I awakened in my windowless tower, to the smell of ancient books and the worms with which they were infested, and swept the pale winged things from where they had nestled in my coiled hair. Pushing the silken coverings from me, I stood and stared at the white sphere of soft illumination that hovered just above my elongated shadow – the sphere that has been, always, my companion. By its light I have devoured the words found within the ancient books, syllables that I could taste when they were spoken. I cannot quite remember how it is I learned the art of reading, but I have a dim semi-recollection of she who danced in my dreams and always held onto a white book, showing me its illuminated leaves and carefully moving her silent lips so that I could comprehend the words that they formed. It was this woman in white who, at the climax of one vision, dissolved into a globe of light that followed me out of slumber and dwelt with me in the lonesome tower; and it was this sphere of radiance that accompanied on my day of resolution, when I determined to vacate the tower and explore the surrounding forest. Thus I departed from the tower room that had been my home for all of memory, stepped down the winding steps of stone and crossed the arched threshold to the floor of silent earth, where all was dark except for the places that were kissed by the glow of the sphere that followed me. I breathed into the icy air and light mist floated through my lips and drifted toward the dark mute trees of the inarticulate forest. Although there was no sound, I imagined that I could detect sly movement behind distant trees, and thought perhaps the pale winged things that nestled in my hair at time of slumber were surreptitiously shadowing my steps. I did not mind – I liked their smooth cold forms when they wove their way into my coiled hair and kissed my scalp.
The dark trees of the endless forest stood like quiet sentinels that watched me on my path, and as the way began to bend and drop toward a lower region I reached out for one nearby trunk, so as to support my balance; but it startled me, as I pressed my palm against the dendroid form, how unsubstantial the creature seemed, as if it could have been an element of a dream through which I wandered. As I contemplated this, the pale sphere that was my attendant shot before me, followed by pale winged things, some of which reached for my hair and tugged me on my way, out of the forest at last and toward a field where slim black stones protruded from the ground. It was only then that I became aware of sensation, as an experience of chilliness enveloped my flesh. The ground on which I stood took on an aspect of solidness, its rough texture unpleasant beneath my naked foot. The sky above me was black as pitch, but as I peered into its vaulted expanse my sphere of light floated just before my face and pressed against my eyes; and then it drifted from me, into the midnight sky, where it transformed into a bloated, fungoid moon that cast decayed light upon the slabs that tilted above the surrounding soil. I touched one slab and tried to read the words that had been etched thereon when the silence of the place was ruptured by a sound with which I was somewhat familiar; for in my tower chamber there had been a collection of bells of various sizes, and I would sometimes entertain myself by lifting them and listening to their clangor. What I now felt on the chilly air and heard within ear’s depth was a deep peal, as of from some distant mammoth bell; and wasn’t it queer how I could almost see the vibrations of the sound in the air before me and feel them push into my flesh, my eyes, my tingling mouth? And when I followed that sound it was soon accompanied by a lighter trembling of noise – and this, too, I recognized, for one of my possessions in my chamber had been an antique music box that, once wound, played a lilting melody that often ushered me toward slumber. The din that now reverberated in dark air was a similar sound, yet enhanced and weighty.
I followed the enchanting sound and espied the rectangles of golden light that proved to be apertures of a tower that was not unlike mine own. It was from this edifice that the music sounded, music that was a lure and summoned me to climb through one golden aperture, into a bright room. I stepped onto a smooth and polished floor and saw the being that burned beside me, a figure that resembled me in that it had limbs and torso. I saw that the room’s illumination came from the creature’s upheld hands, which burned with yellow fire. I saw the others of its kind who stood dead still, their flaming hands providing the light by which the chamber’s other occupants moved in dance to the music that was performed by figures crowded upon a platform. One of the dancers moved to me, and I marveled at her whiteness, at the artificial wings that had been sewn into her gown, at the touch of her gloved hands as they wove their fingers through my hair. I marveled at the reek that emanated from my new companion, a heavy stench such as had never assaulted my nostrils; and yet, as much as it violated my senses, there was an aspect of it that I found comforting. I was led into the dance and embraced by a fellow in motley who had lost most of the flesh that had once covered his visage, and I laughed at the sense of grim pleasure that emanated from his too-wide grin. Another winged woman in white drifted to me, and I wondered why her feet seemed to float just above the gleaming floor. My heart trembled violently when I beheld the white book that she clasped, the book that was opened to me. I stood, spellbound, as the woman moved the pointed nail of one long talon into my finger, and I nearly fainted at the smell of the dark stuff that began to spill from my punctured flesh. Her hand guided my own to press my wounded finger to the clean white page, and when I took my hand away I saw the insignia of my print upon the shimmering paper.
I was still gazing downward when the white book was removed from me, and thus I saw the image on the floor of polished glass; and I knew that what I was seeing was my own reflection, of which I had read but never witnessed, for there had been neither window nor mirror within my tower chamber. I fell to my knees and touched my hand to my smooth likeness, and I marveled at how I was a thing of iridescent whiteness like unto the sphere of light that had once been my constant companion. I laughed to see how thin the texture of my face had become, thus revealing the skull beneath my mask of flesh. I knew that I would soon join the throng of friendly ghouls that crowded around me, and this knowledge so enchanted me that I raised my face and moaned in ecstasy, at which signal the others gathered ‘round me and offered me their ghastly hands, or that which had once been hands. And I hummed in accompaniment to the orchestra’s macabre waltz as my compatriots knelt around me and welcomed me within their carrion caress.
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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You can listen to the talented Morgan Scorpion reading this story in the video below: