.  In any case, he told me of a recent revival of interest in such matters.  The so-called educated members of society have found it exciting to introduce some of these works of fiction in their parlor games.  Some are more devout than others, but still, the fact remains that people dabble in these dark, ancient arts.”

 “Nonsense,”Quincyreplied with a disingenuous smirk, “I will have none of this.  None of that is real, it’s fantasy created for profit, nothing more.”

 “This nonsense Quince, is the reason Marte killed herself.”

2.

 Quincy’s lack of faith in my cause was not unforeseen.  Afterall, who in their right mind would believe what I just discovered.  Quince, as with most men, is a man of logic and reasoning.  I know he understands that I’m still grieving for and shocked by Marte’s death, but even still, there are limits to how far a friend will go to help a friend in need.

I took Quince to meet with the man I just told him about, Howard de la Ploer.  de la Ploer owns a small shop of antiquities and curiosities.  He himself is a bit of a curiosity.  He is about my height and build, maybe slightly stockier.  He has dark spiky hair, possibly caused by a mongoloid ancestor some significant time ago, and is for all intents and purposes, a nice fellow.  He is also quite fortunate.  This recent resurgence in fascination with death, dying, and the occult has positioned de la Ploer to stand a considerable monetary gain.

“Mr. de la Ploer…,” I began.

“Please, just de la Ploer,” he interrupted.

“Ok then,” I said, annoyed, as with anyone who insists on being called by his last name only, “let me introduce you to one of my oldest and truest friends, Mr. Quincy Lyfeld.”

“Mr. Lyfeld will do,” Quince interjected.

“Welcome, welcome to my shop Master Lyfeld.” de la Ploer insisted with added sarcasm.  What can I do for you fine gentlemen on this day?”

“Well,” Quince began, “you can begin by dropping the attitude.  I am not titled sir and am on the same level as you.  That said, you can also put an end to my good friend’s wholehearted intentions to investigate the cause of his wife’s death.  For God’s sake man, Mr. de Selby has endured quite enough.  All this nonsense about cultish activities and devil worship is enough to put a man in to a padded cell!”

“Quince,” I started, “that is enough, I can handle my own affairs.  I merely asked you to join me so that I might acquire your opinion on the matter.”

“Guy, I just believe…”

“Quince,” de la Ploer interrupted, “Mr. de Selby, I mean Guy, needs you to hear what I have to offer.  This has little to do with devil worship.  Those luciferians do not understand what they have done.  This isn’t about Satanism and the anti-Christ as you so readily believe.  This is about something much darker, more ancient and indescribable than any creation of modern religion.”

“There is only God and the Devil,” Quince said dispassionately, “only good and evil.”

“No Mr. Lyfeld, you are wrong.  Good and evil, as we may understand them, are tied to humanity.  Each carries with it passion and understanding.  Good denotes intelligence and wisdom, evil, the same.  These concepts are only as old as man, however.  Something existed before good and evil, something that gave humans the ability to distinguish and comprehend – without understanding.  You see Mr. Lyfeld, we weren’t here first.  In fact, in the realm of cosmic significance, our existence is less than a grain of mustard.  This, Mr. Lyfeld, is what your friend is after.  He seeks an understanding of what came before, more ancient than ancient.  It is that understanding that drove his dear Marte to her early grave.  His wife, you see, delved so deep into the realm that she knew, in her heart of hearts, that her mortal existence was the real fiction.  Her end came when she attempted what cultists might call vivisection.” de la Ploer explained.

“Dear God, vivisection?”Quincy’s face paled.

“Yes Quince,” I said.  My face was just as insipid even though I’d heard the story many times before. “It’s not what you might remember from school, however, and it certainly isn’t the same procedure used on those poor tortured lab rats.  It’s a sort of transfiguration, a literal opening of the mind, body, and soul to the ‘truth’.”

“But Guy,” Quince insisted, “Marte’s body wasn’t mutila…”

“But it was, Quince, it was.”  I interrupted.  “I watched her do it.  I can’t get the images from my mind.  I saw her take the blade and begin to systematically disassemble herself.  Quince.” I ended, seeing only the stunningly bright white light.

3.

 I awoke. My head was pounding like the rhythmic discharge of a ten pound gun.

“Guy,” de la Ploer said urgently, “are you feeling well?”

Quince was standing next to de la Ploer, his face whiter than before, “I do not understand.  What happened just then?”

“What do you mean?” I asked.  “I told you what I remembered from Marte’s death and then fainted.”

