I will never pretend to know, least of all understand, that which flawlessly harrows my mind of pleasantry. It rears when-so-ever my thoughts stray, like a glutinous worm born from pits of slimy despair, and yet actively trying to avoid it produces greater madness than I admit to suffer. Even when eluded, memories haunt me with reoccurring smells and sounds of terrifying familiarity. How I have retained enough semblance of sanity to orchestrate words upon paper is beyond me. I am fortunate to be alive, though likewise vexed by waking nightly to my own screams and agonize in days of contemplating my end. I both thank and curse any deity that may reign benign in heavenly places for the breath in my lungs. To remain among the living, like my sanity, cannot be promised anymore. Not after what I have witnessed: nightmarish constructs and monstrosities, native only to the imaginings of the most perverse, babbling mad men.
My name is Aaron Joseph Landers. I am twenty-six years old at the time of this writing, five-foot eight in height, black hair, and Caucasian. I surmise I am at least one hundred and forty pounds, though I have weighed up to two hundred in healthier days. All credentials of legal importance can be found in a thrice-sealed lock box, hidden behind a crimson-coated brick in the western stone wall of the Palm Beach Intercoastal beneath the Lake Avenue Bridge in Lake Worth, Florida. By the end of this manifesto you will understand why I feel the need to describe myself in seemingly unnecessary detail. Perhaps it will aid the unfortunate soul destined to discover me in whatever investigations may follow.
An intelligent man, I graduated Bachelors from an esteemed college that shall be left nameless to retain their reputation. After all the shameful actions I have committed in life, of which I have yet to atone, I at least owe the academy this much. It is worth mentioning that I did not pursue a career in my choice fields of study after graduation. My profession is what I would prefer to over-complicate as “freelance archaeologist specialized in the retrieval of abandoned, posthumous artifacts of marketable value”. Considering my inevitable fate and the regrettable choices I have made to this date, I will simplify my exaggeration to the honest nomenclature – grave-robber. If for any particular error of human decision, it was this choice of career that evolved to what may be my demise.
I chose to live in South Florida out of its convenient distance from Miami's port, where most of my “transactions” were carried out after returning from endeavors overseas. I had made a humble fortune in my field, enough so that I might have retired at thirty-five years age. This, I fear, is a dream never meant for fruition. The beginning of my end, though I did not know it then, came the evening of January 14th, 2010; two days after the catastrophic earthquake that nearly tore Haiti asunder.
I kept two peers with whom I enjoyed in the craft, and whose names I will refrain under aliases so as not to disgrace their memory in the hearts of possible relatives. The poor souls. I have often forced my last memory of them down with innumerable bottles of whiskey and gin. I, myself, have no such ties to this world known to me. Perhaps it is for the best.
The oldest of us, whom I will address as Jerome, was an expert linguist, fluent in more languages, dialects, and alphabets than I knew existed. He was a short, pudgy fellow with a balding cranium which we would often mention comically at his expense. However, his thick spectacles betrayed an intelligence one would describe as vicious. This was proven whenever we came across some prying “obstacle” in need of disposal. Though the rest of us typically carried out the damnable deed, Jerome was infamous for inventing newer ways of disposing evidence.
And then there was Quentin; a tall man, broad and strong with deeply sunken eyes that further pronounce his already intimidating appearance. Despite his Neanderthal likeness, Quentin was a man of science. His most expertly practiced specialization was in chemistry, primarily of explosives, acids, and preservatives. He was only a few years my senior and already displayed a creative understanding of chemicals that I had come to admire as genius. Whether it was an impressively controlled demolition or scientifically baffling method in which to transport our “findings” he never ceased to amaze me in a practice I admittedly know next to little about.
As for myself, from a young age I had been particularly gifted with navigation, be it with the use of drawn out maps or my photographic memory to perfectly recall previously visited locations. Additionally, I have used this gift to research many cultures and lands, specifically those my comrades and I would frequent when employed. I realize now that this was how I was spared, even in the aftermath of events that will follow in these records; a blessing I curse to this day.
