|For Brian Lumley -- Whose rich songs carry us to all|
to the strange lands of night.
They say day and his penetrating herald, dawn, have restorative powers, but night, mute, unknowable night, has her chansons. Perfumed with dread and deception, agony and disbelief, their refrains are sung in every language, by every soul who passes into the dungeons within her autumnal skirts. The verses sung in Oakdeene are many. Whether cursed, sonorously mumbled, hurried or spittle-barbed, or sweetly-promised hushes, they all, finally, fall into the inescapable dominion of night's languorous opera house of forgotten threnodies and bones.
As heavy as the unavoidable truth, night fell on Oakdeene. In the graphically-lit depths of the asylum, which both inmates and employees called Hell, the sequestered inhabitants felt night's caress, and heard her whispered promise.
Fear, night's first born, walked -- its hunger bathed in the sanitarium's sharp bouquet. As fear's footfalls echoed along rigid hallways and found ways through walls, Oakdeene's rodeo of discordant lamentations rose to fill night's unquenchable desire.
A flash of silence. Spirited clatterings. Wired counterfeit-calm and muffled ephemeral rumblings -- resonant bolts followed by their pressurized absence. The stale, over-warm air hung motionless except for Nick Garrett's coiling blue exhalations. Shaded apprehensions clung to paint–amored walls.
The sweat under Quick Nick's collar brought back the memory-immortalized sensations of another cell block and its stifling August heat.
"No wonder they call this place Hell. All that moaning, and the heat -- Christ! It's like being slow-roasted." Just my luck -- stuck in Hell in August. "Shut up, Asshole!" Bastard's nearly ninety and he whines like a kid with a scraped knee. Ought to put 'em all down. Save everybody a bundle. Ain't none of 'em worth shit. "I said shut up!" Same loony babbling every night. No wonder those two quit last month. Hell, if I wasn't in this jam --
Hell quieted for a moment and Nick Garrett went back to his "only D-cups or BIGGER" publication. Lighting another cigarette, Quick Nick, as he liked to be called by his elbow-bendin' buddies at Coe's, flipped through the pages of the September issue of Big Bold Busts, quickly passing the bleached blonde posing as a Nordic snow bunny and the freckled, punked-out redhead with the Stones lips and tongue tattoo nestled in her deep cleavage. Nick was looking for some action, but it better have dark skin.
Passed the small black and white ads guaranteeing to straighten out just about any kink, passed the "How To Find 'Em" text. Another page and another. Centerfold --
"Now that's a set!" Brickhouse Betty -- Just what ol'-Doctor Love ordered. A couple of big soft ones to rub away my blues. "48DD. Heaven. Pure heaven," he said, pruriently admiring the young black woman's breasts through a passing breeze of hotly exhaled smoke. "Just a little squeeze and a big sloppy kiss, and Betty be ready to play love roller coaster."
10 p.m. The clock tore Garrett away from Miss September's abundant charms.
"Time to see if the spooks are nice and comfy."
With his softly jingling keys swaying at his side, Nick started his "top of the hour" check of the cells. About his neck and shoulders, like a garland of skeletally-thin specters performing a pantomime of doom, the smoke from Nick's cigarette slowly whorled.
"Another fine mess you've gotten yourself into." Stuck in this Godforsaken dungeon with Ed Gein's whole fuckin' family. "Well, the British side anyway."
Nick glanced at the form on the clipboard.
Giles, Ian. NMI
Born: 13 March, 1951. Stoke-on-Trent.
Incarcerated: 27 September, 1975.
Level B. Cell 1R.
Serial sodomy/Child molestation/Kidnapping/Murder/Suspected cannibalism.
"Ain't that some fuckin' rap sheet." I can think of a couple of ways to fix the little prick's ass. Could hold a lynching party for his pecker with piano wire -- stand 'em on a orange crate and slip the noose around his prick. Kick the crate, and oops. Then I'd pound a railroad spike up his ass while he's lying there bleedin'. Wonder how he'd like a little turn-about-fair-play?
Angrily disgusted that Giles had been declared criminally insane and allowed to live after the fever-pitched trial, Nick turned away from the cell of the monster camouflaged by smooth cheeks and tender eyes. "Convicted of eighty-eight counts of brutality against kids and they let this fuck live?"
