The Key of the Poet by Edward M. Kane The results of human
test subjects can be

Dr. Spencer Dryden locked the door behind him after entering the maple-paneled, book-lined room that served him as a combination den, study, and office. The Cold gray light of a midwinter dawn silently flooded the room. Dryden stood motionless by the window for awhile and watched the relentless snow that had been descending with increasing ferocity since early the previous evening. He was suddenly reminded of a particularly harsh winter he had spent while in a New England college.

Moving to his desk Dryden paused to switch on a reel-to-reel tape recording of highlights from Richard Wagner's Ring Cycle as performed by Gunnar Osvardg conducting the Nolensk Philharmonic. Leaning back in an easy chair, he listened with eyes closed to the soft mystical strains of Siegfried's Rhine Journey. At times he experienced that physical and mental exhilaration, as he always did, which accompanies a Wagnerian crescendo. There was something about the musical creations of Wagner, particularly Parsival and the Ring of the Nebelungen, Dryden firmly believed, which appealed to the "unborn-god" in the spirit of men like himself. Perhaps, he often mused, Wagner struck a dim or partially atrophied chord of emotion deep in the racial subconscious of certain sensitive individuals that revived forgotten and semi-lucid memories of a distant age when creatures other than man shared dominion over the earth. Did not the dwarves, dragons, frost-giants, and demigods of the Nibelungenlied have actual prototypes in certain vague and allegorical prehistoric myth-patterns? What grim inspiration had fanned into flames the cold imagination of an unknown Icelandic poet long centuries before the genius of Bayreuth set it into a masterpiece of song, music, and action for an awed world to see and hear?

Dryden often asked himself questions for which there were no easy answers, for he was an unusual man, almost a unique man ... and in more ways than one. In his own field of endeavor he was a man of startling talent and originality incorporating those, sometimes mutually exclusive, assets, brilliant ability and common sense. Anyone with even the most cursory interest in modern architecture will recall the numerous plaudits heaped upon him by the civic planners and press of a half-dozen major cities. Spacious, ornate interiors, and black exteriors of almost puritanical severity, paradoxically united to form the style for which Dryden was acclaimed. His creations had been favorably compared to those of Wright, Le Corbusier, and Lasdun, though Dryden himself could detect no similarity at all, either in theme or execution. In less than a decade he had earned the fame and reputation that had taken others a quarter century to attain.

Hardly a week passed without Dryden's name appearing in the society columns; more often than not, linked with the name of some aspiring young actress or the beautiful daughter of some obnoxious noveau riche industrialist who could only stand to gain from the free publicity. The matrons of high society fawned over the architect with the charming wit and impeccable manners and went to extraordinary lengths to assure his attendance at their charitable balls and private parties.

But there was another, darker side to this man that others could not see. Like a magic mirror, he only reflected the image that his high society friends wished to see, and few of them would have cared to peer beyond the mirror into the black Stygian depths of Dryden's soul. Because those who could see into that hidden region would have found an intellect fascinated to the point of obsession with ideas and ambitions that would strike the average person as being bizarre, if not actually a symptom of some disturbing mental imbalance.

There was an unfathomable gulf between the facade-Dryden who listened with feigned interest to the malicious gossip of his erstwhile companions about some absent party's peculiar sexual proclivities or precarious financial situation and the Spencer-Dryden, whose interests lay in matters so terrible and strange that he could have blasted the worm-eaten brains of those blue-blooded cretins into stunned terror had he ever chosen to speak of them.

As Dryden had anticipated, the doorbell rang at precisely ten o'clock. The biting winter wind rushed in along with the hunched-up letter carrier. The red-faced postal worker's tight smile was the only clue that he was pleased at gaining a momentary respite from the inclement weather. Grunting a terse greeting to Dryden, he began going through the motions that were, by now, becoming routine. Entering Dryden's study, he began removing a varied assortment of parcels and letters from his weather-ravaged canvas sack and stacked them haphazardly on the desk. And as was becoming his routine, Dryden took down a quart of Chivas Regal from the amply-stocked liquor cabinet and filled two jiggers, which he placed atop a five-dollar bill on the table inside the front door. It was usually one shot and two buck, but this was a very special delivery and the postman had to step outside again to bring in a large wooden crate which he could just as well have left for the parcel post boys to deliver .. in which case it probably would have arrived three or four days later.

