Short Story By Miro
I discovered the box enroute to my workplace. Peculiar it was, resting silently (but not lifeless) on my doorstep: its method of arrival unclear, (postage unstamped, notes unwritten) and its origin remained even more of a mystery.
Having time to spare, (the library doors were not to open for another half hour or so) I lifted the package off the chilled foundation of my dwelling, and hoisted it into my abode. The parcel was about arms length wide and half as tall, but was disproportionately weighted; being surprisingly light in my arms, I estimated it was no more than two to three pounds, the weight of a respectably thick book. My librarians sense must be perfectly tuned, for once I procured a thin bladed box cutter from my coat pocket and dissected the carton, I gleefully removed a singular leather bound pamphlet, one which donned curious and otherworldly symbols on the cover. They swam hypnotically before my very eyes, and it was only the ticking harassment of my watch which was able to extract me from their implications. I quickly discarded the cut cardboard and carefully slid the intriguing lexicon into my well worn book bag. Time evading my grasp, I forgot all other pursuits in face of the habitual (a savage and unrelenting beast), and rushed out the door to my familiar athenaeum; novels needed ordering and encyclopedias needed cataloging.
My commute was rather uneventful, (rarely does anything happen in my sleepy New England town) and my day at the library passed with little incident; I spent many hours wavering and teetering on the bookshelves, uneasily swaying like a sailor on a treacherous, vertical sea. I have devoted many years of my life to the Bibliotheca, but the towering rusty ladders never fail to stiffen my spine and offset my balance. The former caretaker told me I would come to like them in time. I had not.
In between the primal stamping of pages and the tiring stocking of shelves, in moments of silence, my moments of respite, I would find myself gazing intently at a stack of manuscripts laying on my desk, and moreover the tome from this morning. The unique hardback was vital and vivid; if I stared for too long at its still image, the runes themselves seemed to dance and chant blasphemously, ritualistically, dogmatically, and the pages would whip back and forth, seemingly to beckon for my knowledge and trained eyes, only leaving my concentration to be broken by the sound of crashing books or impatiently stinging bells. To avoid further distraction, I buried it in the cloth of my knapsack and made a note to investigate it when I had time.
Later that night, once the scholars were chased out and the massive library gates had been sealed shut, I retrieved the lexicon and examined it under the fading candlelight. It pulsed morbidly, almost contagiously, and even though my stomach churned from its touch, I couldn’t distance myself from those corrupted pages. Any attempt to occupy myself otherwise was met with failure; after having read enough of the cryptic codex to make my skin crawl, I left the study and made way for my desk, (which was located across the main library expanse) only to find the leather booklet deeply burrowed into the weathered oak and tanned sheets of the shelves. Spotting the accursed thing was an organic blend of fortune and purpose, and initially, only the lexicon in question began pulsating, almost contagiously I might add, because soon thereafter a large collection of scripts joined the ominous act, all caused by one diseased hardback blighting and infecting like a plagued rat. In an act of preservation and intrigue, I removed the tome from the shelf (and once I did so the other books returned to their normal states) and took it to my davenport, where I would study it further. The custodian found me in the morning, (gave him a good fright) sitting upright behind my desk, eyelids wide open rebelling against gravity’s tyrannical rule.
The book contained nothing but minor rituals and trials to appease a shrouded and mysterious god. I hypothesize that I uncovered a trinket of an extinct cult, nothing more, nothing less. The paranormal being far out of my expertise, (I am but a humble librarian) I lent the tome to an occultist friend of mine, Azadhir Zaradi, knowing that he would enjoy it more than I ever could; the man could probably recognize the symbols like the back of his hand. He was an Arab scholar and one of my closest confidants; I had known him for many years and have always admired him. I have spent many late nights in his blackened presence, listening to his stories of the unholy and the unknown, and as he shewed me his savagely scarred chest, he would laugh in my face of bewilderment and proclaim ‘Communing with the eldritch isn’t the healthiest of pursuits’ under his breath.