Jerome announced the news of our next job that Thursday evening. He spoke of an offer proposed by a middle-man, of whom we had successful worked with in the past, and whom shall remain anonymous. The middle-man had been contacted by a generous benefactor, issuing a king's ransom for the investigation and retrieval of contents from a tomb unearthed by the recent cataclysm in Haiti. The site had been discovered by locals of Léogâne, a coastal commune in Haiti's Ouest Department. The finding was met with rumors of superstitious evils that spread like wildfire when an eerie connection was made between it and the port town being the epicenter of the earthquake. It was described as a slim, mausoleum-like structure that shown from the sand of shallow waters barely off the shore; an interestingly unusual phenomenon. The investigation requested was not our forte; after all, we were not archaeologists. Retrieving its contents, however, was what we did best and the pay-off was too fortuitous to ignore. The specifics of what we would find were widely unknown. According to the benefactor's liaison this was true for them as well, though we were promised the results would do nothing to change the reward.
After the middle-man contacted the benefactor and made certain our contract for the job and its reward was secure we spared no time leaving for Haiti with all the supplies necessary for what would be our greatest payoff. At least, that is what it was supposed to be. We were to live and die as wealthy men without need for another day's work, enjoying lives of grandeur as we saw fit. That morning we took to the Watergrave, a small motor yacht we purchased after our first few jobs to take on oversea opportunities; a worthwhile investment in our early career. We merrily applauded our unfinished undertaking and what extravagance we would acquire with our new-found riches. Jerome - a known pervert - boasted fantasies of sexual conquest with many, beautiful, exotic women. Quinten mentioned meekly on purchasing a small island to live out his days in a mansion and laboratory constructed to his liking. Very fitting for them both, and truthfully I had no clear idea of how to spend my share of the gains. I am bright, though never quite creative when left to unrestricted imagination.
It was in this journey that my skills of navigation complemented our team's skill base. We traveled southeast through the Bahamas and turned south at the Iguana Islands before we crossed the short stretch of ocean between Cuba and Haiti. We traversed the Gulf of Gonâve to enter the Canal of Saint-Marc, which runs between Gonâve Island and Haiti's western shore not far from Port-au-Prince. It was at Arcahaie we made port to restock since we already pushed our rations a bit much out of excessive celebration. There we could see what destructive effects the earthquake had on the population. This proved difficult to procure supplies soundly, but I must regrettably admit this hindered us little when we made use of our typical “methods”. Despite the chaos and devastation brought upon these innocent people, we cared little for their well-being. All we desired in our hearts was the greed granted in the wake of our exploits. Looking back, what awaited us was appropriate to our apathy. Truly, karma is a cruel and fitting mistress that way.
Nightfall approached by the time we refueled and resupplied, so we took what we could and continued south through Port-au-Prince Bay in a straight shot to our destination. For reasons that will be made clear later, and for the same reasons one would disregard these pages as the ravings of an remorseful madman, I will not divulge the exact coordinates provided to us by the liaison of our mysterious benefactor. Even now I question whether any of it was real. And yet, with every question between delusion and truth, I am met again with the unchanged recollection of that nightmarish encounter. This is an unfitting description; a lifetime spent in dreams of human nightmares would be a divine reprieve from this unrelenting torment.
We docked the Watergrave on a small beachhead, conveniently adjacent to the structure's door. Twilight allowed us a shadowy sight of the oddly constructed thing, more bizarre than the circumstances that surrounded its sudden appearance. A circular door of stone was its entrance, small enough that grown men such as us would have to hold our legs to our chests and duck our heads to squeeze through. Its surface bore many lines like cracks, all focused on a point in the center which angled out crazily in all directions. The structure itself was too small in perimeter to house an immediate room beyond its portal. That, in our experience, meant we would be met with stairs that descended to deeper chambers. The exterior was a dark green from a slimy substance unlike any algae any of us had seen or read of before. I wondered what could possibly have been buried beneath sands and waves that ancient civilized man would certainly find impossible to build upon.
Regardless of initial curiosity, we examined the round door and found it easy to open. A slight push triggered an unseen mechanism within which forced it to part in a way that aligned with the impossibly insensible angles of the pattern it bore. As it opened it resembled the teeth of some round-mouthed beast that released a yawn of noxious breath after countless centuries of slumber. We readied ourselves with what we could carry; lanterns lit, and garbed our faces with masks so we would not inhale any unwanted airborne contagions. When we thought ourselves prepared, we entered cautiously through the tomb's cramped entrance.
