The Becoming by Ron Shiflet

Danny found the way to actively participate in reading.

The young man appeared to be at rest upon his bed. His eyes were closed and his breathing was relaxed and steady. The youth's name was Danny Phillips and he was thoroughly enjoying his weekend off from the Crandall Park and Recreation Department. He worked at this job only during summer months in order to have the necessary funds for tuition and books when he enrolled in Junior College during the fall.

Danny lived at home with his parents and would not have an inordinate amount of expenses. He planned on securing part-time employment during the school year which would be sufficient to provide spending money. Danny's parents would accept no room and board, leaving him plenty of money to use as he saw fit.

Danny's job with the City of Crandall could be very exhausting due to the oppressive heat of the Texas summer. Lying in bed with his window unit turned to the maximum setting, he was secretly elated that his parents had gone for the weekend. Mr. and Mrs. Phillips were "good people" but ever in the middle of some work project around the house which Danny felt obligated to assist with. He frequently assisted his father in performing maintenance duties at the Glenwood Trailer Park, near the outskirts of Crandall. Now he was thankful to have the entire two days free of chores and planned on doing little but reading and "becoming."

Becoming was the dark-haired youth's secret talent which he had never revealed to anyone. It was a truly amazing gift that allowed him to totally immerse himself in whatever book he was reading, or had read. This wondrous ability enabled him to participate in the ultimate fantasy game. He could, for instance, "become" Conan in one of his favorite stories such as "Rogues in the House" or "The Tower of the Elephant." He had witnessed first hand, or so it seemed, the horrible dissolution of the Gardner family in Lovecraft's classic, "The Colour Out of Space." The beauty of "the becoming" was the control it allowed him to assert while experiencing these adventures. Danny could become any character of his choosing yet maintain the ability to "leave the field" at any time his experiences became too intense.

Danny's primary disappointment with this power was his inability to alter the events that occurred in a book or story. He was even unable to change the author's interpretation of an event. Danny, "being a good Texan," had read numerous accounts of the events that transpired at The Alamo. However, if an author contended that Crockett surrendered to the Mexican army rather than fight to the death, then Crockett's surrender is what he witnessed or experienced in "the becoming" no matter how much of a bitter pill it might be to swallow.

Danny had first experienced the strange art of "becoming" after a family vacation to his Uncle Asa's home in the quaint, New England town of Arkham, Massachusetts. His father had never been particularly close to Asa but had made the long trip and visit at the urging of Danny's mother who felt it important that the family not drift apart and lose contact with one another. The trip had been exciting for young Danny, who was eleven at the time, and all in all the trip was a success. Danny's father and Uncle Asa seemed to enjoy their time together even though they were quite different in so many respects.

Danny's father, Robert, had always been a practical, hardworking man who believed in learning by doing. He had never had much use for scholars or formal education in general and had always considered Asa to be a "head in the clouds" dreamer. Robert Phillips had progressively distanced himself from Asa once he had left the family home in Tenoka, Texas to attend college at Miskatonic University in Arkham where he received degrees in both theology and philosophy. Asa eventually secured a teaching position at the university and returned to his home state of Texas on only rare occasions, primarily to visit his widowed mother, his father having died years earlier. Asa and Robert remained in touch only sporadically after their mother's death, a few years later.

It was during the uncommon visit to Asa Phillips that Danny had, while wandering through the large house, discovered a bookcase full of old, thick books, many in languages other than English. Many of the dusty and decaying volumes contained weird symbols much like the Egyptian hieroglyphics that he had seen in school. Several of the tomes were illustrated with pictures that the eleven year old boy thought of as "monsters." These figures had strange, difficult to pronounce names such as Cthulhu, Yog-Sothoth and Nyarlathotep. Danny found these illustrations eerily fascinating and wished for the ability to read the words that went with the pictures. He was pleased to come across one relatively new book by an English author named Aleister Crowley, titled Invocations to the Great Old Ones. Pleasantly surprised, he leafed through the thick, black book and came to a readable section called "Altering the Spheres of Reality." Excited that he could read most of the words, if not entirely understand them, Danny began to read aloud from the book in his best Bela Lugosi inflection until overcome with a strange drowsiness. He was soon found asleep in his uncle's study and soundly admonished for snooping through Uncle Asa's possessions.

