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On Darker Seas

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On Darker Seas is a nightmarish tale influenced by H.P. Lovecraft. Readers will be sucked in by the disorienting and strange story,, which always challenges the reader to decide what is real and what is fantasy.

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Part One The Visitor

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

HP Lovecraft, The Cult of Cthulhu

Chapter One

The Visitor

If any of you find this journal, the fact of its discovery will mean I am dead or in a place where I wish death will come swiftly. I cannot swear complete sanity nor can it be said I am insane. The events of the past two weeks, which I wrote down in this book, are horrifying and the likes of which have drained all the hope, love and bravery from my being. If there are some of you left alive that fact alone means mankind survived our race’s worst imaginings and fears.

My story begins in the early Spring of this year. Outside my office, Atlanta and its denizens besieged by the uncontrollable forces of the weather, hunkering down, waiting for thunderstorm warning and worse, tornado warnings . Icy winds, as strong as a steel gate, came from the East, down from Canada, across the plains, raging into Alabama and met a wall of warm moist heat, comfortable and soft as a kitten, floating up from the Gulf of Mexico.. When the two fronts met, the violent contact created lightening, torrential rain and winds that marched across the flat landscape like an army of raging beasts. The lucky ones, like ourselves, got an ass rending, wicked thunderstorm, with rain and debris being hurled about like a madman throwing a fit in a tavern.

Those less fortunate, in trailer homes and rural and isolated towns bore the fury of a tornado or three. These cyclones, uncontrollable and inescapable were infrequent visitors to Atlanta, a fact for which we gave thanks..

As the elements swirled and pelted the windows of my office, I heard a gentle tapping on the open door.

“Excuse me, Charles, may I come in?”

Looking up from a series of hieroglyphs I was studying, the figure of Dean Block loomed above me. I respected the Dean and although not close friends, both of us maintained a courteous attitude towards each other, correct and professional. Above all, the Dean was a fine administrator and competent academician.

“Absolutely, please have a seat.”

I gestured to the large burgundy, leather wingback chair to the left of my desk.

“No thank you, Charles. I received a call today from an individual named Howard Phillips. He asked if he could pay you a visit, why I do not know and he wasn’t specific concerning his reasons. Just something about a book, one we have in the museum.”

Hopkins University had one of the largest private museums on any college campus in the United States. I assisted in the curation during my tenure here and for a small school in the South we amassed some extraordinary exhibits.

“Who is this person? What are his credentials? I’ve never heard of him but its obvious has heard of me.”

Dean Block coughed and appeared uncomfortable by his body language and facial expression.

“Mr. Phillips has an impressive academic background…mostly. A Bachelors from the University of Maine and a Masters from Stanford in Ancient Civilizations. His doctorate, however, is, how shall I put this….irregular.”

The Dean had my full attention now, with this strange tale and personal unease.

“And…?” I offered in an attempt to draw an answer out of him

“The University is in Kiev, as in the Ukraine. The name of the school happens to be the Interregional Academy of Personnel Management. Although it is the largest private University in the country, the college has several dubious claims to fame. Infamous as a diploma mill, the place also has the dubious honor of awarding honorary doctorates to a rogue’s gallery of racists, fascists, anti-Semites and the like. Mr. Phillips earned in his Ph.D. in the field of Mythology, Magic and Man.”

“Rather esoteric.” To tell the truth the prospect of meeting this individual in person was losing its appeal.

Block continued.

“Mr. Phillips, among other claims, states his research has shown that Earth has been visited by interdimensional creatures many times in our planet’s history. These monsters travel by way of a time portal and according to Phillips the next time they vacation here, it will be the end of the human race.”

“Dean Block, I don’t want to make light of the situation but it seems Dr. Phillips would be better suited by visiting our medical school rather than the college of Anthropology and Classic Civilizations.”

“That is my impression, too, Dr. Carter.” He took a step and dropped a piece of paper on my desk, as if its touch burned his fingers, or of an material both loathsome and lethal.

“Here is his cell phone number. I suspect he’ll want to meet with you sooner rather than later.”.

