The Malevolent Scourge by duaneculbertson
Halloween Horror Writing contest entry
Warning: The author has noted that this contains the highest level of violence.|
A vast gulf separates reason from madness ... or so we are told. After a senseless tragedy, this palliative phrase oft escapes the lips of the wisest of sages, an utterance to mollify troubled souls and provide a hopeful pharos to light the way through an otherwise obscure, darkened world. Such declarations are easily believed, yet seldom cover the naked truth. Nay, a closer inspection reveals the merest of barriers stand between saint and sinner, doctor and butcher, altruist and sadist. When the brazen bell of survival tolls, both rationalist and madman answer the call, and both look remarkably similar. As the capricious winds of chance blow aside the gossamer veil separating Good from Evil, each sees the other and recognizes its antithesis for what it is -- an odious, ontological threat. A greater irony is not found in this universe: two opposing forces seeking the destruction of the other, yet requiring the other for their identity; thus, light has no meaning without dark, nor dark without light. Nevertheless, in the ineluctable battle that follows, blood from one may spill to pollute the body of the other, and an unwholesome emulsion is born. Such is it that even the most chaste of women may act meretriciously, while the callous crone may stoop to save a foundling from the errant feet of an angry mob. As insects swept along by the course of a relentless river, humanity is carried down the temporal helix -- falling, rising, and falling again, a paltry oscillation within the cosmic scheme, oblivious to its grand workings and ignorant of its masters -- the eldritch forces governing all things possible.
Keen, penetrating cold enervated his body. Briny, frigid water sloshed about the deck and cascaded down the stairwell to soak his boots. He felt a coward, useless and weak.
Aboard the deck of the Norwegian Charon, sailors scurried, their panicked cries rising and falling much like the bow of the ship as it moved haphazardly through the water, scudding along the giant ocean swells. Frank Gerrior gripped the handrail in knuckle-whitening fright, as driving rain pelted his face and blurred his spectacles. He pulled his greatcoat over his head for more shelter. Bracing himself, he fought to strengthen his tenuous purchase as he climbed his way to the deck.
Angry waves tossed the windjammer through the sea as if it were a rag doll instead of a three hundred-fifty-foot ship laden with sixty-thousand sacks of grain. His curiosity outweighing his fear, Frank could not help going topside to catch a glimpse of the action, and the terror. The first mate saw him and swore, branding him a fool, he threw the landlubber down the stairs with nary a second thought.
Frank lay in a heap at the bottom of the stairwell. Tensions were high, he knew, so such conduct was not unexpected. He did not belong on deck, yet such harsh treatment was unnecessary. He considered filing a formal complaint. Fortunately, his pride was the only thing that was seriously injured.
Frank reflected on the events of the day and decided what his next move would be. Obviously, his skills would not be appreciated on deck. All evening, mounting apprehension had afflicted the crew. Despite the palliative remarks made by the bosun, the most seasoned seamen knew this was no simple gale they had stumbled upon. The "old salts", weather-beaten men gone gray riding the seven seas, stowed their usual implacable, dour expressions, replacing them with ones fraught with doubt and grim resignation. With the confidence of the elder men eroded, the younger men were left to their own dire thoughts. Histrionic oaths and colorful language soon flourished, peppering the air amidst the crashing of giant waves. Briefly, Frank sat listening to the impassioned imprecations and the bellowing of orders from above. The problem was not helped by the timing of this debacle -- All Hallows' Eve -- the night before the day set aside to remember the dead. Seamen are a superstitious lot, and the coincidence weighed upon their burdened shoulders like a giant anchor.
Frank had concerns as well, and fear began to seep into his brain much like the brackish water accumulating in the hold. As purser, he was universally unpopular. The crew saw him as a privileged, upper-class crony. The only man who did not treat him with contempt was the captain, mysteriously absent during this crisis. His conduct had been odd the past fortnight - aloof and taciturn. It was out of character. The few who had seen him reported a vague, troubled look in his eyes. Any attempt to delve into the cause was met with hostility. The crew could really use his leadership in their present situation, so Frank decided to pay him a visit. He could ostensibly claim there were accounts that needed to be settled. This was partially true; besides, anything completed now would facilitate the customs paperwork required when they pulled into port. Frank would be able to leave the ship that much sooner, provided he survived the night.
