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Title: Blog by Novelist William S. Frankl, MD

Return to the Blog

May 3rd, 2020

After a four-month hiatus, I am coming home to my blog. The hiatus was an attempt to finish, to my own satisfaction, my latest novel, Donovan’s Run. Although my attempt was partially successful, there still remain more to be done. However, given the enormous amount changes that are occurring all our world at this time, I thought it would be appropriate to return to the blog and inject it with some important elements now moving through our lives. So, I will thank in advance the few good friends who will continue to read this material and tell me when it is good, when it is bad, and when it is indifferent.

Space Travel? Yes or No?

December 15th, 2019

The following article is quite interesting and perhaps prophetic. I have just completed another novel that discusses this issue at great lengths with similar but somewhat different questions. Certainly, with the amazing progress in Astrophysics and space travel, we should be addressing these issues.

 

Why We Should Think Twice About Colonizing Space

We’re getting closer and closer to the final frontier. What could go wrong?

Nautilus | Phil Torres

My conclusion is that in a colonized universe the probability of the annihilation of the human race could actually rise rather than fall. Illustration by David Revoy / Blender Foundation / Wikicommons.

There are lots of reasons why colonizing space seems compelling. The popular astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson argues that it would stimulate the economy and inspire the next generation of scientists. Elon Musk, who founded SpaceX, argues that “there is a strong humanitarian argument for making life multiplanetary … to safeguard the existence of humanity in the event that something catastrophic were to happen.”  The former administrator of NASA, Michael Griffin, frames it as a matter of the “survival of the species.” And the late astrophysicist Stephen Hawking has conjectured that if humanity fails to colonize space within 100 years, we could face extinction.

To be sure, humanity will eventually need to escape Earth to survive, since the sun will make the planet uninhabitable in about 1 billion years. But for many “space expansionists,” escaping Earth is about much more than dodging the bullet of extinction: it’s about realizing astronomical amounts of value by exploiting the universe’s vast resources to create something resembling utopia. For example, the astrobiologist Milan Cirkovic calculates that some 1046 people per century could come into existence if we were to colonize our Local Supercluster, Virgo. This leads Nick Bostrom to argue that failing to colonize space would be tragic because it would mean that these potential “worthwhile lives” would never exist, and this would be morally bad.

But would these trillions of lives actually be worthwhile? Or would colonization of space lead to a dystopia?

In one article in Futures, which was inspired by political scientist Daniel Deudney’s forthcoming book Dark Skies, I decided to take a closer look at this question. My conclusion is that in a colonized universe the probability of the annihilation of the human race could actually rise rather than fall.

Consider what is likely to happen as humanity hops from Earth to Mars, and from Mars to relatively nearby, potentially habitable exoplanets like Epsilon Eridani b, Gliese 674 b, and Gliese 581 d. Each of these planets has its own unique environments that will drive Darwinian evolution, resulting in the emergence of novel species over time, just as species that migrate to a new island will evolve different traits than their parent species. The same applies to the artificial environments of spacecraft like “O’Neill Cylinders,” which are large cylindrical structures that rotate to produce artificial gravity. Insofar as future beings satisfy the basic conditions of evolution by natural selection—such as differential reproduction, heritability, and variation of traits across the population—then evolutionary pressures will yield new forms of life.

But the process of “cyborgization”—that is, of using technology to modify and enhance our bodies and brains—is much more likely to influence the evolutionary trajectories of future populations living on exoplanets or in spacecraft. The result could be beings with completely novel cognitive architectures (or mental abilities), emotional repertoires, physical capabilities, lifespans, and so on.