“No,” Quince replied hastily, “you did not faint.  You’ve been standing in there staring blankly at us for the last quarter hour.  We tried reviving you from whatever stupor you were in, but could not.”

“Mr. Lyfeld,” de la Ploer interrupted, “I believe you are asking the wrong question.  I think we had better ask Mr. de Selby not what happened, but where did he go.  You see Mr. Lyfeld, the mind is quite complex.  And, although do not consider myself a psychotherapist to say the least, many of my clients are and I do eavesdrop on their exchanges often enough.  It would seem our friend here is suppressing his memories of this event.  In fact, he is pushing so hard against the tendency to remember, he is interrupting the natural processes of cognitive functioning.”

  I shook my head vigorously, “Howard, I remember each gruesome detail.”

 I loved my wife, but Howard was right.  Something was missing.  It happened while I was in that initial shock two years ago.  I remember my wife shredding herself, but I do not remember how we came to that point, nor can I conceive how she remained beautiful when I awoke to find her dead.

 Before I could interject, de la Ploer continued, “Mr. de Selby, I’m sure you remember the event as you perceived it, but I understand, without argument, that you are missing two important pieces to this puzzle.  First, do you recall what happened prior to that night?  And second, what happened while you were passed out that night that could have possibly resulted in Mrs. de Selby piecing herself back together without single mark on her body.”

 “That, Mr. de la Ploer, is why I’ve returned to your shop.  Quince and myself are determined to undertake solving this mystery.  We will not rest until we’ve reached a conclusion of acceptable reasoning.”

 “Well Guy, I haven’t agreed to these terms quite yet.” Quince stated matter-of-factly, “I’m still distrustful of this man de la Ploer and doubtful that there is anything more to this tale of woe than death by natural causes.  Your mind, as de la Ploer so eloquently stated, is complex.  Knowing that, isn’t it a matter of logic that your mind is simply creating a twisted and macabre re-enactment of your wife’s tragic death?  I understand that the mind will usually euphemize like events, but isn’t it possible that the opposite may be true?

 There, in the windowless backroom of de la Ploer’s shop, I stood in utter astonishment.  “Quincy,” I said with anger mounting, “you know as well as I that my wife did not die of natural causes.  Surely you remember the ensuing police investigation and the toll it took on me.  I was the prime suspect in my wife’s demise, but after forensic test after forensic test, medical clinicians from across the country found no rational explanation for her death.  It was not natural and this is not a fabrication of my mind!  That sir, was an insult.  I know what I saw and I know my wife would never subject herself to such torture.”

 “I apologize wholeheartedly, but the fact remains that the more rational thought on your wife’s death is that is was caused by something wholly natural, yet undiscovered by modern conventions.  I did not mean to offend, but I find your considerable consternation with the whole issue unjust.  Minds more brilliant than yours or mine took on your case to no avail.  I do not believe a simple curiosities collector will be able to add anything meaningful.  The mourning process is understandably tough, but that…”

 “Enough,” de la Ploer hastened, “we do not have the time for this squabbling.  Mr. Lyfeld sir, you could not be more wrong if you tried.  What Mr. de Selby described to me is not entirely unfamiliar.”

 “What do you mean?”  Both myself and Quince asked in unison, turning our gaze to the idle de la Ploer.

 “Well gentlemen, let us meet again shortly, after my shop is closed. We will discuss some of the tales I’ve heard from passers-by.  Both of you may find these tales both intriguing and relevant to your quest.  Come back after dusk.  Return to the back door and knock.  I will be waiting.”

4.

 The town looks much different when the sun sets.  The hustle and bustle of the day is gone and an eerie quiet falls over the brick and mortar.  That night, especially, reminded me of wynds heading into the darkness away from the Royal Mile inEdinburgh.  Marte and I visitedScotlandseveral years ago.  Even then, our enchantment with the old town laid foundation for our passing interest in the paranormal.  Those streets, layered in fog and moisture, were inspiration for the tales of Jekyll and Hyde – the duplicity of man.  We would walk those streets titillated by the fear of the unknown and stories of ominous characters lurking in the shadows.  Qiunce and I are walking a similar path — albeit a metaphor for that which Marte and I experienced.  The air was temperate but moisture laden and a dense fog covered the paved walkway.  The light from houses, inns, and the like was enveloped a short distance from its emanation.  We noticed a few wanderers out and about but for the most part we were alone.

We arrived at the rear of de la Poer’s shop via a dimly lit alleyway.  Likely, we would have trouble finding it in the daylight let alone the dankness of impending night.

