Deadman’s Tome The Ancient Ones is a great tribute to the dark and disturbed mind behind the Cthulhu mythos. Readers will descend deeper into madness with each and every story. Some of the stories go as far as to emulate the prose of the tormented Road Islander. And now, readers can read The Ancient Ones for FREE! That’s right, for nothing. But only for a limited time!
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There is a rule in my town: one day, you will go missing. You will never return. Those that go looking for you will suffer the same fate, whatever yours may have been. There’s a two-month grace period to make sure you haven’t simply gotten lost, or had an urgent visit to someone out of town, or been in an accident. After this, all of your goods will be sold. No one, for their own sake, will speak of you again, no matter how great or terrible you may have been.
Jenny always said I was bad at following the rules.
Tromping through the streets, I held my jacket closed tight around me, my other hand pressing my phone to my ear. Her last message was my only clue. “Hey sweetie, it’s me. Just wanted to say I’m leaving work now, stopping by the pharmacy, and then I’ll… wait, what’s… I think someone’s hurt.”
To date, no one had witnessed another person disappear, nor been able to collect any evidence. Even so, when I heard her car pull over, her door open and shut, I knew there was serious trouble going on. “Ma’am, are you… Oh my god, Lisa? Lisa what are you doing, where have you been?”
Fabric rustled indistinctly, though it may have been wind against her speakers. When her voice returned, it wasn’t frightened, or even alarmed. She was calm, with the steady tone of someone who knows what’s coming next is inevitable. A faint rasp, the breathing of someone afflicted by pneumonia or some other respiratory distress, hissed in the background, then Jenny’s phone hit the ground. One quick scrape of a heavy object being dragged along pavement was my last clue to her location.
The message ended, and I was tempted to listen to it for the seventh time. My hands were getting cold, though, so I put the phone away. She worked at Weissen’s, a printing service only a few blocks from our house, near the Old District; the pharmacy was in the Old District itself. Her car was along that relatively short route, yet in the dark, freezing cold of our New Jersey winter, even a few blocks seemed like an eternity.
“Jenny?” I yelled, not wanting to attract attention. Being targeted by whatever took her didn’t scare me. Every so often, a citizen would go looking for someone who’d disappeared, and the police usually caught them. Protecting them meant locking those people in the drunk tank and having “friendly chats” until that person decided not to keep searching. Kindness isn’t always the same as niceness. They definitely saved lives, though some didn’t have lives to return to.
If the police were to pick me up, it’d be over. I’d lose whatever chance I had of finding her. That was far more horrible than any fate I could’ve imagined. I was never exactly the creative type.
That message kept bothering me. She couldn’t really have meant Lisa. Jenny wasn’t a risk taker, not like me. I dropped out of college to start my own business; she worked her way up from a part time office clerk to middle management at one of the most uninspired businesses in town—her words, not mine. I’d encouraged her to pursue a passion, like painting, or teaching yoga, but she said, after what happened to her sister, she didn’t want to push her luck.
Lisa, her sister, had disappeared when she was a sophomore in high school. It’s why she got the job at Weissen’s. No one found Lisa, or their parents. Jenny was left on her own, with little inheritance, and no family. They hadn’t gotten life insurance policies; said it was tempting fate. I suppose it was.
Jenny’s car loomed in the distance, just two blocks away, so I started jogging. “Jenny?” I called, thinking about how we really should’ve moved. “Jenny!”
There are plenty of reasons to stay. Amazing tax break, great schools, fertile soil, generally fair weather from spring until the end of fall, even a hot spring nearby. Most of the residents—the ones untouched by our town’s odd circumstance—agree it’s been blessed.
As I approached, I could see Jenny’s phone, smashed yet otherwise untouched, in the street. Torn fabric led toward the nearby manhole, which had been left ajar. “I’m coming, baby,” I said under my breath, grabbing the edge and straining to move it.
“Hey,” a voice said. “What are you doing out here?”
I turned to see Morsooth, an older fellow who’d been here since birth. His family had been here since the founding of our town. He was a gruff sort, in his sixties, serious but not ornery, still well-built from a life living off the land. No one else chopped down trees to make their own furniture.