He crossed the corridor and peered into 1L. Ronald T. Shannon appeared asleep.
Look at him. "Sleeping easy as a babe. You'd think one of 'em would have trouble sleeping," Garrett said, thinking about the four murderous women who were reported to be rooming together in Shannon's head.
Nick moved on to 2R -- John Lawrence's little piece of Hell -- and took note of John the Gardener's distant stare. Lawrence had taken up residence when the bodies of three middle-aged spinsters, a child, and four dogs, were found fertilizing his roses. Garrett turned away. There stood the door of 2L.
2L. Martin Spellman. Garrett hated the ancient old man and his incessant moaning. And, worse, when he wasn't moaning or a board of catatonia, Spellman reeled off speaking in tongues gibberish as if he was trying to ward off the apocalypse.
"Freaks. Wacko-freaks. Obsessive-compulsive, paranoid schizophrenic, and the flat-out unzipped, we got 'em all. Murderers and scum-bag pedophiles." Quick Nick Garrett shuddered and instantly chastised himself. "That's their word for it! They don't love kids -- they rape, torture, and enslave. It's abuse. Pure fuckin' evil."
Nick stood as hard as a fist. His hooded eyes darkened. Unmerciful thoughts placed him back in his hometown behind the dilapidated garage on Mumford Street with Tammy Hughes tears on his shirt and his hands around her incestuous father's throat. The face of the monster changed. Back in stir providing cover for the shank that found baby-raper Stanley Teller's midsection.
It's like Johnny Psychoseed's been plantin' by moonlight. And it ain't just in America. "Hell, they had Jack the Ripper over here long before we started growin' 'em," he said, forcefully butting his cigarette with his heel.
Nick continued on, taking note of each inmate's status, markings the forms appropriately, although not neatly. He read the riot act ("Shut up or you'll get muzzled. And a couple real-gooood whacks.") to Lloyd and Merrill who were again exchanging nightly invectives. Andrew Stewart, the Falkirk Ripper, spat at the door and gave Nick the finger as he passed 6L. Garrett instantly replied, upping the ante with both fingers and a sharp comment, "Hey you dumb asshole. I'm out here. I can still rip a piece, so go fuck yourself!"
Half of Nick's charges were asleep, and the others about as quiet as they ever got. All in all it was a typical night in Hell. Back at his desk, boredom was elbowed out by a sudden current of agitation. Pissed, as he hadn't encountered an acceptable willing body in over a month, Nick put the soft-core magazine away; planning to take Miss September up to his room after shift change and mentally fondle her right into the pleasure zone.
As Nick dug through the drawers for another Hourly Status Report form, he found a tightly crumpled-up ball in the papered-depths of the bottom right drawer. Jammed in the rear and somewhat flattened by old notebooks, assorted reams of odd forms, and over a dozen magazines -- most of which were close cousins to his pictorial selection -- the balled-up paper piqued Garrett's curiosity. Using his thumb and forefinger as pliers he liberated the paper ball from its prison and carefully uncrumpled it; straightening it somewhat by rubbing it against the rounded edge of the desk. Almost flat, he turned the page over and looked at the unintelligible handwriting.
Sixth Sath-lat-ta? He wondered, looking at the bold pen strokes. "'G-he 'ph-n-glu-i.' Huh? 'Yibb-Ts . . . tll'. "Fuckin' Grade-A wacko gibberish." Must be something one of these psychos wrote. No wonder they're over the edge.
Nick stared at the four lines; all of which ended with the word, Yibb-Tstll. He tried to pronounce the visually brutal words, but they wouldn't come.
"Waste of time," he decreed, sentencing the page to the trash.
Garrett poured himself a mug of hot, but hours old, black coffee and lit a mentholated cigarette. Twenty minutes later the abrasive words were still fingering his thoughts. He took the page from the wastebasket.
Yib-b?-Ts-t—ll? Yib. Tst? Stit? Uhl? He played with the syllables until he felt he had it. "Yib-STIT-uhl?"
Howls erupted from the cells as Garrett's utterance echoed down the corridor. Pain raked its way out of the throats of the confined -- the terror-blinded pain of the all-too-knowing.