I knocked.

“Hello?” de la Poer called.

“It’s us, let us in – it’s starting to rain.”  Quince replied.

The door creaked open.  I doubt Howard de la Poer used it often, and when he did, I question the legality of the enterprise.

“Welcome back gentlemen,” de la Poer began, “I hope you two have had the chance to settle whatever dispute you succumbed to earlier.  I haven’t the time, nor the want, to hear anymore of that gibberish – talk of logic and reason.  Nothing you two will come across in your journey will resemble anything of the kind.”

We followed de la Ploer through his shop and down a set of stairs.  I couldn’t help but gasp at the sight.  For all the weird trinkets on the main level of his shop, the basement was filled with things I can’t begin to describe.  Surely this man had a fortune in waiting, but the items weren’t displayed as sale items.  Inches of dust covered most of the curiosities, whose origin I will not begin to guess.  Ornate jewelry laced with gold, silver, and other precious metals adorned the walls.  Figurines, statuettes, and fetishes lie strewn about on shelves, in cabinets, and on the floor.  de la Ploer’s basement was a museum, and what I saw, was just the ante-chamber.  I noticed Quince staring in amazement and wonder as de la Ploer led us down another passage way and into, what I can best describe as, a vault.

I shielded my eyes as de la Ploer illuminated the space with some kind of bright light.  Once again, I gasped.  Before us stood shelves upon shelves of ancient looking books, the leather binding worn, but not torn.

“This, gentlemen, is my family’s pride and joy.”  I saw a smirk creep onto de la Ploer’s face.  He was proud.

“What are all of these books?”  Quince began.  “There must be thousands of volumes in here – more even than in the national archives.”

“Very astute Mr. Lyfeld,” de la Ploer replied, “my family collected these volumes over many generations.  Each of us takes great pride in the collection and risk life and limb to protect its secrets.  Many of these volumes were brought to this collection at great expense and from all corners of the globe.”

Great expense, I thought.  Doubtless de la Ploer mans economical expense.  He does not strike me as a man who is above less than legal means of obtaining what he is after, and I do not speculate on the lengths he will go to preserve his treasure.

“Shall we begin?”  de la Ploer asked and took a seat at a long research table covered in open, yellowing manuscripts.

5.

I knew instantly that de la Ploer was an expert in his craft.  The craft, however, I was not sure of.  I took a seat across from de la Ploer.  Quince sat to my right, hesitantly.  I could tell he was not comfortable with this situation and location.  He had not agreed to aid me yet and I felt like I was taking advantage of his kindness.  I would not be able to force his agreement, and he was about ready to leave.

“Quince, you seem uneasy,” I said, “are you feeling all right?  I know we are moving in a direction that causes you alarm, but I feel this might by my only chance to be at peace.”

“You know me too well, though I feel I’ve protested this course of action amply along the way.  I’m sure that which Mr. de la Ploer is about to tell us will be contrary to everything I hold dear.  You see, I do not claim to understand things that are not understandable, and I do not proscribe myself often to fear.  This, however, Guy, does not sit well in my gut.  I do wish to leave, but your safety and wellbeing necessitate my presence.  I will not let you take this burden upon yourself, but know now, there are limits to where I am willing to follow you.”

“I know,” I responded kindly, “I’ve already thought on this matter.  You are a kind friend and I will not force you to be a part of this, but I sincerely need your help, wisdom, and guidance.  I feel that you may be the only remaining rationality in my mind.”

“Please gentlemen,” de la Ploer sneered, “there is no room for sentimentality where you are going.”

Dread ran rampant through my mind.  Where we are going?  What could he possibly mean?  I fidgeted restlessly in my chair.  I was nervous.  Quince looked at me with the same look of alarm I noticed earlier.  His eyes also portrayed a look of disgust and feigned disinterested.  de la Ploer took note.  He was a very astute observer.  He laughed wickedly.

“Don’t worry Mr. de Selby, Mr. Lyfeld,” de la Ploer snorted, “this absolutely will not require any sort of physical travel.  The answers you seek are found in our history — our ancient history – and within ourselves, our consciousness.”

I shot distrustful glance in Quince’s direction.  de la Ploer was beginning to sound like a mad man.  Everything he has told us to this point has been directed at the human psyche.  I’ve been through that night countless times.  I know Marte wouldn’t have done this to herself.  I only hoped I hadn’t yet adopted this persona, though I feel it’s what I’ve projected toward Quince.

