I write these words; you read them. I sought enlightenment, while you are looking for entertainment. I was once a student, eager for knowledge. You? Who knows. Maybe it's early morning and you're riding a bus to work, or maybe you're sitting in a drowsy last-period-of-the-day classroom, or maybe it's past midnight and you're lying sleepless in bed. Just note that the when, where, and why of your reality (or of mine) is of little concern, because the beginning of this story is really my story's end. . . .
I've attained degrees in the humanities and a masters in philosophy, but I now believe nothing the years has taught me has any value. All the books read and ideas expressed, all the many intellectual arguments agreed with or disputed, all of it. . . a waste of time and space.
The only thing worthy of study sits before me now: Yog-Sothoth's Box. Do you see it? Of course you do. It glows.
Philosophy aside, technical arts also interest me. For eighteen months, I've been studying filmmaking. I would make movies. I would share with all of mankind my insight into the human condition. To satisfy course requirements, I wrote a proposal for a film that I asserted would speak to modern men and women living in our western world, a film that would examine a subculture that exists within the greater culture of first world civilization: a study of the West's urban homeless—of street people. But this topic was too broad in scope and too oft spoken to; I was told I needed to narrow my focus.
Research had shown me three basic types of homeless people: those suffering from alcoholism and/or mental illness (they're easy enough to understand), those who are victims of circumstance and only temporary citizens of the street (also easy to understand), and those enigmatic few among the homeless who appear sane and sober enough but who have wilfully chosen a life of deprivation.
Now this third type piqued my interest. What could they possibly know that would make them choose such an existence?
Since my father was a man of means who passed away to leave me (his sole beneficiary) a tidy inheritance, I've never had to work. Instead, I have been free to wander the halls of academia for more than two decades searching for a solid truth that might make my existence meaningful, but facts are always subject to interpretation, and I had never found anything more substantial than conjecture and opinion. I've wondered for years if maybe one must actually live the life of an ascetic in order to achieve any real enlightenment. When I was younger, I had even convinced myself that, one day (if I could drum up the courage), I would give it a try. But maybe some modern-day Siddhartha had already discovered the truth I was searching for, a truth that could be revealed to me, and then, through my film, be presented to the world.
And that's exactly what happened. . . .
Before filming could begin, I had to secure a subject. Any North American city has many homeless, but not so many who have freely and with sound mind chosen the lifestyle. I knew a group of street people gathered most evenings just south of the college campus, on the south-western edge of downtown behind the City Center Bottle Depot. They clustered in the alleyway celebrating the fermented fruits of their day's can- and bottle-collecting labors, so that's where I began my search.
I knelt in scrutiny of them from behind a stack of dirty, wooden pallets. Ryan Oswald (he, too, had course requirements to fulfil) would be running the camera for me once we began filming, and he knelt next to me, his pimply young face shiny with sweat and oil, despite the late autumn chill in the air. Ryan was most comfortable filtering his perceptions through a computer's video-editing software, and this raw exposure to the seedier underside of the city had him squinting in consternation.
"So," he whispered to me, "what now? Should I get the camera?"
I shook my head.
We had stopped at The Hook and Anchor to drink a toast to our partnership, and I was glowing with liquid enthusiasm. I imagined Ryan as the Clark to my Lewis. Here we were, twenty-first century anthropologists having penetrated the depths of some concrete wilderness to chance upon native tribesmen performing pagan rites. Had these natives ever encountered civilised men before? What language did they speak? And were they hostile?
They had gathered around a steel oil drum that spouted greasy smoke as they fed refuse and broken pallets from the bottle depot to the fire within the blackened drum. They appeared shapeless and genderless, dressed in layers of clothing packed around each of them as protection against the coming winter. Many of those dirty faces were bearded. But a few had rounder, softer features suggesting a former femininity that was now androgynous under layers of filth.
A setting sun sent flares arcing up from flaws in the green glass of a bottle they passed from one to another. Many of them had full wine bottles in their possession, but apparently it was their custom to open only one at a time, sharing the liquid within until it was drained and they could open another.
"So?" Ryan pressed. His raised and trembling eyebrow told me the drinks I had bought him were not bribery enough to have him take initiative. He would run the camera (and do it well; I'm particular about with whom I share my ventures), but that would be the extent of his efforts.
With a grin of bravado that I'm sure appeared to Ryan as a grimace, I stood from behind cover and sauntered toward the gathering of inner-city tribesmen. I stood unnoticed at the periphery of their social circle until a grimy and unaware hand thrust the wine bottle at me. I took it after only a moment's hesitation, the coarse banter that had been rallying back and forth over the smoky drum coming to a sudden halt. A dozen dirty faces gaped at me.
I nodded at them, raised the bottle to my lips, drank back a mouthful of bitter sweetness. Then I wiped a sleeve across my mouth and passed the bottle to my right. The natives glared. One of their number—a large, hairy-faced man who, among the ranks of his peers, possessed a somehow regal manner—growled at me, then demanded, "Who are you?"
I introduced myself with formal tones (I think I might have even bowed), and quickly informed him of my project.
A gap-toothed grin appeared within his beard. He prodded at a sore on his lip and said, "So you're a movie-maker? Steven Spielberg, right? And guess what? Here's E.T.!" He pointed the sore-moistened fingertip at a squat and bald-headed man clothed in a dirt-brown overcoat who began waddling around chanting, "E.T. phone home! E.T. phone home!"
The other tribesmen howled at what must have been a familiar joke, some of them holding up cell phones to bait the fool. When their baying had died down, I pressed my case, explaining that I required only one subject with which to work. I described the sort of person I was looking for, hoping to sound inoffensive, while they stared at me. I threw in an offer of fifty dollars cash to anyone who would help me.
A shrew-faced man standing to the left of the bearded chief said, "Fifty whole dollars. . . could you imagine that! And we could become a movie star." He threw wide his arms, spread wide his eyes and fingers and sang, "A movie star! A movie star! A movie, movie, mooovie star!"
Again, eruptions of laughter from the others.
My eyes returned to the face of the tribal king. Sour resentment hung there. This selfsame expression clung in varying degrees to the other faces gathered round the fire. The king scowled at me; then he commanded, "Fuck off. Now."
But shrew-face suddenly grinned a rack of fuzzy-looking teeth and raised a finger to me, then caught himself and leaned over to whisper in the street-king's ear. Amusement displaced temper, and his highness smiled too broadly at me, his lip splitting at the sore. Blood dribbled into his beard as he said, "Maybe there is someone who could be your movie star. . . ."
Every face flickering in firelight turned to him.
The chief flicked a pointed tongue at bloody beard hairs, then told me, "You'll find him six blocks east, in the old warehouse district, under the loading dock behind what used to be the Hayes Mattress Factory."
A tremulous "Oh!" soared around the fire. Heads nodded.
"You'll find him in back, under the loading dock. His name is Maxwell. . . Professor Ian Maxwell."
At mention of the name, the others muttered to themselves.
Shrew-face said, "Go talk to Maxwell—he'll be yer movie star. And one hell of a movie it'll be!"
The gathering of solemn, dirty heads nodded. The bottle had made it into the chieftain's big hand. He tipped it to his face, stabbed it into the beard, took a long swallow, then used a dirty palm to wipe the bottle top as he glared across the fire at me. "Now. . . fuck off!"
The circle of vagrants squeezed tight around the smoking drum, forcing me out of the firelight.
I walked away from the low hum of their murmuring voices. One last round of laughter was directed at me as I stepped into the alley dimness and snapped my fingers at the kneeling form of Ryan Oswald. The sun had all but set behind city rooftops, and he scampered out of shadows to fall in step beside me.
"So?" he asked.
"So they told me to fuck off. But they gave me a name: Professor Ian Maxwell."
"What about him?"
"He could be what I'm looking for. He lives under a loading dock in the old warehouse district."
We'd come upon my Volkswagen van, a battered but serviceable vehicle. While waiting for me to unlock the driver's door, Ryan peered at me over the roof, saying, "Professor Maxwell. Do you mean like a real professor, from a university? A real professor who lives under a loading dock. . . ."
I shrugged. "I guess we'll find out, because we're going to see him right now."
Locating the defunct Hayes Mattress Company proved difficult. Most of the street lights in the once-productive warehouse district had gone blind through neglect. And the names on abandoned building fronts were gibberish in their paint-peeled fragments. It was only through chance that Ryan glimpsed the word "Mattress" under the eaves of a dilapidated four-storey brick structure we coasted past as we stabbed headlights down darkening streets. We squinted out the windshield, finally seeing on a sign over a set of front doors an "A", a bit of a "Y", and an "S" fronting the word "Mattress".
This had to be the place.
The building itself was box-like and impassive, vacuous-looking with a rotten-toothed row of broken windows lining the top floor. Otherwise, the building's facade held nothing but lines of brick, except where a set of sturdy iron doors at street level locked out the world. The lots adjacent to either side of the building were empty plots of dirt littered with the city's crumbled detritus that lay scattered about or lumped in broken-concrete heaps like burial mounds. All of this cast conflicting planes of shadow wherever intermittent streetlight violated the darkness.
"This place gives me the willies," Ryan said as I wheeled my van into the alley running behind the factory. "I mean, really. . . it can't be safe."
I glanced at his pale, pimply face gone green in the dash-light glow. "There's nothing to worry about. I got the impression the other street people avoid this place. There's probably no one around for blocks."
"That's just it. Why do you think they keep away? Maybe there's rats. . . or worse. No one in his right mind would live here."
I had stopped the van behind the factory. This section of the downtown area was atop a rise. To my left and over my shoulder, a mile-wide expanse of little-used railway tracks and storage yards acted as barrier against the encroachment of suburbia to the south. In that direction, the glow of civilization was visible hanging as a streetlight haze over single-dwelling rooftops. Drifting over the train tracks, the complacent echo-hoot of a car horn was the night-song of that distant land.
I had parked so that the van's headlights lit the rear of the factory in stark, shadow-filled relief. Through the windshield, I saw a long, jagged stretch of concrete and rusted steel, piled waist-high like an industrial reef, encircling the rear of the building. Just beyond this formidable obstacle and set within the building's back wall, a thick concrete shelf jutted out from under a closed, garage-style door. Slashes of orange spray paint streaked across the door told me to "Keep out! Private Property!"
I turned off the headlights. Darkness settled over the alleyway.
"What are you doing?" Ryan asked, his voice rising an octave.
I snickered at his unease. "I'm getting out. Don't worry. . . you can stay here."
His response was to slam down the door lock. He twisted in his seat, snapped home the lock in the side cargo door. "How about the back?" he asked.
"It's locked," I told him (although I wasn't sure). I made to pull the keys from the ignition, but Ryan grasped my wrist and shook his head.
"Leave them," he said. "I'll be damned if I'm going to spend a night trapped in this steel coffin while zombies scratch at the windows."
I laughed again, but it was forced—Ryan's discomfort and the almost total blackness of the alleyway had set me on edge. I grabbed my iPhone to use as a flashlight, opened the door and stepped from the vehicle.
Ryan pulled my door closed and locked it. His wan face hung behind the window like a gibbous moon, eyes, nostrils, and mouth dark mare on its pimple-cratered surface. I grinned at him, then switched on the flashlight app. The beam held bright and steady as I picked a path between clumps of shriveled weeds woven through with garbage. A dry, musty smell, as of decay gone to dust, rose into the air, kicked up by my uncertain footfalls.
The barrier reef of twisted pipe and rubble had to be surmounted if I was to approach the loading dock. I worked my way over it, choosing each stepping-place with care. The light from my phone suddenly dimmed; I stumbled and scraped my shin on a branch of angle iron. I gave my phone a vigorous shake. It flared to life for a moment, then dimmed again. I was about to yell out to Ryan to turn on the van's headlights when I became aware of a yellowish glow flickering in the darkness beneath the loading dock shelf. Not without some hesitation, I turned off my phone. In contrast to a thick blackness that crowded upon me, the shimmering light beneath the loading dock shone like a beacon. I stepped toward it.
"Stay where you are!"
The light under the loading dock had spoken. And now it growled at me. "I have a gun, and I will not hesitate to use it. Now turn around and leave. . . ." This statement trailed off into a series of hoarse, wracking coughs.
I called out, "Professor Maxwell? Professor Ian Maxwell?"
My eyes had been adjusting to the darkness, and now I could see movement under the loading dock. A sheet of plywood was pulled aside, and the orange glow beneath the loading dock spilled toward me. Again, the voice, grating: "Who are you?"
I introduced myself, stuttering into a choppy account of the events that had brought me to this place, ending with, "And so here I am."
The pale glow regarded me. A man's shadow suddenly stretched to life, rolling along the ground, head and shoulders silhouetted against an orange-yellow glow that seemed to pulsate beneath the concrete shelf. The silhouette coughed, cleared its throat. "So you claim to be a student—a filmmaker."
I nodded, wondering which element of Maxwell's silhouette was the darkness residing within a gun barrel.
"So what grand truths are you hoping to capture on film?"
"I. . . I was hoping you could help me with that."
Silence, then a sharp laugh that degenerated into a long string of wet coughing. Finally, "Life is loss and suffering. There's a truth for you to paste on celluloid. Are you a student of philosophy?"
"I have a masters degree from—"
"Then you are wasting my time." Sarcasm liquefied into venom; and now a cobra nested in the concrete. "The only truth you need to know is that life is an illusion. The fabric of this world is patched together with smoke and dust. Everything you see and touch and smell and taste lacks substance. It is a lie. It is deception. You seek to capture truth, and you are stalking something that does not exist. . . at least not in any form that would make sense to you."
"I have another truth you should readily accept. The pistol I hold in my hand is pointed at the space just between your thighs and below your groin. The muscles of my forearm suffer from spasms occasionally. When I shoot to miss, I may still emasculate you."
