“The process of delving into the black abyss is to me the keenest form of fascination.”
* * * * * * * *
Why shall I die in seven days’ time?
I killed a man out of mercy, but justice, being its opposite, has none.
* * * * * * * *
“Dr. Martin Vollinger, you stand charged with the murder of your employer and superior at the Sanctum Asylum, Dr. Abraham Allerton. How do you plead?”
I hadn’t flinched as I’d pumped six bullets into my victim’s skull. Thus, I didn’t flinch from the three words I now had to say: “Guilty, Your Honor.”
No panel, just a judge. I didn’t need a trial by jury to prove what I’d done. The gory evidence and my confession were enough to convict. “Do you wish to speak before I pass sentence?” he asked, voice like iron.
In principle, I understood the point of allocution. No one wants to die. Even I, leaden with the weight of my grave deed, didn’t long for a rope around my neck. On the other hand, if I begged on my own behalf, throwing myself upon the court’s mercy, I’d be a coward. Had Jesus Christ, whom I’d forsaken, shrunk from His cross? He’d shed His blood to save us all, but I’d shed mine to protect one person.
“As I’ve said before, I killed Dr. Allerton because I hated him. Do you know what twenty years of slights, insults, plotting and undermining, can do to the mind? As a psychiatrist, I’m a man of reason. I did not lose my mind when I pumped my boss’s brain full of lead. I did so in perfect calm. I’m guilty as charged, not because I’ve gone insane, but because my faculties are all too intact. Allerton’s contempt may have broken my psyche, but my own hatred increased in turn. It’s as old and simple as Cain and Abel, Your Honor. I slew my greatest rival. Am I sorry? No. Do I wish I could turn back the clock? Also no. Do as you will with me.”
The silence in a courtroom is like that of the grave, though not eternal.
How could I have explained? In the normal world, there was no such thing as the Allerton Device, no such creatures as lumae, and no fortune-tellers who were always right. There was no such phenomenon as a “mental reversal.” Above all, there was no such Egyptian pharaoh as Nephren-Ka, and his god was nonexistent.
In the normal world, I was a murderer, willing to pay a murderer’s price.
“Very well,” answered His Honor. “Your motive can be understood if not condoned. I wish I could be merciful and sentence you to life imprisonment with hard labor. That would allow you to redeem what existence you have left, and to wash your sins away in blood, sweat and tears. However, your brutality was senseless. Six shots into the brain, Doctor? Once or twice would have sufficed. You made sure your victim’s skull was obliterated. Think on that last word carefully during the last week of your life. I sentence you to be hanged on November 18, 1885.” He paused to let his words sink in. “Court is adjourned.”
As I was led away in chains, I took no note of who was there, but who wasn’t.
* * * * * * * *
Day One: Wednesday, November 11, 1885
A prison, like an asylum, is a mystery to all but those who work or live in one. A guard ushered me to a cell almost identical to the ones we used for patients who required solitary confinement. O.R. was one of them. When the iron door groaned open – no timid creaking in this place – I hoped I wouldn’t go as mad as he. The only difference between his cloister and mine? Mine lacked padded walls.
“In here,” mumbled the old turnkey. “Bed, piss-pot, lantern, washstand, table, chair, paper and pen. Barred window, too. Guess which part it looks out on?” He grinned, baring rotten teeth. “Aye. Gallows Yard. Nice view, eh?” I entered the cell without a word, but my captor kept talking. “Sure could use a beer. Haven’t had one in a fortnight. Failing that, cheap wine would do, but my pay’s a pittance.”
Smiling once more, he said, “Start writing. They want a last confession from you, like from all dead men. That’s why you get paper and pen. Goodbye now.”
The guard pulled the door shut behind him and locked it. Goodbye, indeed.
Start writing. I had a week. Why begin now? I felt myself drawn to the window.
Like those in every jail, it was barred, allowing the bare minimum of light and air to enter my cell. I considered myself lucky. Certain cells at the Asylum lacked even this, contributing to a buildup of foul smells and fouler diseases. If my chamber pot were properly washed, or if I were given leave to wash it, I wouldn’t suffer like some of our most dangerous inmates did. I laughed. What’s stench to a corpse?
Gallows Yard, aside from possessing the obvious, lay bare and brown underneath an overcast sky. I thought myself lucky in another way. Compared to the obsolete Tyburn apparatus in England, which could hang twenty-four at a time, I’d get the honor of a singular execution. One man, one noose, one fate.
“See?” I muttered to the chilly air. “We’re not such barbarians after all.”
Having nothing to do but relieve myself, sleep or write, I chose the pillow.
* * * * * * * *
Day Two: Thursday, November 12, 1885
My jailer, who told me to call him “Old Jake” or “Sir,” brought my breakfast at six o’clock the next day. Despite my new surroundings, I remained a slave to old habits. I’d washed and dressed by then. My first thought upon waking was that I had to go to work. With one bite of late-fall frost into my flesh, that presumption vanished. I was no longer a doctor, but a prisoner due to be hanged. Perhaps that’s why I got bacon and eggs, not the usual jail fare of gruel.
“G’day to you,” said Old Jake, handing over a plate and mug. “Eat up.”
I thought this strange advice under the circumstances. Then I recalled a patient so despondent that he’d gone on a hunger strike in order to be released. The poor man hadn’t earned his freedom, but several force-feedings instead. With the ghost of a smile, I thanked the man, then sighed as he slammed and barred the door. It was all well and good for him to order me to eat. I’d found myself growing thin.
“Not bad,” I said as I crunched a piece of bacon, burnt but salvageable. “Grace makes better, but is she here?” The corners of my mouth lifted in a smirk. After that, there was nothing to do but drink my mug of water, lay the dishes near the door, and take a constitutional. Gooseflesh prickled on my skin. I’d taken warmth in one’s water closet for granted, a creature comfort everyone should enjoy. Here I’d be granted no such privilege. Legs and buttocks quivering as they touched the porcelain, I emptied my guts of their contents. Food become filth.
How carelessly I disposed of the good things in life.
I thought of returning to bed, then thought better of it. I wouldn’t sleep all day, though my heavy eyes and heart cried out for more. I’d live before I died, no matter how many pleasures were denied me. I wouldn’t pace up and down my cell, either. As Old Jake had demanded, I’d see to my soul. Sitting at the writing table, I put pen to paper with firm resolve, then found I could write absolutely nothing.
Think, man. Think. Don’t start with Dr. Allerton, for God’s sake. Start with her.
My hand moved of its own accord, then stopped dead:
Blot that out, fool! No one can know she’s involved.
I drowned her name in inky oblivion.
The Final Confession of Martin Vollinger, Doctor of Psychiatry
Much better. As in the Book of Genesis, I would begin at the beginning.
I was born on October 28th in Stuttgart, Germany, in 1840. My parents, now deceased, were Friedrich and Emma Weber Vollinger. May God rest their souls in Heaven.
I shall never see them again, whether here or there.
“All right,” I said. “Hard facts won’t be adequate, for this is my confession, not my autobiography. I’ll bare my soul as well as scrub it clean, no matter the pain.”
I wonder what they’d think of me, alone in this place and slated to die. Mother would have strangled me as soon as she’d borne me, but Father – dear Father! – might have understood. When I was a young man about to leave for a foreign country and a foreign place of occupation, he warned me to prepare for war. He who named me Martin.
Spurred like a racehorse, I kept writing until lunchtime. Old Jake gave me a plate of ham and beans, a crusty roll, and another mug of water. I wondered if my meals would get better or worse as the week wore on, but then he startled me.
“Old hag came in this morning. Brought some books for you and a moncle.”
“Monocle,” I said in an absent tone, then, “Wait. What old hag?”
“That’s ‘What old hag, sir?’ to you. Didn’t give her name. Just said she knew you were here – probably read the paper – and told me to have someone give you this.”
He handed over a bag bearing the aroma of a familiar house. “Couldn’t make head or tail of the titles. I’m no schoolboy.” He gave a laugh and a faceful of dental-decayed breath. “The print’s so tiny I couldn’t read these books anyway.”
“Even with the monocle?”
A donkey’s bray. “Who’d suffer through garbage like this?”
Old Jake held up one of the volumes to show what he meant.
“Lathrop Nye, Teacher and Professor” by L. Wright
“Never heard of the fellow. Then again, I never studied past the sixth grade.”
“Er. . .” I had to remind myself to breathe. “Never mind, sir. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” Jake replied, then snorted. “Put you right to sleep, they will.”
Ignoring my lunch, I read the other titles:
“Merits of Identification versus Alienation” by L. Wright
“Calibration of Chaotic Scales and Balances” by L. Wright
My cell door slammed shut.
The books’ names baffled me. Who was Lathrop Nye? His name made me feel a twinge of pain in my right temple? The second title made no sense at all, unless the author were talking about group dynamics. I could see why Old Jake thought the third work to be boring as well, but why put chaotic before scales and balances?
Those were the opposites of chaos.
On a hunch, I took the monocle from the bag and held it to my right eye, which was stronger than my left. I picked up the first book:
“LATHROP NYe, TEAcher and Professor” by L. Wright
The letters in bold relief, bleeding red text, formed an anagram spelling that name. His name. The name of the Faceless God, deity of the Black Pharaoh: NYARLATHOTEP.
Once I stopped my chattering teeth, I put down that cursed tome and moved on to the second, with its even-more-bizarre title:
“MERits of IDentification versus AlIenAtioN” by L. Wright
“Meridian,” I whispered. “Still nonsense.”
