"Publishers!" Sandi Jensen's tone of disgust seared through the darkened room. She slammed the manuscript down on the desktop, causing the small candle flame to flicker. "Publishers, they THINK they know what the public wants! All they know is what THEY want!"
Sandi fell silent, her eyes trained on the slowly settling candle flame, the only light afforded the small cramped study. The candle light barely cut across the desk, the soft yellow glow highlighting her features in shadow, softly accenting her golden hair. Otherwise, the small study swam in unwavering darkness.
The darkness of the study matched Sandi's mood. She shook her head, frowned, then leaned forward and shoved the manuscript away from her across the desk. It teetered on the edge, but did not fall. She grunted her dismay that the manuscript did not pitch to the floor, but rather stood ghostlike on the edge of the desk in the pale light of the candle.
Just as well, she thought resignedly. At least she was satisfied that she could not see the story title or the rejection letter she had earlier paper clipped to the title page, complete with the publishing editor's name. She wished to see neither, and at this point in time she hardly cared whether she wrote another horror story ever again. And this one was good; or at least I thought it was!
The story -- "The Coming of Nephren-Ka." The editor of Strange Stories -- Robert Carlina. Over and over the story title flashed through Sandi's mind. So did the editor's name. "If only there were such a thing as Nephren-Ka, I'd show Carlina a thing or two," Sandi muttered under her breath, then sat back and began to drum her fingers on the desk top.
Sandi watched the candle flicker to a soft movement in the darkness. There was a soft shimmer of red silk which glistened brighter as it neared the candle flame. Sandi turned her eyes to meet the slowly approaching figure in a red, silken cloak, a figure she had never seen clearly, but still had come to know even if somewhat sparingly. The red shimmering silk paused on the edge of the candle light, then retreated into the darkness of the study once again. But the figure was still there, its point having been made -- to announce its presence, a presence Sandi could feel deep within her.
The shimmering silk caught Sandi's thoughts momentarily. Aurora, like in the night sky. Hmph, the night. How apropos.
"Well, they did not want it," Sandi ventured, the disgust still in her voice.
"Do you doubt your ability to write?" came a soft musical whispering voice from the darkness.
Sandi paused, her thoughts musing over the question whispered from the darkness of the small study. She grinned inwardly, reflecting back on her course, her shift from what she termed "hack horror" writing to what the voice had termed "Lovecraftian" writing -- whatever that was. Lovecraftian. That was a term Sandi had never known before, and still she did not have a firm grasp of the idea. Interrelated ideas, themes, people, places, things -- yes . . . But the TRUTH still evaded her.
The change from hack horror to Lovecraftian horror had been subtle -- at first. There were the dreams that started it all . . . a few of them, then more. With the dreams came whispering voices, and, Sandi thought, soft ethereal flute music. Where the voices and music came from, Sandi wasn't sure. At first she thought the voices and music were a part of her dreams, but later she began hearing them while she was wide awake. No matter; they were the inspiration which gave her writing new meaning and a different direction.
The music had been soothing, setting her mind at ease, and she began to write whenever she heard it. But the written words were different -- not the same hack horror she had previously written. She had left hack horror behind. This new horror, this Lovecraftian horror, was something different, something exciting. All this mixing of ideas, places, people, themes, things! It was a blend of horror and science fiction -- of strange places like Arkham, Dunwich, and Innsmouth; of strange things like Dagon, Tsathoggua, Azathoth, and Ithaqua; of strange ancient tomes like the Unaussprechlichen Kulten, the Cultes des Goules, and the Necronomicon; of strange rites, rituals, and incantations. It was certainly NOT the same hack horror that Sandi had been used to.
It had seemed so natural to Sandi -- this new writing inspired by dreams, music, and whispering voices. She had made the transition with ease, effortlessly penning new tales, one after another -- all as if the ideas were not her own, as if the ideas had been planted in her mind, and yet, ideas that had been there all along just waiting to surface.
And then THE voice came, the soft whispering voice of musical tones -- the voice veiled in the red cloak availing itself to the gloomy darkness of Sandi's small side street New York City study. Itself? He, she, it, thing? Sandi didn't know which, but it didn't really matter to her. She had come to understand that this mysterious figure was the source of her ideas. That was enough. After all, who would believe that some -- thing -- dictated stories that she, for all intents and purposes, ghost wrote? She shrugged; it was enough that the material she now wrote was selling . . . somewhat. Perhaps this was due to the story lines or the characters themselves. To her they seemed so -- REAL.
"No, I don't doubt my writing," she answered the whispering voice. "I've always been somewhat self-critical . . ."
"'The Coming of Nephren-Ka' will be published," the whispering voice interrupted. "The story shall be told!"
Sandi glanced into the darkness, caught the soft shimmering cloak ghostlike in the candle light. The figure had moved, she noted, had changed position. It had glided closer to the candle, closer to the desk, closer to Sandi -- out of the darkened corner of the small study.
