Andy Nunez

Should one heed the fates of those that have gone before?

As the grunting workmen labored, a thrill of anticipation mixed with no small amount of trepidation surged through my body. I dug myself further into the overstuffed armchair, fingers clawing madly at the antimacassars, while they lifted the heavy piece of artwork to its new home over my mantle. Outside, I could hear the gulls shriek as they wheeled and hunted over Tangier Sound. With studied care, no doubt because of my almost monomanical gaze, the workers looped the heavy, braided wire over the stout hook they had earlier installed in the wall. Satisfied, they removed the white cloth cover, and the painting stood revealed.

The century of neglect endured by the portrait were evident by the grayish smears tracking over the cracked oils and the worm-riddled frame of gilt-painted plaster and wood. Still, the image of a century and a half gone emerged from the grime of five-score years hanging in my empty ancestral home near Providence, Rhode Island. It was the vanguard of the baggage that my brother had sent ahead before his return here, to our family home of nearly a hundred years.

I noted the family resemblance immediately, the high, domed forehead and jutting, inquisitive jaw so characteristic of the Bowens. Enoch Bowen's steely gaze met my own from across the ages, the trappings of his expedition to Egypt littering the background of the work. Dressed severely in black, my great-great grandfather held in one long-fingered hand the crowning find of his search amongst the temples and sepulchres of that spectre-haunted realm. Shining from the center of its strangely worked box of alien symmetry was the Trapezohedron, the many flattened surfaces of stone gleaming blackly. That little four-inch piece of unnatural design was the cause of my residing here in this stone-foundationed mansion of late Victorian architecture, instead of the Colonial house of my forebears. My eyes traced the red striations orbiting the Trapezohedron, now lost forever to the eyes of man since it had been deposited in Narragansett Bay's deepest channel by the mysterious Dr. Dexter in 1935. Of course, Dr. Dexter was gone now. He had been notable in the field of atomic physics following the last world war, but, uncaring of the danger, or, perhaps, strangely, forgetting his mortality, he flew too close to the testing of a hydrogen bomb near Bikini Atoll and his plane was engulfed by the fireball.

The full story of old Enoch Bowen's connection with the cult of Starry Wisdom in Providence, and his exile to this bleak islet on Maryland's Chesapeake Bay, the recovery of the Shining Trapezohedron in the deserted church of Starry Wisdom by the writer Robert Blake, and its subsequent loss to the depths of Narragansett Bay have been romanticized to an almost scandalous degree by the late Howard Phillips Lovecraft and his crony Bloch, so I will not try to rehash the past further. There are those who will not believe the truth, just as there are those who cannot conceive of the truth.

Three generations of Bowens have lived within these plaster-lathed walls, of which I am of the third, and, unfortunately, the last. That is, of course, my own fault. Were I to have been raised as a normal man, no doubt I would have been married by now to one of the local girls from Deal Island or Crisfield, but I was unable to benefit from the energies of youth due to my virtual self-enslavement in the care of my ailing mother. What of my brother, you ask? Why did he not aid me in my nursing? My brother, being four years my senior, lost no time in prying himself from the doting affections of my mother that followed the sudden death of my father.

Dear brother Jonathan left mysteriously one night, leaving one of our scows abandoned at the Deal Island marina. Subsequent investigation discovered that he had liquidated his account at the Peninsula Bank in Princess Anne. We lost track of Jonathan after that, and it was only last month, three years after my mother's death, that he saw fit to make his presence known again.

His telegram had been brief. Our ancestral home in Rhode Island had been taken by the state much as had Bowen's church of Starry Wisdom some years past. Jonathan had recovered what valuables and papers as he could from the ramshackle Colonial mansion off College Street, and was shipping them to me within the month. His appeal to have the house returned to our ownership had failed, he said, and that he would be coming home before fall.

Ten years had passed since I had last laid eyes upon my brother. He was in his late teens when he ran away, and I recalled his image well. Tall and supple as a willow sapling, he had the careless demeanor of the rakes of old. His callousness acted like a shield against the remoteness and melancholy that shrouded our residence here on Bowen Island, as the natives knew our knob of land projecting resolutely from Tangier Sound. There were secrets, Jonathan had told me one night as the wind howled through the chinks and the lightning arced whitely along the bay. Secrets that Father had taken to his premature grave. No Bowen had rested easy, he claimed, since they had found and lost the stone which Father had talked with Jonathan about, he being the elder.

