What goes around comes around.
|Award copyright © 1998 Peter F.|
Guenther; used with permission
I can see once more. Again I can gaze beyond these pitiful padded walls of the static and supposedly sane, past all the little securities provided by the poor inmates of this drab institution. The real inmates, the idiotically assured staff. Poor deluded little children that they are, willfully believing that they can help me, as if it were so simple. Help me. I am far removed from them now, simple pawns, long gone toward the welcome embrace of the oblivion that ultimately awaits me. Awaits us all. Once there I shall rejoin my new eidolon, the greatest power, revel in the nothingness, the absolute nullity. I shall be free.
Ah. N'h'll. It has released me, N'h'll, the Nothing in All and All in Nothing. N'h'll.
See me, dear children, you who stoically watch over me. I dance and jape as a jester, but, Oakes, I am the fool no more. N'h'll has taught me the way out of my mind's hellish prison without walls, its prison of silence. Past its empty halls, and blasted walls to the nameless places. N'h'll has shown me limbo, given me its key. Given me real freedom. Yes, Oakes, freedom beyond simple Human conjecture. I can traverse the gates of limbo, wherever you run now, I can find you. I want my revenge, Oakes, and I will have it. Beg, grovel in your fear, it will do you no good. I care not. I am relentless. Without mercy. Cease your struggles, let me release you. Come to me, Oakes . . .
Watch the skies, mark those precious astral positions, keep an eye out for the shimmerings, look for the gate. I am coming, and my wrath shall be terrible. Restrained, alone in that dreary 'retreat' of sanity's misguided sentinels I saw your face every long dark night. Your wretched, old, malicious, wrinkled face. How I have longed for our reunion, Oakes, but this time it will be on my terms, by my rules. Your precious Necronomicon cannot help you, for N'h'll is not to be found within the Arab's nightmare ravings, only the Dirka recorded its worship and rituals. The Song of Yste is beyond your reach, such a shame. No help for you, just my invitation. Die, Oakes, die for me.
Do you rue the day I stumbled upon your resurrection ceremonies in those ghoul-haunted burrows beneath crumbling Kingsport? Did you guess I was responsible? How many of your death-cheating disciples is it now, eight, ten, more? I don't care, the razor bit deep and the fire purged the worms of your comrades. Isn't immortality such a fragile thing, don't you agree? Compared to the endlessness, timelessness of infinity, is it really worth it? Let me free you, do you not feel tired? Sleep, rest, I offer you release . . .
How I want to make you burn, you can fall forever in oblivion, especially the deathless, the flames always alight as you ceaselessly plunge further into the heart of N'h'll. I know the ways, my enemy, and I can use them, do not doubt that. I have been Outside, I wish you could see it -- there's nothing to see. It was so peaceful there . . . You thought my body broken, my mind fractured and disordered as a kaleidoscope. You left me a bloodied, inert puppet, screaming in agony in that septic bastion of sanity's pitiful closed-minded guardians. Yet I have lived through it all, past the shattered bones and rended reality. Transmogrification is exquisite. I fear you no longer, nor your god of worms.
Marionette you made me, Oakes, but my puppeteer is a powerful being and through the strings its power is my power. Eternal rediffusion, just think what patterns the shards of your tattered soul will make as they separate. It will be good to see your futile efforts, because you cannot resist me. There will be no fight, no confrontation. You are not my equal, you cannot beat me. Not any more. N'h'll is inevitable, it comes to us all, even the worms, beyond death and overshadowing life. Oblivion, ah, cherished oblivion . . .
There were choices, there are always choices -- cause and effect -- so many choices, but you neglected to think of the consequences of your foul actions. There are always repercussions too, Oakes, no matter how seemingly insignificant. I am now sentenced to this grim nether-life all because you failed to break me, finish me. N'h'll gives me ease in its void, offers rest in sweet nonexistence, but I have much to do. Lost in those nighted burrows I was, foolishly seeking help in tunnels made by things with no hands to make marks with. The very worm that gnaws, wouldn't you say -- things that walk that ought to crawl?
