The Great Below
A Cautionary Tale
Dedicated to the memory of Norman Mudd
I descend from grace
In arms of undertow
I will take my place
In the great below
The phone rang when Harry was just getting to the climax of his nightmare. He startled awake and stared blearily ahead of him. The dusty dark room was barely lit by the velvet curtains open a crack, illuminating lazy dust motes in the moonlit air. The antique clanging of the old phone bell was grating on his barely rested ears. It was Sam and he was screaming; something about all the blood.
Harry thought back…it must have all started during the summer last, when the two of them, plus one other friend, Anise, had attempted to explore the Tunnels of Set together.
The Tunnels of Set are what is known as a metaphysical concept, a non physical location, and a representation of the pathways of the brain, all in one. They are a set of tunnels that can be visited nonphysically in trance, astral, or magickal ritualised states for the purposes of knowledge and self improvement, and perhaps a little material gain. The budding explorer is best to use them for altruistic purposes, as the Tunnels have a tendency to trap those with more malevolent modus operandi. Even if you were Gandhi himself you would have a nasty chance of becoming ensnared in a ropey slimy mess, choking on your own bile. It would be worse than you can imagine, because it wouldn’t ever end; it would be happening to your energetic body.
Each tunnel is guarded by its own demon, or genie of the Qliphoth. The Qliphoth are what are termed the Shells; usually formerly physical beings that are now resigned to an existence of repetition and lack of substance, generally in places that are not quite pleasant. They are some of them former humans, and others former extraterrestrials, and others still were never physical to begin with, but are merely of a lower vibration physically and often morally, than the rest of the Universe.
The genii of the Qliphoth however, as the bosses of their particular tunnel, contain power and wisdom and may teach or do favours for the would-be explorer if they are strong enough to ask correctly.
This much Harry knew, for he had been briefed by Sam when he and Anise asked him to join them in their exploration. And now here he was listening to Sam scream on the phone from some dingy seaside motel, sounding like a lunatic.
Sam said he was at the Gull and Tern, a ramshackle motel with sprawling old Victorian porches right on the shore, about an hour from Harry. It was in La Fontaine bay, on Breton Sound.
After screaming about having no memory of what happened and waking up covered in blood next to his unresponsive wife Anise who was likewise drenched, he implored Harry in a sick wheedling tone to please hurry. Then he hung up.
Harry felt strangely spooked. He wiped the damp sweat from the back of his neck and forehead with his hand and stood up dizzily. The red alarm clock read 3:45am already. Harry shrugged into some clothes and hurried to the coast in his convertible. Even the French Quarter was quiet this time of night. The old oaks fluttered their thick leaves against the low slung wooden buildings, and creeper moss and honeysuckle competed for space on rusted gothic fences around decrepit yet hauntingly beautiful French mansions.
Harry however was not seeing any of this. Instead, a blind panic all but gripped him as he raced to the highway. Sam’s scream was still ringing in his ears: ‘My God! It’s full of blood!’ By the time he manoeuvred the little sports car up the steep promontory and to the cliff-side motel overlooking the sea, the clock read nearly 4:30am. With speeding and little traffic he had made good time.
He pulled into the gravel lot of the hotel, and could see it had used to be a classy place. Long white Victorian style covered porches wrapped around building, with doors leading to individual rooms. The front door and porch were accessible via a set of rickety wooden stairs.
All around the night was still and muggy save for the chirping of the night creatures and the soft pounding of the surf down the back cliff. The hotels ominous appearance was highlighted not just by peeling paint and warped boards, but by the mangroves which choked every conceivable side of the building with a parasitic clinging tangle of green ropy tendrils.
Harry dreaded walking up those hauntingly shadowed steps. The whole place reeked of a mellifluous crouching evil; the crickets buzzing an otherworldly drone adding to the strain. He thought he could see the darkness vibrating with faint colours like when ones closed eyes are pressed.
Nevertheless, eyes wide open he strode up the steps. Each one creaked complainingly and he worried he might wake whatever drowsing sickness lay dormant. After an eternity of thumping heart in throat he reached the door he had been directed to, number 4.
Room 4 overlooked the sea directly from the cliff top, behind the back of the place. Harry couldn’t help but stop and gaze at the gorgeous view. Despite the air of evil, the sea seemed to hold a beautiful sadness. The moon danced on the rippling waves, white on black, and the sound of the water swishing against the sand of the cove was almost too much to bear.