I noticed that the bags under the Dean’s eyes were darker and his thin facial features were now gaunt and wasted looking. Picking up the paper I considered throwing it into my wastebasket then an indefinable thought process took over. Curiosity, excitement, fear all rushed into my consciousness at once, like a sudden summer storm would fill a gully.

I dialed the number and Howard Phillips answered in the first ring.

“Dr. Carter I presume?” A calm, clear voice had answered my call. Breathing deeply to calm my nerves, I arrived at the conclusion at least he didn’t sound like a maniac.

“Yes, Dr. Phillips, my Dean said you requested an appointment with me concerning an item in our museum? I’m afraid my schedule is full the rest of the day…”

“Then how about dinner at your home this evening? I’m not fussy and this way we can talk in a relaxed setting, no?” He sounded amused and proud of himself at being an uninvited guest, the thought never occurring to him that my answer would no.

“I’m sorry Dr. Phillips but your proposal is quite awkward. My wife would be aghast at the idea a stranger coming home for supper. Why don’t we schedule some time for tomorrow…”?

“Perfect! I’ll see around 8 pm then. I’ll bring the wine. Your address is still 130 Innsmouth Way, in Roswell? Right, see you this evening.”

Sitting there, stunned, it was as if some unpleasant relative had just announced they were staying for the rest of the month or a herd of wildebeests, unstoppable and relentless trampled my body. I wanted to be furious and call him back, curse his name and tell Mr. Howard Phillips to go to whatever amusing depth of hell he pleased. But I didn’t.

I rang my home number and wife answered.

“Claudia, yes, hello darling. I’m sorry about this but a guest will be joining us for dinner. A rather eccentric academic named Howard Phillips.”

“Do you know this man?” I could tell by her voice she was tense, untrusting and off-balance.

“No, dear. He called Dean Block and the situation took on a life of its own. The man specifically wanted to see me. I couldn’t turn him down,” A long period of silence followed.

“Well what should I cook? There’s not much in the kitchen. Did you really have to put me in this spot, Charles?”

I felt guilty and ashamed, because of my cowardice and lack of backbone in response to the stranger’s demands.

“Claudia, you are one of the best cooks in Atlanta. Fix something Southern and simple, And easy on you. He’s bringing wine, so at the worst we can get pleasantly buzzed. Before we know it, Mr. Howard Philips will be out of our lives.”

We said our goodbyes and I hung up. On the drive home, dodging every variety of incompetent Atlanta driver, huge waves of rainwater and menacing lightening, I wondered why a brief encounter over the phone with an unknown person had rattled me to the point of distraction. A sense of anticipation and adventure soon replaced the anxiety of the moment. I drove on, into the blackened skies and snake slick roads of the Atlanta suburban sprawl.

Claudia had prepared barbequed shrimp and a green salad with a loaf of French bread for sopping up the juices. For dessert a freshly baked pecan pie stood on the counter. The entire house smelled wonderful yet my wife stood there, just a few millimeters shy of sullen, drinking from a large glass of a Bordeaux type red blend.

“Smells wonderful, honey!” I chimed and walked up to give her a warm embrace. She reacted coolly to both the greeting and the hug, making no attempt to return the show of affection nor match my cheerfulness.

A second later, the doorbell rang, startling us both. The clock showed it was 8 pm.

“That must be your guest” My wife spat out the your like a piece of rotten meat.

Opening the door, I looked upon Dr. Howard Phillips for the first time.

“Please come in, Mr. Phillips.”

He looked around my home and beamed. Then my wife walked up to him, keeping a respectable distance and the strange visitor’s eyes grew wide with undisguisable lust and an unhealthy atavistic stare, chilling me to the core.

“Dear, this is Dr. Howard Phillips. Doctor, this is my wife Claudia.” I helped him off with his Navy, double breasted, belted trench coat, while he handed Claudia a parcel.

“I must say, it is thrilling to find such a wonderful home in suburbia! One with true character and respect for history and the classics!” Phillips pivoted and looked around appearing to take in every detail from the moldings to the bookshelves and carpets.