"Shut up -- or I'll give ya something to piss and moan about!" Friggin' murderin' psychos. "If you were human to start with none of ya would even be in here." Better. "Now keep it this way!" Shit, they're quiet -- every damn one. Yib-Stit-uhl. What the hell does it mean? Screw it -- who cares? Yib-Stit-uhl. That I'll remember.
Garrett dumped his cooling cup in the sink and made a fresh pot. He was in a better mood. His new verbal cudgel gave him a potent weapon to beat the pained moans he detested. As Nick began mentally ticking off the laundry list of every hostility cultivated, an idea arose. The residents of Hell had repeatedly scalded the unsuspecting with their violent offenses --
Then fuck 'em. They like to hear screams that hit ya like thunderbolts -- fine. They love to see the trembling on their knees brutalized -- OK. This Yibb-Tstll gibberish slammed fear into 'em like nobody's business. If I repeated it over and over I could drive 'em nuts. But then I'd have to hear their screamin'. But if I taped it, and had headphones, or earplugs . . . These monsters deserve a taste of the suffering they dished out . . . Yeah, I could tape it and just keep playing it back. Yeah, like that weirdo classical guy Anita used to listen to. What was his name? Steve -- Rich? Reich? Whatever. Come Out. That was it. Over and over and over and over and over like a friggin' chant. Looped, she used to call it.
Two nights later, after a shift filled with bent demonic laughter, twisted prayers, and absurd threatening demands for freedom, Garrett decided to purchase earplugs and implement his "fitting little torture."
In the store buying the components of his torture device, Garrett smiled. His "fitting punishment" was gonna hit 'em like an anvil -- "Yeah. The anvil chorus." Nick laughed.
Wednesday's shift began and Nick, earplugs firmly inserted, pushed the play button of the portable cassette player. The volume control knob set at a reasonably firm eleven o'clock, new batteries ready to deliver the punishing mantra, the night music of Oakdeene commenced.
"'Ghe'phnglui, mglw'ngh ghee-yh, Yibb-Tstll,
Fhtagn mglw y'tlette ngh'wgah, Yibb-Tstll,
Ghe'phnglui mglw-ngh ahkobhg'shg, Yibb-Tstll;
THABAITHE! -- YIBB-TSTLL, YIBB-TSTLL, YIBB-TSTLL --'"
Over and over and over and over like a drunk that won't shut up, the words of the Sixth Sathlatta looped as if they were the inexorable laughter of Satan reverberating through every level of the Inferno.
Immune to the howls of the demented and damned, Nick made his rounds. At every cell's 6-inch by 6-inch surveillance window he paused to smile or wink and shout "Yibb-Tstll!" at the blasted-eyed, cringing inhabitant.
This tour isn't gonna be so boring after all, he thought, soon adding his laughter to the chorus of agonized despair.
The repetitious chant, no longer imprisoned within the tape, sprayed its aural cyclical throbbing through Hell. Blooming as if it were an actual performance from Philip Glass or Reich slurred by fulsome chemicals imparting imperfect symmetry, the persistent pulse reflected off the hard surfaces of the corridor walls -- echoes bounced and multiplied imitating a minimal composition of gradual phase shifting. Slowly the outré chorus built. The modulation of Nick's taped voice altered as the slap-echo fed off itself in Hell's concert hall.
Quick Nick's voice became three. Then four. And the choir of Nicks continued to swell into a complex mire of payback sculpted. The repetitive layers of vocal-concrète extended, intertwining and obscuring. The candle power of the overhead lighting quivered. The air temperature dropped. Nick's pulse beat in time to the tempo of the clattering litany that seeped into his ears. The unnatural rhythm of the magnetically-embedded invocation intensified. The trance music bent notes, as if they were tuned wrong, as if they were "The Black Angel's Death Song." And the rhythmic influence was as waves crashing from the forever of distortion on to consciousnesses dented and unwitting. The bottom grew fat and rubbery. It became a drone that squeezed through air with the subtle pressure of a python flowing over uneven branches. The harsh, hurried scatter of words became the strange language of an intolerably strange dream tunneling through and condemning modern sensitivities and traditional disciplines. The middle register was a nearly-pure wind of white noise, and the onrushing spikes and barbs of the higher frequencies played like fits of awkward madness drunkenly quarreling. All the opposing activities, high, low, and middle registers, as hurried as cheap carnivals or fleeing mice, spoke at once. Each banging its blurred dramatic pitches of feedback louder that the last.