When Harry turned to knock on the door he was surprised when it swung squeakily open instead. Sam was standing there in the pitch dark, white frightened face lit only by the full moon.
‘Thank God you came! I don’t know what’s happened… Just don’t call for help until we figure it out. I’m warning you…it’s-’here his already shaky voice broke down and he sobbed.
Harry merely nodded and walked past him into the darkness. When he turned for Sam to follow, Sam merely looked at his feet, shaking his head and turned to stare at the sea. Harry walked into that humid hole of a room and then it hit him; some strange cloying sweetish smell. He almost fainted from shock for he realised it was blood. As his eyes adjusted to the dark, he could see the entire bed was a giant wet puddle of blood, dripping down the side. It seemed there had been an indentation, human-sized, in the centre where the blood had pooled, overran and continued on down to the floor. Harry was feeling squeamish now and literally sick to his stomach. He didn’t want to see what he knew must be there.
He shuffled to the other side of the bed and nearly retched. It was Anise. She was lying on her side, faced away from the bed in a night gown. Blood had pooled around her as well and the carpet was a hellish swamp. When Harry got the courage to approach her he could see it was too late. No need to check her pulse for her entire throat had been slit so deeply he could see the bone. On the floor nearby he saw a straight shaving razor.
‘My God Sam!! What happened!?’ he cried.
Sam just called wearily ‘Come outside. I can’t bear to be in there.’
Harry obliged and stumbled dazedly out. The moon made it seem comparably bright out here. Unreal. That’s how he felt. Not here.
‘As you know, I’ve been feeling a bit odd since the summer.’ Sam began.
Harry nodded, he had noticed that Sam and Anise had only stopped by once between that summer and this, and he had seemed strangely stressed and had even had totally uncharacteristic bouts of rage over trivial things people would do that never annoyed him before. Then there had been some strained telephone conversations in which Sam had tried to convince Harry to do strange favours for him like collecting his hair in clippings or to tell him his blood type, but all of it had been so strange that Harry had been wont to think Sam mad ever since the Working in the Tunnels.
Harry found himself uncontrollably thinking back on that day almost a year ago. He had arrived at Sam and Anise’s place around 3pm and it had been a gloriously warm sunny day. The kind of day where it seems evil couldn’t possibly exist, and if it did, at least can never touch you. He had walked sprightly down the garden path to the front door of the place and knocked.
Both Sam and Anise answered the door with big grins saying ‘It’s so nice of you to agree to this little experiment of ours. We know you don’t really believe in all this occult mumbo jumbo as you call it, but you will!’
More prophetic words had never been spoken. As Harry entered the home he had been in countless times before, he was struck by the change in atmosphere. In place of the usual cheery, if worn, couch and coffee table, the sitting room had been cleared in the centre and screens had been put up against the walls.
The screens had apparently been home painted and depicted some kind of tunnel on each, from a first person perspective and not your average tunnel. One looked like rock but it was spongy and fungal looking. In it was a large skeletal thing which carried fearsome-looking blades in each bony clawed hand.
The next screen showed a slimy orifice of a tunnel, as if the viewer was trapped in a great green intestine. Slime ran down the walls in rivulets and pooled ankle-deep on the concave floor. The denizen of this tunnel which Harry at this later point knew to be the Genie of the Qliphoth Gargophiax (sp) was a huge toadlike monstrosity.
And on and on the parade of horrors went until from just a few seconds of glimpsing them, Harry felt quite uncomfortable.
‘I see you’re admiring our personally made artwork!’ exclaimed Anise cheerfully. ‘What do you think of it?’
Not wanting to be rude, Harry said truthfully, ‘It makes me feel weird, so I’d say it’s very uh… well done!’ he managed a weak smile.
‘Well yes, you must have a proper mood set. After all, atmosphere is nearly everything in magick!’ cried Sam exuberantly.
‘So what exactly are these Tunnels of Set you said you wanted me to explore with you?’ Harry had asked.
Then Sam and Anise had sat down with him on some cushions on the spare rug and explained to him the Tunnels of Set. The working included chanting and sigil-work to put them all in an altered state. They had a book they were using, “Nightside of Eden” by a man called Kenneth Grant. In the back of the book was a list of each Tunnel including the Qliphoth Genii’s musical tone, sigil and other details to help put their minds in the proper receptive state to enable their astral bodies to end up in the right spot. After all, as Sam explained, many people had gotten lost in the Tunnels, some never to return sane, if at all.
