Category Archives: Story

Grand Theft Hovercar: Jeffrey Thomas

He loved the freedom most of all, a sense of liberation he couldn’t equate with anything in his life prior to the game. The game had an elaborate plotline that was admirably constructed, giving one the feel of an interactive movie or novel, introducing an array of fascinating comrades and enemies, sending the player on a seemingly endless string of exciting and challenging mini missions. And yet, in navigating around the virtual facsimile of the city of Punktown—in any variety of vehicles or on foot—Giff had discovered that he actually preferred random and directionless exploration to the confines of the plot, however sprawling that storyline was. He had strayed from his latest mini-mission several weeks ago, and hadn’t returned to the storyline’s path since. He wondered now if he ever would.

Giff had been introduced to the game Grand Theft Hovercar by Donny, a much younger coworker in the same department at Fukuda Bioforms. The two men, both of them born here on the planet Oasis as the descendants of colonists from Earth, worked in the “love organs” division, managing and shipping out inventory. Love organs were bioengineered pets that functioned as living sex toys, all but mindless and hence always willing to accommodate their owners. There were numerous varieties: some like a phallus, others with openings like a vagina or anus, others with a phallus on one end and orifice on the other, and in every skin tone from Kalian gray to Sinanese blue. Love organs could go a long time without being injected with sustenance, but not indefinitely, so Giff and Donny and the other worker in their area, Beau, had to be sure the inventory shipped out promptly. No customer wanted to open a cheerily colorful plastic box to find a rotting love organ inside.

When he had first started at Fukuda Bioforms Giff had thought the work might be fun, because of the whimsical products he dealt with, but like all the jobs he had worked at over nearly four decades it had proved tedious, dispiriting, and financially inadequate.

The day Donny first told him about Grand Theft Hovercar, they had been busy in the early morning preparing several pallets for the robot lift to bring down to the shipping dock. The men had stacked the boxes—filled with patiently inert love organs—on the pallets themselves, rather than have the robot palletize them, more out of boredom than anything else. But later there was a long lull in filling new orders and investigating late orders, all the inventory reconciled for the time being, and so they had stood around talking while Beau slipped away early to the company gym.

“I’ve played a few games set in a VR Punktown before,” Giff told the enthusiastic young man, who had just related how caught up he was in this new game. “VR Miniosis and some Earth cities, too. Of course, that’s over ten years ago.”

“Oh come on, ten years ago… you should see this game! Like, you can pick up a candy wrapper off the ground… smooth it out and read the small print. You can feel the wrinkles in the plastic. You can smell the chocolate that was inside.”

“So,” Giff lowered his voice, smiling, lest any female coworkers nearby should overhear them, “the prosties… pretty real, huh?”

“Realer than real! But not just AI prosties; you can have sex with the avatars of other players, and man…” Donny trailed off, grinning, his eyes gleaming feverishly. “But I’ll get to that, I’ll get to that. I want to tell you about the world, how huge it is. Bigger than any VR Punktown before. I mean, not only does it have every single location in Punktown right down to the most obscure utility chute in Subtown… the game lets players map their own apartments and add them to the game, so anyone can go inside. If the person doesn’t want to let you into their apartment, though, maybe you can find a way to break inside. I added my apartment, but I don’t live there; I hacked my way into a beautiful apartment in Beaumonde Square, when the owner was out, and I changed the code on his door so he can’t get back inside.” Donny laughed wildly. “And there are thousands and thousands of players in Punktown, so the places you can go… it’s like infinite in possibilities.”

Giff was very intrigued by that line. Infinite in possibilities. A sense of infinite possibilities would be a refreshing thing to experience, wouldn’t it? An intoxicating thing.

That night, in his own little cell-like apartment where he lived alone except for a love organ he had smuggled home from work a few months back, he pasted ultranet interface disks to his temples, connected with the site that produced Grand Theft Hovercar, and paid for a connection to the game.

