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Has anyone heard of a pill called Ichor?

Has anyone heard of a pill called Ichor?


Estimated reading time — 63 minutes

Before anything else, I want to make it clear I’m not a journal-keeping kinda guy, so apologies if the formatting’s out of whack. Usually I get by just fine with my memory.

A lot happened in July this year. So much that I’m still processing it four months later. What I can say for certain, is I now have the answers – mostly – and I’m glad it’s all over. It’s a hell of a story to tell, and it’s all wrapped up in a battered journal. A journal that survived a fall from cloud level inside a Volkswagen hatchback.

I can’t tell you why I got involved in Ichor in the first place. I could tell you it’s because I love a good rabbit-hole – building a jigsaw puzzle from lost pieces with no requisite image in mind. But I’d be telling a half-truth, because no one in their right mind would’ve continued down the path that laid itself before me.

Gah, I’m rambling. You’re not here to read about me, you’re here to find out what Ichor is – and let me tell you, it’s a can – no, a BARREL of worms.

I’ve taken the liberty of transcribing my journal with no detail expunged, because they all mean something. They’re all pieces of that puzzle. I’ve got most of it now, but to get even the slightest understanding you’ll need to follow the story wound throughout my journal.

_____________________________

July 17th 2023

Dear diary, I’m already getting cheesy aren’t I? I’m just antsy to write this down. Normally I’d pass this off as an unremarkable change in ownership, but something about Channel 79’s abrupt lane switch – from reruns of classics to this rambling preacher guy – feels… off.

I’m more intrigued than I am disappointed at losing Raiders of the Lost Ark every weekend.

There’s something contrived about the man on the TV. At a cursory listen he sounds like any old raving Bible thumper on their obscure backwater channels. Wisps of greying hair whip around as he fervently delivers verses, fragmented sermons, everything one might expect.

And yet, there’s no clear structure or meaning I can find in it. No common thread can be gleaned from each verse to the next. If I didn’t know any better I’d say he has a monitor beneath the podium, scrolling randomly selected Bible excerpts for him to read.

Ah, damnit. TV’s faulty again. I wanted to come back to Channel 79 so I muted it, but the preacher’s voice is still there, dribbling into my ears. Well, it’s a lot quieter at least, sounds muffled too. I should really just get a new set.

I’ll watch a little longer. Twenty minutes, maybe. Had work today, got more tomorrow, and I’m not willing to trade staying up to watch this zealot for the hell of early morning fatigue.

_____________________________

July 18th 2023

Long day today. Channel 79’s been an itch I haven’t been able to scratch for the best part of nine hours. Tuning in now. I’ll take notes and organise them here.

Okay, so a few interesting things I noticed:

1: The preacher’s is the only audible voice. However, behind the poor reception and its crackling, I’m about half certain there’s an audience. Slight hisses that might be whispers, sparse hums and hahs – I can’t tell for sure though. If there is an audience, they’re clearly reluctant to join in. The idea of a crowd watching this man in near total silence is quite disconcerting.

2: Aside from how he meanders between unrelated and fragmentary parables, some of what he’s saying is starkly what one could call ‘Biblical’. I mean, on the surface it sounds like something you might find in the book, but if you really listen- I’ll just give some examples, it’s easier than putting into words:
– “How sweet is the nectar of our Lord”
– “The window to ascend will be fleeting. Paradise waits for none and if we count ourselves among the unprepared, prevail we shall not. Salvation will slip by for but a moment and no more.”
– And so sayeth the Heavenly Father, “sequester thy jars that I have blessed, ye children of Terra. Let the rich earth nurture mine angels until the day is ripe.”
Yeah, weird talk.

3: Despite having no visible skin irritation, every so often the preacher has these outbursts of frenzied scratching all across his body, then recuperates just as suddenly. Sometimes he mumbles vague supplications during these tics. Is he talking to someone off-screen?

I know I’m only watching through a television. It just feels like the mere action of spectating is inherently wrong. As if this broadcast isn’t meant for my eyes.

This is all getting a bit much for a Tuesday night. The flickering blue light’s gonna do a number on my circadian rhythm. I’ll watch a bit longer then go to sleep.

Welp. Insomnia it is, I guess. No fucking way I’m sleeping after what I just watched.

It’s true my internet’s a spotty mess, so it didn’t immediately strike me as odd that the image froze. That is, until remembering this is cable. Almost on queue, the frozen preacher blinked. He BLINKED. The notion he’d been standing there still as a brick the entire time really got to me. Who the fuck stands motionless for that long on live TV?

_____________________________

July 19th 2023

2.30am, super hazy right now. After a not-so-thorough consideration I decided to tune into Channel 79 again. At least this way I’m subject to the objective, instead of hopelessly wondering about what he’s saying when I’m not watching.

Wow. Something new… just now I turned it on and for whatever reason the volume was reset to full. Almost threw the remote into the drywall before I could mute it and bring back silence. Caught my bearings and noticed the small white box with green accents sitting on the podium. That was not there before.

This TV’s too old to support a pause function – I resorted to taking a couple of burst photos on my phone. Most had way overblown exposure and only a few look promising.

It’s too late. Gotta sleep. I’ll see what I can do in GIMP tomorrow.

_____________________________

July 20th 2023

The last two hours at the till were an anxious hell, because I realised something that, in my tiredness, didn’t occur to me last night.

It’s such a small, insignificant detail.

I muted the TV last night, and it worked.

But when I did that two nights before, the audio continued playing, albeit muffled and subdued.

It’s totally plausible my TV is just a piece of shit. It is. And yet I can’t shake this feeling of wrongness.

Maybe Al’s been watching this thing too? Oh, right. Al and Carrie are my roommates. We share a downtown apartment in an old and dilapidated grey cube. Lavish, right? Anyway, Al’s room is next to mine and the walls here are basically paper.

I’ll go ask him about it.

Rather than dissecting every notable exchange I’ll jot them down in a sort of transcript format. Figure it’ll be easier to come back to, for me or anyone else who ends up with their fingers between these dog-eared pages.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

ME: [knocking] Yo, you home Al?

AL: Uh, one minute!

AL: Come on in.

ME: Hey chief. You got a moment? I wanted to ask you about something.

Al smirks at me.

AL: Anything. What’s on your mind?

I glance over to his own television, resting dormant on a hazelnut chest of drawers.

ME: Seen anything good on TV lately?

The instant the words leave my mouth Al becomes visibly on edge.

AL: T…V?

He says it like it’s his first time hearing the word.

ME: Yeah. There’s this local channel that used to play reruns of 80s movies. They switched up recently, and now all that’s on is this nutty preacher warbling on about nonsense.

AL: Okay, slow down dude. I don’t even watch TV, how should I know? Never been a fan of those movies anyway.

I’m not sure how to proceed from this. Instead, I head back to my room, grab my journal and return to Al.

ME: Alright, this’ll probably seem strange to you- well, to anyone, actually – but can you humour me and give this a read?

Al shrugs.

AL: If it’ll get you off my ass.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

I handed him the journal and went over to his desk, reclining in the chair and pulling out my phone to kill time. During the wait, Al would nod intermittently, like he was agreeing with what I’ve been writing, or he’s familiar with the goings-on. I didn’t want to intrude though, so I just let him read.

I scanned his desk with mild disgust. It wasn’t grimy per se, but from the looks of it he should probably invest in a bigger trash can. I picked up an empty plastic wrapper, inspecting it. It looked like packaging for something – clear, diamond-embossed plastic. The kind of stuff you’d use for vacuum packing.

Judging by the time, I guessed Al was nearly done. I’d been lost in some stupid clicker game when I got a call. It wasn’t in my contacts. I like to answer these calls, just to see who it is – probably a bad habit, I know, but I’m the curious type, if that wasn’t already evident.

I held the phone to my ear and listened. Nobody spoke. All I heard was this low buzz. Sounded the same as someone using a power drill in another room. Al put the journal down, and at the same time, a voice came through on the call. The voice was horrible, grating, like if a swarm of dead locusts could talk. I can’t be sure of exactly what it said, but it sounded something like,

“Mute button works. Good night Dale.”

The call terminated immediately. The phone slipped from my hand onto the desk. I sat there for a second, processing what I’d just heard, before snapping my head around to look at Al.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

ME: Who… who the hell did you tell about the journal?

Al frowns, looking confused.

AL: Who did I tell…? I just finished reading it man.

ME: Well I know for a fact that no one’s read it except you and me, and I- whoever called me said my mute button works. Like, for the TV. I wrote about it in there but nobody could’ve seen that.

Without giving a reply, Al points over to my side of the room. I turn to see what he’s pointing at, only to find his phone, plugged in at the back of his desk.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

I didn’t let Al out of my sight, I’m sure he was sitting on his bed, the whole time. So he couldn’t have told anyone. Without another word, I stood, snatched my journal off the bed and returned to my room.

He seemed normal, sort of, but there were a few weird mannerisms I picked up on. Like how he said “TV” all drawn out as if it were new to him. Also, I got the impression he was lying to me. Maybe he’s been gawking at old porno tapes or something… but the fact is my TV’s mute option works just fine – my anonymous caller made sure I’m aware of that – and with how the program sounded, muffled, almost felt more than heard, I can’t help but think Al’s been tuning in as well.

Why he’d try to hide that from me? No clue. I’m determined to make him talk without being too upfront. I need subtlety, and above all, patience. But not now. The phone call, that’s at the top of my list of worries. I think I trust Al. Besides, I sleep like a feather, and he’s not exactly the most graceful guy, so I’d have heard him sneaking in at night to read my journal. Plus, I lock my bedroom door on work days, but even if I consider Al doing such a thing, how’d he even have known I was keeping a journal in the first place?

I’m rambling, aren’t I? Well, the fact still stands that someone is potentially spying on me. I don’t know how or why, but the more I dwell on it, the more likely it seems – as much as I want to placate the image of eyes squinting through my blinds at night, it’s not something I can ignore.

I should probably invest in blackout curtains. I’m spent, so for now, I’m hanging a sheet over my window and putting a lid on today.

_____________________________

July 21st 2023

To be honest, I totally forgot about the pictures. Yesterday’s shitshow just had me really shaken up, but nothing else strange has happened and I’m hoping it stays that way.

As luck would have it, the workplace is being fumigated today and over the weekend so I’ll have the day off to fiddle with these photos. See if I can’t clear up the grain and glare.

Man, I should be a P.I. or something. Okay, maybe I’m overestimating myself but whatever. I managed to enhance one photo real nice – didn’t expect I’d actually be able to read the print on the box!

That said, it’s still difficult to make out. Looks bare. There’s a small logo, a black and yellow blur, and an emboldened word in some kind of sans-serif. Any more filters only smear the clarity. A few letters are nigh-indistinguishable, here are my guesses:

– Siphozam
– Slohozam
– Siobozam

Arbitrarily speaking, the second and third sound less likely than the first. Not sure why I think that, it just sounds truer to medicine names.