I made to utter another protest, but a gun-metal snickety-click set me wheeling about, scrambling up and over the harsh cement and steel angles of the barrier reef. I gouged another leg wound but didn't notice the pain until I had reached my van and dove headlong through a driver's door Ryan had pushed open. With quaking limbs I stomped the clutch pedal, twisted life from the engine, then sped down the alley with a roar and a grind of flung gravel.
"So," Ryan deadpanned as we squealed into a dimly lighted street, "is he going to help us out?"
I slept little that night. My encounter with the professor ran over and over through my head, a loop of poorly produced video where the central subject never steps into the light. I hadn't seen Professor Maxwell, I'd only heard his voice, and I couldn't mold a face out of the shadows with which I'd communicated. Here was an enigma that lived and breathed. Surely it had secrets to tell, knowledge to divest, perceptions of life that strayed from the norm and perhaps closer to some universal truth.
I had to find out more.
Ryan had classes that morning, so my van held only me as it eased into the now day-lit warehouse district. Under the light of a morning sun, the alleyway appeared more accepting than it had when darkness held sway. The rear of the mattress factory was bright under a southeastern exposure. The red-brown bricks were absorbing an autumn sun's precious heat when I brought my van to a halt next to the concrete and metal barrier. After a moment spent battling indecision, I stepped from the sanctuary of my van. I held in my hand two mugs and a thermos of coffee: an offering of peace to Professor Ian Maxwell.
I called over the mound: "Professor Maxwell? Professor Maxwell, it's me. . . from last night. The student. I'd really like to talk to you."
Over top the crushed cement and twisted steel barrier, nothing but silence and shadows. After several more fruitless attempts to rouse Maxwell with my voice, I inched away from my vehicle and began a nervous ascent of the rubble barricade. A squeaky metallic ringing echoed off the factory wall. Then I heard a thick, liquid cough and turned to see a hunched form pushing a shopping cart down the alley toward me.
It was a man, the top of his head bald and shining with his exertions. He raised a hand to me and waved. I figured him for one of the rude vagrants who had crowded around the smoky barrel last night, so I gave him a curt salute, both of greeting and dismissal. I had turned back to the business of climbing the barrier when the man behind the shopping cart called to me. His smoky voice was familiar—Professor Maxwell. He called again, and again waved. I stood poised halfway up the rubble embankment and returned the salutation.
The professor drew close, the shopping cart rattling and crunching through gravel. He smiled at me, his physiognomy appearing unlike any I had imagined last night. He was dirty and his clothes unkempt, much like his counterparts behind the bottle depot, but the similarities ended there. Many deep, thoughtful lines creased the professor's spacious forehead. The eyebrows set in that forehead were bushy and almost entirely white, growing thick above eyes not exactly shining with life but glazed with living. His nose was large and bulbous, but not shot with veins as would be expected from a man defeated by liquor. A gray beard—the same tone as the too-long and scanty growth behind his ears—straggled onto the collar of a long, black overcoat.
Given a haircut, a shave, and some new clothes, Professor Ian Maxwell would have looked like any other university professor I had ever met, except for one element of his appearance that struck me as bizarre: around his neck hung a yellow nylon mesh bag, the kind that should hold apples or oranges. But within the bag lay a small black box, just about large enough to rest in the palm of a man's hand. I gazed at it, wondering if this strange accessory was meant to be decorative, or maybe some sort of personal totem.
With that tired smile somewhat sheepish on his face, the professor said, "So you're the student from last night. . . the filmmaker." He pushed the shopping cart into a rubble nook at one end of the barricade. A plastic shopping bag and a sealed water jug lay in the cart's basket. He reached into the basket, extracted the shopping bag, and turned to face me. "I apologize for my conduct at our first meeting. The night brings out the worst in me."
I hesitated a moment before assuring him it was quite all right. He eyed my thermos and the two mugs and, after jerking an elbow in the direction of the shopping cart, motioned to me. "Bring my water, please. Then come this way."
He began climbing the rubble barricade, making use of steps that were familiar to him. With two quick hops, I was back in the alley and hurrying to follow. He was over the barricade and disappearing under the shelf when I crested the heap, the water heavy in one hand, the thermos and coffee mugs balancing it out in the other. The professor paused to wait for me, that half-smile still resting beneath his over-large nose and weary eyes. When he saw I was safely across, he ducked under the shelf and descended into shadow.
I was reluctant to follow, but then he began adjusting sheets of plywood and the recess beneath the shelf opened up to the day. Direct sunlight flooded an unlikely home that my first impressions told me was little better than a prison cell. The space beneath the loading dock was composed of concrete walls that dug about five or six feet into the earth. Maxwell had shuffled down a cement incline of maybe ten or twelve degrees that gave way to a concrete floor. At some point during the productive life of the factory, this cubbyhole must have been the storage space for some type of large machinery, perhaps a forklift. The plywood sheets Maxwell was sliding to the side served to extend the cement walls upward until they met the concrete shelf—a solid roof and ceiling.
A glance over my shoulder showed the barrier reef and its shards of metal and cement effectively sealing out the world. And now the professor's home struck me as being something other than a prison. No, not a prison—a fortress.
I peered downward once again into what was now a well-lit concrete burrow. A worn couch laid out with a sleeping bag sat against the factory wall. Directly in front of the couch, a wooden crate served as a table. Along what I will call the back wall, two wooden pallets had been propped on their edges; boards wedged between their slats served as shelves neatly arrayed with cooking utensils and plates and books and all things else common in a regular household.
I made my way down the cement incline to stand beneath the hard ceiling. I expected to smell the stench of rude living, but there was none, only the exhaust-dusty odor of the city.
I must also make note of the candles (although their significance would not be apparent to me until later). Everywhere I looked within the professor's cement cave, candles extended upward like stalagmites. They were growing from the shelves, the crate table. They stood in waxy pools all around the edges of the concrete floor. And several boxes of new candles were stored under the pallet shelves.
The professor crossed to the primitive shelving unit while waving one hand toward the couch, inviting me to sit down. I sat while he emptied the contents of his plastic grocery bag onto a board. I don't know what I expected to see pulled from that bag, but when a Styrofoam container of six eggs, a small carton of milk, two apples, and a bag of potato chips appeared, I shook my head in wonder.
The perverse normalcy of this situation had my mind spinning; had it not been such a strange setting, I could imagine myself sitting down to a comfortable visit with a friend or colleague. I regarded the wooden crate that served as coffee table. On top of this crate, the professor had placed on a sort of a pedestal the mesh bag that had been hanging around his neck. The black box within sat bathing in the sun's rays. Colorful flashes sparked off the sides, making me think it was inlaid with jewels. I peered closer while the professor went about cutting apples into slices.
"I presume that is coffee you have brought with you," he was saying.
Without taking my eyes from the box, I replied, "Yes."
"I don't usually take coffee in the morning, but I suppose I owe you the courtesy of at least half a cup. Would you like some apple?"
I was only dimly aware of the question being asked of me. My senses were focused on the box. Upon closer inspection, I realized my initial impression of it having jewel inlay was wrong. The box's surface appeared to be mother-of-pearl, but glimmering only with the colors at the darker edge of the spectrum, blending into blackness. There were midnight shades of darkest green, and shadows of indigo and magenta that pulsed and writhed as I moved my head and the sun flashed strange reflections. Except sunlight didn't appear to actually bounce off the box's sides—it seemed as if the sun's rays had encased it in an undulating rainbow veil of darkened color.
And the angles of the box were not square: its edges and corners were imprecise, rounded, suggesting great age and wear; however, it seemed to me this was not true. The condition of the box was too pristine. And now I tried to determine if the box was man-made or of natural origin. I searched for a seam or hinge that would give evidence of its use, but there were none. Again, I was struck by its indifferent adherence to the rules of geometry. I had the distinct impression that, depending on how I looked at it, the edges and corners of this box did not quite add up to the sum mathematics should dictate. This was a box—a cube—created by M.C. Escher; except Escher's illusions hold truth only when perceived in two dimensions.
Just as I had reached out to touch the box, the professor stepped in beside me, a chipped saucer filled with apple slices in his hand. He held them out to me. I took them with my already upraised hand. Without a word, he scooped the strange box off the pedestal and took it with him when he returned to preparation of his morning meal.
I asked, "What is it?"
A momentary hesitation, then the professor mumbled, "Nothing that should interest you."
I munched on apple, watched as the professor placed the box on the topmost board of his splintery shelving unit. Sunbeams gleamed and danced with the colors of twilight.
The professor had taken a match to the burner of a Coleman stove; he began heating a frying pan. Without any prompting, he said, "I get my water from the Husky station three blocks north. They don't like me coming around, but I'm usually ignored. When someone does confront me, I pretend I'm deaf and mute. Silence can be most eloquent."
After greasing the frying pan with margarine, he cracked an egg into it; then five more. "My appetite is best in the morning."
I opened the thermos and poured out two mugs of coffee. He accepted one from me with a nod of his head. He sipped, then settled onto the opposite end of the couch while the eggs fried.
He said, "Living here is not so bad as it might seem. No one bothers me, really. When they do, I have my pistol." He patted a pocket of his long coat. "Oh, yes, I do have one. And, yes, I would have shot at you last night if you hadn't left when you did." He frowned. "Nights aren't the time to come prowling around here. Mornings are better, much better." He closed his eyes and gazed through veiny eyelids into the sun. I examined the tired lines of his face, the pulse throbbing behind the almost-transparent skin of his temple.
His eyes blinked open. He stood to turn the eggs. After a moment's frying, he scraped them from the pan and laid them on a plate. He salted them, pinched pepper over top, then sat again on the couch with his breakfast propped in his lap. He had a fork in one hand and dug with gusto into his meal.
I crunched on apple slices and watched him eat. He fairly wolfed the eggs down. Rubbery white bits fell from his lips to bounce down his beard and the front of his coat. He lifted a dirty handkerchief with one hand and wiped at the corners of his mouth. When all of the eggs had been eaten (it took only a minute or two), he belched loudly and, after a moment, excused himself for it. He slurped coffee, swirled the fluid around his mouth, then swallowed and turned to me: "A man in search of truth." He spoke the words as sarcasm, then turned his head, closed his eyes, and again gazed sightlessly into the sun. "You want me to share my wisdom with you, to tell you my story of degradation and corruption. You want to understand how a man of my former standing could be reduced to this seemingly meaningless existence. You want to capture my confession on film so that you can show it to others." Again, he turned to scrutinize me, his eyes burning. "I can tell you now that you won't like my understanding of truth, that you won't accept it. And neither will those people who view your film. They'll think that I'm just another crazy old street bum, someone who couldn't face the challenges of life. And, to a certain extent, their opinions will be accurate. However. . . ."
Again, he turned closed eyes to the sun. "However, my truth need not impress all who hear it. No, that isn't important. The masses will not accept what I have to say—I know that. I've known it for years. But an individual. . . ." He turned to again regard me, jabbed a finger at me. "An individual with an open mind might understand, and in that understanding gain acceptance. Well now, having heard all that, do you still wish to become privy to my truth?"
I responded with no hesitation: "Yes."
He continued to gaze at me; then he nodded. "It is time I told someone. Without your persistence, I might well have put it off until it was too late. Then there would have been hell to pay." He yawned suddenly and stretched. "Leave me now. Come back tomorrow and bring your camera. I will tell you my story then. Now I must rest. The night holds much rigor for me."
He slumped into the couch, pulled his legs up, and almost immediately began to snore. One hand had reached into the pocket housing the pistol, no doubt gripping the weapon—a sentinel against whatever fears, real or imagined, that plagued the old man. And I was only just beginning to understand the terrors Professor Maxwell knew.
I left the professor to his rest. After capping my thermos and collecting up my mugs, I walked up the incline and into full daylight. I stood between the barrier and the factory, planning the shots I'd ask Ryan to take when I returned with him tomorrow. Then I wandered about, exploring around the professor's home, and found evidence of his everyday life. Around the corner of the factory, a narrow walkway led between mounds of rubble to a ripe-smelling place that served as urinal. But there was no excrement; I imagined the Husky station served Maxwell in that regard. Very little garbage littered the area; the professor kept his living space neat. I was wondering how I could work this fact into my movie, when I made the discovery.
Hidden behind the crumbled remains of what had once been a stairwell leading up to a factory doorway, a heap of bones, the remains of rodents—probably rats. And the topmost of them had not yet been reduced to bare skeleton. Dry corpses wrapped in filthy swatches of dark fur lay atop the bone heap.
Here was the sunless side of the professor's enigmatic lifestyle. His diet—or so it appeared to me at the time—did not consist only of eggs and apples. The sour taste of disgust bit at the back of my tongue. Upon returning to the rear of the factory, I peeked in at the professor as he slept. He lay moaning and twitching. Consumption of rat meat, it seemed, could give you nightmares.
I made my way over the barrier stepping stones the professor had shown me, entered my van, started it, and drove to the college. I attended an afternoon class, but my mind was elsewhere. That night, once again, I slept little, which, I was to find out later, was more than the professor.
The next day I met with Ryan Oswald, told him of my meeting with the professor, signed out the necessary equipment from Comm-Media, then drove with Ryan toward the downtown core. But we didn't take the direct route. Ryan liked some of the ideas for opening shots I outlined and wanted to take them to extremes.
He said the film's introduction might have greater impact if we established a few distant shots of the city, then zoomed in toward its core, arriving, ultimately, at Professor Maxwell's home beneath the factory loading dock. He suggested the film's opening credits could be superimposed over top of this, along with some appropriate music to set the mood. He wondered further (and out loud) what lenses and filters would best satisfy his vision.
As I listened to Ryan's mounting enthusiasm, I felt stirring within me a strange, patient anxiety. This film had to be made; I knew that with the nebulous certainty born of a night of too much thought and too little sleep. But what kind of film would it be? I was beginning to sense that the truth ultimately conveyed might transcend any truth I could anticipate or Ryan's visual effects could complement. I needed time to think some reason into my feelings, so I let Ryan take full control of our co-production today.
