O, Lad of Memory and Shadow, by W.H. Pugmire

I crept like a frightened girl on silver-sandalled feet beneath an arc of moonlight, toward the House of Shadows.  The street of sorrow on which I crept was as hard and cold as reality, and I was eager to be off it.  Finally, I arrived at the porch that would lead me into the infamous dwelling, and so I hopped onto its first step, whereon my foot encountered a splinter that drove its way into my heel.  Thus wounded, I limped up the remaining steps and staggered through the threshold, into the edifice.  The hallway was very dark, except for sad phosphorescent faces that floated, now and then, near to the ceiling and provided the only illumination.  I leaned against a tall and sturdy grandfather clock and listened to its sound; then watched the pale face that, floating to the clock, kissed its face of glass.  The ticking stopped as time extinguished, but was replaced by another rhythm that issued from behind a nearest door.  Stepping to that door, I turned its knob and entered in.  It was a spacious room that pulsed with music played by a band of mechanical grotesques, in which masked gigolos moved in solitary dance around a splendid fountain that gurgled in the middle of the room.  I laughed at their jerky movement, it seemed so clumsy; and at the noise of my mortal sound one figure hobbled to me, and it the room’s insipid light I could see that the whore was made of wood, smooth and white.  It removed its mask and revealed its puppet physiognomy, a countenance so smooth and handsome that I could not resist tilting to it and pressing my lips against its unyielding mouth; and then I smoothed its mask against my face, to which the thing adhered, and waltzed to the fountain so as to peer into its depths.  I should not have looked, for beneath the surface of the water I beheld a bloated thing that was a remnant from my past, a boy I once had loved and tossed aside.  He had been a creature of bewitching beauty, but once that beauty had been debauched I found that we had nothing in common, and thus I became complacent although he seemed to worship me.  We had one final meeting, beside a river within one moonlit park, and I told him that our love affair was at an end.  I did not want to hear his tedious sobbing and so I sauntered away, free to find new victims of my diabolic lust.  I stepped onto a charming antique bridge that spanned the moonlit river, and I stopped midway to watch some pink blossoms drift from branches that stretched over the slow current of water; and looking down, I saw the white sphere that emerged from underneath the bridge and drifted weightily away – the white sphere that was my discarded lover’s face bobbing in the water into which it finally sank from view.

Awakened from reverie by the mannequin that touched its puppet fingers to my hair, I peered again into the fountain and saw the spectre of my dead lover – but it did not look like a ghost, the thing of bloated flesh, but a thing of the cold reality that I had thought to escape by entering this House of Shadows.  I backed away from the cruel fountain and pushed the dummy from me, and rushing to the doorway I fled the room and its monstrous memories.  I fled, up carpeted stairs, into an upper realm where existed a soft golden radiance that was nothing seen in harsh reality; and I sighed to that light as I entered another room that was furnished with exquisite antiques and exuded the ambiance of an elder time.  I approached the upright mirror and winked at my image that was cased within an arch of golden filigree in which the mirror had been fitted, and I began to caper before my image, wincing only slightly when my wounded heel struck too haughtily the floor.  But I could not dance for long, because I grew so easily exhausted; and this perplexed me until I peered again into the upright mirror and saw my eidolon within the glass.  How could this old, old thing represented there, on the cold unyielding surface of polished glass, be me?  How did I acquire the bags beneath my eyes, the sagging flesh and wrinkles, the withered hair?  Why had cruel reality followed me into what should have been a realm of happy phantasy?  I could not comprehend it.

My reflection did not stand alone.  He stood beside me, no longer a drowned and bloated husk of flesh.  I felt his chilly fingers in my hair, and his frigid mouth that pressed against my ear and called my name.  I felt that mouth on my throat as the fingers left my hair and found my breast, followed by his glacial mouth, which froze my heart as it pressed against my breast.  His fingers worked their way into my trousers, the fly of which separated as his icy mouth touched my phallus.  One phantom hand caressed my foot, working free my silver sandal and pinching the sharp fragment that had pricked my heel.  Smoothly, the little fragment of wood was pulled from my flesh.  I moaned, because my heart had grown so arctic and I could but barely sense its rhythm in my blood.  And then he rose before me one last time, the boy who had adored me, and I watched the smile that played upon his lovely mouth as he pushed the sharp, sharp splinter through my breast and into my bitter heart.

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.

Visit W.H. Pugmire’s page at Amazon.com to buy his books!

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Story art by mimulux.

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