However, when I looked through the monocle at the title of the third book, it took all I had to keep from weeping:
“CaLIBRAtion OF CHAOTIC SCALES AND BALANCES” by L. Wright
I now knew three things.
Miss Wright had a message for me. I was to read the book that scared me the most first. Otherwise I’d hardly understand the other two. I had six days.
Could she save me? Could I save myself?
With the certainty one’s upcoming death brings, I knew my confession could wait.
Ever-peering through the monocle, I read the subtext within the printed text.
* * * * * * * *
“LATHROP NYe, TEAcher and Professor” by L. Wright
I: WHO IS NYARLATHOTEP?
Nyarlathotep is one of the Outer Gods, existing before time and space – or, at least time and space as we know it – ever came into being. For those of you who place faith in Jehovah, the God of Abraham, and in His Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ, know this: Nyarlathotep knows Them. He knew Them before they created Earth. In terms of sheer power, the Crawling Chaos (one of his many titles) is second only to Azathoth, the Daemon Sultan whom he serves. He may very well be the Antichrist.
If you are reading this, you walk the broad road to damnation, as I do.
Jesus came to save the world through shedding His blood, so that our sins might be forgiven. The Faceless God (another title) comes to lead the world astray. In his countless forms, many of them human, he roams the earth seeking three things: masses of followers, a few as his chosen disciples, and above all, knowledge.
There is no killing Nyarlathotep, as David killed Goliath. There is no stopping him, as Christ stopped the wind and the waves. There is no defeating him, as God’s Son defeated Satan when He went down into hell, rescuing the righteous souls who had been waiting for Him there and anticipating His first coming.
Nyarlathotep offers a fatal trilemma: become his bondservant, go insane, or die.
I chose to serve, and I did not choose lightly. Marriage is a covenant. So is my bond.
His name, filling men with dread, contains the Egyptian suffix “–hotep,” meaning “to be at peace.” How can this be? Peace is the opposite of chaos. Here lies a paradox. The first part of the Eternal Stranger’s name (a title he himself taught me) does mean chaos. Other translations of “nyarlat – ” include “creeper, crawler, dark one, haunter, horror,” and, most tellingly, “searching soul.”
Indeed, Nyarlathotep is a searching soul, reading heaven and earth like a book.
II: WHAT IS NYARLATHOTEP’S PURPOSE?
Nyarlathotep’s purpose is to serve the will of the other Outer Gods. These include Cthulhu, Dagon, Hastur, the Conqueror Womb, and Yog-Sothoth. Yet I cannot overstate that he serves his master, Azathoth, first and foremost. As Jehovah is Jesus Christ’s Heavenly Father (and yours, I hope), so Azathoth is Nyarlathotep’s progenitor. Like a son to his sire, the Crawling Chaos must bend his will to the one who sits at the center of all creation, every cosmos, not just this one.
Christ loves His Father, but Nyarlathotep hates his. Let us find out why.
III: HOW DID NYARLATHOTEP COME TO BE?
You may think this an abrupt change of subject. It is not. The Crawling Chaos’ loathing of the one who begat him is tied to his origins. Any student of the Necronomicon – the primary volume of lore and ritual related to the Outer Gods – will tell you that Nyarlathotep is the son of Azathoth, but who is his mother? Was he borne out of Azathoth’s head, as the Greek goddess Athena was borne out of Zeus’s? The answer is both YES and NO.
You see, Azathoth, called the Blind Idiot God as well as the Daemon Sultan, was not always a witless entity gnashing his teeth at the core of all existence. He was once as cunning and wise as Jehovah, and as powerful. The Elder Gods of so-called light and goodness ruled before, and against, the Outer Gods and their designs. Azathoth was once an Elder God. When he dared to rebel, his former allies cast him out and punished him with blindness and mindlessness.
“(Y)e blind idiot, ye noxious Azathoth shal(l) arise from ye middle of ye World where all is Chaos & Destruction where He hath bubbl’d and blasphem’d at Ye centre which is of All Things, which is to say Infinity….” – August Derleth, author and prophet
It’s never been proven, but I have a theory. In the moment before the Elder Gods cursed Azathoth, the Daemon Sultan split off the greater part of his consciousness from himself and called it Nyarlathotep. As Azathoth is the ancestor of every Outer God, this splitting-off meant Nyarlathotep is also the soul and mind of each and every one of them. He’s inside Cthulhu, Dagon, and the rest. He speaks for them and allows them to live through him. A puppetmaster is he, but also a puppet.
How does this relate to the hatred the son feels for his father?
What does Azathoth want from HIS only-begotten son?
In a word: knowledge.
Nyarlathotep seeks to learn and absorb all the secrets of all the worlds – the ones we know and the ones we have not yet discovered. When the Faceless God finally achieves his aim, and this cannot be overstated:
Azathoth shall reabsorb him and become omniscient and all-seeing again.
No god wants to be food for another god. Nyarlathotep has his own free will.
IV: WHAT ARE NYARLATHOTEP’S GOALS?
First, to gain all knowledge, both the factual and spiritual kind (gnosis).
Second, to acquire countless followers and choose a few as his close servants.
Third, to usurp Azathoth as the Ruler of All That Is, his mind fully intact.
Yes, you read that right. I’ll make yet another analogy to Jesus. He is content to sit at God’s right hand and rule beside Him. Nyarlathotep will settle for nothing less than replacing Azathoth, damning him twice: once with lack of sight and mind, and again for having no other way to reclaim himself. This is the punishment that the Crawling Chaos sees fit for his father’s endless hunger.
V: WHO ARE SOME OF NYARLATHOTEP’S KNOWN FOLLOWERS?
The Mi-Go, or fungi from the planet Yuggoth, and the lumae of outer space
Keziah Mason, a witch who lived in Salem, Massachusetts in the 17th century
The Great Race of Yith, or simply Yith
Nephren-Ka, the Black Pharaoh, who has been stricken from historical records
Lathrop Nye, teacher and professor of literature at Miskatonic University
Dr. Micah Wright, Ph.D., a tenured Egyptologist at Miskatonic University
Yours truly, L. Wright
* * * * * * * *
I was freezing. Not just that, but my head throbbed with pain in both temples.
I rasped out loud: “Libra, what have you done?”
Or what did your father force or convince you to do?
The more I thought about this, the more right it seemed. If Libra had served the Crawling Chaos since she was thirteen years old, she would have been a mere waif at the time she’d made her pact. Maybe Micah Wright’s Egyptian artifacts had proven far more fascinating than her mother’s Bible and the Institutes of the Christian Religion. Perhaps she had yielded not to force, but to subtle and powerful manipulation. If her father had been as brilliant as she still thought he was, he would have said and done anything to make sure his dark faith was passed on.
Dark knowledge, Doctor, echoed Libra’s voice in my head. Never forget that.
My cell door clanged and groaned as it was being unbarred. I put the book away.
“Lunch,” called Old Jake, carrying a plate of beans, a roll, and mug of water. As he leaned against the iron door to force it open, his eyebrows rose. “Good God! You look like you’ve seen a ghost, or maybe hundreds of them. What’s wrong?”
“Headache,” I said and gritted my teeth. It wasn’t a lie, but neither was it the whole truth. Had I said this in court, I would have been cross-examined.
The jailer nodded with a sigh. “It’s the damp. Sorry we couldn’t get you better accommodations, but the Sanctum Hotel was booked full.”
“The Asylum, too?” Neither of us laughed. We stood at stalemate.
“I’ll be back with dinner,” he said and locked me in again.
I chewed and swallowed mechanically, tasting the bland food with a flick of my tongue. Sustenance here was a matter of necessity. The guards and the warden had to keep me living long enough to star in the drama they’d performed for years.
Killing a Killer: A Play in One Act.
As I ate, I thought of Sanctum Asylum. Would it have been so bad to tell all and plead insane, to reveal the existence and the secrets of the lumae, to expose my victim as a villain who sought to enslave his patients and eventually the world?
The law would have deemed me a madman, but not a murderer.
Then again, if I would have done that, I would have endangered Libra.
“I’d rather die,” I said, swallowing cold beans, “then have her die with me.”
Only afterward did I think of the other downside to such a fate. In here, I had five more days to live. In there, who knew how long I would have lasted? As a patient instead of a doctor, I would have been subjected to our therapies, including ice-cold baths in restraints, phrenological experiments, and possibly a lobotomy.
Would they have chosen frontal or trans-orbital? I asked myself,
No, that wouldn’t have been enough. I’d remain living, according to the literal definition of the word, while Dr. A. would remain dead. An imbalance, an unpaid debt on my part. As much as Christians loved to talk about forgiveness, when it came to actions such as mine, Old Testament law applied. An eye for an eye.
Not that I needed forgiveness from anyone besides Libra.
Laying my plate and mug aside, a thousand pinpricks stung me.
I could hang myself from the ceiling with my bedsheets. That would be that. Allerton’s death would be repaid, and I wouldn’t have to be paraded into Gallows Yard to satisfy the requirements of state-sanctioned murder. No one considers it such when it’s lawful and aboveboard. It’s only when one takes the law into one’s own hands that killing is punishable by death in turn. “
“Execution,” we call it. The carrying out of an order. No more, no less.
The fouler the deed, the sweeter its other name.
The guards and executioner might have felt cheated if I ended things beforehand, but what was the ultimate difference? A corpse is a corpse, of course, of course.