“Oh, my goodness, do I smell barbecue shrimp? Then my wine choices were fortunate, indeed. A Cote du Rhône Red blend from Torrin vineyard in Paso Robles and a Tablas Creek Grenache Blanc. They should pair well with the crustaceans.”

I started to take stock of the man while hung up his coat. His build, imperially slim and below average height, did not radiate physical strength or the capability of intimidation. He wore a grey, tailored suit, with a crisp white shirt and a black tie decorated with a curious red symbol. His narrow face, elongated, tapering down to a pointed chin, with large ears standing out like rear view mirrors gave one the impression of high intelligence. Strong cheekbones dominated his rather large nose and arched eyebrows, with a smallish mouth strengthened by a dark moustache skimming over his upper lip. The man’s dark hair was greased back and his black eyes seemed to capture every detail and movement. Without the mustache, I might have described his face as ferret-like.

The three of sat for dinner and soon the awkwardness of having a complete stranger in our house disappeared. Phillip’s talked of developing his fondness for California wines while a student at Stanford. He spoke at length about the food of New Orleans and the many cultures that melted together to form its unique cuisine.

“It sounds as if you’ve spent a great deal of time in New Orleans, Dr. Phillips.” Claudia, now relaxed and a bit tipsy, and eager to engage our guest.

“Well, indeed I have, Mrs. Carter! Besides being a boring academic, some of my happy duties are administering to various cults around the world. There are quite a number of my followers in Louisiana.”

Claudia and I sat there stunned while Phillips continued eating and raving about the food.

“Pardon me, Dr. Phillips, but did you say cults?”

“Yes, old fellow, quite right, cults, brotherhoods, covens and so on. I don’t even know how many followers I have to be honest.” The he went back to eating and speaking with Claudia about the variety of Southern baked goods, while pouring more wine for the three of us.

“Forgive me, Doctor Phillips, but the word cult has a poor connotation attached to it, along with covens, wiccans and the like. Are any of these associations, for lack of a better word, dangerous?”

He sat back, took a sip of ice water and took a deep breath.

“My friend, throughout history man has always hated and feared the things and people he didn’t understand. The Salem Witch Trials, the Spanish Inquisition and even today, in Africa, hundreds of women accused of sorcery each year are murdered. I am a pastor to my flock, giving them protection, hope and faith. The major difference happens to be I don’t stand behind a wall of superstition or the fear of a vengeful and cruel god.”

Claudia cleared the dinner plates while Phillips and I continued the conversation.

“So, if you don’t believe in one, celestial being, what do you believe in, Mr. Phillips?”

“Oh, I believe in many gods, Dr. Carter. Gods that are beyond our comprehension. Most of these gods have visited earth before. Not in spaceships but through interdimensional portals of space and time. They looked at mankind like pets to be trained and gave us toys. The ability to think critically, to conceptualize design and so on. There were not benevolent, rather they wanted to be amused and entertained. Thus, when they asked for human sacrifice our race was more than happy to acquiesce to the god’s demands. The old gods were so monstrous in appearance that the human mind couldn’t comprehend the full horror of these guests from the netherworld. After a while they returned to their dimension, but they left a guardian and the offspring of carnal affairs with human women. And of course, they relegated a few carefully chosen acolytes to guard their secrets until the day the old gods would return and take back the earth.”

Phillips placed his fork under the last piece of pie and ate it, emitting such a sigh of contentment, He looked as if, for the moment, the world surrounded him in a state of grace.

Claudia sat there, shocked into silence from the sordid story.

“Dr. Phillips, who are these offspring you mentioned? The though of half-human monsters running amok on earth is terrifying and revolting.

“Dr. Carter, I’m surprised at you. The children of the gods are all around us. In South America the Chupacabra gives adults and children many nightmares. The Loch Ness monster has been sighted for ages, and I believe the Loch is deeper than any of us know. From my research I’ve come to the conclusion Loch Ness is part of an under-ocean river, leading to Greenland. The island is full of legends and monsters such as the Qittivoq, the undead creature that haunts the frozen ice sheet, not to mention the Sea Goddess Sedna, a direct descendant of the old gods. Did you know many Inuit still worship Sedna as well as many other gods? Even in the United States Bigfoot is an elusive mystery, as real as the Himalayan Snowman in Asia.”