Frank happened to be an amateur cartographer. He'd been charting their course from his cabin ever since they left Spencer Bay. He knew they were now navigating the waters around Cape Horn, an area infamous for storms that sent sailors to watery graves. He shuddered, banishing the thought the rest of the crew undoubtedly shared, as he made his way to the captain's quarters.
"Captain, are you in?" Frank inquired, rapping at the door.
"Get you gone, scurvy dog!" replied a voice heavy with drink. "Devil take ye!"
Despite the warning, Frank flung open the door. The man within swore bitterly and tossed an empty drinking glass. Quick reflexes allowed the purser to duck the projectile. It sailed past his head to shatter violently in the hallway beyond.
"Blast your hide, Gerrior! Can't you obey a simple command?" The slurred words came with difficulty, yet the anger was clearly expressed. "Let me guess," he continued. "You got Cape Horn Fever too?" he added sarcastically.
Captain Gustav Sorensen partially rose from his chair. Swaying slightly, he steadied himself by bending forward to place a hand upon the desk in front of him. He upset an astrolabe in the process, which clattered to the floor. Both men watched it spin about its axis before it came to rest.
The captain's whole affect was one of indulgent indifference, his haggard face flushed with grog. He removed another glass from a drawer and liberally filled it from a cask, irrigating papers and charts on his desk in the process. He either did not notice or did not care. Most of the clear, amber fluid ended up in his glass.
"Should've locked the door," he slurred. "Never imagined one of the crew would have the temerity to enter, let alone the purser."
Frank began hesitantly, "Not the most fortunate of times, I would say. Nonetheless, I hope to discuss with you the crew's accounts and settle any outstanding debts forthright. I'm not interested in Cookie's slush fund, but there are other matters I'm unwilling to overlook. There's also the question of the possible losses to the cargo."
Derisive laughter filled the room. It jarred Frank, reminding him of porcelain shattering, or the irritating coo-coo clock he was given as a child.
"Fancy yourself a scholar?" he sneered. "Know your letters, do you? Numbers too? Very nice."
"I've studied at Oxford," Frank replied. "I'm an actuary, among other things."
"No doubt, you'll get a job at the Circumlocution Office," the captain spat scornfully. "If your father were not a shipowner, there's no way you'd be on this voyage. Just another useless mouth to feed."
"Hardly useless," Frank retorted. "Merely unused. I've many talents. You're just too derelict in your duties to notice."
Captain Gustav rose swiftly, ready to reach across the table and threaten violence. Instead, he checked himself. He sat down, slouching sullenly as he regarded his diminishing grog supply.
"We've not seen you all week," Frank chided. "Why are you shutting yourself in your cabin like this? You belong on the deck with the crew."
Frank knew they were at this very moment navigating the perilous waters of the Drake Passage around Cape Horn. If ever a time for leadership was needed, it was now. The crew were terrified. Despite the captain's earlier suggestion which had become a hackneyed expression aboard ships circling the globe, no malingers were to be found below. If anyone had been suffering from the spurious Cape Horn Fever, fear of a briny death had galvanized them to action.
"Why are we on the open sea?" Frank continued. "The Strait of Magellan would've been far safer."
"What do you know?" roared the captain. "Do they teach seamanship at Oxford? I'm not taking a callow crew such as this to negotiate a treacherous path. At any instant a williwaw could come down from the mountains and drive us upon the rocks. You fancy the threat of death on both sides of that narrow passage? And what of the first mate? I've no idea how good he is. Sure, he has excellent papers, but do we really know how he'll handle the pressure in a life-threatening situation?"
"We do now!" Frank exclaimed. "And it appears he's doing a great job! We're still alive and breathing. No thanks to you! On the contrary, you've put us in harm's way!"
"This is the Clipper Route!" the captain protested. "We get paid for speed! We need to use the winds of the Furious Forties to our advantage!"
"Nonsense," Frank replied. "There's no expediency bonus. The only reason we're still in business is because we can carry so much weight. We don't need room to store coal or fresh water like the steamboats, which is why our hold is laden with sixty-thousand bags of grain, though I doubt much of it will survive with the way we're taking on water. Already, the ship is listing."
"Alas," the captain murmured, "the Age of Sail is over." With a despondent stare, he wistfully looked out the window, seemingly oblivious to Frank's last words. A grey sea heaved, visible only when contrasted with the blackened sky, lit occasionally by flashing dendrites of fire.