Wrapped up in suddenly grandiose plans, Ryan went to pains to find locations for opening shots that would best serve his needs. Our first stop took us to the summit of the highest hill in Surcey Park. The mid-morning sun shining through a canopy of low-lying smog had Ryan congratulating himself for making such a fine choice. The next shot he took from just north of the river, panning a highrise-sculpted downtown. Then he decided the next images would be best captured from inside the van as we crossed the Grammond Bridge and merged with traffic into the city's core. Ryan ran the camera while I drove. After shooting several minutes worth of crowded streets and sidewalks full of people, we left the city's business center and headed toward the warehouse district.
The sun was full and high in the sky, and Ryan complained that this apparent rapid movement of the sun would be obvious to viewers unless we filmed from the south. Our destination then would not be the warehouse district, but the residential neighborhood just beyond the railroad tracks. After a half hour spent exploring streets packed with older-style houses, Ryan picked an unlikely location atop a set of monkey bars in the playground of an elementary school. We had only just managed to shoot for a few minutes when the school's principal appeared and asked us to kindly leave the property, which we did.
By now, we were both hungry. Big Macs at McDonald's fueled us up for an encounter with the professor. Ryan and I were both amazed to discover that most of the day had fled by. It was half past three when we finally wheeled into the professor's alleyway. Ryan said that we should reshoot—either very late in the day or very early—the warehouse district. What was most compelling about this place, he said (and I agreed), was the sense of isolation that pervaded the abandoned buildings and silent streets. It was a place of long shadow and empty solitude, gray and weary, as much to the eye as to the spirit.
And so it was that we approached Professor Ian Maxwell's cement nest. He was there and waiting for us, but, unfortunately, his disposition was a tenfold-magnified reflection of his dismal neighborhood. I was greeted by curses when I climbed over the barrier and called out to him.
"It is late!" Maxwell bellowed from his burrow. "I wanted you here this morning! We will talk only in the morning! Now go away! Get away from here!" He choked off into phlegmy coughing and retching.
"But, professor. . . ."
He appeared suddenly, stumbling up the incline, snarling and waving his gun at me.
I hurried back over the mound, returned to the van where Ryan was frozen in the act of attaching a lens to the camera. I shook my head as I entered the van. "Tomorrow," I said with a nod and wink. "We'll come back tomorrow."
Ryan raised an eyebrow at me, then whispered, "He's nuts, you know. Bat-shit crazy."
I glanced over at him, but said nothing. We drove away.
Another sleepless night left me with flutterings in my stomach when Ryan and I returned to the alley early the next morning. The weather still held fair, although cold breezes whispered of impending winter. Candy wrappers and scraps of newspaper rolled along, keeping pace with my van, then sped away down the alley when I braked behind the mattress factory. Ryan levelled an expectant gaze at me when the professor himself suddenly appeared over top the rubble rampart, his face haggard and pale, his eye sockets round shadows under the rays of the morning sun.
I stepped out of the van and waved a tentative good morning to him. He made no apologies for his rudeness of the previous day, but, through an indifferent gesture, indicated that we should follow him. I helped Ryan cart the camera gear up and over the barricade, then made my way to sit on the professor's dirty sofa and pour from my thermos two mugs of coffee. The plywood sheets had been pulled to the side, and a listless fall sunlight held sway. Maxwell slumped into the couch next to me, while Ryan leveled the camera's tripod on the grade leading down into the professor's home.
Maxwell again allowed himself only a half-cup of coffee. His lips trembled and his hands shook as he sipped at the steaming brew. The professor had said nothing to us. The silence stabbed pinpricks in my stomach, but I did not feel compelled to stimulate conversation until Ryan had the camera up and running.
My eyes subconsciously sought out the black box. It sat on the topmost pallet shelf among the domestic supplies, surrounded by a Stonehenge of half-melted candles. Again, I made note of candle proliferation—candles everywhere: melting into formless white blobs on each of the shelves, coated with dust on the concrete floor, wedged into cracks and staining lines of soot up cement walls, and taking up much of the space on the crate coffee table.
Ryan had almost completed his preparations. He went about his work with an abundance of nervous energy, focused and concentrating on each facet of the operation. He was trying as much as possible to distract himself from his strange environs. When he was ready to begin filming, he nodded and grinned at me with his mouth, but not his eyes.
When I later went about patching together the finished movie, I was struck by the simple profundity of that morning's footage; somehow, the interior of the professor's cement hovel appears elegant, almost palatial, when filmed by Ryan. Anyone who watches the film will note the contrast between Ryan's footage and the footage I would later shoot on my own. My efforts show Maxwell's den to be not a palace, but a dark chamber of horrors.
So I sat under scrutiny of Ryan and his camera and began my interview, although "interview" is hardly what it turned out to be. I needed only to prime the pump of Maxwell's monologue, and a wellspring of words gushed.
Here is a verbatim transcript of the professor's story:
"I was, at one time, a man of some academic repute, although modesty precludes my giving you a full account of it. I will, however, tell you that, at the time of my downfall, I had attained what I considered to be the pinnacle of my career. I sat for a number of years on that comfortable roost, secure in the knowledge that I could never be deposed from my position as director of one of this nation's most reputable university's library. I will not sully the name of that fine institution by citing it here, but I will tell you that throughout its centuries-long history it has produced no fewer than seventy statesman, and four presidents.
"It was the policy of that institution to set aside some funds for procurement of antiquities of scholarly value. This fund was overseen by a committee of which I was the head. I made sure that a portion of those monies went toward the purchase of rare books. It became known to me that a certain obscure institution named as the Miskatonic University had succumbed terminally to state funding restrictions, and, as a result, sought to liquidate all of its assets and holdings. There appeared to be a desperate need to expedite this as quickly as possible, so when I discovered the entire contents of that university's library could be purchased for a lump sum that was well below my acquisitions budget for the year, I arranged to buy those books sight unseen. They arrived shortly thereafter in several weighty shipments.
"I spent many rapturous weeks in the unventilated and musty atmosphere of my library's basement breaking open wooden crates and documenting titles and publication dates of books I decided would be relegated to a special room I'd call 'The Miskatonic'. Access to that room would be given to only a select few, so extraordinary were the books that would fill it. Much to my delight (and increasing discomfiture), I had discovered many rare and fascinating volumes packed within those wooden crates.
"In fact, I became exceedingly disconcerted to discover that several of the dusty volumes that passed through my hands were valued at more than I had paid for the entire collection! I am an honest man, so I made queries in an effort to ascertain how I could have chanced upon such serendipity. The cheque drawn against the antiquity committee's account had been made out to a wholesale company operating on the east coast, but that was all I could determine. Subsequent enquiry revealed the wholesaler had existed only long enough to sell off the property of Miskatonic University.
"It was then I made another unsettling discovery. Upon examining several years' worth of lists of all the post-secondary institutions in the nation, I could find no mention of the Miskatonic. I extended my search to the U.K., then to the entire globe. Again, the university did not exist. You could well imagine my perplexity. I had in my possession what I was beginning to think was one of the most extensive collections of rare books in the country, and I had no idea from whence it came. I made further queries through legal channels. Even the F.B.I. knew nothing of the books nor of the Miskatonic.
"It was Professor Nickleby of the English Department who fed me a morsel of information that, at first light, seemed of little worth. He shared with me from his personal collection a number of pulp magazines that had been published during the thirties and forties. A writer by the name of Lovecraft, who had written extensively for magazines with titles such as Weird Tales and Amazing Stories, occasionally made mention of a Miskatonic University in his fiction.
"Aha! I thought. Someone has been playing a grandiose practical joke. But to what end? The fact remained that I had over a thousand books in the basement of the university, and among that number at least two score were of extraordinary value!
"I thought no more of Professor Nickleby's pulp writer until I had set crowbar to one of the last crates residing in shadow behind the many stacks of books I had already catalogued. This crate proved particularly resistant to my efforts at gaining entry. It was only after much straining that I managed to pry off boards that infected my hands with splinters. At first, as I peered into the crate darkness, I could discern only that the contents had been packed in sawdust. Then a sudden sour, cedar and earth-musk stench set me to sneezing until my nose ran red. After I had control of my sinuses, I tied my bloodstained handkerchief about my face and began digging in the crate. Questing fingers wormed their way through sawdust until fingertips found the cover of what had to be a large book. I scooped sawdust out and onto the floor until I could grasp the edges of the thing. It was heavy, and, after I had pulled it out of its dusty nest and wiped it free of wood bits, I noted that it appeared to be exceedingly ancient. I cursed the fool who had packed it so thoughtlessly, then took it from that dark recess and out under the glare of a bare light bulb hanging from the ceiling.
"I was struck by the singular qualities of the book's binding. The cover appeared to be of some sort of leather, but I could not determine from what animal it had been derived. It was smooth, almost silky in texture, and sewn through with intricate stitching at its many seams, as if it were a patchwork. A title was embossed on the cover but was so worn as to be indecipherable. There was no mention of the author's name. I gingerly eased open the cover to discover that the first few pages had been removed or had fallen out, so there was no way of determining the publisher. It occurred to me that while the cover of the book was very old, the pages it bound were older still. Close inspection of a spidery script showed the book had been handwritten in a foreign language I figured to be Arabic. The ink used was smudged in many places, and the shaky letters appeared more brown than black, and had faded with age. There were also many esoteric drawings to accompany the script. Drawings, and what only could have been mathematical equations of a type I am not familiar with.
"As I leafed through brittle pages, I became increasingly unnerved for it became clear to me that this book dealt with occult matters. Many symbols associated with devil worship and cult experiences were apparent, mixed in with other renderings that I could not identify but which set my blood to cooling in my veins. I closed the book, placed it on a stack of previously catalogued volumes, and then stood back to see that the light shining at an angle on the raised title lent definition to those time-worn lines. Again, I was impressed that the book's cover had to be of more recent origin than the manuscript, for the title was written in letters I could read: Necronomicon.
"I mused upon this. The bound text was written in Arabic, the title on the cover in Latin. Necronomicon—the book of dead names. And now that strange title sent reverberations echoing among my recent memories, and suddenly the pulp magazines given to me by Professor Nickleby gained further relevance. I had flipped through some of the stories that mentioned the Miskatonic University, and, more than once, the author of those stories had made reference to a book entitled The Necronomicon.
"I was bewildered and wasted no time in removing the other books from that sawdust-filled crate. There were three others. One was written in archaic German—again, hand-written, with dates topping the pages, leading me to believe that it was a journal of sorts. Another appeared to be written in Greek, while yet another was entirely in Latin. All of them were in varying states of decay, and each book was filled with diagrams and equations similar to those in The Necronomicon. Indeed, many of the disturbing illustrations were repeated in each of the books as, no doubt, was the text; and subsequent translation would confirm that.
"I expedited the filing—although it was actually an attempt at incarceration—of those books by placing them back in their crate. I even pounded home the nails still present in the lid, as if I knew, instinctively, that those books must be shunned. When (after some days where my troubled thoughts seemed trapped within that sealed box) I had again liberated those abhorrent writings and a colleague had taken the time to translate one of them, my feelings of revulsion could only gain credibility. And, as time went on and my knowledge of what was written in those books grew, revulsion could only give way to blackest horror.
"I would find out that The Necronomicon was bound in a leather made of human skin. Tests carried out by Professor James Patterson confirmed this. And the ink used to immortalize the awful ideas found in that book was, as I had already guessed, derived from human blood. I will speak more of blood later; that precious liquid figures prominently in my tale.
"It was while those repellent books were on loan to some of my colleagues in the archaeology department that I was approached by Professor James Patterson. He was, at the time, serving on the same antiquities acquisition committee as I. Patterson represented the interests of the sciences faculty, and he, too, assumed that fate had been providential when a truckload of artifacts from that selfsame and hitherto mythical Miskatonic University came under his care. Upon hearing about my shipment of books, he approached me with a zealot's gleam in his eye.
"I invited him into my office and offered a chair, which he accepted. Long and lanky, he folded himself into it. However, he could not sit still; his fingers picked at trouser seams while one leg, cocked at a ninety-degree angle from chair to floor, bounced up and down. His eyes darted about, and he kept glancing out the window, the position of the sun seeming to be of particular interest to him. He enquired about my shipment from Miskatonic, and asked pointedly if there was anything unusual about the items received. Of course, there was much to arouse a man's interest, and, seeing no need to be secretive, I told him everything. He held on to my every word, his face brightening visibly when I mentioned The Necronomicon and the other ancient manuscripts.
" 'Are there illustrations in these books, diagrams?' he asked, leaning forward in his chair.
"I told him there were many.
"He gnawed at a fingernail. 'Any pictures of small boxes? Or any reference in the text to such a thing?'
"I admitted that my knowledge of the books was limited and explained that they were out on loan at that very moment, their contents being sifted through by experts in ancient languages, mutual colleagues of ours.
"He admonished me to repeat his query to the men to whom I had entrusted the books, and then, gazing out the window and noting that thick clouds had begun to roll in, stood quickly, took my hand and shook it with a palm that was dry and cool. Before parting, he asked me to get back to him about the books as soon as possible. He stressed that it was of the utmost importance; then he turned from me and hastened from my office.
"I sat for some moments in contemplation of this strange colloquy, then bent to my telephone and began dialling. I relayed Patterson's question to Professor Cornwall, head of archaeology (to him I had entrusted the manuscripts), who admitted he hadn't yet had time to peruse any of the texts, although he said he was keen to begin as soon as he had finished off some pressing administrative chores.
"Professor Mohammed Aziz, who was an underling in the faculty, was not so encumbered, and, when I dialled his office, he responded to me with much excitation in his voice. Given his background in middle-eastern culture and civilization, he had taken hold of The Necronomicon with its ancient Arabic text and told me that he was more than halfway through the book. This book, he stated, had been known to him; he had read about it in works of myth and folklore that were native to his homeland, which was Iraq. However, he had never before considered that the book was anything more than fiction. With a quavering voice, he informed me that what he had read thus far in The Necronomicon had him doubting his preconceived notions of myth. He said the book could be read as pure fantasy, and, indeed, that is how he had approached it for the first few pages. Then he told me that a strange feeling came upon him as he became more intimate with the black secrets recorded on those strange pages.