This is the point where most would ask themselves, “what in the hell am I even doing?”

It’s just one slope of the rabbit hole. Who knows how many lie below, how many until I reach an answer?

Damn, it’s only half past noon. Looking up ‘Siphozam’ right now.

Aaaand there’s fuck all. Really. All I can find is a scientific abstract that includes it in an uncategorised list of meds.

This feels like a deep web thing. Gonna boot up Tor and my OpenPGP manager, see if I can’t scour out some markets for an insight.

Been searching for an hour. Nothing yet.

Two hours now. I’ve signed up to, what, eight markets by now, through too many captchas to count, and I finally found something. It’s on an obscure market by the name of ‘SiteSeer’. Even then, there’s only two listings under one vendor with very low sales and ratings. It’s a little pricey but I’m willing to give it a shot.

The description’s pretty bare bones though.

“Non-antihistamine alternative. For all those itches the Benadryl can’t scratch!”

It feels out of place, considering the majority of listings here are illicit, psychoactive drugs. Why would anyone buy allergy meds from a darknet market?

Eh, you know what? I’ll order it on a whim. There should be some Monero left in my wallet.

All done. Now to leave the blockchain to do its thing. Oh yeah, I made a post on the Dread forum re. Channel 79 and Siphozam. I’ll check it tomorrow. Don’t wanna get burnout on this.

_____________________________

July 23rd 2023

Nothing much happened yesterday. Took a break from looking into this.

After I arrived home from work today, Carrie was sitting at the kitchen counter drumming her fingers. She had that look painted on her face. Same as when she found out I’d blocked the toilet with wet wipes.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

ME: Hi mom! School’s out for summer!

C: …

ME: Ahem. What, um… why the look?

C: Just what the hell did you order to our house?

ME: So the Siphozam came?

C: Mhm.

ME: Look, it’s not- wait, you opened my mail? Rude.

C: Nah, Al opened it. Started acting all protective, like the stork just delivered his baby. Took it to his room. He’s not been right recently, have you been supplying him with something?

ME: Supplying- no, god, no. It’s a long story, I don’t-

C: I have time.

ME: Well if he’s got that medicine in there with him, I can’t sit here if there’s a chance he’ll snaffle it all up. I’ll explain later.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Carrie was not amused. She doesn’t know about what’s been happening.

Anyway, I rapped on Al’s door. More for the sake of courtesy. Of course, he didn’t call out, so I cut my losses and pushed open the door. I’d rather walk in on him, dick in hand, instead of letting him overdose on some esoteric backstreet drug.

What I found was neither. He was sitting cross-legged on his bed, hunched forwards and staring intently at the unopened box of Siphozam, propped up on a pillow. Before I could speak up, he reached for the box, but flinched and withdrew his hand as if he’d been shocked.

I paced briskly to his bedside.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

ME: That’s mine, Al.

AL, surprised: WOAH! Shit, you got me man. Not cool.

ME, incredulous: Huh? I wasn’t trying to spook you. Give those meds back.

Rather than showing resistance as I expect, he nods, grabs the box and holds it out for me to take. Which I do. Gladly.

ME: Thanks…

He continues to sit there, staring past the end of his bed to the wall. Or maybe the TV.

As I turn to leave,

AL: Thought it was ichor. With the bee logo and all.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

I have absolutely no idea what ichor is. He’s right about the logo though. Looks like a cheap clipart of a smiling bee with an uncomfortably human face, backed by a black circle with wavy lines coming off it.

Weird. I’m gonna open it up, see what this stuff really is.

Empty. The box is empty. Al would be the first obvious suspect, only, the tape seal was still intact when I retrieved it. Well, looks like I’ve been swindled. Shouldn’t be surprising.

I say it’s empty – that’s not entirely true. There’s a folded leaflet inside. Opening it up, the very first words printed at the top are…

“HI, DALE!”

A chill ran through me when I read that. I mean sure, I had to give my name and address to the vendor, but still. Why would they do this and send me nothing else in the box?

I’m exceptionally freaked out. Whoever you are, vendor, nice one. You got me.

The rest of the pamphlet details instructions for use. One in the morning, one at noon, one in the evening, cross-interaction warnings… no ingredients though, curiously. I guess that’s about right, given the empty box.

Oh, there’s contact details. Yeah right here at the end. A customer support number, an email, and a second phone number listed under:

Additional services – PAYING CUSTOMERS ONLY. EXCEL THINE SENSES

Cryptic. It’s getting late, so I’ll ring them now before my eyelids get heavy.

Okay… if I thought I was confused before, ha, now my brain’s doing loops. I really don’t know how else to explain than transcribing the exchange. The phone rang, clicked, and greeted me with a voice I can only compare to a sixty year old lifelong smoker with the flu:

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

??: What?

I don’t respond right away, struck by the straightforward bluntness.

ME: Hey, hi. I got a box of Siphozam, saw this ‘additional services’ number?

??: Where’d ya get that from, hm?

ME: The, ugh what was it called… sight…

??: SiteSeer?

ME, snapping fingers: Yes! That one.

??: Alright. I’ll get my associates to send me your addy and we’ll ship you a trial pack.

ME: Wait, a trial pack?

??: Ain’t that what you called for? God, you people. Just look out for a delivery. Should be with you pronto.

With that, they hang up, leaving me dumbstruck.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

I can only guess at what I’m about to receive in the mail. I have a really bad feeling about this. What could these people be sending me? What if- oh god, what if I get a bomb in the mail? No, no that wouldn’t make sense, you don’t just kill your customers. Whatever’s headed my way though, it’s bad news. I know that.

I don’t know what I’ve gotten myself involved in… well, I guess I’m about to find out.

_____________________________

July 24th 2023

Good news, they’re having issues with extracting fumes at work. Told me it’s unlikely it’ll be cleared before Friday – a whole week off! I only found out after getting up and driving to work though. They could’ve sent out an email or something.

I got home around eleven. Apparently the postman already came and went, because there’s a haphazardly taped package on the counter. Unopened, but that can only mean Carrie picked it up – I think if Al took it, it’d be in his room somewhere.

Slinging my rucksack onto a stool, I sat down and held the package. Very light. The sheer amount of sellotape probably constitutes about half its weight, so it was a bitch to open. Cheese knife made short work of it.

The tab snapped open, allowing a sealed vacuum pack to slide out onto the faux marble. Five clear capsules with an amber fluid inside. They remind me of those cod-liver oil pills my mum forced me to take every morning.

I’m not dumb enough to take one, let alone open the pack to start with. Carrie came padding down the hall, stringy strands of post-shower hair swaying behind her neck.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

C: Early work day, huh?

ME: Yeah, the fumigators got attacked by car-sized spiders.

C: They what?

ME: Hey, loosen up, I’m jo- uh, anyway, they’re having problems venting out the gases so work’s off, probably for the whole week.

C: Great. Now I’ve gotta deal with being around you the whole week, heh. Oh, what’s that- for fuck’s sake Dale, really? More drugs?

ME: Okay now hold on a minute. I didn’t order these. They were sent by some dude I phoned from a leaflet in that medicine box I got the other day. Like, didn’t even ask if I wanted it or not. No payment, nothing.

C: Whatever. Believe me, I won’t have our place turned into a trap house.

ME: Oh come on. It’s not that serious. Not like I’m gonna take these mystery pills, is it? You really think I’m that stupid?

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Carrie shot me a particularly nasty stinkeye before strolling over to the stove. I pulled my bag over my shoulder and headed back to my room.

As I passed Al’s room, the distinct click of his door shutting froze me mid-step. It wasn’t exactly a terrifying thing to hear, it’s just that the implication made me uneasy. Choosing to ignore it, I continued toward my room, albeit with a slightly more hurried pace.

I don’t feel like doing much investigation today. It feels right to let the hours pass by and unwind. Still, there’s a tense feeling I can’t shake whenever I glance at the all too thin wall cordoning off Al and me.

If anything comes up, I’ll scribble it in here.

Fuck, holy FUCK! My fingers are trembling as I write this.

The day was uneventful, and I hit the sack earlier than usual.

I woke to a start somewhere during the last third of a sleep cycle. In the past I’ve experienced sleep paralysis, so I initially assumed it to be the case upon feeling the sensation of a heavy weight on my chest.

The notion was extinguished when I felt clammy fingers wiggling their way past my teeth and pulling my jaw open wide.

I could only manage a dry rasp.

Whoever or whatever was straddling me plunged a hand to the back of my throat and dropped something down.

The next thing I knew, unwelcomingly cold water poured into my mouth.

Held in such a compromising position, I had no other choice but to swallow it down.

In a surge of panic my body came to full alert and threw the weight off my body and over the bedside. Springing up, I palmed around for the night lamp, hesitating momentarily.

For a split second the idea of not knowing and knowing were equally as terrifying.

I willed my fingers and pressed down on the switch.

Al laid sprawled on the floor in a mess.

ME: WHAT THE FUCK!?

No reply. He was out cold. Still is. I tried shaking him, pinching him, giving him a double wet-willy, no dice.

A more urgent matter loomed in my mind. What did he just make me swallow?

I lurched to the door and flew into the bathroom, falling to my knees before the shit-throne and jamming my fingers as far back as I could.

A tactical chunder is never pleasant, though I’ve resorted to them in the past. You know, heavy nights of gross over-indulgence.

Nothing distinct came rocketing out of me, at least not that I could make out floating between chunks of half-digested chicken and crackers. Only at the point of dry-heaving did I deem it safe to stop.

And before you ask, no, I didn’t sift around in my own vomit to find whatever I’d been fed. I’m not that nasty. That said, I couldn’t help but feel a needling regret, watching the muddied toilet water swirl and flush everything away.

Teeth fuzzy and throat burning I made my way to the kitchen for a glass or three of water. While swilling the acidic taste from my mouth, light from a streetlamp past the window blinds reflected off something.

Something vaguely shiny on the countertop.

Any guesses what it was?

The vacuum pack. Torn open. Three pills sitting dejectedly inside the embossed honeycomb textured plastic.

Three pills. Not five.

With renewed anger I marched back to confront Al, who to my disappointment was still unconscious on the floor.

No way I’m sleeping after that rush. Gonna go grab an energy drink from the fridge and check my post on Dread.

I don’t know what sort of people I managed to draw in with my post. There’s a slew of ludicrous conspiracies, most of which I skimmed over. But one in particular caught my eye, submitted by user ‘jRman498’.

It’s no less absurd than the others, though for a reason I can’t quite pin down, this one string of text was really upsetting.

“the Ichor runs low. we must go to source for more. to the Ninth facet. over 400 of us already going.”

