A Moment Of Culmination

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Nov 221993

In that moment of seizure, Hunter’s sturdy, powerful heart contracted and froze, drowned in chaos’ thick malaise.

Undaunted and chastised, Hunter Scales’s consciousness sunk penitently into that unwholesome mire, the past poised in suspension through the dissolution of his senses. ‘Curiously like the tales of life passing before one’s eyes….’ He—if enough remained of this ego to earn a gendered pronoun—marveled that introspection held any temporal sense now. Then his thoughts were drawn to wonder at the enormity of imaginative energy spent through all persons back into simian antiquity in each one’s final mind’s cinema. That he could pen but one long-pondered verse on this, his last moment’s lucidity.

That one phrase could have wrought more desecration on the charnel edifices of Modern Man than any long-fused dynamite stick he threw in his unfocussed youth.

The frames of his jumpy reel fluttered forward to jeer and accuse his unblinking, yet myopic, mind’s eye. They do not come like some burst of newsreel, captioned and accompanied by off-key, staccato ragtime trinklings. Rather, they were edited by the eternal, infernally pious director into a melodrama nearly as lampooning as the cartoon.

Like a jaunty and careless Bosco had young Scales strolled onto Yale campus; entering class of ’18, stress on ‘class.’ Gently cushioned from the suppurating carnage of Europe, while funded by his father’s arm sales to the same Five, he was at leisure to pursue what course he would—as long as it was Economics. Not to be daunted by the acquisition of a mere diploma, he had fallen ravenously to studies of the capitalist technique, keeping always an eye on industrial developments throughout the Eastern Seaboard: from noble Boston’s shipyards to flogged Charleston’s reconstruction.


In all though, the cruelly simple manipulations and machinations of the free market refinery interested him not one whit. Early in his education, he petitioned the Elders of the University to allow him, effectively, to ‘test out’ of his Economics degree, using the weight of his family, “so instrumental to the effort of our old friends” (as the Chancellor had remarked, referring either to the Unionists or Allies or both) and the logic that he was, after all, the third son of his father and would need little business skill to manage what inheritance would some day—”God forbid!”—be his to manage. This rational, so weak in his father’s glutted eye, washed over the Elders; he had enrolled, by semester’s end, in a hodgepodge course he dubbed “Metaphysical Studies.”

The whine of surging blood filled his senses; the Old One’s crushing vengeance had pulsed to his dissonant brain and was causing multiple strokes. To Hunter, there could be no more bitter scene than that last recollection: his vision quest for a grail beyond the bottomed Christian one—for now not the least tatter of that idyll remained to furl before his darkling sight.


There had been an instant, not an hour earlier, that the pure brilliance of his long-subsumed dream had pierced the leaden mantle of its perversion. Hunter had stood amid the clutter and piles of books in his sanctum, one book split open in his wide, smooth palm, and seen the text’s encryption for what it was: an ashamed misdirection, the self-conscious warning of a guilty malignance. Behind the coded Arabic lurked the greatest of dynamite, a powderkeg unconserved and riotously neglectful of spatial bounds. He glanced over its instruction fleetingly, never dwelling on a particular phrase or incantation lest the cognition loosen the forces so tautly bound in the phonics… and in himself. Yes, in that instant, he had felt again, at last, that profound disturbance with his impending intentions that had nearly frozen his arm in mid-throw a cloudy eleven years ago, outside of Tanner’s Pub, even as its hand held a sparking, pregnant stick.

Scales’s liberal but intent studies had pulled him from Yale’s polished austerity to Middlesex’s vibrant passion. There he found the right alloy of modernist angst and revolutionary fervor to fuel his first meritable works. He even shortly won a critics post on the magazine which first published his pastiche of Gothic and metaphysical poesy. His Americaness, it was hoped, would provide a needed injection of modern cosmopolitanism to the pulp. Yet Hunter fell quickly to Marxist disparagement of the very new order that he was, as Yale and entrepreneur, to propound. It was merely that, in contrast to the chance elitism of capital enterprise, the communal ideals of the enlivened radicals around the cafes struck a far more sonorous chord with his quest for universals; he more and more often was to be found in pub, cafe, or den, surrounded by like-impassioned youths and speaking with intensity of the ascendancy of the ubermenshen.