"You've got to pull it together, captain! The men need you! This needless risk is your fault! If we ever make it back to Cornwall, I'll see you reprimanded for your reckless charting of these treacherous waters!"
A hint of understanding seemed to settle upon the man's countenance. He nodded his head slightly. It was unclear whether this was in response to the harsh censure, or an attempt to resolve some unspoken, inner conflict. Perhaps he was plagued by demons or tormented by unseen forces.
Frank imagined the man looked much older somehow, as if he had gone grayer within the past week. Perhaps the physicians of the day knew what they were talking about when they counselled that the ravages of drink were not to be underestimated. Is this man mentally competent to preside over his solemn duties, or has his reason fled his mortal frame? Was now the time to elect a new captain? Doubts crept in like the seawater collecting in the hold.
"This is madness!" Frank continued. "The Beagle Route would have been far safer. We could've even pulled ashore at Tierra Del Fuego and waited for the storm to subside."
At the mention of Tierra del Fuego, the captain's face became ghastly white and he muttered something incomprehensible. A stentorian clap of thunder split the heavens, and the light from flanking candelabra cast lurid shadows upon the two as they faced each other.
Frank pretended not to notice the man's terror. Instead, he regarded himself in the cracked mirror to his left. The fame was a filigreed pattern of gilt gold, but the mirror was broken with a large crack running diagonally, affectively halving the reflective surface. It was curious the captain never had it fixed.
Frank decided to change his approach. He would soften his tone and adopt a more compassionate, sympathetic mien. He pulled up a chair, wearing a genuine expression of concern upon his troubled brow. Pausing to collect his thoughts, he glanced over to the bookshelf on his right, taking stock of its contents for the first time. They say you can tell much about a man by his library, the books containing the facts and fantasies he holds dear. Frank saw the popular stories of the age. There was Beowulf, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and aptly, Moby Dick. Books less familiar stood at attention as well such as Arcana Coelestia, Mesmerism, and the Principles of Nature, Her Divine Revelations. Unlike the others, these were free of dust, yet to Frank their meaning remained obscure. The captain appeared well-read, erudite perhaps. Other tomes were far more esoteric, possibly even occult. Curiously, no bible was present.
"Look whatever is wrong, you can tell me. I fancied we were mates back in Spencer Bay. What happened? It's like you've gone sour."
The captain hesitated, momentarily arrested by some internal conflict. "It would be good to tell someone," he blurted. "But what I say does not leave this room."
"I swear," Frank added with solemnity.
"Very well. My story is easily stated, yet hard to believe. I will endeavor to tell it as plainly as possible. Parts of it are still nebulous, even to me, and most likely will forever remain so, for I've witnessed much horror in this life -- I've even been to war -- yet nothing could have prepared me for the things I've seen and the secrets I now keep."
The captain sighed and took a deep breath. Frank was on the edge of his seat with wide eyes, barely breathing. He licked his lips in anticipation and nodded for his friend to continue.
"Two years ago, I planned to settle the land at the bottom of the world - Patagonia they call it. I wanted a fresh start. Just me and my fine Norwegian wife, Alvilda. A chance to make a good, honest life, living off the land. The treachery of the sea is a lottery that eventually claims you if you stay too long. Ah, such is life... One final commercial voyage to go. If only I'd listened to my own advice."
Tears welled in the captain's eyes. He wiped them away before he could continue.
"Against better judgement, I brought Alvilda aboard for my final voyage. It was her request. She wanted to see what it was like to live that life before I abandoned it. Wanted to experience the hard, sea-living herself. My Norwegian crew wanted no part of it. Bad luck to have the wife of a captain aboard they claimed. Perhaps they were right. One night she sought the fresh embrace of the salt air. Normally, I did not allow her on deck, but it was a perfectly calm sea, eerily calm. Next thing I know a rogue wave was upon us. I'd just enough time to catch a final glimpse as my beloved was swept from the deck. My arm had become entangled in the riggings. 'Twas that what saved me. The first mate helped me to my feet, and then, like a banshee, I called her name. Aye, you know the term. Your people, if I recall correctly."
"Yes," Frank replied. "While my father is from France, my mother is indeed Irish, so I'm well acquainted with the Celtic legends. Although I've never heard a banshee, my blood runs cold when I imagine their frightful wailing."