I did a double take at the mention of Ichor, and must’ve mumbled it out loud because the moment I said that word, a quiet moan and shifting of fabric from behind me raised the hackles on my neck.

In fear I wheeled around to see… Al’s sleeping body. I’m not sure what I expected, that he’d gotten up, poised to lunge at me the moment I laid my eyes upon him.

God, I’m just so on edge. Is that a good thing? Don’t these events warrant being a little jumpy?

Tried phoning that ‘additional services’ number again, but it wouldn’t go through. Not only that – the number had been disconnected entirely.

It’s like every time I try doing something, try to get a bead on any substantial meaning, the universe flips me off and boots me down yet another left turn.

I don’t like any of this. Why am I still looking into it, then? Isn’t that what’s causing this shit to happen?

Sorry to say, there’s no satisfactory way I can answer that question.

Oh, a new reply just popped up from user ‘Para_2per’. It reads,

“Carter-Mason. 932.71. 5.5.13.”

I’m unashamed to say I interpreted the numbers as an IP address and tensed up for a moment – this is a deep web forum after all. Still meaningless to my interpretations, though it feels like there’s some weight to the comment. It’s recorded here in any case, if I need to come back and analyse.

Maybe I was wrong about the adrenaline. Now it’s all worn off the energy drink’s done jack. I’m gonna go sleep on the couch. Absolutely no chance I’m sleeping in the same room as Al right now.

_____________________________

July 25th 2023

So much for rest. I got maybe… two hours teasing the periphery of sleep. Nevertheless, remembering last night’s events was enough to have me right back to a hundred percent, and I leapt off the sofa and down the hall.

Al must’ve been stirred by the door creaking, though I don’t think it warranted him yelping and rolling over.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

ME: Good morning you fucking psycho. Seriously, what’s gotten into you? Why’d you wake me up like some sleep paralysis demon and damn near pop out my jaw?

AL: I- why am I on your floor dude? If this is a prank it’s not remotely funny.

That only fuels my rage. In stunned disbelief I rant on.

ME: Oh no no, hah, don’t give me that. Am I supposed to believe you sleepwalked into my room, got on my chest and-

Just then the memory of two missing capsules hits me like a boulder.

ME: Al… did you make me swallow one of those pills?

AL: What pills!? I swear on my life I have no idea what you’re on about.

ME: You don’t?

AL: No! Hell, I’ll swear on a stack of Bibles. And even if I did… whatever you’re trying to say, I’m not and have never been a sleepwalker.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Confounded with the situation, I stood, staring at the man on my floor. His reaction did seem genuine, and I was positive it hadn’t been a nightmare.

I’ll leave this, for now. Either Al’s fucking with me or he has serious burgeoning mental issues. Neither choice is optimal but I hope it’s the latter. The idea he’s acting like this with a relatively stable mind is one far more disconcerting.

The case still stands that I swallowed a mystery pill, so the best course of action would be seeing if I can find a return address for the sender. Gonna rifle through the trash to get the opened packaging and head to the post office.

Thank god the bins go out tomorrow. I’d have lost the envelope. Heading out now.

No luck on the return address, to my dismay. The post office is only four blocks over so, nature-lover I am, I chose to walk. Wasn’t really paying attention to my surroundings – at least until the return trip. Too riled up about the bastards that sent me those pills.

Gaze angled up, I had to do a double take to ensure I read the engraved lettering right on the building next to me.

The Carter-Mason Repository.

Of course, I brought the journal along with me so that if I did get an address, I could write it down. I remembered the name ‘Carter-Mason’, but the same couldn’t be said for the following string of numbers.

I climbed the stone steps and entered through brass-handled double doors. A big ol’ library is what this place is. I had no idea this place existed, it’s majestic.

Only when I noticed the large board, divided into rows and columns with a type of numbering, did it click. The numbers – at least, the first string ‘932.71’ – it was a Dewey decimal code. The history and geography section, to be exact.

Perusing the shelves, I was delighted to see the book sitting there among various archaeological manuscripts.

The Frontiers of African Antiquity – Sir Archibald Frost

I’m sat snugly in an armchair in the reading area. Flicking through the first pages, there’s some copyright stuff, a grainy sepia photo of a man I presume to be Sir Frost, and the contents list. There’s chapters, sections and subsections…

Wow, just… WOW. I feel like Alan Turing right now.

“Carter-Mason. 932.71. 5.5.13.”

Chapter 5, section 5, subsection 13. Heart’s thrumming right now. Mostly out of excitement, though I can’t shake the feeling that any answers offered by whatever I’m about to read will come at a price. A price I’m not sure I want to bet on.

Skim-read a bit of chapter 4. Seems to be an overview of an archeological society divided into a half-dozen or so smaller groups.

Chapter 5 delves further, detailing the expeditions and discoveries made by each splinter group with every subsequent section.

And now I find myself at section 5, regarding the southbound endeavour led by a Roland Percival in 1949. I tried to be diligent and read from the start of the section. A waste of time is what that was; in a nutshell, 5.1 to 5.12 details the group’s steady travel down the east coast of Africa, and at the time of 5.13 they’d gone as far as Somalia. There, they discovered a new site of interest: Laas Geel, a cave system with extensive evidence of neolithic habitation.

Supposedly, from these cave paintings and structural remnants, parts of the site could be reliably dated back to around 9000BC.

That’s eras. This place would be more ancient to the Egyptians than they are to us. It’s pretty crazy just imagining what human society could’ve been back then, how it all strung together into a web. A network of ideas and norms that may very well be an origin, a defining factor for where we are today.

Agh, digression. My weakness. I don’t really get why Para_2per’s so adamant on me reading this, but-

…uh… how long has this man been sitting directly across the table from me? Still as a snapshot so it’s no wonder I didn’t notice him, except… when’d he get here? Surely I’d have noticed a whole ass person sitting in the chair opposite.

He’s pudgy, I’d say early 30s, dressed in a piss yellow button-up and worn jeans straining from thick and heavy-set legs. I’m not one to judge but this guy looks very out of place for a metro library.

I have my phone so I’ll start a new voice recording and write it down afterwards. Hopefully this person isn’t too keen of eye.

Jesus. Suffice to say I feel pretty unsafe right now. I can’t quite put a finger on where this guy’s from, but he’s not from round here. Might be Appalachian from the accent, I’m no linguist. He introduced himself as ‘Berry’. I thought this might’ve been Para_2per in the flesh, but after hearing what he had to say, it’s fairly obvious their motives are… misaligned.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

BERRY: Who needs the internet, right?

He gestures at the bookshelves towering around us.

ME: Hah, yeah. This is the real gold mine right here.

BERRY, unreadable: But what if you ain’t need any of this either? What if you could be connected, worldwide, with all the knowledge, all the people, everything…?

ME: I- I’m sorry? Not sure I’m following you here.

BERRY: All them satellites… sparks and wires…

He chuckles, a blatantly contrived belly laugh.

BERRY: You an’ me? We ain’t need all that! Can forget all about Wifis, LANs… somethin’ much more’s waiting for us. That wait’s comin’ to an end right soon.

At this point I’m shifting in my seat every few seconds, antsy to just leave with the book and get away from this strange man.

ME: Look, sir, I’d love to chat but I’m really digging into this book right now, so if you cou-

BERRY: Mmm. Whatcha reading there, bud?

He leans over to get a better look. Upon seeing the cover his nose scrunches up and he falls back into his chair.

BERRY: Oh, naw. You don’t wanna be reading all that mumbo-jumbo! Nothin’ of worth in there.

ME: I’ll decide what and what not to read, thanks.

BERRY, leaning into the table: No, you really don’t wants to be reading that. I swanny.

Berry had a fairly amicable expression in the preceding conversation, but the look he gave me across the table… it wasn’t a suggestion, what he’d said. But it wasn’t exactly a warning either.

I think he was trying to threaten me.

Out of nowhere, he slammed a palm into the table and plopped back down into his seat, giggling. The unsettling glint in his eye never left, though.

BERRY: Hah! I’m just playin’. We ain’t got long anyway, no use lookin’ into it too much. Oh, shoot. I almost forgot to ask. How’d it taste?

ME: Excuse me? Taste?

BERRY: Aw, c’mon. I ain’t need to spell it out for you. Once you get a lick you never forget. Ahhh… I can almost taste it. That short-sweetenin’… best darn thing I ever laid my tongue on. Oh, b-but remember! Best enjoyed without no chewin’.

ME: I have no idea what you’re on about.

BERRY: No? You tryna tell me you ain’t tickled for the Last Toast? Ain’t your mouth just droolin’ for a taste?

I feel the blood draining from my face, though I’m still clueless to anything he’s saying.

ME: No.

Berry gives me a dissatisfied “hmph”, his globular belly sagging across his thighs. He slides his tongue across his gums and purses his lips.

BERRY: Damn… what a FUCKIN’ SHAME!

The sudden outburst rocks me and I grasp the arms of my chair.

BERRY: Eh, law. By the passing of the Last Toast, you’ll get it. You’ll understand.

He gets up, pauses halfway to shoot an icy glare my way, before plodding off out of the library on his rotund legs.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

I think I’ll borrow the book so I can read it somewhere more private. He didn’t strike me as the type, but I think he’s a user on Dread. Someone who read the same comment that directed me to the library. Even so, it wasn’t a coincidence he turned up only a little bit after I entered. It couldn’t have been.

Has he been following me?

Now that I think about it, how else would he know to meet me? He had to have known what I looked like to follow me into the library…

But then, why would he bother to introduce himself?

I’m going home right now.

Can’t read any more today. I’m glued to my blinds for the rest of the day, and probably night. When I look away the drilling sensation of eyes on my back starts up immediately. Maybe it’s the paranoia acting up. Well, better safe than sorry.

_____________________________

July 26th 2023

Feels like an elephant shat me out. I don’t know when the day caught up to me, but I woke up around nine. It took a minute for my brain to boot up again, and a delayed shock ran in chill waves down to the tips of my fingers and toes.

Nothing’s different in my room, which still doesn’t make me feel better. Al and Carrie are both still sleeping, so I’ll wait for their lazy asses to stir before I make a fuss about a break-in or a strange man outside our flat.

I don’t feel eyes anymore. That’s cool I guess. Now I’m no longer preoccupied with being paranoid, I guess I’ll pick up The Frontiers of African Antiquity and read the rest of 5.5.13.

This all happened over seventy years ago, but I think things just got a notch more serious. Things are almost making sense to me, there’s just a few inconsistencies that can’t be ignored.

Okay, so last I left off with was the site being dated back to as far as 9000BC, round about.

Some of the cave paintings in particular stand out. One depicts kneeling figures raising an object in their hands up to an array of dots, from which several diagonal lines are drawn. There are more than a few depicting bees and beehives, too. At the time, it all seemed innocuous.