My head was spinning from the lurid tale Phillips had just told me. I waited for him to tell me it was all a joke, a harmless story, a bit of fancy to amuse companions. But his face betrayed no mirth, no guile and not a shred of irony. Howard Phillips believed everything he told me about visiting gods, half-human creatures and other assorted myths and monsters.

“Claudia, would you mind bringing Dr. Phillips and I some coffee, please? We’ll take in my office. Thank you, dear!”

“Of course, honey, I’ll get it but then I’m going to bed. The wine has hit me like a sledgehammer.”

Phillips gave me a devious smile as he followed me to my library and erstwhile office. Cluttered and decorated with papers, file folders and books strewn about the organized chaos, we sat down and waited in silence for Claudia to bring the coffee. In a few minutes the dear girl brought the beverage in on a silver tray, with two china cups, saucers, half and half, accompanied with a variety of sweeteners.

“Thank you, dear, good night,”

Phillips rose to his feet, grasped my wife’s hand with a gentle touch and murmured

“Thank you for a lovely meal, Mrs. Carter. I hope we shall all meet again.”

I did not appreciate the way he gazed at my spouse and pondering whether to confront his impertinence. However, he preempted any response by saying.

“So, Dr. Carter, let us get back to the original purpose of my visit. There is a book in your museum. It’s worthless to the museum although it is quite rare and ancient artifact, I want it and you will get it for me. You have translated the title as the Nekromoneikon or Book of the Dead. However, its correct name is the Book of the Old Gods.”

To say I was shocked would be an understatement. His affrontery, unacceptable in any situation let alone in an academic one, angered me to the core.

“My answer is no, of course, but please tell me why you want it, Mr. Phillips. Its value is of no good to you. You wouldn’t be able to sell it unless you know some private collector who would be willing to risk his freedom and fortune to obtain the volume.”

“I want the book, Carter, because it is the only one of its kind left in the world. And its not a mere book. Thieves stole it from one of our brotherhoods centuries ago and translated into many languages. And what no one understands is that Nekromoneikon is not a book but a portal, a door as it were to the other dimensions. There are dozens of copies, all of them fake. Your museum, Dr. Carter, has the only remaining copy of the original biblio tôn paliôn theôn the book’s proper name.. The grimoire has been erroneously labelled as an old magic book from the early 300 AD period. In truth, the Book of the Old Gods was written over three thousand years ago. “

All the while, Phillips sat there, legs crossed, looking serene and very pleased with himself. He stirred his coffee with the silver spoon, tapped it three times against the edge of the cup and took a sip.

“Mmmm. Delicious, Doctor. You have excellent taste in coffee. Kona is it not?”

“Why yes, yes, it is.”

I felt like an idiot, sitting there listening to his blather.

“Tell me, once you have the book, what will you do with it?”

I trembled as I asked the question, fearing the answer.

“I don’t mind you asking, Doctor, because I would be curious, too. But take my word for it, you’d be much better off not knowing my purpose. Just get me the book and I promise that you will be rewarded.”

I considered my answer for what seemed an hour. All the while Phillips stared and me and smiled.

“As tempting as your offer is Doctor Phillips, I don’t need any money and I can’t imagine what else you could offer me to steal from the University and ruin my life.”

The stranger remained sitting, smiling and taking a sip of coffee now and then.

“You know Dr. Carter, I believed you would be more broadminded in this matter. You know as well as I, in this life there are far worse things than being terminated or disgraced.”

Then he tilted his head upward in the direction of our bedroom and grinned.

“Enough of this ridiculous charade. I’m must ask you to leave at once, Dr. Phillips. I’ve treated you hospitably and I will not be threatened in my own home!”

I leapt to my feet and opened the door to my office, heading directly to the coat rack. I suppressed my anger as I helped him on with his raincoat and contemplated throwing this crackpot out into the cruel, storm ravaged Atlanta night. He turned and stared at me, his eyes no longer lit by the mirth and charm displayed earlier.

“Thank you for a lovely evening, Dr. Carter. Please thank Mrs. Carter for me. Be seeing you. I’ll let myself out, if you don’t mind.”

