Sunday, October 2, 2016

The claws that catch

The claws that catch

(, entry for May 19, 20__)

New Shadow Over Arkham?

The following manuscript was recovered from the computer of the freelance writer Jonathan Carter. As far as is known, this is the only piece of weird fiction he ever wrote. Carter is survived by distant cousins, but had no other living relatives. The Darius Jones mentioned in the manuscript, a licensed but unemployed real estate agent, did indeed vanish under mysterious circumstances a few days before Carter's own disappearance. It is also true that the two men had grandfathers who knew each other and who themselves disappeared more than a generation ago. The coin mentioned in the manuscript has not been found. The book of stories edited by Carter's grandfather lay on his desk, but the last page had been torn out. None of the supernatural events described can be verified.

My grandmother died in the spring of my 32nd year. Everybody said it was a blessing. These last couple of years she had really been gone already, and I had said farewell long ago. When I was small, I spent a lot of time with her, especially during the summers. Her old house, with its crumbling towers and unexpected dark spaces, might have frightened some children. The house had been built by her great grandfather in about 1850, and I found it glorious. I liked nothing better than exploring, and always seemed to find something new. Tightly coiled spiral staircases, peaked windows with worm-gnawed frames, nooks from which grotesque statues peep, portraits of solemn folk, their faces subtly alike, all kin, collectively made the house a collage of idiosyncratic memorabilia. The creaks and other noises made by old wooden houses, the things that don't quite fit, the places you can never seem to get to, or get back to, they were like old friends to me. Grandma listened to all my stories as if everything I told her was a revelation. How I envied my mother, having had a mother like that! But all that was history. Grandma had faded, leaving an automaton that bore her likeness. The house and property had been sold to pay medical bills, and I had finished grieving before her untenanted body died.


The executor was a thin man, and very tall. Had he been of an athletic bent he would've made a good basketball player or pole vaulter. As it was, he reminded me of the character from "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" or perhaps even Lurch, from the Addams family. He cleared his throat.

"You realize," he said, "that your grandmother's estate was exhausted by the cost of her care over the past few years. Nearly all that remains is this book, which she particularly wanted you to have." He pushed it towards me. It was a yellowed mass-market paperback with a lurid 1970s cover painting featuring fanciful monsters with multiple limbs. Grandma Lillian had loved classic dark fantasy. It wasn't my thing, but it was about all I had to remember her by, other than the thick dark eyebrows I saw in every mirror, and an adverse reaction to milk products. I signed my name in the appropriate places, shook hands with the executor, whose name I had already forgotten, and excused myself.


"Mr. Carter." It was the executor. I stopped on the courthouse steps, turned, and raised my eyebrow. He was a little out of breath. "There was also this." He held out his hand, and when I reciprocated, dropped a coin onto my palm.

"Thank you," I said, and turned to let the sunlight fall on it. The coin was large and heavy; it seemed too heavy even for its size. The blurred image in the center was a crude representation of the Hydra or some such monster. The letters around the edge were in no script I recognized. I picked the thing up and turned it over. The reverse was so worn I could make nothing out. I slipped the coin into my pocket and forgot about it.

It was a nice day. I sat down in the park across from the courthouse to take a look at the other part of my inheritance. It was an anthology entitled Inhabitants of the Abyss, edited by J. L. Carter. The book was inscribed: "My dearest Lillian, as you can see, the book is done. Please consider this a proposal. Eternally your servant, Jules." Holy crap! My grandfather had given this book to my grandmother when he proposed marriage. I remembered the story now. How could I have forgotten? I had heard it many times from one elderly relative or another during my childhood, when I still had elderly relatives. Other than Lillian. She had outlasted them all. I had never met my grandfather. I'd been told that he ran off with one of the servants while my grandmother was carrying my mother. At the time I had no idea what this meant. My grandfather had published one of his own stories in the book. It had the same title as the book itself. I read the first sentence, and discovered that he was the protagonist of the story. What a colossal ego the man must have had! I flipped forward a few pages and read some more.


"Clever, Carter" Jones acknowledged, "somehow you got the floor to soften beneath me, then re-solidify when I was halfway through. How'd you do it?" He was embedded in what should have been solid Italian marble. A pregnant silence echoed through the museum, which was deserted at this time of night. Yes, I had him right where I wanted him. The problem was, I had had nothing to do with trapping him. If we were depending on the tricks up my sleeve, he would have gotten clean away.