In other words, natural selection and cyborgization as humanity spreads throughout the cosmos will result in species diversification. At the same time, expanding across space will also result in ideological diversification. Space-hopping populations will create their own cultures, languages, governments, political institutions, religions, technologies, rituals, norms, worldviews, and so on. As a result, different species will find it increasingly difficult over time to understand each other’s motivations, intentions, behaviors, decisions, and so on. It could even make communication between species with alien languages almost impossible. Furthermore, some species might begin to wonder whether the proverbial “Other” is conscious. This matters because if a species Y cannot consciously experience pain, then another species X might not feel morally obligated to care about Y. After all, we don’t worry about kicking stones down the street because we don’t believe that rocks can feel pain. Thus, as I write in the paper, phylogenetic and ideological diversification will engender a situation in which many species will be “not merely aliens to each other but, more significantly, alienated from each other.”

But this yields some problems. First, extreme differences like those just listed will undercut trust between species. If you don’t trust that your neighbor isn’t going to steal from, harm, or kill you, then you’re going to be suspicious of your neighbor. And if you’re suspicious of your neighbor, you might want an effective defense strategy to stop an attack—just in case one were to happen. But your neighbor might reason the same way: she’s not entirely sure that you won’t kill her, so she establishes a defense as well. The problem is that, since you don’t fully trust her, you wonder whether her defense is actually part of an attack plan. So you start carrying a knife around with you, which she interprets as a threat to her, thus leading her to buy a gun, and so on. Within the field of international relations, this is called the “security dilemma,” and it results in a spiral of militarization that can significantly increase the probability of conflict, even in cases where all actors have genuinely peaceful intentions.

So, how can actors extricate themselves from the security dilemma if they can’t fully trust each other? On the level of individuals, one solution has involved what Thomas Hobbes’ calls the “Leviathan.” The key idea is that people get together and say, “Look, since we can’t fully trust each other, let’s establish an independent governing system—a referee of sorts—that has a monopoly on the legitimate use of force. By replacing anarchy with hierarchy, we can also replace the constant threat of harm with law and order.” Hobbes didn’t believe that this happened historically, only that this predicament is what justifies the existence of the state. According to Steven Pinker, the Leviathan is a major reason that violence has declined in recent centuries.

The point is that if individuals—you and I—can overcome the constant threat of harm posed by our neighbors by establishing a governing system, then maybe future species could get together and create some sort of cosmic governing system that could similarly guarantee peace by replacing anarchy with hierarchy. Unfortunately, this looks unpromising within the “cosmopolitical” realm. One reason is that for states to maintain law and order among their citizens, their various appendages—e.g., law enforcement, courts—need to be properly coordinated. If you call the police about a robbery and they don’t show up for three weeks, then what’s the point of living in that society? You’d be just as well off on your own! The question is, then, whether the appendages of a cosmic governing system could be sufficiently well-coordinated to respond to conflicts and make top-down decisions about how to respond to particular situations. To put it differently: If conflict were to break out in some region of the universe, could the relevant governing authorities respond soon enough for it to matter, for it to make a difference?

Probably not, because of the immense vastness of space. For example, consider again Epsilon Eridani b, Gliese 674 b, and Gliese 581 d. These are, respectively, 10.5, 14.8, and 20.4 light-years from Earth. This means that a signal sent as of this writing, in 2018, wouldn’t reach Gliese 581 d until 2038. A spaceship traveling at one-quarter the cosmic speed limit wouldn’t arrive until 2098, and a message to simply affirm that it had arrived safely wouldn’t return to Earth until 2118. And Gliese 581 is relatively close as far as exoplanets go. Just consider that he Andromeda Galaxy is some 2.5 million light-years from Earth and the Triangulum Galaxy about 3 million light-years away. What’s more, there are some 54 galaxies in our Local Group, which is about 10 million light-years wide, within a universe that stretches some 93 billion light-years across.

These facts make it look hopeless for a governing system to effectively coordinate law enforcement activities, judicial decisions, and so on, across cosmic distances. The universe is simply too big for a government to establish law and order in a top-down fashion.

