You can listen to the audio version of this story here: Some Distant Baying Sound, audio version
(Dedicated to my chums at TLO – W.H. Pugmire)
Madness rides the star-wind – that chilly disturbance that titters and howls just outside my skull. It is cold and dry, like some cosmic mistral from Southern heaven; and it knows my name, for I hear it chittering again, again, “Christina, Christina.” But I shall not heed it. The revolver is sleek and cold in my mouth. I have only to pull the trigger, and I shall be free of the nightmare that has plagued me since the death of St. John. How can I help but think of him at this hour of my final doom, of his mangled corpse interred by my unholy hands in our neglected garden? Oh, I remember the kiss of moonlight on my liquid eyes as I mumbled over his pit of death one last sad satanic ritual that he had loved in life. The memory of those words comes to me now, with such aching force that I remove the pistol from my mouth and speak, soft and low, the arcane language. Ah, the esoteric words that slip as sighs and weeping from my tongue. How heavy his revolver is in my hand – too heavy. I set it on the floor and touch my fingers to my eyes.
I hear it in the distance – the baying, as if of some gigantic hound. Looking at the revolver, it is suddenly an ugly, tedious thing. Cursing, I kick it from me. No, that will not be my ignominious end. Fie on such a death. Let it come and do its will – why should I deny the renting flesh, the spilt blood, such as my friend had offered it? As I look about our chamber of horrors, I see one of St. John’s diabolic paintings, his personal rendition of Jean Delville’s Satan’s Treasures. I remember what he said to me, my companion, as he hoisted the work to its place upon the wall.
“You’ll note, Christina, that I have darkened the red pigment of her hair, so as to compliment your own. Also, I’ve added some swirls of purple, to represent this wine on which we have become drunk tonight. For we are Satan’s dearest treasures, Christina, and once we have had our fill of wine we shall slink into dark night and find fresh pleasure in the grave of that newly-buried child. We shall bring him here and teach him new ways in which to frolic.”
No, I will not cry in terror. I will not desecrate this place with coward’s blood. I can feel my strength return – and with it I taste new resolve. Unsteadily, I rise on numbing legs and stagger to the corner where stands St. John’s greatest creation, the thing he worked on – fiendishly – after our return from Holland. He had had the huge slab of jadeite shipped from Asia, where it had been a portion of a wall of a desecrated and demolished temple. St. John had worked on it like a madman, and when at last I was allowed to view it I gasped in wonder at his gigantic replication of the small amulet that we had pilfered from a corpse in a daemonic Holland churchyard. And when I had touched my hand to the creature’s adamantine surface, to its queer coloring of greenish-white and reddish-brown, I felt a sense of delectable terror as I had never known before.
Ah, there it is again – the distant sound. It comes from some unfathomable realm, a dimension between sanity and madness. It comes to claim me as its own. I shall abide. But I won’t face it alone. Rather, I will slink into our neglected garden of poisoned things, where I will dig into the earth to where my dead friend rests, negated but not forsaken. I will bring him here, to recline before the beast of his creation. I will hold his mangled thews, his bloodstained bones, his ravaged cranium, in my lithe arms. I will press my lips to that which remains of his mouth and breathe into him the rituals that he loved. Together, we shall await the ravage of that which calls of promised and inescapable destruction.
I tore into the night and slashed with fingernails into the sod, until I found the sordid remains of my beloved friend. Thick fog from the moor had accumulated around our ancient manor-house, and as I pulled my friend from his unhallowed plot I could hear a chittering sound. A flock of bats swooped out of the brumous air and flapped above me, darting now and then as if in an attempt to pluck my friend from my embrace. I shrieked to them that he was mine alone. Defiantly, I held him to the shape that formed – gradually, inexorably – behind the blanket of fog, a gigantic and nebulous form that flapped its condor wings and bayed to darkness. With madness burning in my fevered brain, I spoke a passage that St. John had taught me from the Necronomicon; and perhaps it was my rich lunacy that gave the words more than usual potency, for the winged shape broke apart and disintegrated in the sky. The bats that had swooped above me, snatching at my hair, were gone. With unnatural strength I carried St. John’s corpse into our secret haunt and placed his broken form before his magnificent statue. I burned strangely scented candles to that statue and spoke verses of Baudelaire that St. John had taught me in the original French. Unhappily, I scanned the place, which once had been so filled with macabre plunder, the booty that St. John and I had looted from the unholy places of the globe. In sorrow and rage I had destroyed the bulk of our most prized possessions.