After the postman's departure, Dryden again locked the door behind him and sat at his desk. Beneath the imposing pile of freshly delivered mail lay a hopeless jumble of personal papers, technical reports, building journals, and blueprints. Brushing aside as many of these as possible, he cleared a space on the desk. Dryden began sifting through the mail, gingerly opening his birthday presents. The unusual volume of Dryden's postal deliveries was mainly due to his inquiries and requests for information and materials which could not be procured through the usual channels without arousing undesired curiosity about the obscure nature of his studies.

From an erudite scholar of occult lore in Monterey, California, came a carefully-sealed envelope containing two handwritten copies of a single page from that debatable and semi-legendary volume, Kitab Rasul al-Akbarin. From a letter mailed from the Shawangunk Valley in New York, he extracted an anonymous message warning him to "make absolutely sure the angles are correct in your place of working" and to "consult the Kran-Wehl Formulae before proceeding with the matter." A small brown package, postmarked Kwakiutl Reservation, British Columbia, contained three vials of strange coloured powders and a note written in some cryptic alphabet by a nervous shaking hand. From Quechotoxil, Bolivia, there was a wood crate filled with a pale green flora that resembled some slightly mutated strain of spinach. Another, smaller box, sent from Mauke in the Polynesians, yields, securely buffeted with thick cotton and shredded newspapers, nine greenish soapstones carven into five-pointed stars.

Dryden could scarcely suppress a broad grin as he surveyed this baffling collection of odds and ends from the four corners of the globe. He gently plucked up a stalk of the dried vegetation and carefully scrutinized it. He was virtually positive that this was what he needed. After all these years he could finally begin in earnest. After all these years ... now this was something that called for a drink. Filling his glass from the bottle he had taken down for the mailman, he leaned back and offered no resistance when his mind began lazily drifting back in time to that day when the affair had its actual beginning. He was mildly surprised at how vividly and easily the events were recalled even after the passage of nearly a decade.

* * *

Wendell had been pounding on his door in the dormitory for several minutes before Dryden had let him in. At first Dryden chose to ignore the insistent rapping in the futile hope that Wendell would give up and leave. But being familiar with Wendell's stubborn persistence, he grudgingly yielded and admitted Wendell into his quarters. Brushing past Dryden with an air of phony indignation, Wendell peeled off his heavy overcoat and scarf and threw them across the nearest chair. Squatting crosslegged on the floor -- Wendell was a firm believer in the therapeutic values of assorted Yogic positions -- he produced his briar and began stuffing it with some aromatic tobacco which he carried about in a worn leathern pouch. Dryden knew for sure then that he was in for one of Wendell's long-winded dialogues on some subject he couldn't give two damns about. Sure enough, as soon as Wendell was comfortably settled down and complacently puffing away on his briar, he got rolling. Whispering in hushed conspiratorial tones, Wendell announced that he had it on good authority from a reliable source that the campus library contained a locked room full of old books that no one, with the exception of a few tight-lipped old scholars, was ever allowed to see. Dryden's almost automatic response was to doubt Wendell's story because he knew him well ... had known him for over two years, in fact. So he knew full well the romantic attachment, bordering on the morbid, for anything weird or mysterious that had earned John A. Bogart Wendell his unenviable reputation as the resident crackpot on campus. He knew even better that if a given mystery did in fact exist, Wendell would lend his not insubstantial talents to the task of transforming it into an enigma as baffling and important as the origin of life or the existence of God.

Those students, and Dryden had been amongst them, who were fortunate enough to have witnessed Wendell's debate with the phlegmatic old archaeology teacher, Professor Handley, over the techniques used in the construction of the ancient city of Tiahuanaco, will have to concede that ludicrous as Wendell's conclusions may have seemed, they were arrived at through hard irrefutable facts. Bearing this incident in mind, Dryden decided to give Wendell a chance to state his case.

Entertainment can be a rare commodity in a university town undergoing the worst winter in over sixty years. So Dryden was more than willing to indulge in whatever little diversion offered some opportunity for fun in his otherwise boring situation. In this frame of mind he had jocularly offered to help Wendell solve this latest of a never-ending series of mysteries. It did not take Wendell very long to talk Dryden into going over to the library as soon as its doors were opened the following morning. Once there, Wendell instructed him, he should ask for a book called the Necronomicon, which, Wendell assured him, was one of the volumes kept concealed and unavailable to the general student body. After repeated assurances from Dryden that he would actually carry out his task at the library, Wendell disappeared down the dormitory corridor, jauntily whistling a strain from Paganini's Le Streghe.