Uncle Asa attempted to pooh-pooh the idea of any harm being done, but Danny could perceptively detect a look of worry in the scholarly man's eyes. Asa would look at Danny as if studying him and then furtively glance towards the open book that he had placed on a desktop before falling asleep. Finally, he saw Asa pick the book up and emit a barely noticeable sigh of relief as if something terrible had been narrowly avoided. Next, his uncle placed the book onto the shelf of the glass-doored bookcase and carefully locked the case.

It was shortly following this incident that Danny began to experience the strange sensation that he would later call "the becoming." He did not understand how he was able to perform the odd trick but knew without doubt that it was somehow linked to the words he had read in Uncle Asa's old book. The first occurrence of the becoming happened late one evening after Danny had "dozed off" while reading some Lovecraft stories in an old paperback he had found on his walk home from school earlier in the afternoon. The tale he had been reading was a lurid little shocker called "In the Vault."

One moment he was awake and then his next recollection was of standing on a stack of cheaply constructed wooden caskets, seeking egress from a dark, cold tomb in which he was trapped. It then suddenly dawned on him that he was George Birch, the miserly undertaker who was the protagonist of the story he had most recently been reading. Fortunately, he awakened before the revenge seeking corpse of the story severed the tendons of the cheap bastard that had utilized unholy shortcuts in the plying of his morbid trade. "Thank god I awakened!" he thought to himself, somewhat shaken from the incredible vividness of what he assumed to have been a dream.

After several similar experiences during the next several days he finally realized that he possessed the power to awaken at any point in the perceived dream. He could feel pain and other physical sensations but was able to abort "the becoming" at any point in which he could no longer tolerate the discomfort. Eventually he garnered experience through trial and error and discovered that the effectiveness of a writer's style helped dictate the intensity of "the becoming" process. Danny was still able to enjoy reading in a normal manner but the option of living what he read was always available.

Danny eventually became known as a loner and something of a dreamer. He always seemed lost in thought as if his mind was a million miles away. His teachers became amazed at the vividness and complexity of the young man's school papers. It appeared to them that Danny possessed a grasp of history second only to the participating parties. His essays on works of literature were noted for their uncanny ability to probe a character's motivations and complexities. The more perceptive instructors considered the youth something of a genius but were dismayed by his lack of interest in "the classics," especially given the depth of understanding that he exhibited.

Many an English teacher had sought to discourage the boy from "wasting his time" reading such hacks as Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith and H.P. Lovecraft, all writers whom Danny greatly admired. They viciously pointed out the numerous flaws and excesses that these works contained and did their best to destroy and ridicule these writers. Danny always countered with the one argument against which they had no defense. He praised the epic scope of their fertile imaginations and likened them to gods in their extraordinary ability to create exotic realms and populate them with incredible people and things. His teachers would sadly shake their heads and silently hope that the youth would outgrow this juvenile, fantasy obsession. It would certainly be tragic if such a gifted student became another of "those" writers who continued to read and write pseudo-Lovecraftian stories long into their middle age.

Danny would always love the works of these writers, but became vaguely uneasy whenever he read of such "fictional" titles as The Book of Eibon, De Vermis Mysteriis or The R'lyeh Text. He was almost certain that many of Uncle Asa's hoary, old volumes possessed identical titles. But that incident was years earlier and surely his memory was playing tricks on him. Still, a lurking uneasiness prevailed at such times.

* * *

Danny slowly opened his eyes, sat up in bed and yawned. He glanced at his bedside alarm clock and smiled. The greenish, digital numbers showed 9:45. He reassured himself that it was Saturday and smiled again. Today he would do nothing but relax and "become." It seemed like an extremely good day to return to what he referred to as "Lovecraft Country."