The scent of yellow candles infiltrated my nostrils as I leaned against St. John’s diabolic statue, and I thought that I could detect fragrant coils spill into my nose, my mouth, and curl about my brain. The candles that were burning on the upper ledges behind the statue suddenly flared, throwing shadows on the ground before me. I lifted to my knees and saw my shadow conjoined with that of the gigantic jade hound, so that my silhouette looked to have spouted daemonical wings. Wickedly, I stretched my throat and raised my mouth – and the baying that issued from my mouth contained a familiar ring. Easily, I raised my cloudy body from the floor and filtered through the smoky air toward the large frame that contained a full-length mirror. I peered into that surface of polished glass and saw the eidolon within it, the creature that wore my sombre dress that was covered with death’s debris. My long dark hair flailed wildly around my bleached and cavern-eyed face. Between my heaving breasts I saw an amulet of curious and exotic design, its green jade shining in the subtle glow of candlelight. I looked at the base of that amulet, at the inscription around it in characters which neither St. John nor I could identify. We knew that this amulet had been hinted at in the copy of the Necronomicon that had been procured for us by an American acquaintance, and which we had studied with keen attention; but we could not find any detail about that queer inscription. We needed the assistance of one whose mind contained a copious wealth of arcane wisdom. I turned to St. John.
“You were preparing to visit such a one – where?”
He rose from where he lay and came to me, and I shivered as he smoothed his fingers through my hair. “In America – a valley of spectral shadow, where dwells our wizard who aided us once before. No, don’t frown – his manner is of no consequence. He is filled with self-love, but we can tolerate again his airs. I know that you have studied diligently, Christina, but your little brain has such difficulty with language.” He smiled so sweetly as he voiced this critique that I could not be angry at his words, and I shut my eyes as his fingers smoothed the bone that was my skull.
From some place outside there came the sound of distant baying. I opened my eyes and knew that I had dreamed. Violent wind howled outside our home. The candles had burned low and extinguished. Leaning against the jade statue, I pulled my friend’s remains tighter into my embrace. With one hand, I ran my sensitive fingers along the statue’s base, whereon St. John had etched the enigmatic inscription which was, he felt certain, a passage that contain the secrets beyond the grave. The alchemy of those secrets would help me to raise my friend from death’s destructive assault. I knew what I had to do. I would journey to America, to the Sesqua Valley, and seek the wisdom of the Beast.
The journey across the ocean was long and unpleasant, but when at last I entered the confines of Sesqua Valley I felt queerly calm. I settled into my rooms and went to wander the nearest section of wooded territory. A full moon shed its light onto a magnificent twin-peaked mountain of white stone, a titan of rock that stood like sentinel over the quiet valley. As I breathed in the valley air I could taste a kind of sweetness in its substance. Hearing a noise that sounded like distant wind-call, I walked toward it, following a track of trodden earth beneath the trees, my path illuminated by a Jacob’s Ladder of moonbeams that reached through the still tops of extremely high trees. The path began to wind downward, and as I followed it the ethereal noise began to transform and take on a semi-human aspect. I saw distant flames in the depths below, in an open area that contained a stage-like platform, on which braziers burned in the night. Before the stage a series of levels rose upward on a steep hill, and on these there sat a crowd of onlookers. It was from this audience that the zephyr of chanted noise issued, a sound the likes of which I had never heard. How can I describe the effect it had on me, the way it touched me like a cloud of invisible aether and encase my being? Spellbound, I gazed at the altar on the platform, on which a figure reclined, draped in a scarlet gown. I watched, entranced, as small dark creatures danced around the altar. A curious sensation of pounding came from some place beneath my feet, as if some titan’s heart pulsed below me in the depths of earth. Strange mauve mist began to form among the trees nearest the stage; it became a brumous wall of fog that enshrouded the stage and its occupants. The queer choir of the audience raised their pitch of sound, and then the mist slowly dissipated, revealing another figure standing on the stage, a tall lean fellow whose bestial countenance was partially concealed by his wide hat. I smiled as I recognized the one whose service I sought.