The frigid wind scorched Dryden's face and billowing clouds of frosty breath issued from his nose and mouth each time he exhaled, as he tramped through the knee deep snow, making his way towards the imposing brick structure that housed the university's library. All the while he felt slightly foolish about having to ask for a book that Wendell, not inconceivably, might have invented himself. For a brief moment he harbored the horrifying notion that he might be the unwitting butt of one of Wendell's infantile practical jokes. Suppose, he had asked himself, Wendell had discovered that the librarian spoke fluent Greek and that word Necronomicon meant something grotesquely obscene. He put the thought from his mind and entered the library.

He realized immediately that something was wrong when the librarian, an elderly man named Hardcliffe, went pale upon hearing the title of the book Dryden had requested. He was brusquely ordered into the curator's office, where he spent the better part of an hour answering questions that he really didn't understand. He finally managed to convince the curator that he hadn't the slightest idea of what the contents or even the general theme of the book were about. He explained that he had heard or read of the title once -- No! He didn't recall where or from whom -- and decided to look it up. Apparently the curator had been satisfied with his explanation and Dryden was summarily dismissed with a stern warning to apply himself to his studies and not be concerned with such things as the Necronomicon. No reason for the unexpected grilling had been volunteered and Dryden knew better than to demand one.

Wendell was wearing one of those smug I-told-you-so expressions that so annoyed Dryden, when he related the story over a beer in the Bull 'n' Bush pub that afternoon. For once, Dryden had been forced to admit to himself that one of Wendell's mysterious was something more than the product of an unchecked and excessive imagination. When he asked Wendell what he though the contents of the book were that warranted it being kept under wraps and got the library staff hot under the collar when someone asked to see it, Wendell did not lack for an explanation.

Summoning the bartender for another round of beer, Wendell waited patiently for them to arrive before giving his opinion. When the mugs had been placed before them, Wendell turned to look into the booth behind him, as if he feared being overheard. Wendell always enjoyed dramatic flourish since it tended, or so he believed, to accent his usually strange conversations. The he replied confidently that the Necronomicon was undoubtedly a long-suppressed classic of erotic literature, perhaps even a lost companion volume to Petronius' Satyricon. It all sounded fairly plausible to Dryden, because, after all, there needed to be some reason for the behaviour of the library staff. Wendell's conjecture was as good as any.

Finishing his beer, Wendell ordered another round and launched, with obvious relish, into a long discourse about the notorious debauchee of Nero's court and suggested that Petronius had penned an earlier exercise in eroticism while serving the Roman Empire as consul at Bithynia. Embroidering on his theory, Wendell speculated that most copies had been destroyed or lost when Alaric and his Goths sacked Rome in 410. Successive waves of barbarian invaders further destroyed or burned what remained of Roman literary works. Throughout the middle ages men, like Poggio Bracciolini of the Papal Court, made laborious translations of the surviving documents and writings of classical times. Bracciolini himself rediscovered many works of antiquity by classicists of the calibre of Cicero, Juvenal, and Lucretius, so who is to say that some other long forgotten scholar did not rescue the Necronomicon from probable oblivion in the crumbling vaults of some Gothic monastery or Roman tomb.

Now, Wendell concluded, these prudish snobs on the faculty and Board of Trustees are concealing a work of art from our classical heritage which should be made public for the edification and enjoyment of people everywhere. Dryden knew where Wendell's line of reasoning was going to lead. He also knew that there was only one way in which this latest bee could be removed from Wendell's already buzzing bonnet. It didn't take much time or beer for Wendell to suggest it.

Against his better judgment, Dryden had gone along with Wendell's scheme of a midnight visit to the library. The night was moonless and slightly overcast. The temperature, only about four degrees above zero, further assured that there would be nobody about who might inadvertently witness their nocturnal activities. They succeeded in gaining entrance into the library through an unlocked basement window and, with the aid of penlights, made their way to the first floor where the "Books" were supposed to be. Dryden was dismayed and ready to call it quits when the found not merely a locked room, but a vault door with a combination lock. Wendell only commented that they should be grateful it was a single affair and not one of those complicated devices with a time lock and electric sensors. Bending down with his ear to the vault, Wendell began to slowly rotate the tumbler. First he turned clockwise, then counterclockwise. Six times he repeated the procedure. On the seventh, he stood up, turned the handle, and pulled outwards. Miraculously, the door swung open with a long, high-pitched squeal. Where Wendell had acquired his impressive skills in safecracking, he politely declined to elucidate.