But there is another strategy for achieving peace: Future civilizations could use a policy of deterrence to prevent other civilizations from launching first strikes. A policy of this sort, which must be credible to work, says: “I won’t attack you first, but if you attack me first, I have the capabilities to destroy you in retaliation.” This was the predicament of the US and Soviet Union during the Cold War, known as “mutually-assured destruction” (MAD).

But could this work in the cosmopolitical realm of space? It seems unlikely. First, consider how many future species there could be: upwards of many billions. While some of these species would be too far away to pose a threat to each other—although see the qualification below—there will nonetheless exist a huge number within one’s galactic backyard. The point is that the sheer number would make it incredibly hard to determine who initiated a first strike, if one is attacked. And without a method for identifying instigators with high reliability, one’s policy of deterrence won’t be credible. And if one’s policy of deterrence isn’t credible, then one has no such policy!

Second, ponder the sorts of weapons that could become available to future spacefaring civilizations. Redirected asteroids (a.k.a., “planetoid bombs”), “rods from God,” sun guns, laser weapons, and no doubt an array of exceptionally powerful super-weapons that we can’t currently imagine. It has even been speculated that the universe might exist in a “metastable” state and that a high-powered particle accelerator could tip the universe into a more stable state. This would create a bubble of total annihilation that spreads in all directions at the speed of light—which opens up the possibility that a suicidal cult, or whatever, weaponizes a particle accelerator to destroy the universe.

The question, then, is whether defensive technologies could effectively neutralize such risks. There’s a lot to say here, but for the present purposes just note that, historically speaking, defensive measures have very often lagged behind offensive measures, thus resulting in periods of heightened vulnerability. This is an important point because when it comes to existentially dangerous super-weapons, one only needs to be vulnerable for a short period to risk annihilation.

So far as I can tell, this seriously undercuts the credibility of policies of deterrence. Again, if species A cannot convince species B that if B strikes it, A will launch an effective and devastating counter strike, then B may take a chance at attacking A. In fact, B does not need to be malicious to do this: it only needs to worry that A might, at some point in the near- or long-term future, attack B, thus making it rational for B to launch a preemptive strike (to eliminate the potential danger). Thinking about this predicament in the radically multi-polar conditions of space, it seems fairly obvious that conflict will be extremely difficult to avoid.

The lesson of this argument is not to uncritically assume that venturing into the heavens will necessarily make us safer or more existentially secure. This is a point that organizations hoping to colonize Mars, such as SpaceX, NASA, and Mars One should seriously contemplate. How can humanity migrate to another planet without bringing our problems with us? And how can different species that spread throughout the cosmos maintain peace when sufficient mutual trust is unattainable and advanced weaponry could destroy entire civilizations?

Human beings have made many catastrophically bad decisions in the past. Some of these outcomes could have been avoided if only the decision-makers had deliberated a bit more about what could go wrong—i.e., had done a “premortem” analysis. We are in that privileged position right now with respect to space colonization. Let’s not dive head-first into waters that turn out to be shallow.

Phil Torres is the director of the Project for Human Flourishing and the author of Morality, Foresight, and Human Flourishing: An Introduction to Existential Risks.

This article was originally published on July 23, 2018, by Nautilus, and is republished here with permission.

Did you enjoy this story?

 

Multiverses

November 12th, 2019

Sure, there really are loads of universes out there, a multiverse. You just have to go looking. You will like this.

 

 

Rui Sonofel, Lifetime gathering knowledge from multiple areas

Updated Jun 30, 2019 · Upvoted by Abhas Mitra, Ph.D. Astrophysics, Head, Theoretical Astrophysics Section, BARC. Best Young Physicist Prize in 198… · Author has 6.1k answers and 12.6m answer views

Originally Answered: Though some physicists are avid believers of the Multiverse Theory, is there any factual evidence to support it?

Though some physicists are avid believers of the Multiverse Theory, is there any factual evidence to support it?

Yes. One. The fact that we are here is the biggest evidence. Although it isn’t in any way proof. At best it’s a big question mark.

