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Kenny, I’m so sorry. Please forgive your Erica. I made a terrible mistake and I’m sorry.
Kenny is my big brother and my best friend in the world. We have a history of exploring the Great Unknown that goes as far back as childhood. The places that terrified most kids always seemed to call out to us, demanding their secrets be uncovered by those worthy to know them. We ventured deep into the abandoned sewer tunnels of North Hill and listened to the songs of restless ghosts. In the haunted woodland burial ground near Oakland Cemetery we found unearthed human bones, which we gathered and laid to rest. We were the only ones who ever went into the basement of the abandoned house on Werther Avenue, where a child-eating demon supposedly lived; we found no demon, but we did find a thousand dollars in a satchel stashed under the boiler. We had many “expeditions”, and somehow Dad always found out about them and grounded us the moment we came home.
I suppose I believed that knowledge was a ward for fear. I explored to understand the things that scared me — to look them right in the eye and know they were harmless. My obsession eventually led me to Winterfield University's archaeology department, and to the journal, and ultimately to the events of this past Friday which continue to drag me into tearful fits.
I don't expect anyone will ever read these pages. I’m only writing to preserve my last ounce of sanity for a few more minutes. The sway of the boat and drumming of the rain on deck are maddening to my ears, and the cabin is so claustrophobic I think anyone would lose her mind sitting in here for two days even if she hadn’t experienced what I have.
I’ll be okay so long as it doesn’t speak again. It’s been quiet since yesterday morning.
The journal’s author was the late Professor Blake Deforest, a renowned archaeologist whose explorations netted him an impressive collection of Mesoamerican artifacts belonging to an unknown Indian tribe. I'd read only a little about him in my youth: an infamous thrill-seeker and opium addict better known for his eccentricity than his expertise.
The majority of his treasures are small basalt totems stylistically similar to many Olmec statues. They represent a three-armed (or three-legged?) serpentine creature resting on its coils. Its face is nothing but a titan set of jaws full of long, pointed teeth. An amber gemstone crowns each totem’s head like a crystal ball on a dais, the opaque core of which creates an omniscient eye that stares directly at you no matter where you stand. All the totems present a malicious grin as with the knowledge of some delightfully horrible secret.
Deforest built his estate on a little hill in the nameless swamp hugging the shores of Lake Hela. After stealing a certain artifact discovered on one of his expeditions — a valuable, fist-sized stone — he locked himself in the mansion and spent the last days of his life slipping into madness. On September 6th, 1889, Deforest put a revolver to his head and pulled the trigger, spattering fifty years of archaeological experience all across his study walls. Police reports detailed a pathetically hurried and disinterested investigation, probably because the county politicians wanted the raving drug addict to disappear as quickly as possible. The stolen relic was never recovered.
The house has had three occupants since then, one as recent as 1976. All committed suicide.
The last of Deforest’s kin recently donated the property to the university, giving us permission to loot everything inside. When I became the head of the archaeology department the dean granted me complete access to all of Deforest’s resources — including that God-forsaken journal — and commissioned me to clean out Deforest House. If he hoped I would find the missing relic in the process, he gave no sign of it: everyone is convinced it’s on a permanent tour of the black market.
The small leather-bound book chronicles life on the Deforest property right down to the construction of the house. Deforest frequently mentions the stone, christening it the "Eye" for reasons he never explains, and goes on and on about his eagerness to study it, his theories of its pre-Olmec origin, its brilliant sheen in the sunlight, and so on and so forth.
A block of fifteen pages has been torn from the journal. The remaining pages show the rapid decline of the author's mental health: paranoid hallucinations and dream-visions what could only result from heavy drug abuse, and other random nonsense impossible to interpret like, “Forever wandering the Red Horizon, one with the desolation, where the Cosmic Watchers stir; hungry gods of the pit! Still they call to me!” By the last ten pages nothing is even legible. Blake Deforest recorded his final thoughts in erratic scribbles only a lunatic could decipher.
Which says a lot about me. It seems strange that no one else ever tried to translate that madman's scrawls, which I did out of nothing more than curiosity. I picked out the phrase, "it now sleeps beneath the cellar's earthen floor," and deduced what had happened to the missing artifact.