The Girl with the Star-Stained Soul: Lucy A. Snyder

Dazed, Penny stumbled through the gray ash and blasted debris. Charred human fat stained the fractured rocks of the old stone church. Blackened bones jumbled with the splintered charcoal of the pine roof beams. Most all the men of Fensmere, Mississippi lay dead around her, and many of its womenfolk, too. She spied a bit of wrought iron candelabra here, a burned scrap of a Klansman’s hood there.

She looked up at the broken wall where the skylight had been, and the Reverend Houghton’s order reverberated in her mind: “Brothers, place her beneath the stars!

The girl shuddered and hugged herself as she remembered the cold touch of the old gods probing her mind, examining the Earth through her memory and dismissing her world as unripe fruit. But their thronging dark minions had clamored to devour the planet, and Penny had seen through the old gods’ eyes what terrible, craven, worthless creatures humankind was, and the darkest power of the cosmos had flowed into her, and she could have opened the doorway to let the minions in to end it all.

And for a moment, she’d considered it. It’s what the Reverend —her own grandfather—had brought her here to do. Exactly a month after Penny’s mother’s death, the Reverend’s sister brought her to the family mansion for the summer under the guise of a family reunion. Instead, the Haughtons wrenched her mind open with the mad Arab’s book, drugged her and kept her penned like a sacrificial calf until the night that the stars were right.

And she’d almost done it. She’d almost opened the door and let in creatures that would almost certainly end humanity. In those moments, she’d been the most powerful person on the planet, a living goddess, and yet still nothing more than a child trying to decide whether to open the latch for the stranger on her parents’ porch.

Instead, she’d chosen to use the cosmic power surging through her to turn her body into a momentary sun. And with the coldest blood, she blasted the Invisible Empire cultists gathered around her to ashes.

Penny couldn’t stop shivering. Her own mind had been overlaid with a new dark consciousness, a terrible inhuman logic. Was she a puppet now? A servant of one of the old gods that had briefly gazed upon her as a man might gaze upon a mote of dust? No, she finally decided. Her mind had been left to its own devices. But the cosmic fires had forged her soul into something new, and she was a stranger to herself.

And in that moment of realization, two things occurred to her simultaneously.

The first was that the Haughtons had almost certainly engineered her mother’s fatal automobile crash. It could be no accident that the one adult in her life who’d kept her safe had been removed right when Penny was old enough for the ritual. They had the money and resources to make it happen, and it had been done. Her cold new overmind shone a light on her past, and Penny realized they’d probably arranged to have her father murdered, too.

The second thing Penny realized was that, had her nuclear physicist father lived, and had her mother not remarried a Christian man when Penny was just a toddler, she might be having her bat mitzvah this summer instead. Her parents would have thrown her a big party with cake and Peach Melba and all the friends Penny didn’t have in her current life would have come to celebrate her becoming a daughter of the commandment under Jewish tradition. And her father would have given thanks that he could no longer be punished for her sins.

“I’m responsible now,” she said to the dead who lay scattered around her, and she threw back her head and laughed, spinning in circles with her arms outstretched in the cold moonlight. “I’m responsible for everything!”

Masque of the Queen: Stephen Mark Rainey

She should have made her way to Hollywood five years ago, back when she had enough money to travel farther than between Upper and Midtown Manhattan. She would wager that, by now, she could have at least snagged a part in some sitcom or second-rate motion picture—something that would have gotten her name out farther than the next block off Broadway. Finances were tighter than ever, and though she had no problem lining up auditions, landing a role that paid for something more than a few drinks was tougher now than the day she had spoken her first line on the stage at the Fugazi Playhouse, now closed. She sure as hell couldn’t afford to move to a new place, even in a worse neighborhood. By any standard, her cozy apartment in Manhattan Valley was a bargain, though uncomfortably far from the law office where she temped as receptionist, not to mention the theater district.

Tonight, as usual, the bus was jammed with bodies, but she had managed to grab a seat near the back. To get it, she’d had to physically remove a large shopping bag owned by an older Hispanic woman who had strategically placed it to discourage potential seatmates. On a crowded bus, Kathryn Stefano refused to tolerate such discourtesy, and now the woman, her bag tucked under her seat, sat peering out the window radiating hot, silent hatred.