After hearing all this Harry was pretty frightened. ‘Why are we even doing this if it’s so dangerous?’ he had asked.
‘Well, haven’t you ever done anything frightening just for kicks? Besides, this has an actual purpose. You find out a lot about yourself and how to improve, and get rid of unknown negative tendencies doing this kind of thing.’
So they had sat down together and at a piano in the corner, Sam had played the key of E, to call up Amprodias. This is the first Genie of the Qliphoth if one is starting from the natural entry point of Malkuth. As the Nightside of the Tree is a reflection of the Dayside, to some degree the Malkuth of the Nightside may be said to exist behind Kether of the Dayside.
The little party went through the evocations one by one and after hours of experiencing astrally tunnel after tunnel nothing much happened, except conversations with the Qliphoth and a few frights.
Then they came to the Tunnel of Parfaxitas. Parfaxitas is the Genie of the 27th Tunnel, whose Tarot trump is the Tower. The key of C was resounded and all three of them chanted his name slowly in tune.
After this meditation and mantra there came suddenly a darkening of the sky. The clouds seen out of the big picture windows gathered freakishly fast in the previously vacant blue void. They turned darker and roiled and rolled together furiously, finally turning black in their rage. This was largely unnoticed by the recumbent group, until a huge booming thunderbolt rent the silence shaking them and the house to its very foundations.
As the last rolling batteries of sound died away in the sky Sam suddenly stiffened grotesquely and proceeded to shake epileptically around the carpet. This was at first watched numbly by the other two as in a trance, but then finally Anise snapped out of it and with a small cry grabbed at his head to stop him hurting himself.
“Has he ever had a seizure before?” Harry asked her wild-eyed.
She merely stared into his eyes, looking very afraid, slowly shaking her head from side to side.
Harry was suddenly drawn out of his reverie by the sound of squeaking wood. It was coming from below him, far below in the vicinity of the beach. He looked down but even with the moon glowing gorgeously in the sky, it was nearly pitch black, save for the silvery black waves. The ocean almost looked like black marble with white rills running through it.
He turned wearily; afraid to go back into that nightmare room, but feeling he had to know what had happened and what exactly Sam was doing. He crossed the gloomy threshold to the room and even in his weary state felt far too acutely the oppressive malevolence of the act that had been committed there.
Harry called loudly, “Sam!” but the dark seemed to muffle and swallow up his cries like mud. He could tell upon searching the back of the small room and bathroom that he was alone, save the grisly presence of his dead friend.
In shock anew from the horrible sight he quitted the room as fast as he could and planned to go tramping down the stairs to the beach, for the sound must have been Sam. Before he could leave the small porch and take more than a few steps from the room he spied a piece of paper lying on the porch. It had apparently blown from the room as he could see it had blood on a bit of it.
Cautiously Harry bent and picked up the paper. It was covered in small ink handwriting but blood had smudged some of the words and made them illegible. It said: I am not myself. I did not kill Anise but I did. It needs me ~~ ve ~~ fer . ~o sorry. Love to everyone- Sam.
The note sounded suspiciously like a suicide note to Harry so with a gasp he ran down the rickety wooden steps that led to the cliff path as fast as his shocked tired body could take him. The moon still shone wonderfully off the black wavy ocean and sounds of surf reached him from the distance. He stumbled a few times on the dry gravel and dirt of the path, it being unfamiliar to him and he definitely did not want to fall now.
Eventually after some zig-zagging turns he reached the bottom of the cliff and the beach proper. There was only a very thin stretch of sand, most of it being boggy grass. In the distance he could see the Isle on the horizon, breaking most of the waves. And there halfway between here and it was a black figure. It had to be Sam, still sloshing his way deeper into the water.
Harry shouted Sam’s name as loud as he could, but there was not even the slightest sign that he had been heard. The dull sickly pounding of the waves seemed to drown out all cognition. In more senses than one Harry was wading through the morass of a dark nightmare that involved the people closest to him.
After a seemingly interminable slog through ankle, then waist deep water, Harry finally reached Sam. His friend however, barely turned to recognise his arrival. He seemed, even in the stygian blackness, not himself. The moon glinted off of Sam’s squinted eyes, lending them a hollow spectral quality. Their gaze was totally empty of feeling and recognition.
“Sam! Sam! What in God’s name are you doing out here?!”
No response but a dead stare, like roadkill.