On my way from home to the Bibliotheca I dropped the codex on his doorstep with a note and kept on my way. He was a man of iron resolve and I know he has dealt with horrors monumentally greater than the unsettling passages in this measly script, but I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of guilt, like I was damning him with a burden.
I had no time to ponder it further however, as the library was a veritable madhouse; never in my decade of servitude to the athenaeum had I seen a sight like this. People rushed and shoved and stampeded any being unfortunate enough to find themselves drowning under a sea of raging soles. And for what was this savage display? For nothing more than the paragraphs and sentences imprisoned by leather and twine alike: This was a town of scholars and aspiring knowledge seekers, but this was nothing short of madness. Often civilized men brutally cudgelled each other with the very books they coveted, and it was only until I shouted and struck a match that the crowd quieted, eyes fixated on the blazing star in a world of paper, cloth and flesh. They stopped, not out of courtesy for one another, but for fear of the insatiable hunger that threatened to consume them all.
I blew out the match, and walked over to my desk where my cohorts and I began a frantic day of filing, recording and dismissing. In the span of my eight hour shift, six hundred and thirty two manuals, novels and textbooks were borrowed. The crowd was a primal beast, and the library it’s prey; the shelves had been stripped bare like a naked carcass which had just fed the devious pack.
With nothing left to work on, (a librarian without his pages is like a bishop without his faith) I departed from the library and made way to Azadhir’s domain, knowing a man as engrossed in the dark arts as himself would have already studied the manuscript in its entirety. I knocked on his door and was met with a radiant woman in a fine satin robe. It was his wife. She greeted me and I told her that its always a pleasure to meet the one capable of keeping Azadhir sane. She laughed and led me to his study, where he was clutching a bleached skull in his hand, and I knew that it was for much more than mere aesthetics. Here the lexicon was resting on a basalt countertop underneath a dimly incandescent lamp, and its pages whirred a low and indistinguishable growl as I neared it, like a cat in a corner screeching and hissing and threatening to scratch and scar. Azadhir told me that I had found an artifact of much interest, and that much I knew to be true.
The book detailed many foul and gruesome rituals, but none were as unnerving as the ‘Cyothogi’, a tribute to a deity referred to as Igg Cyarlogg. The ceremony involved the sacrifice of two people, and the mutilation of another; the first two would have their legs chopped off, slowly and agonizingly with the dull blows of ceremonial knives and sharpened stones, and once the legs were harvested, their previous owners were left to bleed out, discarded like meatless offals. Then, the legs were attached to a third member, painstakingly sowed into the flesh as the recipient shrieks and screams for their forgotten god. Once the procedure was finished, the six legged monstrosity would then become somewhat of a religious leader, and was said to have clear communion with Igg Cyarlogg. Each party went into this ceremony willingly, even the sacrificers.
After Azadhir had finished detailing the rite, he offered to show me a simple summoning call he was studying from the book, and added (with a touch of sarcasm) that even a mundane man such as myself would have no trouble stomaching it. Curious, I agreed, and abruptly he unsheathed a dagger and started chanting unfathomable syllables and words. He jabbed his palm (horribly disfigured from a lifetime of servitude to the occult) with the knife, just enough to draw some blood, and rubbed it on the temples of his ritual skull. As he continued to chant more and more vigorously, I could feel my blood growing progressively thinner, and as Azadhir began to scream, the vacant sockets of the skullcap lit up, and the lexicon began to glow palely. What came next unsettled me deeply; out of the fetid pages, a pincer emerged, and soon after the rest followed. Standing on its unnaturally crooked legs was a blindingly orange hexapod. Its limbs were malformed and it reeked of otherworldly decay, but the worst part of this unholy abomination was the fact that we, earthen men, birthed it from the divine cosmos above. Feeling light headed, I told Azadhir that I had seen enough, and he banished it back to its far reaches of space, and as its putrid radiance melted back into the pages I could feel my organs shaking uneasily. He still had to work on the proportions of blood, and he told me that he would be experimenting with it later that night.