" 'It seemed to me,' he said with his Arab accent clipping syllables short, 'that I was not reading words whose veracity was meant to be questioned. The tone of the book precludes skepticism. This is a book written with a powerful and terrible conviction. The ideas expressed—no matter how horrible and fantastic—I have no doubt were perceived as fact by the author. Indeed, the author believed that mankind came into existence due to the folly of beings who once existed on earth in an age so distant in the past as to be inconceivable to us.
" 'According to the writings in The Necronomicon, the Book of Genesis has nothing to do with the creation of man; the author believes that we are the mutated children of long extinct creatures who were given life by 'the Old Ones'—denizens from the farthest reaches of the universe, timeless entities who chose to dally in the primordial stew of our burgeoning planet! Our forefathers were slaves to the slaves of these eldritch beings! For eons they served and their progeny flourished on this planet, unnoticed by the Old Ones, much as ants go unnoticed by us. Somehow, through manipulation and trickery, ancient human mystics were able to 'trap' those supposedly supreme entities within the fabric of time and space. According to the author, the Old Ones still exist—are imprisoned between dimensions, lost to a 'timeless sleep'—and, so claims this book, those eldritch shades are destined to become manifest again!'
"Professor Aziz paused to draw breath. I held the phone in my hand and tried to allow objectivity to override incredulity. Many fantastic notions have been accepted as fact by mankind; the proliferation of so many religions with their ripe abundance of conflicting cosmologies attests to this fact.
"Aziz continued: 'Apparently, by studying ancient parchments, the author of The Necronomicon had discovered ways to draw upon the power of those bygone beings, and had been experimenting to that end. There are many chants accompanied by diagrams and charts—recipes of diabolism—that fill the pages of the book. There is frequent mention of human sacrifice and torture. And the spilling of blood has a place in all of the rituals described. This book is the author's record of those inhuman experiments, which he conducted himself. He believed he could release the energy of the Old Ones—the power of the universe—and, if what I have read is fact, he achieved some measure of success. The author makes reference to the sudden acquisition of wealth. And then of women. And then of influence over men of high station.'
" 'That is where I am now at in the manuscript. I will tell you in all honesty, the writings in this manuscript sicken me. However, my interest in this book, no matter how repugnant I find it, is sharp. I should be finished reading the abominable thing by the end of this week. I will call you then.'
"We exchanged good-byes, and I was left to ponder all I had heard.
"I had that first conversation concerning The Necronomicon with Professor Aziz on a Tuesday afternoon. The next day—early Wednesday morning—he suddenly appeared in my office with a cardboard file box in hand. He placed the box on my desk, told me that all four of my books were contained therein, and then turned from me without another word and strode out my office door. I sat stunned for a moment, then sprang from my chair to pursue him down the hall. After some impeachment under the wary stares of a few undergraduate students loitering next to the elevator, I managed to coax him back to my office. He entered reluctantly and, pulling a chair as far away as possible from the file box he had deposited on my desk, sat down with a deep, defeated sigh.
"I sat in the chair behind my desk and regarded him. I was put off with what I at first considered a breach of professional conduct, but I could see that Aziz was deeply troubled. The swarthy tones of his skin had flushed to an almost purplish hue that faded to a sickly gray around the eyes. He stared fixedly at the floor, his lips pursed while jumping fingers drummed on the arm of the chair he was sitting in. I had known Professor Aziz to be a man of impeccable appearance at all times, but now he appeared dishevelled, as if he had not changed his clothes in some days. A darkish haze that was several days' growth of beard stubble accented the gray shadows stretching down from his tired brown eyes. And his cheeks, usually full and round, were gaunt.
" 'You need sleep,' I told him.
"He glanced up at me, then continued to gaze at the floor. He said, 'And I shall sleep, once I have distanced myself from your vile books.'
"I said nothing in response. I could see that Aziz was working himself up to an explanation as he began to twist and squirm in his chair.
"And then it came.
" 'It is an evil thing!' he proclaimed, pointing a quaking finger at the file box. 'The Necronomicon is unadulterated evil! When last we talked, I told you that the book interested me. It would have been more accurate to say that the book had seized hold of me with eagle's talons. At the end of our telephone conversation, I went back to perusal of the foul thing, as I had been doing non-stop upon first opening its accursed cover the previous night. I could not put it down. I have not bathed, eaten, or rested for over thirty hours!
" 'The book. . . consumes. I felt it taking control of me. So vividly could I picture the author's world; the effect was uncanny. I could feel his lust for perditious knowledge, his despair, his triumph. And then, about three quarters of the way through the book, I sensed something else. Another presence in the text. At first I thought some other author had taken over the task of writing, but then I understood that was not true. Only one man inscribed the words in that foul manuscript. However, I believe that some other intelligence took hold of that poor lost soul and began directing his efforts. At some point, the writer ceased to have control over the words. Conversely, it seems to me that the words held sway over the writer. And it became increasingly evident that this was so as I read the last chapters of the book.
" 'I will not describe the horrific rites mentioned in the waning pages of that transcript, except to say that no man, unless influenced by the darkest demons, could engage in such foul practices. To read of those last few experiments was to take years off my life—of that I am sure. I can only hope the putrid residue of that reading has not infected my brain in the way it seemed to have done the author's.
" 'And I did find out who the author is. He signed his name on the last page. I believe his signature is written in his own blood. His name is Abdul Alhazred. I had heard of this man before; he figures into several tumultuous decades of the early history of my country. You can think of him as a counterpart to Czarist Russia's Rasputin, although he predates Rasputin by more than three thousand years. Alhazred was a man of influence, a man of power. I know now where that power came from, and I know that it eventually drove him insane. He came to a bitter end, sealed alive within the ruins of a citadel he had supposedly erected to himself. The mad Arab was, in fact, attempting to build a temple to those ancient nether-beings I mentioned to you when last we spoke. He was building a gateway, a passage through dimensions. It was his intention to deliver earth to the denizens of the universe, those timeless entities to whom The Necronomicon is dedicated.
" 'Only at the very end was Alhazred prevented from opening up our world to those antediluvian beings he devoted his life and sanity to. Young Prince Hanif Melfazad—a man reputedly as virtuous as Alhazred was corrupt—solicited the aid of his father's personal army and over a hundred holy men to overthrow the mad Arab. The last few pages of The Necronomicon are an account of that battle.
" 'You mentioned a box, Professor Maxwell. I can tell you now that such a box is described in the last chapter of the manuscript. There is an accompanying picture, hastily scrawled in the same shameless fluid the man signed his name with. Alhazred was successful in much that he attempted to do; that box represents his ultimate achievement. He describes it as a gift presented to him by one of the Old Ones, an indescribable and iniquitous intelligence hailed as Yog-Sothoth. The temple, once completed, would have been of the same proportions as the box, but on a much grander scale. As it was, the model for Alhazred's damnable temple existed, and—if the insane ramblings of a doomed man are to be believed—functioned well.
" 'In the final pages of the manuscript, Alhazred claims to have breached the barrier between our world of day and night, and the nether-beings' prison of perpetual blackness. He had been given the plans to build a gate, a portal, and he had built a functional mock-up: Yog-Sothoth's Box.
" 'There is an appendix written in a hand other than the author's affixed to the back cover of The Necronomicon. Yog-Sothoth's Box was only a prototype for a structure more grandiose, and the box was not of sufficient capacity to liberate the entities of Alhazred's black worship. The temple was to do that; however, the Old Ones can apparently reach with their formless appendages through that small model gate to scratch wounds in the psyches of men who become too intimately acquainted with the box.
" 'I know nothing of the fate of Yog-Sothoth's Box. Very little of middle-eastern history is concerned with the life of Prince Hanif Melfazad, except to mention that he became a good and righteous Sultan, had many wives, and bore many fine sons. However, I believe there is a brief reference to certain acolytes of Alhazred in an obscure document relating to the theology of my country. During the time of Melfazad's reign, a cult known as 'The Sons of C'thulhu' practiced their bloody rites within the boundaries of my home country for some years before being driven out. Since their doctrine was Alhazred's, it is possible that the mad Arab's dimension-breaching box went with them, along with The Necronomicon. I can only assume they lacked the knowledge, or the spiritual fortitude, of Alhazred himself; otherwise, the soul-less beings they worshiped should have long ago laid claim to this planet of ours.'
"He paused at this point, slumping forward in his chair, his shoulders sagging in toward his chest. His wide brown eyes seemed empty of life when he looked up at me. A profound weariness had settled over his entire countenance, and gravity tugged at the slack lines of his face.
"He said, 'I will have nothing more to do with your books. I removed them from the faculty office without Professor Cornwall's knowledge or permission. I entreat you to make no more mention of them to him. If he should enquire, please tell him that you took them back of your own volition. Should you press the matter, I will deny having anything to do with them.'
"He stated this last bit in a flat monotone, and I was convinced of his earnestness. Being deeply disturbed by all that he had said, I could but nod a mute acceptance of his behest. He stood stiffly, like a man who has been pushed well beyond the limits of his endurance, and, casting one quick sidelong glance at the box containing The Necronomicon, lifted heavy footsteps toward my office door.
" 'Professor Aziz,' I called.
"He stopped and slightly turned his head, so I could see only a fraction of his now gray-white face over one drooping shoulder.
" 'Thank you,' I said.
"He forced a quick exhalation of breath that I took for an ironic chuckle, and then shuffled out the door.
"My actions after that incident were not premeditated. I took the only road that seemed open to me. Hefting the file box under one arm, I hastened across campus toward the sciences buildings, toward Professor James Patterson.
"My destination was some distance, and, as I walked, I had time to mull over the disquieting words Aziz had spoken to me. He had spoken of myth, and he had spoken of historical fact. Somehow, it seemed to me that my understanding of those terms had been compromised. Aziz had said that works of Arabian myth made mention of The Necronomicon, and that history spoke of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred. Alhazred himself had signed his name at the end of a book that had been mentioned only in fairy tales. How could this be?
''It occurred to me to broach this subject with Aziz, but I was sure he would be, at the least, reluctant to share his thoughts with me. And I had the impression that such a breach of logic would not strike him as strange, given the experience he'd had reading The Necronomicon.
''It was with a swelling sense of bewilderment that I entered the main office of the Sciences Faculty and asked after the whereabouts of James Patterson. The secretary I spoke to gave me the oddest look, then suggested I take the fire escape up to the roof of the biology building.
"I did so, and, on the rooftop, I found Patterson squatting within a small, simple structure he said had been constructed to house instruments that took atmospheric readings. The entire enclosure was mounted on a platform that could be rotated three hundred and sixty degrees to facilitate focusing instruments into the vagaries of air currents. It was now positioned so it opened into the sun. I placed the file box on the platform, and then settled onto a lawn chair there present, noticing, once again, the excitable state of Patterson's demeanor. Like Professor Aziz, Patterson looked to be a man who had not slept for days. An untrimmed and sporadic beard had taken over his face, darkening his pale skin, which stretched tight over sharp angles of cheek bone. Thinning locks of hair hung lank and greasy over his wide forehead and dangled in front of eyes that were fixed hungrily on the file box I had set before him.
"At confirmation of that box's contents, he gave a sharp exclamation and, like a child on Christmas morning, tore off the lid and dove in to extract the first book he laid hands upon. It was The Necronomicon. I told him to look in the last chapter. He flipped hurriedly through time-brittled pages, causing dust and fragments of dried parchment to fly about. Finally, he began to turn the pages with a measure of care. When he came to the illustration of Alhazred's box, Patterson's body gave such a vicious jerk that I thought he had suffered a fit. Then breath hissed slowly from between his rigid lips.
" 'What is it?' he demanded, his quivering finger stabbing at the page. 'What do you know of this thing in the picture?'
"I gave him an abbreviated account of all Aziz had told me. He listened intently, his eyes jumping from my face to the illustration and back again repeatedly. When I finished, his head was nodding up and down while a childish grin threatened to fracture the taut lines of his face. He laid The Necronomicon open on the platform, with the illustration of the box glaring up at us. Then he helped himself to another of the texts within the file box. He glanced momentarily at the cover, noted the name of its German author, and began to thumb through pages. With a sudden gasp that seemed to shout 'Eureka!', he lay it next to The Necronomicon. There was an illustration of the box again, almost identical to that in The Necronomicon, but drawn with care. He repeated this procedure with the remaining two books. Renderings of that box—some crude, as if scrawled hurriedly, and others detailed works of art—appeared in each of them.
"As a scientist, Patterson was versed in Latin. He picked up the manuscript written in that time-honored language and began to read aloud, his finger tracing the words as he spoke.
'Heed not the limits of time and space,
for the Ageless Ones know no such place.
And man, that slave to light and life,
should free himself with edge of knife.
'Dread C'thulhu longs to embrace,
those strong enough to face the face
and spill their blood, a fountain red,
to satiate the timeless dread.
'The darkness spreads in search of those
whose righteous meddlings did impose
upon the Masters a prison cell.
Hear these words and mark them well.
'Mankind's apparent supremacy
over all the creatures of land and sea,
is but a myth that stifles truth.
Yog-Sothoth's Box is all the proof
that fools need press to heart and vein
to understand this last refrain:
'Heed not the limits of time and space,
for the Ageless Ones know no such place.'
"Patterson skimmed over the next few lines, but finding nothing of immediate interest, laid the Latin manuscript next to the others. Shaking his head in wonder, he again examined each of the illustrations. It was with a violent start, as if he had forgotten my presence, that he turned to address the query I uttered: 'What does it mean?'
"He continued shaking his head, a negative affirmation of a mystery that he obviously found compelling, and responded, 'I have no idea, but I intend to find out!'