“What the hell did that note mean?!”
Still there was nothing.
Finally Harry determined to reach through to his friend physically if communication was not affecting a response. He roughly stumbled closer through the surf and grabbed his friend by the coat collars. Just then, as in a the grips of a seizure of his own, a jolt of pure electricity somehow seemed to pass from Sam to Harry, through Harry’s hands into his arms and filling his whole body, but oddly enough ending in his spine and centre of his forehead. There was a kind of zap and a large flash and then everything for Harry went black.
It was as if he was floating on turbid seas of ink. In that respect, Harry mused, it must be like what was really happening. He differentiated this sensation from what he felt was ‘reality’ due to the otherworldly quality of his balance and vision. Everything seemed cloaked in a maleficent smoky haze, physically and mentally; like drudging through thick black viscous mud whenever he tried to have a coherent thought of a practical means. So then there was just the floating, and the disorientation. It was deathly cold.
Time was only noticed to have passed by the change in the sky. What had been a smoggy gray cloudbank above the obsidian glass of the water suddenly with a stereotypically ominous CRACK of thunder turned dark bloody red. Like a sunset, he thought, but with no discernable reference point. It had its own anxious beauty, but he would much rather be floating on the Riviera. He found with a start he was unable to move any of his limbs or his head, not even to look up to see what, if any, direction he was floating, and to what end.
As he watched the swirls of red in the glowing sky, like whirls of scarlet lifeblood mixing in a milky grey medium, giving rise to afterbirths of darker crimson and near black, folding, roiling, and frothing, he began not only to get sick with fear at the sight, but also at some other sense of presence, coming from the same vertiginous direction.
Just when the sense of mind-shattering fear was about to become so palpable he felt he would have a heart attack, something appeared in the sky. It began as one of those near black bloody whorls began to coalesce and gain in size. Larger and darker it got, as if all the red was feeding it with some unholy energy. The darker and blacker this spot seemed to become, the more depth it seemed to gain, so that eventually it was as if Harry was floating and looking up into a vast black hole. There came the sense of another peal of thunder, but this was different. It bore no relation to earthly thunder at all, but this was the closest Harry’s pitiful human vantage point could come to grasping the sensation. It was also as if it occurred simultaneous inside his being and outside. Or to put it more accurately, it was as if he had become the sky for the microsecond that it took for this flash to occur. The other thing was that it was not a flash of light, but rather a flash of some heavy magnetism. This was so sombre a velvet tonnage it created in his mind the illusion of a flash, like when one is hit with a hard object on the head.
When Harry next opened his eyes he saw what looked like a huge jackal. It was no ordinary jackal but rather some shaggy-looking ravenously drooling beast, that had the horribly staring eyes of a human-like, if not superior intelligence.
There was a mocking self assurance, and evil intent in those eyes. The jackal thing was staring down at him from the dark pit-like area that had opened in that horrible sky. It seemed huge, because he could see it from such a seemingly far distance.
Then in a booming bass tone that mixed some weird hissy sibilance, like static from a far off radio, the creature spoke: “You have had the tenacity to encroach upon my domain, and I am quite surprised at this. Unfortunately for you I have been contained unjustly in these Tunnels for millennia. The time has dawned when outside factors at last allow me my release. First I was released by your friend due to his lack of protection, and now you, human, will deign to receive my ultimate expressions of chaotic love of violence and red shadows.”
At the ceasing of his speech the jackal-headed monstrosity vanished backwards higher into the sky, veiled by a plume of grey smoke. At that moment Harry gasped deep as if awakening from the depth of anaesthesia. The sea around him had ceased its black oily rocking and felt suddenly hard, like earth, or even glass… The undulating wave-shapes still dug into his back, but they had nonsensically stopped moving.
With a strange feeling of unreality in the pit of his stomach, he miraculously stood up on the still glass-like and shining black sea. He bent down to examine this strange surreal surface. It was jet black, save where the formerly white flecks of foam and bubbles had racked its surface. These stood out roughly in stark white contrast to the obsidian background upon which they were raised. The whole of it felt smooth and definitely glassy to the touch, yet with a strange sandy texture in places.
Harry thought he had awoken, but now this bizarre environment put him of a mind that was not quite sure of its state. He had been wading in the sea, near Sam, he remembered that much. Upon waking, up he found he was in the same spot, but with this strange change in the state of the water.