I watched him disappear into the rain and fog, desperate with hope never to cross paths with Howard Phillips ever again.

After locking up and shutting off the lights I made my way upstairs. Claudia lay in our bed, already asleep and lightly snoring. Changing into my pajamas I nestled next to her and soon drifted off to the realm of dreams.

Sometime during the night, I awoke to find Claudia staring out of our bedroom window. The flashes of lightening and the ambient light made her appear as some type of wraith.

“Are you alright?”

She turned, shivered and it was obvious she had been crying.

“What’s the matter, Claudia are you sick?”

“No nothing like that. I had a terrible dream. I was on a ship and it was very cold. I was wearing a thin, white shawl over a flimsy white dress. A sailor came up to me and pointed to the gigantic ice mountains off in the distance. Next thing, I fell overboard and trapped under the icy sea, my body sank to the bottom of the ocean, in what seemed to be an infinite drop.”

“My, God, that sounds horrible.”

“It got worse. After the fall I woke up, inside a hall, that seemed to go on forever. In front of me were two massive columns, decorated by rune symbols and monstrous carvings. And then I was pregnant” Her shoulders collapsed and Claudia started to sob.

“I remember going into labor but the baby was horrible, deformed and otherworldly. That’s what woke me up.”

Trying to comfort her I wrapped my arm around her.

“It was only a bad dream. I’m sure the combination of wine and the odd stories our guest told us brought this on. Just go back to sleep.”

“What about the baby? “

This had a been a thorny issue neither of us realized when we married that Claudia was barren and the fact remained a source of great hurt and frustration. We discussed every alternative from adoption, in vitro, to surrogacy. All had their virtues but each came with psychological or practical baggage neither of us wanted.

“Honey, I’m sure that is just a manifestation of your desires and fears. Both us know how things are and we’ve accepted that our life can be happy and fulfilled without children.”

I gave her a stronger hug this time and a peck on her tear moistened cheek then off to bed we went.

In the morning, Claudia was already awake and had made coffee, the smell greeting me much like a familiar friend.

“You’re up early. What’s the occasion?” She seemed unperturbed by the previous evening’s upset and smiled.

“Oh, I have a hair appointment and then I’m going to treat myself to a mani-pedi. A mini-spa day for me.”

“You deserve it honey! I’ll be home around seven this evening. A lot of conferences and meetings today. I’d rather be getting a mani-pedi myself.”

She laughed at my ridiculous comment and gave me a warm hug and kiss before I took off for work. The weather hadn’t improved much. The thunderstorms still battered Atlanta and its suburban sprawl, confounding commuters and keeping the first responders on their toes.

By the time I arrived at the University and entered my office, Dean Block was waiting for me.

“How did it go with Phillips? His face held a look of genuine concern.

“The man is quite ill in my opinion, Richard. He puts up a fine front of charm and scholarly sincerity but I’m afraid that’s a veneer, disguising an unbalanced personality. I’ve met my share of conspiracy theorists and certifiable lunatics, but Phillips is different.”

The Dean sat down; his face began to sallow.

“What happened, Charles?”

“He invited himself over to dinner and in addition to the unmitigated hubris of that action, the man regaled Claudia and I with a long diatribe about secret cults, inter-dimensional monsters, myths and bizarre religious practices. Phillips is a paradox. On one hand he is educated, erudite and social. But he is also bizarre, irrational and possesses a demeanor that I felt masked a violent personality.”

Block shifted in his chair and coughed.

“Should we call campus security? I mean do you think Phillips poses a danger to you or the University?”

“At this point, I believe it best not to follow up with the authorities. Phillips, in my opinion, possesses illusions of grandeur. Making him a subject of police scrutiny would only fuel his warped desire for attention and feed his semi-Napoleon complex. “

The Dean slumped back as if exhausted by my assessment of Howard Phillips. I could read his mind. A prestigious research University should not have these types of problems and a piece of vermin like our uninvited guest should never be allowed to set foot on campus. Like many administrators, Dean Block preferred simple, anonymous solutions to complex problems. Confrontation of any sort was an anathema to the Dean.