"He had been kneeling before the manuscripts, as if in supplication, and now he stood. 'I'll show you something,' he said, clawing a finger at me and retreating within the deeper confines of the atmosphere-testing shed. His back was to me as he reached to a shelf; then he turned and I gaped in malign wonder to see the object he held reverently on the dais of his upraised palms. 'It is the box described in those manuscripts,' he said. 'I am sure of it.'
"One glance at the thing had already confirmed that. It was much smaller than I had anticipated, but, undeniably, it bore the form and facade of Alhazred's supposed model gateway to another dimension. I stood hypnotized by the effect direct sunlight had upon its shimmering surface. A kaleidoscope of murky color undulated and writhed—like a wrap of living, darkly effulgent flesh—over its incongruous planes and angles.
"He explained to me that he had discovered it among the other artefacts that had come to him in the same way The Necronomicon had come to me. 'The shipment I received from the Miskatonic is priceless. But this. . .' He indicated the box with a nod of his head. '. . .this I suspect is worth ten thousand times more than the entire collection. It came wrapped in a multi-layered bag composed of clear vinyl and cloth. A mixture of chemicals was a gelatinous concoction between the layers of that bag. Each layer glowed with phosphorescence so that the box was draped in perpetual light when I unpacked it. That, itself, was enough to snare my interest. Subsequent experiences with the box have only heightened my curiosity.
" 'You must keep in my mind that I am a man of science,' he assured me. 'I am an advocate of empiricism. The box exhibits properties of which I am unfamiliar, but I am not some medieval alchemist toying with saltpeter and charcoal; I am careful.'
"Patterson went on to tell me of one of his first discoveries concerning the box, which came about—as often does in science—by accident. He had taken the box to one of the biology labs in order to determine if the darkly iridescent covering was some form of radiant mildew. He had noted the slimy texture of the thing when he first held it. It was his intention to procure a sample of the box's material and examine it under a microscope, a very simple experiment. However, it proved to be a test not so easily expedited.
"Patterson claimed that he could scrape nothing from the box. Not even the minutest sample to be studied under the university's electron microscope. Undaunted, he tried to stimulate some sort of reaction on the box's surface using acids and chemicals. Again, he found that the box was not to be touched or tampered with. It appeared impervious to everything. It remained, as he described it, 'An unsolvable Rubik's Cube of black light.'
"Intending to continue his experimentation first thing the next morning, he left the box in the radiology lab concealed from view behind several stacked cages of guinea pigs, test subjects for some project unrelated to Patterson's efforts. Upon leaving the lab for the night, he extinguished the overhead lights.
"Darkness filled the room behind him as he stepped into the hallway; almost immediately, the guinea pigs sent up a shrieking that demanded his inspection. He reached an arm into the room and switched on the lights. The whistling of the pigs diminished, but he could see them scurrying about their cages trying desperately to burrow under the meager cover of their wood shavings. Nothing else seemed to be amiss. Again, he switched off the light, and, again, the animals began to scream. The lights went on once more, and this time Patterson detected movement, like some amorphous shadow had retreated along the counter and behind the stacked rodent cages, there to seek the protective darkness of. . . the box! He could just see it through the bars of the bottom-most cage, winking with glittering blackness.
"Fixing his eyes upon what he could see of the box, he extinguished the light. The terrified rodents screamed, and continued screaming when the light came to life again. Patterson was horrified to see that wispy fingers, smoky and ill-defined, had stretched from the box and into the bottom cage wherein resided a now-frantic rodent, the others stacked above shrieking and racing about in terror. Under the fluorescents' glare, that amorphous absence of light was suddenly sucked into the box where it reposed shining its negative glow. Except this time the wispy darkness did not entirely disappear; some of it still held to the lighted world, defying illumination, squirming about the edges of the box like living whiskers of blackness. The matter of that smoky darkness had melded to solidify as dusky tendrils that waved and waggled about, some reaching between and winding around the bars of the counter-level rodent cage.
"Patterson seemed about to tell me further of this experience, but he became suddenly reticent. I think the expression on my face—which I'm sure was a mask of doubt and apprehension—prevented him from taking me into complete confidence.
" 'Leave the books with me,' he stated. 'I will conduct further tests on them. There is some chronology evident here. I believe The Necronomicon is the father to these other children. I will trace the lineage and get back to you.'
"So I left those bothersome volumes with Patterson. With consternation and doubt still foremost in my addled mind, I descended from the rooftop and retreated to the safe and familiar confines of my library.
"A number of relatively peaceful days passed where I was bound up with the goings-on of administrating the library. I would have to imagine that my unease concerning The Necronomicon and Professor Patterson's box was of profound dimensions, and, given no opportunity to come to the forefront of my mind, lay within my subconscious as a malignancy that became suddenly manifest in a physical illness that left me bedridden. I experienced flu-like symptoms for a week. I have no doubt the illness was psychosomatic. As I hunched over the toilet to endure my body's self-inflicted torture, I could picture with clarity the drab leather cover of The Necronomicon. Then I would see Patterson's blackly-glowing box.
"It was only when my conscious mind was clear of anything that had to do with Patterson that I could rest. He sent no word concerning his experiments to me during that week; it is doubtful that I would have ever regained my health had he done so. Upon recovering, I would find out that his preoccupation with the box had extended to the four manuscripts as well. I mentioned earlier that he had tested their physical properties. You know that blood and flesh constituted the ink and the covering of The Necronomicon. Further obscenities were revealed to Patterson when he examined the other manuscripts. Blood was also used to write those texts. And also urine and bile. It became apparent that all manner of bodily fluids were employed when writing about Yog-Sothoth's Box.
"I was finally strong enough to return to work. For most of that first day, I was able to focus on my routine chores, until late afternoon wore into evening. More and more I could think of only one thing: Patterson and his black box.
"When I was satisfied that I had seen to the demands of the library that my absence had ripened, I made my way across campus toward the sciences buildings, nausea twisting my guts. That section of the campus is physical statement to the antiquity of the university. Evening twilight shone red behind buildings constructed more than two hundred years earlier. Unnatural juttings of technology—antennae and radar dishes and scaffolding—were dark lines on the roofs of those buildings, black silhouettes against waning sunlight.
"The faculty office was empty when I entered, except for one secretary who shook her head when I enquired after Professor Patterson. 'He hasn't been in today,' she said. 'And he hasn't called. I assume he is aware that fall lectures begin next week. If you see him, please mention that he has a number of phone-calls to return.'
"She continued to busy herself at the photocopier, tacitly dismissing me, and I made my way toward the biology labs. I found a number of graduate students there who only could tell me that Professor Patterson was absorbed in some private study that had seen him secluded to either one of two places: his private office or the rooftop weather-testing station.
"I tried his office. It was unlocked, the door hanging open. His desktop was in shambles. And there were two of the manuscripts I had provided lying side by side on it. I looked closer and saw that he had been translating their contents. Notes hastily scrawled on yellow legal paper lay strewn about the desk and on the floor. Close inspection of those notes showed that he had been trying to impose modern mathematics onto diagrams he had copied from the texts. I could see that his figuring had arrived at no conclusions. I saw also, in a number of places, a phrase written in bold script; it seemed a strange maxim: 'Feed the darkness.'
''The more I looked for it, the more prevalent that phrase became. On one page of crumpled paper he had written it repeatedly, like an incorrigible school boy doing lines for the teacher. I wasted no more time ruminating over that madness. It was clear to me that Patterson had continued his experiments on Yog-Sothoth's Box, and that morbid preoccupation had given way to dark obsession. There was only one place he could be.
''The steel railing of the fire escape rattled and clanged as I hastened my way to the rooftop of the biology building. Full night had not yet fallen, but the illumination presented by a sun that could only send reminders of its brilliance glancing off low-lying clouds did little to aid me on my way. The rooftop lay in a pool of blackness, and it appeared that the weather-testing shed was afloat upon it. I waded into shadow and made my way like Christ across this ebony sea. However, there was nothing holy or divine in the sight that met my eyes when I had gained the shed.
"I have told you of the four manuscripts concerning Yog-Sothoth's Box. In the week I had lain bed-ridden, Professor James Patterson had written a fifth. Pages of it fluttered in a breeze around where Patterson lay spread-eagled on the platform, Alhazred's damnable box resting between his knees. One candle flame next to Patterson's elbow guttered freakish shadows that had me believing the black box had actually turned to regard my approach.
"Patterson lay quite obviously dead—the wounds gaping like open mouths in the pale wrists of his outstretched arms shouted testament to that. My first instinct was to rush pell-mell back down the fire escape and call for security, but I hesitated. If I was to leave Patterson now, there would be many questions by many people, but perhaps no opportunity for answers to my own. In the shifting light of that one sputtering candle, I bent to inspect the corpse. It was Patterson, of that I am sure; however, the countenance I regarded held but vague suggestions of the man that had been.
"I have had some acquaintance with Egyptian mummies, and I can say with authority that Patterson's flesh bore that same desiccated appearance. His face was skull-like, covered in a tight wrap of leathery skin. Orifices into that head appeared to be burned holes. Eye sockets were charred pits. His gaping mouth was black and screaming, rimmed by shattered and scorched teeth. On either side of his head, his ears were singed nubs of blackened flesh. Clumps of hair had fallen from his scalp and lay as frayed rope, trapped against the platform by the weight of his skull and twitching feebly in the same breeze that threatened to snuff out the only candle. He wore a windbreaker, and the nylon fabric lay billowing over the struts of his rib cage.
"I did not touch him. To do so would have been to give myself over to the insanity that lay simmering in the juices of my stomach, in that selfsame place that had made me so ill during the previous week. There was a box of candles lying on a shelf just beyond the professor, and I stepped over his dry body to lay claim to them. I quickly lit several, because it seemed to me that as my foot passed close to it, a shadow had leapt out of Yog-Sothoth's Box to chill my leg. I knew instinctively that my only solace could be within a fortress of light.
"I set candles all around, pausing in my efforts to twist the platform away from a westerly breeze that would suddenly swell to snuff out my flames. With the shed thus illuminated, it was with a sort of numb resolve that I gathered up the pages of Patterson's dark study. Without considering the bizarre image I must have made, I unfolded a lawn chair and then sat next to that dried up man-corpse to read what he had written.
"It was a journal, with the dates scrawled in the upper right-hand corner of each ruled and three-hole-punched page. The first entry gave a brief summary of that first accidental experiment with the guinea pigs. The next entry was a variation of that experiment—the variation that Patterson had been hesitant to relate to me.
"He wrote that he had pressed the cage with the terrified guinea pig tight against the black box. You will recall that the box had sprouted tendrils of darkness, and they wriggled still, straining through bars toward the panicked rodent. Patterson extinguished the laboratory light. He didn't turn the light on again until the pig's shrill shrieking had ceased (which, apparently, didn't take long). He found the hapless creature thoroughly drained of all its blood and other bodily fluids. There was nothing left in the cage but a canvas of spiky fur wrapped tight around splintery bones and attached to a furry skull with smoking eye holes. Of the writhing dark tendrils that had emanated from the box, there were none. The darkness feeds on blood. . . was the conclusion he drew. A question was scribbled in the margin: 'What is the darkness?'
"My ancient books could supply an answer to that question, although Patterson at first dismissed the interpretations set down by the mad Arab and those other long dead practitioners of the black arts. As Patterson had told me earlier, he was a scientist—an empiricist—and he demanded natural reasons for all that occurred. He felt sure the laws of physics bound that black cube as surely as they did everything else in our world. The next several pages of his journal explored that supposition, trying without success to identify the energy that made the cube the foul blood-seeking thing it was. Patterson was sure there had to be some natural connection between the physical makeup of biological fluids and the mysterious properties the box exhibited. His frustration lay in determining exactly what were those undefined properties. Eventually, he once again took hold of my manuscripts, having decided that hints of answers might be contained therein.
"With those dusty tomes in hand, he became less the scientist and more the mystic. Empiricism gave way to recklessness. He wrote of the need for sacrifice, for blood. Using more animals from the biology labs, he had recreated the bloody experiments described in The Necronomicon. His final experiment took place on the rooftop, and took his life.
"Standing over his corpse and under the stuttering glare of a dozen candles, I could see that a pentagram had been drawn on the floor of the rotating platform. Patterson lay directly on top of it, the edges of his heels resting within two of the points, his slain wrists staining two others, his burned-out head occupying the last. Similar such diagrams and designs had been scrawled on the walls of the shed. They were black with drippings that only could have been his blood.
"Patterson had been very busy during the week that illness held me captive in my home. If I had but known what he had been doing with his hours, I might have contrived to intervene, but that option had not been afforded me. My fleeting experience with those four manuscripts—and, most significantly, with The Necronomicon—had sickened me to my soul. It occurs to me now that my incapacitation might well have been a direct result of another of the mysterious properties of that lightless cube—a property that had conspired to have me absent so that Patterson could pursue his blasphemous studies.
"I believe the cube to be sentient, and so did Patterson. He wrote of the 'intelligence beyond the veil', and jotted notes of conversations he claimed to have had with the darkness. From what I could determine as I sat on that flimsy lawn chair reading under flickering light, Patterson had been letting loose the darkness each night, under controlled conditions. He fed the darkness with rodent blood, then engaged in some form of malignant parlance with an entity he described as, 'obscenely knowledgeable.'
"It spoke to him in articulate English. And apparently it was fluent in German, French, Dutch, Hebrew, Latin, Greek. . . the list was endless. An orator without mouth, its eloquence had Patterson scribbling in his journal cursory notes that made little sense to me. I had talked with Aziz not two weeks earlier, and he had mentioned that insanity had overtaken Alhazred as he wrote The Necronomicon. I suspect a similar madness had overcome Professor James Patterson.
"I came, finally, to the last pages of Patterson's manuscript. They were barely legible, so agitated had his scribblings become. He had rewritten the Latin verse that he found so compelling and had circled a specific passage:
'And man, that slave to light and life,
should free himself with edge of knife.