The most disconcerting thing, even more than the dark metamorphosis of the water, was the lack of Sam from his previous spot. Harry set off across the strange solid black ocean, sometimes slipping over glassy waves, but in the general direction of what he thought was the shore.
The next few days found Harry answering many questions with the police about the disappearance of Sam, as well as the death of Sam’s wife Anise. Exhausted, one day while combing the beach where the event had occurred, he found a strange object embedded in the sand. Upon bending down to pick it up he saw it was a small black stone, heavy and solid like obsidian, but lacking that stones’ characteristic shining surfaces in favour of a dull matte finish. Strangest of all, was not just its crystalline shape in an igneous rock body, but it’s strange markings.
They appeared as if a kind of Asian script, but not one he was familiar with, definitely not Japanese, Chinese or Korean. It almost looked like a made-up type of magickal writing:
When he focussed on the writing very steadily he thought he could feel himself slipping outside the daily boundaries of what he was and what contained him. In other words he both felt like he had no body but also that he was not anyone, and had no personality or past, merely a vantage point of observation. This state was also characterized by an intense silence so thick it was like a blanket over every sound that would normally be produced.
With a small shake of the head, Harry took the rock and stuffed it into his pocket, walking slowly up the cliff-side to where his car was parked.
The first sign that something was wrong with him showed only three days after the incident. He was combing the beach again looking for any sign to what happened to Sam, when he saw a white lump in the wet tidal sand. He ran up to it and was shocked to find the body of his friend, clothes slightly ripped and skin distended and bloated. Sam’s eyes had been pecked out and his skin was also burst in some places, the red colour of his insides contrasting disgustingly with the pale water-bleached skin.
The intense loneliness Harry felt upon seeing that sight tore his insides to their own painful red shreds and he collapsed to his knees. The wet from the sand soaked into his knees, but he barely felt it. Strangely enough though he wanted to, he was unable to cry. He merely felt stranded and empty.
Harry checked the pockets of the cadaver and found more than a few stones. With heavy heart it became obvious that Sam had committed suicide by weighting himself down and walking into the sea. The waves and tides must have spilled the rocks out and let the body wash up on the shore.
The inside of the hotel room was eerily lit in a green shade, due to the light coming from underneath the antique banker’s lamp on the writing table. Harry sat unconscious of the passage of time. He was staring fixedly at an old poster that had been tacked to the crumbly wall, as it flapped in the humid cool night breeze coming in through the open window. Long white curtains of an antique variety shimmered and waved like impatient ghosts at the side of the window.
The details of everything fascinated him now. A little green here, a little red, it was all so gorgeous and intricate. Even the mould lining the walls up the corners looked beautiful. The more he gazed the more he felt he could make out the most microscopic details.
In reverie of a demonic proportion, he felt he could hear eerie strains of a piano playing a high pitched chromatic series of octaves…
He opened his eyes. It was no longer night. He was in the hotel off Magazine Street. That much was certain. But he couldn’t move. He felt a strange paralysis. What had happened to the time? He couldn’t recall going to sleep or going anywhere yet he was so exhausted he could not move. There… a finger curled up in the corner of his vision. It was superimposed in a blur on the golden tree-diffused light coming through the still-open window. It felt wet. No…not again…not again! His heart stopped in pure fear of what could have happened. For there was no doubt about it, his finger was covered in blood.
*KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK* The raps on the door startled like gunshots. “May I come in?” came the voice of the old woman who ran the small hotel.
“NO! I mean, no I’m not dressed yet.” Harry stumbled.
“Well I’ll leave your paper and your breakfast right here. Don’t let it get cold!” came the voice and then the sound of creaky footsteps down the stairs.
As if it had never been, his paralysis left him and he rushed to the mirror in the tiny bathroom. There were no tell-tale signs of anything weird, save for that speck of blood on his finger. His mouth tasted funny but he was sure it was just the typical morning breath. He quickly washed his finger under a cold tap and ran to retrieve the proffered items.
He was still dressed in the black jeans and shirt he had been in yesterday. They felt a bit damp and sticky which was slightly strange as it had not rained to his knowledge, nor did he remember spilling anything. He felt a foreboding sense of confusion and curiosity at what could have possibly happened.
He pushed the door open slowly a creak and peeked around to make sure there wasn’t anyone around then quickly picked up the paper and breakfast. The headlines shocked him from a nervous confusion to an outright sense of wrongness. “SINGLE NIGHT OF MURDERS SHOCKS NEW ORLEANS.”