"Never mind how I did it. Now tell me where you have hidden Ruth." Jones started violently, squirming like a man with an itch he couldn't scratch.

"Something bumped my leg." He twitched. "There it is again. What do you have flying around downstairs?"

I had no idea what he was talking about. There was nothing below him but air. "Ruth! Where is she? And hurry. Those things bite." Whatever he was hallucinating about. Playing along with his delusion or tactile hallucination might make him tell me what he had done with my fiancee.

"I don't..." his sneer vanished and he turned pale. "Carter, get me out of here. There's something, I don't know, flexible, like tentacles, I don't feel suckers... Carter, they're wrapping around me, only a, for God's sake, help me."

He was trying to pry himself out of the floor by pulling on the marble tiles with his fingers. Suddenly he screamed, was swiftly dragged backward, and vanished from sight. I went over to the hole and looked down. Below I didn't see the Hall of Mammals, which occupied this part of the first floor. Filling the hole was a churning opacity that somehow conveyed the impression of great depth. Things were moving down there, things I wish I had never glimpsed. Yet I thank all the gods there be that I did not see more clearly before the hole closed up. I saw nothing of Jones within the hole, nor heard his voice again, and I never have since that day.


Pretty standard fare, and that is where I thought the matter would end. Until I got an E-mail message from Darius Jones, who said he was the grandson of the Jones character in the story.

At first I thought it was a hoax. After all, anything else would be some crazy coincidence. It was easier to believe that my grandmother's executor suddenly grew a sense of humor. But eventually Jones convinced me he was who he said he was. He lived down in Boston, but would be in Arkham for a meeting in a few days. He suggested we meet for coffee.

The Starbucks in the new mall was easy to find, so that's where I suggested we rendezvous. I brought the book with me, and, arriving early, started one of the other stories while I waited. I was engrossed in the "abominable" practices of the absurd Mi-Go when I realized that someone was standing in front of me.

Darius Jones appeared to be half Asian, was only a bit shorter than my 6 feet, and was built like a wrestler.

I introduced myself, we shook hands, and chatted about inconsequentials until Jones was ready to tell me why he had contacted me.

"The thing is, Carter," Jones said, setting down his latte so he could gesture for emphasis, "our grandfathers did meet at the Museum of Antiquities here in Arkham. My grandfather was never seen after that night. Your grandfather failed to provide an adequate explanation, though he was not charged. He disappeared without a trace a year and a half later. Ah. I can see you didn't know that. He must've written that story after my grandfather disappeared."

I took a sip of coffee to give myself time to formulate my response.

"I'm sorry about what happened to your grandfather. It is very distressing to not know. Believe me, I understand that. I hope that my grandfather wasn't responsible. But I didn't know any of this, except that my grandfather disappeared." I didn't tell him about the family story of infidelity. "I do have a question. Who was Ruth?"

Jones shook his head. "Obviously the story isn't literal truth. However, I've been thinking about these things for a long time." Jones seemed reluctant to go on. "You may think me credulous, but the disappearances of our grandfathers could have something to do with the coin." I must have made some reaction, because he went on. "Have you seen it? Do you know its history?" With some reluctance, for I did not want to even appear to give credence to any supernatural explanation of events, I took it out of my pocket and set it on the table between us.

"Never heard of it or saw it until the day my grandmother's estate was settled."

Jones reached for it, then drew his hand back.

"It won't bite," I said, "I've handled it myself."

He picked it up and looked at both sides, then set it back down. "You don't know about this artifact, apparently, but I do," he said. "It's not really a coin, it's a magical focus. It was made to store energy of a kind, energy that is used in performing magical operations."

"You mean like summoning demons?" I joked.

"And other things," he said, without cracking a smile. "Now you see why I didn't want to bring this up," he said. "You think I'm crazy."

I was trying to keep an open mind.

"I'm trying to keep an open mind," I said. "But it sounds like you really believe this stuff. Do you have evidence for any of this? I need more than just faith, if I'm going to provisionally accept the possibility of black magic, alien gods, magic coins, and so on."

"All I have is what your grandfather found before my grandfather disappeared. The legend says that the coin is a link to another world. One that is not habitable by humans. Or rather, the inhabitants are inimical to our kind of life. Human blood opens the portal." He stopped to take a drink.