The beast of Sesqua Valley held his hands to the moon and made unto that globe of lifeless dust strange signals with his tapered taloned fingers. A pallid shaft of moonlight fell onto his moving hand, and he seemed to catch that wan light and spill it over the figure that reclined on the altar. Deftly, that figure moved from off the slab of stone and began to writhe her limbs in a perversion of dance. And then she stopped, as a congregation of bats suddenly fell from darkness, diving at the flaming tapers. The woman on the stage waved her arms in an attempt to sweep the creatures from the air around her; and then she looked toward me and raised her arm, pointing. The chanting ceased as the audience turned their silver eyes to me. I trembled where I stood, penetrated by those inhuman eyes; and then I felt fingers moving through my hair. The woman in scarlet stood beside me. Alabaster eyes gleamed within her bestial face, the flesh of which resembled dark antique oak. Her breath fanned my face, and with it came a sweet and cloying fragrance that I had detected earlier in the valley air. A figure loomed behind her, and the beast smiled at me.
“Ah – Christina Sturhman. What an enchanting surprise. Where is your handsome young companion?”
“St. John is dead,” I answered. And then, for the first time, the sadness of that extinction hit me with full force, and I began to sob. The other woman reached out and brushed my tears with soft inhuman hands. Her animal mouth touched mine, and as I drank that kiss I felt around me a movement in the air; and in my ears I heard the flapping of tiny wings, a sound that finally rose over us and vanished above the trees.
They led me out of the woods and to a small house near to the edge of woodland. Simon Gregory Williams sat with me on a small sofa and listened to my tale as the strange woman worked in the kitchen. Finally she joined us and offered me a glass of cloudy liquid which at first I took to be absinthe; but its taste was sweet instead of bitter, with a mellifluousness that reminded me of the valley’s aether. Its effect was immediate, and the chaos in my brain subsided. The room was dimly lit with some few lamps, and I suspected that Sesqua Valley had not been quick to attain electric light.
“I wish you had kept that amulet,” Simon said beside me, having listened to my reason for arrival in his land. “As you say, it sounds very like the soul-symbol of the corpse-eating cult in Central Asia. What it would be doing around the throat of a wizard’s corpse in Holland is beyond conjecture.” He studied me with an oblique glance, took my nearly-empty glass from my hand and drained its remnant of murky liquid. “Your people are from Holland, are they not?”
I licked my lips. “My very distant ancestors were Dutch Jews, yes. But the culture is alien to me in all its ways. My people have lived in Britain for close to a century.”
Our hostess took the glass from Simon’s grasp. I watched as she ran her hand over his lips and brought its fingers to her mouth. “And what is this thing that followed you across the ocean, this thing that howls and rends?”
“I think it’s a lingering familiar of the wizard from whose corpse St. John and I stole the amulet. Although its master is long-dead, yet his agent exists in some plane between reality and phantasy. You know, Simon, that these shadow-creatures are borne of dimensions that may be opened with words of alchemy. St. John was seeking such a dimension. He thought that we might be able to summon forth an agent with which we could combat whatever it was that plagued us.”
“Hmm,” the beast uttered, nodding his large head. “And you imagine that this inscription that was around the base of the jade amulet may have been a key to such a spectral demesne. Yes. We shall have to go to your rooms in the morning and you will show me your copy of this unfathomable inscription. But for now – how very weary you are, my dear. Why, you cannot easily move your weighty limbs.” As he spoke, my entire body felt incomprehensibly heavy, weighed with packed mortality. “Not to worry. Marceline’s bed is near and spacious. She will welcome you as bedfellow for what remains of the nocturnal tide. Come, let’s get these heavy clothes off you and send you to bed.”