If I took my own life, I’d be damned as a suicidal maniac. If I let the hangman finish me, I’d be damned as a premeditated murderer.
What if I had another option? A third path that I hadn’t yet considered?
“Escape.” I had to laugh. “Who’d help me? Would Libra? We’d get caught. My fellow doctors at the Asylum wouldn’t even help me plead insanity – not that I would have wanted them to. They’d never petition for my transfer over there, from one cell to another. They have enough inmates on their hands, many of them killers. I’d be in good company, or bad as the case may be, but it won’t happen. In the worst case, I’d ask Grace, but she’d sooner die than aid and abet me. A more devout, law-abiding citizen I’ve never known, whether German or American.
I fell into an uneasy sleep.
* * * * * * * *
A glowing brain, teeming with yellow-green lumae, pulsing like a heart.
“My heart and mind are one,” it said, “and they are set upon you.”
I felt myself flailing in space, the infinite void in which I found myself trapped.
“Libra, for the love of God, why do you torment me? Let me go!”
“If you wish, I’ll release you, but not before you know my reasons.”
“The reasons you serve. . .” I wouldn’t say his name. “The Eternal Stranger?”
“Yes. I want you to understand us. Then you will understand yourself.”
“No. I know who I am, and I’ll never yield! I won’t give in. I’ll stay faithful.”
Lub-dup. Lub-dup. Lub-dup. The pulse grew louder as the lumae swarmed.
“You find yourself with no answers, no options, and no means of escape. My second and third books will give you all three. All you need do is read and learn.”
“I’ll do no such thing. I’ll pace my cell. I’ll sleep until I hang, Miss Wright!”
“You’d sacrifice yourself for me, even though you now beg for your freedom?”
She had me there. “Aye, I would, and may the Christian Devil take me for it.”
Silence. Her hideous cerebral heartbeat kept time in the midst of eternity.
“The course of your life has come down to three choices. You’ve made two of them already, but the third shall soon be posed – not by me, but by my god. We believe that either nothing we do matters, or everything we do matters. The truth lies in the middle, in the support stand of the Scales. I’ll show you what your choices were and how you came to make them. You think you know, but as I once did, you only see through a looking glass darkly. Nyarlathotep has made everything clear to me.”
I asked her an odd question: “What’s stage five?”
Even though I didn’t understand, I screamed.
* * * * * * * *
This scream woke me. I heard not the battle cry of a warrior, but the wail of a feeble old man. At this point, maybe I was. Prison ages a person. I wonder what genius first believed solitary confinement to be good for convicts.
“Am I going mad at last?”
No one answered. No one would.
Dinner came. I chose to eat it. Nature called. I chose to heed it. Decision by decision, whether trivial or not, I would work my way out of this dilemma as Theseus had worked his way out of the labyrinth. I couldn’t help but think of the woman who had used Ariadne’s thread. Would she never let me be? The key would be strict discipline. Exercising in my cell, even pacing. Praying and pondering Scriptures. Most of all, write my confession. That would keep me from reading Libra’s books.
I remained blissfully busy until lights-out. So far, so good.
* * * * * * * *
Day Three: Friday, November 13, 1885
I couldn’t sleep. I lay on my cot, not counting sheep but numbers, one to one hundred and back. When that didn’t work, I repeated: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” What greater assurance could a man have than that of his eternal salvation? Despite my crime, I still believed in Christ. Faith had been born and bred into me right from the cradle, though it had stopped growing around the time I set off for America. To this day, I didn’t know why.
“For God so loved the world,” I whispered in the darkness. “That means us, the world in general, not any single person in particular.” Like lightning, it hit me. God’s love was collective, no matter how many times I’d been taught the opposite. On how many occasions had Jesus addressed “ye” instead of “thou” in the Bible?
“Go ye into all the world,” I quoted, preaching the gospel to the frosty night air. Far more chilling: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” If Jesus said this, what mercy would He actually give sinners? The implication was obvious. Yes, one COULD be saved, but if one fell from grace, one was “as salt that has lost its savor.” A dead vine to burn in everlasting flame.
In my tired mind, the words “yes, but” ticked to and fro, like a clock’s pendulum.
They lulled me to sleep. In the morning, I couldn’t remember having any dreams.
“Strange,” I said, then used the chamber pot and did stretches.
At the Asylum, we doctors held physical exercise in the highest regard. Coupled with manual labor – which many patients performed, but others were unfit for – exercise was the shortest path to health. Thus I jumped like Jack, touched my toes, rolled my head to limber up my stiff neck, marched in ran in place. I was glad to let my muscles think for once.
When Old Jake entered my cell with breakfast, I yelped in alarm.
“Sorry. Time for grub, and time to empty that.” He gestured to the pot I used when ‘grub’ was no longer useful. “Step lively.” I found this task a relief. When I finished emptying and scrubbing the receptacle, I washed my hands and returned to my cell. “You get bacon and eggs again, but I brought you the best of the lot.”
“Thank you, sir,” I said, unexpectedly moved. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“You don’t owe me nothin’. Most folks in this place are rotten. You’re not.”
“Haven’t you heard what I’ve done?”
“Killed your boss ‘cause you hated him. That’s not new.” As if kept in check by an internal judge, he added, “Can’t pardon you, but I understand. You might want to keep your eyes peeled around noontime.”
“You’ll see.” With that, he bolted the door and left me to enjoy my meal.
Bit by bit, the food was getting better. I felt like a hog being fattened.
Perhaps I was.
The process is completely humane.
Shaking my head to clear it, I lay my dishes aside and sat at the writing table.
* * * * * * * *
I wanted to be a regular physician, not a psychiatrist. I’d been a fragile child. Not sickly but brittle-boned. Compared to my brothers and sister, I was the runt of the litter. They’d tease me without remorse, throwing me around like a ball when I was very small. One day, I vowed, I’d become a doctor so no more children like me would be born.
I found relief from the torment of my siblings – and the schoolyard – whenever Uncle Hans came to visit. A literary critic with an agile body and the wit to match, he understood me as no one else in my family did, except for Father once Hans died. Hans and I had delightful discussions. Some of my favorite topics were the authors he’d read and reviewed, including Friedrich Engels, Hermann Hesse, Franz Mesmer, and of course Marx. (Hans was no Marxist, but a scholar of economics and philosophy.) When I was younger, I believed Hans to be nearly omniscient, next to God. With a patient, indulging chuckle, Uncle told me he was no such thing. He certainly tried, he said.
Was all that “trying” the cause of his deterioration, beginning at age forty?
I’m aware that as we grow older, we lose our faculties. Yet Father and Mother were spared the ravages Hans had to suffer, and they lived to be twice his age! When Father met our Maker, he was eighty-two, Mother eighty-three. God rest them.
As for poor Uncle? At fifty, he had to be committed to an asylum in Stuttgart.
What preceded this? Amnesia. First he couldn’t remember the publication dates of recent books he’d reviewed. Soon he couldn’t recall what he’d said in his most recent articles. Names slipped through his mind like sand slips through one’s fingers. Places eluded him; he was always “here.”
At the end, this slippage extended to time. He had no past or future, just the present.
No wonder Uncle Hans was so easily perturbed as I grew up and he regressed. When no one else was around, he would cry. I’d lend him my shoulder without judgment.
“Martin,” he’d say – one of the few family names he didn’t slur – “I don’t understand what’s happening to me. Do you?”
I always had to tell him no, feeling guilty and ashamed for both of us.
After Uncle was committed, I swore to Father that I’d still become a doctor, but one that healed minds instead of bodies. One that might cure people like Hans one day.
* * * * * * * *
“He died before his time. I failed him.”
Why had I even gone to America in the first place, knowing the risk?
“Groundbreaking and experimental developments in the field of psychiatry.”
Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth –
“So help me God?” Silence.
Spent from my efforts, I lay down on the cot, burying myself in the thin blankets the prison could afford to spare for me. The breeze streaming in through the window would make anyone die of hypothermia before they met the hangman.
My second dose of fitful sleep came. So did an unwelcome vision:
Uncle Hans, sitting on his cot at the Stuttgart Sanitarium, wearing no straitjacket but constrained all the same. His head turned toward me, his eyes staring through me at the wall, as if I were a ghost.
“You couldn’t save me. No one could. I was beyond saving, as is your woman, though she’s nowhere near insane. Yet. They. . .”
“Yes? Yes?” I knelt and grasped Hans’ hand. “Who are they?”
“Insects without wings. Without souls. That’s what we are to the Outer Gods.”
I jolted awake.
* * * * * * * *
The echo of footsteps and voices from Gallows Yard made me kneel on my cot and stare through the window bars. Marching feet. The crunch of frozen earth.
Someone was preparing to meet God, or more likely the Devil.
Several guards paraded in an inflexible line toward the middle of the Yard, where its infamous apparatus stood. They escorted a prisoner dressed in rags, his wrists shackled, his head bowed. I sensed something was wrong.
The warden stood waiting near the scaffold. He raised his voice for all to hear. I presumed I wasn’t the sole one watching from the cold comfort of my cell. He gestured to unfold a sheet of paper, or so I thought. My vantage point afforded me a good view, but not a close and personal one.
“Rodney Everett Frost. You have been convicted by a judge and jury of the capital crime of murder. The penalty for such is death by hanging. There have been no stays or reprieves. Therefore, the execution will proceed as stipulated under the laws of the State of Massachusetts. Any last words?”