It was at one such congress that Scales first met Illya Regis. Their attraction followed the course of frank abandon that was so popular to the licentious energy of the subculture. Soon, however, the fine difference in their drives was to begin a corrupting effect on his Glorious Evolution; her particular deepest bent was for destruction, pure and simple, of the entire social edifice, “worn and weary in its ruts;” and as for what followed: the strongest would decide for the best. “Feudalist retro-evolution” (as was argued by one pedant of their circle) meant nothing to her overmen; they were strong through wisdom as well as daring in the face of flaming deconstruction. They would slaughter the weak out of compassion, not powerlust.

Slowly, insidiously, Illya’s twist on Neitzschean ‘progress’ burrowed into the crystalline core of Hunter’s vision of psychic evolution. His pure and disciplined method and myth of the Ancient Asians slowly was encumbered by Illya’s rarefied and dogmatic occultism. Not content to channel her spirit, she would vent it: one day in furious deliberation over some Cabalist tome, the next in delicate alchemy in the university labs where she labored to breed the perfect detonator: her own fanatic quest for a higher order of magnitude.

In time, he began to perceive more and more of the skulking dread entombed in the dead texts and was seduced closer to the aberrant rage that lurks in all who have seen the onslaught of the industrial age, that revolution of finance without conscience. Within months, it had taken little more than three pints and one rallying tirade from Scorsby—Illya’s mentor—to bring him swaggering and pregnant with bitter power to the entrance of the lawyers’ local, Tanner’s. His wind-chilled hands did not even tremble as he struck a spitting match and ignited his charge.

Yet, as he arched his back and channeled his frustration along his taunt arm, he had seen, even across the flurry-driven street, a relaxed and stately man leaning on the pub’s bar and laughing. That humanity-pervading signal of communion and peace, upstaged by his stick’s spluttering menace, called down to the so newly grown crystal of his dream’s core and froze him on the brink of infamy.

Cool waves of pain streaked down his limbs, convulsing them and forcing the surrender of their balance on the rocking sloop; Hunter began a slow-motion decent to the boat’s deck. The beast of entropy, which his focussed utterances had drawn up from the murky depths of the ocean, moved around the bow to study each twitch and flail of his dragging tumble to the deck. It sent forth tendrils of potential, tweaking his motion an inch this way, an inch that; now—this very slit second—the right foot freed from friction, lifting arduously away from the possession of gravity, the first fraction of a wind gust providing the last causal link to his impact on the salt-washed paneling. He finally lands, each ounce of his weight now transferring to his ill-positioned left arm. One of the series of gravid additions begins the fracture of both his radius and ulna; the point of searing pain is almost holy in its transcendence over the general agony of his apoplexy and subsequent strokes.


He felt, through the chorus and solo of his penance, a hollow, angry laughter flash from the dissolute entity as it lapped a splash of brine across the compound fracture’s torn flesh. The mirth, and Hunter’s drawn scream, cued a gel haze from which the memory of similar amusement and agony panned and resolved.

Illya had merely chuckled at Hunter’s vacant boggling over her revelation. “It’s how these times are, chuck!” she had dismissingly admonished him from across the lamp-lit table. The shadows of the pub closed around his vision, only his inspiration’s becalmed, patient expression swam amid the taunting recollections of shared ecstacy which wrestled for his chagrined attention. “How could I not ‘be’ with Scorsby? He embodies the nihilistic passions which must purge this tepid world.”


“And, ergo, I do not….”

“Embody…?” here one brow on her Hellenic front arched. “Not hardly. You love the middling good of the present too much.”

And she stood and strode boldly off to the last three weeks of her life.

For a long while after her death by a dropped vial, war raged in the conscience and consciousness of Scales. One faction marshaled argument from his tenacious reason while another pumped his softened soul for emotion. He had given an ever-swelling part of his five years at Middlesex to her arcane and violent quest. But he had always held back on the rage; she was right about his stubborn compassion. But he had gone along with her and Scorsby’s conspiracies, sabotages, and murders. Yet he had still wrote and published his concerned admonishment and behests to the yoked masses. Nevertheless, he had always found time to risk translation of those Middle Eastern texts which exceeded Illya and Scorsby’s linguistic abilities.

“Damn all that has past!” he had screamed, grimacing tear-streaked at the pub’s smoke-darkened rafters. No one stopped the man that rose from his seat to ask him about the black smoulder in his eyes; all knew at their innocent cores that the glow was but the last light of the soul interred behind those orbs.

Raindrops eased down from the moon-marbled sky to sculpt fluted red bowls from Hunter’s pooling blood, and the ancient impatient menace which even now absorbed his tattered essence assumed a diffident air. The agony of this frustrating man could be milked no more; the genetic blessing of shock, common to these frail beings, had enshrouded his sparking nervous system. There remained now only the last bilious second or so, that insignificant summation of the closing life, the denouement of derangement and obsession.