Once inside the vault, a fairly large room about fifteen feet by ten feet, Dryden quickly found the glass case that held the Necronomicon. He doubted if he would ever be able to forget the odour that rose from the vellum pages when he carefully opened the book to its centre. It was a smell like that of a dead animal. He played the penlight over the print, which was in a heavy black ink which the passing centuries had faded only slightly. Mentally translating the medieval bastard Latin into English, he began reading aloud to Wendell, who was busily scurrying about the room pulling all manner of leather-bound, iron-hasped volumes from their resting places and stacking them in the middle of the floor. Dryden continued reading for about half a page when he slammed the book shut and exclaimed aloud to Wendell, "Petronius, my ass! This crap is about as pornographic as the King James Bible, which is what it reads like."

But Wendell hadn't heard him -- or if he had, he chose to ignore him. He was giving his undivided attention to a mouldy-looking book whose frayed spine bore the words Unaussprechlichen Kulten. He was poring over its pages with a facial expression that struck Dryden as being somewhere between stunned shock and unbridled glee. There would be no talking to Wendell now. He had found his mystery, the ultimate mystery from which there is no turning back save in abject terror and mad retreat. Dryden turned back to the Necronomicon and bathed himself in the unholy glow of its hideous revelations of the Old Ones when they ruled the prime. And there they both sat, absorbed in a nightmare world of forbidden knowledge, hypnotized by the sheer horror of the books' contents, when the night watchman noticed the vault door ajar and notified the police.

The burglary charges were reduced to the lesser account of disorderly behaviour by a lenient judge, but the Board of Trustees at Miskatonic University insisted upon their immediate expulsion. It was far too late, though, for either reprimand or punishment. Both he and Wendell had tasted the forbidden fruits and had forever lost their taste for intellectual table scraps. It would take more than expulsion to kill this appetite.

* * *

The nerve-grating scrape of a highway department snowplow beneath his window brought Spencer Dryden out of his recollections. He gazed abstractedly out the window to where the swirling white gusts had claimed the streets for their own, driving all but the most determined pedestrians back into the shelter and warmth of their homes. He made a mental note to telegraph Wendell as soon as possible. He filled his glass again and leaned back in the chair. How had it gone after that disgraceful episode?

* * *

At the time it seemed that all hopes of ever becoming an architect were shattered beyond repair. His family had been appalled at first, but gradually came to accept the fact that what was done was done. Influential friends of his father had secured his entrance into a small college in New Hampshire and after four years of hard work, he had gotten his degree. Two years later, he had earned his doctorate. John Wendell had not been as fortunate. Though he used the title "Doctor," Dryden could not recall his ever having mentioned where he completed his education. He had spoken once, however, of studying in Europe after the Miskatonic incident.

Of one thing Dryden was sure. Like himself, Wendell had been unable to forget that dark mythology, clues of which were set forth in those old books which had gotten them in so much trouble and damn near landed them in jail. Three years after the incident, Dryden had been in New York on summer vacation and acquired, under somewhat murky circumstances, a copy of Feery's Notes on the Necronomicon. Being at best only a vague exposition on, and condensation of, the original work, Feery's notes only served to whet Dryden's appetite for even deeper forays into the awesome history of the Old Ones. Despite the overwhelming burden of his studies, Dryden vowed to learn all he could of the book called the Necronomicon. Time consuming though it was, with the aid of Feery's work and that information he gathered through his own researches, he put together a brief history of the Necronomicon.

It had been titled Al Azif until its translation into Greek in the tent century by Theodorus Philetas, who retitled it Necronomicon or The Book of Dead Names. It had been written by an Arab mystic, a poet by trade, named Abdul Alhazred, who lived during the reign of Marwan II, last caliph of the Uymayyad Dynasty. It is generally accepted that the book was written about 730 A.D., although the date is purely arbitrary. If any records of the book's first appearance did ever in fact exist, they were probably lost or destroyed in the violence and bloodshed that ravaged the land when the Abbassides swept out of Persia to seize the throne of Marwan II, who ruled the far-flung empire of Islam from his palace in Damascus. Little was thought of this book while the Abbassides, claiming descent from Mohammed's uncle, assumed control over the destiny of Islam. Once their power had been consolidated, however, Harun al-Rashid turned his attention to stamping out all manifestations of the heretic Alhazred's writings.

