It is through my own naïve thoughtlessness that these great horrors have inflicted themselves upon me in this way. When my life ends, which will be moments and not days, weeks, or years, I can only hope that their torment will finally end. But I know that my very soul, be it living or dead, will never recover from the abhorrence I have engrained into it.
My son, Randolph, is ten years old. He was always a jovial child, forever smiling and showing myself and my wife nothing but love. Before he even began crawling I knew that he was destined for greatness. I had always wished for him to not only be successful in life, but to live in a perpetual happiness and self-assurance that I could have only dreamed of. I am now certain that this is indeed the case, but the details of his future are ones I hope I shall never experience in this life or the next. But I now I have come to realise that these hopes are futile.
Randolph had always loved books; reading them and having them read to him. As a toddler he giggled at the pictures of pirates in underpants and witches on brooms. As he learnt to read he would laugh hysterically at children in chocolate factories and diaries written by wimpy kids. As an avid reader myself, this was one aspect of his development that I tried to positively encourage whenever possible.
My bookshelf is vast, with hundreds of books collected over many years. Some are quite pristine and are merely there for decoration, whilst most are tattered and worn with the battle scars of love. Randolph used to stare at the books in awe, picking them up and admiring the art. He asked me questions about them and who wrote them, never seeming inattentive at my regaling of interesting facts about the histories of the stories and their authors.
By nine, Randolph acquired a curious interest in one of my favourite books on that shelf, a giant tome in black leather; HP Lovecraft, The Complete Fiction. The book was so heavy that Randolph couldn’t hold it on his own and it was down to me to take it from the shelf and shew him the hundreds of pages of the greatest cosmic horror I have ever come to know. He pleaded with me to read him some, presumably he felt the tiny font and wafer-thin pages with no pictures a little too intimidating for his nine-year-old attention span. I told him that he was too young for it, but it became an almost regular occurrence for him to ask to hear a story from that great book.
Finally I relented. He was ten by then and I promised I would read him a short story before bed. I chose Nyarlathotep, mainly due to it’s short length but also as it’s one of my favourites. So that evening I settled Randolph into bed and read to him. It had been a few years since I had enjoyed Lovecraft’s work and reading it again, out loud for the first time, I was overcome with great joy and that cathartic fear that emanates throughout the great man’s work.
Randolph lay there and listened intently. Perhaps it was my soothing voice, but he was as quiet as I’d ever heard him. When Nyarlathotep was finished Randolph said nothing. He stared at his wall as if asleep with his eyes open. I asked him what he thought. He replied that it had been ‘amazing, Dad,’ and asked if we could have another one the next evening.
My wife had told me that he was far too young to be told stories such as these, but as she, to my knowledge, had never read any of Lovecraft’s work she took little persuading to allow me to continue.
That night my dreams were haunted with ominously strange and terrible black shapes that I could not fully appreciate. They were only shapes and not definable by waking standards, but they made my mind tremble in the darkest depths of my psyche at their appearance in my nightmare.
I awoke in a cold sweat to the sound of Randolph crying. Collecting my thoughts and trying to wake myself fully I stumbled out of bed and into his room. Between sobs he told me how he’d had a nightmare but could remember no details of it as I settled him back off to sleep, trying to keep my own eyes open for fear that my own nightmare should return. In the morning we both awoke in his bed, and nothing was spoken about our sleep experiences.
Randolph asked for another story the following night, and shewed me the one he wanted to hear. The Statement of Randolph Carter had caught his eager attention due to his name being in the title. I gladly obliged and he listened attentively yet again, only breaking silence once the story was concluded to express his delight at it. He fell into slumber almost immediately.
But that night my nightmare returned. The black shapes were getting closer and more distinguished, their gelatinous forms crept towards me, guided by a dark malevolent force. I was powerless to escape them and in my dream could feel dank, slimy breath passing over my shaking, naked form. I was aware of myself twitching, my mind trying to awaken my body from these horrific sights it had invented. Then all of a sudden my eyes shot open and I heard a sound from Randolph’s room.
At first it was difficult to comprehend, but as my ears adjusted I became aware of a ghost-like chanting. “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.”
Surely I was still asleep and this was simply the next part of my dream, it had to be. I glanced over at my sleeping wife, she was snoring softly and seemingly unaware of the terrible sounds coming from our son’s bedroom. It was all so real and my conscious tried to convince my subconscious that I was still asleep. But I knew that I wasn’t.
After a few moments in this fear-filled haze I braved standing. My legs were weak, I hoped because of my tiredness but I couldn’t really believe that was the cause. I made my way into Randolph’s room and the chanting filled my ears, like the room was full of ghosts. He was sitting up in bed, the incandescence from the gibbous moon outside illuminating his face like a spotlight. He didn’t notice me enter which came as some surprise as I was certain that my heavy breathing was the loudest sound of all. I sat down on the bed and did the only thing that seemed natural; I held him tightly in my arms, rocking him gently back and forth in a vain attempt at silencing him and the hideous accompanying chorus.