The fury of all evils reclined beside the slow-settling form of his severed puppet. It had shown promise of liberation, after centuries, millennia, aeons—no difference—for the envoy of jealous entropy. Wound deliberately into impetus, it had jerked admirably along the prophesied path, in the beast’s planned cadence. Such concentration of purpose had not been seen in nineteen centuries on this planet, and the destroyer had ensnared this one soundly, much to his Nemesis’ sadness. Though a few moments of awareness had slowed the tool’s forging, the final artful influence, in that drinking hall some several eternities ago, proved the last juncture for redemption.

But no, it actually had not, and the chaos meanly parceled out an extra second of quivering breath to the dying human; it raged anew and branded the gasping spirit with its last desperate years of degeneration.

No arcane tome remained unlocked before the voracious appetite in Hunter for vengeance and validation. His first essay was to complete the fatal experiment that had claimed Illya Regis; it done, he coolly, dispassionately, utilized the compound to blast one wing of the Asylum in London. The Nazi party, a perverted phoenix rising ill-smelted from the injured ashes of German nationalism, polished the buttons of the cloak of armageddon which he had donned. His once-caring verse dispelled his audience with a pained yet vitriolic ejaculation in what became his last published editorial. He folded in upon his cold contempt and let it fester, mulching it occasionally with the vision of exploded gentlepersons or bobbies shot dead with an expensive import he order from his brother.


His public identity was, unfortunately, never linked to the Bombardier, hated and erratic anarchist. He was nothing but a rapidly aging curiosity to those few who would listen in the seedier pubs of the East End as he ranted of final judgement, where all but the warrior-saint would drown in their own bile. Those lads who felt the thrill of his words quiver through the feminine back of their companion would cast the occasional copper his way as recompense for necessitating their cloistered consolation.

It was his hungry bending for these coins which would send him home, not exhausted and angst-ridden, but newly fired to his study and rage, the two of which would toss him to and fro until dawn. The compounded humiliation, frustration, and obsession of his graduation into Hell’s honor role set before him, finally, one task.

In a text which possesses no English equivalent for a name, he stumbled across a reference to a ritual which would, for the truly impatient, usher in the era of the Old One, an era which would last but an instant, if time is at all to be considered, but which would release, in a cascade, every imaginative kernel with a jangling note of despair and failure, a note which would sound until Time saw fit to bother with its release and decay. In the rank mire of his ambition, Scales saw this as the Grail for which he searched, an Unholy Grail that would not deign to ally itself with one febrile morality or another but would merely clear the way for the cleanest, most just, most bitterly expedient ethic that wrest hold of the whirling oblivion. The way would be utterly open for the wronged to wrong the slavers, and the masters to cull the inefficient. The quest for this promised procedure caked the last rot on the smeared gem of the once proud Hunter’s soul; it absorbed every waking hour and the last of his father’s bequeathment.

But he did not fail; he ripped the tome from the grappling clutch of a dying Shao Lin priest.

At ten-forty-three p.m., as the winter solstice swept tearfully across Britain’s dales, Hunter Scales sailed from a private pier, aboard a stolen sloop, a stolen apocalypse on his smooth palm. The rain was light enough that it did not soil the thick pages, sheets which little resembled linen stock, had more the texture of murdered hide. By now, the misleading text’s communication was well interpreted by Hunter; he had not parted with his intellect on the same evening which he had mislaid his sanity. Their message seethed with potential and foreboding.

He stood upon the pitching deck and let the wild night surround him, caress him imploringly, as if—rightly so—it had a stake in his eminent profanation. He heard its murmured pleas, felt them echo opposite words spoken by Illya from across white down, and cursed their futility. He was lost, and no weak example of the awful might of the vital world would stay his tongue and psyche. He began the incantation even as his pocket watch chimed the proper moment, Greenwich Mean Time.

The words staggered off his tongue, trying desperately to twist into discord and fling free from the dominance granted the reader in their proper utterance. Hunter held fast to the building power, all the while a bit put off by the lack of apparent effect in the surround nature; in shouting the culminating chant, he expected some herald of the coming purgation.

But Chaos waits on no ceremony.