Father had died in a boating accident off Little Deal Island while dredging for Indian relics that colonial records from the county seat in Princess Anne had indicated were sunk there, after the marshlands had been reclaimed by the sea. Vague hints had been scrawled by the first English settlers, about a tribe of Indians unrelated to either the Pocomoke or Wicomico tribes, virtually a race apart from the others, whose unusual rites had been investigated by no less a person than the famous Methodist John Wesley sometime in the eighteenth century. Most records had been curiously lost, or suppressed, and Father had been forced to search the sound systematically, since the exact location of the village was unknown, only hints and unsettling accounts of strange mutterings and voices from the marshy woods.

The captain of the skipjack that Father had hired to do the searching was at a loss to explain Father's death. He had been tending to the wheel while Father examined the ooze-coated contents of the dredge, concerned over a harsh breeze that had suddenly erupted. Thus engaged in handling the sailing vessel, the captain did not turn his attention to Father until he had heard the wet slopping sounds and Father's scream. Rushing to the side, the captain found only the outward growing concentric rings of bubbles to mark Father's falling into the sound. A powerful odor clung to the spot where Father has been standing, but the captain allowed as how the smell could have come from the tarry ooze that Father had been picking through. Father's body was never recovered, and the marine police report listed his drowning as an accident.

Jonathan blamed his death on the loss of the stone, which Father had only hinted about to my brother. Most of Father's secrets had died with him, and it was this incomplete recounting of our mysterious past that used to send my brother into a frenzy. He howled over the loss of knowledge, knowledge, he claimed, that could only be found in obscure and rotting books, such as the Necronomicon of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred, or the De Vermis Misteriis of Ludvig Prinn.

-- But I am rambling here, digressing into matters that have no bearing on the immediate events that I am compelled to set down here. It was Jonathan's actual arrival that set things in motion.

The painting of great-great grandfather Enoch Bowen was merely the first of several crates that arrived along with workmen hired from Deal Island by my groundsman, Thomas Crockett, a native of nearby Smith Island. Because of my reclusiveness during the care for my mother, I had earned a reputation among the Deal Islanders as being odd, so I preferred to deal with them through an intermediary whenever possible, especially since no phone lines had been strung to our island.

Save for the painting, which Jonathan had requested be hung before his arrival, I left the rest of the crates alone, stacking them in the basement on pallets lest the dampness that clung to the stones of the cellar damage their contents. I did note, with interest, that one crate was marked "BOOKS*FRAGILE," but did not open it. I had Mr. Crockett air out Jonathan's room on the day of his arrival, and went out on that still-pleasant September afternoon to greet him as soon as Thomas alerted me of sighting my brother's boat.

The breeze was very light that day, whipping up little blue wavelets capped with iridescent tufts all along the sound. I remember being in shirtsleeves and batting away the still annoying black marsh flies that bred in the saw-edged grasses on the west end of the island. From the lush hummock of earth on which the mansion was situated, I descended down to the dock, crossing the treated planks of the wide ditch that separated the dock and boathouses from the main part of the island. Here the sand was warm beneath the soles of my deck shoes, and I could hear the gurgle of the surf as it rolled against the pilings of the dock.

I found a folding chair in the boathouse and positioned it on the creosoted dock to await my brother. Thomas I had left behind, to prepare some iced tea for refreshment. I pulled the wide brim of my hat low against the still-high afternoon sun and watched the little workboat chug its way toward my dock. Soon, the low, white hull was alongside the pilings and its rustic owner winding a coil of rope against one of the black-smeared poles. I took little note of the man, however, other than to dismiss him mentally as typical of the local breed who depended on the bay for their livelihood.

Rather, I focused my attention on his passenger, who was energetically engaged in transferring his bags onto the dock. Jonathan had changed but little in the ten years he had been absent, still rapier thin and possessed with an almost demonic animation.