"Indeed," Gustav continued. "I was hollering like a madman, even lost my voice. I forced the crew to take to the life boats immediately. We searched for hours, but nary a trace could we find. It kills me to this day. Like the celebrated poem, her death hangs around my neck like a dead albatross."
The captain refilled his glass with grog. He took a long draught and winced. "When are we going to get some proper rum? This watered-down swill is a poor substitute. Cookie's supply gets weaker with each passing day. Ought to be a law against watering down good alcohol. Alcohol, a Sumerian word, you know that?"
Frank bristled with impatience. "Please, Gustav. Tell me what happened?"
"It's a powerfully painful story, my friend," he slurred, downing a second glass and pouring another. For once, Frank was grateful the grog was so heavily watered down.
"I became obsessed with righting this wrong. Fixing the injustice. She never ought to have been there in the first place. I had to find a way to let her know I was sorry, deeply sorry. I had to contact her, but a wide gulf, wider than any ocean separated us...Death."
Gustav regarded Frank with bleary, bloodshot eyes. Frank wondered how long it had been since the old sot had gotten any sleep. An awkward silence descended. And they both became keenly aware of the distant shouts from the crew as they fought the furious storm.
Frank noticed a curious item on a side board in the captain's quarters. Gustav followed his gaze.
"Ah," he said. "The hakapik. A cruel, efficient instrument. That belonged to my great grandfather. It was given to him by none other than Gavril Pribylov, the famous Russian explorer who discovered the Fur Seal Islands in the Bearing Sea. Course the Yanks own 'em now."
Frank examined the wicked looking tool with disdain. It was a three-foot wooden shaft with a hook and hammer affixed on opposite sides. Instrument? How could a man feel good about himself, good inside, when his occupation required him to beat to death a helpless, defenseless creature? One of His children. Equal to all others on the planet.
"My great-grandfather was a seal clubber," Gustav continued. "This here item was once used regularly and claimed the lives of many a seal. Never tasted human blood though, as far as I know. Course my great-grandfather would ne'er tell that tale, if it were true. The relic has been passed down in my family for generations. All Sorensen men who take to the sea have a claim to it. Now, it's just a curiosity though. A story on the side, as it were."
Frank averted his gaze. A malicious weapon with such a legacy of cruelty made him uneasy. He imagined he saw dried blood coating the hammer. Although probably just rust, the abhorrent possibility made him shudder, and he urged his host to continue.
"Where was I? Oh yes, I scanned the water for hours, but no trace of Alvilda could I find. What a fool I was! If only I had insisted that she stay below! They say time heals all wounds. I disagree. Friends and colleagues urged me to move on. Alas, I could not! She was the only one for me. If I could not have her in this world, I would pursue her in the next. That roguish idea led me to other wild thoughts, and soon I found myself entertaining absurd, quixotic ideas. Could I not somehow contact her? What if I could cross the Great Divide? How much coin would it cost to ferry me across?"
Although still drinking heavily, the captain seemed strangely more lucid. Exceptionally animated, he spoke more articulately as well. A type of feverish madness drove him forward at a frenetic pace.
"As a sea captain, I traveled the world. So, when opportunities presented, I made proper inquiries. Odd folk I never dreamed of consulting were now the norm. No stone was left unturned in my all-consuming search. Unfortunately, even the most ardent occultist could partake in no pyschomancy to reach her. I began to despair of ever finding a solution to my problem.
In a bar in Wallaroo my luck changed when I met an unusual man, an old salt who was throwing down every young lad who dared challenge him. A veritable heap of coins amassed by his side, I watched as bets were placed. The odds were not in his favor, yet he kept winning. He simply got richer as the night wore on. When the last match ended, he caught my eye and beckoned me to join him. Claiming to have second sight, he swore he could read my troubled soul. I don't believe in charity, so I was on my guard, yet the man proved true. Had a genuine interest in helping me. Told him my tale, and he offered a solution. Opened his shirt and upon his chest I saw a remarkable tattoo. It looked like a celestial chart. Arcane symbols and geometric patterns crisscrossed his entire torso. 'Twas the secret to his power. How else could he have defeated all those young men?
I was all too ready to believe anything, if it meant I could contact Alvilda. No fare was too high. No cost too great. To my surprise, the man had not acquired his tattoo in Polynesia, but rather a Selknam village in Tierra del Fuego. He warned me of the cost. 'Not all prices are paid in gold,' he cautioned, yet I was too eager to heed his warning.