I don’t think I’d have stuck on it if I hadn’t seen the empty Siphozam box lying on my carpet. Its logo – or, part of it – is a bee. Could be me seeing connections that aren’t really there. But I gotta say, I’m tired of passing things as coincidence.

After that, there’s a section on a network of sealed mudbrick substructures dotting the general area. Says the scrape marks on the structures – assumed to have been from shovels – makes it seem they were buried intentionally, instead of via natural sediment deposits.

In total, 183 were discovered, all of age matching the rest of the site. Each and every one housed dozens of fire sealed ceramic jars. Returning with these jars to the central tent, they decided to drill into one and get a peek at the contents.

To the disappointment of any treasure pilferers in the group, the jar contained some sort of crystallised organic substance. Something that exists even in today’s society.

It was honey.

And do you know how they came to that conclusion?

One of the party leaders volunteered to taste it.

Now before you start gagging, honey has a special property in that it essentially never goes off. It’s to do with the high sugar, low water content, as well as a little hydrogen peroxide and slight acidity.

I almost didn’t believe it until scouring Google, where I found an article about a similar discovery in Egypt. 3000-year-old honey, still perfectly edible. Even so, the only reasoning behind their decision was that ‘it smelled sweet’.

At this point, I expected more detailed research to follow. There wasn’t. After the section about breaking open a jar, it ends abruptly, interrupted by an insert from the book’s author. It’s quite long winded and brimming with mid-20th century mannerisms, so I’ll dull it down for brevity’s sake.

Sir Frost starts off by writing that – with much sorrow and mortal shock – on his rendezvous with the east coast descent party, he discovered their remains lying inside of the research gazebo.

He describes it as a “festering and unrestrained bloodbath”. Decaying bodies strewn every which way, on a floor of coagulated and discoloured blood. He notes the strange wounds all individuals suffered, wide puncture wounds torn straight through muscle and organs, equated to “the mark of an obscenely oversized conductor’s punch” – a hole puncher, that is.

The book goes on about recovering the research documents and identifying the bodiest. Out of the sixteen members, fifteen were accounted for. And of the two Bedford QLD trucks, only one remained. With use of dental records, the missing member was confirmed as a ‘Byron Welworth’, one of the party leaders.

On top of all this, after reviewing the documents, Frost realised every last one of the ceramic jars were gone. The only evidence they existed at all was a table covered in a sticky broth intermingled with shattered earthenware.

And… that’s it. A morbid read for sure, but I don’t see why Para_2per insisted I read it. Going back to the forum post now.

Alright. I replied,

“thanks for wasting my time, what was the point of reading that?”

Now to wait for-

Wow. That was a quick reply. They said:

“Laas Geel discovered 2002.”

I don’t know Para_2per personally but this seems oddly rushed when looking back on his previous messages. Are they in a rush to tell me something?

What does this mean though? Heading back to google, again.

Okay, I’m getting freaked out now. Para_2per’s right. The earliest recorded documentation I can find on Laas Geel is back in 2002. There’s no mention of the cave paintings pictured in the book, the majority just depict cattle and herders.

There is absolutely nothing about the 20th century discovery. No buried substructures. No jars. No records on this book anywhere. I can’t even find anything linked to Sir Archibald Frost or Byron Welworth.

The worn book lying face down on my desk serves as the only tangible proof these men ever existed in the first place.

But why? Where did Byron go? Where are the jars? How did-

Uh, one second. Sounded like something heavy fell over in Al’s room. Weird, he’s meant to be at work today. I really don’t want to go check on him… no, I have to. He’s still a friend.

It’s not just Al. Something’s wrong with me too. I don’t know what, and frankly I don’t want to know. This might take longer to jot down, I keep checking over my shoulder in fear my door lock will fail in its primary function.

Before I went into Al’s room, I heard something else coming from inside. A song. I know the song. It was End of the World – Aphrodite’s Child. I can’t say why but hearing it filled me with a worming dread. My hand hovered tentatively over the doorknob. It might sound silly, but it didn’t feel it was me that opened the door. It felt like something else.

The curtains were drawn, leaving Al’s room a soup of darkness. A little sunlight leaked beneath the curtains. I froze when I saw a chunk of that light blocked by something.

Switching on the lights, I damn near left a Dale-shaped imprint in the wall from backing into it.

Unfazed by the cold light suddenly washing over his face, Al stood stock still, back straight and arm outstretched. He didn’t move, didn’t react at all. Seeing him like that really upset me.

I took a few hesitant steps toward him and stopped. Al was muttering something under his breath. Unable to make out anything distinct, I got closer. Now, I’m pretty sure this isn’t what he was repeating, over and over, but it’s what I heard:

“Matter adieu.”

Again, it makes no sense. It’s just what it sounded like. Closing the distance between us, I grabbed his shoulder in a firm grip.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

ME: Al?

Al snaps his head to look at me in an almost bird-like motion.

AL: Do you see it? It’s the port of call. Ours.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Clueless, I realised his index finger was outstretched as well, and I followed to see where he was pointing.

As the song entered its final verse, a horrible sensation of falling pervaded my body. Not falling exactly… like being on a rollercoaster. Acceleration.

In the corner of Al’s room, well, there was no corner. It was as if God himself bore down with a holy breadknife and sliced away that area of the room.

Frozen by a potent witch’s brew of fear, confusion, and absolute awe, I stared through the rift where Al’s walls once met to see a boundless, solid white void space. Monochromic light seeped through into the room like spilled milk.

Just when it seemed like nothing could part the colourless expanse, a shape emerged. It was nothing I could recognise in the moment. A dark silhouette, jagged in its edges. Two mounds, one side taller and wider than the other. The heavens above began to hum and pulse, a nebula of jades and violets, dancing across my vision.

Held under the sway of the sight before me, it took a while to notice that two hands now pointed forwards.

Two left hands.

I shook my head, blinking rapidly, and turned back to Al, grabbing his arm and jerking him around to face me.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

ME: Hey! HEY! Snap the hell out of it!

Al’s head rolls side to side, like he’s dazed or something.

ME: Just… just stop! What was that!? What’s going on Al, tell me!

His lips curl into a soft smile. Even while I’m staring at him I can’t help but notice the subtle tug on my head, that place trying to steal back my attention, guiding me to look.

AL: Ah, so many of us are prepared. Some have even left already.

I furrow my brow at him. I’m dreading his answer but I ask anyway.

ME: …left for where?

Al’s smile spreads into an ear-to-ear grin and he leans in so I can feel his breath hot on my face.

AL: The source.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

A wave of panic crested in my chest, coming out as a terrified whine. That was enough. I shoved him away from me and scrambled out into the hallway. One last glance showed him sitting on the floor, face still plastered with that horribly insincere grin.

Yeah. I don’t even want to think about what happened. Obviously there’s no way in hell I’m forgetting something like that. Lucky for me my post on Dread’s an ample distraction.

A new user’s joined the discussion, cool. MissObedient says:

“dont call the number. If u did, bin anything they send u. Its for ur own safety OP. U haven’t taken any right?”

I replied:

“That doesn’t concern you.”

MissObedient just sent me a PM. I’ll jot down our chat in real-time.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

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MissObedient: Don’t u understand what Para_2pers tryna tell you? I read the book too. theres no record of this one expedition in 1949 anywhere else. Just a small speck they missed in cleanup

ME: Yeah, it’s weird, govt conspiracy or something? Still idk what you’re getting at.

MissObedient: ffs. u read what was in the pots yeah?

ME: ye, honey? What about it?

MissObedient: Don’t u find it a bit suspicious how one was found busted open and honey spread everywhere ? and the whole expedition, dead, except one?

ME: you trying to tell me this Byron guy tasted the honey then went on a murder spree?

MissObedient: Idk. Maybe. But the issue is the pills. Did they send u some?

ME: Uh yeah. Little clear capsules.

MissObedient: And what’s inside?

ME: fkn, I don’t know what chemical concoction they stirred up, but its some dark yellow flui-

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

My fingers stopped dead above the keyboard.

It just clicked.

A dark yellow fluid.

My God. It feels like a thousand ice needles are digging into my stomach.

Al and I… both of us…

We’ve allowed Ichor to enter our bodies.

I’m suddenly feeling a great deal more relieved I locked my door.

Wait… why am I so tired? The adrenaline’s still running its course through my veins and I

Home soon. Take paper book for Dale. He likes the paper book. He is comforted by it.

We gather what we need. And then go.

The source, no, not the source. The departure.

Kin awaits.

_____________________________

27th J
wait, no
29th July 2023

Sorry. Brain’s a shitstorm right now. Still trying to piece together what happened.

I woke up this morning to a jolt and found I was sitting upright. A belt across my chest held me in place and I realised I was in a moving car. A dark red hatchback of some kind. A Volkswagen Golf, I think.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

ME: Wha… wait, what!? What the fuck! Who are you people, let me out of this god damn car right now!!

In immediate panic, my first assumption is I’ve been kidnapped. I flail around, convulsing and gnashing my teeth. A firm yet paradoxically comforting hand falls on my chest, redirecting my attention.

AL: Woah, buddy! It’s okay. No one’s here to hurt you. You willingly got into this car – in fact, you were adamant on being first inside. Don’t you remember?

ME: Are you mad? No, I don’t remember! How… when did…

Quickly as the panic had arrived, a profound understanding blossoms somewhere within. So deep inside I’m not really sure what it is that I understand. Nevertheless, it’s as if my body can sense it, and my eyes are drawn out the window to a distant point.

AL: You’ve been snoring a while, I dunno. I’ll get you reacquainted just in case. Over in the front passenger, that’s Lily.

I follow his gaze to see a young woman with frizzy auburn hair and round glasses. She turns to look at me, flashing a hearty grin behind the trim of her parka.

LILY: Hey! Glad to see you’re awake. I’m so excited, are you? It’s going to be chilly up there. These clothes’ll do wonders.

ME: Um, hi.

Al gestures to the driver.

AL: And this lovely lady here is Irene.

A middle-aged woman, late 50s at a glance, waves a hand over her shoulder.

IRENE: Hello there, Dale! Alan’s told me so much about you since we left the airport. Isn’t it wonderful?

ME: The… airport?

I look back to Al imploringly.

AL: Yeah, the airport. We left about three hours ago. You really don’t remember?

ME: No. Nothing.

AL: Ah well. Siphos must’ve thought taking over would be easier on you, all the hard work and decisions, y’know. You’ve been stressed recently. It’s a good thing.

ME: Siphos? The hell’s that?

In my peripheral I catch Lily cock her head in annoyance, before facing back forwards.

AL: Yeesh, man. Show some gratitude, will you?

The car was quiet for a while after that. I considered asking to be let out, before realising I had no idea where we actually were.

