'The Reaching Horror'
by Drew Mitchell
I woke up with my right eye pasted shut, and my left eye teased by a dim light, the kind you can just faintly see through your eyelids, like the sunlight that streams into your room when you’re trying to sleep in for just a few more minutes. The right side of my head was sunk in a warm, soft patch of what felt to be mud. After a few seconds of mild confusion at the unfamiliarity of my surroundings, I came to the conclusion that I was not in my usual sleeping quarters. As soon as I understood this, I accepted it.
It’s funny how stressed the brain is in ordinary life, screaming at the tiny inconsistencies that break the status quo. And yet, once you push it into a completely unfamiliar situation, an utter focused calm envelopes it, allowing it to perform to the greatest of its’ abilities, sometimes better than it does in its’ routine life. Ah well, I’m no psychologist.
I opened my left eye to scan my surroundings. There was a full moon out, which accounted for the light. I saw that I was in a clearing in a thick forest. In front of me was a narrow river flowing from one side of the canopy to the other. And yes, embarrassing as it is to admit, I was indeed lying down in a mud pit. I tried to remember how I got there, but failed. Further contriving to remember any small detail of how I had possibly gotten in the middle of a forest, I realized that I couldn’t even remember my own name. I now realize that I had a temporary case of retrograde amnesia. The one thing I did know though, was that I wasn’t just going to wait around until I was found by the authorities, or a search party, or whatever else might be looking for me.
I pushed myself up into a sitting position, inducing a sharp, burning pain and a wave of dizziness. The light of the moon seemed to intensify. Touching my hand to my head, I induced a fresh wave of agony. When I pulled back my fingers, the tips were covered in thick, sticky blood. I felt under the spot corresponding to where I felt the pain on my face, there was something solid under the mud. Pushing the mud aside, I saw a rock covered with intricate carvings engraved on it in some forgotten language, lost to the ages.
Of course, at the time, I wasn’t going to linger on some neat rock I found for long. I was a tad bit more worried about where the hell I was. I also was thinking about gangrene, and the many ways to get it, one of them being cutting open your scalp and rubbing the wound in the dirt and mud. Another great way would be to touch your head wound with your grimy fingers.
I crawled over to the river to wash out the cut on my head. I reached the trickling water, but paused. The water seemed discolored, darker, wrong somehow. I pushed the thought out of my mind, reasoning that it was a trick of the light, or rather, the darkness. I put my hands in, bracing myself for the shock of the cold.
The shock never came. I was surprised when I found that the water was warm, almost hot. I decided not to try to rationalize it to myself, for my own explanation might make me even more uneasy of the strange heat. It was thicker than the normal bottled water you buy at a store, too. It felt like blood, something that should be alive and free, but was trapped deep within the Earth. My hands tingled as I clenched and unclenched them into fists within the water.
Before I could stop myself, I had plunged my head inside the thick, oozing water. I rubbed the muck off of my face, feeling the texture of my hair as the mud slowly ran off of it. I accidentally touched my head wound, but felt no pain as my fingers brushed past. I only felt a small raised scar, thin as a hair where the bloody gash had once been, a healing process that should have taken weeks to finish. I pulled my head out of the water and took a breath of the crisp night air. I felt amazing, aside from the fact that I had no idea where I was. Whatever dizziness I had when I first sat up had left me, swept away by the slow current of the dark water.
I then had the bright idea to check my pockets for something that might give a clue as to my whereabouts. To be fair, how often do you wonder to yourself how many clues about your whereabouts you can discover in your pants? As my hands searched the dark recesses of my jeans, I touched an unfamiliar container that bulged with something even less recognizable. Slowly, I withdrew the mystery object from my pocket.
It was an old wallet, made of some material that looked like leather, but felt strange somehow. By the shape it was in, it could have been older than me. The nature of the material though, it tugged on something deep within my subconscious. It was like that feeling you get when the word you’re looking for is on the tip of your tongue, and yet evades verbalization. It unnerved me, and I shivered involuntarily as I opened the wallet up, and delved into the contents.
The wallet was filled with an assortment of different objects, the majority of which being scraps of paper bearing markings, or pictograms in a odd tongue that I couldn’t quite recognize, but taunted me with the faintest hint familiarity, stored in the main compartment. In the other pockets, where credit cards and other items are kept, were various small objects. I took them all out and laid them on the ground in front of me.
The first of them was a business card for “Bob’s Hardware”. The second was the ID of Anna Madrigal, which was next to the ID of John Madrigal. They looked to be identical twins, although it was hard to compare them, since the eyes on their smiling faces were scratched out by a black pen. The fourth was a small photograph of a family posing in front of the camera on a beach at dusk, with a fiery sunset burning behind them. There was a man, a woman, two daughters, and a son. The eyes of the family members were also scratched out by a black pen.
Behind the family was a man that shook his sense of safety to his core. He was not swimming, or running, or doing the normal things an average beachgoer would usually be doing. He was simply standing behind the family, staring at the camera. The feature about him that stood out most though, was the leather hood he wore, which had no visible eyeholes. I shivered, and set the photo down.
