Since this is ALL HALLOW’S EVE ( Halloween to those of you who are not afficionados of the macabre and the horrific, The-Night-Before-All-Saints-Day) I thought I’d give you my best horror story, which I wrote a couple of years ago for this special observance. So,here it is:
THE HORROR BELOW
It’s impossible for me to describe in detail all the events that led to my present state. As I sit here in the courtroom charged with what happened to Allen Hastings, I know that my testimony will be dismissed, and I will be executed. Perhaps that’s just as well. My dreams are haunted and I no longer wish to imagine what lurks in the dark corners of any room in which I reside.
It all started when I met Allen at the University –––– the class in Gothic literature. Our mutual interests in the gloomy settings, the grotesque and vile events, and the atmosphere of degeneration and decay of 12th and 13th century northern Europe, served as the basis for the development of a warm friendship. We shared many evenings in the local Rathskeller, drinking beer and feasting on bratwurst and sauerbraten. But with time, I began to have a sense of unease.
Outwardly jovial, but inwardly tortured, as I was later to learn, Allen expressed interest in the darkest aspects of medieval German literature, and especially the supposed long-lost book, Die Ubergeist, written by the mad necromancer, Gottfried Abendsturm.
Toward the end of the semester, he began ranting on and on, sometimes in unintelligible German, about the abominable creatures hidden all around us, and how the book could guide us to their hiding places and expose them.
I began to worry that he was losing his senses, and tried to deflect him from this obsession. “Since you’ve never seen the book ––– it seems no one has –––– why waste your time agonizing about it?” I asked him.
He smiled…. no, he leered. “I’ve not only seen it, but I’ve read it.”
I laughed. “What nonsense. I dare you to show it to me.” These were the fatal words. I so wish I could bring back and smash that utterance into atomic pulp.
“Are you certain? Once you see it, read it, there’s no turning back,” he warned.
I shrugged. “Sure. After all, how often does one see a book that doesn’t exist.”
So, the next day I went to his apartment, said hello to several of my friends and class- mates as I entered the building, and foolishly told them I had come to visit Allen. I had never seen Allen’s flat, and I found it to be a strange and forbidding place. It was filled with death masks hanging from the walls, black curtains and furniture, and only a few electric lights ––– but dozens of candelabras with blood red candles. At that point I determined to leave as quickly as possible, after satisfying myself that Allen’s book did not exist.
He offered me a glass of wine and brought me into his study. He opened a safe that sat beside his desk. He reached in and brought out a huge book, richly embroidered with hideous gargoyles and satanic faces, and placed it on a table. “Well, here it is. Beautiful isn’t it? But be careful. The pages are so old that even the slightest injury will cause them to fragment into dust.”
I began to shiver as I turned the pages. It was written in medieval German, and throughout there were drawings of skulls, devil heads, corpses, and smiling rats with blood tinged teeth. Allen now took over and turned to page 666. He then looked at me and said, “Are you stouthearted enough to come with me where few have gone, where the sun does not shine, where the unspeakable resides?”
I hesitated and began to tremble uncontrollably. Oh, why didn’t I flee from this challenge? But being young and foolhardy, I was more afraid of seeming a coward than listening to my deep fears. I calmed myself and said, “Of course I’m ready. Where is this netherworld? In your kitchen?” I laughed, perhaps a bit shrilly, and waited for his response.
He chuckled hoarsely, a cold, almost sinister sound, and then turned back to the book. He now proceeded to recite the poem on page 666 in a guttural, alien language:
“Ph’nglu mglw’nafh wgah’naglfhagn
Mzz’xetth mzz’etth ndd’rtth dz’ftthe
Wghtth’lleh mnw’ttghth zzfg’llenth
Tth’zcggmeh dzznth’emnth gdzdd’brgh.”
And when he finished, he smiled and closed the book. We stood staring at each other. His smile never left him. I began to feel lightheaded, and as I watched, the walls started to shake slowly, then violently, and the room disappeared. Then I found myself in an ancient church, in which, oddly enough, there were no religious ornaments. It’s difficult to describe how cold it was, and how unpleasant the smell of primeval decay. On what seemed to be the altar, I saw a long, raised stone slab above which hung a carved black bird with its wings spread out.
I stood transfixed until Allen turned to me and whispered, “Here.” He had brought along two flashlights and two two-way radios. He handed me one of each and said, “Come, help me move that slab on the alter. Slowly, slowly, and with enormous effort, we were successful in uncovering an ingress into yawning blackness. The light from his flashlight revealed a long stone staircase leading down into what appeared to be infinite darkness. The smell that arose from the depths exceeded the most awful I have ever experienced ––– indescribable, except to say it caused me to retch over and over until, exhausted, I sank to the floor
Allen helped me up to a bench, and I tried to catch hold of myself. While doing so, I looked around at the church. Unimaginably old, perhaps several thousand years or more. Monstrous spider webs, encompassing all manner of dead insects, hung from the tall rafters. In the dark shadows surrounding us, I thought I saw movement, and then nothing. As I looked down away from my fear, I saw the skeletal remains of dead animals ––––rats, bats, birds. I shuddered and looked up at Allen.
“Where are we? In Hell?”
“Perhaps. But certainly a place where few have been and where I must finish my task. I need to go down into these catacombs. I must know what lies beneath this place. I’ll keep in touch with you through the radio.” He turned and went to the opening.
“No, wait. I’m going with you. I can’t let you go down there alone.” Sick with fear, but nevertheless unwilling to allow my friend to descend into that pit without me, I rose and started toward him.
“No!” he shouted. “No! You need to stay here. You can’t come with me.”
“Yes. I must. I insist.”
“If you try, I’ll call off this journey and we’ll leave. Then I’ll come back later. All alone. Won’t that be worse for me ? No one to contact?”
“All right. But for God’s sake, be careful.”
I sat down again, shivering, once more assessing the gloom where shadows moved and where I heard rustling and crunching as ghostly feet stepped upon the animal corpses. I shined the light in all directions, but failed to see the ghouls I sensed were all around me.
After what seemed like hours, the radio crackled and I heard Allen’s voice. “Oh, my God. Oh, heavenly Father. What awful things I see. Ghastly! Dirty. Beastly. Ululating, demonic, blackest hell.”
“Allen, Allen, what is it? What are you seeing?”
“I can’t……. I can’t describe it. It’s too awful. You must get out! Get out!”
“No! I can’t leave you.”
“Yes. You must get out! But first move back the stone slab. For God’s sake push it back over the portal into this place beyond hell!” And then the screams began, high-pitched awful screams, Allen’s screams.
Breathing hard and sweating cold sweat, I managed to move the slab back over that doorway to the unspeakable. I then ran to the entrance of the church, brushing past the slavering things that began to move out of the shadows, cackling, mumbling incomprehensible words.
I lunged out of the church into the night and into a crumbling graveyard. I began to scream as I ran toward lights I saw in the distance. After reaching what appeared to be a street leading to the university, I looked back, and the church was gone.
Shaking like some poor epileptic soul, I reached my apartment, tumbled into my room, and let out a strangled cry as I found Allen’s mutilated head on my bed. As I collapsed to the floor shrieking, the radio that I still clutched in my hand crackled, and I heard harsh, croaking laughter, followed by a voice, deep, fiendish, savage, cruel, shout out, “ Allen Hastings is dead and I am FREE! ”