The approach did not concern Sandi; it never had, ever since the mysterious figure had come to her, had changed her mode of writing. Somehow, for some reason, Sandi's senses occasionally swam in abandon when the figure was present, a sensation she had never experienced before the coming of the towering figure in red. Her instinct for self-preservation whispered dimly to her, but that little voice in her head was lost in the myriad of senses and impressions that came to her from -- somewhere. But Sandi remained unconcerned, at ease. The impressions thus far had been stimulating if not somewhat erotic.
In time the sensations puzzled Sandi, yet she was still intrigued. She often found herself preoccupied by them and by the mysterious figure in red who remained cloaked in the shadows of her study, never coming fully to light in the soft glow of the candle, a single candle which the figure had instructed Sandi to be lit in his presence and no other source of light. And in the presence of the figure Sandi wondered, considered, fantasized -- to see, to touch, to . . .
"Yeah, you're right," Sandi suddenly replied, dispelling her fantasies. "You always are."
And then it happened. For the first time the mysterious figure in red silken cloak stepped from the shadows of the darkened study. The towering figure clad head to toe in the hooded cloak stood before the candle, the desk, before Sandi. Sandi glanced up into the darkness of the hood and saw nothing but two glowing red orbs of light. Her thoughts began to swim again, her respiration quickened, her heart began to race with excitement. She remained silent, dazed, as she stared into the dark emptiness of the hood, stared into the two glowing pools of red light surrounded by the blackness.
An arm of the red cloak reached toward the manuscript. From the open sleeve tendrils of wispy smoke flared then formed into that of a hand. The smoky hand reached for the manuscript and picked it up while another hand forming out of the other sleeve reached for Sandi's chin, cupped it, and tilted her head higher, her eyes and face directly meeting the blackness of the hood which contained the two glowing red orbs. The red orbs flared, a power flowing forth, streaming across the short empty space between Sandi and the towering figure. The power flowed directly into Sandi's eyes, and her senses reeled.
A sudden sense, an intense explosion of eroticism Sandi had never before felt exploded upon her consciousness and coursed through her body. In that single moment she knew the truth of their relationship. Not simply ghost writer to 'idea provider,' but more like slave to master. She was the slave; IT was the Master. And it did not matter. As far as Sandi was concerned, all was well in her world.
"Yes, 'The Coming of Nephren-Ka' shall be told," the voice exploded upon Sandi's senses as the figure released her chin and gently ran two smoky tendril fingers along her cheek. "And there shall be more stories yet to be written."
The Strange Stories editor, Robert Carlina, was working late as he often did. Not because he had to, but rather he wished to -- on his own volition. To put it simply, he loved to stay tucked in his third floor office and read over the hack material he and his pulp magazine incessantly received for possible publication. IT, the material, often made him laugh.
If this were a horror/comedy hack mag . . . , he often thought, laughing to himself. But Strange Stories was not horror/comedy; Strange Stories was horror, plain and simple, a serious magazine of the genre with moving imagery founded on believable characters to draw you into their situations, making the scenario believable, possible, and -- scary.
Strange Stories, a pulp magazine, yes, but Carlina was serious about the magazine, the quality of its format, and the quality of its content. Most of the material he received was nothing but hack work, garbage, as he'd put it many a-time, material that was laughable at best with little or no characterization and a plot so watered down or disjointed that Carlina wondered why these so-called authors even bothered to write. Stick to your day job, so went Carlina's thoughts, pulling forth the oft-overused cliché.
Still, the magazine did maintain its reputation of quality stories, features, and poetry. There was just enough "good material" submitted to push the mag to the press on its monthly schedule, though at times that deadline was hard pressed in being met. But met it was and the mag went out each month.
"Hmph, some young woman dreaming about a horror that already happened to her," Carlina chuckled to himself as he finished another "hack" story. "Brain in a can scenario. Hmph. Nothing promising here."
Carlina paused, sat back, scanning the desk for a return envelope. There was none. He sighed, then reached for the manuscript. A sudden slight breeze curled around the desk. He glanced back, saw the curtains billowing for a instant, then settle against the wall. Turning his attention back to the manuscript, he noted the pages of the next script in his in-box suddenly fan at one corner, then settle as well.
He sighed, shrugged his shoulders. "Odd, hmph, must be getting jumpy," he whispered to himself, uncertainty in his voice. Carlina brushed it off as he picked up the "brain in a can" story again, and chuckled. "Well, no return envelope, so it's furnace food for you!" he added as he dropped the manuscript into the already overflowing wastepaper basket at the side of his desk. "All right, one more then I am going home."
He glanced at his in-box, took note of the manuscript whose pages had just fanned at one corner. An unexplained uneasiness suddenly took hold of him, and he gingerly reached for the script. Glancing at the title, he frowned as he dropped the script to the desk top.
"'The Coming of Nephren-Ka'," Carlina whispered to himself. "I just read this last week! I could have sworn I returned it to this Jensen lady!"
