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Authors: Matthew Carpenter,Steven Prizeman,Damir Salkovic

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Horror, #Occult

A Lonely and Curious Country (7 page)

BOOK: A Lonely and Curious Country
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              His voice was a quiet murmuration at first, but it slowly picked up in volume an intensity as he preached against Nixon and the war, against the bankers and factory owners. Terry had heard it all before. Rage and fear and demands for change that led only to snipers and bombings and riots. They were going to burn the country to the ground. He’d heard more than enough when Baloq shifted into a rant about expanded consciousness and ancient wisdom, spewing an inchoate mix of Eastern mysticism, astrology, and other mythologies that Terry had never heard of.

              “But the words themselves are empty, my friends,” Baloq shouted. “It is only in the lived communal consciousness of experience with the alien Other that we realize our place within the cosmos. And that time, my friends, is now.” He held a sheaf of brown blotter paper aloft. “You have all had a taste. Today, we throw the gates of perception open.”

              Terry began to back away, but Lonnie and Maliq pressed him from the sides.

              “You need this, brother,” Maliq said.

              “We’re gonna be shipping this all over, man,” Lonnie said. “Gonna force everybody’s eyes wide open.”

              “You guys go ahead. This is too intense for me.”

              “Bullshit,” Lonnie said. “Unless you’re still with the pigs, man. There’s always that option, isn’t there, Terry?”

              “What? Fuck you, man.”

              But they had his arms tightly and there were too many others around him to fight. Dozens of them glaring at him now. They’d beat him, maybe try and force him to confess. Or worse.

              “Everyone calm down,” Baloq said, coming toward them. Terry could see the yellow symbols on the blotter squirming. “Terry is one of us. Remember that it is an essential truth of all revolutions that most people must be dragged kicking and screaming into the fight. Try not to think about it, son. If you do, if you resist, you’ll drown. If you don’t, you won’t.”

              “Always whining about wanting to get to what’s true,” Lonnie said. “You want to know the real world? Trip to this.” Lonnie held his mouth open painfully. He tried to turn his face away, but Baloq forced squares of brown blotter inside. It took seconds for the ceiling to open up and the void to enter his head again.

              All around him, the Mill crowd were changing. Some stood like wax statues, their bodies twisted in strange poses, black tears oozing from their eyes. Others staggered or rolled on the floor. A man in a tuxedo with slick black hair produced bouquets and snakes of rainbow scarves on a stage while a woman in a dress stood beside him and looked on at the growing mounds of silk at his feet. He saw Connie reaching for him before she was shoved away and then he was running naked down the road from the village, screaming, his back burning while a photographer snapped photos.

              His thoughts became less clear after that, disrupted by strange intrusions and synesthesias, while the stars churned in his mind. Later, or maybe earlier, he saw students standing slack-jawed and comatose, black tears running down their faces in torrents to pool upon the floor, soaking through their sneakers, running over the tops inside. Maliq was lying on his side, moaning. Gut and chest wriggling, squirming. Something trying to get out. Bloody froth bubbled from his mouth. Strange tubular creatures with fan-like wings moved across snow-blown basalt as Terry watched a golf ball fly away from him, far across the lunar landscape and into oblivion.

              Then Connie was there again, helping him to his feet, and his FBI handler appeared in the middle of the Mill floor, chanting something that made him nauseated and afraid. Agent Fallon made a strange gesture with his hand and Baloq’s arm shriveled, curled, and blackened. Two balls of fire fell from the starry rift in the ceiling and flew around the room at the Agent’s direction. The fireballs scattered the crew across the floor of the Mill, and one picked up Lonnie and carried him high in the air while he shrieked and burned. His legs kicked as he turned to ash and the charred stumps clad in western boots and smoking denim cuffs fell to the floor. Terry tried to scream, but he could only choke out words in languages he did not know while urine ran down his legs.