Burned to gutturally-coarse wails the constantly locked-down inmates of the asylum's lowest level played nightmarish counterpoint to Garrett's unrelenting recording.
Twenty minutes passed as Garrett's voice became eight strong. Then ten.
In his cell Martin Spellman, who decades before had held Nick's position, stepped out of his fear-induced catatonia. He fought to quell the discordant vocalizations that fell upon his ears like acid. The future, no longer something quiet under glass, inched along carrying the past. Step by step the necromancer's cutting incantation of exaggerated absurdity advanced, bringing confusion-enhanced. All too well Spellman recalled the nightmare the Sixth Sathlatta had summoned from an unknown beyond. All too well he recalled the face and form that had driven him beyond the door of the normal and ordinary. Spellman tried to count the voices; eleven. Thirteen were needed to call forth Yibb-Tstll. Beyond his door Nick's voice became twelve.
Nick stood center stage, both star and victim, in an opera he was completely unaware of. Removing the earplugs, Garrett heard Martin Spellman's voice join the chorus. The adept called. Thirteen -- the push into the thin air of stupefaction, the descent into breathtaking secrets revealed.
Nick Garrett looked and all was nonsensical, uneven, and eerie, as if he'd somehow been imprinted by those he tended -- caught in the thickness of their demented sentience. What if the aether that colored rainbows now took form and began to dance like a 3-legged curse on a mushroom with taps that sounded like clattering knives, and then taking notice of Nick, stopped to chat or admonish? What if all the psychedelic effects from all the drugs were spliced together? Decades of hard life in cheap downtown hotels and wrong alleys that led to state furnished housing hadn't allowed for this. Surely, he felt, he was gone from the earth. His rusted-tight earth of mercurial cons, hard stances, and carnally-willing playgrounds of adventure (after proper lubrication with alcohol and a few pearly lies). This place was impossible, except in someone else's imagination or macabre dreams. Here the sand was washed away. All was front to back -- Swift and Carroll off their hinges in this loft of shadows rising.
"Dream?" He toyed with the word, but fully understood he was awake. Confused, uncertain, and bent by all that flickered before him, but awake in this place where the sky was green and the shapes twisted and ripped. Here where the "sci-fi-jungle-planet tainted by bad-acid" panorama was a hostile factory of discordant buzzing, all he'd been taught, all he was certain of, capsized and was wrecked. There were clipped howls and siren barkings beyond the foliage; the music of some devil's black demons -- they too-aptly fit the distortion.
He shivered. This was the stage where phantoms rashly danced as gods of thunder. This was the pinewoods singing the deliriums of infamy ablaze. He stood there, alone in the unnatural contrasts, as small and frightened as a child.
He stepped back, as if the solitary movement could distance him from this dimension beyond the edge. Nothing changed. What castle of horror had he conjured with his thirst? And it was for them -- the iron maidens and rack and ropes he'd imagined, they were to bend their minds, not his. He'd paid his debt. He'd only killed to protect the innocent, not to consume them. This -- this scathing cold shot was without justification. They were supposed to be cast low. They were supposed to be the mish-mash of flesh and bone and energy that fed the armies of the notorious -- not him! He was supposed to be safe and sane. He was supposed to be warm and fascinated in the arms of Brickhouse Betty -- not exiled to this metropolis of destruction.
Quick Nick turned 180º. The verdant, slimy-wet congestion of clashing foliage was gone. This new vista was desolate. Burnt or blasted -- either way harrowing; this was a contaminated wasteland somehow pulverized into powdery dust and pebbles.
There was motion in the vast clearing's center. His eye caught the rapid rotation of blurred greens. Cloudy emerald, forest, lime, pea, and a dozen other shades, all running together. Some screaming their brilliance, others almost bleached out.
What the hell is that -- Thing? A tree of some sort? An animal? Some building arranged with mistakes and scissors, or some hallucinatory sculpture?
Unwillingly he stepped forward. One invisible push or tug compelled him. Another step. And another. His feet dragged across the scoured barrenness. He demanded his feet go no further. Who's controlling the strings, he wondered, finding himself closer to the spinning form of green which towered perhaps three or four times the height of a tall man? What conference of the dislocated gave stature to this deformity? And why?