Looking between him and the metal disc, I fumbled for a reply. He held up a hand to silence me, then squatted to help. Together, we got it free. Laying a hand on my shoulder, he said, “There’s nothing for you down there. But, there’s nothing for you up here either, is there?”
Wind stung my eyes. At least, I told myself that’s why I was tearing up. “Good luck, son,” he sighed. “I’ll close ‘er up after you.”
And he did. The tunnel below was lit by a few emergency lights, but my visibility was reduced to almost nothing as he slid the cover back in place. I’ll admit, I was never a strong man, not one inclined toward physical fitness. I’d have no way to move it back on my own.
The trip down the ladder was short. Once at the base, I found, rather than sewers, I was in an old service tunnel. The walls were rounded, leading in to another series of passages. Each seemed darker than the last, with lights a little dimmer, a little grimier. Every so often, a burned-out bulb threatened to cast me into darkness, but my phone provided enough light to get by. Using it too much would kill my battery. That didn’t matter. I could feel myself getting closer.
Following the progressively darker pathways, I started to notice gouges on the walls. They led through a door, down a corridor, through another door; beginning to run, my feet smacked against the cement floor, sending harsh echoes through the tunnels until it sounded like an army was charging toward me. Cracked walls and broken floors surrounded me, the air filling with dust from unrepaired infrastructure.
This wasn’t just the work of some outside force. This was conscious neglect. My city, the mayor, the government, they must have known something was down there! To think, they’d had this knowledge the whole time, a complete understanding of where our citizens were going, where my wife, where her sister, her parents, had vanished to, and they’d kept this information secret. It was enough to fuel my adrenaline, pushing me down those halls faster as I channeled all my rage toward the person who’d taken my wife.
The possibilities ran through my head. What could be there—a military installation, a serial killer, a tribe of inbred cannibals? Or maybe a plague of giant rats, waiting to feast on unsuspecting people who wandered too close to their habitat when the sun went down.
My attention was so wrapped up in what I might find that I almost didn’t notice when I found it. Skidding to a halt, I tried and failed to catch my breath as the tunnel suddenly opened up. A stone staircase stretched down before me, ending on a perfectly flat, circular floor of green-gray stone. In the center of a room so vast I almost couldn’t see the far side, a being sat cross-legged, in the center of a series of markings that glowed unnaturally in the darkness. I didn’t recognize them, but I knew they were some kind of runes around a spell circle.
All around me, those markings glowed, adorning the ceiling, and swirling in-between decorations on the walls. It wasn’t until I turned my head to look at my immediate sides that I saw these decorations were human heads. The room was massive. There must have been hundreds, even thousands, of heads, all of them staring, eyes open, mouth gaping.
Breath catching, I whirled about, disoriented. This wasn’t possible; some faces I recognized from years and years earlier. My old kindergarten teacher, who’d vanished fifteen years ago; a girl I dated in high school; the previous mayor; a congressional aide from the first, and last, time a senator came to visit. They were all… perfect. Not merely preserved, but untouched, as if they’d never been killed, apart from a single clean slice that had severed their heads from their bodies.
The sight made my head spin, and the disorientation sent me hurtling down the stairs. I lost count as my limp body accelerated, but there must have been forty stairs, at least. With a hard crunch, I hit the landing, saw the blistering, putrid, reddish-purple color of pain exploding across my vision as my leg broke. I screamed, for myself, and for every person who’d been brought here.
A scuttling captured my attention. Turning as best I could, I saw the being from the center of the incantation circle coming toward me. Then I understood its collection. The beast had no head. Whatever screams I’d let out before fell dead in my throat. The sound was inadequate. All sound was. Looming overhead, it stood seven feet tall, so thin it was nearly a skeleton, with jittery arms and legs, dancing like a spider over fresh prey, yet its neck ended with a mottled stump. It didn’t kill me, though. Oh no, it didn’t kill me, it just hovered over, then darted off to its wall. I saw it scale the smooth surface, adhering through some arcane design, before it plucked a head from one of the many small shelves.