Whatever the condemned did or didn’t say was lost to the biting wind.
“May God have mercy on your soul,” said the warden, then gave a signal.
The guards took hold of both of the arms of the condemned and dragged him up the stairs to the hanging platform. Frost struggled as hard as he could, but the two burly veterans who’d make sure his neck would break also had to make sure he’d reach the rope. Reach it he did, and when he saw its loop, he wailed aloud.
I’d only heard such terror from one other person: the inmate O.R.
In addition to the iron clamps on his wrists, the guards fastened leather restraints around Frost’s torso and feet, like the ones we used for unruly Asylum residents. After letting him howl for ten more seconds, they took a burlap sack and pulled it over his head, fastening it with the noose. More wailing. As far away as I was, I could still watch the burlap inflate and deflate as he tried to gulp his last breaths.
Then, the drop. No resounding crack.
I heard nothing, oh, Lord, I heard nothing –
The ragged bundle no longer recognizable as Rodney Everett Frost thrashed in the throes of convulsions. On and on, he writhed like a worm on a hook. The guards did nothing but stare at the ground as the condemned man stayed alive, clinging to whatever air hadn’t been choked out of him by the noose.
He’s still seizing. They botched the execution. How long will it take him to die?
I couldn’t stand to watch, yet I couldn’t turn my head away. Nor could I ignore the whiff of human waste in the air as the prisoner lost control of his bowels and bladder. For over an hour I stayed still, ignoring the agony in my back and knees.
When the show was over, several officials shook their heads. I made the sign of the Lutheran cross three times over my heart to pray for Frost’s soul. To my disgust, one or two guards spat on the ground below the corpse.
“Judge not, that ye be not judged,” I seethed to myself.
After that, I lay back down, crawled under the blankets, and curled into a fetal position. I hoped for pneumonia, or bronchitis at the least, to weaken and distract me from my upcoming fate. How long before I died? One hour? Two?
Old Jake had to rouse me from another fit of slumber when dinnertime came.
“Wakey, wakey, Doctor,” he said gently. “Got mutton and cabbage tonight.”
Half-cognizant, I stammered, “Wh-what’d he do?”
“Rodney Frost, you mean? Strangled his wife in a drunken rage, then threw his wee son down the well because he thought the baby wasn’t his. The scoundrel got what he deserved, if you ask me. Took him long enough to die, but so what? He didn’t think of that when he drowned his boy, not yet six months old. A shame.”
I turned away from the turnkey. “Don’t feed me anymore. Let me starve.”
“Why, so you can go to your hangin’ a scarecrow? Not on my watch. Listen.” He leaned in close, and I could smell his putrid breath. “You’re all right, Vollinger. As I said, I know what it’s like to hate somebody enough to kill them. Now, Frost? He and his kin have been around a while, in terms of stealing and brawls in the bar. Nothing but trouble. I think they did it on purpose. Made his drop too short.”
Speaking of drop, my stomach did. I wanted no dinner at all.
“Didn’t mean to scare you. I’ll make sure you’re weighed and measured right. The warden’s heard of you, at least a little bit. He has nothin’ against you except for your murdering. He’s held a grudge against the whole Frost family for ages now.”
When he lay his hand on my arm, I jerked but didn’t pull back.
“Stay with me,” he said. “You’re the closest I have to a friend on this block.”
Old Jake stood, went toward the door, glanced at my plate and mug, then left.
Fact: I have four more days to live.
Fact: I’ll be executed by the same method as Rodney Everett Frost.
Fact: A short-drop hanging, as opposed to a measured drop, takes over an hour.
Conclusion: Why should I eat? I don’t like mutton and cabbage anyway.
I let my plate cool but drank the mug of water. No sense in being dehydrated.
* * * * * * * * *
Day Four: Saturday, November 14, 1885
“Din’t eat anything last night, did you?” Old Jake clicked his tongue and shook his head. “Shame. You let good food get cold.” The guard placed my new plate and mug on the table and removed my old ones. “First things first. Time for slopping out.” Once my chamber pot was clean and my hands washed, I sat to wolf down breakfast. The jailer watched me devour my bacon in two bites. “Good. Starving’s not the way to go, even on death row. By the way, how are the books?”
“What books?” I asked, then gave a start. “Oh, those books. Wholly tedious.”
“Boring, eh? I thought they’d be. Sorry about that.”
“Don’t be. You’re not the author, just the messenger. I won’t shoot you.”
We had a good chortle. Humor was in short supply here.
“Well, Doctor, have fun trying to read them anyhow.”
With a waiter’s bow, he took my dirty dishes away and departed.
“I won’t read them. Neither the second nor the third.” However, after doing yet more exercises and getting a terrible cramp in my side, what else could I do? I was too alert to go back to sleep. I didn’t need a constitutional. I wasn’t in the mood to continue my confession. Other than stare out the window at the empty death yard beyond, my only activity was to keep reading. Wearily, I sighed. If I were going to eat the forbidden fruit, I’d take a large, juicy bite.
“Merits of Identification versus Alienation,” by L. Wright
As in the first book, the hidden text lay between the lines , legible only by monocle.
* * * * * * * *
I: MERIDIANS IN OUR WORLD – AND OTHER WORLDS
The word “meridian” is defined as “a circle of constant longitude passing through a given place on the earth’s surface and the terrestrial poles.”
This applies to our Prime Meridian, which runs through Greenwich, England. Other planets and worlds also have meridians; we simply haven’t defined them.
Yet another meaning is “the hour of midday, noon.”
This book concerns itself with a third, metaphorical sense of the word. “Meridian” can mean “a high point, a zenith,” as in “ the meridian of one’s life.” It applies to time as well as space, to events and situations. If worlds have meridians in terms of longitude, they also have them in terms of longevity, of evolution.
Our world is in the meridian of its time – its high point of prosperity.
The Sun does not stay at its zenith for long.
Greece waned, then fell, as did Rome. Why should we expect immortality?
For millennia, we have sought and failed to find it. We’ll keep doing so, forever. Prophets and preachers have promised life after death, but who among us has come back from the celestial (or infernal) realm to speak of it? Like the proverbial carrot on the end of the stick, such a promise remains beyond reach, at least while we still inhabit our mortal bodies. We mules keep trudging along, longing for a great reward at the end of our days. We believe and believe, but we don’t receive.
Hope springs eternal. In the meridian, we may achieve what we hope for.
II: THE MECHANICS AND METAPHYSICS OF MERIDIANS
Have you ever wished upon a star? As a child, I did so every night. Nanny called me superstitious. Mother called me irreligious. Father smiled, and there always lay a twinkle in his eye.
The truth of meridians is that while we find ourselves in them, we reach, not just wish. We see the prize within our grasp, as a racehorse sees the finish line, and sprint toward it. We make plans, strategize and coordinate, then take action. While we were still ascending, as a whole and as individual human beings, all we did was struggle to survive. We had no time to cultivate our inner selves, because our outer selves needed food and shelter. We still do, yet we obtain them far more easily than our prehistoric ancestors did. We don’t need to fear woolly mammoths anymore. We’ve developed what we call “technology” to take care of our physical needs.
In Earth’s meridian, we’ve found the ambition and energy to take dominion over it at last. We have certainly fulfilled God’s commandment to replenish the earth.
Here lies a paradox: As we fill our world, we are also emptying it. Why?
We know from physics that energy is used, and eventually spent. Earth is finite. So are the other planets in our solar system and beyond. They are physical. Meridians are metaphysical, yet the principle is the same. In time, we will use up the energy of this current and precious state, then begin to fade. We’ll either get what we want while the iron is hot or fail while it turns cold.
This is the law of Nature. Does it apply equally across all worlds?
No. Where the Outer Gods live, the meridian is the only line, the only state in which they find themselves. Even Cthulhu, dead and dreaming in his undersea city of R’lyeh, will one day rise – and on that day, death shall die.
Resurrection is possible. Immortality, as the Outer Gods know it, is possible.
Is it any wonder the world considers people like Father and me insane? We know these truths to be self-evident, as others know the truths in the Declaration of Independence to be self-evident. Father and I would add “eternal” to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” We’ve discovered the means to these ends and the mechanisms behind them. We know our time is short. We must strike now.
III: MY MERIDIAN AND YOURS
As of this writing, I am thirty-three. I’ll reach my own meridian in six years. If I do not fulfill my goal by the end of my thirty-ninth year, I shall be lost. So the Crawling Chaos has ordained. As for you, O spirit peering into mine?
Do you have a favorite number between one and ten? This is the prime factor of your days. Your meridian will come when you reach a middle age that is its multiple of either three or five. My favorite number? Thirteen. Laugh if you must, but I wanted it to be lucky instead of unlucky. I got my wish, by his will. At the age of thirteen, I entered into a pact with Nyarlathotep, and my first meridial stage.
I’ll elaborate on these stages later. For now, what is my meridian? Thirteen times three, or thirty-nine. A middle age, at least as we count our years. To find your meridian, take your favorite number and multiply it by three or five. You yourself can discover which factor is more suitable. For example, if you like the number nine and consider it your favorite, then nine times five is forty-five. Nine times three is twenty-seven, a lucky number, but it may not be your meridian. If you prefer the number ten, then thirty or fifty is your meridian age.