As luck would have it, I had business in Punta Arenas. After we crossed the Pacific, my crew navigated the Strait of Magellan and we pulled into the harbor. I told them we would be staying for a few days longer than planned, but they would be compensated for their time. They were a dissolute bunch, and the local brothels provided a distraction few could resist. Many claimed they had Cape Horn Fever anyway, so I knew there would be no strong opposition. I had a few days to myself.
I found the witch-doctor I was told to look for by the sailor at Wallaroo. The gold rush was well underway, and Punta Arenas was bustling with activity. It was not hard to find the man. He was regarded as some type of mystic, either a village elder or healer of some sort. Ugly as sin, he was adorned with the same curious tattoo patterns as the man who had sent me, except he had them everywhere, even his face. In fact, it appeared not one square inch of his body was free from the mysterious patterns and bright colored swirls. This man was called Loij.
When my intentions were successfully relayed, and the price negotiated, the man was eager to start. He told me the tattoo had to be applied at a sacred location deep within the southernmost tip of Cape Horn. It would take a day to get there. I agreed.
The first part of the journey was by canoe. It was easy. We made our way south through the archipelago. Then, we climbed through the hills until we came upon the Yaghan, the people who call the southernmost part of the world their home.
They were an odd bunch. Always squatting. I've been told they do this to conserve heat. Tierra del Fuego means the Land of Fire, named for the many bonfires dappling the shoreline at night observed by Magellan long ago. The people are of a peculiar metabolism. 'Taint natural. Their blood must run hotter than ours. Fully clothed and shivering, I watched naked women dive into the ocean to harvest shellfish with nary a concern for their health. Barefoot, they move about their huts, occasionally squatting around fires. The cold does not bother them. 'Taint natural."
"Did you not try to understand them?" asked Frank.
"What is there to understand? I was bold enough to place my hand upon the breast of a young woman, and found it was powerfully warm. Demon fire must run through their veins. I know not what fiendish pact they have collectively made, but it must be diabolical."
Gustav downed an entire glass of grog, and poured another before continuing.
"I did not understand why Loij would be dealing with these people. They were not his people. The thought made me suspicious of something untoward. Time would prove me right. But for the moment, I reluctantly agreed to allow six Yanghan to accompany us; they would help with the brief ritual before applying the tattoo.
As I've said, I was ready to pay any price, if it meant seeing my Alvilda again. You were noticing my collection of books earlier. I'm no stranger to spiritualism or the occult. Black magic or dark arts, I would've agreed to anything to accomplish my goal...or so I thought.
We walked to a small island, wading across the shallow waters of the archipelago. I regretted getting my boots wet, but the others wore nothing and had no such concerns.
The vegetation of the island was peculiar. A blight had fallen, and fungi the likes of which I'd never seen covered everything, its shade of blue I could not place, though I'm sure it was never the intent of nature. In the falling darkness, it shone when struck by moonlight. The moon too was of unnatural appearance that evening, giving off a luminosity that made everything clear as day. The occasion was sinister as well -- All Hallows' Eve.
Misgivings plagued my thoughts. Surrounded, I had the impression I would not be allowed to leave, even if I wanted. Taciturn, the men did not answer my questions. Even Loij ignored me.
A stone circle sat atop a hill at the middle of the island. An altar stood at the center. Fear gripped me as I saw rust colored stains I knew could not be from minerals. Fear turned to terror as I beheld the giant statue squatting in the background. Festooned with vines and covered in that blue fungus, a hideous behemoth stood threatening. 'Twas carved from a giant slab of basalt! Looked like something out of Jules Verne, a sea monster born from the most perverse corner of human imagination. Vaguely anthropomorphic, it threatened the observer with menacing outstretched claws. Squat powerful legs formed its base, and at the head...Gehenna's Glove! It was a horror, like a squid, but more terrible. Then, true terror penetrated my thoughts. What if this was not a human invention? What if this was crafted from memory -- the memory of something seen, of something that is; or in this case, something that should not be?
My disgust bore a physical nature - I vomited. The Yaghan laughed; the only time those savages had shown any emotion. Loij made a sign and I was seized by powerful arms. Outnumbered six to one, there was little I could do...."
Gustav paused, frowning when he realized the casket of grog had gone dry. Meanwhile, Frank waited with gaping mouth and wide eyes as Gustav drained the last dregs into his glass.