His face was still as spare as ever beneath the waving fringe of blonde hair, his features long and tight as he squinted his blue eyes against the lowering sun. As he gained the dock with an easy motion, I saw he was dressed in a khaki shirt and whipcord breeches, his narrow feet encased in expensive-looking boots. Hatless as ever, he looked tan and healthy, making me feel very self-conscious as I glanced nervously at my blemished forearms.

He helped the waterman shove off from the dock, and with a wave to the fellow, turned to me, a brisk smile making his large teeth gleam wolfishly. He stuck out a brown hand, locking on to me with his cerulean gaze.

"Well, Edward," he began as I took his hand, feeling a strength in his grip that was unsettling.

"You look well, Jonathan," I managed.

"Thanks, er -- uh, so do you."

"Yes, well, the weather has been kind to me. Let's go on up to the house. I've had Thomas prepare some tea."

We walked back up the little hill to the house. A chill had crept into the wind, and I rolled down my sleeves as gooseflesh had erupted along my arms. Jonathan loped along effortlessly, his long legs propelling him forward so handily, that I had to almost jog to keep up with him. He was eagerly sizing up the house, peering to and fro at the small clumps of trees and brush that grew along the west side behind the house, masking the grass-tufted marsh.

"Hasn't changed a bit!" he exclaimed. "By gods, you've done a splendid job of keeping it up, Edward. It's even better than I hoped. Have you disturbed Father's things?"

"Of course not!" I answered hotly. "Father was as dear to me as he was to you. Everything is just like it was before he died."

"Not everything. We have both grown up, brother. Still, you are my little brother, and maturity can only strengthen our bonds."

"I do not doubt it," I agreed, ignoring the possible jab at my shorter stature. Jonathan had become a robust talker in the last decade, smiling with his slab-like teeth in a carnivorous manner that was very disturbing. Within the slaty shadow of the porch stood Thomas, guarding a tray of iced tea that resided on a round table by the settees. Jonathan set his bags down by the door and immediately dived into the beechwood swing, languishing felinely on the green-painted slats. I sat down slowly on the sheet metal glider, grasping one of the glasses Thomas had poured. The big Smith Islander stood by silently, his red hands clutched before him. I could see that the knuckles stood out whitely, but his florid face gave no hint of any trouble, so I bade him take the bags to Jonathan's room. With a slight bending to pick up the baggage, he was gone.

"As you can see," I began, as Jonathan took up one of the glasses and began to sip at the brown liquid, "little has changed here. I had to give up any thoughts of college and hire a man to help me care for things after Mother's health deteriorated. She never fully recovered from Father's death, and your escape finished her. Oh, she hung on these ten years, hoping that you would return, but, eventually, she gave up. I have tried to keep things going, seeing to the family fortunes and the upkeep of the property, but it hasn't been easy. The mainland folk have been increasingly aloof in their dealings with me, ever since Father's mysterious death. It's as if a curse hangs over us."

"It may very well," Jonathan murmured.

"Well, what of yourself?" I demanded, seeing that my oratory had brought no emotion to the tanned surface of his face. "What have you been doing these past ten years?"

His blue eyes flickered at me over the rim of the glass as he drank, but again, he showed nothing on his longish face.

"I have traveled the world, literally," he related, lowering the tea. "There is no corner of the known world that has not been revealed to me. I worked my way across the Atlantic from Baltimore the week I escaped this house, loading freight with a bunch of half-breeds -- me a Bowen, from a long line of explorers and landed gentry. You should have seen me, Edward, lounging in the hold with them, half naked as their savage predecessors, sweat gleaming off their arms as we struggled to breathe in the stale air of that rusty steamer. I drank cheap rum from the same bottle that had passed their full lips, and I smoked their heady concoctions, can you imagine it? Can you?

"Don't give me those stares! You look so comical, with those little green eyes of yours in that pasty-white face. I bloodied my hands to the bone on that voyage, broke my damn back unloading those crates at the dock at Beirut. I took the cash money they paid me and turned it into Arab djellabah and burnoose, roaming the age-worn hills of the Middle East, burning into the Arabian desert. I sought things, Edward, things Father only hinted at. Our ancestor Enoch Bowen discovered things in the deserts that have been lost to us for over a hundred years. I followed his trail, to Irem, the city of pillars, that hidden maze of sandblasted stones where Abdul Alhazred staggered madly twelve centuries before, blasted by the things he had written in his book, the Necronomicon. I traveled into Israel, teaching English at a kibbutz in the Sinai for over a year as I wandered the ruins of Egypt, retracing old Enoch's steps as he poked about the Nile for the Fane of the Black Pharaoh. In the fastness of the Sahara, I peered though the cutting curtains of blowing sand at the asymmetrical pyramid of Nephren-Ka."

