A total blackness surrounded Patrice Dalens -- no substance, no discernible features of any kind. She seemed to be floating, buoyant, then suddenly her feet touched ground. The blackness faded and again she found herself amidst trees of a somewhat familiar wood. It was night, and the night was darker than usual. A formless shadow moved amidst the trees, lurking there, watching Patrice. Then she remembered. It had followed her these many nights, toyed with her, entered her mind, planting grotesque and unholy images there -- images of things to come, of things it planned to do to her. Each night a little closer; each night a little clearer.
Patrice fled the formless shadow. IT followed, seeming to guide her steps, making her go in the direction IT wanted her to go. Something ahead in the woods ... Something she feared, something she did not want to see. IT guided her toward this unseen, unknown ... something. Turning, she ran, hoping to reach -- reach ... a cabin. A cabin ... with a creek. Her memory was vague, fragmented images of a creekside cabin amidst a cluster of trees.
Gasping for breath, she stopped and crouched in the dark against a tree. She peered around, her eyes intent on the dark of the woods. Something's out there. Every night! How many times do I ...? She shivered, pulled her tattered green woolen cloak tighter around her. She quietly leaned forward, turning her head slowly, watching for a sign. Some sound or movement. It was then that she noticed the silence.
A smothering blanket of silence had descended upon the woods. All the creatures of night cowered, quieted, sensing something unnatural and deadly. A predator moving among them. The thing paused, glared about its surroundings, took momentary note of the cowering night creatures, but paid them no heed. It wanted something else. It wanted Patrice.
The glow of its eyes softened as it moved on. It moved silently, softly. Not a twig snapped, not a leaf rustled, not a branch broken. It was keen on the scent of Patrice, and knew she was near. Pausing, it sneered, made a soft clicking noise, then moved on.
Straight ahead it saw Patrice crouched against the tree. It paused to study her, noted her gaze as she glanced fearfully into the darkened woods, noted an occasional slight shiver that rippled through her. It grinned, knew she truly had everything to fear. She was on a path of discovery to things she should not know. And she had to be stopped. She WOULD be ... stopped. In time.
Patrice leaned back against the tree, pressed the palms of her hands against her ears, and closed her eyes tight, squinting. "Let me go home!!!" she screamed.
A sudden movement of shadow caught her eye. Patrice glanced in the direction of the shadow. This presence, this shadow, was darker than anything she had known before. She pulled herself up into a sitting position, drew her knees up under her chin, wrapped her arms around her legs and clasped her fingers together. Her chin rested on her knees. She peered into the dark woods, her eyes and ears alert, listening.
Then the sounds came, the same sounds she had heard many times before. There was a clicking noise, and a strange buzzing sound the reminded Patrice of slurred electronic or mechanical speech. They echoed out of the nearby darkness, and Patrice turned her eyes to the source of the sounds. The shadow shifted. Patrice caught sight of movement as the thing crossed into the oblique moonlight cutting through the woods. She gasped, catching her breath in her throat as she noted its form silhouetted against the moonlight. It was an unearthly shape, unholy -- with elongated arms ending in what appeared to be great claws, and wings partially folded and drawn in against the abomination.
Maybe it doesn't know where I ... The thought was abruptly supplanted by another as Patrice found herself jumping to her feet and running headlong into the dark of the woods. If it didn't, it does now! She ran blindly, not sure of her course. The cabin! That cabin! Again the fleeting thought of a cabin, and the trickling water of a nearby stream. Where ...?
Her heart jumped into her throat as she heard the buzzing sound again. It was shrill, whirling, sounding as if the thing was ... excited? Behind her she could hear the snapping of twigs. It was coming, following her -- rapidly. Low hanging branches snapped against her face as she ran, red welts of pain and discomfort to forming on her cheeks. She tried to pick up the pace, run faster, as fast as she could. Her breath quickened; she gasped, sucking air as if it was the last, her death if she could not reach ...
The clicking was suddenly louder. Patrice's eyes went wide. It's gaining! It's ... It was behind her, right behind her ... noises, clicking, buzzing ... louder ... a light, a light through the trees ... Patrice broke into a small clearing. There was a small cabin, the cabin of her thoughts. She ran headlong across the clearing toward the front door, taking passing notice of the soft yellow firelight of a fireplace glowing through a front window.
She grabbed the door handle, began to turn it, then froze as she felt a soft touch on her right shoulder. There was silence in the dark woods now ... no buzzing, no clicking, no snapping of twigs or branches, no night sounds of any kind. Patrice held her breath. Her eyes were wide as she slowly turned her head. A shaft of ice cold fear tore through her as she looked upon ... a pink claw, like a huge crab.