"Yes, I see it in your eyes," he continued. "The good news is I survived, although perhaps it would've been better had I perished that day. Others were not so fortunate. Out of nowhere, another Yaghan arrived. It was almost as if the hideous statue had given birth, such was the effect of his sudden appearance. Nearly mad with fright, I demanded to be set free and bellowed like a wounded animal. Instead, I was dragged to a flat stone and held prone, while they bound my arms and feet. For the first time, I noticed the newcomer was not alone. A girl of not more than eight was led to the altar. She started crying as the Yaghans secured her as well.
Loij began chanting, and the sibilant words he hissed and spat assaulted my ears. The men alternated between prostrating themselves before the statue and reaching out toward the heavens. While entertaining the latter, they would call out one word. I will never forget it. Kwahloo! Such an odd, guttural sound.
Loij drew a knife from his belt, and swiftly slashed the girl's neck, silencing her cries forever. The men whooped and howled in unison, then everything fell silent. No noise sounded upon that blasted heath. No animals. No birds. No insects. Only the heavy breathing of these perverse souls.
The girl's blood collected in a bowl at the base of the altar. From my vantage point, I could not see what was going on. I craned my neck, but still much was hidden from view. I strained against my bonds, but the vines used to bind me held fast. Mercifully, in the eerie silence that followed my reason returned. I knew I had the power to free myself. Before making the journey, I had hidden a dagger in my boot. For as the adage goes, I would rather have it and not need it, then need it and not have it.
Loij worked his dark magic, continuing to fabricate his enchanted ink. Minerals and clay were mixed with the blood, and the unwholesome emulsion was set on the altar to cure in the pale moonlight. This was to be the ink of the devil, the ink I still bear upon my chest.
The shaman approached with his needles and feverishly worked his craft. The pain was terrible, but I almost craved it. After all I'd seen I wanted the pain on the outside to balance the pain on the inside.
As he worked, I watched the moonlight dance upon his tattoos. The marks glowed like demon fire upon his face, and he worked as a fiend possessed, compelled, as if guided by voices.
The pale moonlight nearly drove me mad. I reached for the dagger in my boot. I knew what I must do.
And then he finished. Stepping back, he admired his handiwork, favoring me with an evil smile. He recited a few last words in that abhorrent, guttural language of his, and the others rejoiced. It was then that I felt it. A power unlike any I could have imagined surged through me. With it, came a supernatural rage. I stared into my tormentor's eyes, and I saw fear. Something else was there too. Fire. At first, I thought it was the power within him coming out, but then I realized it was my power. The fire was in my eyes and it was merely the reflection of my power that I saw in his. What happened to his? I knew not, nor cared.
With a shriek of triumph, I tore off my bonds. Incredibly, I did not even need the dagger in my hand, although in the next instant it became quite useful, and I went tearing about with savage glee.
First, I killed Loij. I stabbed him through the ribcage. With military precision, the blade slid through to pierce his heart. The wretch died almost instantly, but not before conveying his true feelings; for, as his lifeblood ebbed, his face adopted a look of gratitude, like one eased of a great burden. It was just another cryptic detail at the time, but I now think I understand what it meant.
Next, I stabbed the nearest Yaghan in the throat, burying the knife to the hilt. Crimson mist spurted from the wound, dappling my face with blood. Such was the ferocity and force of my attack, I had to abandon the knife in his body. With my bare hands I tore into the next man. Using my nascent supernatural strength, I ripped his head from his spine, the sickening crunch echoing off the giant stone sentinels surrounding the melee, a strange mute audience to witness my rage under the lurid moonlight.
Two Yaghans attacked from either side. I tore the throat from one, and buried my thumb in the eye of the other. The rest fled, and I gave chase to one. My bloodlust was up, and it had to be satisfied. I tackled him in the scrub brush and beat him to death with my fists.
I let loose a bestial cry, which was followed by maniacal laughter. I was a new man. Reborn. I recall a strange peace that warmed me, yet the cerebral part of my brain yearned to acknowledge that it was deeply disturbed.
I returned to the barren circle and dug a shallow grave for the girl. The others would rot where they lay. They deserved no better. I considered taking their ears, since the sheep farmers would pay a good price for them. It seemed beneath me though.