A hundred years after the Greek translation had been made, the Orthodox Church launched a concerted drive to destroy the Necronomicon. Despite the confiscation and burning of all known copies, it resurfaced two centuries later when Olaus Wormius rendered one of the surviving Greek texts into Latin. It took less than four years for the Roman Church to realize the corrupting, pervasive influence of the book and Pope Gregory IX renewed the persecution that was to become synonymous with the volume's history. Thomas d'Aquino is reported to have said that the "Necronomicon could only have been written by Satan, in his guise of the Father of Lies, in an attempt to undermine the teachings of Christ." After the Papal Bull of Innocent VIII, the Dominican Inquisitors and authors of the infamous Malleus Maleficarum, Heinrich Kramer and Jakob Springer, supposedly seized a copy of the Black Letter edition and publicly burned it in Cologne. In Castille, the Grand Inquisitor Tomas de Torquemada condemned one Pablo d'Esche and an unidentified Moslem astrologer to the auto-da-fe for "trafficking with those lesser devils revealed in the book of the heathen sorcerer Alhazred."

That was how it went for over a millennium. The various editions of the Necronomicon were translated, circulated, condemned, banned, and finally burned, often as not, with their owners. But now in the latter half of the twentieth century, when we no longer burn that which distresses or frightens us, the Necronomicon and books like it are kept securely hidden from curious, prying eyes.

During his studies of Feery's book, Dryden had come across the lines which referred to the Takhel Potion and he found the claims of its properties fascinating. He had read of it before, as have others, in that strange little volume by the alchemist Franz Jute, The Elixer of the Prophets, wherein it is referred to as "The Key of the Poet." Upon learning of the similarity between Jute's and Feery's accounts, Dryden determined to discover how the Takhel Potion was manufactured. Feery, though, had the disconcerting habit of skirting around or neglecting completely those things which most intrigued Dryden. He was characteristically reticent about the Takhel Potion and had only this to say:

Alhazred mentions a compound called the Takhel Potion. This is a preparation of diverse chemical substances that is taken orally and enables the consumer to visit in a dream state, and on rare occasions bodily, those places where the Old Ones and their servants have dwelt in the past and where they do still dwell now. The indulger should make his arrangements carefully and with full knowledge that "Those Who Guard the Way" will attempt to impede his peaceful return. It is written that on occasion "They" will allow a journeyer to return seemingly undisturbed but in a greatly altered form so that even his closest kin may not recognize him.

The prospect of actually visiting those legend-shrouded regions set Dryden's mind reeling and his blood seemed to boil in his veins. To see such places as the Plateau of Leng, the Black Lake of Hali, Kadath in the Cold Waste; to pierce the veil of enigma that surrounded forgotten Cimmu-Lcca, Shamballa, sunken R'lyeh, and lost Valusia; to learn the dark secrets of misty Thule and the splendored Numinor of Celtic myths; these things were worth risking one's immortal soul to achieve. Any man, Dryden reasoned, who was not willing to run some risk in the pursuance of his dreams, had little right to call himself a man. Such things as the Tikkoun Elixer, the star-stones of Mnar, and various occult symbols, if utilized properly, would enable him to cut down the odds against him considerably. A man who takes no chances at all is a coward, but the man who doesn't minimize the danger to the best of his ability is a damned fool.

Dryden began an extensive search for those volumes which have come to be designated, in certain esoteric and cloistered circles, the "Apocryphal Books", and Dryden thought the appellation to be quite appropriate. They were so termed because they were purported to reveal -- either through vague metaphysical speculation or, in some cases, shocking detail -- clues to the existence, history, and manifestations of an ancient race of sentient extraterrestrial beings who had ruled the earth billions of years before that frail and transient species Homo Sapiens dared proclaim themselves masters of the world. It is generally agree by most authorities, though only supported by circumstantial evidence, that the occult scholar and noted naturalist Comte d'Erlette was the first to term this controversial body of lore the "Cthulhu Mythos." Though these beings, referred to as the Old Ones, have been banished or imprisoned by the Elder Gods, of whom practically nothing whatsoever is known, they wait patiently dreaming of the time when they shall resume their dominance over this world. Degenerate cultists have kept alive the worship of the Old Ones and work feverishly and unscrupulously to keep secret the fearful rituals and powerful magic of their exiled and slumbering masters.

It was the background provided by those books that Dryden needed a thorough knowledge of before he could dare to use the Takhel Potion. But he had not as yet even discovered what those "diverse chemical substances" were which produced the potion.