Returning to me, it walked over, then dramatically shoved the severed trophy onto its stump, twisting until it locked in place with a gut-churning snap. It removed its hands. It was wearing Jenny’s head.
“Hello, sweetie,” it said, in her voice, with her smile. Yet, I didn’t know who I’d hurt if I swung. Not that I could’ve done much damage from the ground, but lord did I want to ravage this monstrosity. How dare it touch her, in any way, let alone wear her head and speak with her tongue? This thing, with its pale, putrid body that looked and stank like a week old corpse?
But… it was her face, and when she stared, noticing I wasn’t replying, she looked hurt. It even mimicked her mannerisms, twisting a rotting left thumb in its oversized right fist, her crystal eyes cast down as she said, “I’m sorry I was late for dinner.”
It couldn’t be Jenny, yet everything beyond the desiccated body said it was! Torn between two impossible options—that my wife lived on as a severed head, and that some sick beast could wear its trophies to mock survivors—I turned away, retching. What little I’d eaten for lunch came back, spattering across the stone floor.
“Oh, dear,” she said, two bony arms scooping me up, loose flesh shifting like a bag of cockroaches. “Stomach bug? Did you order from Giovanni’s again?”
I’d gotten sick from that place on two separate occasions, but still loved their meatball subs. They were the best around. Or, maybe the best of the worst. “I don’t understand.”
“It’s okay, I’ll take care of you,” Jenny cooed, but I shook my head, shutting my eyes. My leg throbbed, and I thought of all the people up above the surface, sleeping peacefully, enjoying a life we’d never get.
After a moment passed, when she realized I wasn’t going to look again, she said, “We can be together here. Don’t you want that?”
I didn’t know what I wanted. Then I felt a shift in the way she held me. It was tense now. Restrained. “Fine. I understand.” Two pointed fingers dug into my neck; I croaked feebly against the attack and passed out.
The beeping of a heart rate monitor woke me. White lights blared overhead; a doctor was nearby, staring at a clipboard. When I tried to speak, he hushed me, saying I’d fallen down an embankment and broken my leg, then passed out from shock. “It’s lucky you’re alive,” he chuckled. We both knew what he meant by that. He didn’t realize how serious his joke was.
A week later, I was released. I spent every night dreaming about that place; I spent every day thinking about it. The Headless One, that creature who wears humans for fun, takes on their personalities—even, it seemed, their souls.
It doesn’t matter if that was Jenny, or just something pretending to be her. That’s the only remnant I have of the woman I love. Down there, in the abandoned tunnels beneath my city, lies something horrible and ancient, inextricably bound to the most wonderful woman I’d ever known.
I have to go back. I’m going, tonight. If you don’t hear from me again… don’t try to find that place. Don’t try to bring me home. There’s a reason why no one who goes looking for a loved one comes back.
While the old couple slept Malakai the demon eyed them in the dark. They disgusted him and were perfect for his needs. 3000 years of servitude was over and he was free of this half-life. He was ready to return to the full world and no one was left to stop him. He had outlived all his hated masters.
His last token holder had died with no heirs to pass the trinket that held Malakai’s spirit and so the cragged metal returned to Malakai, granting his freedom.
He held the shiny nugget to his lips, licked it slowly then rubbed it against his cheek like a preening cat.
“Let us play and flay.” The demon whispered before tucking the nugget back into his soul, where he would never again be parted from it, no matter how much it hurt to hold onto, the blunted edges that pushed at his insides for release.
He had been watching the old couple for the past few moons. He hated them. They rarely spoke to one other and struggled to even look in the other’s direction. They abused each other with their silent hate and disappointment.
The old woman’s wrinkled hand moved as he scampered up her body, no bigger than a mouse. Even her movements repulsed him, shakes that screamed of old weakness.
They blamed each other for their own failures, their bitterness permeated every corner of their shack which smelled of piss and boiled cabbage. Malakai felt only inevitability at destroying them. After all, they had left the door open for him, all he would do was give them exactly what they wanted.