I know some people are also great supporters of Stephen Hawking theory about the creation of the universe. And although the idea seems good it isn’t flawless. Hawking theory fails to explain where the “ground” came from, what is the “ground”, and what mechanism actually “creates the mount” while “digging the hole”.

So far there’s data that supports the idea that this universe is finite, but none that supports the idea that’s infinite. So if the universe if finite, then that initial energy had to come from somewhere. And that somewhere is a great unknown. But if it came from somewhere then we can theorize there’s something else beyond this universe.

One generalized theory is that of the Multiverse. But even the idea of Multiverse isn’t seen exactly the same by everyone. There’s actually 5 theories about what the Multiverse actually may be.

The first theory is directly connected to Black Holes. It states that when a black hole is created, and the singularity in it, that eventually the singularity bursts and inflates into another new universe. That remains connected to our universe until the black hole dissipates. Here’s a little show and tell…

So first when the black hole is formed, it creates a singularity. A point of energy of nigh infinite density.

Eventually that singularity expands into a new universe. Creating new space-time.

And we get something like this. Where each black hole is nothing more than the creation point of a new universe. And that our universe was created in the same way.

There’s also another theory that defends that each universe is actually created apart from each other. Where we have what can be called a extradimension, that most people call Multiverse. And from the fabric/composition of that Multiverse, is from each of the universes are formed.

Something like this…

There’s also the idea that our universe is actually a multiverse. That during the inflation, speed wasn’t evenly all throughout space-time. And our universe is actually a multiverse divided in sections.

And here there are two sub-theories, that say A) it goes on forever B) as the final most advanced section of the multiverse comes to an end, a new Big Bang happens and thus the Multiverse is constantly renewing itself in a endless cycle.

Something like this…

This would be an example of the sectioned multiverse. Where there’s a limited amount of sections that endlessly recycle each other.

Weird Galactic Connections

November 12th, 2019
There’s Growing Evidence That the Universe Is Connected by Giant Structures

Scientists are finding that galaxies can move with each other across huge distances, and against the predictions of basic cosmological models. The reason why could change everything we think we know about the universe.

By Becky Ferreira Nov 11 2019, 8:00am
ABSTRACT THREADS. IMAGE: ANDRIY ONUFRIYENKO/GETTY IMAGES

The Milky Way, the galaxy we live in, is one of hundreds of billions of galaxies strewn across the universe. Their variety is stunning: spirals, ring galaxies shaped like star-studded loops, and ancient galaxies that outshine virtually everything else in the universe.

But despite their differences, and the mind-boggling distances between them, scientists have noticed that some galaxies move together in odd and often unexplained patterns, as if they are connected by a vast unseen force.

Galaxies within a few million light years of each other can gravitationally affect each other in predictable ways, but scientists have observed mysterious patterns between distant galaxies that transcend those local interactions.

These discoveries hint at the enigmatic influence of so-called “large-scale structures” which, as the name suggests, are the biggest known objects in the universe. These dim structures are made of hydrogen gas and dark matter and take the form of filaments, sheets, and knots that link galaxies in a vast network called the cosmic web. We know these structures have major implications for the evolution and movements of galaxies, but we’ve barely scratched the surface of the root dynamics driving them.

Scientists are eager to acquire these new details because some of these phenomena challenge the most fundamental ideas about the universe.

“That’s actually the reason why everybody is always studying

these large-scale structures,” said Noam Libeskind, a cosmographer at the Leibniz-Institut for Astrophysics (AIP) in Germany, in a call. “It’s a way of probing and constraining the laws of gravity and the nature of matter, dark matter, dark energy, and the universe.”

Why are distant galaxies moving in unison?

Galaxies tend to form gravitationally bound clusters that belong to even larger superclusters. Earth’s long-form cosmic address, for instance, would have to note that the Milky Way is part of the Local Group, a gang of several dozen galaxies. The Local Group is inside the Virgo supercluster, containing more than 1,000 galaxies.