The sight of the crab-like thing in her nightmare jarred her awake. She forced back the scream, caught her breath in her throat, as she sat up on the couch. Blood raced, perspiration trickled, yet she felt uncannily cold. She drew the green woolen Pendleton blanket tighter around her, and peered timidly about the cabin, half expecting to see the crab-like thing of her nightmare lurking in a darkened corner. But it wasn't there.
"Asleep, asleep," she whispered softly. "I fell asleep."
She sighed as she pushed herself to her feet, still clutching the blanket. Still peering about the small cabin, she glanced at her work desk littered with typewriter and paperwork, the sparse furniture, the single bookcase in a corner, the breakfast bar. On the breakfast bar she took note of her alarm clock, of the time. Hmph, 11:35. Slept for almost two hours. Twenty five minutes and it's the witching hour. How appropriate.
She shrugged, then turned and crossed the floor to a window. It was a side window, and the window was open. Patrice stared out into the dark night of Columbiana County's Pine Hollow countryside. She could barely hear the soft trickling of Pine Hollow Run just beyond the line of trees. Barely two inches deep, the creek meandered southwest for four miles to join with the Middle Fork of Beaver Creek. The moon shown ashen gray through the trees, the soft light cutting across the grass between the woods and the window Patrice was looking out. And aside from the trickling waters of the shallow creek, all was quiet.
Patrice shrugged as she turned away from the window. Her eyes surveyed the cabin interior -- the soft glowing embers of the fireplace, the breakfast bar in disarray, the work table cluttered with notes, various texts, the thesis, and her old Olympia typewriter. "Work," she voiced softly. She sighed and shook her head as she glanced at the typewriter with a blank page scrolled in the carriage. "Not tonight."
Back to sleep. She slowly crossed the room, crawled back onto the couch, and curled up on her side as she dragged the green trapper's blanket up around her shoulders. Weary from a long day's research and a walk in the woods, it didn't take her long to fall asleep again. Outside the darkness crept closer to the cabin. The soft ashen light of the moon seemed to dim as if a shadow had moved across it. And as Patrice drifted into a deep undisturbed sleep, she was not aware of the typewriter on the work table as the carriage slowly began to move, the keys clicking out a message on the blank page. And then it stopped. Only the soft trickling of Pine Hollow Run beyond the trees disturbed the dark night that surrounded the cabin.
The rising sun was uncommonly warm, burning off a light covering of fog. Birds sang their morning songs. Small woodland creatures scurried in the underbrush for their early morning meal. The water of Pine Hollow Run trickled softly past the cabin while the water of Patrice's coffee marker trickled softly into her waiting coffee pot.
She stood at the breakfast bar, leaning forward, her hands splayed out on the counter in front of her. She had awakened only moments earlier, still trying to shake the wispy strands of sleep from her mind. Coffee, she thought, trying to find something for her sleep jumbled thoughts to cling to. Coffee.
The sun inched higher, a shaft of bright sunlight rolling in through the window. It cut an oblique angle across the breakfast bar. Patrice turned her eyes to the light, took note of the dancing dust particles, then glanced at the coffee maker. She smiled dimly, then absently shifted her gaze across the counter top until she fixed on the red Folger's coffee can. Her mind went blank and from the depths of her subconscious, a single thought began to rise.
"Cylinder," she voiced the thought softly, not knowing why she had made the abstract association. "A metal cylinder. Brain in a can." Her thoughts startled her fully awake, her eyes wide as she pushed away from the breakfast bar. There was something there, some dark meaning, a remembrance of something which had brought the abstract thoughts to mind. She shook her head to dispel a momentary uncertainty. "Coffee, I need coffee," she said softly to herself as she turned to a cupboard, a trace of uneasiness lingering.
Patrice took a cup from the cupboard. She jerked the coffee pot from under the drip pan, the still percolating coffee hissing as it trickled onto the hotplate. She poured herself a cup, then returned to coffee pot to the hotplate. The coffee, hot and black, warmed her as she took a sip. She peered over the rim of the cup at her cluttered work table, then lowered the cup slightly and sighed. "Well, I should get started," she voiced her thoughts softly, still staring at her work table. "It's not going to get done all by itself."
With a passing glance at the Folger's can, the lingering uneasiness now rapidly fading, Patrice rounded the end of the breakfast bar and crossed the room to her work table. She sat the cup down next to her typewriter, then stood there, hands on hips, fighting to work up ambition and energy to start where she had left off on her senior thesis. She sighed as her eyes fell on the stack of freshly typed pages, the title page on top. Strange and Obscure Cults Across Rural America, she read the title silently. And she shook her head dejectedly.