For the husband, freedom.
For the wife, the child she was promised.
Standing on the crone’s right shoulder, away from the husband, Malakai rearranged his features to resemble a child, the hag’s ultimate weakness.
“Mama, set me free. I’m so alone.” Malakai’s sharp little needle teeth emerged from his purple lips as he smiled brightly.
The old woman was infected with him now, she would never stop until she saved her little boy from the big bad monster that lay in the bed beside hers. And in return for his hard work Malakai would receive a body that would fit the size of his soul instead of this tiny carcass no bigger than a man’s thumb.
He trotted closer to the old man, licking his large callused thumb, wrapping his arms around it and biting down hard enough to draw a few drops of food.
Malakai was hungry and the old man’s blood was good. At least these country types ate well and tasted strong and when the old woman made the poppet this body would be Malakai’s to do with as he pleased.
Enid woke to the feel of tiny feet scampering up her body. Her hands jerked in reaction before she could stop them. It frustrated her, all this aching and shaking, it would only scare the child away. But what could she do, she was frail and old, no law against that, goddamn it all to hell.
She glanced toward Tom’s single bed on the other side of the room. The floral comforter was on the ground, tossed aside by his nightly struggles with sleep. She could see his striped summer pajama’s, old man’s clothes, and his plaid slippers lined up just so. Everything about him screamed old and stuck in his ways.
He wasn’t sleeping, she knew him well enough to know the difference in his breathing. He was lying still with his eyes shut, like he did every morning, waiting for Enid to get up and make his breakfast. Lazy old goat.
“Dead yet?” There was little of the humor that had made their marriage a success left.
“After you, my sweet.” He replied, gruff with lack of sleep.
Enid clacked her false teeth into place and left the room. The tiny child was waiting for her in the kitchen and she gasped in surprise, clutching a hand to her heart wondering if her body’s aged pump would stop dead.
“You’re really real?” She asked.
“Almost.” Malakai said on a wet, wobbly, pitiful sigh. “I need the doll. Have you finished it yet?”
Enid hobbled to the cupboard that held her knitting bag, rummaging inside she found the doll she had been working on for the past few days.
“Is it perfect?” Malakai snatched it away, sniffing each seam and licking each stitch. “Perfect.” He turned wide blue eyes to Enid. “It’s perfect. You have done perfect.”
Enid held the table to help her sit. Resting her chin on her hands to stare at the gorgeous little boy who so resembled a young Tom. “Thank you, child. I followed your directions exactly, and now you’re here. Will you be able to become a real child now?”
“Yes. Just one more thing…” He allowed one tear to trail down his perfect cheek.
“What is it? I’ll do anything. I promised.”
“I need my father’s body to complete my transformation, to be with you forever.”
Enid blinked, becoming more enraptured with each glance at the perfect child. “Alright. Just some skin, nails that sort of thing?”
“I need flesh to become flesh. I must be made from the meat of my father.”
“Not much. Just enough to fill the doll.”
Enid lifted the knitted doll. It was smaller than her hand, with tan skin, blonde hair and blue eyes, just like Tom when they met.
“Tom’s thumbs.” Enid said, “I’ll use Tom’s thumbs.”
Malakai clapped his little hands, “Perfect. Perfect. Thumbs and Plums. Soon?”
“Tonight. I promise.”
Later that day, Enid got her chance. “Don’t worry with lunch for me.” Tom said. “I’m not feeling so well.”
“Yeah, looks like the doc was right. I don’t have much longer, Enid.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Nothing, nothing at all. I’m going to bed. I feel like I might actually sleep.”
“Why don’t you take one of the pills the doctor gave you to sleep?”
“No, I told you. I’ll be ending on a mountain of drugs, I want to go without them for as long as I can.”
“I’ll bring you through a warm drink then.”
“I don’t think…”
“Just do as I tell you and don’t be a stubborn old man.”
Tom chuckled, “Alright, Enid, don’t get your knickers in a twist.”
“Would be the only thing that’s happened to my knickers in years.” She grumbled as she stalked to the kettle.