His voice finally lowered and he snuggled his face into my chest. I lay him down carefully and wiped the sweat from his brow. In moments he was quiet again and sleeping soundly. I remember standing and watching him for what could have been an hour or more before I finally braved leaving him alone. My wife was still asleep and only stirred slightly as I got back into bed, my body trembling uncontrollably. I lay awake until the first rays of the morning sun brightened the room, my eyes scratching and begging to be closed. But I had defied their wishes, I couldn’t have dared sleep again. For what may have returned was something I couldn’t bear to witness.
But sleep must have come at some stage, for my wife was gently shaking my arm telling me that it was time to get up and get Randolph ready for school. I complained that I felt unwell and would need to stay home from work for the day, something my wife accepted readily. She insisted I stay in bed while she sorted out Randolph’s breakfast and took him to school.
I was grateful for the extra sleep, oh how I needed it. I awoke around dinnertime but my stomach rumbled in disgust at the thought of eating. Instead I sat alone in the living room, staring over at the bookshelf towering before me, my eyes drawn to that leather-bound book that had caused all of my recent woes.
The words that Randolph had spoken, I knew them, and I knew their translation. “In his house at R’lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.” The Call Of Cthulhu. Although I’d hoped one day to show this great story to Randolph, I had purposely neglected to even mention the details of it to such a young mind. For that story had left it’s mark on my adult psyche, and what it might do a child’s was something I never wanted to comprehend.
But how had he known the words? Had he been flicking through the pages without me present? I stood and checked the book. There was no evidence of scrunched pages or sticky finger marks, the book was in as pristine condition as it always was. Although it should have been my last thought after what had been happening recently, I started flicking through the book. Picking out paragraphs here and there, and mesmerised by the words I felt my pulse quickening. The Hound, The Music of Erich Zann, The Haunter of the Dark, The Dunwich Horror; all these great stories here in one collection that I had bought so that I may enjoy them over and over, and share them with family and friends. But there I was, pathetically shaking in a very real fear as I read and read.
It is only fiction. This statement, this fact was one that I kept repeating to myself, yet somehow my mind refused to believe itself. How could the inventions from one man’s brain be affecting me this way? Unless they weren’t inventions.
No, preposterous, of course they were. Yog-Sothoth, Azathoth, Shub-Niggurath, all these must surely have come from the mind of a great concoctor of horror. I was desperately trying to convince myself of this as my hands became clammy and the pages showed patches of damp where I had been desperately fingering them.
I slammed the book shut and shuffled over to the bookcase where I put it away. Once back sitting I still couldn’t take my eyes off it. This was getting to the point of ridiculousness, it wasn’t like the book was written by Abdul Alhazred, for goodness sake. The murmur of the mad Arab’s name sent a chill down my spine. I leapt to standing and hurried over to the book, taking it forcefully and burying it under piles of papers in a drawer. I hoped that hidden away it could do me no harm.
I fell into a dream-less sleep on the sofa for an hour or two and when I awoke was finally able to steer my thoughts away from what had happened and by mid-afternoon I was feeling much better. I even accompanied my wife to collect Randolph from school. As the bell sounded and hoards of children flooded from the main entrance my eyes were drawn to Randolph and the piece of paper he was proudly waving in the air. He expressed his delight at his accomplishment in art class that day and my wife took the picture from him, shewing her pride at his achievement with a large hug. I ruffled his hair as she passed the picture to me. But as I looked upon it I felt the whole world dissolve around me, and the memory of those black shapes violently invaded my conscious.
When I awoke later in the school nurse’s office, the image I had seen before I blacked out was still haunting my mind. A crude child’s picture it may have been, but what it spoke of brought that crawling fear back to me like an insidious carpet of oblivion. It was of a man wearing a suit, much like I wore to work and it may well have been a drawing of me. But instead of a head was a hideous mass of tentacles spewing outward. The detail was exquisite and not just from such a young hand. The almost alien-like suckers on the feelers appeared to have rows upon rows of sharp and ravenous teeth, ready to leap from the paper and tear apart the unfortunate soul who happened to be looking at it. Around the figure were strange markings, possibly sigils, that to a casual observer would have simply been random marks from a colouring pen. But there was something deeply unsettling about the arrangement of those symbols that brought nausea upon me as I tried to banish the memories from my half-awake brain.
Randolph had sat with me while I was out, the nurse later informed me, holding my hand with a look of real concern on his young, innocent face. After waking he had asked me if I liked his drawing of the octopus man. The octopus man? I couldn’t answer him, couldn’t find the words or even a comforting smile to appease him. He didn’t seem to mind, though. Perhaps his worry over my health was the only thing that mattered to him.
I assured the nurse that I was OK to go home, and I walked the short distance with Randolph holding my hand. His touch seemed hot, like we held a burning stone between our palms. I tried to force my hand from his grasp but hadn’t the strength to follow it through. Instead I was led home by my young son who did his best to try and keep the buoyancy from his gait.
Once home I retired to bed. My wife was preparing dinner and after a few moments came upstairs to check on me. She seemed satisfied with my explanation that I was fine, and held my hand in an act of support. Her hand felt hot, too and I wondered whether it was indeed my hand that was burning.