The final item I found was another ID. It was the student ID of a Joanna Norton, which proclaimed that the pupil attended “Grand Mountain High School”. The back had something dry, and crusty stuck to it. I turned it over and saw a dark splotch of dried blood that stood out from the white ID card, even in the faint moonlight, like a knot of black cancer cells. I dropped the offending object on the ground. I had finally come to the conclusion that I had been avoiding since I had seen the wallet: someone had been hurting these people, or worse. Despite the fear that I could walk straight into some madman’s trap without suspecting a thing, I knew I had to move. I knew for sure that if I just sat there, I would increase the likelihood of being found, and there was no way of guaranteeing if I would be found by the right kind of person. Even if I was found by the right kind of people, there was no telling when I would be found either. If the forest was big enough, I would be waiting for months, becoming nothing more than a dessicated corpse, not fit for the worms to eat.
I looked to the left. The river rushed towards me in it’s slow, indomitable course from the impenetrable darkness of the forest. I turned my head to the right. The river rushed away from me in it’s slow, indomitable course into the impenetrable darkness of the forest.
In the end, I decided to go upstream along the river. My first line of reasoning was that rivers have the habit of leading to civilization. Secondly, almost all rivers lead to mountains. If I made it up to the top of one, then I would have a vantage point, upon which I would be able to plan my next move. If I moved downstream, then there was no telling where I might end up.
I began moving towards the forest without stopping. If I had paused, then I might not have been able to continue. Even as I walked in, the darkness was all consuming, calling to some primal fear that existed since the dawn of man. I wanted to run back to the clearing, but I knew that if I did, I would never be able to leave it. It would become trapped in a prison of moonlight and the deep-rooted fears that we may tell ourselves are ridiculous, but somehow we know are completely valid, no matter the evidence we present ourselves to the contrary. I knew I had to go on, so I forced myself onwards into the darkness.
The darkness was absolute, impenetrable, suffocating. I couldn’t see my hand, even when I waved it in front of my face. The only way I could tell that I was going the right way was by the sound of the rushing river. It was like being in the middle of the ocean in a storm, the water being the black ink that mad poets use, the sky being an empty void, absent of stars and planets, and the storm being the mighty gusts of air from the wings of some incomprehensibly cyclopean beast, intent on consuming the universe that had mistakenly awoken it. It was like fighting to stay afloat, and yet still sinking in the icy, black liquid. It was like letting the last bits of air out of hungry lungs in a final desperate scream, and then being overtaken by an invasive, alien calm as the ink fills the dying alveoli.
It felt like hours of suffocating in the inky blackness, as I stumbled along the forest floor, listening desperately for the sound of the river to guide my way. In reality, it was probably only thirty minutes. Whatever the time it had taken, the dark canopy ended abruptly, and a massive old growth forest took its place.
The trees were tall and majestic, allowing the moonlight to stream through. It would have been a dreamlike landscape, were it not for the statues. They were of tentacles and scaled arms, sticking out of the water. Some of them had reached out onto the shore, looking like they were attempting to drag themselves and together with the indescribable horrors attached to them out of the strangely warm water. I continued on, unconsciously edging away from them. An instinct from deep within my subconscious was screaming for me to turn away and run. I denied this urge, reasoning that the existence of statues meant that I must be close to some sort of civilization. Understand that in my amnesiac state, there was no way I could have possibly known how ancient they, or the civilization that made them was.
I continued on for about fifteen minutes more, which passed considerably faster, despite the grotesque statues. As I walked, I saw multiple stone structures in various states of decay and ruin. The tallest of them only reached up to my waist. I ventured over to one, so I could get a closer look. A detailed inspection revealed strangely familiar markings in some forgotten language. As I stared at the inscription, an idea surfaced in my head. Strangely excited despite my situation, I pulled the wallet from my pocket, and pulled the papers from the wallet. Holding them up to the stone, I saw they were an almost perfect match, corroborating my suspicion that the owner of the wallet had been in the area, and still could be searching for whoever took it. However, I wasn’t too worried, due to the rock I saw earlier that bore similar markings. If the search area was that big, the probability of the wallet’s owner finding me would be infinitesimal, that is, he reasoned that I would follow the river, which would significantly reduce the time I had to find help.
I stopped my musings immediately after the thought occurred to me. I would need to hurry if I wanted to make it out of the forest in one piece. I began jogging at a slow pace, but I gradually accelerated independent of conscious thought, unnerved by the statues and terrified by the prospect of what could be behind me. Soon, I was sprinting without realizing it. I didn’t even take note of the growing sound of turbulent water as I mindlessly dashed along the riverbank. I ran and ran until I came to a wall of jagged rock. I bent down, hands on my knees, my lungs screaming for oxygen. When I stood up, I nearly pissed myself.