I recruited six of my friends as menial labor, including my brother Kenny because no one makes me feel safer in dark and foreboding places. We rented two trucks and emptied the house over the course of three weeks: its vintage furniture, valuable paintings, and rare books now adorn our library (those that we didn’t hock for school funds, anyway).
The swamp offered little more than murky puddles and murkier ponds, with less than a square foot of solid ground for miles, so when the weather got nasty we set up camp in the house, which was always unnerving. The marshland forest coils around the property as if trying to hide it in shame; even though it’s only an hour away from town, it feels completely isolated from the rest of the world. The house’s exterior is unremarkable except for the twenty stone steps leading up the hill to the front porch. From the bottom of these steps the manor’s outline resembles a ziggurat.
On our first visit the interior was as inviting as a quaint New England hotel; now the only decorations left are rusted wall-lamps and shadows thick enough to wrap around your shoulders on a cold night. Its empty rooms and corridors twist and flex like the innards of a creature that spent its last moments writhing in agony. The shadows knead the halls into the demented sort found in a carnival funhouse, or stretch them so they seem to go on for miles.
The air became more difficult to breathe on each visit, which I blamed on the building's location or its advanced state of decay, though neither explanation relaxed the hairs on the back of my neck. I was always comforted to find Kenny and the others equally spooked.
Our most recent trip was to have been the last, so we took Kenny’s cabin boat to cut our travel time in half. If only we hadn’t been so eager to hold that relic in our hands we might’ve bothered to check the fuel gauge before embarking: when I fled the house I used the last drop of gas starting her up, and have sat here helplessly ever since.
The cellar was a mine tunnel, or a mass grave in waiting: an earthen floor spanning ten-by-fifteen feet, earthen walls held together with warped wooden beams. Except for the splintered pile of lumber that once served as a staircase, the room was empty. Armed with spades and an electric lamp we dropped in and set to work, twenty-minute shifts, three diggers at a time.
Two minutes later our dig came to an abrupt halt when Kenny, who’d started digging at the center of the room, struck something hard and wooden. The seven of us converged on that spot and dug like maniacs, expecting to find a treasure chest containing the Eye. What we uncovered was a four-foot-wide iron-braced trapdoor set in a stone foundation.
We paused and scratched our heads a minute. The cellar’s true floor had been curiously hidden beneath a fourteen inch layer of tightly packed marsh soil — days and days of obsessive work on Deforest’s part. It suddenly occurred to me that the journal — that is, the pages I had access to — never mentioned the construction of anything below the first floor.
We spent two hours shaving the cellar floor of its earthy coat and turned up nothing else. By then we were exhausted and figured we’d investigate the trapdoor the next day. Naturally Kenny and I were the only ones looking forward to it: oppressive gloom aside, every detail of the Deforest property tickled us with nostalgia as if it were a living synopsis of our childhood adventures.
In the meantime the weather bordered on catastrophic. Gale force winds ravaged the trees as snarling black clouds gathered over the lake — sailing would have been suicide. We unraveled our bedrolls around the electric lamp, enjoyed a modest supper of rations and hot cocoa, and after a few ghost stories my party retired for the night.
I have no idea how long I slept before the house’s unnatural stillness crept into the parlor and shook me awake. I couldn’t shake the feeling that something in the shadows was watching us. Each time I closed my eyes I saw Deforest's totems sitting expectantly on the museum's shelf, staring perpetually. Sitting and staring and smiling.
Dragged on a leash by some greedy curiosity I crept through the black halls and back to the cellar, keeping the lantern off until I reached the trapdoor to avoid disturbing my sleeping friends. With some effort -- less than I had expected -- I pulled the heavy trapdoor open, gagging as the smell of putrid water assaulted me. Beneath it a stone staircase descended into darkness.
Bile burned my throat. And I started down.
