The Inner Dark by Duane Pesice

When the stars are right, you do what you must.

Overhead the stars twinkle in the clear dark.

Each has a corona of its own, as the skies are clear.

From more than one of them came the conquerors, long ago.

They came first as a tidal wave bearing visitors only hinted at in the most ancient of journals, visitors that spread the destruction of the wave far beyond the reach of the waters. These visitors were tall, and never remained in the same shape for very long, but always had black skin that glistened, and tentacles with mouths at the end of them, and were always horrible to behold.

They spoke not, but howled on occasion, wordlessly, as they ravened, creating random carnage where they passed. Behind them came a retinue equally strange, dog like loping creatures that tore at the corpses and the still-living bodies, faceless black batwinged humanoids that laughed like hyenas in an echo chamber, and others, some of two legs, some of four, some with no legs at all.

This tide swept over the land in seeming instants, and all were overcome by the Creeping Black Death. Those of us who managed to live through this cataclysm were enslaved, and taken far underground into nighted caverns, where torches glowed and smoked in the endless depths.

But we weren't taken soon enough to miss the rest of the apocalypse.

I, myself, watched in horror as an earthquake took the city of St. Louis below, and squalid legions poured forth from the fissure. One of the other slaves told me that the west coast is now part of Atlantis, which I understood to mean that it's flooded. Always thought that would happen. And even that was just the beginning. Time is different now, even wind-up watches work funny or not at all. Everything looks different too, the edges are sharper and almost anything can cut you if you get too close, which isn't hard to do, because nothing seems to be in the same place for very long.

Just after St. Louis went under, the sky cracked open with a thunder that could be heard around the globe, and a series of globes issued from the opening.

These globes were of all sizes, thousands of them, and they had a metallic sheen to them. They whirled madly as they descended, and all of the clocks stopped.

A clamor arose of piping and drumming from the invaders, and many voices were heard in a chant that encircled the planet.

The head of a giant appeared on the horizon, the octopoid skull of the god from beneath the sea. His footsteps could be heard above the din. This god squatted and sat on his throne, formerly the Black Hills, where he could be worshipped properly, with the appropriate ceremony while he awaited the return of his brothers.

This god made his wishes known to all, in our heads. There was no argument.

"I am Cthulhu," he said. "I am your GOD. Bow to me."

Hell, I bowed.

"You will serve me. I command my servants to bring me sacrifice, and to hail my brother gods that we may enjoy this precious little planetoid for an appetizer before we go forth to reclaim our realms.

"All hail the name of Cthulhu."

His name poured from a billion throats. "CTHULHU!"

"Hail Yog-Sothoth! For He is come!"

Again a billion throats spoke the name.

"And hail my brother Hastur! For with my speaking of His Mighty Name, he comes. I forget our ancient differences, my brother. Let us hold council! Hail Hastur!"

Again the chorus of a billion throats, and he came. Cthulhu had made us all aware of the events.

Hastur the unspeakable came, bringing with him fragments of his Darkness. He was loathsome beyond belief, and indescribable was his appearance. I could not turn away, though I would. Cthulhu had willed it to be so.

The sky beyond the stars was growing brighter, as if a new sun had come. But it didn't grow warmer. Instead it grew colder, freezing cold, subzero cold.

A wind began, screeching of the interstellar spaces, a wind from the Outer Dark between the stars. The wind howled in voices from eons ago, and swept the surface clean of atmosphere.

"Breathe not!" commanded Cthulhu. "The planet shall preserve you -- I shall preserve you for now. For though lowlier than the ant to the foot as you are to me, I am merciful. It pleases me to allow you to exist, for your small minds are toothsome and I need sustenance from time to time.

"Ithaqua has gone to the stars, his home and domain, and Hastur has gone also, to prepare the way.

"The messenger has come."

Cthulhu stopped sending.

Instead a buzzing began to grow between my ears, where I couldn't scratch, and filled the back of my brain until the message came with perfect clarity.

"I am Nyarlathotep. I am the messenger of the Gods, and you have known me previously. Know this -- you will not survive. Do not fight. Resistance is futile. The universe is rightfully our possession, and we are claiming it. Forget your gods.

"We have eaten them before. Now shield your eyes, for his glory is not for you to view. AZATHOTH COMES!"

This last hurt bad, way deep inside my head, and blood erupted from my ears as I closed my eyes to the horror.

I could see more than enough in my mind's eye, of the churning nuclear maelstrom that was the God of the Gods, no longer blind, no longer idiot as the stars achieved the configuration that had been long foretold. His Presence could be felt as waves of radiation washed over the Earth, despoiling and reconfiguring the surface of the planet. Cities ran like quicksilver as they were arranged in angles more pleasing to the eyes of their new owners.

My flesh ran like water then, as I was also rearranged to suit Them. We all were.

There are no mirrors here. I have no idea what I look like, and no one will tell me. I began the journey to the inner dark shortly after the parade of our new Gods, which went on endlessly after that, each being burned right into my brain so that I could never forget.

During that journey, I saw enough parts of myself that I really don't want to know. What I saw filled me with enough horrors. I shamble forth on tentacles, at the bottom of me. The rest gets larger as it gets further away (lower), and looks flat above the tentacles.

I have a mouth, I know, because sometimes it amuses one of Them to feed us. Whatever it is, we are compelled to consume it, because They say so. I scream constantly, but nobody can hear.

My equilibrium is completely different. I'm bottom-heavy, and cannot fall. I just roll around in a circle for a moment, and then I'm back up again.

Falls don't kill or harm me, but they hurt just the same. They hurt a lot. I fell from a ledge into the plain below, which would have squished me. I bounced and rebounded off a rock.

It hurt so terribly that I wished to die, not for the first time. But that gift is denied us, too. No surcease at all.

The journey to the inner dark took a long time. It would be better if I did not detail what I encountered in the wreck of Chicago, if I did not describe the horror that visited when I passed through what had been Iowa, the giant furred thing that grinned evilly as we pilgrims joined together in the endless procession through the ruined cities and smoking craters to the Black Hills. Nor would I willingly tell you of the things that were told to us as we continued northward through the loathsome fungi-infested swamp that had been the Dakotas.

I will not make known the shapes of my fellow travelers, nor mention their aspect, save that they were unhuman and horrible, with the saddest eyes you could imagine.

When we had all at last gathered in and around the footprints of the mighty Cthulhu, and were settled before him, I chanced to behold the eyes of a fellow traveler, and know well that to look into those eyes is to look into the seas of the spaces between the stars, which we all carry in our heads like the signal of an untuned radio station, and to know the sadness of the passing of an age. In the eyes of a traveler lies the inner dark where we dwell.

Despite these travails, my sanity is not at risk. Those from Outside wish us to have this experience in full.

They even let us send out our little thoughts once in a while. I do believe that our terrors amuse them.

Shoggoths came and led us down to the entrances to the inner dark, and we descended the endless stair into the lightless caverns where we now dwell, and shamble in the torchlight.

At times we dance, slowly and spasmodically to the strains of the endless piping and drumming.

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© 2001 Edward P. Berglund
"The Inner Dark": © 2001 Duane Pesice. All rights reserved.
Graphics © 1999-2001 Erebus Graphic Design. All rights reserved. Email to: James V. Kracht.

Created: August 14, 2001; Current Update: August 9, 2004