There was silence for many minutes, which I eventually broke by getting to my feet and saying that I must be going. I shook his hand firmly and he recoiled initially, for my hand was as cold as the paw of a rotting dog, and as damp as the maggots within. He handed me the book which I shoved back to him. I told him he could do as he wished with it, and he accompanied me to door in a quiet stupor. On departure from his dark dwelling, I wished him luck on his pursuits, to which he replied ‘likewise’.
Twenty steps off of his crumbling stone doorstep and into his feverishly overgrown lawn, the skin on the back of my neck began to singe and peel, and in an instant I was enveloped by a sea of sweat and soot. I was mortally terrified of what had happened, and feared that if I turned around and witnessed the detestation myself, a fate worse than conventional devilry would befall me; no pillars of salt or righteous fury, no flagellation or crucifixion, only a deepening torrent of madness, constantly widening until my sanity is but a speck on the bloody horizon.
I slowly turned, clenching my fists and jaw alike, so damnably hard that my fingers squeaked and ached and my teeth rattled aimlessly in my skull.
What was once his house was now a smoldering orange inferno. There was no smoke, and as I watched the fire squirm and scutter unnaturally, I knew I had lost my mind, that my only window of opportunity was slammed shut on my fingers, that there was no escape and that I had no choice left but to drown. There was no fire at all.
The hundreds of thousands of crabs rushed and dashed amongst the ruins, gorging and feasting on what was left of Azadhirs life. Within a minute they flooded out from underneath the house, carrying bits of hair and flesh in between their pincers. Some had parts of his fine lips, and I saw one with its claw pierced through one of his eyes, the tendons dragging behind, dripping with a mucusy glean. Stunned beyond comprehension, the cascade of crustaceans enveloped my ankles, and it wasn’t long before their drilling spurs brought me crashing to the ground. Hundreds of them washed over me, clamping my arms and legs and restraining my movement. Panic began to grip me, and as I tried to shake this foetid legion from my limbs, I saw a sight that tormented my poor eyes who were unfortunate enough to have witnessed it; down the unending stream of orange flowed twenty toes, four feet, and four kneecaps; the legs of the late Azadhir and his ill-fated wife. ‘Till death do them part’ a preacher once told them, and as I watched their legs rush towards me I knew he was correct: the once happily married couple had certainly been parted.
The legs reached me rapidly, and were almost perfectly aligned to my hips, and as the exposed bone brushed against my skin, leaving behind trails of dripping blood, my skin seemed to raise and warp, almost as if in protest to this malignancy. The crabs below held the limbs firmly overhead, and the rotting flesh of the dead pieces seemed to fuse into my writhing hips. Controlled by pure fear, I managed to clear the hexapods off of my (MY) legs and somehow found my balance. My paralysis finally broke, and I fled lapping and wailing through the tall grass of this unkempt yard before I lost consciousness somewhere down the cold and rigid road.
I awoke in the hospital; apparently the first responders found me not too far from the fire that wracked my good friends life. The legs were gone, but my body (especially my waist) stung a sensation not unlike the devastation dealt by an iron maiden; they had treated my ‘burns’, but the pain that I felt was closer to the wrath of a thousand pincers, rotting and overflowing and shredding my skin. Just the memory of the ‘fire’ caused me to wince, and I briefly considered asking for medical assistance. I quickly realized, however, that by medical standards, I was afflicted with hallucinations, paranoia, and a tenacious phantom agony. I would have to be condemned to the leather-strapped hell of the sanitarium; a dungeon of procedure, confinement, and the dreaded correction.
Nothing could have hoped to have survived that firewall; I learned from the paper on my doorstep that the fire raged through the night, leaving only a hill of ashes and fragments in its wake of frenzy. I convinced myself to forget about the incident; with Azadhir and that diabolical script both brutally swallowed by the demonic heat, not much remained of the situation, only my memories of it. Heavy, sinking moments of recollection, capable of dragging me into the infernal abyss where Azadhir had been taken, and where the reality shattering truth lies…