A senior thesis required of all graduating seniors had been newly instituted by the university the year before. Patrice had been a junior, and there had been some debate with university officials as to when the new policy would take effect. Patrice had hoped the debate would see her through her senior year, that she could slip through the system without having to write the thesis. But the debate ended as quickly as it began. The new policy would take effect with all returning seniors. And Patrice would be a returning senior. Just my goddam luck, she had voiced disgruntledly. I thought only grad students had to do that garbage!
"Oh well," she sighed. She reached for her coffee, and took another sip. Then, coffee cup still in hand, she slid into the chair and turned to her typewriter. Her eyes went wide as they came to rest on the page in the typewriter carriage. "What in the ...?" she voiced her surprise. More puzzled than alarmed, she peered wonderingly at the three words and two letters that were on the page, a page she had inserted into the carriage the night before, a page she had left blank. The words were centered, italicized, evidently a title. The two letters were identical, one above the other, and placed beneath the first letter of the first word of the supposed title.
THE HASTUR CYCLE
How did ... maybe sleep walking? her thoughts tried to rationalize. Patrice shook her head. Unlikely. She sat the coffee cup down slowly, her eyes glancing over the three words, shifting to the two letters, then back to the three words. "The Hastur Cycle," she thought aloud. "What the Hell is The Hastur Cycle?" She paused, rifling her memory for some clue, some recognition. There was none.
An unexplainable feeling of uncertainty and discomfort began to arise within Patrice. An unconscious reaction at first, she began to sense it, feel it. Goose bumps trickled to life down her arms. She sat back in the chair, her eyes still on the page. She convinced herself that she hadn't put those words and letters on that page. Blank. It was blank. I know it was blank. Still, Patrice knew that someone or something had to have put them there. But why?
The telephone rang. Patrice jumped in her chair, caught her breath, then slowly glanced toward the phone on the wall next to the breakfast bar. She slowly pushed herself off the chair and crossed the room toward the phone. Persistent, whoever it is, she thought as she reached for the phone on the sixth ring. "Hello," she said.
"Hey babe!" came the reply. "Just wanted to see how things were going with you."
Patrice's mind was unconsciously sucked into those words. Just wanted to see how ... just wanted to ... just wanted to ... Her thoughts began to spiral down a whirlpool of darkened memories. This has happened before, this phone ca ... She was sure of it. Her eyes went wide, her mind keying on a thought. It's already happened! It's already happened ... it's already ... A misty lightness swirled around her. She felt as though she were floating, buoyant, lost in some darkened limbo where everything was hazy, distant, dream-like. And somewhere in the distance a voice was calling to her, calling her back.
"Hey baby? Are you there?" came the voice from the receiver. "Patrice? Are you there?"
The voice on the phone cut through her spiraling reverie. The mists of remembrance and uncertainty that had clouded her thoughts and vision dissipated. Hmph, Deja Vu, she thought as she let go of the hesitance, the uncertainty. She glanced across the room at her typewriter, then turned her attention back to the telephone.
"Ye ... yeah, I'm fine, Robbie," she said, her voice calming. "Glad you called."
"You sure you're alright?" Robbie began, his concern evident. "You don't sound ..."
"Yeah, I'm sure," Patrice interrupted. "Just a little tired. Hey, listen, I want you to do something for me."
"Anything, honey. You name it."
"Go to the library," she began, turning her eyes to the typewriter across the room. "See if they have a copy of a book called The Hastur Cycle. At least I think it's a book ..."
"The Hastur Cycle," Robbie's voice came over the phone.
"Yeah, The Hastur Cycle," Patrice confirmed. "If they have it, sign it out and come on down to the cabin."
Pine Hollow Run, a mere trickle that would hardly cover your shoe should you step into it, was swift moving and clear. The midmorning sun glistened off the water, a mirror of light pouring into Patrice's eyes as she sat on a log staring at the swiftly moving water. The warmth of the sun and the bright light in her eyes caused her mind to wander. The surroundings slowly faded as her thoughts drifted, focused on nothing. She reached a central point somewhere deep inside, a hollow place -- deep and dark, with no sound. Her thoughts continued to drift without purpose or direction.
A sense of gentle motion began to come over her as though she were adrift in a great black sea of warm liquid. It was a floating sensation, then Patrice felt herself gently settling, as though slowly sinking, then the motion gently reversed as she felt herself rising. The motion was slow, gentle. Patrice was soothed by it. She hadn't a care. She wanted to stay in this gentle and peaceful unknown place of darkness, her thoughts adrift.
