There are some secrets that should never be revealed.
I hesitate to write of this at all, because we are all weak. What if you, dear reader, should succumb, and perhaps destroy us all?
Yet soon I must leave this refuge, and who knows what new cruelties Fate will wish on me then? If I should fail, if the Horror should be found again after I am dead, you must find it, conceal it, destroy it if you can. You must.
And you must not touch it, ever.
Fate has been cruel to me. It is agony to think what I have become – a wretch, half mad, bound by honor and terror to guard this darkest of secrets to the end of my days. It is beyond agony to think what I could have been – an artist, a father…
Through my endless black nights I curse that day – that beautiful sunny day when I first saw the Horror. I was not the one who discovered it (poor soul!) but I was the first to recognize the danger.
N___ was my closest friend. Since childhood we had been always together, like brothers. The twins, they called us, or Tit and Tat. (He was Tit.) We were inseparable.
Of course, we were together that day. It was high summer, sunny and fair, and we spent all such days out of doors – reading under our favorite tree, or fishing, or running barefoot through meadows of green and gold for the sheer innocent joy of it, butterflies scattering at our heels. Even as teenagers, when we talked more of girls than of pollywogs, our closeness and our innocence remained untouched.
We were innocent that day. It didn’t save us.
When N___ unearthed the Horror, quite by accident – when I first saw its gleaming surface, so like an ordinary thing of this world and yet somehow so different – I felt a shiver of pure terror I could not (then) explain. It was as if I heard a new silence around me, saw a shadow I had never known was there.
That was the moment my normal life ended, though I did not know it yet.
For a long time we just stared at the thing N___ had found, glistening in the sunlight. It was small…so small. It seemed to be metal – it seemed clearly a made thing, though improbably perfect in its symmetry – and yet incomprehensibly it seemed almost alive, as if it were breathing imperceptibly, or quivering like an insect at rest.
As if it were watching us.
We stared at it. We picked it up and examined it and put it down hastily, uneasily. It felt like we should be knocking on wood, crossing our fingers, whistling to keep away some ghost. We exchanged sheepish glances, giggled nervously; we could both feel it. Something strange, something wrong.
Almost, almost, I could convince myself that it was imagination, that we were being foolish, that this was some ordinary trinket lost here last summer by some cousin or other, who might be pleased to finally get it back. But no. It was just a bit too heavy, too bright, too hard. It was made of some material we had not previously encountered. The workmanship (if such it was) was too fine. And it truly seemed to be watching us, or at least somehow compelling us to watch it.
We both felt it. I could see it in his face, and he in mine. (We could keep no secrets from each other in those days, nor had we ever wanted to.)
We both felt it. There was some mysterious power in this artifact, lurking just beneath the surface. Waiting to be released.
“What is it?” said N___, but neither of us had an answer. There was no way to summarize this thing. It was it.
We went back to staring. Maybe a whole hour passed, I don’t know.
“Bury it again,” I finally said.
“What? No, it’s mine!” said N___, and snatched it up. “Ours, I mean,” he continued, but I saw a strange look in his eyes, and it frightened me, though I did not yet understand what it signified.
“I mean it,” I told him. “Whatever it is, that thing is bad news. Bury it right back where you found it – only deeper – and let’s forget we ever saw it.”
N___ laughed, and his voice had a harsh edge that I had never heard from him before. “You forget it then. I’m going to keep it. Whatever it is, it’s obviously important.” He held it before him; it caught the sunlight in that distinctive way. “It’s like nothing else in the world! Maybe it came from outer space!” He smiled, but he didn’t laugh and neither did I.
“All the more reason to get rid of it.”
“All the more reason to keep it! I’ll be famous! Rich, maybe!”
“Come on, it’s just some bit of…,” I began, but I couldn’t think of any words to dispel the unease I felt. I knew it wasn’t just anything. We both knew. Hadn’t it held us spellbound, fascinated, hypnotized, all afternoon?
I shook my head. “Please, Tit, let’s just get rid of it. It’s bad luck, can’t you feel it?”
“No,” he said, and it was a lie. The first time he ever lied to me. I could have caught him in any lie, but he didn’t even try to really fool me. He knew it was bad luck, and he didn’t care, and he didn’t care that I knew. His eyes were cold pits, with no glint of friendship. A stranger’s eyes, already.
