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I felt ropes chafing my wrists and ankles. I felt the hard wooden chair pressing into my spine. My arms were aching and tied down onto the hard, unpadded wood of the chair I had been restrained in. I couldn't see anything as my eyes were covered in what felt like a woolen scarf. The room smelled of wet hair and something else that I couldn't quite place. The other smell was at once repelling and entrancing, like a rotten dying carcass with undertones of hibiscus and lavender.
My head felt like it was on fire. My brain like it had been crushed in a vice and rattled around a bit too much. I felt unsteady and uncertain of where I was. My last memory was being at the faculty party in Miskatonic University, where I had just been named dean of Ancient Studies. I remembered my colleagues congratulating me. I remember sipping on a fine Champagne that was actual Champagne from France, and not some knock-off sparkling wine grown in California. I remembered the fine crystal chandelier that adorned the vast Great Hall of Miskatonic, and the music of the string quartet that had been hired for the event.
And then, my memory stops. All I remember after that is waking up here, tied to this chair.
"Hello?" I cried out. "Can anyone hear me? What's going on?"
"Ah, I see youíre finally awake professor," came a rough, sandy voice that sounded vaguely familiar. I couldn't quite place it. " I've been waiting for you to wake up for a while now."
"Where am I? Why are you doing this?"
I heard a sound of a match being lit, followed by the sulfurous odor. Shortly after, footsteps that sounded like grit scratching concrete came up behind me. I felt the wool blindfold loosen, before slipping off. The walls were concrete, supported by wood beams and with no insulation to be seen. I spotted a rickety, wooden staircase off to the upper left corner of the concrete basement leading almost fifteen feet up to a small wooden doorway, with no handrail to be seen. The room was lit solely by candles placed on small pedestals around the room. I was placed at the back of the room, and directly opposite me was a wooden dais with large, leather bound book sitting open on it. The pages were yellowed and looked ancient, and the leather cover--or at least what little of I could see--was looking cracked and worn with age.
The most striking feature of the room, of course, was not the concrete or the eldritch apparel. It was the vast, empty chasm that rested in the middle of the floor, between me and the dais.
A ten foot wide and perfectly round hole bored into the earth, descending downwards into a blackened depth. I strained to look into it, but I was so firmly tied to the chair that the contents of the hole eluded me, but the strange almost otherworldly odour I had detected earlier emanated from it. As I looked towards it, I felt a chill crawl up my spine. There was something wrong with the hole. I couldn't see into it, but I could almost feel it. Like the hole was too perfectly round, and too deep. Much, much too deep. It wasn't a depth you could see, it was a depth you could only feel, like falling eternally even though you were very much grounded.
The man who undid my blindfold began walk from behind me. He was wearing an old grey tweed jacket in stark contrast to the fine black jacket I had bought specifically for the party. His pants were likewise humbled brown wool dress pants that were beginning to fray at the edges from general wear and tear, whereas my pants were brand new.
He turned to face me. He wasn't a young man, but he also wasn't terribly old, likely in his mid forties. Something about him looked very familiar to me, but I still couldn't quite place him. Adjusting his black rimmed square glasses, he stared at me with his intense green eyes. There was a dark fire of insanity glowing behind them, threatening to burst out.
"Iím surprised you donít know why youíre here," he stated plainly, with only a slight edge of anger in his voice.
"Who are you?" I screamed at him. "Let me go, or I'll call the police!"
"How exactly do you plan to do that? Youíre tied to a chair, and this house is an hour away from Arkham, in the middle of the countryside. No one will hear you, and no one is going to help you." There was a cruel yet gleeful smile on his lips as he spoke, the flames in his eyes flickering with joy.
"Why are you doing this?" I begged, pulling at the ropes on my chair. "Why me?"
"Why? I'll tell you why, Daniel." He spat out my name like it was an epithet. "Because you took everything from me! My wife, my kids, my job! So I want to make you suffer. I want you to look into yourself and see what you did!Ē
"What are you talking about? I never did anything!"
The man fumed. "What's my name, Professor?"