Your cold, almost inhuman scientific detachment cost me dear, condemned me to rot away in the remaining shell, to be devoured by your worm hosts. How many others? How many nameless faces have fed the beasts within? Do you keep count, down the ages? I think not, the renewal is all you crave, the very blood and body that replaces your last worn-out husk. Every man has his time, we all have to die, but not so the Chosen, eh? Do not delude yourself. I am waiting, Oakes . . . Dare you
I pleaded for death through that pain, but you chose not to hear, content to oversee my torture, let your god feed and revel on my pain, my misery, but for too long little man. You are a fool. I have not faded in some obituary column, bruised and battered I am, but I am coming. These padded cells in Arkham are useless against one who holds the key to the gates of limbo, feel the fear. Is it a new frisson to you? No angels will come for you, no swift end. Wait for the night, no, pray for it.
Cult man, play my game, I have gone beyond hate -- it is not enough. Eternal torment too little. Mortal flesh will not survive, nor the worms. Silly man, cult man, Oakes . . .
"Tell me . . ."
The whisper came out of nowhere. He reached for his gun, holding out his left hand to impede the as yet unseen trespasser. He felt a sharp stinging in his outstretched hand, looking he found that two great gashes had been slashed across his open palm. Distracted, he failed to notice the figure emerge from the darkness, all he felt was the repeated biting cuts that assailed him. So dazed by the speed of the attack, all he could do was gaze dumbfounded at his injuries, it was then that the shadow-wreathed figure stood before him. He saw rather than felt the hand pass unobstructed through his chest and surround his heart, the blazing amber, pupilless eyes stared angrily into his.
"Oakes, where is he?"
"I . . . I don't know nothing, I swear."
With that simple answer the figure clenched his fist, squeezing the guard's heart, whose face grimaced in intense agony.
"Hurts, doesn't it."
The guard slumped noiselessly to the wet ground. The intruder entered the low-lit dive and his spectral stare focused upon three men playing poker, their guns idly laying on the table. An inaudible chuckle escaped his lips, he climbed into the wooden beams that crisscrossed the place and edged nearer and nearer, the men oblivious, enraptured in their game.
"Feel the sweetness of oblivion's kiss."
The startled men stood up sharply, knocking over their chairs and taking hold of their firearms.
"Who's there? Show yourself?"
"Only if you say please."
Unable to pinpoint from where the hushed, rasping voice issued and confused by the seemingly stupid request, the speaker complied. "Please . . ."
A nightmare face swung down out of the poor light and before anyone could react, it had cut the speaker's throat in one swift motion and vanished, leaving the man gurgling his own blood as he fell to the floor and died clutching his neck. The remaining men bolted for the exit, only to open the door and find their other companion lying in a pool of his own blood.
"There is nowhere to run."
Both men opened fire indiscriminately, hoping to hit the intruder with a lucky shot. All was eerily quiet when their bullets ran out, then something broke the silence, an audible crack which could only indicate a broken neck.
"Judd, man, what's happening? You there? Judd?"
The remaining man quickly took out a new magazine but was so nervous he dropped it on the ground. Bending to pick it up he suddenly noticed the feet in front of him.
"Jesus . . ."
He began to look up and a powerful blow sent him reeling into the wall behind him.
"I tire of this game."
"You, . . . oh sweet Jesus."
The word spat out in such terror at the sight of his assailant, he reached for his gun, only to find a cutthroat razor forcefully shoved through his shoulder. In such pain, he barely felt himself dragged and unceremoniously dumped on a chair, or being bound tightly by the rope.
"To business. You know who I want. Where is he?"
"I swear I don't know. We were waiting to hear from him . . ." The words died on his lips as he saw the flaring in his tormentor's eyes, the razor was twisted sharply eliciting more anguished screaming. "Come on, p-please. I don't know nothing."