He turned away, closing his fist around the Horror.
• • • •
[Here a page is torn out.]
• • • •
I can’t. I can’t tell you what happened to N___. Not yet!
You wouldn’t understand, I couldn’t make you understand how it was, you’d think me insane. I can’t risk that, you must trust me, you must believe me, because you must heed my warning!
You wouldn’t understand how it tore at me to see what the Horror did to him. How it twisted his mind with its hypnotic alien symmetry, its peculiar sparkle. How it bled away his soul, shockingly fast, and left behind a monster, a cruel stranger where had been my closest friend.
The danger was only too clear to me. I think he saw it too, finally, but by then he was powerless to resist on his own. The Horror’s grip on his mind had grown too strong.
In the end, I only did what had to be done. You wouldn’t understand. And you must not think me mad!
• • • •
When I saw what had happened to N___, I knew the Horror must be kept secret forever, if not destroyed. It must not be found by anyone ever again! If such an innocent soul as poor Tit could be corrupted by its hideous emanations, what of the famous and powerful men he had wanted to show it to? What lust, what madness would it drive them to?
Couldn’t I feel it tugging at my own mind, trying to convince me that he was right?
I buried it.
Not where we had found it, but under my own cellar. I thought I had better know exactly where it was, be prepared to defend the secret, if worse came to worst.
I carried it to the cellar in a bag. I resolved not to touch it, but I couldn’t help taking it out and holding it for one long moment before covering it up forever.
• • • •
Forever lasted seven days. Seven days seemed like forever, and then I dug up the Horror.
I just wanted to look at it, I told myself. To convince myself that I hadn’t made up the whole thing, that I wasn’t going mad after all.
With each plunge of the shovel into the softened dirt, I became more convinced that I would find a stone; or some gruesome evidence of a crime I didn’t remember committing; or nothing at all. Until at last I struck something that rang oddly against the blade.
It was there, of course. Unchanged, of course. Real and really dangerous. I could feel its psychic miasma immediately, soothing, urging me to keep it safe, keep it near, keep it.
In a spasm of horror, mixed with guilt and rage, I smashed at it with the shovel. First the flat of the iron blade, then the edge, over and over. I tried desperately to destroy this thing that had already brought me such sorrow, before it could bring me any more.
It was unscathed, unscratched, perfect. It must be from another world, I thought.
I put it in a box on the mantel.
• • • •
For a time, life was almost as it had been. I told no-one of the secret, tried never to let anyone guess that I even had a secret. Never even glanced at that box unless I was alone in my room.
At the funeral, of course, nobody expected me to behave the way I used to. Just Tat, they were thinking as they turned from me, but of course nobody would ever say that out loud.
Afterwards, they mostly left me alone with my grief. Alone in my room.
• • • •
I began to grow paranoid. Worried, I called it, but it was more than that. I began to suspect that everyone knew, that somehow the secret was no longer a secret. I watched people, sidelong, trying not to let them see me watching. I felt plotted against.
It must have been the emanations from the Horror, poisoning my mind with alien avarice.
I even caught myself suspecting my poor, sainted grandmother! I thought I had seen her eyeing my room greedily, one evening when I was sure the box had been disturbed.
Fearing for my own sanity, I decided I must confide in someone.
E___ was a girl both us twins had fancied. That could have become a problem, but no longer.
That thought did not cheer me – in fact I cried the first time it occurred to me – but it didn’t stop me courting her, either. We were getting along rather well, now, and I felt I could trust her, of all people.
So I told her. I told her about finding the Horror – told her I found it, not wanting to implicate poor N___. I told her of its unique and terrible wrongness, how it tempted me, how I feared succumbing to its cruel influence.
I told her it must never again see the light of day, that she must help me bury it again, deep in some crevasse, out of my reach and everyone’s.
But in a strange, cold voice she said, “Oh, I don’t think so. Why don’t you show it to me now?”
And her eyes flicked to the box. The box! The secret box that I had not told her about, that I was so careful never even to look at.
And she looked back and saw me watching her. And she smiled, but her smile was a lie.
• • • •
I left home.