Howard de la Ploer stood up and walked toward a row of shelves.  He disappeared into the blackness that was the back wall of the room.

“Where do you think he’s off to?”  Quince asked, a smile forming on his face.  “I bet he went to find some ‘ancient’ elixir to refocus his mind.  That man has spent far too much time sniffing dust and particulates from strange lands.”

Quince laughed.  It was good to see him laugh.  We’ve spent too many hours already languishing tension and solemnity.  I smiled outwardly.  Inside, though, I feared what de la Ploer might return with.

6.

A half an hour passed.  I was getting nervous, and Quince’s jokes were becoming dry and redundant.  I was about to propose that we leave when I heard shuffling in the direction of de la Ploer.  A light manifested from the darkness.  Creaking.  de la Ploer plunged from the black pushing a cart with two heavy, leather-bound volumes.  The volumes must have weighed at least one hundred pounds, but de la Ploer was struggling against the weight of the cart as if he were pushing some elephantine beast weighing several tons.  As he drew close, I understood why.

These volumes were not books, or at least a modern conception of book.  The binding was not of leather, rather smooth, shiny marble.  The binding included inscriptions, pictographs in a language that must have died eons ago.  The dimly lit room did not provide enough light for a closer examination, but a cursory inspection of the images sent a chill down my spine.  Something terrible graced the covers of those volumes.  I reached for one, touched it, and sprang back.  Terror overwhelmed me.  I looked down at my hand – the books were oozing crimson.  It was not blood, though it closely resembled such.  My hand was covered in viscous, visceral, slimy horror.

“Be careful Guy.”  Quince saw the terror on my face and noted the coating covering the volumes.

“Yes Mr. de Selby, be careful.”  de la Poer added.  “These are ancient books, predating the earliest Semitic texts.  We are unsure of its true age, but I doubt modern science would be able to even begin to estimate it even if the researchers were given free reign and physical custody of the volumes.  As these have been passed down generation to generation we have attempted to source the slime mold growing on the cover, but have, to this point, fallen short.  It would seem that even when I take the utmost care in cleaning the text, the filth returns.”

“You’re quite filthy yourself Mr. de la Poer.”  Quince chuckled.  “When is the last time you gave this place a good scubbing?”  He chuckled, but I could tell it was from a nervous energy and not his barb at de la Ploer.

“Well gentlemen?  Shall we?”

I was hesitant.  de la Ploer heaved the stone sheathed manuscript onto the table and into the dim light.  My stomach churned, I felt as though I were about to become violently ill.  As the light began to permeate the sludge, the characters on the cover and spine came into focus.  Hideous, beastial things adorned the book.  Creatures only conceived in man’s darkest hour held the spine.  I imagined the lunacy of its creator, but could not.  The book had no discernable title, nor engravings that indicated its origin – just the creatures.  A more foreboding thing I have never seen, nor do I want to see again.

“As I said,” de la Ploer insisted, “these volumes are ancient.  They do, however, hold the key to your mystery.”

A chill swirled about my neck.  What could he possibly mean?  A book, by which no one has come outside of the de la Ploer family, could not possibly hold such power to cause a person to come undone.  Surely, I thought, de la Ploer was mistaken.  That is, until he opened it.  With a quick snap of the latch, the book became unbound.  Instantly, the lights flickered and dissolved.  We were in blackness.

7.

The darkness that enveloped us was unusual.  Along with it came uneasy noises softly scrapping against the stone floor.  We were surrounded.  I could not tell by what, or where they came from, but there was no escape.  Quince whimpered nervously.  In that darkness, all hope drained from this group.  The darkness persisted, permeating our skin, our bones, our souls.  A strange smell entranced my nostrils.

“Whoa,” Quince coughed, “what on earth is that wretched smell?  I don’t think I’ll last much longer.”

I was amazed that Quince hadn’t commented on the darkness, but that smell – it was awful.  The dank mildewed smell of the basement created by years of subpar construction and rainy seasons gone-by was replaced by something indescribable.  I figured something there had died long ago and de la Ploer’s stirrings caused a resurgence of the decaying particles.  But no, it was not a smell of rotting flesh.

Just then, the lights returned.  It looked as though nothing had happened, and to my surprise, Quince and Howard were staring at me, a questioning look on each man’s face.

“Welcome backGuy.” de la Ploer said, “Why were you just standing there staring at us?”

“I couldn’t see anything.”  I was flustered.