The few volumes he found, and paid exorbitant sums for, were usually either badly translated or so drastically expurgated as to be unintelligible. The Golden Goblin Press edition of Nameless Cults suffered from both afflictions. His money had been fruitlessly wasted on that purchase. Equally frustrating were the Sen-ton Tze Fragments and the Tmar-Miao Incantations, which he had gotten in microfilm from the British Museum; the former was in an obscure and puzzling archaic Chinese dialect, the latter in those linear hieroglyphs which represent R'lyehian. An ingrained stubborn perseverance won out time after time over Dryden's growing sense of futility and he determined to continue undaunted.

The demands of his profession prevented Dryden from dedicating all the time he would have liked to on the search for the elusive Takhel Potion, but an event occurred three years ago that led Dryden to believe he was drawing inexorably close to the conclusion of his quest.

While in New York, for the dedication ceremony of an apartment complex he had designed, he ran into John Wendell, who was passing through the city on his way to Europe. After indulging in an unfettered bout of nostalgic reminiscence about the "good old days" back in college, Dryden learned that Wendell had also been preoccupied these last few years with the lore of the Old Ones. He told Dryden in guarded tones of an experiment he had witnessed in Sweden, which proved to his satisfaction that the "Mythos" was not myth, but mind-shattering fact. He assured Dryden that despite certain lacunae and paradoxes in the various works on the "Mythos," its basic features had been faithfully recorded by those adventurous, or foolish, enough to investigate it.

Wendell, too, had come across mention of the Takhel Potion, but knew of it as "The Key of the Poet." Alhazred, Wendell explained, could not possibly have visited all the place he wrote of in the Necronomicon, nor learned all those strange things in the course of a single, and in his case brief, lifetime. Therefore he must have had some kind of shortcut. The one puzzling reference to the Takhel Potion in the Necronomicon revealed what that short cut was, and it was nothing less than a consciousness expanding drug. Jute knew of it, but either would not or could not leave an account of how it was manufactured. Dryden uneasily recalled the chapter in Hamilton's Lives of the Alchemists that told of the Dutchman's death. Jute had been standing in a crowd watching the entrance of Louis Napoleon into the Hague when he inexplicably burst into flames and died. Hamilton speculated that Jute may have planned to assassinate the hated Napoleon when an incendiary device had had made exploded prematurely. But somehow that didn't seem in character for the quiet little alchemist and even Hamilton admitted it was a rather farfetched theory.

By the time he left New York, Dryden had not only reforged his friendship with John Wendell, but had also acquired a valuable partner in the search for the Takhel Potion. It was a partnership that Dryden felt sure was to prove profitable for them both. In the years since Miskatonic, Wendell had attained a vast and impressive scholarship in the Elder Lore and an ally like that was indispensable. Success, Dryden felt assured, was inevitable.

Supervising the construction of his own home in Bloomingburg, New York, a small village nestled beneath the Wurstboro Hills, consumed most of Dryden's time for the following six months. It was not until a week after its completion, and Dryden was busy moving in, that he heard from Wendell. A first class letter containing a terse note stated merely that he had found part of the formula in the fragmentary copy of the Necronomicon owned by the University of Isfahan in Iran. He was now off to the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris to try and secure permission to consult their priceless copy of the Olaus Wormius text.

A further several months elapsed before Dryden again received word from Wendell. He had failed in his efforts to secure access to the Necronomicon in Paris, but while there had struck up an acquaintance with an extremely learned Austrian who had been sympathetic enough to make his own collection of rare books on occultism available for Wendell's perusal. The man was, as it turned out, the founder and leader of an occult lodge near Innsbruck. Though Wendell politely declined an offer of membership, they parted on amiable terms, Wendell having assembled a great deal of interesting, if not particularly useful, information. He was now going to Rome, where he hoped to find a curious medieval treatise on herbology in the Vatican Library.

Dryden had not remained inactive during Wendell's jaunts around Europe and had been actively pursuing his own line of investigation. He had procured, at no small expense, Justin Geoffrey's frequently discussed, but infrequently seen, slim volume, People of the Monolith, and its little know, even scarcer, companion volume, Scarlet Runes and Other Poems, published posthumously by the Chimera Press of New York.

There were no clues of importance to be found in either collection, but Dryden found himself intrigued by Geoffrey's choice of subject material, which uncannily tended to compliment his own researches. He was amazed at the variations in them, technique, and imagery that differentiated each of the poems. Had Dryden not been familiar with Geoffrey's reputation, he would have assumed that a dozen different poets of uncommon ability had composed two or three poems each and published the collections under a collective pseudonym. One stanza from a poem in the second book arrested Dryden's attention. He could not seem to shake the distressing feeling that it was meant as some sort of warning, a warning from the now-still pen of a young man who had burdened his sensitive mind to the breaking point with earthquaking hints of dark things that no man should seek to fathom. The lines ran as follows:

Pass through the flames that do not burn,
(But scar nonetheless!)
And pray that you do not return;
For the visage is lean, and the pallor wan,
Of the loved ones who will not look upon
You! But turn away with tear stained cheek.
From one who babbles but cannot speak.
Beware! Touch not the source of dream.
For those who return may but tremble ... and scream.