A soft noise from somewhere nearby released her drifting thoughts. She floated to the surface, back to the light of day once again, back to the trickling waters of Pine Hollow Run. The sound echoed in the air amidst the pines. Patrice smiled as she turned her eyes to the towering trees, searching for the source of the soft and gentle voice of the song bird that was perched somewhere unseen.
The calm serenity and bliss of the dark unknown place to which Patrice's mind had escaped and the gentle pleasant song of the songbird hidden in the pines faded to disappointing shadows as her thoughts drifted to her unfinished thesis. Only a week left before it's due, she thought. She sighed as she rose to her feet. So peaceful and quiet here. Her eyes drifted from the rolling waters of Pine Hollow Run to the gently swaying pines. She paused. The sun was warm on her face. For a passing moment she closed her eyes and smiled, then turned toward the cabin.
She climbed the creek bank, pushed off a pine, then started across the small clearing between the creek and the cabin. Her eyes drifted to the cabin window facing the creek. It was the same window where she had stood the previous night after having awakened from her nightmare. She chuckled softly as the thought of the nightmare crossed her mind. Silly. Just plain stupid.
Patrice shook her head as she passed by the window and started around the corner of the cabin toward the front door. A roving eye caused her to stop dead in her tracks. She backtracked two steps, her eyes growing wide as she peered at the ground in front of her. There were tracks in the soft earth leading from the side window around the corner, and toward the front door. The tracks were not human, not animal. At least not any animal she knew of. And the sudden thought of her nightmare and that thing with the pinkish claw that had rested on her shoulder came back in stunning clarity.
Holding the book open, Patrice leaned forward on the breakfast bar, fanned through the pages, then closed it. "The Hastur Cycle. Published by Chaosium, Incorporated; edited by Robert M Price," she said, her eyes studying the cover, tracing along the blue and white lettering of the title. "I don't get it."
"Get what?" Robbie questioned as he glanced at her from the chair where he sat at Patrice's work table.
She glanced at Robbie, her fingers tapping the book cover. "This book," she replied. "I've never seen it before. Never even heard of it. What's it have to do with me?" She paused, glanced at the book, then gestured to typewriter, adding, "And who or what typed that, and why?"
Robbie glanced at the title and the two letters on the page in the carriage. He sighed as he tried to guess at answers he knew he could not. "Two letter Ls," he thought aloud, and turning to Patrice, he added, "Could be Lovecraft and Lupoff."
"The two letters; they could mean Lovecraft and Lupoff," Robbie repeated. "Writers. Both of them have a story in that book."
Patrice opened The Hastur Cycle to the contents page and scanned down the list until she came to the names. "Ah, here were are," she said softly. "'The Whisperer in Darkness' by H P Lovecraft, aaaannnd ...'Documents in the Case of Elizabeth Akeley.' Richard A Lupoff." Her eyes suddenly went wide. She slowly lifted her head, her eyes blank, her thoughts digging into buried memories. "Oh my God," she whispered.
"Huh?" Robbie was confused. "What ..."
"Who's this Lupoff guy?" Patrice interrupted, her eyes narrowing as she focused on Robbie.
With a shrug of his shoulders, Robbie's eyes turned inward on his thoughts, searching for any shred of information he may have come across and stored in his memory. "I don't know; a writer," Robbie said. "I have no idea what all he's written, but there was the Bentfin Boomers thing ..."
"Bentfin Boo ...," Robbie paused, realizing it had no bearing on what they were discussing. "Never mind. So what's the deal with Lupoff anyway?"
Patrice glanced at the Lupoff title again. She read slowly over each word, her eyes jumping from one word to the next. "'Documents in the Case of Elizabeth Akeley,'" she read softly, then looked up at Robbie. "I have an aunt named Elizabeth Akeley."
"It's gotta be a coincidence," Robbie half chuckled.
"Maybe so," Patrice said softly. She sighed, glanced at the contents page, then closed the book again.
"So, what about this aunt of yours?"
"Well, there isn't much I do know," she said as she grabbed the book, rounded the end of the breakfast bar, and crossed the room to the work table. She laid the book next to her typewriter, then turned and leaned against the table. "Elizabeth Akeley isn't really an aunt, like my mom's sister or something; it goes back further than that -- to my great grandfather George Akeley. A lot of skeletons in the closet."
"Skeletons in the closet?" Robbie's interest was piqued.
"Yeah, mom and my grandma Phillips won't talk much about the Akeley side," Patrice continued. "They were a bunch of religious freaks or something like that. Well, anyway, George had an illegitimate child. My grandma, Catherine Akeley Phillips. It was hushed up. The Akeley's didn't talk about it, and neither did my grandma's family." Patrice paused, chuckling on hindsight. "Actually, from what I've heard, my grandma's family didn't want nothing to do with Akeleys, especially when old George had another child to some other woman. My grandma was two years old at the time."