On these more “local” scales, galaxies frequently mess with each other’s spins, shapes, and angular velocities. Sometimes, one galaxy even eats another, an event known as galactic cannibalism. But some galaxies show dynamic links across distances too great to be explained by their individual gravitational fields.

For instance, a study published in The Astrophysical Journal in October found that hundreds of galaxies were rotating in sync with the motions of galaxies that were tens of millions of light years away.

“This discovery is quite new and unexpected,” said lead author Joon Hyeop Lee, an astronomer at the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute, in an email. “I have never seen any previous report of observations or any prediction from numerical simulations, exactly related to this phenomenon.”

Lee and his colleagues studied 445 galaxies within 400 million light years of Earth, and noticed that many of the ones rotating in a direction toward Earth had neighbors that were moving toward Earth, while those that were rotating in the opposite direction had neighbors moving away from Earth.

“The observed coherence must have some relationship with large-scale structures, because it is impossible that the galaxies separated by six megaparsecs [roughly 20 million light years] directly interact with each other,” Lee said.

Lee and his colleagues suggest that the synchronized galaxies may be embedded along the same large-scale structure, which is very slowly rotating in a counter-clockwise direction. That underlying dynamic could cause the kind of coherence between the rotation of the studied galaxies and the motions of their neighbors, though he cautioned that it will take a lot more research to corroborate his team’s findings and conclusions.

While this particular iteration of weirdly synced up galaxies is novel, scientists have observed odd coherences between galaxies at even more mind-boggling distances. In 2014, a team observed curious alignments of supermassive black holes at the cores of quasars, which are ancient ultra-luminous galaxies, that stretch across billions of light years.

Led by Damien Hutsemékers, an astronomer at the University of Liège in Belgium, the researchers were able to observe this eerie synchronicity by watching the universe when it was only a few billion years old, using the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile. The observations recorded the polarization of light from nearly 100 quasars, which the team then used to reconstruct the geometry and alignment of the black holes at their cores. The results showed that the rotation axes of 19 quasars in this group were parallel, despite the fact that they were separated by several billion light years.

The discovery, which was published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, is an indicator that large-scale structures influenced the dynamics of galaxies across vast distances in the early universe.

“Galaxy spin axes are known to align with large-scale structures such as cosmic filaments but this occurs on smaller scales,” Hutsemékers said in an email, noting that theoretical studies have proposed some tentative explanations of this process.

“However, there is currently no explanation why the axes of quasars are aligned with the axis of the large group in which they are embedded,” he noted.

The truth behind synchronized galaxies could change everything

The secret of these synchronized galaxies may pose a threat to the cosmological principle, one of the basic assumptions about the universe. This principle states that the universe is basically uniform and homogenous at extremely large scales. But the “existence of correlations in quasar axes over such extreme scales would constitute a serious anomaly for the cosmological principle,” as Hutsemékers and his colleagues note in their study.

However, Hutsemékers’ cautioned that more of these structures would need to be spotted and studied to prove that this is a serious wrinkle in the cosmological principle. “Other similar structures are needed to confirm a real anomaly,” he said.

For the moment, the dynamics behind these quasar positions are not well understood because there are few observational techniques to refine them. “As far as large-scale alignments are concerned, we are essentially waiting for more data,” Hutsemékers’ said. “Such studies are statistical and a step forward would require a large amount of polarization data, not easy to gather with current instrumentation.”

Future radio telescopes, such as the Square Kilometre Array, might be able to probe these mysterious alignments in more detail.

“One of the great things about science is that you can have a model built with thousands of pieces of data but if one thing doesn’t stick it starts to crack. That crack either has to be sealed or it’s going to bring the whole house down.”