The spiked drink put Tom into such a deep sleep he didn’t even move as she took his favorite boning knife to his thumbs. She reminded herself that this was his penance for having bought home the disease that had rendered her sterile. This was the least he could do for her.
Afterward she cleaned his wounds, dressed them carefully, like a mother, cooing gentle words of apology. She doubted he would notice, he didn’t seem to notice much anymore these days, and if he didn’t like it he could go tell someone. There was another problem. Their lack of children had pushed them away from those that had them until they were solitary with only each other for company.
She gently washed the detached thumbs, waiting for the blood to drain away, soaking them in the kitchen sink wondering how they had ever created anything. They looked so small and shriveled when she pulled them from the water that she worried they would not be good enough for her child.
Back at the kitchen table she dried them with complete devotion, careful not to miss a watery red drop, even going so far as to use the napkins she had kept for good. Except there had never been a good. So the tissues were old and perishing. With frustration she threw them all in the trash, snatching out the white linen sheets she had been given for a wedding gift. Another thing to keep for good. Useless.
They continued to drip and seep for so long Enid was in tears, certain they would never be good enough. For once in her life she wanted to accept only perfection, not the ongoing faults, blame and mistakes.
She left them in the sun, sitting beside them on a blanket for several hours to ensure the birds didn’t come and snatch her treasures away. The thumbs resembled tiny ham hocks. There was nothing about them that made her certain they would produce life.
That night she wrapped the thumbs in one of Tom’s unused handkerchief’s, one he had gotten from his mother and hidden away in the back of his underwear drawer. His private territory. She then slipped the small package into the doll. It slid in easily. More room left around the doll than she expected when seeing Tom’s thumbs still attached to his hands.
She washed her hands, wondering if she should sew the doll up or leave it to await instructions from the child. emptying the sink she mindlessly wiped at the discolored ring left behind from the bloodied water. She wondered what the child would be called? Would he look like her as well as Tom? Would he have Tom’s calm personality or her erratic temperament. She hoped he had more of Tom. Her several breakdowns over the years making her certain she was riddled with demons in her blood. Remnants from her deranged family.
Behind her a small voice cried, “It’s not enough!”
She spun with a sinking sense of dread. “I did what you asked.”
“It’s not enough, and where’s the blood?”
“I cleaned it, I refuse to allow blood to drip all over my floor.”
“I need the blood.”
His blue eyes flashed to red and Enid stepped back, once more automatically clutching her chest, worrying for her aged heart.
“You’re not real.”
“I won’t be if you don’t do things right. Thumbs and plums. I asked for thumbs and plums.”
“His nuts, the seed. I need his seed.”
Enid sat down, disgusted even though it sounded logical. “I refuse. You can’t ask me to do that to him.”
“His dirty plums destroyed your life, they took your chance of children. They stole my life from you. All I’m trying to do is give that back to you. Please help me give you something. Help me. Set me free. I was supposed to be born and it never happened because he cheated on you and ruined your life. He took my life from me. Do this for me if not for you.”
That small pleading voice drilled at her brain. When she next looked up the child was a stunningly handsome young man.
“Who are you?” She gasped.
“It’s me, Mom. This is what I’ll look like when I’m older. If you give me that chance.”
“I can’t.” She wailed. “I’m not strong enough.”
“Cut them out. for both of us.”
Enid stared at him, in awe of his beauty, so like Tom as a young man.
“Will you stay with me?”
“I’ll do it.”
“I love you, Mommy.”
Tom came awake. Something was wrong. He felt sick to his stomach. He relaxed back into the dirty old pillow. The cancer had taken hold. It was eating him from the inside out like a horror movie monster. On a frown he lifted his hands that felt hot and thick. They were wrapped up and something about the shape made his heart beat hard. His head was too fuzzy to put it altogether.
His bowels clenched in a familiar sickening way and Tom scrambled from his bed, frantically kicking aside bedding that should have been replaced years ago. Forgoing his slippers for speed Tom stumbled to the toilet, terrified at the amount of blood he found when he flushed.