His assailant came closer and he watched stunned as his hand passed effortlessly through his chest like a ghosts, leaving skin and bone intact. Yet he felt the clammy grip on his heart.
"Past tense. Such a lovely phrase, don't you agree? You are tense right now, yes?"
The man nodded listlessly. Pain flooded through him as the grip tightened more and more.
"Now you're past it. Past tense, get it?"
The body hung lifelessly in the chair. The figure shook his head, another wasted trip, which made two this evening. He had already visited another of their number, leaving the man's blood on the windows, in the hall, on the ceiling and the floor. A mirthless smile broke the ghastly visage, he was good with a knife. The man had practically begged to tell him where he might find his companions, but only after he'd lost a finger.
He left, stepping back out into the dark, rainy night. Grey, scarred skin, emotionless amber eyes and lank, long dark hair. His voice was little more than a cracked, hoarse whisper and although apparently thin as to be fragile, his body was solid as an oak. Vicious, claw-like nails grew from his fingers, he was deceptively agile as well as superhumanly strong. And merciless. He was known as the Ghoul, no one knew who he had been or what he had been called but to him these details were part of another, different life. One which had ended screaming in Kingsport, leaving only the vengeful Ghoul behind. A revenant of anger unabated. Tomorrow was Halloween, he grinned, and he would commemorate the anniversary in the blood of the man he hated the most.
Suddenly a figure walked unawares towards him, breaking his train of thought. Ah yes, hadn't his crying informant said there were four people? He'd forgotten. Just then the man saw the shadow-lurking figure, pulled out his gun and opened fire. The bullets lodged themselves in his target, but failed to stop the relentless approach of the razor-wielding phantasm that was bearing down on him.
"More ineffectual toys?"
He lashed out and sent the man reeling.
"No. No. Y-you can't be here. Not here. Arkham, he said you was in Arkham. Locked up in that asylum. Not here. You can't be here." He shouted defiantly in horrified panic. Paralysed with fear, the man could only watch as the Ghoul closed in.
"Scream, little man. Scream."
"Oh Gawd, please. I don't wanna die. Please."
"Then where are ceremonies being held."
"I don't know 'bout no ceremonies. We ain't invited. I don't know where he is either . . ."
The Ghoul raised the razor high.
"P-please wait. Wait. I don't know 'bout Oakes, but Tolliver. I knows where you can get Tolliver."
The Ghoul halted and lowered his weapon.
"Matthias . . . Where is he?"
The man gave him the address, a house in the resident artists colony not too far from where they were now.
"Interesting. Now, back to business . . ."
The razor went up and the screaming cut through the night.
"Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze, strange fruit hanging from the poplar tree," Harrison read.
The junior detective looked to his companion. "Any ideas, MacGuire?" The other man shook his head.
"Daubed in blood on the wall," he continued, "all four of them found hanging by their ankles from the rafters.
"Barbaric. A message you think? Damned if I can make it out."
"It's a message alright, Harrison. Certainly not gang related though. The reason you can't 'make it out' is because it ain't meant for us. Come on, there's nothing more we can do here. Some Fed bodies are coming to take over the case."
"Why? Has the Chief said anything?"
"Nope, and don't let it bother you, Harrison. Just roll with it."
The young man considered this. "I don't like this, MacGuire, not one bit. I mean it's all so casual. It frightens me."
"Murder is murder, son."
"But bodies have been turning up all over the place, Arkham, Kingsport, even godforsaken Innsmouth, and yet we're told there's no links, social or professional, between the victims. Whoever did this scares me so much 'cos they don't care. They just don't care . . ."
The older detective led his partner into an alleyway and looked about to see if they would be overheard.
"Son, you weren't with us when we busted Innsmouth a few years back. Ghastly business, feds, army and the police. Some of these victims were rumoured to be connected with certain things we found there. If that's the case then I don't care either."
"Heaven and earth, Harrison. Heaven and earth . . ."