The paper showed a photo of a house in the Garden District. It rang a bell in Harry’s mind and his heart starting pattering. He had seen that place before; he felt he had seen it recently… maybe even last night! Oh, what was going on?! This was just as bad as when Sam had begun acting strangely. His heart rate kept climbing and climbing and the next thing he knew he felt the floor beneath his knees and all went black.
The sky was black and his face was wet. Where was he? He looked up and rain hit his open eyes and ran down his face and neck. He was on a street. It was late, that much was sure. The moon wasn’t out but the street lights cast eerie shadows on the reflective pavement.
There was a row of trees on either side of the street. In fact it was almost as if he had been transported back in time a hundred years or so. No cars parked anywhere. No sound, save the rain hitting the leaves.
He turned around to look at the building nearest to him. They were all brick row homes save for a few old Victorians with iron fences. The one behind him was a very old Victorian with peeling paint. Bougainvilleas of a seeming white shade crowded the metal entry arch to the tiny garden and led to a shadow dampened porch. How had he got here? The last thing he remembered was reading the paper in his room.
He could not even remember why he was staying in a hotel room to begin with. Something was seriously wrong with his memory and it made him embarrassed and frightened; frightened for others and himself. He decided to go into the house nearest and see if he could use their phone and get a cab. He really did not feel like walking in this rain.
The ancient metal gate squealed open noisily and he wondered at the other absence of sound; as if he was in some strange dream. He stomped wearily up the two or three white(?) painted steps which creaked worse than his bones. He reached the front door and finding no knocker or bell, gave it three sharp raps with his fist.
He could hear and feel the old structure vibrating with displeasure at his percussive intrusion. He waited. No other sound came forth. He couldn’t explain his actions to himself but some perverse notion or perhaps grotesque fascination with the eldritch age of the place made him break a cardinal etiquette rule and try the door knob. The door easily swung in, unlocked and smooth, as if waiting for him.
He almost chuckled as he thought of it, since it was so clichéd, but the moment he stepped forward into the dark and somewhat damp wooden space he thought it was like stepping into a tomb. Not just the silence and the oppressive emptiness, but the Something Else that lurked in those spaces in-between, was inappropriately in This One.
His eyes were drawn to the strangest little details in the half light coming in through the fanlight above the now shut (on it’s own?) door. Small cracks in the wall showing through the floral wallpaper. Moisture stains on the ceiling. In fact, now that the sound of the rain was somewhat dampened, he could hear dripping coming from various parts of the structure, as if a multitude of leaks were in evidence.
The layout from where he was standing showed an old fashioned dining room on his left, a sitting-room on his right, ahead of him was a staircase going straight upwards, and to the left of that but still straight ahead was what he assumed would be the kitchen.
He elected to go upstairs first, since his quest for the phone was now forgotten in the fascinating decrepit atmosphere of the house. Up the now familiarly creaky stairs and after a sharp left turn he found himself in a tiny hall that had one room on either side, centred by a mirror and a small end-table. He quickly glanced into the right-hand room and saw an old fashioned four poster bed with white frilly covers and strangely enough an open window in which the rain was pouring. There were slick puddles all over the floor from the wet, black, inky, pools of liquid. Some appeared thicker than others.
He stepped in the room and surveyed quickly, thinking to shut the huge French door leading to a tiny balcony as soon as possible. He stepped up to the open door and was disconcerted at the deep pool of water at his feet , almost soaking his shoes. He looked down and, in the half light from the street lamps and house lights from somewhere, was disconcerted to find that this water was coloured red.
He followed the source of the flow and saw a lump in the very far corner of the tiny balcony. It was a very small lump and it at first appeared to be a pile of clothes and nothing else.
He kicked at the bundle and was shocked to find it solid and unyielding. He bent down on one knee and lifted a dark flap of cloth to see whatever was underneath. A bit of white human skin attached to a human face glared up at him. He felt oddly unaffected in half of his being, yet the other half wanted to run and scream.
He turned and ran as fast as his legs could carry him. And next thing he knew he woke up, it was morning, and he was in his hotel room.
The same scenario of knocking and newspaper awoke him and he saw by the headlines that the police were still looking for the ‘fiend of Dauphin Street.’ Just like last night. He couldn’t quite recall why those words struck such a remembrance in him until he realised…
The imagery latent in his brain which he thought was from dream, was actually from real life. He had been at the crime scene. Sure, maybe he hadn’t done anything, but he had been there. So he owed an explanation to the police. But that was something he was not quite ready to do.