Simon’s eyes shimmered beneath his hat’s brim, and he grinned as he lifted my arms. I shivered at the woman’s velvet touch as she helped my arms out of their sleeves. Golden lamplight bathed my breasts as the beasts eased me out of my garments. As Marceline began to remove her scarlet gown, Simon pulled a flute from an inner pocket of his jacket. The music that he played was soft, low and exotic. It was the equal to the woman’s kisses on my lips, my throat, my breasts. A wind began to moan from some distant place in the valley, and from somewhere atop the twin-peaked mountain snouts were raised in song. We heard it then, above the other sounds, an eldritch baying near to the curtained bedroom window. Simon stopped his playing and stood dead still with a talon to his lips. We listened, as something scratched at the window pane, as something chortled and cursed in the Dutch language.
We saw the dark shape that wavered behind the curtained pane, its nebulous form silhouetted in rich moonlight. In the corner of my eye I could detect Simon’s hand raised toward that window and moving so as to form an elder sign. I could hear his hot breathing as he whispered a potent passage that I recognized from the Necronomicon. Suddenly, Marceline’s silver eyes were peering closely into mine. Before my eyes I beheld a curtain of translucent haze, like unto the cloudy liquid that they had given me to drink. Marceline’s breasts pressed against my own as she guided me to her bed. She straddled me as I squirmed on her cool sheets and laid her velvet paws on my head. As she smoothed my dome, I heard again the sound of Simon’s flute, and its lullaby coaxed my eyes to close.
I entered into dark dreaming. The hoary blackness in which I dreamed was suddenly pierced by yellow moonglow as the lid of my coffin was lifted. St. John looked down at me with an expression of ecstasy shining in his beautiful eyes. I could hear the gentle moaning of the night-wind that moved his hanging hair. He looked at the amulet that lay upon my chest, and his handsome face was overwhelmed with wonder, with that look of daemonic delight that expressed his keenest ghoulish joy. Excitedly, he took up my amulet and placed its length of silver chain around his throat. I lifted my skeletal hand so as to touch the jade figure that represented the monster that had murdered me, the beast to which my damned soul was now strangely conjoined. Clutching at that figure of a winged hound, I pulled St. John’s face to mine so that I could press his hot living breath into my wide fleshless grin. But then there came, from above us, a wild chattering and whirling, and I watched the flurry of bats that swooped over the figure of my friend. From somewhere near there came the sound of awful baying, as if of some gigantic hound. A shadow spread above us, blacker than nightmare; it reached for my friend and dragged him from my embrace. I howled his name as the entity swallowed him away.
I groaned. Her soft hand covered my mouth, and as I gazed into her silver eyes I felt rare bewitchment enter my soul. Marceline’s lips, moving down my throat, were hot. Her mouth around my nipples sucked reality away.
I awakened, alone, in a pool of sunlight that spread across the bed. A warm breeze sailed into the room from where the window had been opened, and I drank in the sweet elixir that was Sesqua Valley’s atmosphere. It was an air that enticed me out of the comfortable bed and into my clothes, out of the house and into woodland. The mountain served as guide, and I walked toward it, deep into the growth of trees and shrubs. Here and there I passed occasional specimens of sculpture, strange works that looked like denizens of macabre dreaming. They were usually quite small and rested on short stone pillars or altars made of wood.
I entered a darker part of the woods, and the path that I followed became narrow and partially overgrown, as if I had found a trail not often trod. The trees grew closer to each other, blocking out all light. At times I imagined that I could detect small and nebulous shapes that followed behind the clustered trees, shapes that made no sound. I have been, with St. John, to many places that have felt haunted – but never had I felt such a spectral sensation as I did in that dark place. It was odd. I no longer felt human; rather, I seemed to be a thing of shadow that drifted through a demesne of audient gloaming. It was a realm that was very aware of my presence, that seemed to harken to my labored breathing.
I scanned the area just ahead of me, the place where the trail came to an abrupt end. I could not at first make out the bulky thing that was definitely not a tree, deformed as some of Sesqua’s trees had been. Gradually I began to see that it was a squat totem some nine feet in height. Something in its shaped seemed disturbingly familiar, and when I stood directly in front of it, I swooned and dropped to my knees. It was in many ways a close replica of St. John’s jadeite statue in the secret room deep beneath our manor-house, but with some few differences. Although the place wherein I knelt was very dark, yet I could discern that the daemon before me was composed of smooth wood that was of a lighter shade than the surrounding trees, of a timber not indigenous to the valley. I touched my hand to the sculpted hoofs, which was one of the aspects with which this image differed with St. John’s, who has given his beast hound-like paws. The memory of my friend overwhelmed me with sudden woe, and thus I parted my lips and softly spoke a ritual in the Naacal tongue that he had taught me from the Necronomicon.