Matthias Tolliver woke with a start. Something had disturbed his sleep, but then his nerves had been on edge ever since that night, and the murders of last night. Some of Oakes' thugs, the ones who did his minor dirty work, had been butchered, like so many others of the cult and their allies. Of course, it hadn't been in the newspapers, but the cult knew. Someone was out to hurt the cult badly and only Tolliver and Oakes remembered who it was. The others were dead. Yet Oakes was adamant that the man was securely incarcerated in Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane, locked up in the Basement Ward where the government kept special cases relating to certain esoteric incidents that they felt didn't need any paperwork or records. Or publicity. All very secure and 'non-existent'.
Rumours persisted that members of the Miskatonic University faculty were somehow involved. Either through the agency of aged Dr. Armitage, or the nervous folklorist Wilmarth. Maybe both. Oakes had wanted to know, but didn't dare investigate unless it drew attention to him and the activities he was presently engaged in. The man had already kidnapped a child for the upcoming ceremony, which had caused a lot of heat. They didn't need any more. Oakes had been researching various volumes, the Burmese sage U Pao's Black Sutra, Von Könnenberg's Uralte Schrecken and Thanang Phram's Cthonic Revelations. At first he had been interested in the entity Yidhra, but he already possessed eternal life and the danger of stagnancy and the consequences it entailed. He had studied the Graf Von Könnenberg's notes on Mlandoth, which had bought him to Ngyr-Khorath.
Matthias was interrupted in his thoughts by the profound feeling of not being alone, that someone was waiting in the dark. Observing him. He stared into the blackness, feeling no fear and little apprehension.
"I know you're here. Please, come sit by me."
In answer, the Ghoul came out from the dark and seated himself on the bed by the young man, silent and unsurprised.
"I had to come."
"I know. I've been waiting, I knew you'd come back and I'm glad. Ever since that night, I hoped to wake and find you here. I'm glad, and I deserve it. To die. Oakes deserves it too, they all did. The things we've done, they horrify me now, but I can't undo them." A weak sob escaped. "I want to die, but I'm so afraid."
"You look ill, Matthias. What has he done to you?"
"He . . . he took an eye, one of kidneys and other things for starters. Offerings of atonement he called them. When you escaped that night, he was so angry. I've been so foolish . . ."
"Hush now. His turn is coming. I promise."
"My redemption. What price?"
The Ghoul looked intently into the haunted eyes of Matthias Tolliver and sighed.
"I cannot give you that, it is not for me to pardon you. For what happened to me, I forgive you Matthias. As for the other things, that is not up to me."
"Forgetfulness then. Oblivion."
"You ask for oblivion? Truly you are tormented by your inner demons, or maybe Oakes has called the Hounds of Tindalos upon you. In N'h'll you will find the peace, the tranquility, your soul searches for. The price, however, is the same as always."
"I understand. I accept. One question?"
The Ghoul nodded. "Ask it."
"Do you still hate me?"
"Not a simple answer. I do, yet you have my sympathy and grief. A strange mixture."
"Sweet despise? How melodramatically ironic."
"I suppose it is. It is time, Matthias."
"Will it hurt? Please, make it quick . . ."
Matthias closed his rheumy eyes and felt the Ghoul's hand rest on his forehead. Oblivion, how much he yearned for the emptiness offered by N'h'll. Nothingness, an end to everything. Peace at last. There was a lot of blood on his hands and he could not find solace in himself or in blaming Oakes. here was no atonement for him, for all he'd done. Cessation was . . . easier.
"Step through the gate, Matthias."
He stood and walked to the large, inky pool that hung in the air, then stepped through. He felt himself falling endlessly into a void, to him it was calm and beautiful because it was utter nullity.
The Ghoul closed the gate, thinking of Tolliver with an inexplicable mingling of pity, hatred and loss.
"Sweet despise . . ." and then he was gone, a single tear drying rapidly on the carpet.