In front of him, where before there was only white-crowned fluid peaks, an amorphous form resolved and advance deferentially forward. Hunter’s mind reeled as his eyes realized that the form, which had seemed only man-sized, appeared so by foreshortening; its obedient advance had covered over a mile and it now loomed taller than the sloop’s mast. The water from which it vaulted seemed to abhor touching the entity, preferring to cease existence in an annihilating whirlpool around it. As to its composition, it was nothing more than the reflection of a glimmer of wan light subsumed in an inky appetite. It exuded a baleful anxiety subtly tempered by the patience of an immortal. It radiated an interrogative; with that question—not to be?—it tuned all of its force into a silent cyclone of doom shrouded in its wide volume.

And Hunter knew finally what that request meant, really and ultimately, and the pure and persistent crystal that was ever at the throne of his mind and spirit shattered in righteous denial. The ascendancy of man could not, it decried, be on the laddered ribs of its starving obsolete. True ascendancy of the son does not come with the death of the father, but with pitied solace beside his deathbed. These again proud and passionate—not just furious—exhortations pummelled the waiting swarm of chaos; it reared and drew its warhorn from its swollen, cracked lips to let it sink back to the sea.

And the Ancient One, master of all save one force in the universes, reached out with a quivering claw to encompass Hunter’s freed heart and vengefully crushed it into a messy clod, even as the collapsing muscle shook loose the sole virtue it interred.

Blood rushed from Hunter’s seizing heart, causing multiple strokes which killed him in the space of three seconds.

Affidavit Of The Defendant

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Jan 151989

Affidavit – Criminal Court of Oslo, Norway

The following testimony of Richard Straffborn, accused of murder in the first degree,
in the case of Norway vs Straffborn, case number CC-113/092189
is hereby given freely, under oath, on this the Nineteenth of September, 1989.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, though I realize that my future—nay, my very life—rests upon the proceedings there today in your esteemed courtroom, I fear that I will be unable to attend the trial on my behalf. To step out of the confining safety of these hard bars would mean my certain destruction, as you may soon understand if you will keep open minds and read this testimony with unprejudiced eyes. The tale I have to tell of the events of July 19, 1987 is one of dark history and the folly of the naive. Much, though, leads up to the crescendo for which I must bear witness; the recounting of it all is crucial for your understanding.

On May 5, 1987, the archaeological book concerning Ardurst Castle was reopened by an student of Norwegian history named Josh Sturguild. It seems the boy, in his curious studies of the more arcane and mysterious pages of this land’s past, uncovered references to the ancient owner of the keep, Anathor the Outcast, in those yellowed records. The information he uncovered told of the expulsion from court suffered by Anathor, once a powerful and respected advisor to the thirteenth century King of Norway, Olag. It was here, however, that the name Anathor disappears from the annals of time… until about forty years ago. If you will recall, Ardurst Castle was discovered, in ruins, in 1946. A fisherman out of Belivack noticed the main tower of the structure peeking over the crest of a cliff along the shore of northwest Norway, near the Russian border. Though the scientific community was in as much disarray as every other element of society following the second World War, a team was dispatched by the NAC—the Norwegian Archaeological Community—to set up a dig there.

As a purely inquisitive venture, the dig was a striking success. The existence of such an isolated, yet strong and obviously self-sufficient, miniature fiefdom surprised the NAC’s team. To enumerate the many finds would require, essentially, rewriting the 127-page report which the team eventually submitted to the NAC after “completing” their study. Suffice it to say that the centuries-dead owner was a learned, just, and intelligent man. His name, they discovered, was Anathor: a personality unheard of until Sturguild’s hapless discovery.

Josh was one of my students at Middlesex at the time of his findings. Knowing that I hold a profound interest in Mideval history, he came to me to tell of the connection Anathor had with the old Norwegian court. A great connection it was, too; Anathor’s past and therefore Castle Ardurst’s prenatal history was a grand curiosity among scholars of such musty things. Needless to say, my imagination was sparked by the boy’s report. Unfortunately, being still a fledgling in matters of comprehensive research, he failed to reveal the whole story behind Anathor, or, more specifically, Anathor’s expulsion from Olag’s court. It, therefore, took me nearly a week of tedious cross-analysis and historical backtracking to procure the complete history. It seems that Anathor was involved in experimentation with mystic or magical forces which Olag could not accept or comprehend. His departure was not the expulsion of a counselor fallen from favour, but rather the banishment of a feared “warlock.”

I am not certain at what point I was enchanted by the mystery and intriguing implications of my study. I only know that, once finished with it, my resolve to journey to Norway to conduct my own research on site was adamant. I hurriedly contacted my friends Doctors Kierkegard Brozney and Henreich Dovensh and, having told them of my findings, asked them to travel from their respective countries to meet me at the closed site. They agreed to the importance of further investigation—Henreich especially—and we arranged for Kierkegard to travel from Poland to meet Henreich and myself there in ten days, on May 22. I, myself, traveled then to West Germany to join forces with Dr. Dovensh. Together, we journeyed by train, auto, and foot until at last, on May 23, we stood on a bluff locked in perpetual conflict with the Arctic Sea and overlooked Ardurst Castle.