I couldn’t stay: the danger was too great. How could I watch this thing destroy everyone I loved? I had to go, before it was too late.
Even if it drove me mad, I would keep it from them all, shoulder this awful burden alone. I would sacrifice my happiness, perhaps even my sanity, for theirs.
And I have. At least, I have had no happiness since I left them, and little enough sanity. I pray that they have thrived without me. I dare not return to find out.
I took the Horror as far as I could. I hid it, and myself, in the deepest, darkest, most inaccessible place I could find, surrounded by dangers that would surely deter any intruder.
There I stayed, an exile, hidden from the world, alone with the Horror, guarding it, keeping the dread secret, for uncounted years.
There was an intruder after all. After all these years, somehow, despite every precaution, someone found a way to my refuge. I had been alone so long, I barely remembered how to speak. But I questioned him. How had he come to that dark forgotten place, of all places? Why?
His answer was evasive.
Swallowing my loneliness, I scared him away. Had to, for his own sake. Pretended to be crazy, violent.
It wasn’t hard to act crazy, after all I’ve been through. Maybe not an act. How would I know anymore? How can anyone live alone so long and stay sane, even without the noises in the darkness, even without the Horror always tapping on the doors and windows of my mind, tapping, tapping, seeking entrance.
Scared away the intruder. The secret is still safe – for now. But I’ll probably have to leave soon. Find a new refuge, even more inaccessible than this one.
How did he get in?
And why? He couldn’t have known I was hiding the Horror here. Nobody knew that. Did they?
I’ll have to leave soon.
• • • •
The intruder took it after all, somehow! He must have come specifically to steal it, but how did he know it was here?
More important, where is he now?
I have to get it back. Have to warn him. It’ll twist him too, and fast, since he was already a thief before he touched it. Already greedy, already desiring what he should not possess.
No question about leaving, now. There’s no longer the slightest reason to stay, and I’ve got to find the thief before it’s too late.
Find him, warn him, and if he won’t listen, take it back. For his own good. And my good, and everyone’s. Before the madness overtakes him, drives him to some rash act, some doom worse than my own.
I’ve nothing to pack but this journal, so I’ll start as soon as I’ve had a few hours sleep.
God, it’ll be good to see stars again!
• • • •
I’m so old, so old. So weary. Some days I think only fear keeps me going.
It’s been a relief, not having the Horror around every day. Though in a way I miss it. Even something so alien, so utterly unfamiliar, can become familiar over time. Even something so hateful can spark a kind of fondness, if it has become familiar.
Of course it’s good to be out of that Hell-pit I called home for so long. Better than good, though my eyes can no longer cope with the sun after all those years in the dark. Maybe my vision will recover, in time. My cough is less, in the clear air above ground.
But there’s no trace of the thief. It’s almost a year since I started searching. I’ll keep looking, but what if I don’t find him?
What if he sells the Horror? Who wouldn’t pay any price for it, after once touching it and feeling its unearthly fascination? How would I ever find it then?
I can only hope he keeps it secret. Either out of greed, or because he learns to fear it in time, and tries to hide it as I did.
Perhaps I should watch the hiding places I might have moved it to: if he does get the same idea, he might even choose one of the same places. There are a few obvious possibilities; maybe I can outguess him, pick the right one. If I can’t, it’s probably too late already.
• • • •
The worst has happened. Somehow, news of the Horror has leaked out. Distorted rumors, but much too accurate for safety. Factions are seeking it. Powerful men are asking dangerous questions.
I’m not sure how they found me. Perhaps my own inquiries aroused suspicion. More likely, E___ betrayed my confidence. Nothing would surprise me anymore, where the Horror is concerned.
In any event, I was abducted, abused, hounded into revealing some of what I knew. I tried to lie, to protect these powerful men from themselves and each other. (Power corrupts, it is said. But I know the Horror would corrupt the powerful far more than mere ambition ever could. Look how they have treated me, just for rumors of it, before they have even touched it!)
Again I pretended madness, all too easily. I raved. I don’t remember everything I said, and I have no idea what they chose to believe. At length I escaped…or was let go. Perhaps they thought I would go on seeking the Horror – as I must! Perhaps they hope to follow me to it.
Perhaps they will. Yet I must take the chance. I must recover it, before it is too late for us all!