Dread C'thulhu longs to embrace,
those strong enough to face the face
and spill their blood, a fountain red,
to satiate the timeless dread.'
"Notes clawed in a frantic script on the last page described how Patterson would conduct his final experiment. There would be no more guinea pigs to slaughter, although blood would flow freely.
"I can recall in detail the last paragraph that lost man ever wrote: There is more within Yog-Sothoth's Box than could ever be understood by a creature so limited in intellect and ability as a human being. The only way to gain that understanding is to return to the timeless womb, to give oneself over to the darkness. I believe the box is the key to an unveiling of all the secrets of the universe. Although I am unworthy, it is my intent to be drawn into the box, to become one with eternity. I do not wish to become a god, I only seek to walk among them. I embrace the darkness. So let it take me. . . .
"And it had. What remained of Professor James Patterson was a lifeless and soulless husk of a man. Gazing down at its stiff-legged repose, I found it impossible to consider that this dry thing had once been driven by desire and passion. Like all men of intellect, the compulsion to acquire knowledge—to know the answer to the only question: Why?—had given Patterson's life meaning, and now that selfsame compulsion had drained the life from him.
"I was left to wonder if he had found that for which he was searching. Did Yog-Sothoth's Box ease Patterson into an eternity of comfortable study, heaping revelation upon revelation, a perpetual ecstasy of discovery and understanding? Or had he simply had his soul sucked out of him, leached from his body to ride on a steaming current of his life's blood into the gaping maw of eternal blackness? Those questions remain with me; they vex me, like a phantom itch at the end of an amputated limb.
"For hours I must have sat on that rooftop pondering the words in Patterson's journal while candle wax melted hellward around his unmoving corpse. When the eastern horizon gave birth to a red slice of morning sun, I stood from the lawn chair. There, at my feet, lay the corpse and the box. One of the two was beyond my influence. Patterson had taken his meals up here, and there were a profusion of plastic lunch bags stuffed within a small trash can in the shed. Grasping one of those bags and shaking it free of bread crumbs, I used the prosthetic of an unlit candle to push Yog-Sothoth's Box into the bag. With Patterson's journal in one hand and the bag in the other, I made my way down the fire escape.
"Again, black fortune was with me. No one had witnessed my nocturnal visit with the dead professor. His body would be discovered the next day, and atmospheric disturbances—a lightning strike (what else could it have been?)—would be cited as the cause of his death. Someone must have had pause to wonder about those strange symbols painted on the shed walls, but no mention of them was ever made, and the shed had been completely dismantled by the time Professor Patterson's body was laid to rest.
"I went with Patterson's journal and the box to my office where I sat within those well-lit confines staring out my window at a morning sky rapidly filling with thunderclouds; daylight had been stifled. Before long, a dark gray canopy like a blanket of night lay over the university campus. The air seemed charged with anticipation, and suddenly stingers of lightning shot earthward to produce resounding thunderclaps. I sat in my chair staring without focus into this intermittent fire-show, cognizant of the fading blue lines burned as after-images on my retinas each time lightning split the sky. Beside me, on my desk and still wrapped in the clear plastic bag, the box shimmered darkness in sympathetic response to each roar of thunder.
"It was inevitable (and I should have known it) that lightning would touch down on a power pole. When it happened, there was the fiercest brightening of the two bulbs lighting my office, then darkness swarmed in through the pane of glass covering my window. The secretaries in the outer office shrieked in surprise; then I heard their nervous tittering as the backup lighting system engaged and cast unfamiliar shadows around their work places.
"There were no such emergency lights in my office, and it took a few moments for my eyes to adjust to the sudden dimness. I turned instinctively to regard a deep shadow lying on my desk—Yog-Sothoth's Box. There must have been some element of my psyche that still doubted all I had recently read and seen, for I sat in the darkness simply staring at it. Then I noticed that its blackness had begun to move, to undulate and writhe within the confines of the bread bag, and the bag appeared to be inflating with inky gas.
"I sat stunned. Then Patterson's words that had been written repeatedly on his notes flashed into mind as a warning of what was happening: 'Feed the darkness.'
"I sprang to my feet and raced around my desk to open wide the office door. Scant rays of light shining from emergency lights wormed their way into my office and found the box. Almost immediately, the bag began to deflate, the darkness to lose its substance. I crossed to it, making sure my shadow did not impede the light. I crouched down and peered through the transparent bag to see that most, but not all, of the darkness had retreated back into the box. A scattering of dark tentacles had maintained a grip on this dimension, despite the light shining on them. They extended out from the bottom edges of the box, and I could see them coiling and writhing like black snakes. They appeared eager, hungry.
"I snatched up the bag, letting the box settle to the bottom where those snaky appendages darted and twisted against the plastic. Satisfied that they did not possess claws with which to tear a way out, I tied a knot in the top of the bag. With the bagged box in one hand and Patterson's journal in the other, I told the secretaries I would be leaving for the day and rushed across campus toward the sciences buildings.
''The street lamps situated throughout the campus ran on a different circuit than that of the buildings, and their photo-sensitive switches had turned them on. I hastened between pools of light, racing from one to another while the bag in my hand would swell during each portage of darkness. Under the glare of streetlights battling false night, the swelling would cease, but I would see that more dark tendrils had gained a firm hold on my world, their presences winding and insistent.
''The interior of Patterson's building was lit in the same inconstant manner as mine had been. Hurrying through hallways where emergency lights cast chaotic shadows, I was able to access his office undetected. There sat the two open manuscripts on his desk, and it took only moments to find another and The Necronomicon. I stacked them in a file box, along with Patterson's journal. I placed the bag containing living darkness on top of that boxed collection of books, gathered everything up and made my way out of sciences and across a stretch of darkened campus to the lot where I parked my Volvo.
"Clouds still filled the sky and lightning struck at irregular intervals (although somewhat distant now), but there was no movement of wind and the air seemed strangely dry. I noted upon entering my car that darkness had almost completely filled the bag. It sat atop the file box, pulsing with blackness. I felt sure it would soon burst open and that its vile smoke would leap out at me. I turned on the interior lights of my car, which were quite bright and could be manually directed, and settled that bag beneath the lights' brightest locus.
''The darkness atrophied, was effectively held at bay, but long, sable serpents continued to writhe within the bag. I left the university and drove across town to my home, a bungalow situated in a quiet southwest neighborhood.
"No one questioned me about the bonfire I lit in my backyard that day. I fed the flames with the pages and cover of The Necronomicon and all the other foul leafs and bindings from each of the ancient manuscripts, including Patterson's journal. To make sure the fire burned bright and hot, I added some rotted fence slats that had been lying for years next to my garage. With the fire blazing, I tossed Yog-Sothoth's Box into its ocherous heart.
"I stood next to those flames, but felt little heat radiating from them. If anything, a pervasive chill crept over me and I stood cross-armed and quaking, my eyes hypnotized by illusions glowing within the fire's red depths. It seemed to me I could see much more at the root of the bonfire than coals respiring the breath of holocaust; it appeared to my watering eyes that glimpses of the eternity Patterson had aspired to would flare into resolution, taunting my senses.
"But I would have nothing to do with it. I have been for most of my years a guardian of knowledge. A librarian is as much addicted to knowing as any scholar, but the need to know all is less compelling. For such a man as me, it is enough to know that the knowledge is there and that I can access it at any time I wish. I feel no need to peruse the pages of every book that comes under my care. And given that I could so easily burn those four rare manuscripts is proof enough that I recognize no inherent sanctity in the written word. There exists knowledge not meant for the minds of men.
"Eventually, my bonfire smoldered down to a heap of charcoal. Gone was The Necronomicon and its abhorrent counterparts. Their ashy fragments had drifted upward to join with clouds that had begun to disperse while the fire burned. And now rays of sunlight shone purity through a winding pillar of gray smoke that was all that remained of those monstrous books. I experienced a profound sense of relief, a lightening of my spirit that made me realize I had not been in a positive frame of mind since first setting eyes upon The Necronomicon. I heaved a self-satisfied sigh, and then turned with the intention of getting my rake from the garage, when the black hole scorched into the middle of my backyard seemed to call to me.
"That mute utterance might well have been a pistol shot in my ear so devastating was its effect upon me. My knees went liquid, and I crumpled to the earth. Kneeling next to the smoky depression, my eyes blinked disbelief at what sat glittering among the fire-waste—Yog-Sothoth's Box, apparently unfazed by the inferno that had raged around it!
"If anything, its ebony glow had deepened, having been polished by the intense heat. And the dark tendrils still writhed, poking and prodding delicately about. I could see that they held enough of tangibility to stir designs in the ash. And then I saw with wide-gaping eyes that they were spelling out words. Perhaps the secrets of the universe. So many ancient languages, so many black and forbidden tongues, but there, directly before me, one insistent tentacle of smoke had written a message in English, specifically for me: 'Feed the darkness. . . .'
"I am hesitant to say with any surety that it was Patterson, or some eternal aspect of Patterson, that had been communicating with me, but I heeded those words. After only brief seconds of despair, I went into action. The sun was shining unimpeded by clouds now, and I was satisfied that no further darkness would escape the black box. But those tendrils that now existed had to be fed, and so it was with a numbness of mind and spirit that I set about capturing one of the many alley cats that patrolled my neighborhood.
"I laid out a trail of cold fried chicken stretching from my garbage can along the side of the garage and into the garage's cool interior. Using two unburned fence slats as tongs, I wrangled from the ashes the black box and set it within a beam of sunlight just inside the garage's side door. When a large and battered old Tom stepped into those shady confines, I pulled the door closed behind it. Then I covered the only garage window with a piece of cardboard. Inside the garage, all would have been in darkness—darkness and Yog-Sothoth's Box with its eager tentacles.
"There was only one piercing feline scream to stir flutterings of guilt in my stomach, and then it was over. I opened the main garage door and allowed sunlight to flood the interior. There lay the box, without any evidence of dark appendages now, and the dried-out remains of the cat. The darkness had been fed.
"For the remainder of that day, I sat within my home staring at the box where I had set it in direct sunlight on the kitchen window sill. As the sun passed inexorably to the west, a knot of anxiety tightened my guts. And that was the first time I feared the coming of night.
"It was just past the supper hour, and I had turned on my writing table lamp with the intention of documenting the events of the previous weeks, when I was suddenly overcome with an almost incapacitating terror. You see, the bulb in the lamp chose that moment to expire. It lit for the barest instant, then blinked darkness at me. My eyes immediately sought out Yog-Sothoth's Box. Shadows from the trees in my backyard had dappled the box in waning sunlight, and, from where I sat in the adjoining room, it appeared to me that the box had moved, that it had been seeking the deepest and darkest regions of shadow lying across it.
"I immediately stood, strode into the kitchen, and turned on the overhead fluorescents. All shadow was thus dispelled. I knew, of course, that, in the absence of sunlight, if those kitchen lights were extinguished, darkness would entirely envelop the box. I gazed out the window and saw that clouds were again filling the sky. The weather had been uneasy that day; it occurred to me that the night could bring more of the same lightning that had almost made a disaster of the morning. At that moment, the glow of the kitchen fluorescents seemed tenuous. A power-outage would render them entirely impotent, and such an occurrence was not unlikely.
"I searched for, and discovered, a package of storm candles in the cupboard above the stove. My wife (who had passed away some years past) must have bought them (bless her soul). That evening, I made the first of many candle altars upon which I'd sacrifice a night's sleep to Yog-Sothoth's Box.
"The life of those candles was three hours. At the end of that time, I lit fresh ones. To stay awake, I drank strong coffee and watched television with all the electric lights in the house blazing until the sun finally crept out of the east. The lightning I had feared was never manifest, and the morning dawned clear and bright. Again, I propped the box in the south-facing kitchen window sill, and then I sought my bedroom for some much-needed sleep.
"But sleep would not come to me where I lay on my bed out of sight of the box. I imagined all manner of unforeseen circumstances that could serve to drape my kitchen in darkness. Was an eclipse of the sun scheduled for that day? Yesterday's cloud cover had effectively brought premature night to the university campus—could that happen again? I was convinced that Yog-Sothoth's Box was able, somehow, to move itself about. Could the shadow of a cloud passing over the sun give it enough impetus to drop from the window sill and onto the floor? And could it not then inch its way toward more shadow, creeping across the floor when further cloud-induced darkness allowed it to do so?
"I had visions of it making its implacable way down the hallway to my bedroom. In my sleep, it would find a dark home under my bed, childhood fears once again given presence: dark tentacles groping up at me, trapping me on the island of my bed while some midnight octopus sought to pull me, island and all, down to the blackest depths of hell's ocean, down to where my life's blood would feed the darkness.
"I rose from my bed before my head had even made an impression upon my pillow. In the kitchen and on the window sill sat Yog-Sothoth's Box.
"From my garage, I procured a camp cot from days past and set it up on the kitchen floor. It was on that creaky and uncomfortable perch that I was at last able to steal a few hours of sleep. The first time I woke was to light a candle that I set on the sill next to the box. It had been my intention to do so before I succumbed to sleep, but exhaustion had enfeebled my brain. My dreams were of darkness, and I whispered an anxious prayer of thanks when I awoke to sunlight. I slept again. When next I woke, a quarter of the candle had burned away; I eyed the dripping wax until my eyelids drooped closed. I continued slipping in and out of sleep until it was time to light another candle.
"My terror was absolute when I woke to find the second candle had burned down almost to nothing. The sun was shining afternoon-bright, and my fears were groundless, but a mindless dread was now upon me. I could sleep no further. I spent another night lighting candles and drinking coffee.
"The next day I was pulled from black catatonia by the jangling of my telephone. I awoke disoriented and my first action was to leap from my cot and grasp the box. Upon feeling its unearthly oiliness, I dropped it to the floor with a shriek. The phone rang again, and again I screamed. The third ring found its way into saner elements of my mind, and I staggered to the telephone.