The weathered keep stood upon a craggy, broken cliff nestled in a wide, south-facing notch. My heart leapt immediately; the cracked, brown photos from the Forties’ dig had done little to exhibit the exquisite architecture and ingenious design of the fortress. The rock notch’s north wall defended the rear of the castle, thus explaining the lack of defensive emphasis back there, while the steepness of the slope leading up to the fore provided certain security from the rush of hordes. Viewing this awesome spectacle, I could little comprehend the archaeological evidence I had read, as well as obvious visual evidence, that the place had been besieged and over-run.

“I wonder at the magnitude of the army which brought down that place,” I commented to my German companion as we descended down to the ridge joining our bluff with the cliffs. He did not immediately reply, though, as he was lost in distant thoughts, his gaze locked upon the keep. I knew not to bother him further, for the many years of friendship we shared taught me to recognize this, his far-staring, glassy scrutiny. You see, Dr. Henreich Dovensh was, aside from being a noted Euro-Slavic historian, a great sage in arcane matters. He exhibited unparalleled prowess in parapsychological and paranormal comprehension and ability. You may scoff… but I knew him. He was gifted in ways of which the average man merely dreams. It was for this reason that I had invited him to join us, considering the curious facts of Anathor’s past. I felt he might notice evidence of the mystical before a historian or a linguist.

In time, we reached the base of the slope which vaulted up to the bailey and moat of the structure. From this nearer vantage, the cracks rending the exterior walls resembled great slashes in the hard stone.

“Those cracks, there, Henreich… Something is strange about them.”

My friend returned from his mental “wanderings” and looked towards me with a curious expression on his face.

“Why do you say that?”

“Well,” I replied, “if the place was besieged as the NAC dig supposedly revealed, wouldn’t the cracks cleave inward?”

“That is your field, friend. I could not say.”

“Yes… yes…. Well, these cracks appear to yield outward, and directly from the ground. How could this be? Or, rather, how could this have gone unmentioned by the NAC?”

“Why don’t we head up and check it out ourselves? I’m anxious to see Kierkegard, anyway.”

We began the wearisome trudge up the rise, our feet skittering and sliding out from beneath us with each step. Before too long, we gained the top and stood beneath the tall, dark, basalt walls and parapets. Even in the failing light of coming evening, the walls’ rifts revealed themselves to be protruding both out and inward and beginning at ground level.

“If I did not know better,” I proclaimed, “I would swear that these cracks were seismic in origin.”

“What, precisely, is your ‘better’ knowledge? Forty year old reports from rushed Norwegian geologists?”

The truth of Donvensh’s statements was, as usual, incorrigible. The NAC team had been hard-pressed to wrap up the dig, though for what reason, no text could say.

“But no fault lines lie along this coast.”

“At least, no tectonic fault lines…,” Henreich replied cryptically before lapsing into another trance-like silence. Shrugging, I reached into my pack for a lamp, but found I did need it. A yellow glow slipped around the edge of the fallen front gate to bathe the two of us in light.

“Always a day late, Richard. Never a pound short, though, eh?”

The glare of the lamp flashed into my eyes, blinding me, though I needed no vision to recognize the man behind it.

“Kierkegard!” I cried, striding toward him. “I must beg your apology, noble Pole, for I fear that our rental gave us a bit of trouble in Grathnow. We would have—”

“Offer no excuse, mate,” he interrupted, “the spare day has not been an idle one for me! I’ve something quite interesting to show you, come morning. For now, though, enter, enter. I’ve set up camp in the courtyard; some bean stew is burning as we speak.” He ushered me past the gate, then turned back to Henreich, who was staring, apparently unseeing, at the ground before the walls. “You also, old friend. Leave your augury to come sit by the stove. I’ve need of your special advice this evening.”

Starting as one frightened out of a deep sleep by a nightmare’s terror, Henreich looked, wide-eyed, at Brozney.

“Uh, yes… of… of course,” he answered. Then, a smile smoothed his previously drawn and worried visage. “Although I worry about your infamous bean stew.”

Later, reclining comfortably about a small fire and enjoying the aftertaste of the heavy dinner, our talk turned from the cheerful banter of reunited friends to the solemn discussion of professionals.