Professor Damian Oakes hurried through the equations and advanced mathematics that were rendered in the Black Sutra, centuries before it would have been believed possible. The semi-sane Burmese sage had shown incredible insight and his theory of life and evolution was remarkable. The mathematics that made up the invocations were abstruse, yet brilliant. U Pao had anticipated chaos theory with references to Azathoth and what was yet to be understood as nuclear fission. Oakes continued in his search for the ritual to call 'Ymnar to Earth, so he could unleash the avatar of Ngyr-Khorath. He had considered calling Cynothoglys, but the Mortician God would only grant the supplicant his choice of death. No, best to leave that Old One well alone.
With 'Ymnar summoned, Oakes could alter the heavens, align the stars ahead of time and awake the Great Old Ones. Become their priest on the new Earth and revel with them in ecstasy. It was with horror that he turned to find himself staring at a familiar figure.
"I have come for you, Oakes."
The cult leader stabbed clumsily forward with a knife, hoping to take his unwelcome guest by surprise. The Ghoul sidestepped and let Oakes fall flat on his face.
"Why fight? You'll only lose."
"I'll kill the child. I will . . ."
"Suffer the little children to come unto me. What is the child to me, Oakes? Nothing. Just as the Great Old Ones are to N'h'll.
"They may wake and clear the Earth, but in the long stretch that is infinity all comes back to N'h'll in the end. Birth, death and rebirth -- and in between it all is N'h'll, even Mlandoth is not immune to the void. I offer you release just this once."
"It doesn't matter. You cannot hide; I'll find you. Can you imagine how often I dream of that night? Seeing you standing there and watching me burn. How I have screamed your name at night, when merciful sleep has been denied me. Every night I burn, every night." The pain came out in the Ghoul's voice. "There is nothing you can say or do, Oakes, I have dreamed of this in Arkham."
He pulled out his razors and began to twirl them expertly in his hands, lashing out here and there to heighten the cultist's fear.
"Can you hear the dead souls?"
He struck out, cutting into Oakes' arm. The cult leader yelled in agony and threw himself backward, away from the sharp edges that whirled and slashed, knocking over the books he'd been studying. He had to do something.
As he turned to run, he felt the razor edge pierce the skin of his back. The pursuer was relentless, stabbing and incising. Desperation filled Oakes as he tried vainly to elude the pitiless and unmerciful attentions of the cold steel. He scurried past the books, ceasing only to madly rifle through them to find some spell to aid him. Death. He caught sight of the blurred word, snatched the book and was evading his attacker again. Quickly he memorized the words as he fled, conscious only of flight from harm. Sure he had the words in his mind, he tossed the book at his pursuer and started reciting them back aloud, noticing as he did the sudden rolling in of an unearthly mist. He smiled, soon it would be over, and he would be free of the Ghoul.
Uneasily, it came to his attention that all the surrounding sound had stopped, as if suddenly muted by the incoming mist. He looked around him, unable to see far. Completely lost, Oakes wandered bewildered, listening for the footfalls of his would-be murderer, but there was nothing. He felt he should be confident, triumphant even, but something was wrong. Turning again, he found himself staring into the fiery eyes he dreaded.
"There is nothing left to threaten you with."
"I . . . I don't understand." He felt completely befuddled, what was happening. The child was in the Ghoul's arms soundly sleeping the sleep of innocence.
"The book is by your feet. Read it."
Warily, he knelt down and found the bound manuscript he had taken the spell from. Cynothoglys. He called down the Mortician God, whose only gift to summoners was exquisite, painful death.
"Farewell Oakes, we shall not meet again. In any lifetime."
"No. No. Stay, kill me. Please, kill me. Don't leave me to that Thing."
But the Ghoul was not listening, he simply walked noiselessly into the mist and was gone.
"Magician, heal thyself."
The laugh that accompanied the corrupted old saying would have chilled Oakes to the bone before, but he was in fear of something worse than evil laughter. Worse than death. He began to cry uncontrollably, lost and alone.
Out of the dense fog which hid the bulk of the alien presence, a titanic, dark black, crustacean-like claw reached out to administer its gift . . .
Created: June 27, 1997; Current Update: August 9, 2004