My first story of the year, I tried to do something Lovecraftian with this one - not sure that I succeeded particularly well but I gave it a go!
The Strangeness Came.
The 12th day of January, 1887.
It has been many years since last I put pen to paper, and so I beg forgiveness for my bluntness and lack of skill. My name is, or was Edward Ghert; and within this letter I record fully, finally, and with accuracy as best my memory can serve me, the events that have bound me to this place ere these past 24 years of my life. I beg that the reader take what I say with some seriousness, for I do not write eagerly. The events and happenings that I record within this memoire are fully the truth and so far as I have the knowledge to say, have been witnessed by no other that yet lives. I fear I too will be released of my mortal coil before long. Even now my mind seeks the void, and in my heart I know I shall not again see the light of day. My purpose therefore is record what I have found here for the wider world, so that no man nor woman will be met with such horrors as I have, without fair warning. Finally, I must dissuade with the utmost forcefulness any desire to measure the phenomena detailed herein with the methods and instruments of science, for they can be measured only in madness, and never understood by the simple minds of we apes.
By way of introduction, and with full disclosure I must admit that I have sinned grievously in my life. Once, ere I came to this place, I was a hunter and a fisherman, and though I managed well enough in my life I was as are many folk; unsatisfied with my lot. Though I lived well enough, I sought greater wealth, and one evening decided that if I could not have it by honest means, then I would grasp it by less honest means. So it was that upon a still night, in my desire I prepared my Colt, and secreted myself by an old trail overlooking the river that I knew so well. It was an easy task to wait for a carriage to pass nearby, leaden with goods, and it was no difficult job to demand the wealth of the merchant inside - for this was an area previously unblighted by banditry or highwaymen, and so he had no guard. The man turned over what he had, but in my gleeful, lusting mind I made an error; so betaken was I by the sight of the gleaming riches (such as I had never known), that I grew heedless. Seeing this, the merchant man drew his knife and lunged for me, but I was the quicker - I shot him through the heart at less than an arms length away.
I did not understand, before that night, what it meant to kill a man. I was not prepared for the cost. I did not know that shooting that man would inflict such a wound upon my own heart. A better man would have turned himself in, or shot himself in reparation for his evil deed. I did not; in my cowardice I fled the town I had known all my life, and taking what little I had, set out in self imposed exile.
So it was that after many months I came to this place. By my reckoning it is far to the north and east of the shore (from which I left), in the wilds of deepest Alaska. In the last twenty-four years I have met less than a handful of travellers throughout the surrounding areas, and none in the place I speak of (though I have seen 'others'), which I call "The Pool" as I know not whether there was once an older name for it. I enclose overleaf a reckoning of the stars, so that the reader may discern the location of this place and mark it on a map for all to see as a black spot.
When I first came to this place I was weary from many months of traveling. The surrounding wilderness is vast, empty, and silent of all man-made noise, today as it was when I first came here. Thus, I decided I had come far enough. I found a flat area of land, shadowed by the canopy of the dark forests edge, and set about building the beginnings of the cabin in which I now, by lamplight, write this letter. Beyond the forest there is a great plain, stretching as far as ones eye can see, until it eventually meets the sheer rise of the vast mountains in their grand and rugged beauty. I thought it a wonderful place, and thought that such a place would surely quiet my mind - a vain hope. Through the edge of the forest nearby there is a wide but shallow river, which sustains me to this day. The place seemed a perfect haven for a man in exile, a perfect place to live as a monk would, dedicating oneself to the toils of the land and to repentance for sins committed. In my child-like wonder I did not at this time explore deeper into the forest. Indeed, had I done so I would have left without waiting for the morning light.
I did not explore the land fully for many years, for though I set out upon my own short expeditions there was always much to do about my farm and in the keeping of my cabin. I have grown over the years as many varieties of vegetables as I could find seed and work land for, I have fished the river and harvested the fruits of the plains and the forest. All of these things take many hours and so you see it is not such a difficult thing that I lived here for so long before I ventured down into the sheer, dark valley merely a day and a half by foot from my home.
The day began as many others, it was a calm day with no wind and a peaceful silence about it broken only by the calls of hunting birds in the distant skies and up by the mountains. By the break of noon I found myself restless, listless. I had felt this way, with increasing frequency and intensity for the past few months, and today my restlessness hit a fever-pitch. I felt a strong desire to walk - I knew not where at the time, I only felt a strong pull towards the forest. I knew of the valley of course, but as it is a treacherous path for an unprepared traveller I had not yet taken the time to travel down into its' depths, only skirting the edges in my short treks. Today I knew I would venture down into it; it seemed an innocent enough desire at the time. I grew tired in my boredom, and the valley was yet unknown to me - so why not? If only I could turn back the wheel of time, change my decision, but alas. The day of travel through the forest passed by without incident, I had taken the route many times before, and the forest is remarkably peaceful considering its proximity to the great darkness. My restlessness faded to nothing as my travels commenced, and I felt at ease - peaceful, even. A calm before the storm. My knowledge of the area had taken me to the valleys edge by late morning. As I stood there upon the precipice looking down into that deepest darkness I could feel nothing but the pull of desire. Strong and intense, like a yearning for a lost love. I studied the side of the valley, looking for a way down. I had brought ropes you see, thinking that I might need them in my decent. However much to my pleasure (at the time) I eventually found a pathway, bored into the valley side. It looked strangely well worn - a thought that gave me no immediate concern in my elation at the finding of a path at all.