“What do you mean?”  Quince said worriedly.  “Howard and I were standing here trying to gauge your reaction to the book, but you said nothing and stared vacantly in our direction.  We’ve been trying to get your attention for past few minutes, but were interrupted by that ghastly smell.”

I glanced around, confused and slightly disoriented.  I thought I saw something moving in the shadows in near the shelf upon which the volumes had rested.  “The lights went out as soon as Howard opened the book,” I said penitently – I could tell my friends were worried and did not understand.  “We were standing here in perfect darkness.  Someone or something was after us, moving efficiently through that darkness.”

“No Mr. de Selby.”  de la Ploer said grimly.  “Although I am aware of your experience, neither I nor Mr. Lyfeld were party to it.  In fact, knowing now that you are easily succumbed to these writings, I do not think it wise for us to continue.  I am afraid you are in a situation growing evermore dire.”

“Preposterous!”  Quince said excitedly, “Guy’s reaction is simply a manifestation of his grief.  It is only his mind playing games with his consciousness.”

“That may be Mr. Lyfeld, but I refuse to discount these so-called manifestations as simple tom-foolery of the mind.  What you shall come to understand Mr. Lyfeld, is that your friend and his wife share a common bond, stronger than any presence currently in this existence.”

“I don’t understand.  This is all very confusing, and I must admit, that I am, in many ways, worried that neither of you shared this latest experience with me.  I tell you, something in that darkness had us surrounded.”

Quince looked at me.  His nervous mannerisms were quickly turning to pity.  “Guy, never have I seen you so distraught.  I feel this latest obsession will not help you grieve, rather, it will tear you apart.”

de la Ploer also looked to pity me, but his gaze showed less sympathy and more concern.  “Mr. de Selby, I think it is time that you looked at the contents of this volume.  I do not think further procrastination will do anything to mitigate that which is forthcoming.”

I slowly walked toward the book, each step feeling as though I were combating gravity herself.  Each step took more exertion than the last as a grim reality trickled into my thoughts.

8.

As I bent over the book to inspect its pages, I noticed two oddities.  The first, both de la Ploer and Quince seemed to back away, putting an awkward distance between themselves and the table.  The second, and much stranger than my companions’ reactions, was that the script looked to glow.  It was radiating an unnatural yellow light.  The light was dim at first, but the closer I drew my face to the page, the brighter the light became, until, I was consumed by its radiance.

The page was, for lack of a better term, uncertain.  There were no more than two pages in the entire volume.  It defied physics as I can only liken my perception of its magnitude to staring into a bottomless well.  The page was metallic and had a mirror like shine.  Across the page the unknown author scrawled images and what looked to be words.  I was not able to read the language, but the longer I stared at the page, something curious began to develop.

In its unfathomable depth, I saw my reflection.  Behind me, I heard the scraping of bone against floor, but was too absorbed by what I next witnessed to grow concerned by that noise or the screams of sheer horror and noise made by my companions as they were torn limb from limb by some unnatural force.  I did not care.  I only yearned for the cosmos sprawling across, an expansive universe in breadth, depth, and beauty.  I understood what I needed to do.  I had lost control.

I blinked — a simple blink to dispel the power of eons old unexplained, unbridled curiosity.  I came back to my body and tried to collect my thoughts, fragmented and disorganized as they were.  In an act of mercy, the creator of humanity, whether by divine influence or evolution, safeguarded the human mind from every being able to properly associate his thoughts.  Without this blessing, surely, man would lose his senses.  What I had witnessed, I cannot recall but for bits and pieces.  Concentrating, I turned my attention to the horrible inclination that whatever was in that library treasury had ripped Quince and de la Poer to shreds.  I looked.

I imagined I would find endless pools of blood, bone fragments, unattached lower mandibles still screaming in horror, and more horrifically, the beast responsible wallowing in varying levels of human bile and mounds of flesh.

“Well,” Quince said cheerfully, “did you find your answer?”  He was smiling wickedly.  I noticed him glance at the page I’d been looking at.  “You must not able to understand it I gather.  That look of shock and dismay after only seconds of examination doesn’t bode well for Mr. de la Ploer’s veracity now does it.”  de la Ploer stood next to him, arms folded across his chest.

“Mr. de Selby,” de la Ploer began solemnly, “did you see it?”  A devilish grin crept across his face.  “It’s magnificent, isn’t it?”

I stammered an incoherent response.  How were these two alive?  I guess I had only heard their screams, but I was certain I would never see either of them whole again.