"Some other woman?" Robbie questioned.
"Yeah," Patrice replied. "Old George married her. The child was Elizabeth Akeley's mom."
"Well, for being a holy man, looks like George got around," Robbie said.
"Yeah, looks that way," Patrice laughed.
"If this other daughter was Elizabeth's mom, then how did Elizabeth get the Akeley name?" Robbie questioned. "After all, wouldn't she have had her father's name?"
"From what I've heard, Elizabeth had a falling out with her dad's family," Patrice replied. "I don't know what it was about, but Elizabeth moved to California, lived with old George, and took the Akeley name." She smiled as she glanced back at the book lying on the table. "Well, I think I'll head out by the creek and read Lupoff's story." Looking back at Robbie, she added, "You don't mind, do you?"
"Oh no, no. You go ahead. I think I could use some shut-eye. I'll just crash on your couch for a while."
Patrice's smile broadened. She picked up The Hastur Cycle, leaned forward and kissed Robbie on the forehead, then disappeared through the door.
Just a book. Nothing more, Robbie thought. He glanced at the door, then turned his eyes to the page in the carriage. "She's making more out of this than there is," he mumbled his thoughts aloud. His mind began to wander as he stared at the page. He shook his head, shook it off, then turned his eyes to the door once again as he rose from the chair. "Oh well," he sighed, shrugging his shoulders.
He crossed the room, stretched out on the couch, closed his eyes, and smiled as a peaceful relaxing feeling began to overcome him. A loud buzzing noise suddenly erupted, permeating the cabin. Robbie's eyes shot open wide. He sat up, frowning as he glanced hesitantly about. The buzzing noise began to fade, then was gone.
"Hmph," he voiced softly as he glanced at the side window. "I wonder how big the insects get in these woods?"
In the darkened cabin a droning hum and a soft flash of amber, red, and green lights arrested Patrice's attention. The cycle of flashing lights repeated itself ... over and over. Slowly, fearfully, Patrice turned on her heels. Her eyes were wide as they came to rest upon her work table. She gasped and staggered backward.
The work table had been cleared of her research -- papers, notes, books, articles, and thesis scattered on the floor. Only the typewriter remained on the table -- that and two metal cylinders. And on the floor beneath the table were three small metal boxes, evidently some sort of machinery with cables running from each machine to the two cylinders.
Both cylinders stood upright, about two feet tall, a foot in diameter. Near the bottom of each cylinder was a needle gauge. Above the gauges were three sockets spaced in the form of a small triangle; the cables leading from the three metal boxes beneath the table were plugged into each socket. Beneath the gauges were three small lights placed in a row -- amber, green, and red. One cylinder seemed to be in operation, the source of the humming noise, its red, green, and amber lights flashing. The other cylinder was dark and silent, its top open.
And sitting at the table was Robbie, the top of his head gone, his brain having been removed. A grin slowly crossed his face as he turned his eyes to Patrice. "The cylinders, Patrice," came his strangely metallic disembodied voice, his lips unmoving. "The cylinders. One for me. One for you."
Patrice suddenly realized that Robbie's voice was coming from one of the strange metal boxes beneath the table. His grin broadened as she haltingly shook her head in fear, her thoughts fragmented. She continued backing away, backing into the breakfast bar. Cylinders, cylinders ... the cylinders ...
"The Spiritual Light Brotherhood Church of San Diego," Patrice thought aloud. "What the Hell is that?" She had read the story, Lupoff's story, and was now hurriedly paging through it, turning pages forward and backward. Her eyes narrowed as she scanned the pages, picking out bits and pieces of information, details that erupted upon her thoughts. She was both amazed and shocked. This one story had told her more about her family than anyone in her family had ever told her.
Radiant Mother, transcripts -- voices, transcripts of recorded voices, Yuggoth, Ezra Noyes, Agent Whiteside. Her thoughts danced as her eyes caught details of the story. She turned another page and paused, focusing on the words at the top. "Akeley, Elizabeth -- History and Background," she read. "Damn, an entire family history!" She scanned Lupoff's biographical sketch of her family, then continued paging through the story inadvertently picking up words that caught her eye. Vermont UFO Intelligence Bureau, Venus, Mars, Jupiter's moons, capsules, cylinders ... Her thoughts ground to a halt as a sudden feeling of uneasiness came over her. She was troubled, something about that word, something profound, but she couldn't remember what. She slowly lifted her eyes from the pages of the story. Her eyes were vacant, staring into space, her thoughts focusing on the word. Cylinders. A pause. Cylinders. Why do I ...?