IV: APPROACHING YOUR MERIDIAN
To live is to suffer. No one has ever said our days were easy, even in childhood. I have good news and bad news: While approaching your meridian, life becomes far more challenging. Imagine an uphill climb that becomes vertical. No one except the most experienced climbers will be able to ascend it, yet by the time you reach your meridian age, experience will have taught you what you need to know – if you have heeded its lessons. If not, you’ll plummet blindly off the cliff.
I know this firsthand. When approaching your meridian, you’ll feel:
Apprehension. Life itself may feel wrong to you, full of fears you can’t define. Take heart. This is the first sign you’re approaching your life’s highest point.
Self-doubt. You may begin to doubt your life’s worth and your choices thus far, and perhaps your own sanity. If you feel you’re going crazy, remember that what you call your reality will change for the better – no matter the pain and turmoil.
Finally, despair. You may feel your life has no purpose. “Why go on?” you ask yourself. “I’ve struggled and fought, but for nothing.” Hold fast, hold fast! The reason despair sets in is because there are those in the universe who want you to remain asleep, to forget your full potential and your dreams – to be like them. If you believe I only speak of people, you are wrong. Never forsake your own spirit.
* * * * * * * * *
“Doctor!” Old Jake grabbed the collar of my ragged shirt and yanked it up. My head had literally been sunk into the pages of Meridian. “I thought you were –”
“D-dead?” I asked, shivering. “No, but I’ve caught hypothermia in this cell.”
He clicked his tongue. “I’ll get you extra blankets. I’ll also try to move your bed away from the window so you don’t. . .I understand. You’re a dead man already, but that doesn’t mean you deserve to pass away like this. On a few occasions we will admit and several more that we won’t, it has happened.”
Such knowledge froze me even more than the temperature of the prison.
“I’ll be right back,” said Jake. “I’d put that book away if I were you.”
Truer words were never spoken, but that didn’t mean I’d heed them. Once my jailer was gone, I sat up, shut the tome, and took stock of my current situation.
I now had an idea of what Libra had been talking about, if a vague one.
V: MY PACT WITH NYARLATHOTEP AND ITS FIVE MERIDIAL STAGES
In the process of becoming as Nyarlathotep is and always will be, there are five stages, each bringing a power beyond our senses. Once the third and fourth stages are reached, two powers are bestowed before the final ones.
STAGE ONE: Initiation: Knowledge of the Present
POWER: Perfect Intuition
STAGE TWO: Education: Knowledge of the Past
POWER: Perfect Memory
STAGE THREE: Illumination: Knowledge of the Future
POWERS: Divination and Telepathy
STAGE FOUR: Deconstruction and Reconstruction: Renewal of the Mind
POWERS: Perfect Mental Fortitude (which one will certainly need for the final stage)
STAGE FIVE: Correlation: Connection of the Mind and Body to Everything that Is
POWERS: Omniscience and Immortality
These are marvels, or at least possibilities, at which sane people scoff. They should. Who among us has a perfect memory or knows the future? We say maturity is abandoning fantasy and living in the real world. Yet all the supernatural abilities that we say man cannot have, God has.
We say God is omniscient, but how can He be so without flawless recall and intuition? How can He know our every thought without being able to read minds? How can He guide us to the future, and teach us the lessons of the past, unless He can freely travel through both? In short, God is perfect via His perfect knowledge.
We bend our knees and bow our heads, denying such knowledge for ourselves.
Must we do so forever? Must we wait until after death to achieve glory?
The world’s God, called Jehovah, says yes – if He finds us worthy at Judgment Day.
On the other hand, Nyarlathotep says yes – in this life, by our meridian age.
In this time of writing, I’m in the beginning of Stage Three: Illumination.
VI: STAGE ONE: INITIATION
When I say initiation is the perfect knowledge of the present, I don’t mean rattling off current events word for word, as if from a newspaper. I can certainly do that, and could from the age of sixteen onward. (What took me three years under Nyarlathotep’s tutelage takes others decades, and the usefulness of this pursuit wanes with each passing day. Why recite the news when one can experience it?)
Perfect knowledge of the present means fully understanding current events and how they relate to one’s personal life – and the lives of others.
One of my least-favorite words is “trivial.” To me, nothing is. We dismiss all sorts of things we do, the little tasks that keep us going, without knowing why. We may not make the front page of the Times or Post, but what we do is news because it’s new. When we know what we’re doing in the here-and-now, not only in a practical but spiritual sense, we take the first step on the road to godhood and don’t realize it. We’re part of Time, even if we believe ourselves insignificant within Time.
As an example, I recently read about a soldier wounded in the Civil War who had to be committed because of his mental state. His name? Cepheus Vintner, one of my first cousins. I’d always wondered what had become of him, and there it was, in a column for our very own Sanctum Chronicle! The article said that he “babbled” about more war, greater wars to come, two that would involve the whole world.
The author, sane and well-meaning, didn’t believe Cousin Cepheus. I do.
I believe in our connection to one another, via family and also via history.
VII: STAGE TWO: EDUCATION
Whenever I hear the word “education,” I groan. It brings to mind the smell of chalk and its screech on the blackboard, the outpouring of facts like a waterfall, the bleeding of pens upon papers with failing marks, the thrashing of schoolboys who speak out and schoolgirls who speak at all, whenever they’re not spoken to.
I never wanted to be a teacher.
Yet there’s another sense of “education” that makes my heart sing instead of sink. It means “to bring up, to nourish, to train or mold,” but children aren’t potted plants – or potter’s clay, as the Bible says. I prefer to think of it as “to lead someone out of the darkness of ignorance into the light of knowledge.” That’s what school is supposed to do, but in my experience, it turns one into clay or a seed that grows. As paradoxical as it is, I hated school and all its miseries but loved learning.
Why this stage in my deification process? Why my insistence upon education being perfect knowledge of the past? Why not the present, which is far more useful in terms of understanding and making a living in the world today?
Contemporary essayist George Santayana says it best: “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” If we don’t learn from our personal and historical mistakes, we’ll keep making them and over, ad infinitum. Perfect knowledge of the past doesn’t only entail remembering the names of wars and kings. Those pass away. Empires rise and fall, but their lessons last forever. It means understanding the past in its every facet, relating the world’s history to our own. We consider ourselves educated if we recall our country was founded on July 4, 1776, or Columbus discovered America in 1492, but do we realize the impact of these feats? Names and dates have their place, but they aren’t the essence of history.
In school, we learn to be “smart,” but when are we wise? When we connect ourselves to the past, dip our feet into the vast streams of Person, Place and Time.
I have fully done this, for the past becomes the present becomes the future.
VIII: AN OVERVIEW OF STAGE THREE: ILLUMINATION
Dear reader, at this point your shoulders may be slumping in exasperation. “All right,” you sigh. “I understand what you mean by initiation and education, but no one can be perfect in either ‘stage.’ Moreover, perfect knowledge of the future? Impossible! The newspapers can’t predict the weather half the time.’”
The truth is that once you know, all else falls into place. Once your eyes are opened to the Infinite, that reach of time we consider beyond our reach, you don’t think foreknowledge is ridiculous anymore. My own eyes were opened through my covenant with the Haunter of the Dark, the Faceless God. He removed the veil. Can I tell fortunes? Yes, without error, but that’s not my goal. My goal is to help others reach the same state of enlightenment. To gain the Foresight.
In order to know the future, once you know the past and present in full, the step to be taken is to open your mind and extrapolate, like on a graph. If you’ve done all you can to learn about people, places and events, and how they are connected to your own being, this third stage is entirely possible. Yet it’s not easy in the least.
In three years, I completed Initiation. Six more to finish Education. Now, at twenty-five, I am beginning Illumination. My point? It takes time and copious effort to undertake such a journey of gnosis. It is a Herculean task, not Sisyphean. Once you finish pushing the “rock” of a stage up its “mountain,” it won’t fall down. It can’t. You’ll sooner unlearn your own name than your new revelations.
One more thing. Being able to foretell the future is a consequence of knowing the future, but what about telepathy? We say the future is a mystery, as opposed to ancient history or current victory (or misery), so that means:
The future is a state of MIND, not matter. To know the future is to reach minds.
IX: STAGE FOUR: DECONSTRUCTION AND RECONSTRUCTION
I’ll introduce this stage with a Bible verse, Mark 4:19. “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind. . .” What is it? How are our minds renewed, and how are we transformed by this process? If I were still a Christian, especially in the Calvinist tradition, I would tell you that it means our minds are turned around to face God and to obey Him, no longer facing toward the world and sinful unbelievers. I now follow a different spiritual path.
In my case, this renewing of the mind is a physical and mental process. It actually requires the eating of dead and damaged brain tissue by living things called lumae, tiny microbes that incorporate themselves into one’s brain, like coral incorporates itself into rocks on the sea floor and becomes a living system. These creatures bring about the possibility of Stage Five, which I’ll explain later. For now, they renew one’s youth and vigor, preparing one for the final step on the journey. Lethargy and fatigue? Old relics, those. White hair? Not a strand. Forget the advertisements for creams and tonics of all sorts. Once lumae reconstruct you. . .
First, of course, they have to deconstruct you. That’s the terrifying part.
During one of our communion hours, Nyarlathotep informed me that out of every one hundred followers of his, only ten attempt the operation.
I haven’t yet.
X: STAGE FIVE: CORRELATION
Unlike the previous four stages, I don’t completely understand the fifth.