“It really is magnificent Guy.”  Quince grinned.  It was the same grin worn only seconds ago by de la Ploer.  “You must continue to look into the depths of that dark tome.  It is where you need to be – it is where you will find her, your answer.”  I only saw a dull smoldering of humanity in his eyes, otherwise, I noticed both he and de la Ploer were no longer recognizable.

“Quince, what did you say?”  I managed.  I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.  These were the corporeal forms of my companions, but their eyes were tired – old, in fact.  The looks on their faces hardly masked their mind’s age.  These beings, that inhabited the bodies of my friends, were older than anything found in the fossil record.

Then it struck me.  I was taken aback as if all of the negative energy currently in the room jabbed my gut.  The look in their eyes wasn’t unfamiliar after all.  The look was the same as I saw in Marte’s eyes those two long years ago.  What I thought was a gaze of lifelessness wasn’t such at all; rather, her eyes were empty.  Quince’s and de la Ploer’s eyes were empty now too, only this time, something was lurking.

9.

 I ran.  Out of that horrid basement.  Away from my ghoulish companions.  I did not stop until I reached the ever vigilant safety of my front door.  What was I thinking?  This gruesome thing got my Marte in this very residence a short time ago.  Where, then, could I go to find safety?  I peered through the smudged glass framing my front door.  They were coming.  Around the corner and up the walkway.  There was purpose to their footsteps and resolve in those dead, unwavering eyes.  I needed to get away, I needed to evade my would-be destroyers.

“Guy,” my name carried eerily on the wind, “why don’t you come out and listen to our proposition.  This, Guy, is your fate.  You know as well as I that there is no escaping your fate Guy.”  The voice was similar to Quince’s, but gravely and ancient.

“Yes Guy,” de la Ploer chimed in, “you must release what is within.  You, Guy, have served your purpose.  It is time for his coming.”

“What?”  I panicked. “I’m not whoever, or whatever you are looking for.”  I tried to suppress my urges to help my friends, this was only a trick.  My friends were dead and these beings were just using them.  What a nasty fate.  “I will not allow your entrance, nor will your coupled disguise fool me.  Whatever it is you want, seek it elsewhere.”

“But you do not understand.”  They spoke in unison now.  “You will be rewarded for your services.”  I could not fathom the services they represented, nor would my reward be anything earthly or desirable.  “It is time Guy.  You are ready.”

I looked out the window to judge the likelihood of my escape.  They were gone, only shadows remained.  The shadows, however, were not of this earth.  Certainly, these were the wretched things inhabiting those poor fellows’ remains.  These shadows were sentient.

As I stared down my fate, a curious thing happened.  My mind went blank for a moment, the bright light consumed me once again, but this time, I could see with stunning clarity.  I was standing amongst the overgrown, moss covered ruin of some ancient city.  There, I saw the same glyphs that branded the book.  I saw a gathering and a fire.  Surrounding the fire, and among the decrepit rocks, stood a group of humans.  I can only describe these curious beings as some distant ancestor, marked with bizarre tattoos.  I understood that I was in the middle of some ancient ritual.

I learned something in that instant, as the group of people around me took up their primitive stone knives and began to rend flesh from bone.  Man is a curious beast, not because of individuality and ingenuity, but because of duality.  As I watched their horribly disfigured corpses fall to the floor, I noticed a few remained standing.  Their eyes were as vacant as my wife’s and my friends’.  Where they had inserted their blades to carry out their grizzly ritual, not even a scar remained.  These were the vessels – carriers of an ancient and terrifying being.  They were the portals to this plane of existence.

10.

 My mind was swimming, categorizing my thoughts and interpreting my consciousness.  I knew that each time I was succumbed to the bright white, I was glimpsing inward – into my innermost being.  The horror I saw within was that I was not alone.  In there, the loathsome beast lurked.  I, however, was unfortunate enough to be chosen by the beast and its progeny to usher it in to this work.  Darkness will follow in its wake – only death will come of its birth.

My wife met the same fate.  Fate, a funny thing, brought us together because we were destined for something we could not conceivably imagine.  Fate — the duality of man.

I regained consciousness with knowledge that this world was only the beginning and I did not belong.  In each man, the darkness awaits its release.  Neither I nor my wife had the power to stop it.

I picked up a knife given to us on our wedding day and began to cut.  I was lost in an unearthly blaze.

As I stirred from the brightness that surrounded me, I realized the truth.  I am not dead.  Eternally, I will lie in wait.  Over time, I know I will see even death die.  Now, I see her – my love, my life, my Marte.

I am sorry.

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