"Why?" Why --
Closer and closer still, until he could discern --
Eyes pinched closed, Nick's head shook.
"I won't look. I won't look. It's not there -- I won't accept it." It can't be.
Eyes flung open, expecting the sunshine of reason, it was still there.
The spinning thing slowed. 300 rpms, 230, 110, 90, 60, 40 . . . Pounding heartbeats were consumed as winging seconds. His hardness, inspired and pressure-built by prison and the street, weakened. The inhuman madness stopped its slow pirouetting and faced Garrett. Eye to eye with nightmare, he began to crumble. He wanted to cry out, but to who? Even the concept of "Mommy" was now an unknown before this nether-thing that carried hysteria.
Hellfire-red demon eyes -- seemingly unattached -- slithered like rapid spiders across the wet sheen that covered its decaying head. There was a corrupt orifice in its forehead -- and a smile.
This was no plant. Plants didn't -- couldn't! -- smile. Nick heard terrified laments and pressurized cracking howls dimly echo the endless call he initiated . . . "Yibb-Tstll! Yibb-Tstll! Yibb-Tstll!" Quick Nick was caught in the loop, another fragment in the vast air of echoes. This was what they called to -- this creature. Him.
Yibb-Tstll's sickly grim grin, formed of vile appetites, settled on Nick as if it were the sticky vapors of abhorrence. As if it were thick fleshy draperies nudged by blustery breezes, the cloak billowed and flapped. Skewed edges flicked and fluttered. The neck-to-ground cloak of green parted. Green gave way to black. Beneath the cloak's dominion, loathsome winged creatures of phantasmagorical reptilian design clung to distended black sacks.
Somewhere deep he begged to forget the unforgettable. Yet there it stood. Had he asked for an impossible feat?
Nick's rollicking carnal fantasies of fleshy, sweat-covered black boobs fled before the bloated mammilla of this shuddersome harm. Lumpy, purple-black pus oozed from the gnarled dark nipples of a hundred pendulous teats. He gagged, choking back bile, knowing the viscid fluid to be far worse than the bitter black brew he'd come to detest in Coe's.
At that moment he desperately wished he'd fallen into another life. Perhaps some firm component of the commonplace, where the 5 o'clock world's big black whistle would send him to home to meat loaf and boiled to death peas, kids complaining of being overburdened with homework, bills, and later, a light comedy on television. Nick wanted to be out of here -- behind bolted doors, or playing pool, or laughing at a stupid joke -- anything. Anything at all. Stuck in the rain with a flat, or playing a losing hand of 21, or -- just away from this occult of new sights. Garrett's fleeting wish was kicked aside as the faceless, batish forms flew from their writhing breast perches below the opened cloak, assailing him, mind and body. Nick's rangy arms, oddly waving about like the slight-limbs of a marionette controlled by a drunken puppeteer, ineffectually flailed at Yibb-Tstll's horde of buffeting children. Beneath their biting weight he collapsed before being forcefully cast into the awaiting cloak. Quick Nick, enclosed in the cloak's nearly lightless interior, found the irrationally-fingered hand? -- of an appendage, more branch or tentacle than arm, thrust its probing tips into every orifice of his head. Garrett's death wail met extinction, still a prisoner of his obstructed mouth. Bones snapped like dry twigs under the feet of trophy-blinded hunters and flesh was rent.
Thirty-seven minutes and thirteen seconds after it began, the horrid utterance on the tape was suddenly silenced as the inexpensive cassette was eaten by the inexpensive tape player.
The summoned destroyer withdrew and the echoes decayed. The corridor lay mute as Oakdeene's fiends clamped their eyes shut and exhaled.
Nick's meandering claret made nary a sound as it flowed toward Spellman's metal-skinned door. Enervated, Martin Spellman turned away from the half-eaten shell of Nick Garrett and fell on his bed to silently begin praying for a peaceful death.
Another verse of the inexorable song falls silent, and night, even in the severely-illuminated bowels of Oakdeene, her shielding cloak of darkness drawn tight about her, hibernates the day away. Lost to her cold dreams, she awaits the alarmed cries and panicked laments that arise at twilight.
Created: December 5, 1999; Updated: August 9, 2004