Kathryn had felt so good about the last audition. They seemed to love her, but her phone had been silent for two weeks, and they had promised an answer within a few days. Bryon Florey, her ersatz agent, had pestered the director enough, perhaps beyond his tolerance level, clearly to no avail. The damned thing would have paid well, too.

She was 28, and her time for grabbing choice roles was rapidly slip-slipping away.

She had never heard of the play before. The King in Yellow, a two-act exercise in surrealism, produced by an unfamiliar company—Mythosphere, it was called—though she knew of the director, one Vernard Broach, who had gained notoriety two decades earlier by helming a production of Jesus Christ, Superstar that took a page from the Gospel of Phillip, in which Jesus and Mary Magdalene were engaged in an amorous relationship, portrayed quite graphically on the stage. For The King in Yellow, Kathryn had read for the part of Cassilda, the queen of a mythical city called Hastur, somewhere on or off the earth, she had no idea. She had not read the entire play, but it supposedly ended on a tragic note, and she’d always had an affinity for tragedies.

At 109th, she disembarked, her seatmate bidding her rude farewell by way of a low “Reina puta,” and had walked most of the block to her building when she felt her jacket pocket vibrating. It was Bryon on the phone.

“You got Cassilda,” came his excited voice. “She’s all yours.”

These Harpies of Carcosa: W. H. Pugmire

I smiled at the canvas on the wall, and felt the shadow of its artist at my left. “It’s interesting, isn’t it?” I told the fellow without turning to him, not wanting to take my eyes from his painting. “I’ve never known buildings to look so… tattered. The city itself oozes of self-extinction, although how a city could commit suicide is a perplexing puzzle. There is not a trace of life, except for the two sirens in the sky; and yet they look so fantastic that one guesses that they may be mere figments of twisted dreaming. Look how they hang there in the air, horribly illuminated by the lifeless light of the twin porphyry moons, those globes of ghastly reddish-purple rock. Finally, our eyes take in the figure in its yellow robe, with its pallid artificial face and arms outstretched. I cannot comprehend why his hands should be so crimson.”

I turned my head slightly and looked at the artist; and although his eyes were fixed onto his creation, I knew that he listened to my language. “Now,” I continued, “there is one minute glimmer of natural light, and yet it emanates from an artificial relic. Do you see it, there, in the corner of the canvas, like something dropped onto the road, forgotten and forsaken? Yes, the brass crown with its synthetic jewels. One feels that it sits in proxy for something more authentic. And that long knife sitting beside it looks so nasty, doesn’t it, like some implement designed exclusively for mayhem? The entire thing makes one shiver and wish for movement, for some shifting of starlight or some song of wind. But those obsidian stars in the painted sky do not crawl, of that I am certain; and the air of that deserted city, one knows, is dead and still. And yet—and yet, how captivating it seems, this painted image, how it tugs at the brain and makes one wonder how it would feel to weep beneath those black stars, to inhale the lifeless air. However did the artist come up with such an image, one wonders?”

“It’s from a play,” my companion finally spoke.

“Indeed? And where would one find this play?”

He did not hesitate in his reply, and yet he spoke as one who had lost his way in reality. “I read it in a dream. I read it aloud, and the dream took on solidity. I could hear the waves of the lake breaking on the shore, and when the wind arose I could hear the flapping of the tatters of the King, that flapping that should never be sounded. They had such a strange rhythm, and I tried to sing in accompaniment; but my mouth was dry and my voice was dead, like the lost city that festered all around me. God, the hard light of those twin moons, burning their essence onto my eyes. And when I finally awakened, I could still feel that acidic impression on my eyes; and the world looks weird, and its inhabitants look like puppets.” He then turned to me, smiled and chuckled. “Sounds completely kookoo, I confess.”

I shrugged and returned my attention to his creation. “The fantastic artist sees the world in singular ways, divorced as he is from the dull world of dreary reality. How far more creative and captivating, to live within a dream.”