Close behind me, another voice accompanied my chanting. My heart quickened. Yes, in this place of eerie magick, I could conjure forth with alchemy the eidolon of my lost companion. I turned to greet St. John, in whatever form he had chosen to issue forth. But the person near to me was not my friend. “Simon?” I asked, for indeed the fellow looked exactly like the beast of Sesqua Valley, although he wore no hat, and his long hair fell to his shoulders.
“No,” he said, reaching out and taking hold of both my hands. “William Davis Manly, your servant. How clever of you to find this shunned place. How cleverer still for you to know so intimately that rare passage from Alhazred. So, you’re a friend of my elder brother’s.”
I gazed at his hands and saw, as my eyes grew more accustomed to the darkness of the place, that his flesh was of a lighter shade than that of the other children of the valley I had met. But his face was almost identical to that of Simon’s, lacking only the sardonic cruelty that always seemed to gloat in Simon’s eyes. This creature’s eyes were different, too – they were silver-white, like liquid mercury, and they contained an aspect that was utterly other-worldly.
“I’ve come for Simon’s assistance. He visited my friend and me once, three years ago in the winter of 1920. He helped us to locate a tattered copy of the Necronomicon.”
“Ah – you are Christina Sturhman, of England. Yes, he’s spoken of you and St. John. He was quite impressed with what was growing into a choice collection of relics and tomes. But he often complained that you were mere collectors of arcane things, rather than practitioners of the thaumaturgy to which such tomes were devoted. I think he regretted having left that copy of Al-Azif with you. Have you brought it to him now?”
“I destroyed it, with most of the other things in our collection, after St. John’s destruction by the thing we had unconsciously evoked by the stealing of an amulet that is similar in aspect to this totem.”
He looked up at the canine countenance, with its mop of ropy hair and high tapered ears. “She is lovely, isn’t she?”
He smiled as he gazed into my eyes. “Most sphinxes are female. I constructed this one of teak that Simon had imported from Burma.”
“Ah! She’s yours. I think your copy is slightly flawed – you’ve given her hoofs instead of paws.”
How queerly he smiled at me. “This is how I saw her, when she came to me in dreaming.” His soft wide hand brushed against my cheek and through my hair. “Something in you reminds me of her.”
I laughed. “My large ears, no doubt!” His smile was kind, so unlike Simon’s sneer. I found myself drawn to him and returned his touch. His long hair was soft and fine. “Well, I should return to town. Simon will have deciphered the insignia I brought to him by now.”
“What insignia is that?” he quietly asked.
“It was on the base of a jade amulet that was a replica of this creature, or something like it. It had been carved from a small piece of jade, in what I can only describe as a kind of Oriental fashion. There was an insignia around the base which we studied by aid of a magnifying lens.”
He tilted his eyes and glanced at his creation. “I should like very much to see such an amulet. I have read of such a thing – it has an ancient and diseased history. It is highly sought by sorcerers.” He chuckled. “You’ve probably drawn Simon to distraction to have told him of this. He’ll be restless until he has it. Or did you destroy it as well?” A chill ran through my flesh, and I shuddered. He saw my distress and leaned closer so as to take me in his arms. “I’m sorry to have aroused unhappy memories. And I am sorry for the destruction of your friend. Come, on your feet. You have wandered into one of my secret places, and I must now escort you out.”
“Do you live here, in this lonesome place?”
“I do, in a sequestered hut nearby. How remarkable of you to have found the path. You are the first mortal to have done so, in my century of existence.”
I stood, but I resisted his attempt to take me from the totem. I stared at the daemon’s canine face, the mouth stretched wide with bestial hunger, at the stretch of what looked like reptilian wings. Yes, she was a nightmarish composite of creatures, and she was magnificent. I could easily have worshipped her with rituals of blood and smoke. I stared, entranced.