We came upon, as predicted, a small room which led to deeper places. The ceiling and walls were adorned in spikes, with those from the walls slightly curved and from the ceiling more hooked. The place smelled of dead fish, which caused a sting in our nostrils as well as a tinge of nausea. Fortunate to our endeavor as a group, the area was just spacious enough to fit the three of us without risk of impalement. In place of stairs, however, was a hole. It was large enough for even Quentin to fall through, though our lanterns could do little to illuminate its depth. Quentin pulled a small, glass globe from his backpack and shook the contents inside until the chemicals it contained emitted a silver glow. He dropped it in, and after four seconds of free-fall it broke against solid ground. We had climbed wells that were deeper than that, though the walls of the hole were perfectly smooth and without erosion. Our backpacks had more than enough length of rope to secure one end to a ceiling hook to cast the rest to the floor below.
One by one we descended, first with Jerome, then me, and finally Quentin. When we reached the bottom, the air hung thick with a rot that further upset our bowels and stung our eyes to watering. We took a quick moment to assess our surroundings, but not before Jerome vomited from the stench. The chamber held a higher ceiling and extended long into darkness beyond our lanterns' reach. We could hear the water's currents howl just beyond the slick masonry, which made little sense with how shallow it was around the entrance. After his stomach had settled, Jerome discovered and examined the first of what we would find plentiful along the tomb's long north wall.
They were pictorial carvings, masterfully sculpted into the stone's dark green surface. The first depicted what one would presume to be a man, unclothed and with eyes that stared out with low, tired lids. The next scene showed the same man, eyes wide open with surprise and accompanied by new, twin characters that stood on either side of him. They were vaguely humanoid, their arms ended in points rather than fingers, and they were absent of a face. As strange as the second carving was, the third held even more bizarre qualities. The same man with the same faceless creatures, but this time joined by rows of bodies that lay horizontal at their feet. Additionally, and with a far more terrifying effect than what was assumed to be a pile of corpses, a grin encompassed the man's face. It was long and unnatural, even for art that ancient. The rounds of his pupils were pinned as well, and gazing to long at them left us uneasy. Even Quentin, usually more fearless than Jerome and me as a result of his scientific approach to the supernatural, admitted to feeling disturbed by the thing as we passed.
Further down the hall the art grew far more gruesome in detail. The same man was present in every scripture, though his features grew increasingly deranged. His pupils ceased to be and his elongated grin open to convey what I could only imagine being hideous, crazed laughter. The two faceless things remained stationary, changed only in their size and shape. In the first scene they were no taller or wider than him. Yet, as the story unraveled, they became larger, more monstrous, and unique from each other in detail. The left had twenty-three thin arms with multiple elbows on each and its head crowned to a point that sometimes reached where the wall met the ceiling. The right was wider and more bestial and carried a toothy maw on both its flanks; its left side with many long tongues and the right spewed clouds of poisonous gas or possibly insect swarms. They were horrifyingly grotesque and alien, though more horrid than they was the man they kept betwixt each other.
Toward the end he was no longer naked. A robe of many individual, pale strips hung from his torso, and he cackled in menacing postures over any persons, dead or prostrate, that lay beneath him. A dark halo shown from his head, much like an design of saints by Renaissance painters if the color palette was inverted. He did horrible, unforgivable things to all present. He impaled them on the limbs of his monstrous cohorts, mangled them with devices and methods unheard-of in any recorded culture I have read, and drowned them in oceans of blood. Murder, torture, rape; he committed these and scores more too vile for even someone like me to revisit on these pages. All the while he appeared delighted beyond sane reasoning at their torment. That man, that monster between monsters, was far from anything human anymore. He was as a lord of suffering to all who stood in his shrieking wake.
The last carving, to our reprieve from the previous, ghastly records, was that of the evil king displayed in what we agreed to be an appropriate end. The monsters were suddenly gone, replaced by two small dots where they once wreaked their stationary havoc. The lord was entirely bound within the many strips of his own gown, grappled tightly around his body like a mummified pharaoh. His body was wreathed in flames by the same people he once tormented and they all held their fists out in defiance of him. Beneath him was a hole, most likely his would-be grave. After the such a climax the carvings stopped. It struck me as peculiar then how sudden the atmosphere of the last scripture was. I noticed then a space, large enough to have carried another carving, hung barren between the last two scenes.