"What?" I asked, incredulously. "Whatís that have to do with anything?"
"You don't know it, do you! You don't even remember me!"
He was right. The psychopath looked familiar, but I couldn't place him at all.
The man snarled and rushed up to the dais, standing behind it and placing his hands on the book. He lifted the old, cracked tome gently, just enough that I could see the cover. The leather was a soft pink colour, and despite the cracks and the age, the leather still looked supple. But there was something in the wrinkles of the leather, in the way the cracks were shaped, in the angles they created that made the whole appearance of the book unsettling, almost like it was staring into my soul.
"Do you recognize it? Do you know what book this is?" The madman asked, his eyes gleaming with a vibrant and hideous life.
"I... n-no. No, I don't recognize it."
"Idiot! And you call yourself a student of ancient studies! This tome was written by the Mad Arab, bound in the flesh of a warlock driven mad by his discoveries, penned in the blood of an innocent! This book will make me into a god! You took everything from me, and unlike you I can't just sweep my problems under the rug, or convince everyone that lies are truths. But this. This book changes everything."
"My God, man, you're mad! It's just a book!"
"And that's just a hole!" He gestured to the chasm in front of me. "But you know better than that, don't you? You can feel it calling out to you. You can smell the breath of Those Who Dwell Below."
I shifted uneasily in my chair. I was trapped in a room with a madman, babbling about demons and magic books as if they were facts. None of what he said could be real, but some part of me believed him. He certainly believed it all. If you looked into his eyes and saw the madness there, a part of you would believe it to.
"Lesser men have had their minds ripped apart by the knowledge I now hold, Smith. You'll pay for what you did to me! Iíll make you suffer!"
He began to read a passage from the book, and the earth began to tremble. The otherworldly stink from the chasm grew, accompanied by a terrible shrieking. A foul gurgling ring echoed up from the infinite depths. My chair tumbled forward, and I found myself laying awkwardly on the edge of the hole, staring straight into it.
There was nothing but pitch black impenetrable darkness, but there was a sensation beyond sight of movement and climbing dread. I stared deep into the abyss, and I became aware that something in there was staring back at me.
Slowly from the pit something rose. It caressed my flesh and bored into my very soul. My very being became entangled with it, until I was able to think with a perfect, maddening clarity. Everything I had ever done, every word I had ever spoken, every lie I had ever told was laid out before me for me to experience all at once and never again.
I screamed. I screamed until my throat was raw as I felt the blackness of reality envelope me and drag me. All the while, the madman chanted the dark passages from the book. As he chanted, I remembered.
I remembered him.
His name was Howard Ulrichsen.
With that memory, I knew what he had meant. I had taken everything from him. In my pride, I had convinced myself I had deserved it. I had used connections to ruin his reputation, simply because we were applying for the same deanship. I had convinced everyone at Miskatonic he was having an illicit affair with one of his students. He was fired in disgrace, his wife left him and took the kids with her.
And I hadn't even remembered him. I had not remembered the heinous acts I had committed, because I told myself they didnít matter.
The darkness pulled at me. I gave in and let the blackness swallow me whole.
I drowned in the horror for an eternity and an instant. My wrists and legs were released from their bonds. I stood up and the darkness from the pit travelled with me.
Every moment was an eternity, and every eternity was a moment. I continued to scream in agony from the understanding of all things and the mind rending madness of the insignificance of our own small reality.
Yesterday I will be locked into a room at Arkham Asylum. Tomorrow I was found wandering the woods, trying to claw out my own eyes, to erase the things I had seen in the pit, and worse yet the things I had seen in my own soul.
But you never forget.
For you must be wary when you stare into the abyss, as it will stare back into you.
micheledutcher - SFWannabe: "Yesterday I will be locked into a room at Arkham Asylum. Tomorrow I was found wandering the woods, trying to claw out my own eyes, to erase the things I had seen in the pit, and worse yet the things I had seen in my own soul." This manages to capture his growing insanity and, given the nature of the story, it is ambigous as to whether or not it might be literally true.
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Raymond Coulombe, Michael Gallant, Timothy O. Goyette
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