He awoke. He wasn’t sure where he was or how he got there. The last thing he remembered was seeing that horrible body, passing out and waking up at the hotel again.
He checked his watch. A day had passed. Checked his limbs… they moved alright it seemed; anything strange around him? No, no blood no dirt; nothing suspicious. He sat up. He was on the hotel bed fully clothed. On the glass-topped rickety nightstand was a half-full glass of bourbon and a copious amount of dust. In fact, as he checked around the room he was shocked at the amount of dust everywhere. Something about it looked odd.
He slowly and painfully stretched his legs to the floor. Why did that hurt, he wondered? He bent down to check his legs and knees where the pain was coming from but did not notice anything untoward; but when he stood up he was off-balance and the area around his knees was very painful as if he had been doing something strenuous.
He went over to the newspaper on the small desk where the strange dust was the most apparent. He drew his finger through it. It reminded him of a disquieting mix of feathers, dandruff, and sand. When he brought his finger to his face to examine it closer he saw it appeared to be a different colour depending on how the light hit it; sometimes grey, sometimes brown, purple etc. This was no ordinary dust, but why it could be there he had not a clue.
As if activating some latent memory deep in his DNA, the feel of the dust on his fingers found him reaching deep into the pocket of his leather coat, draped on the chair. He dug around and his fingers touched something cool, smooth and almost glassy. He drew it out and as if his actions were his own, suddenly recalled this strange stone he had received at the beach that day that Sam had died. As he held it in his hand, slowly weighing it, it seemed far colder, denser and heavier than something of its size had any right to be.
He rubbed his finger across its strange matte yet glistening black surface, the dust on his finger tip got lodged in one of the carved characters. He jumped up! There was some sort of electrical charge inside of either the dust or the stone! As he stared dumbfounded at the stone the character that had been rubbed began to give off a glow.
The glow was something one might see when standing on a desolate asteroid gazing at a dying sun through a polarised face plate. The black stone moulted scintillating ambers, reds, and oranges, as if lava was pouring plasma-like out of the carvings into the atmosphere and hissing into a hot haze. The stone paradoxically seemed to grow colder as this display occurred and also heavier. Harry steadied his drooping hand with his other hand, but then was forced to put the stone on the desk. He could have sworn he heard the desk start to creak and bend. As the stone seemed to cause the desktop to sag in a ridiculous cartoon-like fashion it suddenly BURST forth sparks as of an explosion of inverse fireworks.
When his vision cleared Harry was standing on a planet somewhat as he had envisioned during the stone’s performance. However this one was not grey or black, but composed of a sandy cavernous purple and mauve sandy stone. In the distance he spied a desert of the same colour, and what he swore could have been pointed mountains, like pyramids.
He spun and looked about him for some sort of idea of how he had arrived here; but there was no vehicle or portal lying sci-fi-like behind him or in any direction. Just him and the black star-studded sky, and the mauve ground undulating unendingly to all quarters. He decided to set out for that pyramid shaped mountain he spied some miles away.
He reached the mountain to discover it was in fact an artifice, moulded by an intelligence he knew not of. It was shaped out of the native purplish rock, with intensely smooth sides. Up it went, until its apex scratched the stars and caused their light to bleed into its gaping maw on the side at which he stood. With dazed steps he alighted the steep stair towards the entry, where a lambent light was casting a pallor over the stone.
He crossed the threshold into the cavity in the side of the pyramid to find himself in what was carved to resemble a natural cavern, belying its assumed appearance from the outside. The purplish stone shone with a tiny series of glimmers, as of tiny embedded stars, reflecting the light that was glowing. He approached the apparent source of the light to find a bright bluish white globe with amorphous edges hanging in space in a corner.
He started, for nearly invisible in the Gaussian glare of the globe was a figure. It was dressed in some sort of fur cloak and it had an enormous cranium. He approached closer and let out a timid, ‘Hello?’
The creature stepped out of the glare closer to Harry and looked up at him. It had wide slanted eyes and barely any nose, but where the third eye is located a strange conglomeration of something seemed to be underneath the pallid grey skin. It seemed flush or swirly. Harry strove not to look at the creature’s eyes or forehead for when he did so he felt himself floating as if outside of himself with a heavy disorienting feeling.