Farming and the gold rush will kill them off, I hope, and I say good riddance. If there are more like those I found, humanity must not allow them to live. Kill them. Kill them all to be sure. That's the best policy. The world does not want what they crave.
Humanity is not ready to defend itself against such a horror. We would be enslaved or face certain doom.
I started my quest to learn what I could about the other side, and how I might contact my beloved Alvilda. Heartbroken, I learned only that there are things in this world which are not meant to be discovered. Horrors that threaten the lives of decent people.
I washed myself in the water surrounding the island and went back to ship. My life changed forever on that All Hallows' Eve, but I had yet to realize the full extent. For me, the horror was just beginning.
"That's truly wretched," Frank interrupted. "But are you sure you weren't the victim of an elaborate hallucination? Perhaps you were drugged."
Gustav laughed sardonically, "No, my friend. All I told you is true, seen with my own eyes and free from the treacherous effects of grog. I told you it's hard to believe, but you asked me to explain my conduct, and now I've told you. Tonight is the anniversary of that awful occasion, and already I can feel its effects."
"It's up to science to determine what's possible...for as Leonardo said, 'science is the study of things possible'. This, what I've told you tonight, is not science. It's supernatural - occult things, unknowable and terrible. Things not to be understood, merely avoided. And that's what I was doing tonight, until you had the audacity to interrupt."
"The significance of All Hallows' Eve is surely a coincidence," Frank retorted. "It can't possibly be otherwise. I know you believe everything you've told me, but I'm a scholar and I must retain some skepticism."
"Skepticism?" Gustav replied with asperity. "Shall I show you the tattoo?"
"Oh, I don't think that's necessary..."
"You're afraid, aren't you?"
"Well, there's more to the story, if you're patient enough to hear it. When I tell you there's significance to All Hallows' Eve, it's not some vague notion. I can literally feel it. The tattoo's like a living, breathing thing. It carries a terrible past, but also serves as a lodestone, forever marking me, alerting those unfathomable forces of my location, so that they can claim me when the time is right. Other cursed men must walk the earth as well, dreading this call, dreading the voices. It won't take much to plunge the world into darkness and return civilization to an antediluvian age."
"How can a tattoo possibly exert an effect that varies with distance and time? It's absurd."
"I tell you," Gustav continued. "There's a darkness in men's souls. This darkness, this hollowness, can rise when the stars are right. Those touched, nay those cursed, will be susceptible. And the stars are right tonight! Behold! The full moon! And on All Hallows' Eve!"
Gustav pointed to the pale moonlight shining through the window.
"All Hallows' Eve is derived from the pagan festival of Samhain," Frank replied. "It was simply created to celebrate the harvest. Centuries later it was assimilated by Christians who then called it All Hallows' Eve, meaning the night before All Saints Day, a time to remember the dead and pay respects, often by lighting a candle. The traditional Jack-of-the-lantern was meant to symbolize Christian souls in purgatory."
"And where would we be without the perversions of the Catholic Church?" Gustav asked. "Slayers of the Truth. Leave it to them to change things, abolishing the old ways, and concealing the real meaning. Know ye' so little? The Jack-o-lanterns were meant to represent spirits or supernatural beings. Your ancestors knew the truth, a truth men today try hard to forget."
"And what is that?"
"That there are cosmic forces affecting all that is possible in this world. I've seen it. Felt it. Long before the Son of Man walked the earth there were the Great Old Ones, entities of eldritch power and influence. Our Neolithic ancestors did what they could to placate these beings. Fortunately, they simply disappeared, and civilization developed unabated. Those beings are gone, but they are not forgotten. Nor are they truly dead. They are just dormant. And now there are madmen walking among us who wish to bring them back, to bring about a world steeped in madness and terror."
"On what grounds are you basing these theories?"
"Not theories. Facts. 'Twill happen soon enough. Portents are all around. Earlier this year I rounded the Cape of Good Hope and was nearly deafened by a terrible explosion. A boom that rocked the ship a thousand miles away. Reports say an entire mountain disintegrated! And now our sunsets are blood red! If that's not a sign, then what is? And there are the voices..."
"Voices?" Frank asked.
"They started just after I retuned to Cornwall. I was hoping to bury the terrible secrets of the past and adopt some semblance of normalcy, but it was not to be. At first, they came to me only in dreams. But soon, they came to haunt me in my waking hours. I'm quite certain the words are not lingually possible for man; we lack the body parts to manufacture such abhorrent articulations.