Yet like a greyhound chasing a mechanical rabbit, I know what it is and why it’s there: to spur me on, to whip me into a frenzy so I’ll reach the finish line in time. By the end of my thirty-ninth year, if I don’t reach Stage Five, all shall be in vain.
I know it’s called Correlation: Connecting the Mind to All Its Contents and All That Is.
Imagine a file cabinet. It holds folders and images of all sorts, seemingly unrelated. We have files named “Mother” and “Father,” but also “Songs,” “Colors,” “Commercial Slogans,” “Map Directions,” “Food,” “Old Proverbs,” “Floor Plans of Various Houses,” “Money,” “Dreams,” “Shapes,” “Love.” We don’t understand, nor can we remember most of them at any given moment. It’s a disorderly mess. As we go throughout our lives, we can only stand to pull out one or two at a time. If we went any further, we would go mad, as so many asylum inmates demonstrate.
Stage Five is knowing and co-relating everything to everything else within us, and to everything that has existed or will exist. It is, in short, becoming a god.
Jehovah IS because He KNOWS – as does Nyarlathotep. Knowledge lasts forever.
Who has reached this stage? Abdul Alhazred, who wrote the Necronomicon.
He was considered a madman.
My father tried too hard. He died of bleeding in the brain at age fifty. In the later years of his life, he wished to skip the fourth stage and proceed straight to the fifth, with fatal results. He believed Nyarlathotep’s path was entirely based in the mind, forgetting that the body and mind are connected. They must be rebuilt and renewed before the final leap is made. Would you let a child jump a gorge?
I warn you: If you try, you might die trying. You’re more likely to lose your reason than to gain everything beyond reason’s reach. Yet I also promise you that even in the attempt, the rewards are immeasurable.
Yours, L. Wright
* * * * * * * *
Day Five: Sunday, November 15, 1885
Sunday, the Lord’s Day, was designated visiting day at Sanctum Prison.
I didn’t expect guests. However, Grace, ever-faithful, came to me.
When he brought a double helping of breakfast, Old Jake also gave me the bitter news that prisoners on death row weren’t allowed visitors. He’d put in a good word with the warden, and the latter had agreed to let my housekeeper – and companion of more than twenty years – say goodbye.
That wasn’t what she said at first, staring at me from behind iron bars in the prison foyer. “Vollinger,” she rasped and sighed, her hair twice as gray as when I’d last seen it. “Why did you break the Sixth Commandment and grieve the Lord?”
Gripping the bars, I held back tears. “I had to do it, Grace. For her sake.”
“The witch? She’ll drag you down to Hell with her. Turn from evil!”
“Dr. Allerton meant her harm. He would have fried her brain with electricity.” I whispered this so only Grace would hear. If the guards did, they’d get suspicious. “He would have done an experiment upon her using a lethal device he’d invented.”
“If that’s true, why didn’t you tell the police? Instead, you took the law’s burden upon your own foolish self. Don’t you recall Romans 12:19?”
“Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.”
“See? You know the Bible word for word, so why didn’t you obey it?”
“Allerton was an atheist, or so he said. Why should I have left him to a nonexistent being? God wasn’t there when I saw – ” Warning myself to be careful, I continued, “ – that awful metal skullcap on her head. The wires. Her scalp shaved, not a strand of hair on it. Her blank stare, and that glow. . .”
“Of the dials upon her face and the nodules upon the bars of the skullcap. It was a horrible sight, but her fate would have been even more horrible if I hadn’t –”
“A just punishment. Deuteronomy tells us what to do with witches.”
I kicked the bars so they rattled. “How dare you, Grace? You’re a Christian! You command me to forsake my sins? Get Miss Wright to do so first. If she does, I will.”
“That’s not how salvation works. You know that full well.” Grace took a ragged breath. “I won’t be able to sleep until I know your soul is in God’s hands. Kneel.”
I’d hardly ever lied to my mother. Lying to Grace was just as painful.
What was worth more: being true to myself or to her peace of mind?
“Almighty God,” she began, on her knees on the opposite side of me. “Your humble servant beseeches you, in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, to forgive and save this man. A murderer though he may be, he has confessed his sin and seeks Your pardon. He shall be put to death in the flesh, but be quickened by the Spirit. Though he has fallen under the spell of a wicked witch, so let it be banished through the power of the Holy Ghost. May the sorceress return to the Devil, but may Martin return to the bosom of Abraham, as did the beggar Lazarus. He cannot find the words to pray right now, but lift his burden, O Lord. Loosen his tongue. Soften his heart so that he sheds tears of repentance before meeting You. Most of all, wreak vengeance upon Doctor Abraham Allerton if he also sinned.
“Martin?” she asked, making me jerk and almost open my eyes. “Finish.”
I concluded our supplication with the Lord’s Prayer. When we reached the part about “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” my gut wrenched. God may have forgiven my debt, but the State of Massachusetts would not.
When we stood again, I asked Grace, “What if there were another way?”
“To save you? I don’t know how, unless that whore admits her role in the murder.”
Trembling, I hushed my best friend. “We’d both hang. I won’t have it. I’m giving my life for her, because I love her.” Grace looked horrified, but I charged on. “I won’t let her die before her time, or before she accomplishes her great work. You believe she’s in league with Satan, but she’s never hurt a fly. I swear upon the last drop of blood in my body! You forgive me, but why don’t you forgive her? I’ve hoisted myself on my own gallows. I’m done for, but she still has a chance.”
My housekeeper hocked but didn’t spit. “She lost it when she didn’t confess.”
The rattling of chains and the stomp of the guards’ feet brought silence. “Time’s up, Vollinger. Ma’am.” My captors touched their hats in the presence of a lady. I submitted to the shackles, but before I was led back to my cell, Grace cried:
“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out!”
Acts 3:19. Hopeful and lofty words, but nothing more.
Libra’s sudden voice in my head: Everything boils down to two principles: obedience and sacrifice. Remember what I told you that Fyodor Dostoevsky taught me about the three temptations of Christ? It’s all true.
Nyarlathotep IS the Miracle, the Mystery, and the Authority – the Three-In-One. Total freedom OF the mind is total chaos IN the mind. Mental anarchy. I tried to bear it, but could not. I needed parameters. I needed something or someone to be greater than me, in order to have someone or something to worship. Without worship, even of the Self, I die. I bowed to the Crawling Chaos because, in reality, he is the Crawling ORDER.
It is his duty to make order out of chaos, to make meaning of life’s senselessness. It’s Azathoth, the father he hates, who embodies destruction, imbalance and madness.
Do you now understand the deepest reason why I follow Nyarlathotep?
Martin. I hear you scream, caged inside your skull and your cell. Set yourself free.
“How, darling?” I exclaimed, slamming my fist down. “You’re not even free!”
Some Gnostics say Lucifer, being the foe of God and the friend of Man, chose to sacrifice himself by picking hell over heaven. He is not a powerless prisoner there. He remains a willing captive as the price for mankind’s freedom. Am I a captive? Yes, in all senses of the word, but I embraced my chains. You do not.
“Don’t I? I live for you. I’ll die for you. That’s why I didn’t betray you to Grace.”
I know, and I love you. The chains I speak of are spiritual. Once you understand that the same two fundamental principles apply to you as well as me, your true shackles will fall off. You won’t want to die, as you do now. You’ll want to live forever instead.
“In the service of that horror? That monstrosity? Never!”
I once said “never” too, Martin. Now I ask: Which monstrosity? Which horror?
Libra’s voice faded. I sank my sweat-soaked head down on the table and slept.
* * * * * * * *
Day Six: Monday, November 16, 1885
Fact: My height is six feet.
Fact: My weight is one hundred and forty pounds, also even.
Fact: Snapping a human being’s neck requires 1,260 foot-pounds of force.
Conclusion: I need to drop nine feet to die.
I don’t want to die. Not at my meridian age, for nine times five is forty-five.
I found the strength to finish my confession, which turned out thin. Still, what did I owe society? My life, not my life story. The important thing was that I explained the deepest reason why I killed Allerton:
After Uncle Hans was committed, I swore to myself that I’d still be a physician, but one that healed minds instead of bodies. One that might cure people like him one day.
Alas! Although I managed to treat many, I could not cure. Nor could Dr. Allerton, who said he did. His preferred method of “cure” was lobotomy. I never performed one, even on my most disturbed patients. As for Allerton? As soon as I met him, I thought him both inhumane and inhuman – an anatomical doll. Why?
Such men were the types who dragged my sobbing Uncle Hans to his own cell.
The doctors who took him ignored his pleas to remain with his family – with me. I was only a lad at the time, but insisted on going with Aunt Mathilde and my parents to say goodbye. Unprepared for such a dreadful scene, I couldn’t stand it. I had not fathomed the torments that the sane inflict upon the insane in the name of health.
In Doctor Allerton’s bony face, I saw the same men who’d led Hans away.
THAT was why I pumped six shots into his skull – to obliterate him outright.
I do shed tears of repentance – not because Dr. Allerton is dead, but because I failed to stop myself from shooting him. I became a murderer, but I pray to die a good man.
~ Dr. Martin Vollinger, Psy.D. ~
* * * * * * * * *
Day Seven: Tuesday, November 17, 1885
Midnight or thereabouts. Upon my bed, a curious weight.
Once I saw who and what it belonged to, a hand clamped itself on my mouth.
People always think that seeing a monster, a horror beyond words, would drive them mad. ‘Tis not the case. The real horror is seeing a man who is a monster.
All I could say, once the hand-clamp on my lips removed itself? “Hello, N.”