ME: Sooo… where are we, exactly?

IRENE: Peru.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Of course. An entirely different continent. I guessed by the way everyone was behaving they wouldn’t take too kindly to desertion, so I kept quiet about it. Besides, we’re in some remote asscrack of Peru, where would I even go?

While I felt abnormally calm despite the situation, my doubts wouldn’t be extinguished so easily. Too many things piled up into a sinister heap of wrongness. First and most glaringly is the fact I’ve no recollection of the past two days. In that short timespan I packed a bag, agreed to come along with Al to whatever his zealous nose is sniffing out, met two new faces, flown all the way to Peru, and driven over 150km. Completely oblivious to the goings on.

Second is the murkier notion of something pulling at us from… well, wherever we’re headed. It’s like I have two wills. An internal pushmi-pullyu that can’t seem to make up its damn mind.

At the very least, I’m happy whatever brought my body along on this trip was thoughtful enough to pack my journal. No book, though. I’m gonna spend the rest of the journey going over all my notes, see if I can’t figure something out.

Wait what the hell? Just went to go back over my entries to see that writing at the end of the 26th. It’s definitely my handwriting, but it wasn’t me. With what I have to go on… no, I don’t want to accept anything yet. Siphos is just something Al said. He’s not himself. He’s not.

I’ve scrutinised my past entries a little, and I keep coming back to those cave paintings from the book. Paintings I couldn’t find anywhere online.

So, there’s those about bees, and harvesting their hives. The other one has figures kneeling in reverence underneath a pattern of dots and streaks, raising something in their hands, perhaps in offering.

It’s not much to go on, I know. Normally I’d never come to such an outlandish conclusion, but with how absurd everything’s been lately, I think it’s perfectly reasonable.

When put together alongside the discoveries at the site, I believe this is what the paintings mean:
– The people originally kept bees to harvest honey, which they’d extract into pots.
– Something happened above them. Maybe some unique storm or meteorological event? Hell, the pattern drawn is likely an abstract representation, I don’t know.
– The people were in awe and showed great respect, offering their most precious commodity, jars of honey.
– Believing the jars to now be blessed, they built subterranean housing to store them in, sealed those structures, then covered them back over.

Wait… I just heard something. No, felt something? I’m sure it was a voice, only, it didn’t use words. Am I even making sense? I’m certain it was there. So, not words, but… how to put it… concepts? Echoes of another’s life. Ageless memories from somewhere different.

And yet, though they came as drops of oil in the ocean of my mind, I understand them perfectly.

Sacrifice. Egress. Fall.

No idea what they mean. I’m more concerned about where they came from. Wasn’t me, that’s for sure, and it couldn’t have been anyone in this car.

Again. It’s speaking- communicating again.

Arrival. Immersion. Stasis.

It’s been ten minutes and nothing more’s bubbled up from inside my mind. Hopefully I can record my thoughts before it happens again.

Okay so. Let’s go with the theory I derived from the cave paintings. Hold your scepticism until afterwards.

From what I understand- or rather, the most logical chain of events would be as follows: Byron Welworth tasted this ancient honey and at some point after slaughtered his entire ring of colleagues. He then packed all the pots into one of the sheltered trucks and drove off.

I don’t know why nothing happened between 1949 and now. I don’t know where the pots ended up, nor what came of Welworth.

Regardless, what’s clearest to me is that there was- is something in that honey. Then begs the question, why honey? Well. It’s all in my past entry. Practically never expires, it’s antimicrobial…

In simple terms, honey could potentially act as an incredible preservative, given you store it in a sealed container – like a clay pot.

Or a small capsule.

Shit- there, again!

Unearth. Traverse. Asylum.

I hate repeating myself but I need to make it clear. I’m not hearing these words. They’re just the closest I can equate these rapidfire notions to. Maybe there’s some significance to them coming in triplets?

This all feels so, so very wrong. I know I shouldn’t be here. Fuck Channel 79 and that raving old preacher. In what world could anyone guess they’d set into motion this chaotic tramline. Carrie’s flooding my missed call logs. My head hurts. I’ll just stare out the window awhile.

There’s not much to look at. We’re driving down a narrow road passing between rocky slopes on either side. A painting of washed-out beige. It looks like somewhere plants don’t dare to tread their roots. The only green is huddled tenaciously to the shores of a leaden river running parallel to the road, excepting a brave few cacti.

Maybe this is how Mars used to look. An anemic russet landscape of near-uniform deadness. Plain and undefinable as a mummified husk, dry as the desert breeze that exhumes it.

This journal is a godsend right now. If I lost that ability to put thought to paper, well… I don’t think I could bear it.

I’m thinking back to being in Al’s room, and what we saw in that corner. The two-humped shape in the distance. In these new surroundings, I’m actually a bit disappointed in myself I haven’t realised sooner.

I guess now’s not the time to worry about data roaming charges. The snowdusted peaks looming above the hill line are only intriguing me further.

I looked on Maps, scanned the area in the general direction we’re headed. There’s a stretch of mountains to the east. Some western segment of the Andes. One immediately stood out to me, because its pin description reads:

Peru’s highest mountain, with 2 peaks

Nevado Huascarán.

Need to wait for some reception before I can check its wiki page. Give it a minute.

Looking at the page now. There are actually two accepted names. The first I’ve already recorded, the second is a name used colloquially by natives, Mataraju. Means “twin snow peaks”.

Wait. Mataraju… Hang on. Why does that sound familiar?

Flipping back through the pages for the millionth time today.

That’s it. That’s what Al kept muttering in his room that day. Not “matter adieu” as I interpreted it, but Mataraju. The twin snow peaks.

Man, it finally feels like I’m making some headway. But still, what of this mountain in particular? I should go back and comb through the wiki page.

So the article holds a few interesting scraps of info. Nothing revolutionary. May as well record them here anyway.

It’s the fourth highest mountain in Peru, has a granite core, and its south peak is the surface point with the least gravitational force on Earth. The region is known for its earthquakes, most prominently one in 1970 which tolled in at a total of 67,000 deaths, making it the worst earthquake disaster in the Western hemisphere.

No idea what to extrapolate from this other than the fresh fear of an earthquake. Maybe there’s some weight to the s

Interrupted… again.

Await. Telegraph. Await.

Fuck this. I’m going to sleep.

The toast is coming. They will partake. They will be my rungs. My friends. Our escape.

First things first. GET OUT OF MY JOURNAL!! This has to be Al pulling some joke. It’s not fucking funny. At all.

Sorry. A bit overwhelmed, currently. Al shook me awake, and my eyes fluttered open to look onto a parking lot. There’s only one entrance I can see, marked by a peeling yellow triangle gate. And I’m not exaggerating when I say it is packed – from where I am, I can’t see a single space unoccupied.

Oh yeah, before I forget, I dreamt about something. Something bad. It was unlike any dream or nightmare I’ve ever had.

I saw things. Heard and felt them too. But not in the way I’m peering up at the mountains ahead, feeling the chill air and the timid breeze carrying it.

I experienced each sense separately, like watching a compilation of different people’s memories. Except, not watching, but feeling them as they happened. I saw a dark sky filled with shimmering aquamarine stars. I heard the mighty clash of an immense body colliding with a field of ruinbound asteroids. I smelled their remnants, and the tinge of something sweet. I felt the ageless claustrophobia inside a thousand cramped spaces.

That’s the worst part. This dream felt longer than I’ve lived in my entire life. Vastly longer. I mean, yesterday still feels like it was yesterday… hm. No idea what to make of it.

Al’s calling for me. I’ll try and come back in a little bit and write down anything significant.

Er… tough crowd?

Don’t let my whimsy overshadow the nature of this situation.

As I stepped out into the cool Peruvian air, most of the car park’s denizens were already milling about, chatting. They seemed anxious- or, no, excited? Yeah, that feels right.

Can’t say the same for myself. If anything, I feel like a dolphin among sharks. Like one severe misstep would reveal me for what I am. That I’m somewhere I really ought not to be. I went to probe Al, hoping I might be able to talk him out of this, but the moment I did, this horrifically intense itching flared across my entire body.

The sensation forced me to hold my tongue. Something didn’t want me interfering, I could sense it intuitively.

Figuring I had nothing better to do, I ambled around the parking lot, taking in the wild variety of faces and figures. Unwittingly, I’d caught the attention of an ageing black lady and pale-faced young boy who I’d estimate to be around 16 or 17. I recoiled at the sudden touch of a hand on my shoulder and turned to see them standing there. They looked, hm. Expectant.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

LADY: I’m so happy everyone’s here! Day after tomorrow’ll be a slog for sure, but we’ll make it in time. It knows we will. It has faith in us! And it’ll make sure not a last one of us gets left behind in its wo-ndrous mercy.

ME: Uh, um… yeah. Can’t wait. And, uh, ‘it’? Has ‘it’ not got a name?

LADY, bemused: Sure, hun. I heard it a few times. Just ain’t something the tongue can repeat. Everyone here’s got their own… personal moniker. Seen ‘Siphos’ been tossed round a lot. But, real name? Like I said. Ain’t for us to know.

ME: You can’t even understand its name, and you’re still completely fine with this?

BOY: Hey. Don’t talk like that.

ME: Why? What’re you all planning to do on Monday?

BOY: It’s out of our hands. No point stressing over it.

Both in sync: Echo, telegraph, bravo, isocline.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

That last line in particular, said in perfect unison, seriously upset me. I turned on my heels immediately to look back at the car.

Al, leant on the hood of the car, looked lost in chatter with Irene. My patience reaching its limit, I strode purposefully toward them, gait two paces to one.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

ME: Al.

He ignores me and continues chatting.

ME: Al.

It’s like I’m not there.

ME: Alan!

He turns to me with an inquiring face, but keeps quiet.

ME: For god’s sake, tell me what’s going on!

Al, still silent, shifts his gaze off to the side. Following his own, my eyes come to rest upon the twin peaks.

ME: Wh- no, no, don’t try and tell me you’re going up there. I won’t let you.

All around me, the conversation drops to a murmur. The itching surges again, forcing me to drag nails across my skin. I don’t turn around but can see, in the reflection in the car window, a dozen faces glaring at me with an unprecedented rage.

Irene steps around Al and comes inches from my face. Though her nose is scrunched up, her voice betrays an unsettling calm.

IRENE: Mataraju awaits. Its crown a window that will open once and no more, and we will climb over the new horizon.

ME: Damn it, speak normally! Stop acting like some fucking zealot!

IRENE, without even a hint of offense: We are the prepared. Our sails primed for the gale to come. You’d best follow suit.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Finding myself speechless, my hands lost any need to convey an argument, and fell defeated to my sides. Panning across the crowd in disbelief, taking in their inexorable complexions…

I just couldn’t. There was nothing I could do in my defence.