"One of my colleagues had called to enquire of my whereabouts today and the previous day. I informed him that I was ill and would probably not be in for the remainder of the week. He expressed sympathy and concern and asked if he could be of help. I assured him that he couldn't, hung up the phone, and maintained my candle-lighting vigil. I spent the first week in that way. I ate little, and slept less.
"There was always the box. It seldom left my sight. I grew to despise its cold black face and was driven to fits of railing at it. I conspired to somehow dispose of the hideous thing, but I could think of no feasible manner of destruction. Perhaps if it was shot into the boiling heart of the sun. . . yes, that would do it. That, and nothing else. So it was mine. Or, perhaps, I was its. All the same.
"That one week absence from the university became an extended leave, until I was unable to obtain a note from a doctor. Indeed, I had become loath to leave my house. I had my groceries delivered and took my meals with the box as my table's centerpiece. And it perched on the bathroom counter when I relieved myself or bathed; a candle always burned next to it.
"The university did not entirely abandon me. Well-wishing associates of mine tried on many occasions to invade my home, to determine the magnitude of my apparent dementia, but I would not let them in. Mine was now a life of total solitude and secrecy. If I'd had a close friend and confidant, perhaps I might have been able to share my burden, but I have never been sociable, books being my dearest friends, and, since my wife's death, I had done little entertaining.
"I was informed by mail that I had been relieved of my position at the university. A plain white envelope contained the most concise dismissal that could have been written, the body of the letter no more than twenty words. I read those words in a sort of daze, crumpled the paper into a ball and heaved it at Yog-Sothoth's Box. It reacted not at all.
"For those first months, I was able to keep any darkness from seeping out of the box. I have since learned that minor seepage is not of paramount concern. The occasional slip, a moment in deep shadow, gives birth to only the weakest of dark fingers. They are easily sated with mice or, if the tendrils number into the tens, a rat. I have never let it get beyond that.
"At some point during the next years, it became necessary to vacate my home. I cannot recall the exact details of that expulsion, but I believe it may have had to do with a failure to pay city property taxes. I know for a fact that when the city cut off my electricity, I placed Yog-Sothoth's Box in a net bag that I hung around my neck, packed as many candles as I could carry into a knapsack, and set off in search of some place where I and my black box could live.
"My monetary resources were negligible, so I spent a number of nights in flophouses, but those squalid surroundings were far too public. And certain individuals tried to relieve me of my possessions; that necessitated my stealing a pistol from a fellow wayfarer. And I have, on occasion, discharged that pistol in the direction of anyone who threatened my continued servitude to the box.
"I believe that fate brought me to this darkened section of the city. I have been here for years, I have no idea how many; time has ceased to mean anything to me except a perpetual shifting of night into day, light into darkness. I think of this cement hole as my home—home to me and Yog-Sothoth's Box. Strangely, it is the darkness of this place that appeals to me. If, due to some unforeseen happenstance, excessive blackness were to flood from the box (and I have no idea how much darkness it could expel), it would remain trapped within these few city blocks, confined by the surrounding glow of civilization. And then, perhaps, there would still be opportunity to control it.
"And so here I spend my days in anxious sleep, and my nights in the company of the box. We have become compatriots of a sort. It is a bitter irony to me that I remain a guardian of knowledge, a librarian of the secrets of the universe—if Professor Patterson's assertion is to be believed. These last months have had me thinking often of that man. At night, when I sit here and gaze into the box's fathomless negative glow, I hear Patterson. With two voices, he speaks to me from infinity. Some nights it is like listening to the tortured cries of the damned, while on others I hear missives of virtue. I don't know which voice is to be believed.
"I am an old man, and I am gravely ill. A fire burns in my lungs, and one day or night I will be consumed by it. The last years of my life have been filled with dread, and the spectre of impending death only deepens it.
"So that is my story. A lengthy epitaph for Professor Ian Maxwell."
He made this last statement, then slumped into an apparent stupor next to me on the couch. I had been intently watching the professor as he spoke. His words had seemed to come from him without his prompting, flowing freely between his red lips as he stared into the southern sky. About halfway through his oration, I had seen his eyelids flutter shut. The words continued to pour from his mouth, but it seemed to me that he was barely conscious of it. The occasional distracted nod of his head had me believing he had fallen into a trance as he spoke.
Now that his story was told and the words had ceased to spout, he appeared to be fast asleep. His mouth hung slightly open while raspy breath drifted through the hairs of his stringy beard and moustache.
Ryan had already begun dismantling the camera. He went about the work with a rigid posture, his eyes never meeting mine. I could tell from his manner that the professor's tale had not impressed him. It took him no more than two minutes to roll up the cables and pack the camera into its case. He hoisted the battery pack and stand onto his shoulders, gripped the camera in his left hand, then stood to gaze expectantly at me, one eyebrow cocked upward as a salute to disbelief.
When I didn't immediately rise, he turned without a word, strode up the incline and out of the professor's cell. I turned my head to regard Maxwell. Unlike Ryan, the professor's words had not left me unfazed. Perhaps his story was only the imaginings of a brain gone senile, but I had found his tale strangely compelling. Even if the story held no truth, I had found it utterly fascinating.
And, of course, there was the box the professor had spoken of sitting within my sight. Yog-Sothoth's Box. No candles burned, but the sun's rays held it tight. An ebony aura hovered around it, like billowy black satin. Could this small object really be a portal to another dimension?
As if to negate this question by grounding it in mundane reality, Ryan called from the van. "Let's go. I've got a class in an hour."
After scrutinizing first the box and then the professor one last time, I stood and began to make my way up the incline. I jerked to a halt when the professor's voice, gone gravelly with exhaustion, summoned my attention.
"Student," he rasped, and I turned to him. He lifted a shaky hand and pointed toward where the black box sat. "Please. . . light a candle for me."
With no hesitation, I complied.
The professor offered me a haggard smile. "If you have doubt," he croaked, "come back tonight." His eyelids fluttered closed, and now he pulled his legs up onto the couch, nestled his head into the crook of his arm, and, after chortling a few moist coughs, began to loudly snore.
I gazed at him for a moment, noting how frail he appeared, then crested the concrete bulwark to join Ryan at my van.
"He's friggin' crazy," Ryan croaked into my ear as we loaded the camera gear into the back of my vehicle.
As we drove from those deserted city blocks, Ryan berated me for ever having convinced him to join me in this venture. As he talked, he became increasingly incensed over the apparent fruitlessness of our efforts.
"So what now?" he complained. "You found out he's nuts. You'll produce a movie about a senile old fart who sleeps under cement. People ought'a be interested in that. He tells a good horror story. Maybe you could produce a series and he could be the host, like Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone. You can call it Scary Stories From Under the Loading Dock. Jeezus Kee-rist. . . ."
Ryan made it clear that he wanted no more to do with me or Professor Ian Maxwell. He hoped there was still time for him to find a partner who could give him a real project to shoot. After all, there was only one month left in the semester, and he had course requirements to fill.
"Only a month!" he repeated while scanning the contacts list on his phone. "Who the hell am I going to find who can put together a decent movie in one month?"
We had arrived back at the college. I parked against the curb, opened the rear door of the van, removed the memory chip from the camera, wished Ryan the best of luck, then left him to the chore of returning the equipment to Comm-Media. I drove away from Ryan without another look. I had decided I would complete my movie without his help. I still didn't know what the end production would be, but I knew I would accept the professor's invitation—I would visit him that night.
I, too, had classes that afternoon, but I did not attend them. Instead, I hastened to the library and withdrew every volume of H.P. Lovecraft I could set hands upon. I spent the remainder of the day's sunlit hours poring over that author's fantastic tales. His anecdotes of dark fantasy seemed strangely familiar, unravelling as they did in much the same form as Maxwell's story. When I would pause to ruminate over Lovecraft's words, my consciousness would fill with Professor Maxwell and his account of Yog-Sothoth's Box. Each time those images appeared in my head, they did so with ever-increasing clarity until it seemed I had been the one who had lived the story, and not Maxwell. It occurred to me that this selfsame mental process may have played on the professor as well; over the years, what had once been pure fancy may have taken on the dimensions of objective reality to Professor Maxwell.
This seemed the most likely interpretation of his tale; however, I could not shake the belief that there was at least some truth to all that he had said. But what was it?
Tonight would decide that.
My own video camera is equipped with a small floodlight that mounts just above the lens. I made sure the camera's battery was fully charged, then I drove in my van through the downtown core toward Professor Maxwell's empty neighborhood.
The setting sun shone red under the westernmost edge of a fast-moving and low-lying cloud cover thick enough to shroud the city within a wrap of bloodstained gray. As I entered the warehouse district, I saw the sun melting into the horizon, taking with it its crimson hues. And now a breeze grew out of burgeoning darkness, whirling and rushing a powdery snowfall down narrow streets. Within moments, wind-whisked snowfall had thickened to become a rushing white fog. Vacant warehouse buildings stood as dark monoliths around which whipped monstrous tentacles of white snow. A steady, low keening gained in crescendo to become a chorus of wailing banshees—the howl of the great beast that was winter pouncing upon the city.
What few streetlights still burned made no impression at all upon these snow-murky city blocks, except to glow in dusky hues of cold and desolation. I became lost, and it was only by chance that I turned into the alley behind the mattress factory and found myself staring through the windshield at Professor Maxwell's hovel. I tried with my eyes to penetrate the wind-swept gauze of snow billowing behind the factory, but my van's headlights served only to polish a blind world of pearly brilliance. Through the metal shell of my Volkswagen, I could feel the chill bite of the wind's white teeth, and I wondered how Maxwell—with his ailing health and shelter of cold concrete—hoped to survive the jaws of what was clearly the roar of an incoming winter lion.
When it became clear the professor would not be coming out to greet me, I steeled myself up for it, then, after sheltering my camera under the lapel of my coat, stepped from the warmth of my van and into cold hostility. I called out the professor's name, but the wind tore the words from my lips and shredded them against crystal snowflakes. With eyelids squinting, I made my way overtop the concrete reef. On the far side of that formidable barrier, the wind held less influence. There was no longer the howl of it in my ears, and I could open my eyes. The glow from my van's headlights showed me enough to make me think the professor had vacated his home. Perhaps (as would have been wise) he had gone in search of a warm bed in the Salvation Army Men's Shelter.
I suspected my efforts tonight would be for nothing, but I fumbled my camera out of my coat, lit the floodlight and pressed the record button. Shadows jumped as I strode toward the entrance to the professor's cell. A wall of plywood prevented my entry, and I spent some moments trying to push it to the side with one hand while I continued to shoot with the camera. I was able to move a wooden sheet only a foot or two, and I decided that would have to be enough. I would poke the camera through that dark opening, take some cursory footage (to what end, I did not know), and then battle my way home through the storm. I had it in mind that I would visit the professor in the morning and arrange to speak with him tomorrow night, should the weather permit.
A profound chill had penetrated my coat and now stabbed through to my bones; my hand shook as I probed with the camera into Maxwell's unlighted home. I pressed eye to the viewfinder, and, much to my surprise, there was the professor's face, starkly white and clearly evident, seeming to hang in dark space. He gaped at my bright intrusion, blinking and wide-eyed. He must have been lying on his couch facing me, his mouth gaping a silent "O" as he stared into my camera. There was only that ghostly white face, seeming to float in a pool of flat blackness. Then I noticed he held one weak, guttering candle, gripped in one skinny fist, on his chest, the tongue of flame reflecting orange cat irises in his staring eyes.
Suddenly, the darkness about him began to coalesce, to thicken, twisting itself into undulating strands of negativity that reminded me of the wind-frenzied tentacles of snow that wound through the city streets. At first, these tendrils appeared hazy, constructs of smoke that swirled around his face and then coiled over the swell of his body, seeming to avoid the candle light; then they began to condense, becoming thinner and darker, until it was as if a teeming nest of black snakes had taken up residence on the professor's belly. I thought that it could be only a deception of the camera's lens, a trick of inferior optics.
But as I watched, becoming increasingly convinced that what I was seeing was physical fact and not cerebral fancy, those writhing black tendrils retreated from their dark caress of the professor's face, and now his torso was visible lying under strands of living blackness that shrank away from the glare of my floodlight. Each of those many ebony ropes originated from one place—Yog-Sothoth's Box. It sat on the wooden crate next to where Maxwell had prostrated himself on the couch. The movements of its newly sprouted appendages were not so frenzied now that the sunless matter of their substance had congealed into so many black cords. However, each of them continued to strain toward the professor, ends whipping and flicking at his soiled overcoat and patched elbows.
The professor's cheeks swelled and a puff of his breath killed the candle flame.
His flickering eyes struggled to focus against my camera's bright onslaught. Then he spoke, his voice a reverberation in a mausoleum: "Student. . . you returned. . . ." He began to cough and retch, and spat up bloody wet gobbets.
I watched, horrified, as the dark strands nearest those throaty eruptions stretched to their limits to stir black ends in that bloody phlegm.
I lowered the camera to speak. "Professor, I—"
He raised a quaking hand. "No! No!" he croaked. "The light. . . keep the light. . . ."
I held steady, still filming, one eye peering through the camera's viewfinder, the other gazing full upon this grim scene.
"I will not suffer the same fate as James Patterson," the professor rasped through blood-wet lips. "I will not give myself willingly to the darkness. . . ."
There was movement on his chest. And now I noticed his other pale hand clasped around. . . the pistol! A huge weapon, looking more like a small cannon than a handgun.
As I uttered futile protest, he pressed the gun's barrel into the gray beard and folds of white flesh beneath his chin, and pulled the trigger. The flash was so bright and the ensuing report so forceful, the interior of the professor's concrete abode seemed to expand. I stumbled backwards, then caught my balance and pressed my head and the camera back through the gap I had made.