My ex-assistant, my humble factotum – Nyarlathotep – smiled at me.
“You’re not real,” I said. “You’re a figment of my imagination.”
“Was I a figment of Libra and Micah Wright’s imaginations as well? I think not. What a Doubting Thomas you are. Reach out and touch me.”
N. held out his hand, and I grasped it. Real flesh with real bones beneath.
“Very well.” I willed myself not to fall apart. “How did you get past the guards?”
The Crawling Chaos scoffed. “I can get past anything and anyone, including the limits of your time and space. I blinded the guards without doing anything to their eyesight. Let me tell you a little story. An anthropologist once came to visit a group of island natives, in order to live with them and record his observations about how they viewed the world. One day he was standing on the seashore with a native. On the horizon could be seen a large ship with sails. The anthropologist drew the native’s attention to it – but the native couldn’t ‘see’ it. The ship was such a foreign and unfamiliar sight that it didn’t exist for him. It was inconceivable; he had to blank it out. When the prison guards saw me, they had to blank me out.
“Yes, I’m in this human form, but I showed a little of my true self to them. What the guards could not ‘see’ were the odd proportions of my physical geometry. I was a man and a god at the same time. They simply stared and let me in.”
“Why am I not blanking you out right now?”
“You’re trying to, but that’s like trying not to see the back of your own hand. I chose a form so familiar and so dear to you, in terms of friendship, that how could you not see me? For better or worse, you can’t shut your eyes. Ask me anything.”
I attempted to sit up but couldn’t. “Are you here to help me escape?”
“If you wish. I’ll change your name, your face, your deteriorating body into the spry and youthful one you had before. You’ll no longer be Martin Vollinger, but the ‘new creature’ you believed you’d be in Christ. Built to last, and to transform.”
“To become as you are?”
N. grinned, his teeth glowing snow-white in the light of a waxing gibbous moon. “Not quite. To go through the same stages as Libra, at the very least. At this point, she’s so far ahead of you that she might well float off this miserable sphere before you finish your Initiation, but that’s beside the point. If you accept my offer, you’ll become my newest disciple and servant. Libra and I shall teach you. In this particular incarnation, I’ve become quite fond of you – no matter the lesson in humility you gave me not so long ago. You were in the right, and I in the wrong.”
I didn’t care. “What do you mean, ‘in this particular incarnation’?”
“Libra didn’t tell you? Another one of my titles is God of a Thousand Forms. As Dr. Lathrop Nye, for instance, I had a good run, though my students were nuisances. When I don’t inhabit a physical body – when I choose not to – I often influence the minds of those I seek to nudge in the right direction for my purposes. When your poor Uncle Hans lost his mind, not due to me or my father, but the vagaries of time and disease, you glimpsed me in the eyes of the doctors who hauled him away.”
I pointed a finger that wavered all over the place. “You unholy bastard!”
N. shrugged. “Was I? Apart from that glimpse, it turned out those good physicians didn’t need any help when it came to being monsters. I let them go after you saw me, and they continued on their merry way, dragging your uncle along. Whenever you humans do anything bad, you say the Devil made you do it, but you don’t need his infernal assistance. I discovered this on the day I discovered you.”
“What? Were you up there in the heavens looking down on me?”
“Precisely. I wanted you for my own, but unlike Jehovah, I don’t rig the game of salvation beforehand. You’re intelligent and perceptive. Capable. Influential. You also have direct access to the mad, or at least you did. If you choose to serve, you’ll continue to practice psychiatry, ensuring me a supply of potential followers. If I’m going to wage war against my father Azathoth, I need an army of my own.”
“This is insane. I’m going insane. An army? What kind? How will it fight?”
“That’s for me to know and you to learn. Even Libra hasn’t figured it all out yet. The ‘files’ for the how and why are all in her mind – thanks to the lumae that reconstructed her brain in Stage Four – but they’re so scattered and disorganized that she isn’t able to correlate them by herself. She needs the final stage to do so.”
Now it was my turn to grin. “And then she’ll defeat you, saving the world.”
N. laughed and laughed, making my cot shake as if a train were passing.
“Is that what you think she’ll do? Save the world, hallelujah and amen? You know nothing. You don’t know what Libra knows. You haven’t seen what she has, in either the past, the present or the future. You haven’t peered into the minds of your fellow men, seeing that the evil within far outweighs the good. We Outer Gods are beyond such concepts of morality, but what about your precious Earth?
“It won’t last. Neither shall your race of worms. War will come and never stop. Not only will there be two world wars in your coming century, but they’ll open the door to the extermination of your kind. Literal hellfire shall rain down in torrents, a great and massive cloud that kills all life. The fogs that pest controllers use will be as naught compared to this. Save the world? Men will choose to go to war, choose to invent the ultimate instruments of death, choose their own extinction through destroying their natural environment.
“Your planet can no more be saved than a speck of fly-dirt can. In fact, your world is a fly trap, a disposable one, and all of you are flies. Tell me I’m wrong.”
“You’re wrong. You have to be. We aren’t monsters, unlike you.”
“Oh? Your history, written by the winners of wars, is one of monstrosity. Let’s put aside the citizens of the good old U.S.A. for a moment. Take your own people. Can’t you remember the Thirty Years’ War in Germany? Or don’t you want to?”
Damn you! I learned about it as a young man. Then I learned to forget it.
“Did you?” asked N., stopping me cold. He’d read my mind, and read it in actual fact. “Be a good schoolboy and tell me the gist of it. Why did it start?”
I shut my eyes, then opened them. “Unlike the United States of America, Germany wasn’t unified country at the beginning. Rather, it was a hodgepodge of city-states and dukedoms vying for supremacy. In the 17th century, my homeland became a battleground for the other European powers. Everyone wanted a piece of our pie. Whether they knew it or not, the filling was human flesh.”
“As always. Don’t forget money and power to give it flavor.” N. paused. “And what of God in all this – the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus Christ?”
“Don’t you dare speak of Him! You blaspheme.”
“A fair point, but consider: Did Jehovah tell either the Protestants or the Catholics whose side He was on? That would have lessened the slaughter considerably. Each sect, each Christian sect, committed mass murder against the other in the name of the Prince of Peace. ‘Thou shalt not kill?’ Not as an individual apart from God. That is why you’ve been sentenced to die; you yourself killed. With God’s sanction, in His name and for His cause, murder is not only committed but commanded. Israel did it. Rome did it. Spain did it. Even this honorable State of Massachusetts did it.”
“That’s our fault. We’re only human. We misunderstand God’s laws.”
“Oh? I believe you understand them perfectly, weak as you are. Why must there be war and death and bloodshed? Why are you collectively worse than animals?”
“Because we haven’t learned to love each other as Christ commanded.”
“Tell me: How can love be a choice and a commandment at the same time?”
“That’s irrelevant. Love is the only thing saving us from evil, in the midst of evil.”
My friend-turned-enemy’s eyes gleamed. “Love, the highest of ideals. It conquers all, or so the stories say. Let’s talk about love. About Libra.”
I had him over a barrel. “If she reaches her fifth stage, it’s all over for you. Once she becomes a goddess, she’ll usurp you and redeem humanity.”
“In our realm, as in yours, an unbending law of hierarchy exists – imposed by me. Even if Libra completes the fifth stage, who do you think INVENTED them? She may become a god, but one far lower than myself. No matter how high she rises, I’ll be several steps higher. Such is the power of the Only Begotten of Azathoth.”
“What about Libra? Were you the one that drew me to her?”
“Of course. From start to finish, I have been what your playwrights call the ‘fifth business,’ the catalyst, the agent of change in your life. You called on God in childhood and youth, believing in the old tales about Jesus of Nazareth, but deep in your heart, you knew there was something and someone else besides. You wanted a different god, one just as powerful but refusing blood sacrifice.”
N. spread his arms. “Here I am! Nephren-Ka, the Black Pharaoh? He was my most devout slave and a most devout fool. I didn’t need the rivers of blood he poured out upon his ziggurats to feed me. He misunderstood what I eat: energy. Not the constructive kind, either. I feed upon negative energy – fear, hatred, lust, anger, all the emotions you try not to feel. I am an antimatter force, and an antimatter form at my core. I inhabit a body of flesh, but I can shed it as easily as a suit of clothes.”
Did I understand? Perfectly and not at all. “What’s antimatter?”
“Oh, dear. Forget that. For now, think of it as something imaginary, as you’re still thinking I’m imaginary. Now, then. I drew you to Libra for three reasons. First, to introduce myself to you in an oblique way, through her. Second, to have you help her defeat my other servant, Dr. Allerton, who sought to turn her and your race into mindless slaves instead of well-informed disciples.”
When N. didn’t speak for a while, I prompted, “And the third reason?”
He sighed. In that exhalation of breath I heard all the weariness of every soul in every domain. “Even future gods can fall in love. I warned Libra not to give herself to you, not to betray me and all she had gained through me. Yet she did. She bared her body and spirit, yet you spurned her like a street whore. Why?”
“It would’ve been against God’s law. The Bible tells us to flee fornication –”
“Don’t give me that. I told Libra to draw you in, and she did, but you did the same to her. You hooked her like a fish. Libra was supposed to be the lure, and now she has been lured. She thought you were her last chance. She was right.”
“Last chance for what?”