I ushered him out, assuring him that all would be fine. I didn’t mention Phillip’s request for the book, figuring that bit of information could only bring a heavier security presence or increased scrutiny of my activities.

The remaining workday, blissful in its monotony and free from drama, passed quickly, and I relieved to see the clock crawl its way to six PM. The ride home, typical of short Atlanta commutes, filled with drivers terrified of the moderate rainfall, others who never learned to use their turn signals and the rest who drove distracted or felt they were immortal. The music thumping out my system helped push the memory of Howard Phillips to the dark caverns of my memory.

Arriving home shortly before seven, I noticed the houselights were off. This troubled me because Claudia typically kept on almost every electronic device in our home. Opening the garage door, I parked next to Claudia’s vehicle. The two images were almost mutually exclusive. If Claudia was home, as indicated by the presence of her automobile, then the lights should be on.

I entered my home through the garage door walking down a short hallway to the kitchen. Dark, with everything in place, all evidence pointed to the conclusion no cooking had been done this evening.

“Claudia?!” I said louder than usual. When my greeting received no response, I walked to the stairs, but saw a small bit of light coming from my office. I turned and entered.

There was enough light for me to make out the figure of a man sitting in my chair with his legs crossed, face obscured by the darkness, a small candle providing the ambient glow.

“Who the f…” I stammered in my shock.

At the same time a hand reached out to turn on a lamp. There sat Howard Phillips, looking smug and imperial, relaxing in my chair, drinking some of my scotch.

“You bastard! What the hell are you doing in my house?” I fumed, tossing over several scenarios in my mind.

“Please relax, Charles. No reason to be upset. I’ve come to work out the details of your cooperation in my pursuit of the Book.”

I had a feeling of dread wash over, like a wave of icy sewage, nauseating me and almost dropping me to my knees.

“Where’s Claudia, you bastard. If you’ve done anything to her I’ll fucking kill you!”

My words leapt out of my throat like Dragon’s fire and I tensed up ready to spring upon the gloating, preening abomination in front of me.

“Please, Charles. Claudia is safe and will remain so, as long as I have your cooperation. However, I must warn you, any attempt to disrupt my plans or attempt to harm me, will subject her to the most horrible violation and then death.”

The son of a bitch said this as if he were reading a recipe out Julia Child’s cookbook. I snapped.

“You bastard!”

I stepped forward to throttle his wretched neck.

From out of the darkness, two black clad men seized my arms and I was hurled back into a chair. It was akin to running into a wall and my arms throbbed where the two brutes had manhandled me.

“Oh, I apologize. These two gentlemen are lascars, my personal bodyguards. At one time they were the most fearsome and loyal sailors of the British East India Company. As the Empire collapsed, they found me a generous ally. These are the men guarding Claudia. I understand your sentimentality, Charles and I sympathize. But I hold all the cards, as they say. Just think of this as a great adventure, one you will remember for the rest of your life. I am offering you an opportunity to become one of us, a brotherhood of the elite. When the old gods return, you and I shall rule over all humanity. Doesn’t that sound irresistible?”

“No, you deranged asshole, on the contrary it sounds monstrous. “

This beast had put me in an untenable position. Claudia could already be dead, but if I didn’t help this mad fiend, her death would be guaranteed. My mind, battered by the obscene choice I had to make, gave way like rotten floor as sobs and soft cries of anguish left my body. I imagined what poor Claudia was going through, alone, with killers and deviants, insane with fear. The thought threatened to drain whatever sanity I had left out of me much a sink full of the soul being unplugged.

“There, there, Charles, buck up. I need you to be strong and Claudia needs you to be strong. Use that natural curiosity of yours like a rock. Regardless, I’ve found that diving right into a project is the best protection against sadness and other negative emotions. Tomorrow you will go to the University and request to examine the Nekromoneikon. You are one of the few people authorized to do so. Dr. Carter, and please ask that insufferable Dean of yours, for a leave of absence for scientific research that will bring the school fame and fortune.”

Having calmed down and accepting the unpleasant state of affairs I regained enough courage to ask Phillips about the details of his plan.