"Easy to test, then," I said. I took out my pocket knife, pricked my finger, and smeared the resultant drop of blood on the coin. Jones hastily set his cup down and snatched the coin from me, but I had already rubbed my blood onto it. He tossed the coin back on the table and sighed.
"You didn't read the whole story, did you?"

"Only the end."

"In the story my grandfather did exactly what you have just done. A few days later he was sucked through the hole in the museum floor."

"I'll just have to stay away from the Museum then, won't I," I said. He handed me his card.

"If you are still alive in a week, give me a call." He stood up, dropped a dollar on the table, and left.


That was a Saturday. The following Saturday I was standing at my front window, staring at the Victorians across the street, phone to my ear, listening to it ring and ring, but Jones never answered. The call went to voicemail; I didn't leave a message. I called a friend in Boston. Jim was persuaded to check on Darius Jones, but he called me back in a few hours. Jones had not shown up for work or been seen by his neighbors in three days. His car was parked and no one answered the door of his apartment. A dead-end of sorts.

Filled with an excess of nervous energy, I pulled out my grandfather's book and riffled the pages. I was not really in the mood to read another fantasy story. I riffled the pages again, and as I did so I noticed that the last page had some writing on it. I opened the book. The last sheet of paper, which had originally been blank, bore a note, written in what appeared to be my grandfather's hand. It read thusly.

Long time have I held the coin, but lacked the means to use it safely. After the disastrous events in the museum I determined to never employ it again. However, I have discovered through blind luck an incantation that permits control of the polycephalic creatures called by the coin. Because there is some slight possibility that Jones remains alive, I plan to use the coin again in an attempt to free him, or put him out of his misery, if that be the better course. Here is the incantation, which I copied from the queer leather scroll I lately received from Tibet. If I am destroyed tonight then know that the incantation is flawed, and that it must not be used. Still, I cannot bring myself to let it perish, and the scroll is in a state of virtual disintegration.

There followed what appeared to be a phonetic transcription, but I will not duplicate it here. If my attempt is unsuccessful, I do not want to leave the instrument of my destruction where it can harm anyone else. I don't know what happened to my grandfather. Maybe after all these years I can find out. And what of Jones? Perhaps it is not too late for him. You may say that only a fool would try this, under the circumstances. Well, then I am a fool.


If there are typos here, forgive me, for my hand is trembling. At midnight I cut my hand, dripped my blood onto the coin, and recited the incantation. Nothing happened, and I began to believe that the transcription was not phonetic. For some reason I had become convinced that all of the supernatural... stuff... was real. It was a letdown to learn otherwise.

After a time I came to my senses and was just beginning to relax when, I can only describe this as a tear in space, opened in front of me. In the irregular lensoid gap thus formed I saw darkness. The darkness seemed at once impenetrable and vast. Things moved within it. They seemed monstrously large and almost inconceivably remote. I could not describe them, but I was somehow reminded of a spider, its body still, except for its constantly moving jaws, waiting for its prey. Then, I felt them become aware of me, felt their regard focus on me. The resultant mental pressure was intolerable. I must have screamed. I threw the coin into the gap, reeled back against the wall, and collapsed on the floor with my eyes shut tightly. After some time I forced myself to look. The gap was gone, the coin was gone, the paper I had torn from the book was crumpled in my hand. I struggled to my feet, shoved the paper into my pocket, and staggered to the kitchen. If I had ever needed a drink, this was the time. All I had was a Tecate left over from a Mexican dinner I'd made a few days before. I opened the beer, took a long pull, and felt the hairs rise up on the back of my neck. I had always thought this phrase to be hyperbole, but I could feel my follicles quivering in terror. Slowly, I put the bottle on the counter. Slowly, I turned around. The gap had reopened. A creature loomed on the other side. It was close, so terribly close. A sack-like body was ringed with arms, each of which terminated with an impossibly wide mouth full of long straight teeth. I ran in here with the idea of documenting my


Here ends the document, autosaved by the wordprocessing program at 12:23 a.m. last Saturday.

My informant in the police department added only that no trace of any dimensional rift was found, and there was no evidence of any multiheaded monster, with the possible exception of several deep parallel grooves freshly gouged in the hardwood floor.

I continue to monitor unexplained disappearances and other inexplicable phenomena around the city, but so far, all is quiet.

The end

No comments: