An Untitled Short Story by Terry Mahoney - Inspired by H. P. Lovecraft
The untitled story appearing below was authored by Terry Mahoney and published in the "Short Stories" section on the creative writing site, "Helium." It was formerly found at this address:
Short stories: Inspired by H. P. Lovecraft
It is republished here in support of this article on The Open Scroll Blog: Part 17 - Rochester, NY - The Blood Sealed Vault of Cthulhu
I know I have been remiss in writing you all, but I have been incredibly busy lately. It has been more than two weeks, but you will, I'm sure, forgive me when I tell you it hasn't just been work and my other hobbies keeping me away. A recent letter made me recall something I did when I was very young; no more than four or five, and my decision on what to do about it is taking up most of my time.
I recall the ceremony in 1962 quite clearly. I was quite young, but Professor Alicea from Miskatonic University had approached my parents earlier in the year. I was too young to remember much of their conversation, but I do remember the professor mentioning the "black mark."
They were talking about my birthmark, a dark purplish black mark in the shape of an anemone on the back of my right hand. Later, at the grand opening of the Midtown Plaza in downtown Rochester, my mother held that hand in hers as the politicians gave speeches. The professor was watching from front row, and I could see his lips moving, forming strange words like those he had taught me.
My mother's gloved hand held mine tightly, her fingertips digging into my birthmark. The speeches ended, and with a squeeze, my mother let go of my hand. I felt everyone's eyes on me as I walked down the line of people to Mayor Gillette. He was holding a big pair of silvery scissors.
"Here you go, son," he said, and ruffled my hair.
On the long drive to the city from Lakewood the professor had made me repeat that same strange, alien phrase over and over again. I can't remember the words now. Somehow I forgot them on the ride home. But when I took those big scissors and turned and cut the fat red ribbon, I said the words, just like I had practiced.
As the ribbon fluttered down, I felt a sharp tingling in my birthmark, almost like the time I had touched the bare patch on the kitchen lamp's power cord. My vision shifted a bit then, in a way I can now only describe as curdled. I was focusing on one of the puppets in the Clock of Nations, and while I could see the puppet Statue of Liberty, the rest of my field of vision seemed to crinkle up and pull in.
Then the mayor ruffled my hair again, and I don't remember much after that except the crinkle cut French fries at dinner before we checked into the hotel.
I sit now in the house I have largely built myself in Canandaigua, NY, and look again at the letter in my hand. I haven't thought about that day in the Midtown Plaza for more than 20 years. Professor Alicea's handwriting was legible, but wildly erratic. In the same sentence, he would switch from cursive to block letters and back to a completely different style of cursive.
The gist of the letter was that I needed to come to visit the professor in Arkham, or what I had done so long ago would be undone and some sort of vault or gate would reopen and creatures with a whole lot of consonants and not many vowels in their names would be free to terrorize Rochester. It sounds strange, I know, but I remember that shock and my curdled vision too well not to take the request seriously.
I had gone to Arkham, to the asylum that was now the professor's home. The man was in his nineties now, and when I first saw him, he seemed catatonic. I could hardly afford the time away from work, or the gas for the ten hour drive to Massachusetts. And when I got there, the person I came to see hardly seemed capable of holding a pen, much less writing a letter.
I had waved my hand in front of the professor's face, and he remained distant, until I lowered my hand. As my birthmark came into view, the professor's eyes lit up, and he quickly grabbed my hand and with surprising strength pulled and twisted it so the squiggly mark was right in front of his face.
He never looked me in the eye; instead he spit out a stream of words so quickly that I could not understand what he was saying. When he was done speaking (he never let go of my hand or looked away from my birthmark) I remained silent, trying to remember anything of what he said.
Then he spoke again, this time more slowly; almost too slowly. I was disconcerted until I realized he was repeating exactly, down to a clearing of his throat between certain words, his message from before. Now that he was speaking slowly, I understood more of it. I can't repeat it, verbatim, here, but I will say he said that the demolition of the Midtown Plaza, and the relocation of the Clock of Nations to the airport dangerously weakened the seal on "the vault."
He said I needed to take those same scissors, and he gave me words to say again. I couldn't understand them at first, but he repeated the same thing, over and over again, like he was some sort of tape recorder. I finally mastered the chant, and halfway through his next recitation he stopped, dropped my hand and fell silent.
I looked him in the eye then, and that vacant stare was back, except for what looked like the remotest spark. I felt as though I was staring through the wrong lens of a telescope. After repeated attempts to get through to him again, I turned to leave. His hand flew out and grabbed my shoulder. His other hand, feeling around as though he was blind, found my other shoulder, and tried to pull me back around to face him. I turned and I was struck again by the feeling of staring into the wrong end of a telescope.
But the spark of life was definitely in those eyes. His mouth started working, but his voice was so low as to be indiscernible. Then, with a frustrated shake of the head, the volume came up. He was still holding onto me, but now his hands slackened, and just one sentence came out, over and over.
"This time, you must seal it with blood."
He sped up and slowed down, but after a dozen repetitions, I pulled away and went to the door of his cell. His hands reached around for a bit, searching for me. His voice stopped dead, halfway through his sentence and his arms went down.
On the drive back to Canandaigua I practiced the odd words the professor had taught me. On I-90 somewhere past Schenectady I came to quite suddenly. I hadn't even noticed I passed out. I felt like I had just been having a conversation, and when I turned to look to my right, I saw my own reflection in the passenger side window. My reflection seemed to smile and say something to me, something in that guttural yet sibilant language the professor used.
My birthmark flashed, and I swerved back into my lane. I had been about to ram into the jersey barrier. I had decided not to practice the phrase again, at least until I got home.
But now I am home, and I have pulled those big scissors out of their attic box, and I contemplate what to do next. I practice the phrase in front of the mirror, and I seem to be able to control myself. One time I blinked for a bit too long, and my mind wandered. I seemed to dream another conversation in that odd language. When I reopened my eyes, my hair seemed to be bunched in waving, smooth clumps.
I don't really know what to do. My wife doesn't like me to sleep with the scissors, mostly because I won't tell her what they are for. I also see an eye appear sometimes in my birthmark. It is looking wildly around, and I see it in my peripheral vision. When I focus on it, it closes, and the skin seals up as if it were never there.
I contemplate cutting it out with the scissors, which seems like a good idea, but every time I try, the eye moves at the last second and I just end up poking myself with the ends of the scissors. I think I'll just head down to the old Midtown Plaza tomorrow and see if I can't figure all this out on my own.
It is kind of hard to type with just my right hand, but I wanted to finish this note. You have been patient enough, waiting for me to write, and I would be remiss if I went to the hospital first.
Well, I figured out what the professor wanted. On the drive down, the eye came back, right there in front of my. It grew larger and more distinct the closer I got to the demolition site. I could see now it wasn't a human eye. The pupil looked more like a glistening octopus. Spreading from the center were tentacles that seemed to push up the white of the eye, and the lashes seemed to wiggle of their own volition.
When I asked the eye what I needed to do, it just stared at me for a bit, and then turned to look at my left hand. I followed its gaze, and noticed a tingling in my finger tips. At the tip of each finger (not the thumb) was a copy of my birthmark, except in white. Each had its own tiny eye.
I was transfixed by the little white, wiggling sea anemones, and the eye in my right hand took the wheel. It is odd, but it felt completely normal to let the eye steer, and even tell me when to brake or hit the gas.
I don't really remember how I got into the mall, but there I was, walking past the dismantled mall monorail. I remembered riding it years ago, at Christmas time. I came to where the Clock of Nations had been and stopped, conscious of the big scissors in my right hand for the first time.
There, in the scarred floor where the clock once stood, a fissure had opened. A single green tentacle had started to nose its way out, but the eye blinked at me soothingly, so I didn't worry. Besides, I had the scissors.
Then my left hand shot out toward the tentacle, and the white marks on my left fingertips seemed to blossom. Things vaguely like anemone and mushrooms sprouted, and seemed to grow rapidly to meet the thrusting tentacle halfway.
When they met, I felt that same electric shock I had felt so long ago when I cut the ribbon. The eye on my right hand blinked at me again, and seemed to pull my right hand toward the sprouting left hand.
I remember snipping the first white tentacle, and hearing an odd sound sort of like a whistling scream issue from the end. The eye in my right hand wrinkled its brow at me as if to say that was not good enough.
I had known it wouldn't be enough, but I had wanted to experiment. I began to repeat the strange phrase then, and started snipping away.
About fifteen minutes later, as I was rooting around for something to staunch the flow of blood, I realized I had left the scissors back by the rift. I went back to get them, and surveyed my handiwork.
My fingers had all landed in the cleft. I pride myself on meticulous work, so I was happy to see that. The smears of blood around the edge couldn't be helped. The eye was gone, but it had winked once at me before it left to signal its approval on a job well done.
I used the scissors to cut a chunk out of a hanging banner announcing SpringFest08, and used that and some drywall tape to tie off my left hand.
Now, I am back at my truck. Someone around here has an unsecured wireless router, so I am able to logon, finish this letter and send it out to you all. It is a pain typing with just my right hand now, and I seem to be developing some sort of tunnel vision, but I have been remiss in my correspondence, so I'll just soldier on. I'll write again when I get back home. Until then, please be patient.