Carved in the cliff was a cyclopean statue of a horror that I could scarcely comprehend. It was a giant humanoid creature pulling itself out of the rock. It reached a few feet past the top of the crag, almost one hundred feet tall, taller than the tallest trees of the forest. A waterfall cascaded down the shoulders of the monster, mercifully shielding most of the chest, torso, and groin. Most of it was covered in intricately carved scales except for the leathery wings, which barely emerged from the stone. The most ghastly part of the abomination was the head. It looked as if a massive octopus had been fused to the neck. I saw, that under the tentacles, something was poking out where the mouth would be. Slowly, I edged towards the monolith, craning my neck around so I could see what it was, trying to bypass the horrible tentacles blocking my view.
The next thing I remember was lying down in the dirt, staring at the hideous visage of the statue. Whatever I had seen, or thought that I had seen in the behemoth’s mouth had disappeared, probably for the better.
I pushed myself up from the dirt for the second time in one night. I looked at the cliff once more, and was struck by a sense of deja-vu. The familiarity of the rock face was too extreme to be from the two minutes I was standing there. I suddenly knew with absolute conviction that all of the answers to my identity and my whereabouts were over the top of the bluff I stood at the bottom of. Without a second thought, I began to climb.
The climb started easily enough; the handholds were large and solid. A few feet up though, and the rocks grew sharper, lacerating the skin of my hands if I was careless. When I bled onto the stone, the plasma seemed to disappear, as if it were sustenance the stone was feeding upon. If that wasn’t enough, when I was about halfway up, a cloud passed over the moon, plunging me into the darkness I had experienced when I first ventured into the forest. I still continued to climb, guided by muscle memory I could not remember attaining.
Within minutes, I had made it to the top, exhausted. I laid down on my back, staring into the inky blackness. As the moon peeked out of the clouds, lighting up the landscape, I saw what hung above me from the tall, majestic trees and the surrounding forest past the edges of my peripheral vision. Hanging from long, thick ropes were hundreds of corpses.
The bodies all hung by their necks by ropes that reached implausibly high branches. There were cadavers of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the tallest adults, to the tiniest infants. Some of the more dessicated bodies had fallen to the ground, merely maggot-ridden skeletons after the joints had decomposed. The fresher corpses had all been mutilated to some degree. They had their cheeks and lips cut in a way that gave them the illusion of smiling in a macabre grin, along with a massive gash in their throats where the rope burrowed into, like the diseased spawn of the flies that fed on them. Gouged in the skin of about half the bodies, were the markings like those on the papers in my pocket. The fetus of a pregnant woman had been cut out of the womb, and hung by the umbilical cord that had once kept it alive. As I stared at the grisly scene, it all rushed back to me: the memory of my identity, and how I had gotten there. It was like a dam had burst in my head, and all of the memories had rushed out into my conscious mind.
That was when I heard the footsteps.
They were soft, hesitant, almost inaudible over the roar of the waterfall. For the third time that night, I pushed myself off the ground, albeit this time a little more hastily. Luck was with me that night though. The man, if you could call him that with his half-patch beard characteristic of high school seniors trying to look all grown-up, did not see me. He was looking straight up at the consecrated sacrifices, oblivious to all else as he tried to comprehend something that simply did not exist in his narrow view of the world. As he stood in stupefied silence, I crept over to the tree where I had hidden the objects I would need to deal with this audacious intruder. Slowly, quietly, I pulled a blackjack and the Blade of Yog-Sothoth out of the ribcage of a grinning skeleton.
Quietly, I snuck up behind him, blackjack at the ready in my right hand, and dagger in my belt, hungrily awaiting its future blood-soaked feast. I was about a foot away from him, and had the blackjack held high over my head, when he turned around.
The look of confusion and horror on his face was simply priceless as his eyes met mine, as if to ask, “How could something like this ever exist? Who would ever do something like this?” I waited patiently as his eyes traveled along my arm to the blackjack, and the realization finally set in. I brought the steel ball down on top of his skull, and he collapsed on the forest floor, my sacred creations bearing witness to a ritual I had completed many times over.
I slung him over my shoulder with the muscles that had become accustomed to carrying unconscious bodies greater distances. I confidently walked over to the altar that lay behind the head of the great priest, the harbinger of the Great Old Ones, the Dreamer of R’lyeh, and laid the man down on top of it. The altar itself was on a stone bridge over the river that gave way to the waterfall. Pulling the man’s head up by the hair, exposing his neck with my left hand, I pulled out the Blade of Yog-Sothoth out of my belt, the dagger glinting in the moonlight as I held it aloft. I recited the prayer, “Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn.”, and slit the man’s neck in one fluid motion.
As the blood spurted out of the jugular vein of the dying man, I heard a rumbling from deep within the Earth. As the sound increased in volume, a noise that felt like it could split the ground open, let alone my eardrums, I saw the ancient sleeper move. Slowly, surely, the head of the great priest moved forward, and the tips of his massive wings raised over the top of the cliff. Then, the blood ceased to spill from the man’s gaping throat, and the noise and movement ended.
I tossed the useless corpse aside. I would deal with him later. For then, I just wanted to soak up the feeling of being back, of not having to fear that my… proclivities would be discovered by the police. I sighed, and smiled; it was good to be home.
Drew Mitchell is a new author moving from the innocent pond of casual writing to the black seas of publishing. He has had no other works published and no credentials to speak of, except suffering through sophomore year of high school.