The Mask of the Yellow Death: Robert M. Price

Hoyt Hefti’s ninetieth birthday was coming right up, and the founder of Layboy Enterprises and framer of the Layboy Philosophy was not planning to let the occasion go by unnoticed. He liked parties and held them constantly, filling the Layboy Mansion with curvaceous Laymates from recent years, as well as all the sports and cinema celebrities he could invite. The Big Nine-O would be special, far more exciting and extravagant than his other bacchanals. The occasion surely merited it, but that was not all. For Hef’s fortunes had begun to fade, his gleam to tarnish, in recent decades. For one thing, the competition was fierce. At first he had to deal with rival sex magazines, more of them every year, and most of these did not bother with his own Layboy’s “tasteful” and “artistic” approach. His competitors tended to be down and dirty, going straight for the sex, the cruder the better. After all, what was the whole point of such a magazine? The interviews in Layboy were interminably long, the “party jokes” moronically stupid, the kitschy merchandise too expensive. No, the whole point was sex, and Layboy’s pages didn’t have enough of it to satisfy your average masturbator, whatever his age.

But it wasn’t just raunchy rivals Townhouse and Rustler that gave Hef’s accountants headaches. There were attacks from the Left, crusades against pornography mounted by feminists and lesbians (weren’t they the same thing?) who puritanically denounced skin mags as vehicles for the oppression of women, yada yada yada. Layboy had thrown them a bone back in the 1970s by including “fact sheets” on the living party dolls displayed on his glossy pages. While stroking one’s member one could educate oneself in the fascinating matters of each model’s turnoffs, turn-ons, favorite sports and movies, etc. See? Layboy cared about the whole person and would never think of reducing her to a mere sex object. But it didn’t do much to satisfy his shrill critics.

So one might say the Layboy empire was falling on harder and harder times. The Layboy Clubs and ski lodges had closed down years ago, except for a few in Japan, where they savored the camp chic of the 1960s. But it was equally true of Hoyt Hefti himself, for he was, after all, growing increasingly wizened and infirm. Though surrounded by a bevy of nubile sex models, most of them blonde and nearly indistinguishable from each other, Hef gloried in the rays of their smiles and well-oiled breasts like an ancient potentate with a well-populated harem ostensibly evidencing his superhuman virility. But old Hef, to the considerable relief of his own harem, was these days more of an impotentate. His girls, some of whom had their own TV “reality” shows, were pure eye candy, arm candy. His dentures would not allow him to actually taste the candy. At most, his liver-spotted, claw like hands would occasionally reach out to fondle a luscious-looking boob, its buxom owner shuddering as she tried to think only of the salary (“allowance”) she would receive.

But old Hef’s brain was still pretty sharp and shrewd. And what he had planned for his birthday gala stood to meet both his needs.

Who Killed the King of Rock and Roll? : Edward Morris

Saturday night again. Hello, everybody. How y’all? Good old Erin Brew, formula ten-oh-two, northern Ohio’s largest-selling beer, makes it possible for us to be with you a whole extra half hour on Saturday nights. Pop the cap as we stumble together down our musical Memory Lane. ‘The Big Beat in American Music’ was here a hundred years ago—it will be here a thousand years after we are all gone. So! LET’S ROCK AND ROLL! All ready to rock? Atta boy. We’re gonna have a ball.

This is Alan Freed with you tonight, the Moondog, the King of the Rock & Rollers, with a hearty welcome to all our thousands of friends in northern Ohio, Ontario, Canada, western New York, western Pennsylvania, aaaand West Virgin-eye-ay. Along about eleven-thirty, we’ll be joining the Moondog Network.

Enjoy Erin brew, ten-oh-two, and the Moondog Show. And don’t sneer at crazy people. Their madness lasts longer than ours. That’s the only difference. There is only Christ to cry to now, and none to repair my reputation. Please arrange your dials of Judgment in a fulminating order to receive the Yellow Sign….

(I couldn’t be dreaming. I’ve never slept this deeply behind these damn drugs. Sometimes, I do sleep, though. Just not now….)

