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Across the Maddening Gulf
For many years I had collected books, my favorites being those that contained the weird tales of cosmic horror by H. P. Lovecraft. The language of those tales of eldritch planes; alien geometries; arcane abominations; and protagonists wrestling with gibbering madness seemed to be a melancholy aria to me, in tune with my very soul. But as certain recent events in my life occurred, I felt my interest in Lovecraft’s work begin to veer into obsession. At every opportunity I would scour the dark and musty stacks of used book stores for rare editions of Lovecraft’s work. In my quest I would, from time to time, come across another who shared in my bibliomania. And in each case when I befriended one, I would also be introduced to others who shared our strange obsession.
That was the case with Adrian Sudlow. I first met Adrian while reaching almost simultaneously for the same battered copy of The Outsider and Others buried in a corner of one of the Dinkytown book stores. He looked like a college student, probably twenty years my junior, although a bit on the alternative side, with body piercings and tattoos. I noticed the dark and sunken character of his eyes and a wanton glassy stare that I figured was the hallmark of a drug addict, but possibly something far worse. We immediately began to parley about the book, and only after I agreed to buy him lunch did he release his hold on the cover.
As I nursed a cup of decaf, Adrian wolfed down a burger and started telling me of the others he knew who were also fans of the dark mythos. Before long he was hinting at secrets he was not at liberty to divulge, rituals he had participated in, and occult experiences he’d had. It was only then that I realized Adrian was a true believer. One who thought Lovecraft was not a writer, but a prophet of the dark intangible, that his stories were inspired by eldritch dreams, and that his words held illicit knowledge. I had to fight to contain myself, for I had no patience for his type. I knew that anyone who had been exposed to the mind-twisting enigmas of the uncaring cosmos would not be so glib. And yet, if there was only the slightest chance that he was legitimate… I felt myself urged to meet with him again… and with his friends.
"This is the place?" my cousin Charlie asked.
I looked out of the passenger window of the car at the weed-choked parking lot behind a moldering abandoned factory. The car sat under the lot’s only security light, a wan cone impregnated with millers and mosquitoes.
"Yah, I guess so. Bad idea?" I asked.
"Well, this should be entertaining," he said. He took a seat on the hood and took a swig of beer.
Adrian had called earlier that day. He seemed nervous, but told me the group had approved his petition. I had been invited to a ceremony. Charlie, who had crashed at my apartment for the weekend, was itching for something to do, so I agreed to go.
Ominous clouds crowded the moon in the late summer sky. Shadows were everywhere. Then six figures came out of the amorphous darkness at the edge of the lot. They were all clad in fiendish costumes, black robes with capes of long, dried grasses. Their heads were covered with heavy monstrous masks, each carved with an expression more perverse than the last.
They formed a circle around me and began to sway back and forth. The sound of their grass cloaks was like the rasp of files.
“Watch it,” Charlie yelled heckling. I felt dizzy.
They lifted their legs and arms in an awkward primitive dance and circled close around taunting me with waving fingers. And then close up under the pale light, I realized that their costumes were nothing more than Halloween remnants and thrift store junk. One of the figures fell down onto the pavement. His mask fell off with a plastic clatter. He laughed with drunken delight and clutched his ribs. It was Adrian. It was all a prank.
I felt queasy and suffocated. Charlie was laughing. And I realized too late that I should not be there, that I had been the dupe of an unspeakable evil. In my head I could hear an angry chuffing. I screamed with fear but everything blurred and “Run!” became a distant hollow echo.
I awoke in the car next to Charlie. The streetlights sped by in a lilt. All the blood had drained from Charlie’s face; his hands shook as he struggled to keep hold of the wheel as we careened down the boulevard.
I didn’t need to ask. My hands were stained with blood.
It had begun months before. Randomly. You might say I was abducted, but that implies motive. There were no rituals or chants. I was just in my apartment enjoying my mundane existence, when suddenly, I was snatched up by the uncaring cosmos, a mote in the wind. My mind was stretched across the maddening gulf of endless space. The size of the universe is unfathomable to the human brain; the magnitude blinded me with insanity. My mind was stretched thinner and thinner until it passed into the formless abyss far beyond any stars. Eventually… I came back, but when I did, something came back with me, an undimensioned stowaway, shackled to my bones, and just behind my eyes.
Only Lovecraft’s stories came close to describing my experience. I devoured everything he’d written, hoping for answers, while the abomination grew within me.
Lately I have been having dreams where the abomination is not looking out of me, instead I am looking out of it. Stranger still, I haven’t seen Charlie since that night, but for the many nights I've dreamed of Charlie screaming and the red of his blood dripping down my threadlike fingers.
esullivan240 - John this is really great. I am very excited when I get to see work of yours that I wasn't privy to previously. I like this a lot.
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