At least they didn’t find this journal. I keep it well hidden. I really should destroy it.
• • • •
Found him, by God!
Or rather, found someone. Spying on him as I write this. Looks like the intruder, but he’d look older by now, wouldn’t he? I’ve been searching a long time. Hard to remember how long.
Maybe this is his son? Did he sneak glances at the Horror when he could, sanity slipping away with each peek, until he could no longer resist stealing it from his old man? And I wonder: once the boy had it, was the old man ever heard from again?
Anyway, it doesn’t matter. This one has got the Horror now. Has it here. I can tell just by looking at him, of course. His eyes.
It seems I was right: he’s going to hide it, like I did. Why else would he come here? The perfect place to lose it forever.
But if that’s so, why didn’t he come alone? Looks like a band of mercenaries he’s brought along. Guards? Or maybe treasure hunters.
Could it be like a compass, pointing down, leading them toward…something else? Could there be more Horrors down here, waiting to be unearthed? That tall one seems like a scholar, perhaps a historian; he’s always lecturing the others. What might they know about the Horror, its true purpose, its origin, its maker? I have never had more than my own guesses.
I’ll have to follow them.
• • • •
He didn’t hide it. Almost threw me off his trail, and surely lost any other pursuers, and maybe that was all he intended down there. The secret is no secret any longer: the intruder’s enemies – or his friends – are after the Horror. This youth and his friends are running and hiding as best they can.
If I can get him alone, maybe I can convince him. He’s felt the emanations; maybe I can make him understand the danger.
But he’s never alone!
• • • •
They’ve had some kind of disagreement – I can well imagine it! – and the intruder’s kid has gone off with just one bodyguard. Or rather, a friend, I think – they walk close together, like old friends. Like twins.
One against two isn’t such bad odds.
Maybe I can befriend them, convince them, win them over. Or else overpower them.
Maybe they’ve decided to bury it deep after all, and I can just wait and watch to make sure they go through with it.
Maybe they’ll let me touch it first, one last time.
• • • •
The crisis is upon me. I tried to stop them; I even tried to kill them, God forgive me; I failed. They have brought the Horror within easy reach of the strongest faction of all, the very worst of the corrupt powerful. I fear for our world if it falls into such hands.
They told me they want only to destroy it, that they have found a way to do that.
I know better.
Any innocence, any pure motives these two once had, the Horror is stealing from them, hour by hour. I can see how they look at each other now, with cold eyes full of deceit. The way N___ looked at me, so long ago. The way I must have looked at him, too, before I saved him from himself, the only way I could.
Now they’ve gone inside, into this ancient place where they claim the Horror was made, long ages ago when other things than men ruled the Earth; this primal forge where they claim it can be destroyed at last. But I know it’s too late. They won’t. One or the other will take it, claim it, turn it over to someone far worse….
Their minds are twisted, perverted by its foul goading. (The lad even claims his uncle gave him this thing to carry away. Gave it willingly! That must be a lie: too well I know the lure of it, the dark envy it inspires. How could a thief ever willingly renounce such a treasure?) They see themselves as heroes already, no doubt, though they have not destroyed the Horror, will not, cannot. If they, not I, survive to tell this tale, no doubt they will make of me a villain. No doubt I look the part, after all I’ve suffered: a wretched, pallid, toothless madman.
I will hide this book, and then I must go in after them. I must make one final, fatal attempt to end this nightmare that has consumed my life. I fear I will not return.
I fear I will not be strong enough. Even now I feel the emanations, wearing down my resolve once more. If I touch it again, how can I resist its eldritch influence? Can I do what must be done, before insanity takes what scraps remain of my shattered, tattered mind?
But I must. I must stop them. I must see the Horror destroyed, even if it drives me mad, even if it kills me.
I must go in there now; but first I will pray. For my soul, and for theirs. For the future I will never see, the hope I no longer feel.
I will pray for you, dear reader: if I fail today, you must succeed. Seek the Horror; wrest it from those who have fallen under its power; hide it; destroy it if you can; never touch it!
I’m coming now, to take you back; to send you back to the Hell that spawned you, if I can – my secret burden, my Horror…
• • • •
©2009 Dan Efran