For me there is no refuge. No time, no place, is safe. With each passing day, they grow more insistent, desiring to make their intentions clear. Evil ones."
Gustav paused to wipe the beads of sweat blooming upon his brow.
"A terrible darkness approaches. A malevolent scourge afflicts me. Calls to me. I thought I could outrun it, which is why I took this voyage on such short notice. I wanted to sail immediately. Movement does seem to help, yet the voices are unyielding. They are my waking nightmare, following me wherever I go. Some days are good, others are terrible. I try to avoid certain locations as well. My madness is at its worst when I'm upon the open seas seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Specifically, near 48S, 123W my madness becomes almost unbearable. That's why I've locked myself in my cabin. To save myself ... and protect you."
Frank felt a chill upon hearing these words. The look in his friend's eyes was deeply disturbing. He read a warning there. And a hunger. Nevertheless, he wanted to help. He would, if possible. Besides, he did not completely accept the accuracy of his friend's grog-addled tales.
"Look, why don't you show me this thing you've been hiding all this time. You'll feel better once you share it. You've shared everything thus far, you might as well finish it."
Gustav's pallor became ashen white.
"Nnn, no!" he stammered. "Get out of here!"
"Nonsense!" Frank insisted. "Let's get you to the window so we can see what this thing looks like in the moonlight."
Frank dragged Gustav to the window, and tore open his shirt. A fiendish image confronted him. An anthropoid creature with outstretched claws squatted menacingly. Head of a squid, body of a reptile, the repulsive thing glistened brightly in the moonlight. The malice was palpable, like a wave of heat, yet the refulgence of the ink was resplendent and beautiful. The unnatural light beckoned Frank, and he stuck out his hand to touch it.
"No!" Gustav screamed.
But it was too late. Frank's hand fused to Gustav's skin. Smoke billowed instantly beneath his blistering skin, and the overpowering stench of broiled flesh soon filled the room. Both men howled in agony. Eyes blurred with pain, Frank imagined he saw the tattoo move. It was moving! Unable to withdraw his hand, he watched in horror as the monstrosity migrated up his arm. He felt it crawl over his skin until it reached the identical place upon his chest.
Frank saw flames in Gustav's eyes, then realized it was only the reflection of the flames in his own. He tore his hand away, and both men fell to the floor. Frank regained his footing, yet reeled as inexplicable powers coursed throughout his body. Noises unlike any he had ever heard reverberated in his brain. His blood boiled, as the internal sounds reached a crescendo. Voices spoke to him, he did not recognize their language, but he understood their meaning.
A red haze descended upon his reason. His face twisted and bulged marking the internal conflict; a terrible transformation was taking place. At last he acquiesced, surrendering to the otherworldly power, embracing the supernatural rage before flying into action.
Swiping the hakapik from its stand, he spun upon Gustav. The captain raised his arms, offering a feeble protest, but they were quickly beaten aside. Bones shattered, as Frank sought a more yielding target. He derived perverse pleasure when Gustav's skull cracked like a hardboiled egg. Bone chips flew in all directions. More blows followed, and Gustav finally collapsed, releasing a hideous, reptilian moan, his last cry forever lost upon the winds of the furious storm.
The fatal blow having been dealt, Frank nevertheless continued beating Gustav's head until there was no vestige left to classify it as such. His arm rising and falling, he fustigated the target with focused zeal, dashing his victim's brains into fleshy pulp.
Frank breathed heavily. When his heaving chest finally relaxed, he let loose a bestial cry. Part laughter, part triumph, it too was carried off by the wind.
He would need to clean. The blood on the floor was easy enough to swab, but the blood spatter on the ceiling was another matter. Then again, no one examines the ceiling when they enter a room. If anyone noticed, he would kill them as well. Killing was surprisingly easy.
Frank stopped to regard himself in the mirror. He felt proud and powerful. He did not even shake or tremble, and he had no trouble seeing himself in the cracked glass. Perhaps he would take the mirror with him when he left the ship.
A flame darted from his eyes, a transient, refulgent opalescence. Frank admired it for a second; then it was gone. In its place was a feelings of satisfaction and confidence he had never known possible.
He welcomed this new partnership. He had a strange desire to go to Parliament. He did not know why, but it would be done nonetheless. A luxurious warmth coursed throughout his entire body. He wondered how he had ever lived without it.
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