She sighed as she shook the thoughts from her mind. She closed the book, held it balanced on her leg, and peered at the two inch deep trickling water of Pine Hollow Run, letting her thoughts flow momentarily with the water. Then turning her attention back to the book, she paused as she glanced at the cover, slapped the book against her leg, and jumped from the log where she had been sitting. "I've gotta tell Robbie about this," she voiced softly. And gently taping the book against the side of her leg, she turned away from the creek and headed toward the cabin.
"Hmph," Robbie mumbled to himself as he slowly closed the book, having just finished Lovecraft's "The Whisperer in Darkness." He glanced at the title of the book, The Hastur Cycle, then turned his eyes to the page in the typewriter carriage. "Henry Akeley," he thought aloud, reflecting on the story.
The door of the cabin suddenly burst open as Patrice entered. Robbie looked up, saw the excitement in her eyes.
"I just finished Lupoff's story," she said, her voice animated. "It's about my family ..."
"I just finished Lovecraft's story," Robbie interrupted as he held up the book.
Patrice stopped dead in her tracks. She gasped, then suddenly realized that the slight tugging at her fingers, the slight weight of the book she had held ... was gone. She slowly turned her eyes to her empty hand, then gazed back at Robbie.
"I just ... I just ...," she stammered. Then, gesturing over her shoulder at the still open door, she exclaimed, "I had that book outside!"
"That's impossible, Patrice," Robbie replied. "I've been reading it for the past hour and a half."
You gave it to him, came a soft feminine voice. Her eyes went wide. The voice was her own. And as Patrice turned toward the source of the voice, the cabin was suddenly gone, and she found herself outside standing on the bank along Pine Hollow Run.
The trickling water of Pine Hollow Run faded as Patrice disregarded the sound. Her jumbled thoughts were trying to focus on the image which stood before her a few short feet away. The image was Patrice herself, yet ethereal, ghost-like, the image's hair buffeting on an unseen wind while Patrice's own hair lay placidly about her shoulders.
"How ... wha ...?" Patrice stammered as she stared at the ghostly image of herself. "This can't be happening."
The ghost image turned to face her, its motion slow, languid. "But it is ... and was," the image spoke, the words slow and drawn out.
Patrice shook her head in disbelief, an unconscious effort to rattle clarity and order back into her thoughts. "I can't believe I'm talking to myself!" she exclaimed. "At least a ghost of ..."
"The words tell," the image nodded her head haltingly as she interrupted Patrice. Her voice took on a more musical tone as she continued, "Robbie knows. He will read the story, has read, is reading. Just like you." The image paused; a slow smile spread across her face. "Like me. Like us. We know."
"We know what?" Patrice was incredulous.
"The dream. In the darkness there are dreams," the image said softly. Then smiling, she turned her head to the sky and lifted an upturned palm as if in homage to some unseen and unknown force. "Listen to the words," the image added slowly, softly. "They speak. They know." And she slowly closed her eyes.
"What words?" Patrice question desperately. "What are you talking about?"
Listen to the ... words. They will tell you. The image's words echoed behind Patrice, and yet the image had not spoken them. Patrice stared at the image. Her eyes were still closed, head upturned, hair still buffeted on an unseen wind, her hand still raised. It seemed to Patrice that her ghost-like image was ... asleep!
Patrice turned momentarily, glancing over her shoulder in the direction from which the words had come. And turning back, she found the image was gone.
"Robbie?" Patrice said fearfully as she turned a circle in the center of the cabin. She paused, glancing around. "Robbie? Are you here?"
But Robbie was no where to be found. As Patrice slowly glanced about the cabin, it appeared to her as though he had never been there. Everything was as the day before. The coffee maker was turned off, its nearly empty pot of coffee now long cold. Patrice's notes, papers, books, articles, and thesis littered the work table. The page still rested in the typewriter carriage. Robbie's backpack was gone from where he had left it by the door. And there was no sign of the book, The Hastur Cycle.
Listen to the words, Patrice heard her own voice again. They speak. They know. And suddenly the sound of clicking typewriter keys cut through the stillness of the cabin.
Patrice spun around, her wide eyes falling on the slowly moving carriage. Hesitantly she approached the work table, walked around the near end of it, and stood facing the typewriter. Her eyes scanned the letters that the typewriter was printing.
"-i-t-h-i-n a d-r-e-a-m. e-a-p," she read the letters softly as they appeared on the page just below the two letter L's. "One eight two seven. 1827." The carriage stopped; the typewriter fell silent. Patrice read the words softly. "All that we see or seem, is but a dream within a dream. eap 1827."
