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The Criars

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This draws inspiration from the Robert W. Chambers short story, "The Repairer of Reputations" from The King in Yellow, which is 'public domain in the United States (published before January 1, 1923 and the author died in 1933').

"So, what do you say? Are you up for an interview?" I asked Franklin, the man before me who was donned in a pale yellow robe and sitting in a creaky wooden chair. I held my notepad and a pen at the ready; I would not miss a single detail.

"Well, Lavigne Richmond," began Franklin tiredly, "I'm surprised that a reporter like you would come to me for a story. What do you hope to find? Regardless, I'd be enthused to share my past. It has been so long since anyone has taken an interest, and I'm growing restless."

I clicked my pen and began to write as he spoke.

For many of my years, up until I was about thirty-five or so, I found my occupation in correcting the mistakes of others. While that sounds entirely subjective and metaphorical, I stress that this was the perfect definition of my career. I was a... a repairer of reputations, I suppose one could say. The things I did to help people were often seen as bizarre to those who had no business with me, but I did what was essential to me and to my clients.

My line of work was very uncommon, and the customers were even rarer. But, the few people who desperately required my assistance... Well, they paid big money, even if it was money they didn't have. The lengths to which they would go to have my help were extreme and, at times, dangerous. Of course, my services could undo all of that, and they did each and every time.

This was all until I received a client who was, as I later learned, a fleeing member from an ambiguous cult known as the Criars. This woman, whose name I will not share, was frantic and had clearly been driven deranged from whatever horrible things she may have seen. She wished, more than anything, for those who once loved her to forgive her for the awful things she had done. As a skilled repairer of reputations, I took it upon myself immediately to do what I do best.

I will not describe what, precisely, a repairer does to mend the wrong-doings of others. It's better that I never share with another person who has not experienced the job for his or herself.

The woman left, bleakly hopeful that my methods would turn out in her favor soon. I assured her that they would, in fact, satisfy her within days, and that she needed not worry. All seemed to be well after that, for she had paid me a considerable small fortune — $2,500 — although her payment didn't quite reach among the highest — well into the 10,000 range. The following seven nights or so passed quietly and without clients, as is to be expected for someone of my occupation.

But it was on the eighth night — I will always know that it was the eighth, because I can never forget that night — there came a frightening rapping on my front door, so powerful and determined that I feared the door would break under the knocker's force. I expected at first that this person was another new client, especially given the time of night and the heavy cloud cover, for darkness is almost always the domain of my clients.

I opened the front door, and I was met with two unnaturally tall men whose faces were shrouded beneath dark blue hoods that blended perfectly into the night. They wore strange clothing, I recall, consisting of a white undercoat with ivory buttons, the blue cape-like shrouds which they wore around their necks and shoulders, sleek black pants of an unknown fabric, and a most unusual amulet dangling from a loop of string around their necks. It was too dark to make out the details, but I recognized from the amulets' dull yellowish-white color that they were crafted from human bone.

The men warned me that I had inflicted "severe damage" to what they called their organization, but they did not elaborate. The man on the left then removed a rolled up sheet of paper from a pocket in his undercoat, and pressed it into my right hand. Immediately after that, they vanished without a trace, as if they had never been there at all. The only thing that remained was the paper in my hand. Unfolding it, I experienced a sickening feeling. It was marked with unsettling runes written in red ink — but ink does not fade to dark orange when it is old, nor does it smell slightly of iron.

I discarded that paper, shaken horribly by its unsettling nature.

I was restless that night. Sleep refused to come easily, but when it did, I was plagued by apocalyptic night terrors. I dreamed of the skies dyed orange, and the clouds replaced with ghoulish shadows of living things not of our world; unmentionable and irrational. Worlds burned, not only our own. I could feel the chaos and growing desolation down to my very core, watching and screaming as the deathly things in the sky danced and twirled, limbs thrashing and threatening death to me.