 

Quasar alignments are not the only hurdles that oddly synchronized galaxies have presented to established models of the universe. In fact, one of the most contentious debates in cosmology these days is centered around the unexpected way in which dwarf galaxies appear to become neatly aligned around larger host galaxies such as the Milky Way.

These satellite galaxies are currently a thorn in the side of what is known as the ΛCDM model, which is a theoretical timeline of the universe since the Big Bang. Simulations of the universe under the ΛCDM model predict that small satellite galaxies will end up in a swarm of random orbits around larger host galaxies.

But over the past decade, new observations have revealed that a huge chunk of the satellite galaxies around the Milky Way are synced up into one tidy orbital plane. At first, scientists wondered whether that simply meant something weird was going on with our own galaxy, but a similar plane of satellites was then observed around Andromeda.

The alarm bells really started ringing in 2015, when astronomers published observations of the same phenomenon a third time around Centaurus A, an elliptical galaxy about 10 million light years from the Milky Way.

This discovery “suggests that something is wrong with standard cosmological simulations,” according to a subsequent 2018 study in Science, led by Oliver Müller, an astronomer at the University of Strasbourg in France.

“At the moment, we have observed this at the three closest galaxies,” Müller said in a call. “Of course, you can always say that it’s only three, so it’s not statistical yet. But it shows that every time we have good data, we find it, so it could be universal.”

In a 2015 study, Libeskind and his colleagues suggested that filaments in the cosmic web might be guiding these organized galaxies, a process that could cohere with the ΛCDM model. Ultimately, though, there’s no conclusive answer to this dilemma yet.

“One of the great things about science is that you can have a model built with thousands of pieces of data but if one thing doesn’t stick it starts to crack,” said Libeskind. “That crack either has to be sealed or it’s going to bring the whole house down.”

The next generation of galaxy research

This tantalizing uncertainty has motivated astronomers like Marcel Pawlowski, a Schwarzschild Fellow at AIP and co-author on the 2018 Science study, to make this problem a focus of their research. Pawlowski is looking forward to data from the next generation of huge 30-meter class observatories that could show whether other big galaxies are surrounded by either isotropic or organized patterns of satellite galaxies.

“What we have to do now is expand our search to more distant satellite systems, and find satellite galaxies as well as measure their velocities,” said Pawlowski in a call.

“The field really advanced because of this debate going on in the literature,” Pawlowski added. “It’s been really good to see how the observational evidence became more and more solid.”

Whether it’s the strange motions of dwarf galaxies in our own galactic neighborhood or the eerie alignment of galaxies over millions or billions of light years, it’s clear that the dance moves of galaxies are an essential key to unlocking the large-scale structure of the universe.

The galaxies we see captured in static positions in beautiful deep-field shots are actually guided by many complex forces we don’t yet fully comprehend, including the cosmic web that undergirds the universe.

“What I really like about this stuff is just that we are still at the pioneering phase,” said Müller. “That’s super exciting.”

TAGGED: UNIVERSE, GALAXY, COSMOLOGY, MILKY WAY, GALAXIES, ANDROMEDA, COSMIC WEB, FILAMENTS, LARGE-SCALE STRUCTURES

 

The Horror Below : A Halloween Tale

October 30th, 2019

For this upcoming Halloween tomorrow, I thought it might be fun to put one of my Halloween short stories, which others have found both interesting and creepy. If anyone who visits my blog and reads it finds it interesting and creepy, I will be delighted.

The Horror Below

A Halloween Tale

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, All Hallows Eve as it turned out, I went to his apartment, said hello to several of my friends and classmates 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. Now 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 cell phones.. 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 via our cell phones.”  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. I’ll come back later. 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, my cell phone rang 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 barely managed to move the slab back over that doorway to the unspeakable. I 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 cellphone that I still clutched in my hand rang, and I heard harsh, croaking laughter, followed by a voice, deep, fiendish, savage, cruel, shout out,

“ Allen Hastings is dead and I am FREE! ”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


William S. Frankl, MD, All Rights Reserved