Dryden avoided reading Geoffrey after that, because an unaccountable nervousness gripped him for several hours after he had perused the twin books of verse. The man's style, he had to admit, put him in the same class as Poe, Baudelaire, and Chenov. The total effect of his works was unsurpassed, especially in light of Dryden's own physical and mental reactions.

From a Canadian correspondent, Dryden learned of an eccentric recluse who lived in Monterey. This savant, for he was a man of extensive and outré learning, was reputed to have traveled and lived in many exotic, and often dangerous, locales, while searching the world for knowledge of the "days before men." It was said that he had personally spoken to those ageless Thibetan wise men, whose duty it is to preserve the secrets of the Nine Unknown Men from the common run of humanity. It was also rumoured that this man actually owned a copy of the Kitab Rasul al-Akbarin.

Dryden had written him over a half-dozen times before receiving a reply. The answer was laconic and to the point. He proposed to answer two questions for Dryden as honestly and concisely as possible. His only condition was that Dryden cease to annoy him after the two questions had been answered. He hinted vaguely of unpleasant consequences if Dryden plagued him thereafter with unwanted correspondence.

The Californian's willingness to cooperate at all was far more than Dryden had dared to hope for. In Europe, Wendell had run up against a brick wall and could not decide what new avenue of approach he should try. He had dismally concluded that his last recourse might very well be that locked room in the library of Miskatonic University. But this latest development would probably preclude such a desperate measure.

Dryden's soaring spirit and buoyant enthusiasm were quickly demolished that same afternoon by an incident which brought him face to face with grim reality. And the reality of his situation was that he was treading very dangerous ground.

A telephone caller, who refused to give his name, ominously warned Dryden to take care lest certain unsympathetic parties be made aware of his meddling in matters that did not concern him. Before severing the connection, the anonymous voice spoke one final sentence. A sentence in some guttural tongue whose syntax and inflection seemed impossibly ill-suited for uttering by human vocal chords. Dryden had no idea what the words meant, but he did know what language it was in and with that knowledge came a dawning awareness of the full implications of the telephone message. He had read of that language in a burdensomely titled tome by the distinguished Dr. Laban Shrewsbury and again in Corman's Lost Worlds of Ancient Pacifica. Did he himself not own a microfilm of the Tmar-Miao Incantations in that same tongue? The language was R'lyehian, spoken by those sea-spawned icthyic servants of the infinitely evil horror from beyond the stars, Cthulhu. Dryden's hands trembled as he tried to pour himself a brandy.

* * *

It was not too very long before the pieces of the puzzle began falling slowly but surely into place. In response to Dryden's inquiry regarding the final missing ingredient of the Takhel Potion, the reclusive scholar in Monterey sent a letter containing only one typed sentence and a scribbled message. The one sentence was a quotation from Alhazred that Dryden believed could only have been copied verbatim from a complete and unedited copy of the Necronomicon. The scribbled message immediately below the quote read simply, "Be careful or pay the penalties!" The words from the book of the Arab were:

Ye Takhel Potion be not compleat or potent without ye Isbanah that brings men dreams of ye places that were, ye places that now be, and ye places that shall be, and all ye places that have known Their tred.

With his ambition rekindled after the fresh arrival of the final clue from his reluctant informant on the west coast, Dryden began his task with painstaking scrupulousness. He check, double checked, and then checked again until he had completely satisfied himself that "Isbanah" had no other meaning or definition in the archaic Arabic than its strict, literal translation. And it translation as "spinach."

Dryden was a little amused and slightly baffled to discover that the long-sought ingredient was something as common as spinach, but he wasted no time in entering the next, and hopefully last, stage of the quest for the "Key of the Poet": the Takhel Potion. He sacked the local libraries for texts on the botanical sciences and hired a local research chemist to run a series of tests on every variety of the Chenopodiaceae genus -- known commonly as the goosefoot family because of its webbed leaf structure -- to isolate what was most likely a narcotic extract. It was fruitless, tedious, and, to the perplexed young chemist, pointless work. Reading the chemist's report, Dryden glumly realized that none of the plants had the least trace of any substance that might be essential for the manufacture of the Takhel Potion.