The stairway descended about twelve feet before it leveled off and the crushingly narrow walls opened into a sub-cellar, or what I had assumed was a sub-cellar until I took those first few steps toward the center of the room. The chamber was circular, little more than fifteen feet in diameter and crafted from muddy stone bricks the size of cinder blocks. Water covered the floor — rank seepage from the marsh above. Hieroglyphic carvings decorated the walls from floor to ceiling, all savagely defaced and impossible to read.
A large, mildew-stained creature emerged from the darkness, tearing a scream from my chest before I realized the demon was made of basalt and not flesh. Its features were perfectly intact, but rather than squat on its snakelike hindquarters like its smaller kin at the museum, it sprouted from the wall to form a chilling altar similar to those found in La Venta. With a shudder I turned my attention from the beast to the marred hieroglyphs on the wall.
On one side of the chamber was a mural like those found in Egyptian tombs, carved rather than painted, rich with detail and still mostly intact. The mural was six-by-ten-feet and depicted — how to explain it? — two-dozen tiers stacked like the floors of a hotel, with each tier containing a world that I can’t adequately describe beyond vague, horrified summaries. Many were so alien they gave me chills: a liquid planet, a world broken into fragments floating in nothingness, and a flat, endless desert to name a few. I think the mural meant to suggest coexistence, but separated the layers for clarity’s sake.
The creatures inhabiting those realms were the stuff of childhood nightmares, drifting along without purpose or cannibalizing each other with relish as they reenacted the ghastly histories of their worlds. It’s like each was another failed attempt by God at creating indigenous life. And it baffled me: Deforest, that attention-loving explorer, had hidden away a priceless treasure trove of never-before-seen mythology with the hope that no one would ever find it.
Human shapes inhabited the pan-dimensional apartment complex’s central tier. The characters dressed in an Aztec-style (were the Mystery Indians their relatives?) and seemed to stand in for the human race as a whole, acting out each chapter of the species’s evolution: harnessing fire, building tools and houses, learning to farm and hunt, forming societies, waging war, finding God.
The final act of the story of Man stirred my insides with an icy ladle: a congregation of bald figures, priests most likely, lined up behind a more prominent bald figure who knelt beneath a round, blazing object — something reminiscent of Ra and his solar disk. This didn’t disturb me quite so much until I looked up and found the same figure in the desert world — the world placed reverently at the top of the mural — lacking the solar disk and kneeling before the serpentine triped of Deforest’s treasure trove.
From that point things took a turn for the horrific. The other worlds began to seep into Man’s realm: first only one or two curious creatures, crossing the dimensional borders, looking around, snatching up a random object or person; then the landscapes bled into each other in patches, and otherworldly fiends came in raiding parties. Humans were tormented, possessed, transformed, or dragged into the other worlds and eaten. The once barren desert realm became populated with hideous human shapes, a mockery of the ones in the human realm. Finally the tier borders melted away completely, the worlds merged and all existence was pandemonium.
I identified this as the Mystery Indians’ nightmarish rendition of Ragnarok: the tiers of existence collapse on one-another while an apathetic cyclopean god looks on and laughs. That didn’t account for the priests, though, lined up and waiting eagerly for their turn with the solar disk. Maybe it was a common thing. A ritual sacrifice to the cosmic watcher; one where the lambs couldn’t wait to throw themselves upon the knife, to spend eternity with their hideous god in a heavenly wasteland. I shuddered again at the thought.
So where had the Mystery Indians vanished to? The other Indians must have annihilated them for their blasphemous religion. I’d just begun to wonder how many had migrated to North America when my foot accidentally met with a small, hard object and sent it rolling several feet. My gaze fell to the floor and remained there for ten minutes.
I knelt and took the carelessly discarded relic in my trembling hands, holding it before my face like a dazzled child would a Christmas snow globe. It had a haunting beauty unlike any jewel I'd ever seen: three inches wide, colored like a dark Oktoberfest brew, smoother to the touch than ivory except where hieroglyphics scarred its surface. I knew by its opaque core that it was the Eye. Laughing, I returned the statue’s grin to thank it for its lovely gift.
It had changed. Its smile was broader, more elated. It seemed to lean forward eagerly.