When we turned our attention away from the wall we saw ourselves at another door. On its surface was the familiar sight of the wicked lord, as he was in the end, though shown as a silhouette without detail beyond his outline. Having observed such a tale along the way, it was understandable why we were not hasty to proceed. I had the moment of clarity to turn back, to never experience what I live through today in every stray thought and dream; but I did not.
The door, rectangular as well as much taller and wider than the entrance, was not so easily opened. After we took to it with picks and crowbars, Quentin placed a pair of dynamite at the bottom corners while Jerome applied a corrosive acid of Quentin's design as he stood on my shoulders. When the chemical ceased bubbling in their reaction, I lit the explosives. We ran to a safe distance before the door erupted loudly into the next chamber. When the smoke cleared and our coughs ceased we proceeded inward. What we saw next was not as macabre, but no less ominous.
The room was perfectly cylindrical, smooth with a black, featureless stone that reflected the light of our lanterns. The place illuminated eerily from our light, which revealed a single coffin in its rear. The capsule stood upright from floor to ceiling, and on it was a series of runic characters I requested Jerome for translation. He confessed that the alphabet was Aramaic in origin, yet they spelled words from crude, archaic French. After what felt like hours of analysis, Jerome spoke the words transcribed:
“Behold he who is Lord-Servant of Daemon Stars. Leave him to sleep who is deathless in service to deathless Things. To withhold waking is to withhold suffering.”
When he finished speaking the passage aloud, the light of our lanterns whisked out and filled the warning with their glow. The yellow light turned to scarlet within the ancient letters and the coffin's lid melted into a pool of foul, bubbling sludge at its base that reeked of burnt flesh and fresh blood. The reflective walls, beyond any scientific reason I know, remained as lit as when our lanterns functioned in our grips. Within the exposed capsule lay a corpse, burnt black and dressed in bandages from neck to toe; its jaw was missing and the tongue, dry and black, hung from the back of its incomplete mouth. Along the dome of its skull was a cavity, as if the entire brain had been pulled through it. We stood shocked for a second at the sight before we recomposed ourselves. It was similar to the lord from before, though clearly lifeless. We saw no treasures to take that would be of interest to our employer, so we assumed that corpse was the prize he sought. To think so was yet another mistake.
Jerome approached our motionless host and felt the bandages to assert its material. He noted aloud they were like rubbery flesh, but dismissed the oddity after he noticed a jewel-like gleam in its eye sockets. He stood on his toes and pulled out a white, eye-sized marble. He closely inspected it, his eyes squinted through his spectacles as normal, but did not notice as we did a movement in the corpse's form; the bandages that coiled it were slithering. Quentin and I were not swift enough to react as the pale strips sprung to life and constricted Jerome in a grip impossible for something so thin. I saw how the inside of the bandages were lined with tiny mouths and tinier rows of teeth that gnawed and squeezed poor Jerome while he screamed. They raised him off the ground and face to face with the corpse, which convulsed to life as its animated draping restrained Jerome aloof. It uttered inhuman words from its jaw-less throat, guttural and slobbering. Even now I cannot tell if it was handicapped gibberish or some accursed, alien speech from places unfathomable. Its tongue lifted and pointed to Jerome's face, the tip inches away before expanding to a round maw of razor teeth. I do not recall the exact details of Jerome's demise, for Quentin and I took the only action that made sense in that mad place.
We dropped all we carried and sprinted into the hall of stone tapestry, guided only by the vaporous light that filtered behind us and the most primal instinct of fear. I gritted my teeth to the noise of Jerome's tortured shrieks as they echoed without end and chilled me with nightmarish imagination. In my escape I stumbled to the ground, tripped on air by my frantic flight and thought myself dead until I saw the rope three feet away. If ever there was benign providence, I thanked it then for its favor. Quentin, slower than me from his size, trailed ten feet behind. When I turned back to exclaim my relief, grateful to see the face of a friend still alive, my gratitude violently sunk into my stomach. Jerome, or whatever deformed, bloody pulp remained of him, was implemented by the tape-tendrils like a mallet. A second longer I stood there, no more than that, but long enough to witness Quentin bludgeoned repeatedly by Jerome's puppet cadavers with both of their blood sprayed more and more across the ground. Quentin's expression was petrified in a twisted mix of disbelief and pain. Not much further back the charred corpse thing, from which the tape-tendrils operated, shambled disjointedly toward us and spewed more unrecognized blasphemies in its advance.