I had a rushed breakfast and began my decent of the treacherous pathway down the sheer valley side. It was slow going, and I was no longer a young man at this time, having reached my sixtieth year three months earlier. The loose gravel and shale underfoot was an ever present danger as I went, giving no warning as to when it might give way. In the early afternoon after a long period of intense focus on my clambering decent I finally looked back the way I had come. From near the bottom of the valley I noticed that the sun had faded to but a faraway glow, shining through the crack of the top of the valley from whence I had come. The distance I had covered suddenly became real and overwhelming, fearful even - to make it back up that track tonight would be a difficult task and I did not much fancy the idea of spending the night down here, near the valley floor. I swallowed my fear and sudden longing for the surface and checked my surroundings. The thin trail was becoming wider, meeting up with the valley floor not far ahead. In the growing darkness, the light failing to fully penetrate the valley this far down, a question ate slowly at the back of my mind. Who was it that had created and had clearly, very recently been using this path I had just come down? As I went the question transformed from a minor curiosity to a maddening, deafening demand in my mind.
Still I pushed on, and as I came to the valley floor I noticed the strange vegetation under my feet. Short, like bunches of docken plants, but with strange protrusions upon their spines and leaves and a blue-green colouration. The plants crushed underfoot as I went, still following the strange path. My fear told me not to go, but my desire for knowledge was the stronger. I had to know what was down there. The embrance of that desire was a great weakness of my mind. One that will forever haunt me. The valley sides grew closer and yet closer as I went until they were no more than the width of two broad men astride. I noticed now the strange patterns on the walls. I had seen similar things earlier in the day but assumed they were simply a result of natural wear in the valley side. Now, however they were so many and with such regularity that they betrayed an intelligent author - these were not the markings of time. My mind raced with possibility - could it be some ancient, undiscovered people? I knew from my reading that there were many such clans in the dark, unknown jungles of South America; could such a people exist here as well? As I went the markings gave way to strange drawings, depicting haunting creatures of fancy, some with many eyes and strange limbs, others as more earthly creatures; strange insects and birds, each of them dismembered in some new, more creative way than the last. A tingling chill ran down my spine, but still I pushed on. Far be it for me to be scared off by the mere drawings of some strange people. I went further, until the valley closed off into the mouth of a cave, ominous, and stinking. By now the fear was real and strong within me, crushing and desperate - but still I kept on, for though I was never a good man, I was not a coward. The entrance was not large enough for me to walk through without bending over and so I did, half-crawling inward as it widened on the inside. Descending from the mouth of the cave I continued downward through the ever increasingly intense scent of rot. Until I came rather abruptly upon a large and cavernous opening. There I observed some of the most alien plants I have ever laid eyes on, or perhaps they were objects of worship for this strange people. The objects were the height of a tall man, and twice as broad, each enclosed within its own rectangular picket-fence. I studied the strange things for a time, my fear replaced with curiosity - each one was different; like trees but with faces where the branches would protrude, human or lizard, furry mammal or fish. Each had a different anatomy, with many feet or roots, some more than others. I noted that one of these 'ent-pens' was empty, with only a deep imprint where once its weird occupant would have rested.
I ventured forth, for the chamber was not massively wide and there was a discernible, short doorway on the opposite side. Upon peeking my head through the low entrance I was immediately frozen in fear. The stench in this chamber had reached its most intense level since I entered this stinking pit, and the temperature dropped noticeably. In the centre of the huge chamber before me hung a single, long, thick, protrusion. Following it up with my gaze I saw one, two, and then many more similar things, like fat snakes hanging from the ceiling. As my eyes adjusted to the greater darkness I saw more; limbs - huge and ending in barbarous clawed appendages, each as large as a cow. I had not inhaled a breath since I entered this room and as I stared into the darkness at the centre of the horrifying mass of tentacles and limbs I saw an even deeper blackness begin to emanate from the very rooftop, as though it had sensed my presence. I screamed then, a wailing scream so piecing that I hear it even now in my dark dreams, my mind left me and I scrambled like an animal falling and rolling smashing my head against the walls as I fought my way back to the surface. I gouged and cut my hands and face and shins as I made my maddened ascent, screaming all the way until I could scream no more. I remember not the rest of my journey back to my homestead. I fear that my mind was so deeply lost that I simply ran as an animal. I awoke the next day upon my porch. Now, dear reader, as I write to you I can feel the same madness once again. My mind is slipping with every hour. For I did not escape the cosmic darkness on that night. It claws at me, demands my mind as payment for my trespass. I beg you. Do not make the same mistake I have made. Leave this cursed place to the thing in the valley.