As quickly as my euphoria had enveloped me it recoiled in horror. The Eye was translucent, but the image on the other side was wrong. I had to hold the relic to my face like a monocle just to be sure it wasn’t [rest of sentence is too scrawled to read]
Sorry for my handwriting. Keeping my pen in hand is becoming difficult. This is the first time I've ever tried to revisit what I saw, let alone put it into words. Many details refuse to fully surface as though I'd experienced it all in a drunken stupor, but a cruel few tower before my memory with monumental clarity.
Metaphors only scratch the surface. A fish torn from the sea and tossed into a dry Martian crater all in one horrible instant. I didn’t belong there. My existence in that place was a blasphemy to the natural order of the universe.
How long did I lie there? How many days curled into a trembling wad with my head buried in my arms, after realizing the Eye — my inter-dimensional doorway — had abandoned me, like the rest of the earth. Eventually I gathered my strength and stood up, if only because I didn’t know what else to do.
The nightmare landscape was cracked, mars-red, spread out over infinite space, endless in scope and perfect in flatness as far out as the horizon except for a single lonesome crag of reddish stone in the distance reaching miles into the sky. Toward this formation I walked as nihilism swallowed the last ounce of my spirit. In every other direction the word "direction" had no meaning.
My shoes left no prints: despite its brittle appearance the ground refused yielding to my weight as if every last grain were frozen in time. A khaki sky seared overhead, devoid of clouds and sun; yet everything was brightly lit with a retina-crushing amber tint. In spite of the glare I felt no heat. No heat, no cold, no wind. No atmosphere at all. I don't recall having the need for breath except when sobbing hysteria overtook me. My loudest wail vanished shortly after leaving my diaphragm, without so much as an echo. An impossible atmospheric stillness like that in a bad dream. Even with my hands clasped over my ears the silence penetrated and induced the sort of madness that is only partly relieved by long, anguished screams.
A red stalagmite stood twelve meters to my left where once there had been nothing. Its shape twisted screw-like up from the ground, but rather than come to a point it swelled into a bulbous mass. It looked like the petrified remains of some unnamable organism.
Acknowledging the stone polyp caused more to appear. My eyes would pan to a new polyp only to notice another in their peripheral, until I found myself in the center of a disjointed circle of seven or eight. Each was twisted into a different amorphous shape, but all stood about six feet high. They didn't burst forth from the ground, or drop from the sky, or form molecule by molecule before my eyes — they just suddenly were.
A hundred yards to the west, assuming the crag was north, something moved.
It likely appeared out of nowhere just like the stalagmites, and induced enough shuddering terror in me that I wished I hadn't seen it at all: charred skin as black as ash, broom handle limbs carrying it with the grotesquely awkward steps of a marionette. Even from such a great distance I saw the empty holes where eyes used to be, and the face permanently shriveled and twisted in anguish. A millennium in hell couldn't wear a human being into such a shape!
The broken man halted in mid-step and remained like a statue for several minutes. It turned its head until its empty eyes fell on me. It stood and stared and did nothing else.
I turned back toward the crag and walked faster in case the shambling thing decided to follow.
After three days of walking with no apparent need for rest, the crag now towered close enough that I could distinguish a narrow cave entrance at its base. More stone polyps had erected like carelessly scattered billboards along my path, and still more appeared whenever I blinked, or rubbed my face, or lost my grip on my emotions.
Then I made the mistake of looking over my shoulder. Only ten feet behind me, where once there had been nothing but stone polyps, a myriad of deathly thin nightmare figures stood staring at me. I never saw them take a step or even so much as twitch, yet no matter how long I walked, the distance between me and the colony of broken men remained constant. They kept a semicircular formation, curving inward toward me, herding me toward the great crag’s gaping mouth. I was too scared to think better of slipping inside to escape all those dreadful faces.
Details of the inside return to me in an earth-tone blur except for the hole cut into the ground at the center of the cave, circular and as wide as a house. The sounds from its throat commanded me to draw nearer until I stood teetering at its lip, gazing downward with streaming eyes and trembling breath.