She began to slowly back away from the work table. Her thoughts were disjointed, jumbled; out of sequence. Two words from the quote filtered through the miasma of her thoughts and fought their way to surface in her consciousness. "A ... a dream," she voiced softly.
A crackling of twigs underfoot caused Patrice to look up. From out of the woods appeared an old man. His hair was white, stringy, his face pale, cheeks sunken. His eyes glistened eerily. He wore a lopsided grin, his head cocked to one side. His clothes were tattered rags, and strangest of all, his skin just seemed to hang on him much like the tattered rags he wore.
He cackled as he approached Patrice, his gait rocking side to side like an upright walking chimpanzee. "Yur an Akeley, aintcha!?" he cackled, his voice a strangely metallic buzzing.
Fear began to rise within her. "Wha ...?" she began as she started to back away from the old man.
The old man cackled with glee, then interrupted Patrice. "I knowd ya was! I kin tell by the looks o'ya!"
Patrice turned and dashed into the woods. Behind her she could hear the old man's cackling laughter, his laughter the tone of that strange metallic buzzing he had spoken with.
From the surrounding woods Patrice burst into the clearing next to the small cabin. She stopped as she noticed Robbie standing by the side window. He was grinning at her, his head cocked to one side, and there was something about him, something strange. He appeared to be thinner, shrunken; his skin seemed to hang on his body, and his eyes were hollow with dark circles. Strange, Patrice thought. She shrugged it off and hurried toward him.
"The prints, see those prints?" she pointed at the ground as she joined Robbie by the cabin window. "That's what I was talking about! Those prints aren't hu ..."
"I don't see any prints," Robbie interrupted, his voice mechanical. He smiled.
Patrice was stunned. She glanced at the prints in the soft earth, then turned her eyes back to Robbie. "What are you talking about?! Are you blind? Look at them!" She glanced at the prints, then back at Robbie. "They're all over the place!" she exclaimed, then pointing randomly, she added. "There! There! And there!"
There was a rattling deep in Robbie's throat as he forced the words out. "There are no prints, Patrice," he said, his words strangely buzzing like some machine or mechanical insect. "There are no prints ... are no prints ... are no prints ...," Robbie buzzed over and over as he raised a hand and stepped toward Patrice.
For the first time she noticed that, instead of human hands, pink crab-like claws extended from Robbie's shirt sleeves, the same as in her nightmare. "Nooo!" she screamed as the clicking claws reached for her. She turned and ran across the clearing, disappearing into the woods along Pine Hollow Run.
The buzzing noise cut through the woods -- shrill, whirling, as if it were ...excited? Patrice could hear the snapping of twigs. It was coming for her -- rapidly. She ran faster, branches clawing her face. She sucked in air; fear and exertion quickened her breath. The clicking noise was louder. Patrice's eyes went wide. It's gaining! It's ... It was nearly upon her ... the clicking, the buzzing ... Then a light through the trees. Patrice broke into a small clearing. There was a small cabin, the cabin of her thoughts. She hurried across the clearing to the cabin door.
She grabbed the door handle, paused as she turned it, then froze. Something had gently touched her right shoulder. Silence descended on the dark woods. The buzzing, the clicking, the snapping of twigs and branches had stopped. Patrice caught her breath. Her eyes wide, she turned her head slowly. And resting upon her right shoulder she saw a pink claw, like a huge crab.
Tears welled in her eyes as she finished the turn and looked up at the two figures standing behind her. "No no no ...," her voice was breaking as she shook her head. Standing there were Robbie and the old man. But Patrice knew the truth. She had read it in Lupoff's story, and Lovecraft's. This wasn't Robbie or the old man. These were things, horrors, that wore the flayed skin of Robbie and the old man. And choking on her fear, all she could say was "Why?"
The thing wearing Robbie's skin spoke, its voice a grating metallic buzzing noise. "Youuu woould come ... tooo know tooo much," it said.
"I ... I won't tell anybody," she cried, immediately realizing she had just voiced the standard futile plea for her life that she knew full well would be ignored.
The thing wearing the old man's skin stepped forward. "We got us another Akeley," its buzzing voice cackled as it brushed Patrice's hand away from the door handle. It then opened the door, pushed it wide, and with their claws closing on her wrists, they lead Patrice through the door and into the cabin.
A soft hum permeated the cabin interior, a droning noise Patrice knew she had heard before. The room was gloomy except for the soft glow of red, green, and amber lights. Patrice glanced wide eyed at her work table. The same as before, her thoughts tugged at a recent memory. The image of Robbie seated at the table with the top of his head gone flashed through her mind. A dream ... it had to be a dream! But it wasn't. The papers, notes, articles, thesis, and books were still scattered on the floor; the three small metal boxes still rested beneath the table, the two cylinders on the table, both now operational with their three lights glowing steadily, and one of them with its top still open. There was only one difference in the setting. Her chair had now been moved, placed in front of the work table, facing away from it.