Clutching his stomach with one bandaged hand he steadied himself with a shoulder to a floral wallpapered wall (he had always hated floral but Enid never gave him any choice in decorating all those years ago). He found his wife seated at the table with a doll clamped in her hands, rubbing it against her cheeks and whispering to it frantically.
“Enid,” He interrupted, “I don’t feel so good, in my stomach. I might need the hospital. And something’s wrong with my hands. Honey, are you listening?”
When she turned, Enid’s eyes had that flat, long stare that showed she was in the thrall of another one of her delusions. Tom wanted to punch her back to life. After all these years, of enduring her hostility and her mental instability, when he needed her for once she was off on another one of her fucking breakdowns.
“Not now, Enid. Snap out of it. I need you.” She bared her teeth at him and Tom’s heart sunk further. She had returned to that one indiscretion that had almost broken them. It was strange that she had forgiven him all those years ago, yet when her mind wandered this is where she inevitably returned too. His one stupid mistake. He would never be forgiven and he berated himself for ever having stayed in this painful loveless marriage.
Stumbling to the phone he lifted the receiver, thankful he had always controlled the money so bills were always paid on time.
“What are you doing, Tom?” Enid asked in that far-off voice that made Tom rage.
“I’m calling an ambulance. I’m sick, Enid, real sick.”
The call connected but Enid touched his shoulder and took the phone off him. Dropping it back into the cradle, she smiled, just like the Enid of old, the passionate, fiery woman he had fallen for all those years ago.
“I’ll sort it. A taxi will be faster. You go get dressed while I organize everything.”
Tom sagged a little with relief. “Thank you, Enid. I know you’re going through something right now but I need you. Just for a little while.”
“I need you too, Tom. More than ever before.”
His stomach clenched again and Tom had to fight black speckling unconsciousness that threatened to overwhelm him. Stumbling back to the room, Enid followed with water and pills.
“Painkillers.” She said, dropping them into his mouth.
The look in her eyes warned him but Tom was all out of fight. He swallowed the pills and lay back on the bed.
That night Enid gave Tom more pills, more than she thought wise but enough that he would feel nothing and not wake up. Whatever her decision.
He was hot to the touch and she noticed that above the bandage that covered his left hand a hot line of infection was creeping into the light. She wondered if she should have boiled the boning knife she used? It was too late now. She sat on his bed for a long time with a small pocket knife. One Tom had been given years ago by one of the many customers he had entertained in his shoe store. It seemed sharp enough to do the job.
The little voice came from her dressing table. “What are you waiting for?”
“I can’t do it.”
“We’ve been through this. You have to do it.”
“He’s sick, he needs a doctor.”
“He ruined our lives.”
“How do you know all this?”
“I’m not alive because of what he did.”
“I forgave him.”
“I cheated too.” She gasped, never once having admitted this before. The secret that festered in the back of her head now tried to worm it’s way out of her mouth.
“It was too late by then. He infected you.”
“I can’t let him die!” She was crying now. Yelling with certainty.
“Then I will die.” The small boy turned away but Enid saw that flash in his eyes again in the mirror. That glint of something more hidden behind the façade she wanted to see. Could this all be her imagination? She had lost her mind several times before but those times she had never hallucinated. She reached out to touch the boy but he backed away.
“Not until I’m real. Please.” His pleading burrowed into Enid’s brain, twisting into her exhausted nervous system.
It was easier to just give in than to fight. “Okay.”
“Don’t forget the blood this time.” He said and scampered away.
“What’s your name?” Enid asked his back.
He turned back on a grin, “I’m Tom Junior.”
It had been a late night for Enid but the next morning she awoke with a feeling of dread and excitement.
“Today’s the day.” She told Tom who slept on, unaware of his new mutilations.
Noise in the kitchen had Enid sitting upright, hand to her chest. “He’s here, Tom. Our boy has finally come home.”
Tom surprised her into a small shriek then by saying, “He’s not ours, Enid. He’s trying to kill me.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“I need the hospital, Enid. Please…”
“For once, this isn’t all about you, Tom. It’s my time.”