The nightmare, after it seemed to have lasted an eternity, would come to a slow closing following the fall of one of the otherworldly things from the sky. At first, I thought that it wore a mucky purple robe, but I realized with growing illness that the robe quivered and pulsed with the thing's movements. This was not a robe, but rather its outer flesh. Its arms were seemingly stuck to the sides of its body, melting into its abdomen — but slippery snake-headed tentacles sprouted from the ends of its arms, where only hands rightfully belong. The thing had one eye, and it was empty and pallid.

The ghastly fiend spoke to me in a language that should not have ever existed — I know, undoubtedly, that it was never meant to be. The forgotten tongue was something that mankind had discarded eons ago, while we were still in our primordial stages. But, it was clear to me that it is impossible to forever kill some things.

I understood its words in the most horrifying manner. I do not know how. My mind was wracked to the limit, my puny mortal brain split down the middle and squashed to mush. This deadly abomination, with its grasping and groping limbs and its enraged speech, if it can be called such a thing, commanded me to immediately put an end to my career as a repairer of reputations. I screamed in refusal, as I would have always done, and the thing moved closer, reeking of festering rot. Its snake-headed tendrils slipped around my neck and chest, and slowly began to squeeze, squeeze, squeeze...

I woke with a horrific gasp, feeling the imprint of the tentacles around my vulnerable neck, and the fading pressure around my chest. My heart and lungs throbbed as if recovering from a tremendous attack.

Things continued on this way for months. The months dragged on, and eventually turned to years. Never could I successfully achieve a full night's sleep, because the haunting images were burned into my soul for as long as I miserably carried on my profession. I cycled through dozens of clients over the following unholy years, the monotony and fear finally setting in and wearing me down. I grew tired of the constant nocturnal disturbances, as well as the disturbing things I witnessed outside of my sheltered cottage during the increasingly abysmal nights.

When the shadows fell at dusk, fiendish things materialized at the perimeter of my home. They stood motionless, but their horrible forms I could distinguish all too well from the dark. I can never understand what they were, and neither could you. The appalling odors of death and decay wafted into my home at night from unexplained sources, no matter how well I sealed every doorway and window. The smell, it seemed, emanated from the cottage itself.

The night I finally decided to put an end to my work, I took every scroll, tome, notebook, and stencil from my workroom and set them ablaze in the fireplace. Instantaneously, I noticed a volatile change in atmosphere. The windows darkened and filled with disgusting forms, and the rotting smell worsened exponentially. A dastardly hiss roared from the burning materials, for I had done a horrible thing: I had ruined the work of thousands of years of close macabre research, and as a result, I'd unleashed the secret demons of the eons.

I am not certain of what happened after that. Two mighty devilish forces, one of the Criars, the other of the repairers, surrounded me at once, and I fear to this day that my soul was torn from my body and replaced after having been horribly defiled by those vile monstrosities, forever corrupting my essence and the essence of my descendants — my bloodline is eternally corrupt, beyond salvation.

I stared as Franklin rambled on and on about his horrid past. My stomach was churning from his frighteningly descriptive details, but I dared not show my queasiness out of respect. My mouth was agape, but it was more out of awe than disgust. My notepad, now, was filled with this man's wild story — although he was certifiably insane, it would make for a wondrous report.

There came a knock from the door behind me. I twisted my head back to look, and I saw the psychiatric warden enter the holding cell. His mouth was curled in a sneering grin.

"Miss Richmond, I see that Jeremiah's tall tales have thrown you for a loop," said the warden.

I shuddered, but I could scarcely discern why.

"Need I remind you that here, at Criarholme Asylum our inmates, or patients, house a variety of quirks," the warden explained grimly. "In the case of Jeremiah, well... He is what we call a... pathological liar. In other words, he is unable to distinguish reality from his own lies." The warden checked the watch on his wrist. "Visiting hours are over, Miss Richmond. Allow me to escort you out."

I complied, not willing to create any problems. As I was walking out of the room, I took one last glance back at Franklin, or Jeremiah. I became dizzied instantly upon seeing the horrible thing that stood behind his creaky chair. It was tall, dark violet, writhing horribly with snake-like limbs, and it had its tendrils loosely around Jeremiah's neck, holding him captive.

"Right this way," said the warden, gesturing to an empty room across the hall, "into your cell, Miss Richmond."

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