After a short pause, Patrice was lead across the room to the chair. The things turned her around, forced her down onto the chair. Producing leather straps, the thing wearing Robbie's skin bound her wrists to the chair, then reached for her head, its claws holding her immobile.
"What ... what are you going to do to me?" she cried.
"This won't hurt a bit," the thing wearing Robbie's skin buzzed.
The thing wearing the old man's skin suddenly held up a strange instrument that resembled some sort of surgical scalpel. The red, green, and amber lights of the cylinders glinted off its metal. Patrice glanced up wide eyed as the thing leaned toward her. "Now you hold steady Akeley girl," its buzzing voice cackled as it rested its free claw on top of Patrice's head. The thing reached forward with the instrument and cut across Patrice's forehead in one quick motion.
"Nooooooooo!" Patrice screamed as blood from the wound ran down her forehead and into her eyes. She closed her eyes tight against the flow of blood. In a final frenzied attempt to save herself she threw herself from the chair, broke through the leather straps as if she'd never been bound, and broke free of the two monstrous things. And wiping the blood from her eyes, she hurried across the room and disappeared into the night through the still open door.
Patrice ran blindly through the woods. Trees reached for her, clawed her as she passed them by. The soft light of the moon cast dancing shadows across her path while strange shadowy forms danced in fragmented images across her mind. She heard things -- strange noises, cackling laughter, buzzing and clicking. She was beyond the point of knowing or caring what was real and what wasn't.
To her right a light twinkled in the dark. It caught her eye, and Patrice turned toward it. Without slowing she ran toward the twinkling light, and as she neared she could tell that it was the light of the moon reflecting off the surface of Pine Hollow Run ... at least her jumbled thoughts had told her so. And as she reached the creek bank, she stumbled and somersaulted into the air.
The world spun, and Patrice crashed into the water. The water was soft, soothing, warm, embracing. It began to help clear her thoughts. In a passing moment she realized something seemed out of place. Then it dawned on her. She found herself slowly sinking in Pine Hollow Run, a minor runoff creek hardly more than two inches deep, and yet, she was immersed in its water.
But she didn't care and brushed the thought away. The warmth of the water caressed and soothed her. She was safe, aloof, content, detached from the cares of the outside world. The soothing darkness closed around her. Her thoughts drifted somewhat, but no longer were they filled with disjointed frightful images. She heard her own voice again -- faint, distant, and musical. It's too late ... toooo laaate. Dreaming ... dreeeaming in ... darkness. And in an ever dwindling moment of curiosity, she reached out with her thoughts through the warm and comforting water, gently touched the curving inner surface of her cylinder, and ...
...her mind exploded to full conscious awareness. She realized she'd been dreaming events that had taken place days earlier, and that her brain now floated in the warm fluid inside the cylinder. She screamed, a wretched and agonized scream. Her scream was metallic, mechanical, machine-like, as it echoed through the interior of the cabin. And as she screamed, the amber light on the face of her cylinder flashed wildly: the mechanical sound of her voice poured forth from the speaker of a machine beneath the work table.
The thing stood in the shadows of the woods just above the bank of Beaver Creek. Across the creek stood the reconstructed Gretchen's Lock on the grounds of Beaver Creek State Park. A family of four, parents and two children, walked along the north wall of the lock, oblivious to the thing across the creek. The thing made a clicking noise followed by a soft buzz as it watched the family. For a moment it thought it had been seen. The adult male across the creek had paused and glanced in the direction where the thing stood. The thing pulled deeper into the shadows and watched. Presently the adult male turned away.
Clicking softly to itself, the thing turned and shuffled away, swaying unevenly on its clawed feet. It buzzed a soft chuckle, realized it had nothing to fear from those at Gretchen's Lock. After all, they couldn't see clearly from the distance which had separated them. To them at the lock, the thing would have appeared as just another human. A young woman. The thing buzzed another soft chuckle as it continued deeper into the woods. And the disguise it wore, it was a good disguise -- the clothes, skin, face, and hair of Patrice Dalens.
Author's Note: My thanks go to Robert M. Price for permission to use his name, the book title The Hastur Cycle, & the company name of Chaosium, Incorporated, for use in this story, & also to Richard A. Lupoff for permission to use his story, "Documents in the Case of Elizabeth Akeley," as background material for this story.
Created: May 16, 2000; Current Update: August 9, 2004