Tonight we are actually broadcasting live on whatever decimal fraction of the FM dial. I just learned yesterday that this control booth was here. That there was a baby transmitter. Here. That there was even a Here here, back back back in the back of the first floor of the hospital where they sent me to dry out from that yellow river where I almost drowned.

I don’t know if I’m drying out. I sleep all the time, and no matter how much they dope me I can’t relax. There are dreams. Dreams. And sleepwalks. Like the one where I woke up here. Playing with switches and trying to get a level.

I don’t know why this transmitter is in this room of this hospital, or what the breakers in this section were doing all the way on. Some of the desks and keyplates and such are stamped CIVIL DEFENSE, with one puzzling lead plate on the panel hiding this very microphone, IMPERIAL DYNASTY OF AMERICA.

It’s quiet here. They don’t know I jimmied the other entrance, the one through the broom-closet in the hall. This room is soundproof, and the Moondog can yell as loud as he wants. When I can get out of bed. Sometimes, I just scream.

Ah, you wouldn’t believe me if I told you all about this place. About what a beast that big nurse, the redhead with the bullet-bras, can be to the long-timers. She’s not on my floor, but she kind of thinks she’s security chief for the whole building. No matter how long it’s been since I even thought about a woman, I’d hate for her to catch me in a half-nelson during this broadcast. All you cats and kittens can understand, that is just too much dead air for the Moondog. Too much.

A Jaundiced Light at the End: Brian Sammons

“Billie, just keep talking to me,” Frank said into his headset as he cracked open another Mountain Dew while watching the Lakers game on the muted television to his left. “Come on, you called because you wanted to talk, right?”

Billie was one of the regulars at the suicide prevention hotline Frank volunteered at. He usually ended up talking to the perpetually depressed seventeen-year-old girl two or three times a month. She never seemed sincere about taking her life, just very sad. Still, it was hotline policy to never, ever ask anyone who called if they were serious about suicide. Everyone had to be treated like they were literally out on the ledge at the moment of the call, even if most of them, like Billie, were just lonely and desperate to have someone listen to them, if just for a little while. Still, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Frank knew all about sorry.

He shot a quick glance at the black rubber bracelets on his wrist as he pulled the can of Dew from his lips. He felt too old to still wear such gaudy things, but they did a decent job of covering up the scars.

A soft, wet sob came through Frank’s headset and that caused him to stop drinking the sugary go-juice mid-swallow. While Billie always sounded sad, she had never cried before.

Better safe than…

“Billie? Talk to me, girl, what’s got you so upset?”

Low sobs was all he heard.

“Come on, no matter what it is, if you talk to someone about it, you’ll —”

“Bullshit.” It was a thick, phlegmy word.

“What’s bullshit, Billie?”

“All of it. Everything. Life,” Billie said and then snuffled.

“No, life is not bullshit, Billie,” Frank said, the hairs on the back of his neck starting to rise. Is she for real this time? he asked himself, while he continued, “life is all we’ve got and it’s a beautiful thing. So whatever—”

“Oh bullshit! You don’t know. You don’t know where I’ve been, what I’ve seen.”

“No, no of course I don’t,” Frank said on autopilot as his mind raced behind the scenes. She sounds really bad. Do I hit the panic button and let the cops handle this?

All calls to the suicide hotline were routed to the volunteers at their homes from a central hub downtown. There was no office where people went and took calls at a switchboard. Not in this modern, wireless, and always connected age. Everyone who helped out on the hotline had a laptop provided to them, and the calls were sent through it. At a press of a button, Frank could send the caller’s phone number directly to the police where they could hopefully trace it back to an address, or use the cell phone’s GPS, if they had one. Frank was only supposed to hit this “panic button” if he felt the caller was beyond being talked down from the metaphorical ledge. Since he had started volunteering on the hotline over a year ago, he had never had to press the button.

Shit, what do I do?

“See, you’re not even listening to me,” Billie whispered.