"A fantastic trip!" I commented, my heart beating wildly. The faded sheet metal glider trembled in its tubular frame as I thrilled to his amazing tale. Such adventures I had but dreamed of, being confined here on this tiny isle. To have actually lived them --

"A herculean effort," Jonathan continued, his blue eyes taking on a hard and feverish look. He drank deep of the tea and plunged on. "I was nearly killed by the acolytes of Nephren-Ka's temple, just as Bloch wrote. I knew better than to stare mindlessly at the images those vile priests revealed on their prophetic walls."

Here, he unbuttoned his khaki shirt and revealed a ten-inch scar winding from his sternum to his right ribcage. I stared fixedly at the livid line of puckered flesh, until Jonathan covered it again.

"One of those slimy dogs thought to make me a sacrifice," he explained. "How Enoch avoided them I shall never know. I killed three, and would not have escaped then, if not for the cover of that raging sandstorm. With the very knife that made this wound I killed one, opening his throat like you would peel an apple. I was found by a Gnostic healer who bound my side and whispered mad things in the crushing heat of the desert night, about the old gods -- Set, and Sebek, and Bast -- and the Older Gods, the Faceless One, the Mighty Messenger, the Doombringer -- Nyarlathotep! I listened feverishly, the pain and festering in my wound torturing me cruelly, as that insane old lump of dirt sang and gibbered about beings beyond the space we know, beings that lie between the spaces."

"And the stone," I interjected, recalling the multifaceted gem in the painting over the mantle. "What of the stone?"

"The Shining Trapezohedron!" Jonathan named it with a harsh cry. "Lost to us in the depths of Narragansett Bay. I found no help about that. Once I was well, I moved on, across the Levant, and into Persia. For awhile, I served Kurdish rebels in Iran, leading them against their Shiite oppressors, until I heard of connections between the Faceless One and a hidden plateau in Mongolia. Eluding the Soviet patrols, I wended my way into the vast hinterlands of Mongolia. For a year I lived among the descendants of the Golden Horde, searching for the feared plateau of Leng. I still consider it a miracle that I escaped that monstrous place with my life.

"Finally, I came to rest at the family wellspring, in Providence, and stood before our termite-ridden home off College Street. The old Bowen mansion was gray as an old woman, paint long flaked away into the ocean. I walked the street where that barbarian gang of fools pushed and shoved our ancestor Enoch out of town. Ignoramuses! Scared of the dark, they were. Enoch did not even have time to return to the church and get the stone. Fifty-three years it lay in that crumbling steeple, then that fool Blake had to poke his nose into the matter."

"The story says that the stone had magical properties," I added.

"It was not of this earth," Jonathan explained. "It was a gateway, a path between the spaces. The worlds Enoch saw which have been closed to us. Shaggai, and Yuggoth. That blasted Blake almost regained what we had lost when he peered into the stone. He released the avatar."

"The avatar?" I demanded, confused.

"Yes, but you cannot hope to comprehend it all. I had to circle the globe to get the smallest inkling. What knowledge our family must have had. And to lose it all through the stupidity of those medieval muttonheads who drove Enoch hence. Well, no matter, we shall retrieve it all, and more. That is why I have returned."

"I was beginning to wonder," I admitted. "You intend to take up where Father left off."

"Indeed, I shall do more. While escaping Mongolia, I traveled the Pacific Islands, to Ponape, and beyond. Did you know that Father was murdered?"

"You cannot mean that. Was it the crew of the skipjack?"

"Don't be dense, Edward. He tampered with guarded things. He blundered into realms unknown, and did so unannounced. He trespassed into territories guarded by those who wait. I traveled Massachusetts, to Arkham, and near-emptied Innsmouth. Father did not call upon those who could help, because our family did not suspect such help could exist. Father studied Indian cults here, poking into the long-overwashed villages of mongrel tribesmen. Did you ever wonder what became of that ooze-coated mound of sea-bottom that was dredged up before Father fell -- or was dragged -- over the side?"