She shuffled from the room to find Tom more drugs and to meet her son.
On the kitchen table the small doll had come to life. It moved and jerked with life. “Help me.” He cried.
Enid rushed to hold the small creature upright, it’s squirming sickening and unnatural. She had been expecting a real child, not an animated doll. Her disappointment sparked, that overwhelming feeling that had travelled the road of her life on her shoulder, reminding her of all the things she would never be, would never do.
“You’re still a doll.” She said.
The thing froze. “Not forever. I will change with your love and devotion. Like any other little boy.”
“But I don’t have much time left.”
“There is time.”
“Will you grow?”
“I will become more like you.”
“But will you grow?”
“Am I not good enough?”
“I want grandchildren like all those nosy women in the fancy units in town. I want to be rid of their pity and their dislike. I want to be one of them.
“You have what you wanted.” The knitted eyes sparked into life, not the blue of the child in Enid’s imagination but the fiery red she had glimpse. “I’m a fucking kid.”
“Don’t you profane at me!” She roared, insulted to her very core.
“Then be grateful I have worked so hard for you.”
“But I wanted a child, grandchildren. All you have given me is a midget and a sick husband. Two retards to attend to.”
“This is what you wanted.”
“I’ve changed my mind.”
“Too late.” The little creature snarled, small teeth breaking through the knitted wool. “You will attend me, crone, else your torment shall be ceaseless.”
“Torment? You think I don’t understand torment?”
With that she turned away and left the room. Malakai tried to move but the vessel his body was contained in was tight and slow. Until he became accustomed, until he learned to control a body once more, until this obscene shroud began to turn into a body proper, Malakai was trapped and at the hag’s mercy.
“Mother!” He called, “Please come back. I’m sorry I just…it’s been a shock finally being with you.”
It was sometime later that Malakai heard the sirens. He saw no one because Enid returned to the room only to stuff him into a drawer, unmoved by his pleading, her lips tight with anger, the wrinkles deep, her eyes heavy.
With little else to do Malakai waited, eventually falling asleep. Something he had not done for over 3000 years.
When he awoke it was bright and hot. He was under a spotlight of some kind and could hear a strange frantic clacking noise, could feel an incessant dull tugging at his legs. His head was held down with a cold iron, he couldn’t budge it.
He squinted past the bright light to see Enid frantically knitting, the wool coming from Malakai’s new body.
“What are you doing?”
“Getting rid of you before I go to jail to finish my days. You never warned me cutting Tom up like that would send me to jail.”
“How was I to…”
“He’s dead you know. Infections, cancer, blood loss, old age. Whatever it was I started it and I killed him. Least I can do is make sure you don’t do it to some other weak minded woman.”
“You can’t do this. I’m alive…”
“Not for long.”
“You don’t understand. I’m trapped in this material. I can’t be killed least it is completely consumed.”
Enid smiled. “Consumed, huh? How’s a fire for consuming?”
“My base is gold. You could never put me in a fire hot enough. Please, you must let me stay. Take me to this jail with you.”
“Like hell. I ain’t going to jail. I’m an old woman. I’m going to Hell to meet my maker and atone for all my sins. I’ll meet you there you evil little monster.”
“Fuck you, crone. Set me free. There is no way an old piece of shit like you can stop me now. I’ll find another way into the world. I’ve come this far, there’s no way back.”
Enid stopped knitting.
“I think I can slow you down at least.”
She picked the doll up, slipping out the back door of her horrible shack as the police turned into her road with screaming sirens. It was dark now but they would soon find her. That was not Enid’s focus. Her focus was getting this evil little puppet to the house three roads over.
She had to take the back way, down dark, dusty streets, past howling dogs and hissing cats. Eventually she came to the right place, clutching her chest as the huge dog threw itself at the fence then shoved his huge head through a hole it had dug.
Without further comment, hearing the police dogs on her trail Enid dropped the shrieking doll into the hole. The dog growled at it uncertainly for a moment then picked it up and swallowed it whole, the smell of blood permeating his mind.