So here I am. Sitting in the back seat, alone. The sunset’s cycling in and out of glaring off the mirrors. In those brief flashes, the glow of the hypnagogic sun isn’t the only colour. Something hides in those moments I’m blinded. I want to squeeze my eyelids shut until patterns dance across my vision, but I also don’t want to let any of these people out of my sight.

Looks like everyone’s turning in for the night. I don’t like how they’re all doing things at the same time. It scares me.

Fuck. It’s gonna be a sleepless night. Sitting here, surrounded by acquaintances… I’ve never felt so alone.

_____________________________

30th July 2023

Ugh, God. Been awake, eyes-closed for hours now. It is… 3:41AM. But it’s felt like an eternity.

Didn’t have much else to write about until now. I’m a bit burnt out with this journal, anyway. This, though… I can’t ignore it.

Al’s been sleeping like a log. Everyone has. It’s almost mechanical how they just switch their minds off like that. I could handle that. What I couldn’t handle was Al slumping to the side and leaning against me. Not because I don’t like to be touched, per se. But because as his skin met with mine, it felt like… well, not how skin’s supposed to.

It was squirming. Rippling? It reminded me of the time I visited a friend in Norcal. He coaxed me into touching his live culture of blackworms he used as fish food. That’s what it felt like, just without any of the wetness.

Of course I recoiled in disgust, then reluctantly shifted my eyes down to his exposed forearm.

It looked pretty much how I described. The sight alone made me itchy. Not that acute, all-encompassing itch like before. It just made my insides churn. Even so, I couldn’t break my gaze from whatever was moving below Al’s skin.

Right then I felt this nagging urge to reach out and touch him, despite my mind screaming in opposition. That time, I’m absolutely sure whatever took the wheel of agency was no will of my own.

As my hand floated towards Al, fingers uncurling, the same sensation enveloped my hand. Dulled, less phrenetic, but there all the same.

I wasn’t touching him yet. In horror, I watched the skin around my hand and wrist start to quiver ever so slightly. At first I thought my veins were somehow wiggling around. Then I focused.

The imprints gliding along my flesh… veins aren’t shaped that way. They don’t have that many branches. They aren’t symmetrical.

The instant my fingers touched Al’s forearm, a zap of energy travelled up my arm and stopped at my shoulder. Not an electric shock, nothing like that. I might’ve even said it felt pleasant under better circumstances.

Nothing happened for a tense interlude. Then, both Al’s and my skin lit up with glowing pulses. Small, each lasting only a fraction of a second. Cyanic waves tracing lines under my skin. As if a surgeon had woven tiny prehensile fiberoptic hairs between my capillaries, kept from activating until this very moment. Only, like I said, small and short. Of a particular shape I couldn’t pinpoint.

I wish I could say that’s all they were, flashing lights under our skin, disturbing as that is. But I understood something, peering into them. I’m not sure how to describe it. Conferral? Maybe. Benign? I hope. Foreign… that’s a definite.

I’ll leave it for now. I don’t wanna know what these people will do if I disturb their rest. Perhaps it wouldn’t even be possible to rouse them. Gonna close my eyes for a bit, see if I can’t squeeze in a few winks.

Really wish coffee was on the menu. I’m in dire need of caffeine right now. The shock of waking from a one hour sleep by an ear-rending metal screech will only keep me wakeful for so long.

In that same choral synchronicity, I saw every last person in my view stir from sleep. It’s systematic. Like these people are robots or something, all given the same command lines to run at the exact same time. With leaden feet, I stepped out to see what the ruckus was about. The parking lot bordered a large storage building. It looks weathered from years of disuse.

A hefty sliding door just rolled open, and two men emerged dressed in aprons and soiled cargo pants. They’ve taken post on either side and motioned for the crowd to queue up. No qualms. No protests. Everyone’s doing exactly as they’ve been asked. I’ve got little choice but to join them, right?


Everytime it seems things can’t get any more messed up, God laughs and smites me down. I won’t have a lot of time to write now. In fact, this might be the last chance I get to write whatsoever. We’re driving somewhere else, to a place closer to Mataraju. Watching it loom, slopes soaring high above the clouds into unknown reaches, some part of me feels like we could get closer forever, and the twin peaks would only grow taller.

The 200-odd crowd ordered lazily into a three-shoulder-wide queue, all jittery and impatient to be the next in line. Al stood a few feet ahead of me, craning his neck as if to calculate exactly how long he’d be waiting.

People filed in at a steady rate, and before long I watched Al almost trip over himself as he power-walked into the building. And seconds later, I was next.

I hesitated. At the same time I realised that might’ve been a terrible mistake, someone nudged me from behind, and I peered over my shoulder to see Berry leering at me. Berry, the guy from the library. He flashed me a wink and nodded.

BERRY: Iiiin ya go, bud.

What else was I to do? In I went, regretting every intricate detail of my life that led me to this point. Not just the seeds of this Gordian knot – Channel 79 – but my implacable drive to unravel a mystery. I curse it. I do.

Inside was bare, if not seedy. Looked like some kind of warehouse, maybe an old factory that’s been cleared out. A wide expanse of tacky concrete. In the left of this ‘grand hall’ was a shoddily thrown together refectory table, built from old timber and half-driven screws. Not a picture of luxury by any stretch, although it was long, nearly spanning the entire building.

Each new entry rounded the table, taking their seats one after the other, like they had tickets with seat numbers. I couldn’t afford to be out of place again, so I sat and shuffled my chair inwards. At the same time, several more aproned figures emerged from some back rooms, carrying perfectly balanced trays filled to the edges with shot glasses.

I need not divulge the translucent, amber contents of those glasses. I knew. We all knew. I just held a slightly deviant opinion on the matter.

One last person entered the room after the… waiters, for lack of a better term. He wore a fraying cotton T-shirt, but even then his impressive muscle definition was visible throughout. What made it even more astounding was that his face told a different story altogether.

While the glasses were distributed across the table, I stared, transfixed. His face was old. It’d make a geriatric look like a teen. His lower eyelids drooped to reveal moist red flesh below eyes patterned with vermilion lightning. Thin streaks of sweat cut through the grime caking his mudcracked face, trailing from a scalp obscured by a shock of wild grey hair.

The sight made me uneasy. Here was this man, Thor below the neck, and a fossil above. It just seemed so unnatural. The waiters finished handing out glasses, sitting down with their own, leaving one last glass on a tray. The old man whisked it up and sort of danced or pirouetted his way to the end of the table, taking his place on a chair that looked no less cobbled than the others.

He cleared his throat, and addressed his guests with a voice that was gravelly and rich in equal measure.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

???: Welcome, friends, dear subjects. I am overjoyed to be your host tonight, for this last sup. A final merriment to celebrate our imminent departure from this Herculaneum.

All eyes are locked on him as he takes a breath and continues.

???: You may not know me. I’m dubitable anyone would know of me whatsoever – thank your world leaders and their parties, for that.

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I’m clueless as to what he means by that, but a thought suddenly rises to the forefront of my mind. Before I can truly grasp it, the man confirms my fear.

???: That is beside the point. However, if you so wish, you may refer to me as Byron.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

A cold shiver played up my ribs. I can’t accurately describe what I felt when I heard that name. Fear, disbelief, mortal regret for my own choices. They brewed into a whirlpool of terrible understanding.

I wanted to call him out. To probe him for answers. But I knew getting on his bad side would end with my teeth decorating the walls. There wasn’t time, even if I wanted to, because without further ado he raised his glass and let out a cheer. The uproar was reciprocated by all, and they simultaneously threw their heads back to drink.

God, I didn’t want to. The sensation of viscous fluid crawling down my throat was revolting. I almost blew chunks at the people adjacent, but I managed to keep it down. If that wasn’t bad enough, they all began licking out the insides of their glasses, slurping up every last drop that remained. And I did the same.

Without warning, music started blaring from unseen speakers. Classical music. A waltz? It was clearly for dancing, since everyone shot up from their seats and migrated to the opposite side of the warehouse, linking into pairs, some even into triplets, and pranced around like it was the best day of their lives.

I kept up the act for a while, dancing with a middle-aged Hispanic farmer type. Once he left for another, I checked to make sure I wasn’t being watched, and slinked out of the front entrance into the parking lot.

I hid behind some shrubs past the verge and, for the second time since this all started, jammed my fingers to the back of my tongue.

Once I was empty, I crept back out and over to our car. Fortunately, it’d been left unlocked, and I snatched a bottle of water from the trunk, swilling my mouth clean and choosing to sip the rest in hopes someone would come out to see I was just getting water.

On cue, Lily stepped out of the building. I don’t know if she was looking for me, or came out for something else, but her eyes were drawn to me and she paced over.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

ME: Hey. Just came out to grab a drink.

LILY: Good. You’ll need all the hydration you can get. Thought you’d quit on us for a second there. You wouldn’t do that, right?

There’s suspicion in her eyes. It’s like she knows what I’m thinking.

ME: Wh- no! Of course not. Why would I do that? I mean, we’ve come this far haven’t we?

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Her eyes softened a little. Not entirely. Just enough to make me feel secure. She offered me a hand. I placed my palm in hers, and she led me back inside, where we waltzed for another twenty minutes or so when the music stopped mid-song.

Without a word, we poured out into the car park, hopped in our cars, then set off in a great convoy for one more destination.

That’s about where I am now. It’s getting dark. Hard to keep my eyes open. We passed a sign for ‘Musho’ a couple minutes ago. I don’t know the significance of-

Jesus Christ that scared me. I’d almost forgotten about my intrusive lecturer. This one’s a little more difficult to find the words for…

Confirm. Expand. Symbiose.

It’s just like the waltz we’d been doing. One-two-threes. Except the next bar comes whenever it wants, showering me in strange concepts that, while vague, must mean something.

Oh, we’re pulling up now. Looks like some massive impromptu layby. I don’t see how all the vehicles will fit, though.

Well, call me a pessimist. We’re all parked. Cars and trucks packed bumper-to-bumper so that we couldn’t leave if we tried.

Shit, I’m spent. With last night’s lack of any meaningful sleep as well as today’s antics, I can barely hold this pen in my hand. It’s that buzzing tiredness, relentless in its pull. I don’t feel safe sleeping near any of these people.

But I still haven’t given up. If I can’t convince ‘em, I’ll settle for saving Al. This isn’t him. Day-to-day Al wouldn’t do this. He’s had bouts of depression before – it was real bad one time when I had to talk him down from the side of a bridge. But nothing like this.

Well, journal. Thanks for being the one consistency over the past couple weeks.

Pen, paper… never do me wrong.

_____________________________

_____________________________

A dark, dreamless sleep. Unaware of the struggle.

Something. A sound. No, a commotion. I hear the pops of car doors releasing. Shuffling beside me.