The creature began to speak, but not with words. He felt in his mind subtle vibrations starting in the front of his skull, then he saw in a flash the creatures face in his mind and in his head a robotic voice in English said, ‘Hello Harry.’
The next thing he knew there was a shockwave in the front part of his skull like a magnetic bomb had gone off. He saw black and when he awoke he was still in the strange cavern, apparently a few seconds later. He was however encased inside a clear pyramid of unknown material. He stood up; the pyramid moved with him like some obscene cloak.
Then as he took another step there was a roar as of a thousand lions and he was back in the hotel room. The dust was gone, and so also was the stone from his hand. He searched high and low but was unable to locate it. It had disappeared. Apparently it had done its duty and then departed. What that duty was he could not fathom.
As if on fast forward, Harry saw the clouds outside quickly darken and turn black, as night fell in what felt like a matter of seconds. Next thing he knew, he was prowling around the French Quarter again, a misty wind kicking up his heels as dead leaves and debris flew by. The air tasted like the sea, but also he could scent a rain coming on. He always seemed to go out when it got cloudy, as if following some infernal cue.
He roamed the district taking in the latent atmosphere of age and sinister decay, mixed with a poignant otherworldly beauty. Passing by a brick-walled house he saw it had a courtyard visible through the wrought-iron gate. He put his hands on the bars and stared through, feeling like a lost child.
Blinking his eyes again, he found himself in a room… It was of old décor, like the 19th century. It had bent floorboards and moth eaten curtains covered a nearby window which let in some gloomy light from the outside.
With extreme nervous trepidation and shaky hands he walked over to the window set in the centre of the wall and put his hands on the sill to steady himself and leaned forward, peering. He saw the courtyard he had spied from the street! These lapses in memory were becoming serious. He had the awful dread feeling in his chest, as his heart beat faster, like one gets when they leave their wallet on a bus. A minor heart attack. Something horrible must have happened.
His breath quickened as he slowly stepped out of the room into a hallway. There was a scent like dying flowers and must. The hallway terminated with a staircase going down to the main floor, but before descending he passed a room on the right, adjacent to the room he had just occupied. Entering, his worst fears were realised as he saw blood on the carpet. Threadbare pink lines of thread ragged out from the cloth, stuck with sticky red liquid to the wood beneath. He stepped gingerly on the wet mat, cringing at the squelching sound it made.
There, lying on the floor next to the bed was an old woman, with her throat cut in gashed lines, a look of extreme terror and confusion on her face. Strangely, on the bed, and leading up to one side of the corpse was a viscous light green substance that seemed to be bubbling slightly.
He rushed to her side and was happy to see that unlike his previous terror, she was still breathing. He rushed to the bedside phone and in a blind panic half mad with the connotations that were arising in his mind managed to call 911. Then he wasted no time in stumbling down the stairs and burst out the house and into the street and waited from a bush outside. The ambulance came roaring down the road in some minutes, and she was placed on a stretcher and given emergency care.
One of the paramedics said “It’s lucky she managed to dial, a few more seconds and she would have been a goner. She’ll be fine thank God, we’ve stopped the bleeding.”
Harry waited till they were gone and ran until he couldn’t breathe. Eventually he found he was outside not the hotel, but his house. He had been avoiding it for long weeks, as memories of his dead friends brought a feeling of some sense of shame and guilt whenever he recalled their time there.
He felt a strange sense of destiny as he opened the garage and got into his car. He thought he had been driving aimlessly, until he finally realised he was en route to the hotel of that fateful night, the Gull and Tern.
Harry parked the car and crunched on gravel past the hotel down to the shore. His mind replayed the slow, horrible moments when he had seen all the deaths and realised at last the truth. Some horrible transmigration of dispersive and malevolent energy had occurred between Sam and himself. He had not killed anyone, and yet he had. The spirit of the Tunnel they had visited exacted a price for their meddling, with a hideous carnival of its blind violence. Knowing no one would believe his base innocence, and feeling guilty for not being able to control the thing inside him, he walked with heavy heart to the tides edge.
He walked slowly into the water, hearing his own voice in his head saying “All I do, I can still feel you………No more…no more…no…”
Et il est un jour arrivé
Marteler le ciel
Et marteler la mer
Et la mer avait embrassé moi
Et la délivré moi de ma caille
Rien ne peut m’arrêter maintenant
And when the day arrives
I’ll become the sky
And I’ll become the sea
And the sea will come to kiss me
For I am going home
Nothing can stop me now