“Kierkegard, tell me of your findings,” I opened. “Are they anything new?”

“‘Are they anything new?’ Hah! You’d better believe they’re new. I don’t know how the NACs missed it—maybe they were too busy poking about for bright gold or antique blade—but at the rear of the main tower,” he pointed over his shoulder to the black cylinder jutting up against the dim sky, “I noticed some interesting runes written in an old Norwegian script.”

“What did they say?” asked Henreich, a curious glint in his eye.

“Essentially they were the equivalent of an ‘Authorized Personnel Only’ sign. What was so confusing about them was that they rested over a mound of rubble: fallen masonry from higher up the tower. Anyway, I spent all of today moving it out, and you’ll never guess what I found.”

A stillness had crept over the courtyard; not even the once-ceaseless howl of the offshore wind echoed through the area. I shifted uncomfortably, wanting the Pole to continue his narrative, yet inexplicably afraid to break the silence to encourage him. The others seemed to be equally affected by the foreboding quiet, and it was only after a long moment that Kierkegard resumed, in a hushed murmur, his story.

“There is a doorway, still locked, there. I’ll need your expertise to get it open,” he said, looking to me. The strange dread again brushed my heart. I shrank away, inside, from the request.

Then, feeling quite silly at being spooked by the Pole, I loudly proclaimed, “Certainly, certainly! We tackle it first thing in the morning.” I then, with much bluster and pomp, commenced curling up in my sleeping bag. “Good night, lads!” I said, looking at each. Kierkegard smiled and nodded, but when I looked to Henreich, I met only that piercing gaze of his, the one that feels like it is boring into one’s very soul. I glanced away after being momentarily transfixed by the depth of his eyes, the purity of their blue. “G’night, Dr. Dovensh,” I mumbled.

“Try to sleep well, Richard,” he whispered.

For a time, the camp was quiet; then, comfortingly, the wind’s cry returned, filling the dark vessel of silence. The other two spoke softly for a bit about the evolution of the dialect used in this area of Norway, but after a brief, pensive lull in the discussion, Kierkegard skipped to a different subject.

“You know something of the nature of dreams, don’t you?” he asked Henreich.

“Something about some types of dreams, though I don’t want to hear the sordid details of your latest REM romance.”

The Polish linguist laughed hollowly; it failed in the air, dropping to a nervous chuckle and finally dying in a long pause. “No… no, it’s nothing that… good, I fear. You see, Henri, I had a pretty bad… uh, I guess, nightmare last night.”

“Why do you ‘guess’ it was a nightmare?”

“It seemed so… real… or surreal. It was simply unlike any dream I’ve had in my life. The intensity….”

There was a long pause during which, though my back was to the men and the fire, I was certain that Kierkegard was under one of the Guru’s piercing stares.

“What happened?” the German eventually muttered.

“Well, it’s not quite clear to me. All that I remember is terror… and pain… searing, frigid pain. And I couldn’t wake up, Henri! I was… trapped… doomed. I was helpless.”

Throughout this discourse, Kierkegard’s voice had developed a tremble, and the closing “helpless” came out as a squeak, his voice cracking. A thrill ran down my spine; I empathized with the Pole; I chilled at the imagining of anything which could so shake the unflappable, ever-jovial Brozney.

I heard then a rustle from where Henreich sat and heard him say, in a intoned, uninflected voice, “It is no more; it is not real. Sleep.”

I softly rolled over to see him leaning towards Kierkegard. His right arm was outstretched, the fingertips of its hand rested lightly on the Pole’s forehead. Beneath them, Kierkegard’s eyelids had begun to droop and, within seconds, he slumped slowly sideways and lay still on his blanket. Henreich covered him, then laid down himself and, humming his mantra softly in his chest, he drifted off.

I awoke the next morning in shadow, though bright blue sky smiled over the walls. The day was no more than an hour old, meaning I had slept but six or seven hours. I, nonetheless, felt curiously refreshed—as if rousing from one of those Sunday twelve-hour sleeps—and, though I remembered the previous night’s talk, I could hearken no dream to the forefront of my mind.

Henreich was still in the same position in which he had fallen asleep, but his eyes were now open and his light gaze rested upon my rising form. The air of mystery from the previous evening was burned away like the moors’ fog, and I asked him, jokingly, about his “magic trick.”

He looked thoughtfully at me for a heartbeat or three, then asked, “Why don’t you ask Broz about that?”

I shook the snoring Pole out of his slumber, greeting him to the new day. He was slow to awaken, but once he did, his eyes shone brightly and a grand, silly smile bloomed on his face.