My eyes flicker open and I squint immediately, dispelling the sun rays beaming between the twin peaks above.

“Hey. Hey, it’s time. Let’s go.”

Recoiling from the hiss of Al’s voice, I turn to face him.

“Come on. Get up. We can’t be late.”

I groan, stretching my limbs out as far as the seats will permit. I cough and rub sleep from my eyes.

“NOW!”

That wakes me up.

“Alright, alright. Relax, Christ…”

I step out into the mountain air. It isn’t freezing, but it’s cold enough for my fingers and toes to sting. As a remedy, I pump out a set of jumping jacks.

Ten.

Twenty-five.

Just in time to reach the fiftieth rep, Byron announces his presence by standing atop a rustbucket Toyota. This impossible man. A man who slaughtered fifteen fellow colleagues in Somalia, back in 1949. He has to be in his early to mid one hundreds.

Addressing the congregation with a voice that could varnish sandpaper, he says,

“Before we commence, allow me a short foreword. It has been…”

It sounds as if he’s tearing up, but it’s impossible to tell from this distance. Perhaps his tear ducts don’t even work anymore.

“…it has been a true honour. Your dedication shall not go unrewarded. And so I ask: will you join me in this final endeavour?”

In response, the crowd explodes into cheering approval. Byron’s lips spread into a grin, though with his skin so cracked and alligatored, it looks like the predatory grimace of… well, of an alligator.

“Will you go in glory and spirit, into the new horizon that has been promised?”

Again, voices in their hundreds roar in delight. I’m surrounded by shivering bodies with their fidgeting hands.

“Then let us not dither! Follow my lead, and I swear to each and every one of you, our benefactor will ensure we prevail!”

With practised agility, Byron leaps from the truck and lands on his toes, heels bouncing off the dirt. He pivots gracefully and sets off down the untrodden slope, sights set on the great Mataraju. The looming twin peaks gaze back with cold indifference.

Like a disciplined platoon, the group briskly trace his steps, keeping pace with his own bounding strides. Al breaks away from me, and in a moment of foolhardy bravery I follow close behind.

As I walk, I wonder how we hope to reach Huascaran Sur, the tallest peak in Peru and the fourth in all South America. The idea becomes more feasible when, after half an hour of non-stop marching, my muscles feel fine. As if they are freshly unused and ready to conquer the day. In fact, I feel more full of energy than I have since… well, ever.

The only thing bothering me is a subtle itch creeping up my back. It knows what I’m planning to do, even if I have no idea what it is. The things inside my body, under my skin. When I really focus, I can feel them individually. Squirming, plucking at my nerves in an attempt to dissuade me.

Its efforts are sorely misguided, because I’m not giving up until there’s a hole through my head.

We’ve passed the great crater lake, nearing the foot of the real climb. There’s no burning in my legs. None in my lungs. I feel light, unstoppable. Summiting Mataraju now seems almost menial.

But perseverance alone won’t bring us to the top. We’re woefully underprepared. In any normal situation, we’d need to acclimatise. We’d need climbing gear, picks, ropes, trekking poles. And we have none of that.

Though I suppose this isn’t any normal situation.

This mountain looks like a four- no, five day climb. And yet we’ve covered an immense distance already. The closer we get, the easier the terrain. It takes a while of effortless walking up the slope before I realise something: it looks and feels just as flat as before. From below, the soaring cliffs and slag-covered slopes looked steep. Now we’re walking up them, it’s as if I’m strolling down a sidewalk. It’s-

Corral.

A jolt nearly makes me lose footing as I hear the transmission once more.

Rendezvous.

And finally,

Reunite.

Something was different that time. It wasn’t a poorly translated memory like I’d grown used to. It felt like… a hope. It felt current. Real, and slowly coming into being.

I’m scared. Terrified. I wonder if the point of no return has already come and gone. Greying clouds gather above the mountain, spelling out the worst for our parade. A wind’s picking up, deepening my worry – I can’t help but notice its direction. It blows upwards. Parallel with the slope of the mountain. Like it’s pushing us onward. Like both flesh and air are being drawn to a point far above.

Though I march on unimpeded, my focus shifts to the sky. Something’s happening up there. It’s not a storm. But it is something I recognise. Something I’ve already seen once, and hoped to never see again.

Glowing specks of colour blink within the clouds. Or perhaps above them. Part of me prays the clouds stay right where they are, so I don’t have to see what’s above them. The wind picks up to a whistling gale. Flecks of upheaved snow pelt my back, and I don’t care, because my thoughts have run away to something else – the cave paintings. More specifically, the depiction of man bowing beneath a sky of dots and streaks. I’d thought it was a storm, or some other striking natural event. I might be wrong, but seeing now the lights overhead, there is one more thought that comes to mind. One that fits like a glove over every detail I’ve obsessed over, every theory sprung from a realm of desperation…

A meteor shower.

With the ever-intensifying wind comes a parting in the clouds. Small at first, but it soon becomes apparent that it’s only growing wider. A split. Then a rift. Then a crater-sized wound that reminds me of being in the eye of a storm.

And it’s then I see what plagues the heavens.

The pale blue sky is littered with jagged, glowing lines. Their number is innumerable. It makes me think of mistreated parchment, or a sofa covering mauled by a litter of angry cats. Doubly so when the lines begin to open, tears in the world leading to… somewhere. Their edges flare with the colours of the universe, of ragged windows to the great expanse.

That’s it. I’ve gone on long enough. It’s now or never. I’ve tried to keep Al engaged in conversation. It’s been very one-sided on my part. My hope was that we’d dwindle a bit and fall further to the back of the group; we have. Actually, we’re about six feet behind the rest.

“Hey, Al. You remember how you were, what, two years back?”

Al shows disinterest, but replies,

“Mmph… yes.”

“And how I talked you down from that bridge on the east side of town?”

“Yes, Dale. I remember. Let’s just kee-”

“Then I’m sure there’ll be no hard feelings.”

Al shoots me a confused side-eye, and I rest a hand on his shoulder.

“For what? We’re on track to salvation.”

“Sorry about this,” I grimace, before whipping my head back and slamming my forehead into Al’s temple. I really didn’t want to resort to this. At the same time, I knew it’d be the most likely course of action.

He freezes. For a long moment, I’m terrified the blow didn’t knock him out right away. Then, his eyes roll back and he buckles, toppling backwards onto the patchwork ground of bare rock and powder snow.

Summoning every last ounce of strength, I sling Al’s body over my shoulder and dash back towards the way we came. Feeling the same empowerment that led me up here, he feels surprisingly light. I only make it a few steps before looking back.

Nearly half the group has turned, staring at me with an iciness betraying the potential actions they’re willing to carry out. Some stumble a couple steps towards me, then stop.

All at once, my audience drops to the ground, faces earthward. Is it… prostration?

Any lingering hope I had in these people is obliterated as, from beneath their flat palms, translucent jelly explodes outward in branching formations. It looks much like the proboscis of ribbon worms. Sparkling crumbs speckle inside, blinking with colours that could just as well be reflections of the sky.

I lug Al further away, further from the others, further from the peak. Anywhere but there, the place these… maybe it wouldn’t be accurate to describe them as people anymore. A small part of them, maybe, but the rest is a conduit for whatever’s pursuing me.

Rocks clatter at my heels, sent loose by slapping growths reaching out for me.

Run faster, my rational mind begs.

No need to tell me twice. Chancing another peek over my shoulder, I lose presence of mind and the heel of my shoe catches on a root. If it weren’t for tight laces, I’d be half-barefoot, or tumbling helplessly into sharp rocks.

And upon seeing what’s behind me, that relief surges even further into a new burst of fear and motivation.

The gelatinous limbs still pursue me, bursting out of the ground in relentless arcs, only to plunge back underground. They remind me of some ancient wyrms, hunting down whoever dares to disturb its burrow.

They aren’t what fills me with mortal terror.

In the centre, rising up from the mycelial undercurrent, is a pair of bounding legs. Then a heaving body. Then two arms and a head, all a construct of the surging ooze.

Slow, calm down, my mind contradicts. This secondary subconscious, the one that’s dogged me ever since waking up in a moving car. Things are starting to get clearer.

In the brief span before I pull my eyes away, I get a good look at the translucent figure.

It’s me, sort of.

A perfect replica in shape and dimension, only lacking in colour and facial features. It copies my motion almost exactly.

The more pressing issue, however, is that it’s unburdened by any facsimile of Al. I’m at a disadvantage.

Without needing to turn around, I can feel it. I can feel its thudding steps and the change in pressure behind me. To my mounting desperation, I become aware of a change in the terrain. The further I charge downhill, it’s as if the ground steepens. At first, it’s gentle, but the rate at which UP is becoming DOWN starts to worry me. I see the town of Musho below gradually rise higher above until, impossibly, I’m downhill from it.

Then the inevitable happens. I kick through a mound of snow which, in its opaque secrecy, hides a large stone. The impact sends me sprawling into the ground. I roll a short distance before coming to a stop, halted by the dizzying change in incline.

Grasping blindly for Al, I lift my gaze in horror to see the figure barreling straight for me, astral hues beaming down from the sky and gleaming off its limbs.

Abandoning steady pace, it makes a decisive leap, sending it into a trajectory to land on top of me.

But right at the last moment, when its quivering fingers are feet away, it runs out of rope. The tendrils running from its feet pull taught, sharply redirecting all its momentum face-first into the ground.

On impact, my doppelganger loses all integrity and regresses into a chunky, formless sheet. With a burning indignation I can recognise in some mode beyond words, the tendrils retract, leaving in their wake ragged holes and splintered bark.

Strobing incandescence dims, and through some unwritten rule of geometry, the great filament network retreats back into the bodies of the crowd. They stand, and glare at me. Now I see that contempt isn’t the right word to describe the look in their eyes. It’s more… disappointment. The look a parent would give to their child who’s flunked their classes. I feel an odd sense of shame, to the shock of my determined mind.

My onlookers soften back into senselessness, their one objective returning to immediacy. They turn and march their way upwards, cutting the loss of Al and myself in favour of time.

It’s okay.

I pay no mind to my foreign inner voice. Instead, I heave Al back onto my shoulder with a grunt, and make my way down- no, uphill. Pebbles tumble up the mountain, pelting me regularly. I have a few too many close calls with rolling boulders than I’d have liked. The wind is now a force to be reckoned with, contorting the skin around my face with its sheer force.

A sound like thunder permeates the air and rattles my bones. I can’t go on much longer. It’s getting steeper. The tempest winds push against me, bringing a cloud of uplifted snow, thickening by the second.

Nothing exists outside of this moment.

Channel 79.

Siphozam.

Sir Frost and Byron, the traitor.

Honey.

Ichor.

All there is, is the here and now.