The Viking in Yellow: Christine Morgan

Gulls cried faint and unseen through a heavy morning mist that cast all the world in damp and dripping grey. Distant waves rushed foaming upon the pebbled shore, filling the cool air with scents of salt and brine. Here, where the river widened to meet the sea, the waters mixed in eddying whorls. Ripples lapped the muddy banks. Splashes sounded where fish leaped, or struggled in the nets and traps.

Wigleof led the way from one spot to the next. His little sons followed, lugging the baskets that would soon be filled with this day’s rich catch. They whispered to each other, joking, teasing. They were good boys and dutiful, twins, sturdily built, curly-haired like their mother. He loved them well.

At their home, a small thatch-roofed hut walled in wattle and daub, Wigleof’s sweet-natured wife Aelda would be hard at work, helped by their daughters and tending the baby. Perhaps later, she’d walk to the village by the abbey, to trade smoked fish for milk, eggs and honey.

Or she might send Aeldwyn, their eldest, who greatly admired the nuns — Sister Gehilde most of all — and spoke of joining their order. Wigleof had no objections to this, though he held a private measure of doubt for her reasons. If Aeldwyn thought the life of a nun was nothing but restful prayer, candle-making, clean robes of soft wool and hymn-singing, he suspected she might be in for a surprise.

He chuckled to himself as he hauled up the first wicker-woven fish traps. They were well-full with sleek silver-scaled bodies that flapped and flailed, gulping. The boys chattered eagerly as they opened and loaded the baskets.

Then they hushed, frowning.

“Father,” said Leofric, his tone unusually subdued, “what happened to this one?”

Wigleof looked at what the boy held in his small hands. The fish did not flail, flap or gulp. “That one’s dead,” he said.

“But what happened to it?” Leofwald asked, his tone also subdued.

Expecting to find nothing out of the ordinary, Wigleof took the fish, and frowned himself. An odd oiliness sheened its skin, and its flesh felt strangely warm. He had never pulled a warm fish from the river, or from the sea. Its eyes bulged, yellow-white and murky, rather than shiny black. It might have already been partially stewed.

Upon a closer-yet inspection, he found that its fins and tail were tipped with fine barbs curved like cat’s claws, and in its mouth were not teeth but stringy tendrils. Something about it struck him as altogether loathsome, unnatural, and vile.

Lights Fade: Laurel Halbany

Julia’s reflection raised its arms. It rippled in the yellowed, uneven glass of the mirror. It turned slightly at the waist and gestured at something unseen to its right. It took a half-step, awkward and hobbled, a bird with an injured wing, and then Julia’s foot twisted under her. She flailed into the heavy wooden frame of the standing mirror and knocked it over, landing flat-out across the glass. She looked down at her reflection; for an absurd instant she worried that it might be hurt. A dull bead of blood dripped from the point of her chin and splashed the mirror.

Someone shoved the heavy back curtain aside and the other actors of the company crowded into the space. Nicole, the tallest woman in the group, did not so much shove them aside as move them by the aura of her angry presence. She looked down at Julia. “What happened?”

Julia awkwardly rolled over and sat up. “I was doing warm-ups in front of the mirror—”

“You’re not supposed to be practicing your dance,” Nicole said, practically hissing the last word. “You should be practicing your lines and practicing them sitting down until your ankle heals. We are putting on this play with a skeleton crew and nobody has time to be your understudy. Is that clear?”

Nicole spun and stalked away without waiting for an answer. The other actors milled around, avoiding her eyes. Only Kai stepped forward, regal, beautiful Kai, helping Julia to her feet.

“Sorry about that,” Kai said. She smiled an apology. “Jarré hasn’t sent any new pages of script in days and Nicole’s very upset.”

You don’t have to apologize for her just because you’re sleeping with her, Julia thought, but did not say. She mimicked a smile back, and nodded, and said nothing at all. She resisted the urge to go back and check on the mirror before she left the theater.