“Enjoy that you evil little shit.” Enid said just as a police dog brayed at the other end of the road and a policewoman screamed at her to lie down on the ground.
Malakai waited inside his precious stone. All his earthly trappings were gone by the time he left the dog. He was picked up by a bird and dropped into a nest. The bird either died or didn’t find a mate as the nest was never used and it took long years for the twigs to rot enough for the stone to drop from the tree.
A young boy found the gold nugget, thinking it just a strange stone he put it in his pocket and took it home. His life would never be the same and the voice in his head pushed him to many things he would otherwise never dream of. He even swallowed it once, interested when it re-emerged unchanged.
Malakai was patient. He would wait for the right time. He had nothing but time.
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.
March arrives and with it comes The Ancient Ones! A great tribute to the dark and deeply disturbed mind responsible for the creation of Cthulhu and the other Elder Gods. H. P. Lovecraft may have been relatively unknown during his time, but now he is remembered as one of the legends. And Deadman’s Tome is going to pay its respects to the legend.
The Ancient Ones is available on Amazon Kindle and in 6 x 9 soft cover format. Patrons of Deadman’s Tome that pledge a dollar or more can get a digital copy of The Ancient Ones AND HORRGASM for no additional charge.
H. P. Lovecraft died on March 15th, 1937, leaving behind a legacy that would take off and inspired many of the known modern horror writers of today. To pay tribute to his legacy, Deadman’s Tome put together an issue dedicated to the racist Rhode Islander and the Cthulhu Mythos he left behind.
Deadman’s Tome presents The Ancient Ones. The issue releases on March 1st for Amazon Kindle and 6×9 print.
H. P. Lovecraft was born on August 20th, 1890 and died on March 15th, 1937. He was born in a country that two decades ago was coming out of a Reconstruction, a country that three decades ago still had stated that exercised slavery. A country where half of it practiced Jim Crow laws because black and whites sharing the same space was seen as abhorrent. A country in the midst of a massive political change that required military intervention. Which is why I’m not surprised that H. P. Lovecraft was a bigot.
But Lovecraft was born in Rhode Island, a state that abolished segregation in 1866. A state that was open to the inflow of blacks during the Great Migration. He should’ve known better. That I do agree with, but even though the North was much more tolerant and accepting of blacks do not pretend that they did not face discrimination. In 1920’s, Rhode Island experienced a surge of Ku Klux Klan memberships in reaction to the migrants. The Klan is believed to be responsible for the Watchman Institute burning, a school that was opened to African-American students. The racism and bigotry was still present and strong in the America that Lovecraft was born in. I wonder if he would’ve been such a narrow-minded racist if he had been born in a different time. Under this consideration I would say that Lovecraft was a product of the time and political climate he lived in. He held ideals that were popular but were on the wrong side of history. He bought into the racism and bigotry. But remember, this is the same country that did not ban racial discrimination in the workplace until 1963 with the Civil Rights Act.
Because of this, it’s really not surprising that H. P. Lovecraft wrote a poem in 1912 titled On The Creation of Niggers, a poem that claims that blacks are not human but beasts.
Does that bother me? Honestly, judging based on what I’ve read about him, Lovecraft seems like a bitter jaded figure that would’ve been annoying to be around. He’s also a person that holds views that I would agree with or even support. With that said, I do very much enjoy his work. The Rats in the Walls, The Re-Animator, Call of Cthulhu and The Shadow Over Innsmouth are still interesting stories and have inspired a lot of notable talent.
Do we throw away the art because the artist of then holds views that are not tolerated today? Do I have to like the guy or even agree with his political views to like his work?
Deadman’s Tome is open for submissions for it’s March 2017 issue entitled The Ancient Ones. March 15th marks the death of H. P. Lovecraft and it would only be fitting to dedicated an issue to the legend that created the Cthulhu mythos.
Guidelines for March 2017 issue
Short stories and flash fiction
4000 word limit – a little spillover is fine
Multiple subs okay
Payment is 10% of net earnings off of magazine sales (print and digital)