Still unable to get in touch with Wendell -- nor even knowing where exactly he was -- Dryden was forced to abandon his own pressing architectural work and fly to England. For over two weeks he haunted the stately halls of the British Museum. From opening time to closing time he pored through the museum's voluminous collection of medieval Arabic medical and alchemical texts by such historical personages as Avicenna, Khalid Ibn Jazid, and Costa ben Luca. Again his time and effort went unrewarded. He took no consolation in the fact that he was becoming well versed in the more shadowy and obscure byways of scholarship.

He returned to the states an obsessed and bitter man. His thoughts focused on little else but the "Key of the Poet." The vast vistas of time and space would be opened to him. He recalled the creative genius of Coleridge when he penned Kubla Khan while under the influence of laudanum; the necromantic fantasies that sprang from Poe's tortured brain inspired, in part, by alcohol and opium; De Quincy, Rosseti, Crowly, and countless others, all led to the golden peaks of brilliance because they had glimpsed beyond the void and saw ... something other. But none of them had possessed the "Key of the Poet." With that to open his eyes he would be far greater. He would build structures to outlast the pyramids ... outlast humanity itself.

It was not for another six months after he had been on the trail of the elusive Isbanah that he accidently struck paydirt. Spending a miserable rainy afternoon holed up in his Bloomingburg home, he randomly picked up one of the textbooks on botany that he had carted home from England. It was Albert Frick's exhausting study Flora of the Andes. Frick was eminently more readable than many of his colleagues and contemporaries because of humourous witticisms and anecdotes with scientific observations of priceless value to any student of the subject. It was in this sadly neglected work that Dryden came across the lines that revivified his faith in eventual triumph. The lines were these:

In the mountainside village of Muixl, Bolivia, I discovered that the native Aymara Indians are in the habit of chewing a leaf which resembles the common potherb spinach (Spinachia oleracea). In this area it is a familiar and widespread substitute for the cacao leaves which the natives of other Andean regions chew for its narcotic effect. This spinach is called "tokkil" by the Aymaras and from the cursory investigation I made, I would judge it a much more powerful narcotic that cacao leaves. I believe that the plant contains an alkaloid which when ingested in small quantities produces an illusory sense of contentment and elation. In larger quantities it is a potent hallucinogenic agent, not unlike the psilocybine of the peyote cactus. While under the influence of the plant certain Aymaras, who are physically addicted to the stuff, claim to visit the Gods in Heaven.

If Dryden had been any more shocked by this abrupt answer to his unspoken prayers, he might have fallen out of his chair. As it was, when his initial surprise wore off he jumped to his feet whooping like a madman and danced a frenetic jig about the room. It was quite a while before his mad joy yielded to the restraining influences of intellect and will. There were still many things to be done before he could know that this was no red herring. But he knew that this was unlikely. Christ! The names were so similar -- the Takhel Potion of Alhazred and the "tokkil" of the Aymaras -- and the effects so complimentary that it had to be more than improbably coincidence. And what of the Andean natives claiming to visit with the "Gods in heaven"?

Dryden had waited too many years and suffered too many crushing disappointments to consider patience an admirable virtue. He found the address of the publishers of Frick's book and fired off a special delivery letter requesting the address of the globe-trotting botanist and author. Almost by return mail came the news that Frick had died of a lung ailment at his home in Capetown, South Africa, nearly two years ago. But in light of Dryden's interest in the "tokkil," they gave him the address of Father Josef Grattere, a Jesuit scientist, who was conducting tests on the plant at the Bolivian Institute for Drug and Chemical Research in Quechotoxil, a suburb of La Paz.

He immediately contacted Father Grattere and less than two months later the large wooden crate arrived. It was addressed to The Bedford Society for Botanical Studies, care of Dr. Spencer Dryden, Director of Research. Dryden laughed softly to himself when he thought of the hastily formed society of which he was the sole member. It had been a risky ruse considering New York's touch drug laws, but, of course, the "tokkil" had not as yet been declared an illegal substance. No doubt the good Father would be very shocked if he had any inkling as to the research that Dr. Spender Dryden intended to direct.


© 1997 Edward P. Berglund
"The Key of the Poet": © 1997 Edward M. Kane. All rights reserved.
Graphics © 1997 Old Arkham Graphics Design. All rights reserved. Email to: Corey T. Whitworth.

Created: August 11, 1997; Updated: August 9, 2004