              In the lot outside the Mill, cars pulled away spraying rocks and ground glass. The fiery motes screamed from the building, passing over the river before returning to the sky again. Within moments, the oozing river was on fire, pungent black smoke roiling from the sickly orange flames. Connie was yelling at him but he could not hear her.

 

***

              He woke up in the hospital. Connie - he never found out her real name - had called the Bureau when she realized he was in trouble. Their handler informed him by telephone that the Cuyahoga had been ignited by sparks from a passing train and that the Mill investigation was closed. Baloq had been taken to Lima State Hospital for the Criminally Insane.

              “Sir, I saw you-“

              “Son, you were under the influence of an unusually powerful psychedelic. You don’t know what you saw or didn’t see. You’ll be monitored for residual symptoms, including so-called ‘flashbacks,’ but our experts tell me that you should not experience any permanent effects. I can tell you that, thanks in no small part to your efforts, we have neutralized a significant threat to our national security.”

 

***

 

              His mother came by that evening, fussed at the nurses and frowned at his hair. She sat in the chair by his bed in silence for a long time.

              “I’m leaving your father,” she said, when she finally spoke.

              “I didn’t know you two were having problems,” he said.

              “Then you haven’t been paying very much attention,” she said.

              She left a short time later. He lay in the bed, staring at the ceiling, listening to the evening sounds on the ward. Outside his room, a small television set sat in the hallway. Ed Sullivan introduced Fantasio, who began his scarf routine. He couldn’t see the set, but he knew what color the scarves were. Tears formed in the corners of his eyes and he sobbed silently while the audience applauded.

 

***

 

              A week later he was home. His mother and sister were at his aunt’s house in Evanston. He sat on the floor in the upstairs hallway and listened to his handler on the phone. Connie had been reassigned. They wouldn’t tell him where.

              “You’ve received the package.”

              “Tickets to ‘An Aquarian Exposition’ in August,” Terry said. “Wallkill, New York.”

              “It’s been moved to Bethel. Zoning issues. The organizers are planning for 600 toilets for 50,000 people and they’ll have twice that many. Fucking hippies will be rolling in their own filth. We’ll wire you cash. You received the other materials necessary for this operation?”

              Terry looked at the sheets of blotter paper clipped neatly to the poster and tickets.

              “The brown acid,” he said.

              “Not on the phone, son. You know better than that.”

              “Yes, sir.”

              He hung up the phone, hid the envelope in his dresser, and walked downstairs. His dad was in the living room watching the ball game. Terry grabbed a pair of beers from the fridge and joined him.

              “Good timing, sport,” his dad said, setting down his empty bottle. It tipped and rolled with a clatter against another.

              “Who’s winning?”

              “Tribe’s up on the Senators, seven - two. Tiant’s pitching a gem. Hey, you want to go see the Independence Day fireworks up on the lake tomorrow night? Gonna be a nice show.”

              “Sure.”

              Terry fiddled with his beer, tried to keep his hands from shaking.

              “Say, Pop? Can I ask you something?”

              “Sure.”

              Williams was sending Shellenbeck out to face the Indians in the bottom of the 8
th
. Droplets shook from the bottle to spot the floor. He tried to clear his throat.

              “Well, what’s the matter?”

              “What’s the worst thing you saw over there? In Korea, I mean.”

              His dad shifted in his chair, stared at the television.

              “I killed a baby.”

              “By accident? Shooting at some Viet- I mean, North Koreans and the kid got in the way. Right?”His voice shook, and he could barely get the words out
.

              “No,” he said quietly, and paused to take a sip from his beer. “It wasn’t like that at all.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Down through Black Abysses

 

Pete Rawlik

 

“. . . to Cyclopean and many-columned Y’ha-nthlei, and in that lair of the Deep Ones we shall dwell amidst wonder and glory forever.”