“Ingred came to me last night. Wonderful as ever, she was.”

Laughing, we began preparing breakfast. The darkness, the silence, and their numbing grip fled to catch their departed mother, Night.

We cooked and ate quickly, and while we were busy cleaning up the dirties, I ventured a suggestion.

“Well, what say we do a survey of the rear courtyard and towers; try to find something of interest?”

Henreich looked at me and said, “No, I think we need to look into Kierkegard’s door.”

To this day, I know not if I had forgotten about the discovery or had merely hidden it from myself. A brief revulsion at its mention, though, stirred my breakfast. Yet the sun shone now, warm upon my bald, scientific head; I cheerfully consented, and the three of us shouldered our daypacks and headed for the high wall dividing the fore and rear courtyards.

The back yard was a far worse sight to behold than the one in which we camped. Much more evidence of the raiders’ destruction was revealed by stone piles and, strangely enough, jagged crevices which broke the dirt and rock ground into four islands. The northeast tower was no more; strife and time had reduced it to boulder, rubble, and dust.

Kierkegard led us around the curve of the center tower to a large stone door recessed into the corner where the tower and east wall met.

“Here it is,” the linguist said. “Notice the writing above it? Though the message is clear enough—to one who understands it, of course—the etching seems a bit extravagant, eh? I suppose its merely the engraver’s flourish.”

“I don’t think so, Doctor,” said Henreich. His face was chiseled into stern concentration, an unnerving duplicate of the classical mask of Banquo’s ghost in theatre. He reached up to trace the swirls of the rune, but sharply retracted his hand upon touching them. “No, no. Most definitely something more. I think we should proceed with extreme caution, gentlemen. These words do not offer a shallow warning.”

“Well, whatever you think is best, Herr Doktor,” I replied, feeling more than a little exasperated by his theatrics over something so straight-forward. I stepped up to examine the lock and hinges of the portal. “It opens out, so I anticipate stairs beyond. The lock is quite amazingly preserved; must be something in the air.”

“Right, salt…,” the German mumbled with the tone I knew he reserved for children and “non-believers.”

Undaunted, though resentful of his condescension, I reached into my bag for a lockpick and screwdriver. After about fifteen minutes of fruitless struggle with the lock, I cast down the pick in disgust and, proclaiming the lock’s tumblers to be rusted, I dug into my pack for a chisel and mallet. A sigh escaped Henreich’s lips, and with an effort I suppressed the urge to lay into him and his mystical mumbo-jumbo. After a few moments of chipping at the doorjamb, I was able to break out the bolt’s slot. It was with a smug smile of success that I turned away from the effectively unlocked door to face the two men.

Henreich’s face clouded upon seeing my smile, and Kierkegard seemed suddenly quite interested in a bit of mortar protruding from the wall.

“After you, O Cautious One,” I sniggered. The German stepped up to the door and, grasping its ring, hauled it wide.

The first thing which I noticed was the stench that billowed out of the dark beyond the portal. Its fetid talons snatched out at the pit of my stomach, twisting and clawing my gut without remorse. I remember Dovensh retching and doubling over, crying out something about death. The fear which had but visited me the previous night assumed residence in my heart; and there was a moment where, had my reason not been my master, I would have turned and ran the entire route back to London.

Covering my nose with a kerchief, I stepped up abreast of Henreich and peered down into the gloom. For down it was, because beyond the thick oaken door was a spiral staircase boring into the rocky ground. The air in the stairway carried a cold moisture which, even under the late spring sun, clung uncomfortably to my skin and felt as if Death himself had wrapped his heavy cloak about me. Brozney drew an electric torch from his pack and stepped around us to shine it on the stone steps. They were smoothly chiseled, polished, and surprisingly clean.

“Hmmm, friends,” said Kierkegard. “Shall we descend?”

No was whole-heartedly my vote, but I feared embarrassment more than the unknown, so I nodded quickly. Henreich’s response was to step through the door and begin walking softly downward. Brozney followed, and I took the rear, feeling quite reluctant to leave the sun’s shining gaze for the lamp’s hazy glow.

The stairs twisted down for many steps, soon passing the line of permafrost and still winding towards Hell. Part of my mind tried to keep count of the stairs—for the record—but the building reek of decay and increasing chill smothered my attention. Each step down, I could feel, brought me closer to something unspeakable. I was about to suggest abandoning the whole thing when I noticed the echo of our steps swell and saw Dovensh step onto a level floor. I reached his side, and in the dim yellow light, I saw the chamber into which we had arrived.