William Davis Manly stood suddenly before me, his eyes very bright. He brought his curiously-shaped mouth to my face and kissed my eyes. With that kiss the ghastly enchantment that had seduced me spilled from my brain and out of my eyes. I did not resist as this secret child of Sesqua’s haunted woodland turned me away from his creature and guided me from that secluded spot.
Simon had left a note at my rooming establishment. I was to meet him at dusk, at some tower in the woods. Marceline would come to fetch me. I bathed and napped, for the events of the past hours had exhausted me emotionally. Strangely, I did not dream, except to fancy that I could hear, just beyond the wall of sleep, small padded footsteps dancing near my cot. A rapping on my chamber door awakened me, and I called from bed for the woman to enter my room. She wore a simple gown of yellow gingham, which complimented her dark skin. Her long red hair was worn loose, and it whirled in the wind as she led me out of the building and into the woods to a tall round tower of brick. As I walked beside her up the small winding steps I took in the scent of her flesh, and thought how like the aether of the valley it smelled, as if both were composed of similar substance.
We reached a spacious circular chamber that was crowded with shelves of books and tables on which more books were heaped among scrolls and manuscripts of various age. Simon sat on a throne in the light of many candles and the shafts on moonlight that spilled through small windows carved into the brick wall. With my copy of the queer inscription in his hand, he did not deign to acknowledge our presence for some few minutes. When at last he looked up at me he did not smile.
“I am annoyed that you destroyed that incomplete copy of the Necronomicon that I obtained for you and St. John. The more I think on your destruction of his remarkable occult library, the less inclined I am to assist you. It is the one unpardonable transgression – the wreck of magical tools.”
His condescending tone angered me, and I marched to where he sat. “I had suffered a mental and emotional collapse. My dearest companion had been ripped to death by some foul thing that had haunted us and is now hunting me. I grow weary of your airs, Simon. I have not forgotten the way you treated us as school children when you came to instruct us of arcane lore. Perhaps I was foolish to come to you now. You have no interest in anyone but yourself. Give me my inscription and I shall leave.”
He pointed a tapered finger to a stone bench near me. “You will sit there and stop behaving like an infantile bore.” He looked at Marceline and grinned. “Great Yuggoth, the creature has gumption! Perhaps that is why she has escaped daemonic destruction as of yet.” He studied me with mocking eyes as I stood my ground.
“Perhaps,” Marceline answered, and the beasts exchanged a look, as if sharing some secret from which I was excluded. I turned to leave, but the woman’s grip on my arm was like a vice. “Do sit down, Christina. We’ve many questions to ask you, and some information to offer. Isn’t that what you came to the valley for – answers to your enigma?”
The beast of Sesqua Valley rose from his throne and guided me onto the stone bench, sitting beside me. “You will tell me of the amulet, and of the place where you located it. I have read of this green jade toy in Alhazred, where it is linked to the corpse-eating cult of inaccessible Leng, in Central Asia. Alhazred tells that it has oft been buried with dead sorcerers, yet finds itself inevitably once more within a wizard’s hand. I shall be its final procurer. But how did St. John know where to locate it? Al-Azif tells no such knowledge.”
My weird laughter echoed in the enclosed space. “He knew it from me, fool. The story of its final owner is family legend. I supplied St. John with the codex in which my ancestors recorded the amulet’s legend and its link with our antecessors. Do you imagine that there was no foundation of interest in arcane lore that led me to my friend? It wasn’t mere fate that brought us together – I sought him out, hungry for his joy of that which was unusual, morbid and forbidden. Pah, this prosaic world! With his help, I was led to a delicious underworld, to the enigmas of the Symbolists and the ecstasies of the Pre-Raphaelites. But mostly it was him – his sense of adventurous expectancy, the fever that burned in his eyes when we unearthed some foul new thing. And so I supplied the codex, not mentioning that it was a family heirloom. He did not seem to notice that the name of the book’s scribe was similar to my own, although we radically altered its spelling once we settled in Great Britain.”
The beast’s eyes smolder like liquid zinc oxide. “And where is this family heirloom, my child? This codex?”