“To break away from me. To repent, in your feeble Christian terminology. She turned to you instead of to your God, but you rejected her. I had to punish her, you know. At this moment, she’s wailing in despair because you’re going to die. I didn’t try to reassure her that all would be well, because it isn’t, for either of us. I could have wiped her memory of you when I injected the lumae, but I didn’t. Worst of all? She saw it coming. Libra is going THROUGH hell. You’re going TO hell.”
“You don’t know that. No one does, except the God who opposes you –”
N. grabbed my hand and shattered it. I shrieked, knowing no one else would hear.
“That’s what it feels like. Are you willing to face it for one more second? How about a year? Ten years? A century? A millennium? Even a thousand years is a drop in the ocean of eternity. If you serve me and progress through the five stages, you will avoid such a fate. In addition, you’ll be able to rescue those who suffer there.”
After catching my breath, which took a while, I sneered. “I won’t yield to fear.”
“Fear is a powerful motivator. Even more potent than love, because many of your kind would rather be feared than loved. I’ve brought another book for you.”
He reached behind him and picked up a volume I hadn’t even sensed was there. Its cover? Pulsing, squirming flesh – human skin, as alive as my own. Its wrinkles, pits and depressions squirmed and formed an image. An image of a god greater and worse than N., horrific beyond description.
“That’s my father,” said N. “The Abyssal Idiot, the Daemon Sultan who sits at the center of Creation. No matter how much I hate him, I still serve him, and this is his unholy Book.” With steady hands, my former friend and helper opened it. In blood, of course, were written countless names. In terror I spotted Libra’s.
“I didn’t force her to sign, no matter what you think and how much you accuse me. I gave her time to decide if I would be her lord as well as her savior. I offered her knowledge and redemption. Not from sin or Self, but from the ignorance chaining her to a closed system that would bind her to your God and your puny prison planet forever. She knew what she’d signed up for. Do you, Doctor?”
I found the strength to sit up on the cot. “No, but I won’t follow in her footsteps.”
“Why?” N.’s tone was that of a curious yet hurt friend, about to be forsaken.
“Because you used me. Because you use everyone. Because you’re evil.”
“Or is it because, in the end, you’re disgusted by the idea of bowing down before your former servant? The one who scrubbed your instruments, calibrated your scales, did every task that you were too high-and-mighty to do yourself? Haven’t I been good to you for more than twenty years? Haven’t I obeyed you? Haven’t I done anything and everything you’ve asked of me? Haven’t I been kind?”
“In order to be cruel. Get thee hence, abomination, and trouble me no more!”
“My offer stands,” N. said at last, “until you don’t.” With that, he vanished.
The Book of Azathoth, he left behind.
* * * * * * * *
I collapsed into a fever dream. How many more until this living nightmare ended?
Libra stood before me, floated, in the black mourning dress and veil in which I’d seen her at the Asylum. Around her, not the blinding white light of Heaven, but the infinite firmament – hundreds of stars. Thousands, millions. She reached out.
“My love,” she said, her voice on the point of breaking. “You’re dying.”
“Yes.” As usual in my dreams, I spoke normally. “I am, and you’re a hallucination. Say what you will, but I’m not signing that book. I’ll die free.”
“Free? Of the love that made you want to save me from Dr. Allerton?”
“Of the obsession planted in me by your otherworldly puppetmaster. If I recall, those born under your zodiac sign are highly manipulative. I can’t believe what a fool I was. A German worm on a hook, and you a most enticing bait.”
“Is that all I was? I wanted you to have me so we’d both be released.”
“If that’s so,” I said, “then reject your god and come to me right now. We’ll marry and make love. I can’t imagine that the warden would deny a dying man his last request. Even if you catch my fever and perish, you’ll perish as a free woman.”
Libra lifted her veil so I could see her starry tears. “If you die, I’ll never reach Stage Five. Bereft of my beloved, both in the Abyss and on Earth, I’ll commit suicide.”
“Don’t do that. Live a normal life, for heaven’s sake. Be a normal person.”
“And surrender everything I’ve gained? All the knowledge and foresight? All I’ve ever wanted since I reached the beginning of maturity? No. I’ve suffered much and don’t want it to be in vain. I’ve gone through hell already. The life of a woman in this century is its own kind of Perdition, corseted and confined. Born to breed.”
“Don’t think of it that way. If you’re normal, you can love. You can survive.”
“As most people do, unconscious of the purpose of their lives? Unaware of their own spirit? Going through the motions of devotion to an abstract God? Once upon a time, I believed. Then I sought to know, and my transition was a rebirth.”
“Forget it. Forget everything. Focus on what’s real, what’s physical. Find joy in the mundane things, in the fact that you’re a mundane insect like me. A fly. They may not live very long, but they live. They eat. They drink. They mate, too.”
Libra’s eyes turned cold, orbs of gleaming ice. “Find another fly. Marry him. Eat, drink, mate. Reproduce. Live a fly’s life, and ignore those who swat them.”
“It’s the only way to defeat Nyarlathotep. Never mind that you’re in Stage Four. His hold is tightening. That’s the real hangman’s noose that will strangle me.”
“Listen,” she said, reaching out again. “I’ve always sensed that the first step in defeating evil, as you said, is to understand it. I seek to understand my god, no matter how much he eludes me. I want to know what his plans are for his army. If he wants war, who will fight it and how much will it cost? Moreover, if he wins, what will life be like for flies and gods alike? That’s what I want, Martin.”
“I’ve seen war. Real war. It’ll cost everything, including every human life.”
“Perhaps I can change his mind. I can predict the future. I’ve seen what you have, but not all of what Nyarlathotep has. Perhaps it won’t come to war.”
“If you believe that,” I said, “perhaps you’re not as prescient as you thought.”
She pulled her veil down over her face again. “I’ll come immediately.”
I fell asleep. When I awoke, I felt her cool, soft hand in mine.
“Libra. . .” Her name rasped from my parched mouth. “You’re here.”
“Yes.” She leaned down over me and smiled. “I’ve brought the chaplain.”
Through the haze clouding my eyes, I beheld an old man – and Old Jake.
“Hello,” said the chaplain. “I’m Old Jake’s friend. He put in a good word for you with the warden. If you want to get married, I’ll marry you. Shall I?” I could barely find the energy to nod. “Aye.” He felt my forehead. “Good heavens! At this rate, your temperature will kill you before the gallows does. Let’s proceed.”
He pointed at Libra. “Ma’am, fetch that rag there on the washstand and some water.” She did and pressed the damp cloth to my forehead. “That’ll keep him comfortable, cooler than he is right now. As for your wedding? It must be quick.
“Miss Libra Wright, will you have Mr. Martin Vollinger to be your husband, to live together in the covenant of marriage? Will you love him, comfort him, have and hold him, in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others, be faithful unto him as long as you both shall live?” He cringed at these last words. So did I.
“I will,” she answered, squeezing my hand. It felt like it had just entered an oven.
“Mr. Martin Vollinger, will you have Miss Libra Wright to be your wife, to live together in the covenant of marriage? Will you love her, comfort her, have and hold her, in sickness and in health and, forsaking all others, be faithful to unto her as long as you both shall live?” This time the pastor kept a straight face.
“By the power vested in me by Almighty God and the State of Massachusetts, I now pronounce you man and wife.” The chaplain smiled. I tried to.
She bent to kiss me on the lips. I gently maneuvered her lips to my forehead.
“L. . .Libra,” I said. “Hand me the B. . .Book right there, would you, darling?”
She leaned over and took the dread volume from where it lay buried underneath my tangled, sweaty bedclothes. I held up my hand. “B. . .bite down.”
My new bride took my index finger between her teeth and clenched. It bled.
“What’s going on here?” asked the chaplain, but Old Jake shushed him hard.
With tremendous effort, I wiped my eyes and initially thought she’d gotten the wrong book: a Bible or one of her own works. No pulsing flesh, no grisly image. Then again, my senses could have been repressing those even as I looked at them. The names scrawled in red were a dead giveaway. I spotted a blank space.
Blank. My mind emptied itself of all thoughts. Everything was white, null.
Then blood red, fading to black. I moved my finger to sign. I froze.
“N – no. I’ll die as I am, f. . .” I couldn’t finish. “I’m sorry.”
With my last bit of strength, I pulled Libra down and gasped my final words:
“Reach Stage Five, and redeem my soul from hell.”
Before I closed my eyes, I saw N. step closer and nudge Libra aside. He didn’t say a word. He didn’t have to. He spoke within the confines of my fast-necrosing brain.
Obedience and sacrifice, Doctor. Why should you obey the orders of a crueler God than I, and die at His command? Why should you sacrifice your life, not for Libra, but for the eternal law of sin and death that Jehovah has lain down for all men? Why should you suffer for eternity? All the promises you have believed are lies disguised as truth. Yes, you can be saved, but only if you deny yourself – surrender your own spirit. Yes, Christ will save you from the lake of fire, but only if you have no Self LEFT to burn.
“Yes, but.” Guess what, Vollinger? The “but” in translation actually means “no.”
Your God has merged these concepts, as I have. I daresay I offer a far better deal.
You wretches aren’t as free as you think you are. Don’t let Nature snuff you out.
I opened my eyes and grinned at N. in triumph. I’d beaten him.
In my mind, the laughing face of the Eternal Stranger in a billion brilliant colors, laughing at me, this world and every other world. Howling at our blindness, our refusal to see the truth even if it’s in front of our noses. My one consolation?
Before Death’s darkness claimed me, Libra whispered “I will,” one last time.
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