It was but a short room—almost a hall—running away from the stair’s exit and ending, thirty feet away, in the most amazing set of doors which I had ever seen.

The double doors stood nearly eight feet high and seemed to be made of solid, polished steel. A brass ring was set in the center of each door, and intricate engravings coiled out from their fastenings like the serpents of Medusa’s hair. Most of the etchings appeared to be just decoration, yet some consisted of what obviously were runes. It was these features that made up the doors’ creation; more still made up their present form. Along the seam of the steel slabs there was a dried line of red wax, completely covering it. Furthermore, scrawled runes blazed in some kind of yellow paint on each door. My gaze drank in the scene of these doors in an instant then traveled right with the beam of Brozney’s torch to fall upon the cause of the room’s stench. Lying prostrate against the right wall was the remains of a man, wrapped in a purple and white robe. Henreich strode up to the body and rolled it over to expose the face.

The face was exposed… twice. First when Donvensh turned it; the second time when the head, which separated from the body, complete one roll across the floor.

Kierkegard dropped to his knees, tears dampenning his eyelids, and began mumbling some Polish prayer. Henreich stared at the corpse for a moment; I stared at him. He looked to me, a frightening, stern expression on his face. He then turned to the kneeling Brozney, placing a hand on his shoulder.

“Come, Kierkegaard, can you weep so for such an ancient death?”

Looking up with shining eyes, the Pole replied, “When unconsecrated, yes!” He cast his gaze downward again, and shrouded it with respectful eyelids. He continued his prayer, shifting at one point to Latin. I was recovering from the gruesome shock by this point; and though none too steady yet, I was intrigued by the massive doors and what untouched mysteries they so stolidly interred.

“Hey, so what have we here… other than preserved organic material? No offense Broz.”

I stepped up to the wanly shimmerring brass and picked at a hardenned rivulet of wax.

A slight shock stung my fingertip just as Dovensch bellowed, “STOP THAT NOW, RICHARD STRAFFBORN!”

I froze with surprise, whether at the shock—which I presumed to be static—or at Henreich’s harsh words, I am not sure. Then I bristled.

“Just who are you to order me around, Doktor Dovensch?” I snapped, turning on my heels.

“The one you invited to advise you on paranormal phenomena, Doctor Straffborn,” he replied calmly, if a bit coldly. “That wax is a material focus for a psionic seal on this door. You distub it and those yellow wards on the doors’ faces will have their way with your body and leave it a little, smouldering cinder slowly cooling and dampenning on this chamber floor.”

The chamber suddenly seemed quite cloistering, stifling.

“Conversely,” he continued, “if you disturb said wards, the seal will flare, heat, and weld these doors permanently closed, probably also impacting your body and ours in much the way the wards would, only incidentally.” He must have seen my apprehension, for a long, quiet, low laugh echoed from his broad chest. He was not, however, smiling.

“Well,” I retorted weakly, “I don’t know if I believe all that, Henreich. I invited you here for your knowledge of folklore”—I was lying now to save face—”but, just in case you’re right….” I stepped to one side to let Dovensch through to further inspect his hoodoo.

He peered closely, his nose inches from the wax, eyes squinting tightly. I realized, after a moment, that he had shut his eyes. He hummed quietly to himself, a rhythmic throb that seemed to amplify, though I knew it did not. It got warmer… from our body heat, no doubt.

Suddenly, Henreich stood, knuckled his eyes and behind his temples, stretched, then turned to me and said, “You may remove the wax now and begin working on the locks on the door. I’m going to get some air.” He stepped over to Brozney, who all the while had been watching the two of us as if we were playing tennis. “If you would like to come along, Kierkegaard, bring the remains as well and I will assist in their burial once I’ve rested a bit.”

Brozney nodded after glancing red-eyed at me. He seemed to be somehow apprehensive of me, perhaps because of my outburst, my strangled outburst….

To quell this, I cried, “I’ll be up once the doors are unlocked, lads! We’ll all relax a bit and have a bite, eh?” I heard the quiver in my voice, and was embarrassed.

But my collegues looked back at the stair bottom and smiled calmly at me, nodding slightly.

“Yes, Richard,” said Brozney. “But don’t be too long, alright. This place is doing more than ‘preserve organic matter.'”

Their light swam around the stairs’ centerpost, faded to brown shadows. The echo of their footsteps blended with the occassional drip of white damp, then died.

. [Work In Progress]

Dr. Richard Straffborn

Witnessed by,
David Artman