Oh, my laughter was delicious. “Destroyed, with all of the rest. What good was any of it without my friend? But hark, beast, I’ll whisper the name of the crumbling church wherein the Dutch churchyard may be found. Then you can go seek your treasure, and may it damn you as it has condemned me.” I pressed my mouth against his soft large ear and heaved a Holland name, and then I pushed him roughly from me so that he slipped from the bench and fell onto the round wooden floor. From somewhere atop the twin-peaked mountain, things wailed to lunar light. And from some other distant place I heard another sound, like unto the baying of a gigantic hound.
Marceline reached for me as I stood, and I realized that I was weeping. “Fie, wretch, don’t touch me. I have no more need of thee and thine. I have lost the one soul I needed in my life. St. John is a mangled corpse; I alone know why!” I swept from them, raced down the winding steps and plunged into moonlight. I hissed at trees, and they moved as if in fear so that I could bathe more fully in the lunatic light. I saw the horde of bats that were silhouetted against that radiant globe, the moon. I beheld the nebulous shape that followed that chittering throng, the vague cloudy thing silhouetted against lunar phosphorescence. Beneath my mortal foot I could feel a throbbing pulse that emanated from some dungeon beneath the sod where dwelt the cursed valley’s heart. My human hands stretched to the sky and made strange signals to the nimbus shape that fell from heaven, onto me, and that covered my being like a gauze of smog.
My only friend was dead. I remembered his destruction, the taste of rent flesh and spilled blood. It was the thing of ancestry that we had released when we opened a wizard’s tomb in a neglected Holland churchyard, a wizard of mine own lineage. Oh, we had lived for the pleasures of horror, those very gratifications that had moved St. John to ecstasy! I shall know such ecstasy again. Come, hither, all ye shadow of ancestral memory. Sink into the tissue of my transmigrated flesh. Help me stretch and shape and rise — a new entity, a creature of birthright.
I laughed at the tiny creatures that rushed out of the stone tower and praised me with their silver eyes. I stretched my wings and snapped my mammoth jaws as the fellow took out his flute and played a song in honor of my ghastliness. I watched as the woman in her gown of yellow gingham writhed in danse before me. The ground shook beneath my transformed feet as the titanic white mountain moved so as to stretch its peaks, as if in genuflection to my monstrosity. I stretched my reptilian wings and cackled with pleasure. From the corners of my eyes I espied the small shapeless gnomes that scuttled from behind the trees and danced about me on their tiny paws.
I saw it billow from behind the trees – a thick mauve mist. It was an effluvium that pulsed in time to the beating of Sesqua Valley’s witchery. I sucked in the sweet enchanted air as the thick mist moved through the trees, toward me. Within that sentient haze I saw another form. He stepped into the moonlight, the child of valley shadow who, I realized, could be a new-found friend, a real companion such as I had lost with the demise of St. John. William Davis Manly raised his hand to the moon and made to that yellow orb an elder sign. He opened his mouth and spoke words to me in a Dutch dialect, and I knew that it was a translation of the inscription that had been etched around the base of a small jade amulet. My black eyes raised to the majestic moon. My mouth stretched with baying as the poet of Sesqua’s shadowland kissed my cloven hoof.
Wilum Hopfrog Pugmire is a writer of horror fiction based in Seattle, Washington. His adopted middle name derives from the story of the same title by Edgar Allan Poe. Strongly influenced by the works of H. P. Lovecraft, many of Pugmire’s stories directly reference “Lovecraftian” elements (such as Yog-Sothoth of the Cthulhu Mythos). Pugmire’s major original contribution to the Cthulhu Mythos is the Sesqua Valley, a fictional location in the Pacific Northwest of the United States that serves as the primary locale for much of his fiction. According to his official biography, his “goal as an author is to dwell forevermore within Lovecraft’s titan shadow.” Pugmire is a self-proclaimed eccentric recluse as well as “the Queen of Eldritch Horror.” His stories have appeared in major horror anthologies, and collections of his fiction and poetry have appeared under small press imprints such as Necropolitan Press, Mythos Books, Delirium Books, and Hippocampus Press.
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