That abysmal pit! It must have pierced right into the planet's core! God, if you could have seen them slithering and writhing in that white magma, thousands bobbing shark-like to the surface and scaling the walls of the pit in unnatural flight! And I, the fearless explorer, just stood there and watched with stone legs. Stood and watched as the first one emerged and arched its colossal serpentine body forward to get a better look at me, its three giant talons straddling the pit's mouth, twenty tendril-like tongues licking its fangs.
The thing spoke to me in an awful language of thunderous, droning notes I didn’t understand. The star hovering over its head reached its tainted gaze inside me and fanned through my every memory, every experience, every personal guilt like pages in a book. As it did I saw things I can barely put into words, like I’d tapped into its mind and shared its omniscience: time and space conjoined, spewing eons of existence in front of me simultaneously like so much junk on a flea market table. The universe cried out, peeled back like a scab and revealed a squirming mess of worlds overlapping like projector slides, and somewhere within that churning brew of slithering bodies and impossible landscapes I saw earth peeking out at me; glimpses of human beings going about their daily lives while oblivious to the horrors sharing their space in the universe. They walked through alien pillars as if they were illusions, across great rivers of acid as if they were asphalt, side-by-side with ungodly creatures as if they didn’t exist! A hundred coexisting worlds mortared with a thin sheet of tissue paper that could be ruptured with the tiniest glance.
The monsters can’t be accurately described with human language. Even the depictions in the mural do them no justice. I came within arm’s reach of a flying, tentacled horror the size of a bus drifting across a noxious, luminous valley of slime. It came to rest on a black stone-like protrusion that may have been a boulder or the rooftop of a sunken building. I seemed to hover over the fiend like a ghost, so close I could reach out and touch it if I dared.
It looked up, startled. It stared into my soul with forty squirming white tennis ball eyes. It saw me.
I started screaming.
I’d been screaming for several minutes before I realized I was sitting on the tomb's wet floor with my empty hands outstretched. In my panic the relic had slipped from my earthly body's grip and now rested on the floor just out of arm’s reach.
It was calling. The Eye commanded me to take it in my hands again. The statue sat gritting its teeth in an angry grimace, and almost imperceptibly the shadows began to move. Just outside the lantern’s failing glow the shriveled faces of six broken men glowered at me. Then the lantern went out.
Something grabbed at me in the dark that may have been real or imagined, and I scrambled up the stairs and out of the cellar, flinging the trapdoor shut behind me. Every animal in the swamp must have heard me as I dashed back to the parlor, crashing through doors and into walls, screaming Kenny’s name at the top of my lungs and growing more frantic when no one replied. All I needed was for Kenny to hug me and pat me on the head like he always did and tell me everything was all right. But when I had crept away from our camp, in the darkness I never noticed that the other six bedrolls lay open and empty — that I had awoken in that house alone.
The Eye had saved me for last.
It’s calling again. It’s so loud it hurts. It’s like an eel slithering inside my head and it’s furious.
The house is pulling me back like with a chain. God if you only knew what I know! The things it showed me! The things I still see! The things I saw in the swamp! I can’t go back, not through that swamp!
They’re drawn to me because I crossed the barrier. They can smell me. I saw the broken men wandering the marsh, flickering in and out of existence like the picture on a TV with bad reception. Sometimes one, sometimes ten. They see me and they try to drag me back to their masters. I always outrun them but they stay longer and longer. Maybe one of them is K--[remaining text violently scratched out]
I see other things, worse than the broken men. So much worse. They’re searching for me, too. Using me as a beacon. I locked myself in here and I haven’t moved since. I’m afraid to look out the windows and see them slithering about in the marsh. They’ll see me and they’ll come.
I don’t want to see them. I don’t want to know anymore. Deforest didn’t want to know. He didn’t want anyone to know.
get out of my head
I cant go back It’s angry that I fled and if I go back I don’t know what it will do to me I don want to go back please whoever finds this please bury that room bury it so no one can find it don let it take you to that awful place
put the barrel in your mouth it’s the only answer but is so heavy
put the barrel in your mouth you coward
something just crawled on deck outside
i'm so sorry for ev--[remaining text is too blood-smeared to read]
Written by Mike MacDee