I could not find the professor. I sought out his white face, but it seemed that he had disappeared, like a stage magician, during that loud moment of distraction. Then I saw that it was not so. My gorge rose, and I gagged. I managed to continue aiming the camera into the professor's black hole, not so much as to capture the event on film, but to ensure the floodlight maintained some semblance of control over the chaos within.
The professor's head appeared to have exploded from between his shoulders, and the dark strands emanating from Yog-Sothoth's Box had wasted no time in pouncing upon the pulsing neck stump. So forceful was that black compulsion that they had dragged the box after them, and I could see that it now sat on the professor's blood-spattered chest. All of the dark fibers stretched from the box toward where the professor's head had been—now there was no head, only a dark morass of writhing snakes feeding in a desperate frenzy.
The howl of the wind saved me from hearing the wet sucking those eager appendages were miming before me. So awful was this spectacle that I felt a portion of my mind go cold, as if my braincase had opened to allow the wind entry. I stared in stupefaction while the black snakes feasted. As they fed, they were gradually diminishing in size, shortening, apparently releasing their hold on this plane of existence—having tasted the juices of life, seemingly satisfied to return to the dark realm of their origin. Trailing at their roots, Yog-Sothoth's Box was towed up the professor's chest. Eventually, the box lay nestled in the collar of his coat, a cubed shrunken head.
And still the feasting continued.
The remaining dark tendrils had changed form, had stretched thin as wires to penetrate the shredded cavity of the professor's neck, had bored their way through the tunnels of his body to seek out untapped arteries and vessels. I could not directly see this, but deduced it when I saw his arms and legs begin to slacken, to cave in, as his life's fluids were being drained. His hand still clasped the butt of that immense pistol; the skin covering those desperate fingers had shrunk around the bones so that now a skeleton had a death grip on the gun.
Again, my eyes found the box perched within the collar of the professor's coat. And now I saw it give a sort of satisfied shudder, then settle into place, teetering for a moment against one slack shoulder, then tipping to fall, inanimate and solid, to the concrete floor. It rolled onto one side, and there it lay. A small black box.
I kept my light on it, fearful of the shadow that stretched out behind. The chill in my head had spread to the rest of my body, numbing me momentarily, but then it thawed enough to allow me action. Against reason, I called out to the professor's shrivelled corpse. There was, of course, no response. All the while I poked my camera into the darkness, flexing the muscle of that one brightly shining light. Then I recalled the battery of my iPhone failing me not two night's previous, and the chill that had spread throughout my body flowed cold into the pit of my stomach. With quaking limbs, I propped the camera on the top of one concrete wall, then bent to the task of removing a plywood sheet. With a doorway created, I stepped into the shadows of the professor's cold home, my camera and its floodlight held out before me like a shield.
You may think me either brave or foolish for doing this, but it was neither of those conditions that drove me to action. Despite the horror of what I had witnessed, the professor's last act on this earth had stirred within me that relentless inquisitiveness that had prevented me from taking my responsible place within society for so many years: I wanted to know more, to learn more. And here were lessons I could never hope to have repeated.
Apparently, all that the professor had related that morning (Could it have been only that morning? It seemed that a vast gulf of time had elapsed) held true! I had seen it with my own eyes! It also occurred to me (and not without self-satisfaction) that I had captured it all on camera!
I ran the floodlight's glow over the professor's inert form, mindful that the black box stayed within the light. I muttered aloud, lending dialogue to the images: "His head. . . gone. . . completely gone. The gunshot did that. Nothing left. . . stringy bits of muscle tissue. . . his hands. . . thin. . . stiff. Like the rats. Skin and bones. Underneath his coat. . . I'm sure nothing but skin and bones. . . ."
And now I peered with the camera's eye at Yog-Sothoth's Box. It glowed its negative radiance under my floodlight, as if reveling in the attention I gave it. Suddenly, and with a resurgence of icy intestines, the floodlight dimmed. I immediately ceased filming to preserve battery, but kept the light glowing directly on the box. A glance down showed the mesh bag lying on the ground. I picked it up, draped it over the box, gave the box a nudge to entangle it within. Maxwell had worn this as an amulet around his neck. I held it at the end of an outstretched arm, and, with the floodlight shining on it, made my way for the last time from the professor's tomb.
I felt no remorse for the passing of Professor Ian Maxwell. His chapter of what I was beginning to perceive as the most epic of stories had come to an end. I felt no sadness whatsoever; however, there was burning within me the most compelling excitement I had ever experienced in my life—the passionate heat of epiphany, so intense as to warm my limbs against the blowing cold.
It was mine! Yog-Sothoth's Box was mine—the secrets of the universe! (Because surely all of what the professor had told me held true.)
With a steadily increasing sense of wonder and urgency, I carried that black cube through an icy wind and over the steel and concrete rampart behind the mattress factory. I settled into my van, started the engine, and turned on the interior lights. The box sat on the seat next to me, appearing somehow comfortable, content. I had the impression it had grown weary of Professor Ian Maxwell and his self-sacrificing ways. And it seemed to me that the box perceived myself in the same light that I saw it: Here was the start to a grand adventure!
You must think me crazy for delighting in such a development. After what I had just witnessed. . .?
But wait. . . .
Imagine my life up until that moment: my mother died of a stroke one week after I pressed fists into my first birthday cake; my father suffered a fatal heart attack sixteen years later. I have never loved in the romantic sense, so I have never wedded. I live alone, nurturing my mind, courting knowledge. My lifeblood is driven by a cerebral pulse. My heart flutters not at the glance of a pretty girl, but at new ideas. Professor Maxwell had died, tacitly bequeathing to me the only progeny to whom he had ever been dedicated: Yog-Sothoth's Box. And I had seized hold of his orphan child, embracing it in the heat of a passion more romantic than filial.
And this you must understand: so, too, was the box's devotion to me. I could hear and feel it, in the heart of my brain. A soft whisper and caress, stirring within me embers of desire that flared hot enough to incinerate remembrances of any past lover.
As I drove for the last time out of that alleyway, inching my way through winter's malice, my spirits rose on thermal currents of the soul, up, up, higher than the highest highrise. The trip homeward to my basement suite was fraught with winter peril, but I drove through it without concern—surely nothing tragic could happen to me now that the box was mine!
By the time I had parked in the street next to my home, the wind had been smothered by heavy snowflakes; the air had grown thick with a lustrous, white snowfall that contrasted with the night's darkness. As I exited my vehicle and walked around to the passenger door, I found myself whistling a Christmas tune. The streetlight in front of my home fed brilliance to the snowflakes, and it was through a glowing white corridor that I carried Yog-Sothoth's Box up the walk, then down stairs to my basement suite.
I (of course) immediately turned on all of the interior lights. The box still rested within the mesh bag, and I laid it—much as Professor Maxwell had done—on the coffee table next to my couch. Then I sat in unspeaking contemplation of the thing.
Goosebumps mottled my flesh as I imagined myself extinguishing the lights. In the pit of my basement suite, darkness would be all. Yog-Sothoth's Box would dance within it, and I would be its chosen partner. The box would grab hold of me, envelop me in its misty blackness. I could almost see it swirling into the gaping recesses of my eyes, hear the whirl of it in my ears, could almost taste its cold invasion on the back of my tongue. I imagined it would have the kiss of acid, that it would lick at my flesh and entrails to set free roaring eruptions from veins and arteries, massive hemorrhaging inside and out.
Desiccation would be the end result for my body. But what of my mind and my spirit, my living essence? I felt sure that whatever undiscovered elements fuel the flame of life would be rendered inert, suffocated in the darkness, and then drawn into the box. There would exist no flickering of self to become one with the universe. I would simply cease to be.
Such a fool! Courting a union with greatness, then losing all by not—of my own accord—surrendering myself to it. I remembered Maxwell's account of Professor James Patterson, and I knew the protocol for courtship.
I sprang from the couch and began a search through drawers until I had found a box of tea lights. I set a match to three of them and situated them around the box. Natural radiance played over that blackly sparkling cube, and I settled once more onto the couch. I sat for hours, pondering a course of action my heart told me was inevitable. But, like anyone on the cusp of giving themselves body and soul to another, I suffered doubt. So I sat, my eyes fixed on the box until it seemed I would have to force myself to some action or go mad.
It was then that I began writing this.
I had classes the next day, but I attended none. Nor have I attended any since. I have spent most of my time in the company of the box, composing the text you are now reading. At some point, I managed to tear myself away from home (after first setting an array of lit candles around the box) and made my way over to the college and Comm-Media to edit my movie. I needed to order my thoughts, to make sense of my musings. But I was aware that something other than my innate desire to bring resolution to my ponderings had compelled me from my apartment, an inner voice that growl-whispered like an unsated lover.
On my way home from the college, I stopped at Wal-Mart to buy more candles; I also purchased two hamsters in a cage. That husky whisper made clear in ways transcending speech that it was what I must do. And thus began my formal courtship with the box.
At first, the darkness. Then the blood. It accepted my offering, accepted it readily. Then it spoke to me, whispered the sweetest of eloquences directly into my mind. It reached to me with its amorphous blackness, seeking to touch me, to know me with a caress that penetrated deep into my psyche, into my very being. Some might have felt it as a violation, but they would have misinterpreted what was being done to them. When you give yourself willingly, it is an act of devotion. And you have to understand what I came to understand. . . as much as I wanted to know the secrets within the black box, the box wanted to know the secrets within me!
Never have I felt my self-worth to be so validated. As much as I knew my life would be irrevocably changed by knowing the box, the box itself changed when it got to know me. I could sense it! My understanding of the world is not the understanding that would have been conveyed to the box by Professor Ian Maxwell. Maxwell lived in isolation, and without the technology readily available to those enlightened enough to make use of it—people like you and me.
As much as I spend little time in the company of friends and colleagues, my acquaintances via social media number into the thousands! And I am sure that you reading my words can boast similar numbers. I am equally certain that—in this modern age and making use of the technology available to us—six degrees of separation between any two humans on this planet is a vast distance that is now entirely an anachronism. Virtually speaking, we can be as close to anyone as we choose to be.
Yog-Sothoth's Box came to understand this truth through its relationship with me. I had fully expected my life to change when I took possession of the box, but I had not anticipated how much of an impact my knowledge of our contemporary world would have upon the ageless entities communicating with me through the box.
The mad Arab Abdul Alhazred had been charged with the task of building a temple to facilitate the return of the old ones. The black box was a functioning prototype, a design that made sense in Alhazred's era of limited knowing, but ultimately a design whose final product never came to fruition. Perhaps given time and resources, the mad Arab might have completed his temple/portal. It might have happened. . . but I suspect not, because the time was not right. When Alhazred first began teaching his black doctrine, there existed no effective way to spread knowledge of the ageless ones. Writing in blood on velum? Binding books in human skin? Who would actually read them? And Professor Maxwell had burned The Necronomicon and its counterparts to ashes in a matter of minutes!
No. The time had not been right.
But now it is.
I know this for absolute truth.
Yog-Sothoth speaks to me. He reached to me through his box. I have an intimate relationship with a being who has looked into eternity and felt no shame, no terror. A being who knows everything, and who is willing to share all with me. I am an apprentice to a force that exists in the infinite beyond. And exactly what does that mean for me? I will find out. Tonight, I will give myself wholly to the Ageless Ones. Tonight, my blood will spill and all that can be known will be mine.
But that is my story. And you may still believe that it's been my story you've been reading all along.
I have told you the design of Alhazred's box was ultimately ineffectual. But that is not to say the goal of designing a portal for the old ones would not be achieved! I know for fact that the portal has been around for decades. We built it. You and me and anyone else who reads this story.
Yog-Sothoth will not come to us directly through one black box, nor through a temple. But he still reaches with his timeless appendages across vast, dark, emptinesses of space. All of existence, all of what we think of as reality, is nothing more than particles vibrating at a given frequency. Vibrate at the same frequency, and all you can know of reality is set, a paradigm sufficient for you to blunder through a lifetime ignorant of all else.
The depths of Yog-Sothoth's Box vibrate at a frequency previously unknown to us. But now that frequency is known. I have shared it with you, and we can all be a part of it. Like tuning a radio. And, just like with radio waves, you can piggy-back words, music, pictures (and other timeless things) on the wave-forms winding through space. Yog-Sothoth's Box works on that principle; it is both a transmitter and a receiver, but limited in the amount of data it can process.
Data transfer. That is what it boils down to.
How much, and how fast, can you know?
Yog-Sothoth reaches out to you. You may not realize it, but he has already touched you.
Again, you believe you are reading my story. And Professor Ian Maxwell's story. But Maxwell's story ended with his death. . . and what you know of my story ended when I posted it to the Internet. The story you are currently listening to was never mine.
From the moment you downloaded the PDF file and began to read. . . .
You were looking for entertainment, but you found something else.
Your personal computer, your laptop, your Kindle, your tablet or iPod. Your smartphone.
Yog-Sothoth's Box exists. You're holding it in your hand.
A box? No, not simply one box. A network of boxes.
Just imagine how it functions. Imagine all of the many formless dark tendrils spreading out from each little black box. Imagine them searing their way into eyes and ears. Hearts and souls. Imagine what comes out of mouths and fingertips in response, spreading geometrically. All of it back into the network to search for others to look and listen. You are guilty of this. Don't deny it. All who read these words are guilty.
So share this story. Store the files on server hard-drives. Link them on web pages. "Like" them on Facebook. Talk about them in blogs. All of the downloads and stats and ratings and reviews.
You might ask yourself: how can any of this be truth?
It takes only one to believe.
If you believe, you'll share this story with others. If you don't believe, you might share it anyway. Many people do.
And if you still need convincing, look for my movie—a Necronomicon for the twenty-first century, available on Youtube. Search for it. You'll find it in the glow. You'll be drawn to it, because you want to know. You might be able to resist for a while, but you'll eventually give in. And when you do, you'll look deep.
And you'll keep looking.
When the box calls, few can resist.
And many will feed the darkness.