Are those the words my cousin wrote? Was he that naïve? Was I? It all seems so long ago, but in truth it has been only days, weeks at the most. They said I was a lunatic, all those years ago, and my father and grandfather shut me up in that Canton madhouse. But Uncle Douglas and Grandmother knew the truth and it cost both of them their lives. Only my cousin Robert was strong enough to discover the facts and embrace them. He engineered my escape and planned for both of us to go east to Innsmouth and then into the sea where our great-great grandmother Pth’thya-l’yi was waiting, calling us to the sub-aqueous metropolis of Y’ha-nthlei, calling us home.

We were fools.

I haven’t much time to write this. I can hear them outside. I’ve taken refuge on the second floor of an abandoned warehouse that overlooks the Innsmouth waterfront. I write these words on pages I found in a long forgotten desk. When I am done, I shall secure them into an abandoned mason jar and throw it into the harbor. It is perhaps the only way to tell my story and assure that it reaches the outside world. The world must know the truth, my cousin Robert must be stopped, before he too reaches Innsmouth and undertakes the journey to Y’ha-nthlei.

Robert had a plan, but I, who had been locked away for years, could no longer wait. The voice of my ancestor was so loud, so insistent, so demanding. I stole his car, his money, his supplies and I made my way to Innsmouth without him. I could have gone anywhere really. I could have slipped into Lake Erie or the Ohio River, or any of a dozen waterways and then made my way to the Atlantic. Yet somehow all these options seemed wrong. I was drawn by something to the Manuxet. Some ancestral memory or impulse made it impossible to go anywhere else but the headwater of that dark river. Like some strange salmon I had no choice but to follow the path that my breeding had laid out for me, no matter how maddening, dangerous or ridiculous it seemed. I stopped only for fuel, rolling down the window only enough to slip the attendant the required payment, I collected no change. Never did I let my crude disguise of a hat and muffler slip. I relieved myself in the woods along deserted and desolate back roads, always with the motor running. I subsisted on the rations of dried foodstuffs and bottled drink that my dear cousin had assembled for the two of us. I followed the course Robert had laid out for us, passing through Erie and then wilds of western New York, before coming into Massachusetts and crossing the Round Mountains to pick up the Aylesbury Pike toward Arkham. I was careful to turn east and skirt Bolton before finally stopping the car at the headwaters of the Manuxet which steals water from the Miskatonic through a vast marshy land.

It was there, at the end of the land leg of my journey and the beginning of the waterborne that I let my guard down and was suddenly endangered. As I stood there in the stream, in a godforsaken marsh, in the morning hours, a man suddenly appeared in my field of vision. His uniform identified him as a soldier; one I supposed of those that Robert had told me had been deployed to occupy Innsmouth. He was alone, with a gun slung over his shoulder. That he surprised me goes without saying, but I think it was he who was the most startled, for he seemed surprised simply by my presence. I was naked, half submersed in the cold spring water of the creek, my gills flexing in the cold air, a strange crested fin running down my back. Without a word he raised his rifle and took aim, I panicked and leapt through the air more out of reflex than conscious thought. In an instant I was on him, his throat was slit, and the claws of my right hand were warm with blood and gore. I left him there on the road to die; his hand clutching his throat his eyes wide in fear of the knowledge that he was close to dead, his mouth gasping for air and instead gurgling bubbles of blood.

Spurred on by the horror which I had inflicted on another man I slipped into the icy black waters and let them carry me downstream, toward the Manuxet, toward the harbor and the reef beyond, and deep beneath those fathomless waters lay my goal of Y’ha-nthlei! The stream twisted and turned, grew deep and then shallow. In places I could swim freely, my huge, unblinking eyes able to see even in the black-stained waters. Elsewhere I had to crawl across muddy shoals and rocky deposits. Each time I rose above the water I knew I put myself at risk and my actions during these exposures were swift and direct. Finally I emerged from the stinking fen and the small stream consolidated with others which ran faster and deeper as a large creek. A little further downstream and the creek joined with others and the channel deepened to become the Manuxet River. So deep and dark were the waters that surrounded me that I no longer feared being observed. I relaxed and let the current carry me.

BOOK: A Lonely and Curious Country
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