Elder Instincts, by W.H. Pugmire

(Download the audio version of this story here — an incredible reading by Mars Homeworld.)

With soft repeating of archaic words
I chant of elder things to ancient stone
And step with spectral rats that swarm in herds
Among the pile of disconnected bone.
Among the pile of disconnected bone
That haunt the shadows of my arcane eyes
I sink beyond civility’s safe zone
Into a realm where secret altars rise.
They rise, assemblies of archaic wood,
Above the bones the spectral rats have gnawed;
And in this haunt of nightmare’s netherhood
I see the spectre of a Faceless God.
I make an Elder Sign to Doom’s hierarch.
I bow before yon Haunter of the Dark.

I walked beneath the yellow sky, over the ancient track.  Moss and grass now covered most of the large sandstones with which the road had been constructed in some early epoch.  I stopped once and used the firm edge of my shoe to shove the growth aside, and then I bent down and touched the hefty block of stone that had been worn into a rut in the road by the traffic that had journeyed on it over many decades.  I tried to imagine those carts, drawn by horses or mules, which had crossed the road so long ago on their way to Dunwich two miles yonder.  I tried to imagine what I fancied might have been the curious cargo of some of those carts, and the curious dreams of they who walked beside them.  I carried my own outlandish cargo, within the depths of my skull-space, images that had so haunted me that I returned, at last, to this ancient track, to the once-familiar spot where I knew the olden ways.

I had walked this way once before, beside my father’s cart, when I accompanied him to Dunwich to meet a man who was interested in buying our cattle.  For an Aylesbury farm boy who had seen little of the world, it was a big adventure, and I wanted to experience all of it.  So when I saw the place where the fields ended and the high hill began, I wanted to run to it, to climb that hill and then meet my father on its other side.  But my father had clasped my hand and would not let me wander to the man-shunned slope.  “Boys have been known to get lost up there,” he rasped as his hold on my hand tightened.  I had, over the years, completely forgotten that episode, until I saw again the great hill rise before me.  Now there was no hand to hold me back.  I walked beside the white stone wall toward the gabled farmhouse and its field, and then I stopped; for in that field, dancing between two scarecrows, was a woman in tattered white.  Her long red hair billowed behind her, tossed by gusts of wind, and her smooth black flesh seemed accentuated in hue by the contrast of her pale apparel.  I watched as she caught sight of me and ceased her movement, as she leaned against a third post that was as yet uninhabited by creature of straw and discarded clothing.  I entered the field and approached her, asking if she was a resident of the farm and could she supply me with a glass of water.  Laughing, she proposed that I follow her and led me to a small circle of stones set in the ground, in which a pool of water reflected the yellow sky.  Smiling, she cupped her hands into the pool and brought its liquid to my mouth.  I supped.

How heavy my eyes grew, and how soft her lap was as she knelt beside me and guided my head into it.  Her flesh smelled of spice and oils, an intoxicating fragrance that sailed into my nostrils as I shut my eyes.  I dreamed of my father and seemed to hear him call me, but when I opened my eyes I was alone, in a darkened field above which a late moon glimmered.  I rose and studied the silhouetted crest of Zaman’s Hill, and there was no hand to hold me back as I stumbled onto the path and crept along it as it grew steep and high and led me toward the night sky.  I reached the crest and walked to look down upon the town I knew should be there; but instead I saw the unfamiliar sight of an uninhabited vale that huddled beneath the moon’s yellow light.  And when I turned away from the unfathomable sight, I saw her dancing beneath the moon, beside a pool that had formed in the grassy ground.  And when she knelt beside that pool and dipped her cupped hands into it, I could not resist her lure, and went to her, and drank.  And I glanced into the pool and saw the shadowed forms that were lost boys, and they seemed so lonely and forlorn that I wanted to embrace them and whisper love into their ears.  And so I tilted toward the liquid surface and fell beneath it, where phantom hands clasped mine own and led me to a dream within a dream.

It is the effect of night that swims within my liquid eyes as I bend onto this tainted soil and plant my fingers into unhallowed earth.  Windsong moans through the cracks and crevices of a ruined church where air is no longer sanctified or sinless, and as I work my hand into the churchyard sod I pray the name of one strange god who tastes me in his deepest dreaming.  It is this dread lord that whispers to my psyche of the thing I am destined to discover – the thing that, now, I touch.  I tighten my fingers around one triple spire and unearth the relic from its bed of filth and darkness.  There is no midnight moon to which I can hold up the artifact, and so I raise the thing to dim stars that brighten slightly as they drink the alien beauty of the object that I grasp.  I cannot ascertain what strange alloy has been combined with yellow gold so as to give the thing its   platinum lustrousness.  Its beauty    captivates and I gaze at it for many moments as I imagine that it was fashioned to be seen in darkness only, in this effect of night, wherein its magick spills forth and evokes wonder.  I lift the relic above me and set it on my head, where the chilliness of its metal spreads through my entire tissue.  I shudder as one bell surmounted above an antique cathedral peals its somber sound.  I hear that reverberation as it floats through air toward the sea that swells before an old town below the hill on which the basilica stands erect.  I turn my face toward the ancient edifice and see that it, too, has been enhanced by the cloak of night that drapes it; and as I grimace at its chilly stones a thing from within the bell tower calls my mind, coaxing me to rise from bended knee and proceed in quest of sinister sensation, my diadem tilted on my dome.  How solid feels the frigid earth on which I creep beneath the stars, and how icy the starlight is upon my liquid eyes, those eyes on which is reflected the erection of ancient stone before me.

I touch the stone with which the church has been built, as one bright daemon star above me burns onto my diadem and reminds me of that other star, the orb of refracted fire that guided shepherds on this celebration of Yule to the manger and its infant born of seed of Holy Spectre.  My hand is firm against the chilly rotting stone, that stone that seems an emblem of my damaged withered heart, that organ whose beating I no longer sense.  My hand is firm against the ancient edifice, and for one haunted moment I am as olden as the rock that has formed this haunt of silenced prayers; and yet I seem to hear an echo of those dead prayers deep inside my skull, where they frolic beneath my eyes.   I feel them spill from out my brain and slip unto my mouth, which mumbles them as I pass through the threshold, into the church.  I smile at the lingering stench of destruction as I walk past charred and disintegrated pews beneath the splintered stained-glass saints.

And then I see her, bathed in sheath of starlight that flows through the cavity where once a stained-glass saint had worn a heart.  Ah, sweet Pieta, how beauteous you are, enhanced in cosmic light.  And yet, what a forlorn image you present, on this day of your infant’s rumored birth; for you are alone, your lap is vacant, you hold no holy corpse in your embrace.  Lady, let me lie upon your lap and press my head against your marble breast, beneath which I seem to hear strange palpitation.  My diadem has lightened, and when I touch my hand to it I find that it has withered into a thorny crown that pricks my palm.   Ah, sweet saint, how your jeweled eyes gleam in shaft of starlight, as I lift to you my wounded palm, the stigmatic stain of which you bend to sup upon.  Happy, happy holiday.

Many have called Wilum Hopfrog Pugmire the greatest living Lovecraftian writer.  W.H. 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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Illustration by Ronnie Tucker.

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7 responses to “Elder Instincts, by W.H. Pugmire

  1. Pingback: Lovecraft eZine Issue #9 for December 2011 « Unspeakable Gibberer·

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