Danny reached for his well worn copy of The Dunwich Horror and Others and began to thumb through its pages. He stopped at one of his favorites, "The Thing on the Doorstep," a grisly tale involving mind-exchange and psychic possession. He had read the story on more than one occasion but looked forward to reading it again. He finished the first few pages and was startled to hear the sound of his parents' car pulling into the driveway.

"Damn," he muttered. "What's wrong now?"

He slowly pulled on his jeans and walked to the front door. His parents were opening it by the time he arrived.

"Mom ... Dad ... Something wrong?"

"Hell yes," his father grumbled. "I got beeped! There was a fire down at Glenwood, gotta go clean up the damn mess."

"Great," thought Danny. "Just how I wanted to spend my Saturday morning."

He could also see that the unexpected change of plans had sent his father into a rather black mood. Still, after some initial preparations and no small amount of swearing from his father, they walked to the pickup truck and proceeded on their way to deal with the unpleasant task ahead. Danny thought of some rather choice remarks, but decided to bite his tongue and let sleeping dogs lie. On the way his father listened to some incredibly inane program on one of the local talk radio stations and did not appear in the mood to converse with his son. Danny leaned his head back, closed his eyes and quickly fell into "The Thing on the Doorstep," which he had been reading before the unexpected interruption.

The young man was perversely excited by the morbid sensation of feeling himself, as Edward Derby, trapped in the putrefying body of his murdered wife, Asenath. It was grotesque yet strangely exhilarating in a sick sort of way.

The truck in which Danny was riding continued on its course to the mobile home park where the fire had occurred. His father continued to listen to the mindless chatter of the talk show participants, almost becoming hypnotized as he drove down the straight, rural highway.

Danny, in his dreamlike state of "becoming," began to truly experience the mind-numbing horror and revulsion of being housed in Asenath Derby's decaying form. It was, in fact, more terrible than any sensation he had previously experienced, worse even than the pain of gunshots and sword thrusts he suffered in other encounters. The feeling was one of incredible emotional despair and utter hopelessness, a terrible wounding of the soul that was difficult to adequately explain. The feeling was of such intensity that it took several moments for Danny to come to his senses and attempt to awaken from the nightmarish situation in which he had placed himself. Usually just wishing to cease "the becoming" was sufficient to awaken. However, this time the process was taking much longer than on previous occasions.

Horrified, he could feel the microorganisms and worms ravaging the dream body in which his consciousness was housed. In a state of panic and desperation he looked into the eyes of Daniel Upton, the story's narrator and struggled to speak, to beg for aid, but his words were incoherent.

"Bleeese ... glub ... glub ..." he pleaded. "Glepp mwe ... glub ... glub ..."

He could see the horror in the narrator's face as he continued to incoherently plead for help. Danny felt his sanity taking leave while he entreated the fictitious narrator for help which could not be given. He gurgled a scream of despair as he continued to feel the body of Asenath Derby decay around him.

* * *

Danny's father did not see the cattle truck that was blocking the highway until too late to avoid it. He was killed instantly in the horrendous crash that followed, but had managed to react quickly enough to ensure that his side of the vehicle bore the brunt of the impact. Witnesses quickly summoned help and the still breathing Danny was rushed to the James Bonham Memorial Hospital where medical personnel heroically fought to save his life. The doctors and nurses performed valiantly and managed to save the young man's life. However, he did not regain consciousness. His grieving mother was given the terrible news that he was in a coma and would possibly remain in such a condition for many years if not until his death.

Inside the corrupt and decaying body of Asenath Derby a young man screamed and would continue to scream until he regained consciousness or until released by the merciful hand of death.

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© 1998 Edward P. Berglund
"The Becoming": © 1998 Ron Shiflet. All rights reserved.
Graphics © 1998 Old Arkham Graphics Design. All rights reserved. Email to: Corey T. Whitworth.

Created: January 31, 1998; Updated: August 9, 2004