“It’s simple Dr. Carter. I will give you a briefcase. Inside will be a copy of the book, almost impossible to distinguish from the original. While you pretend to examine the Nekromoneikon place the copy inside the displace case. Then place the original in the briefcase. Leave and come home. Are my instructions clear?”

My heart beat faster than a racehorse coming around to the finish line. In less than a day and a half, my life had been turned upside down, the cozy existence Claudia and I built for each other gone, the remnants crushed to dust, blown away by capricious fate or the hand of a vengeful God.

“Tell me, Phillips, why couldn’t you have seduced Block or one of the other Professors to do your bidding? “

Phillips smiled and rose to his feet.

“You don’t know? I’m a little surprised, Dr. Carter. Isn’t the situation more than obvious. You are the one person in America and quite probably the world whose knowledge exceeds that of my own concerning the Book of the Old Gods. Your broad knowledge of classic and fringe languages is unmatched. And finally, yes Dr. Cater, you were the perfect subject I could blackmail.”

I felt ill while this mad fiend spouted this gibberish. Not for one second did I believe his mystical rantings which added to the surreal qualities of this peculiar situation. Trapped, unable to go to the police or extricate myself from Phillip’s web, I made a decision to cooperate and not resist. Claudia’s life was at risk.

“Fine, Phillips, I’ll do whatever you want me to do.”

The son of a bitch clapped his hands together and smiled as if I’d paid him an enormous compliment.

“Fantastic, Charles! I knew you’d come around. Don’t worry about Claudia. My lascars are well-disciplined so no harm will come to her as long as we remain partners.”

He slid the large, brown, weather-beaten briefcase over to me with his foot.

“See you tomorrow evening, Doctor and please do your best not to screw things up.”

He and his henchmen disappeared and I poured myself at least four ounces of good scotch, wondering if things would ever get back to the way they were before I met Howard Phillips.

The next morning, I cancelled all of my planned activities for a so-called research day. I requested an examination room at the museum and went through the protocols for taking the book out of its display case. We had a good system to minimize the handling of rare documents. A cart designed to accommodate rare and fragile specimens, held a sealed chamber made of mylar. Then any artifact could be wheeled about the museum into the examination room.

I put on my gloves and set-up the microscope, The Nekromoneikon weighed a short ton and I struggled to place it on the table.

We never determined the material of the pages. Because the manuscript was ancient, paper would have shown signs of deterioration. As I stared at the artwork and the colors it became obvious the biblio tôn paliôn theôn was unique. The language bore resemblance to ancient Greek and every so often there were figures similar to Egyptian hieroglyphs and the disturbing presence of rune symbols. The hieroglyphs were from an earlier time and the runes had no business in a text as old as the volume in front of me.

Early in my career at the University, I had examined the book and translated some sections from Classic Greek to English. I deduced the proper title as Images of the Dead or so I thought. There seemed no connection between the title and the mentions of myriad monsters, gods, rituals and obscene rites within the book. Each of my colleagues believed the biblio tôn paliôn theôn to be a mystic Greek interpretation of the human life cycle, and described each god’s role in the process from birth to death, based on myths rather than fact.

A thought struck me like a thunderbolt. Where had the museum obtained this copy of the book? University lore told the story of a certain Professor Derleth who travelled to Germany at the end of World War Two. His mission involved the cataloguing the many works of art plundered by the Nazis and if possible, find the rightful owners. One eventful day a seedy looking man approached Derleth and showed him a rare book. This individual had belonged to the SS and in a desperate attempt to escape Germany he offered to sell the book to Derleth. When the professor questioned why he would want the volume the man answered

“Because the Book of the Dead holds every secret known to man”

Intrigued, Derleth offered fifty dollars which the man accepted. The professor brought the book to the Hopkins Museum where it had remained until today.

I leaned back from the microscope and tried to piece together all the discordant information. They formed a puzzle consisting of an occult book from ancient Greece, Nazis, Phillip’s lurid tales about cults, interdimensional monsters and the end of the world.