My wife offered me comforting words and expressed her delight at the drawing that Randolph had done in school. She didn’t seem to realise that that was what had brought this latest breakdown upon me. She smiled as she admitted she had been wrong to question whether it was too soon in his life to be getting him interested in such stories. She, like me, was delighted that he had taken such a shine to them. Randolph joined her by my bedside and asked whether he could have another story that night. I apologised that I was too tired to but my wife offered to read to him instead. His little face displayed such excitement. My wife stroked my hair from my face and said that this was the start of something great, and thanked me for being the catalyst for it. If only then I had fully realised what she meant.
She told me to get some rest and that she’d be up later to check on me. I tried to protest but was too weak to do so. Instead I fell into a deep slumber that seemed to call my name in some ancient and despicable tongue.
I was aware of my vocal chords grating in an attempt to rid my dreams of those black shapes of evil that encircled every inch of me. My ankles and wrists became tight like they were entrapped, and my hands and feet were so numb that my nerve endings stung viciously. My body was pleading to wake up, to clear my sleep-senses of these horrors that were devouring not only my body, but my soul. My legs were twitching and my back was screaming in spasms. Cool air whistled across my cheeks and I was aware of hands clambering over me. It was the most realistic dream I had ever experienced. In my dream I felt I was a messiah, being manhandled onto a wooden construct in front of a field of hungry spectators.
A guttural cry from my decimated throat was echoed by a chorus of whippoorwills from nearby. Their beating wings passed over me with the sound of a thousand drum rolls. When my eyes opened it took a few moments to adjust to the darkness. I was outside, surrounded by rows upon rows of giant old oak trees. The only light source was from the low moon, it’s rays piercing through the dense woodland around me.
My hands and feet were bound, my arms aloft as though I were reaching to the heavens for some kind of salvation. Before me stood Randolph and my wife, embracing each other with a look of true happiness. They watched me and their eyes displayed no sense of concern or even remorse for what they had done to me. I pleaded for them to let me down, but my words spluttered out incoherently and were lost in the void surrounding the trees.
My wife crouched and picked up something from the ground beneath her. It was a book. It was my book, HP Lovecraft, The Complete Fiction. The golden words gleamed in the moonlight against the black leather. My wife handed to book to Randolph who managed to hold it all by himself, and he began reading. I didn’t know what he was reading, my ears had become numb, my body deciding that what was coming from his mouth was not something I wanted to hear.
I looked up. A wooden beam stretched out above me and my hands were tied with twine to it. I feebly pulled my arms but they wouldn’t move. I sunk my head in to my chest and as I began to sob I noticed the piles of wood beneath my feet.
A giant bonfire had become my home. The splinters burrowed into my soles but by now I had become immune to any pain. What was sure to happen to me was much worse than a few pieces of wood piercing my skin.
Randolph continued to read. I looked at him and tried with everything I had to make him look at me. But it was fruitless. As I suspended on my funeral pyre, my tears clouded my sight but I was sure that Randolph displayed happiness at what he was reading. The words were bringing him joy. Was that not something to take from this horrific situation? All I’d ever wanted was to bring joy to him through the written word.
It seemed like hours, but eventually my tears dried and I could witness Randolph and my wife leaving me. There was a terrifying sound in the air, as though some great beast was hiding among the trees. It could have been a bear, I tried to tell myself, but I knew that it was not. The timbre of the noise reverberated inside my organs and shook my brain like it was about to explode inside my skull. The disgusting, foul and diabolical sound now gusted around my naked body and I felt something enveloping the trees around me.
Animals fled around my feet, whimpering at the great blackness that was invading their habitat. None of them looked back as they scampered away, leaving me alone with whatever this thing was that was seemingly right behind me. I closed my eyes in an attempt to rid myself of the horrors that were surely coming for me.
If only at that moment I could have given up. To lose one’s mind before one is forced to see something so disgracefully abhorrent would be the greatest of mercies. I had read so many tales of how these beasts we are never supposed to experience can drive a man to insanity, and each time I had been in awe of how terrible these things must have been. My imagination could surely never dream up something as horrific as the sight of these monsters would actually be, and for me that was always the addiction of these cosmic horror stories.
But I fear that soon I shall be witness to this very thing that has encapsulated me for all these years. Do I wish to die before I can behold what really exists past the point of mankind’s understanding? Of course I do, for if these things look even a thousandth as frightening as they sound, death will be a welcome relief.
I pray to something, plead with anything that is listening to spare me the sight of this thing that I can feel behind me. It’s breath is singeing my skin and I can feel my mind fracturing. I wonder whether, without my influence, Randolph would have gone on to discover these great horrors himself. I’m sure he would have, he’s always been special, in a way I’d never have imagined. But my wife knew, she always knew.
I can hear the chanting again, it’s coming from the distance, getting louder and more piercing with every second that passes. I beg again to be free from this ending but I can feel my mind disengaging. If only my senses would fail also. But they will not. I will be forced to witness this diabolical consumption and live it for eternity.
Oh, God, it’s here! It’s…