I scrambled feverishly to ascend the rope and sobbed as tears mixed with the blood on my face that splattered from my friends. I dreaded the idea to look back. I heard bones crush, though whose exactly I could hardly guess. Quentin ceased his grunted cries, and I pray he was unconscious in those final moments. The macabre thudding continued to beat like a heart, slow and horrifyingly rhythmic. So long as I heard it, I knew the creature preoccupied. Selfish, I know – but fear is known to do that.
The cramped, spiked lobby was a welcome sight. Adrenaline pumped heavily in my veins, and to avoid risk of life-threatening hesitation I scrambled to the exit on all fours. I welcomed the salt air and breeze and loosed my mask to allow myself to vomit violently. Like an unlearned fool I stared back at the mouth of the tomb. Perhaps it was morbid curiosity, or maybe my mind was clouded by the trauma. Regardless of what provoked such a lapse in reason, I saw there, sitting barely within the portal and hidden from the dawn, the monster's face of dome-less, jaw-less frame as it leered into mine with a lucid malevolence I can only describe as ancient and otherworldly. How could something, seen by my own eyes to walk so slowly, already be at my rear? It made no sense! But, then again, what of this does?
There is a lapse in memory between the sight of its hollow, rotted eyes and when I started up the Watergrave. I could feel it reach for me in that moment, though whether or not it actually did is not clear in my mind. The sensation was alike at least; as though its mere desire to inflict suffering had limbs to butcher and destroy. My gift in navigation saved me then in my journey back to the United States. A presence of dread has lingered since, occasionally separate from the twisted memory of the thing.
It is in those moments I think on the supposed “deathless things”, the so-called “daemons stars” mentioned in the message of the coffin. A possible connection between the aforementioned and the alien beasts from the wall-carved scripture pass my mind, though I dismiss the idea for fear of discovering deeper madness. Whatever they were, they were not of this earth. What is worse, according the coffin's warning, is that corpse from untold times was in service to them. If the servant was something as wicked as that deranged lord, then what of the masters? This question forces me to shudder away an answer every time.
To this day I hideaway in locations I will not mention that I may spare anyone from wrongful association to me when I am found. I am plagued by the painful memories; Jerome's helpless cries, the traumatized expression on Quentin's face, our shambling, writhing pursuer. These and more flood my mind in flashes of unforgiving detail. My hair and skin, like my spirit, have grown disheveled in my voluntary seclusion. I know my end comes in the guise of morbidly familiar smells and sounds that are noticeably clearer each day.
Jerome and Quentin visited me the other night, prompting me to write this confession of my experience. Their eyes were dug out from their sockets, black tears flowed down their cheeks, limbs mangled and bent in grisly angles; and worse still was their long smiles, ear to ear as the man in the tomb's tale. They stood quiet before me, yet I knew why they came. My friends awaited me, their eerie silence telling me my time to join was at hand.
I have heard the squirming of the animated, fleshy bandages late in the night, so I know it comes for me. How and when, I know not. At the very least, despite my powerlessness to stop it, I have control as to where. It is not much, but it is mine damn it! I will stay here until then, hidden and always keeping this finished parchment near. I am certain my postmortem stench will alert others to the location of my remains. Fitting that a grave-robber spends his last days in his would-be grave; irony at its finest. It may not be humorous to any but myself, but let me have this. I am so very tired. If it does not take me soon, I may do it myself. Perhaps not, considering my cowardice. I was a coward then, and no different a coward now. I am sure it will seek my regardless, but I digress. Believe me or not, let whatever is found profess the truth.
I am Aaron Joseph Landers; a foolish grave-robber who died a hopelessly doomed man.
Credited to Michael Angelo Yacone