"To be honest, I had not given it much thought."

"No doubt. Forget the pain, that was normal. I spoke with the captain of the skipjack. Did you know that his hair was snow white, and yet he was not yet thirty? He never revealed what was in his dredge, but he was quick to dump it back over the side. He hinted uneasily at an image, green beneath that black slime which oozed polychromatic emissions, that it was obscene, anthropomorphic, winged and clawed, the head lost in a riot of squirming tentacles. He dunked his dredge again and again, until the ooze was gone from it.

"I took a lesson from that. At Innsmouth, I rented a motorboat from its batrachian owner and voyaged out to that serpentine line called Devil's Reef. What mad things I encountered. What secrets were passed between me, the man, and that which was never wholly man, but had once walked the earth. From Y'ha-nthlei I gained alliance with those who dwelt beneath the seas. We shall regain what is ours by right, brother. From Yuggoth, through the void, the stone came, and in the blackest depths of Narragansett Bay it lies, but we shall regain it."

"You speak madly, Jonathan. How were you able to do all these things, go all these places? What promises have you made? What has this to do with me, with our house?"

"Do not fear little brother, those rubbery-limbed monsters will not rise from the depths to claim this house as their temple. You have been reading too much Lovecraft. I shall use the relationship I have built with them to get back the stone, the Trapezohedron. Much preparation must be made when it is reclaimed to us. I have brought Enoch's books from our house in Providence. Curse those dolts who burnt the books in the church. "Well, enough rambling here in the sun -- the damned flies are as much as nuisance as ever. Do the lights work in the basement?"

"They do, but I don't know why you must rush into this strange work of yours. Why don't you rest, and I'll have Thomas bring up what materials you require. The basement is as damp as it always was. The floor is at sea level, and it seeps terribly. I had to put all the crates you sent on pallets to keep them dry."

"Father's worktable is still down there?"

"It is."

"Does the electricity still work there?"

"It does."

"Then, that is all I require. The relative quiet and seclusion down there will aid me in my studies."

"You'll catch your death down there in that bacterial breeding ground."

"Do not worry about me. I'll be fine. I've been caring for myself for ten years in the most hostile climes in the world. I have seen things which would damn me a million times over did I believe in Hell. I shall come up twice a day for meals. If I require it, will you assist me?"

"Well, I suppose. I have little to do these days since our financial holdings are managed by the bank in Princess Anne. After Mother's death, I was planning to take a trip around the world, see what I have been missing."

"Help me, Edward, and the entire world will be ours. We shall circumnavigate it at our leisure. No barrier can stand in our way. No place in the galaxy. Yaddith, Yuggoth, Shaggai, the throne of Azathoth. We shall travel through the curves of existence. Think of it."

His eyes had taken on that queer intensity again, so I fell silent, waiting until his energy had spent itself. I hesitated to call Jonathan sad, but I felt him to be possessed of a rampant energy, a concentrated power that was focused on the Trapezohedron. Without further word, he vaulted from the swing to leave it rocking idly and disappeared into the house. I shook my head slowly.

Jonathan had changed, but his singlemindedness had not. I finished my drink calmly, watching the ice in Jonathan's abandoned glass turn the tea from its dark brown to a watery ochre color. The sun was on the horizon when I went in search of Thomas, to explain our new situation. As I passed the staircase to the basement, I noted a yellow glow at the bottom of the doorsill, and I could hear Jonathan moving things about.

He did not come up for supper that night, but I had Thomas leave him some leftovers in the refrigerator. For the next five nights he kept up his irregular schedule, and there were nights when I would pass that door to the basement when I thought I could hear vague mutterings, and even chanting. Jonathan would say little, only that he was close to a key, and that he was preparing an experiment that he would perform out in Tangier Sound.

I remember that Saturday in October well. The month had newly begun, and the leaves on the few elms that a former Bowen had planted on this coniferous-dominated knot of land had begun to turn to their brighter, happier colors. I was dealing handily with my eggs when Jonathan strode in briskly, cheeks pink beneath his diluting tan. The long hours buried in the basement were beginning to tell, and a haggardness had previously been noted to enwrap him. Now, however, his color was obvious, and he attacked the plate of food Thomas slipped before him with vigor, gobbling morsels loudly as he talked.