A ray of hope.

About thirty feet up and to my left is a small entrance in the stone. I struggle towards it, running on fumes. Inside, it widens into a recession, offering a modicum of safety. Now practically climbing, I drag Al by the arm, pulling myself through into the alcove and tugging him in with me.

Hiding under the lip of the hole, I peer out just in time to see a rusty pickup slam into the ground and plummet upward towards the peak of Mataraju. The very same truck Byron used as a makeshift stage. At the same time another earth-shaking crack reverberates over the landscape. So loud it made the truck’s impact sound like a pin drop.

The floodgates burst and a highway intersection’s worth of cars fall past us in a flurry of rending metal and shattering glass.

Once they’ve cleared, I catch a horde of specks in my sight, moving their way up what appears to be a sheer rock face. My brow furrows. Feeling the shape of my phone pressing against my hip, I fish it out from my pocket and swipe to the camera.

I zoom in and see in astonishment the rest of the group walking up the cliff face. Laws of gravity be damned, they were doing it. Up, up, bound for the wounded sky, showering their faces with its brilliant celestial light.

Another boom splits through the chaos, and this time its source is revealed. I hadn’t noticed it amongst the maelstrom of torn space overhead, but now it’s undeniable. One immense, unbroken path traces the heavens directly above the southern peak, widening into a tear in reality of utterly cosmic magnitude.

The rift’s edges drift apart, unveiling something even more massive. Something round. Glowing networks of cracks and clusters bloom on its surface like magma from some alternate reality. I get the distinct impression of a titanic eye, opening to bear down judgement on the lands beneath.

A sensation prickles my scalp, and I raise my hand to find the hairs on my head are bristling, as if under duress from an electric field. Knuckles white, every last muscle tensed, my sight is wrenched back to attention as the cleft sky comes to an abrupt standstill.

It’s as if the world has stopped, dropping any and all commitments to watch the events unfolding. The air is bereft of any noise at all, and I realise I’m holding my breath. Looking fixedly through the inverted vista, into the rift and further still, I glimpse infinity.

A boundless cosmos frames the celestial body, reaching into the dark and distant vanishing points where light stretches thin. Vast dust clouds glitter from the light of a trillion stars. A place where spiralling stellar nebulae condense. Nascent suns in their becoming.

I go to focus once more on the exodus when a hand wraps around my neck and yanks me backwards into the alcove.

Al’s woken up.

I kick my legs out, managing to flip onto my back to see a face contorted with betrayal, anger, and grief.

“WHAT HAVE YOU DONE!?”

Spittle peppers my face as Al raves on, inches above me.

“Wait! I-”

He allows no time for me to explain myself, driving a fist into my jaw and crawling off me, single mindedly driven to throw himself into the precipice. A train of urgency collides with my dazed mind. All this, just for Al to die anyway.

With a sharp intake of air, I curl forwards and shoot to my feet, spinning on my heels and darting for the entrance. By some miracle, the sight must’ve entranced Al, giving me the time I need to throw myself at him and wrap my arms around his legs. I carefully pull my body up to his level with firm, measured grips, straddling his back and pressing both his arms behind him. The situation brings a recollection rising to the surface. One of Al sitting on my chest and forcing pills into my mouth. In a twisted way, it’s funny. We’ve come full circle.

He struggles in my hold, and I pay him no mind, returning to the sight I was so rudely torn from. My vision seems sharper now. I can clearly make out the clustering figures, now sprinting their way up – or, down. They’re almost there. One last manic scramble for a salvation so clear to them yet lost on me.

Al falls still, and I worry for a moment that the position cut off some vital blood flow. I quickly find this not to be the case as a feeling bubbles up from within every part of my bruising body. My skin starts to blink in those strange neon colours, and simultaneously, so does Al’s. The only difference is that whatever stowaways we’ve been cradling, there’s far more of them inside Al.

Then, something new happens.

Something that forces me to loosen my grip and gasp in shock and pain.

In horrified amazement, I watch my skin rupture and pop, releasing the tiny creatures inside. The Siphos. They too spew out from Al, though I can tell he’s in a great deal more agony than I am.

These beings… through all the hurt and anguish, I can’t help but admire their fluttering bodies. They twist and curl together into organised shapes, schools of alien motion coalescing and tracking paths all leading in one direction.

To the summit.

To this planet light years from Earth, which in this cosmically insignificant timespan has bridged across reality to stare our home in the face.

As the last stragglers worm their way out into the rushing torrent of air, I am met with one conclusive message that rings throughout my brain. An echo of the interconnected mind that inhabits my own no longer.

Thank you.

Two words resounding in my soul. No more, no less. A simple gratitude, made profound by the stark difference in our beings – our natures.

Burning skin is forgotten in the face of wonder. The exact same picture is painted above the peak, significantly grander in its magnitude.

The Siphos as I now know them blossom and spread from the 200-plus bodies, whose feet no longer meet steady ground as they fall. Up, up, towards the rift. The Siphos itself- themself…

All things considered, I am lost in the staggering beauty of it all. I can honestly say I’ve never seen something so majestic. Hundreds of thousands of beings, no larger individually than a grain of rice, melding together with their blinking hues and the same protoplasmic gel as before.

Their conglomerate form… I wish I could compare it to any living thing on Earth. Vast, winding, and segmented with a backbone of pulsating light. Spectral wings fan out from each segment, undulating softly despite the blasting wind, while colossal rootlike limbs dangle below. And cradled at the ends of those limbs are the ascendants. Its dear human subjects that devoted themselves so solemnly.

It soars ever closer to passing through the rift, and I think… no, I know. What I’m seeing… a reunion. Over ten thousand years in the making. The homecoming of something delivered from a world of its unbelonging.

In spite of all that’s happened, all the chaos, fear, and anguish, there is one singular thought at the forefront of my mind.

Godspeed.

This great being, the one, the many, is far beyond the limits of any recognition, and perhaps I’m seeing what I want to see, drawing false conclusions from what I know of living things. But I’d like to think that in that fleeting interim, too short even for spoken farewells, it twists and turns and directs me one last look. Whatever this thing is, wherever it came from…

Somehow, someway, we find a mutual understanding.

And then it is done.

The rearmost strands pass through, trailing like the flagella of some rogue bacterial offshoot. And seconds later, the window closes, the sky healed of all wounds. World suddenly corrected, Al and I lose contact with the stone and fall back down to the floor. In turn, all that drawn up air comes gushing down in a roaring deluge, with power enough to upturn trees – if there were any to speak of.

In the wake of it all, what’s left is a sorry pair of people, digesting the experience in stunned silence. Skin torn and adorned with congealing blood, hidden in the lee of an unassuming hollow.

Any resolve Al once held is eclipsed by a head swimming with pain and fatigue, though I’m able to rouse him enough to pull his arm round my shoulder and begin limping the path back.

I’m sapped, but continue regardless. We’ve come too far to die quietly in the aftermath. A heavy rain of odd-sized globules splatters the terrain and wets my hair and clothes. As I glance down to the near-empty crater lake, I see the source of this downpour, every fathom revealed. And through some psychosomatic mechanism, I seem to stop feeling the rain.

At some point my body takes over routine, allowing my mind precious time to piece itself back together.

There is one thing that returns me to full awareness. A gnarled, sunbleached hand of bark and bristly leaves clutches the battered shell of a dark-red hatchback. Even in the haze, my time spent journaling is unforgettable. I wrench the door open and crawl inside.

I catch the journal’s front cover wedged at the back of the passenger footwell. As my hand comes to rest on it, a second wind overtakes me. It’s like the journal itself is another survivor I must tend to, and lead to safety.

In the end, it’s a task I dutifully complete.

The village of Musho is a picture of ruin. It’s like the whole place got spun and diced in a blender. I try to avoid looking at pulverised bodies, crushed under the weight of a thousand-foot fall. And when I feel there’s nothing more that could surprise me, I find myself proven wrong once more.

Only about a third of the village seems to have been affected. This I know, because at an intersection, there’s a boundary of sorts, past which the devastation ceases entirely. Stepping across this ill-defined border feels like stepping between countries.

Every new footfall brings fragmentary realisation. I remember reading about Mataraju online. One pertinent detail now standing out. It’s no wonder the rift opened there, unleashing the gravitational pull of the Siphos’ home where ours is at its weakest.

Obviously, whatever race Siphos belongs to, they are remarkably advanced. They make us look like beetles and flies. If they’re able to bridge such unspeakable interstellar gaps, able to rend reality itself in their favour, it’s not a leap to say they’re able to do the same with the fundamental forces of our universe. To contain, limit, localise an intangible field, immaterial as the vacuum of space…

And the only reason I can conceive as to why they’d even bother, would be a desire for showing mercy. For minimising any impact made, any damage dealt, any lives upturned.

Yes, some of Musho suffered. But the fact is, an entire planet in such close proximity should’ve wrought havoc on ours. Here, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

I feel this was inevitable, in any case. And in that sense I’m grateful, however… unconventional its methods have been.

Al and I, we’ve been recovering. Some wounds, both physical and mental, are still scabbing over. He’s having a harder time. Oftentimes I find him pining up at the night sky. And you know what, Al? I’m not going to beat on you for being wistful.

Carrie moved out shortly after we returned. I guess she just couldn’t stand living with such jackasses anymore. Fair enough. If the roles were reversed, I’m not sure I’d react any differently.

Why I’m recording all this… well, fat chance of it ever reaching the media. All I’ve found online since are cloudy reports, bordering on clandestine, detailing an earthquake that hit the particular area surrounding Mataraju.

Just like the expedition in 1949, it’s been swept under the rug.

But I have hope, however dim. They missed a speck trying to cover that up – it’s still lying on my desk, in fact – so maybe they’ll overlook this. I’ll keep it on a few flash drives for good measure.

Ah, that reminds me. I should take the book back to Carter-Mason. God knows I don’t need it anymore after seeing what I’ve seen. One of the librarians is kinda cute. I hope she’s there when I return it, maybe I can use the book as an excuse to chat. Well, if she’s into archeological massacres and ancient honey – who knows?

To all whose worlds were flipped upside down throughout all this, you have my sympathy. I can empathise. But it’s over. That’s what’s important in my eyes. The Siphos were a bit crude in the way they set their plan into motion, true. Advanced as they are, we’re still just as alien to them as they are to us. Our lives, our societies and tendencies, all foreign traditions.

Even so… a part of me says they deserved it. Gotta give it to them, ten thousand years is a long time to wait.

When all’s said and done, I’m honoured.

Honoured to have witnessed the majesty of something no one else will ever get to lay their eyes on.

That said, I’m sure the feds don’t leave traces after every cleanup. Who knows how many times this kind of thing has happened before?

And for that matter…

Perhaps there’s more to come.

Credit: A. K. Kullerden

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