Then all the fog and clouds cleared and I saw for the first time what had been there all along. The symbol on Phillip’s tie. I googled the icon on my tablet. Phillip’s tie had a red version of the Schwarze Sonne or Black Sun, consisting of a sun surrounded by 12 Sig runes. The number twelve had great significance in the world of the occult. In many religions, such as the ancient Greeks, the number 12 is considered holy and sacred for many generations. There are 12 main gods in Greek mythology, Odin had 12 sons, the Old Testament tells of Jacob having progeny who formed the 12 tribes of Israel, 12 disciples of Christ in Christianity, the Hindu Sun God Surya has 12 names and there were 12 Imams in the Islamic religion. Phillips had mentioned there were a number of cults in his flock. I wondered if there were twelve covens of these maniacs spread out across the world.

I went back to my examination of the book and there it was on the second page, hidden in plain sight. The wheeled sun but written in black, a dark, forbidding center, surrounded by a circle from which the 12 runes radiated outwards sealed by a larger circle.

I knew the Nazis, especially Himmler and Hitler were fascinated by the occult. The former even had a mosaic of the Schwarze Sonne on the floor in Weweisburg Castle, a sort of special events venue for the SS.

A sense of creeping evil filled the examination room as the realization of how The Book of the Old Gods exuded all things perverse and decadent. The walls seemed to press inward, an incremental movement but perceptible. Perspiration soaked my shirt and brow as the longer I was in the presence of the book, it seeped poison into the small room.

The word hyperborea appeared often in the text. To the Greeks, this meant the top of the world, more commonly translated as paradise. I pondered if this is where Phillips thought his portal resided, the gateway to the inter-dimensional worlds of monsters too horrible to contemplate.

Lightheaded and parched for thirst, I downed three full glasses of ice-water in rapid succession. Looking at the clock, I knew the time had come to leave. I placed the original biblio tôn paliôn theôn in the briefcase and placed the copy onto the document cart. Wheeling the copy into the museum I finished up my business and left to return home.

Phillips and several of his men awaited me as I pulled in to my driveway. A large limousine, parked at the curb seemed to be his vehicle. He beckoned as I got out of my vehicle and strolling over to him, noticed he had opened the door and inviting me to sit.

The limo was quite luxurious, all dark leather and wood, a handsome bar and comfortable seats.

“Where are we going, Phillips?”

“To the greatest adventure of our lifetimes, Dr. Carter.”

He raised an open bottle of Veuve Cliquot and offered a glass.

“Where is Claudia?”

Phillips took a sip from his own glass and murmured.

“She’s safe. Don’t worry. Have a glass of bubbly and try to enjoy yourself. We have a long journey. “

“May I ask where we are going, Dr. Phillips?”

“Of course. To the land of Ice and Fire. Another book awaits us. One that was considered a myth and a joke. The Raudởskinna or Red Book. written by the mad Bishop Gottsalk Grimmi Nikulsson, over fifteen hundred years ago. The bad Bishop wrote book of Satanic spells, rumored to be so powerful that it could be used to control the devil himself. Too bad it didn’t work out so well for him. According to legend, Satan found his spells too personal and dragged him off to hell. The Raudởskinna disappeared and all assumed it was lost.”

I had heard of the Bishop and the book. Many contemporary scholars thought the Raudởskinna to be the genuine Nekromoneikon. Reputed to be bound in human skin, the spells contained pages to raise the dead, allow human flight and a whole catalogue of unsavory and sadistic rituals.

“I am familiar with the book. Phillips. What does it have to do with our travels?”

“Don’t you see? The Raudởskinna is a companion piece to the Nekromoneikon. More modern, an update as you will. Most important, it gives us directions to the portal. The Nekromoneikon has the spells to open the portal and greet the Old Gods. However, The Raudởskinna tells where to perform the ceremony.”

“Excuse me, Phillips, but if the Raudởskinna is lost how do expect to find the location of your horrid temple?”

Laughter erupted like lava from Howards Phillips reddened face, nearly spilling the Champagne all over his tweed coat.

“Oh, you do amuse me, Charles. I already have the Raudởskinna. Mind you, the search required a great deal of energy and cost. But as you can see, both are not a problem. My flock is quite generous and donate freely to my cult.”

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