Sandi Jensen slowly rose from her desk in the darkened study. She was alone again, she sensed it, the towering figure in the shimmering red, silken cloak was gone. She turned to the window that looked out on the darkened city, her eyes scanning the night. Shadows moved under the dim streetlights, scurrying about their unseen and unknown business -- tasks which Sandi had correctly guessed long ago were meant for the night and darkness.
The scene outside the window faded as Sandi's mind became a miasmic flow of disjointed images. She longed for the mysterious figure to return, to comfort her, to place those images into her mind again. Sandi realized that she had become addicted, like a drug, to those images -- those scenes of the "other world" that she had of late become such a part of. And the figure had always taken her there, protected her, shown her things to come, the same things she now wrote about.
A Chronicler, her mind whispered. That's what the figure had said, had told her she was to be. A Chronicler of the coming of the . . .
Her thoughts shifted, images of magazines -- those she had submitted stories to, those she had been rejected by. Rejection. Death. Editors died mysteriously . . . And suddenly Sandi knew. Those that would not publish her new material had died mysteriously. Carlina would be next. Still, it didn't matter to Sandi -- Carlina's death or the others. All was right in Sandi's world as long as the mysterious figure was there to protect her, to soothe her.
Deep in the basement of the office building salt water seeped through the cracks in the wall, trickling down on a large fuse box that provided electricity to the five-story building. A power coupling cracked, sparks flew, and a solitary fuse blackened behind the circular glass, plunging one area of the building into darkness -- the offices of Strange Stories.
Carlina's heart skipped a beat as his breath caught in his throat. He glanced up as the power failed. His office was momentarily pitch black. As his eyes adjusted, he rose from his desk and fumbled his way to the light switch on the wall next to the door to his office. He flicked the switch up and down several times. It didn't work.
"Dammit!" Carlina whispered.
His eyes adjusted to the soft yellow glow of the alley streetlight that bathed against the curtained window behind his desk. Carlina turned away from the light switch and walked cautiously to the window. He drew back the curtains, the streetlight in the alley sending a feeble shaft of yellow glow across his desk and half way across the floor, ending in darkness before it reached the door.
"It'll have to do," he said softly as he turned his attention back to the desk and the manuscript which lay there.
He sat, stared at the title page of "The Coming of Nephren-Ka," then slowly pushed it away. Something about the script troubled him, unnerved him. It was silly, he knew, unnerving thoughts with no foundation, no basis. The power failure, that's it -- always fails on these hot nights . . . hot nights . . . And Carlina suddenly realized the office had turned cold, an eerie cold, unusual, like a desert night.
Carlina shivered as he glanced hesitantly around the office. Just my mind playing games . . . that's all . . . yeah, that's all. He wasn't convinced. The cold was real, and he noted a dampness in the air . . . a smell of salt water . . . like . . . natron . . . his mind erupted as his eyes fell on the manuscript. Natron, mummy mix!
The noise in the hall tore Carlina's mind from the manuscript. There was a distant . . . thump. Then another. Coming closer, sounding like footsteps. They were slow and deliberate, approaching his office door from the other side. Something was out there, in the hall, and it was coming to his office.
Carlina planted his hands firmly on the desk top, his eyes wide as he stared at the door that was veiled in darkness beyond the range of the feeble alley streetlight glow. The footsteps came to a stop on the other side of the door. Carlina waited, heard the door handle turn, heard the door creak slowly open, heard the footsteps start again, slower than before.
"Who . . . who's there," Carlina stammered timidly.
A shadow shifted in the darkness, rocking back and forth as it approached the fringe of the feeble streetlight. The shaft of soft yellow light caught a leg, then the torso. The approaching figure moved into the feeble light as it approached Carlina's desk. And Carlina gasped. It was an abomination of death and decay, wrapped in tattered and decaying strips of cloth. It reeked of the tomb and -- NATRON.
Carlina, paralyzed with fear, could do nothing but push himself back in his chair as the thing of death and decay stopped before the desk. He momentarily glanced at the script on the desk, then turned his now watering eyes at the figure in tattered and decaying rags which stood before him. Nephren-Ka . . . I . . . I . . .
Nephren-Ka slowly unfolded a hand, bits of decaying fingers dripping on the desktop, as the long dead priest reached across the desk for Carlina's throat. Carlina tried to scream, but could not.
Student and teacher. Follower and leader. Priest and God. Message and messenger. Student, follower, priest, message -- all of these things were Nephren-Ka. And Nephren-Ka had indeed come, a message delivered.
Outside in the darkened alley waited the teacher, the leader, the God -- Nyarlathotep, Messenger of the Great Old Ones. In the shadows beyond reach of the feeble alley streetlight, Nyarlathotep waited beneath the third floor window of Carlina's office. His soft laughter was carried on the wind, a laughter that no one heard except for, perhaps, Sandi Jensen who awaited Nyarlathotep's return to her. And in the soft shadows of the night, the red cloak of the Black God shimmered.
Created: October 5, 1998; Updated: August 9, 2004