Julia spent the next two days sitting down. She didn’t bother to practice her lines, because there were only two. She passed the time re-reading Abelard Jarré’s other plays, the ones she had hunted down in the basements of used book stores and read to tatters when she was a drama student: Memorial Sand, Anticlast, Hour of the Oxen, even Indolence, his first and least-regarded play that was nonetheless her favorite. In the thirty-five years since releasing Manifenêtre, Jarré had written nothing. He gave no interviews and appeared in public rarely; many speculated that he was dead. Through some chain of friendships or remote relation that seemed hazy to Julia, Nicole had gained his rare favor, and Jarré picked her tiny, all-woman theater company to stage his new play Carcosa.

Bedlam in Yellow: William Meikle

It was a Friday night in the hottest July in London I could remember, and Carnacki had the windows open to let a breath of air in, although what breeze we got proved to be hot and dry, and tasted of an overly heated city. The heat had drained our appetite, and we had partaken of only a light meal of trout and green vegetables. As a result we were earlier than usual in retiring to the parlor, and had taken our normal seats, with our drinks charged and fresh smokes lit well before eight.

Carnacki wasted no time in getting to his tale.

“It is as well that we have some warmth, old friends, despite the slight discomfort it might bring,” he began. “For my tale tonight is a chilling one indeed, and I fear you will be glad of the heat by the end of it.”

“It started last Monday, with a telegram requesting my attendance at Bethlem Asylum in Southwark. The note intimated that it was a matter of some delicacy that required my particular skills, and that I would, of course, be suitably remunerated for my time. I was intrigued enough by the request to make my way by carriage to a meeting with a Doctor Donaldson, the chief medical officer of the facility.

“We are all aware of the moniker given to the Asylum by the general public—a reminder of its earlier days when the treatment of the mentally ill was not as enlightened as it is today. And like you, I have heard all the tales of mistreatment and torture, chaos and confusion. But despite any qualms I might have had about visiting the place, I was met with a calm, almost serene establishment of quiet, whitewashed corridors and nurses in clean, starched uniforms efficiently going about their business. It is a fine, well-appointed building, and Doctor Donaldson’s oak-lined library and office would not have seemed out of place in any of your town clubs.

“The doctor himself, however, was clearly in some distress, and his reason for contacting me all came out of him in a rush.

“‘It is the top floor, Mr. Carnacki,’ he said. ‘I cannot get the staff to go upstairs, especially after dark, and any patients we leave there for more than a day come away with their mental state even worse than anything they might previously have been suffering. Something strange moves through the corridors up there of an evening. There is talk of it being a haunt—and I can’t say as I disagree with them, for I have even seen something myself, although as a man of science I am loath to give voice to it being anything of a supernatural nature. I have heard that you have experience in such matters, and that you are most discreet—can you help us?’

“You chaps all know that I cannot turn down a genuine request for help—or the chance to pit my wits against a denizen of the Outer Darkness, so I gave the man my word that I would look into the matter. We shook hands on it and that same afternoon I began my investigation.”

“The top floor of Bethlem is a light and airy place by day, with high ceilings and sunlight streaming through skylights that run the whole length of the building. The walls are white and clean—almost sparklingly so, and my footsteps echoed on a polished hardwood floor as I topped the stairs and entered the main corridor. Doctor Donaldson had come up with me, but he stayed at the top of the stairs, not venturing into the hallway.

“‘I can leave you to it then?’ he asked and it was plain that the man was bally terrified, so I took pity on him.

“‘I will call into your office before I leave,’ I replied, and he was off and away down the stairs almost before I had finished speaking.

“I was left alone in the corridor, and as the sound of Donaldson’s footsteps descended away from me leaving silence behind, I became aware that there was definitely something strange in the air. I have developed a sense for these things, as you know, and I felt it straight away—a thick cloying miasma despite the sunlight, a tingling at the nape of my neck and a throbbing in my guts that all told me there was a presence here.

“I walked along the corridor, slowly, trying to intuit what it was that was affecting me so. As I reached the farthest room from the stairwell, I heard a soft voice, little more than a whisper, reciting a passage I did not recognize but which chilled my blood.

“‘Strange is the night where black stars rise,’
“‘And strange moons circle through the skies.’