"Little brother, today we shall take a boat ride," he informed me between chunks of bacon.

"To the mainland?" I inquired.

"No, out in the sound," he continued, inhaling his eggs noisily. "To the deepest spot in the channel, that dropoff near Smith Island they call the Puppy Hole. Wrap well, I do not know how long it will take to get the results I wish."

"Very well," I assented with some trepidation. "You should not undertake such an expedition alone, since you want to go a couple of hours from here. I'll have Thomas fill up the gas tanks and check the oil. We should be ready to go in an hour or so."

I put on a jacket and cap, knowing that the wind could be very chilling on the sound, especially in the fall. Jonathan was already at the boathouse when I arrived, and was stowing some unusual items in the compartment under the rear seat. I grabbed a set of foul weather gear from its hanger in the boathouse and went aboard with it. You never knew when a storm might come up the bay, either. Thomas was busily cranking up the door to let our scow make open water, while Jonathan cast off the stern line. With a turn, he bent to the big Mercury outboard motor and set the choke. Grasping the black rubber handle, he yanked on the starter line until the black-enamelled engine roared into life. I cast off the bow line, and poled us along the side of the boathouse with an oar as Jonathan slowly propelled us out the opening maw, past the taciturn Thomas, who waved weakly as we broke into the uneven sunlight of that cloud-dotted Saturday morning.

Turning the throttle in the engine, Jonathan accelerated our scow and veered us south around the back of the island and toward the point where the sound narrowed between the jut at Crisfield and Smith Island. We were nearly two hours until Jonathan judged that we were over the Puppy Hole, the deepest spot in the sound, and known for good fishing by the watermen who made their living farming the bay for crabs and oysters. When Jonathan stopped the engine, we drifted idly, the swells rocking us rather gently. Jonathan got up and removed the objects he had brought from beneath his seat. The breeze was light, but I felt a chill vibrate through me, and zipped up my jacket to the throat.

Jonathan produced a leaden-appearing object of curious manufacture, tethered to a long length of cord. There was something anthropomorphic in the object's cast, but I saw it only for an instant as my brother began to lower it over the side, long, bony fingers playing out the slim yellow nylon cord. When the line dropped to a sufficient level, he produced some papers on which I noticed line after line of scribbled undecipherable text in my brother's hand. I watched in fascination as he threw back his arms and gestured strangely, referring occasionally to the text he had prepared. I see no reason to attempt to duplicate his horrid mouthings, even if I thought I could. They were wild and monstrous, and the wind shrieked its reply to his violent chantings.

"Ia! Ia!" Jonathan roared into the teeth of the gale-like blast that whistled through the gaps of the Mercury engine. "Cthulhu fthagn!"

Ugly leaden clouds with purplish mottlings began to slide sinuously from the south. The once-benign wavelets had been whipped up into a washboard of water, vibrating against the all-too-thin wooden hull of our scow. The sky dimmed and lost its color, alternately mixing the colors of mercury and aluminum, losing the distinction between sky and conifer-toothed edge of Jane's Island State Park by Crisfield standing out against the achromatic boiling of the elements.

"Jonathan!" I gasped, holding on to the gunwale as the boat rocked against the crashing waves. "Cease this madness. You are enraging the elements themselves. Cease, before we are lost."

Jonathan threw back his head and howled, looking at me as if I were a raving lunatic. Satisfied, apparently, with his work, he withdrew the cord from the depths of the sound, hand over hand as it shed droplets of water that made dark spots on the unpainted wood of the boat's bottom. For what seemed like an eternity he hauled in the cord, until at last the obscene little lead object on the end bumped against the gunwale and made a dull thud as it hit the bottom of the boat.

My eyes were riveted to the little metal thing. Its features were unrecognizable, because it was coated with an odorous and viscous gelid ooze!


© 1997 Edward P. Berglund
"The Prodigal": © 1997 Andy Nunez. All rights reserved.
Graphics © 1997 Old Arkham Graphics Design. All rights reserved. Email to: Corey T. Whitworth.

Created: December 2, 1997; Updated: August 9, 2004