Category Archives: Story

The Yellow Film: Gary McMahon

Sarajevo, 1993

The city is a warzone. There isn’t much time. He must retrieve what it is he came back for and then go. If he stays here too long, he will be discovered, and he will pay for what he has done. There are forces at work here that even he cannot understand.

He walks across the bombed-out ruins of the building and stands at its centre, staring up at the sky. The clouds are low and black, obscuring the moonlight. Directly above him, the atmosphere seems charged with energy: a slow-spinning vortex, perhaps created by the bomb blast, has created a vague whirlpool in the sky.

He smiles.

Then he picks up the camera and inspects it. The case is damaged, but the apparatus itself seems to be okay. The film, it appears, is safe inside.

Still smiling, he makes his way to the outer perimeter of the bomb site, where a jeep is waiting with its engine running. The driver does not look at him; the man is silent; his face does not move beneath his balaclava mask.

He sets down the camera on the rear seat and climbs into the jeep, resting one hand over the camera as he puts on his seat belt. Glancing one last time at the bombed-out wreckage, he nods. The jeep pulls away, wheel-spinning in the dirt.

Moments later, something in the bomb-debris stirs. A shattered piece of concrete shifts, a shard of glass breaks, what looks like a thin yellow-skinned hand emerges from the rubble and clenches into a fist against the night.


For James Fontaine, it started with pictures of other people’s tattoos on the Internet.

He was planning to make a documentary about tattoos inspired by films. Portraits of characters, actors, inked text from film quotes… whatever he could find. It was a vague idea, admittedly, and one that he was starting to think might not have much mileage. And when the hell had he ever taken a personal project to completion, anyway? It seemed like he spent his whole time researching and never actually creating anything of value, just the dull work projects he took on to pay the bills.

But then he found a photo of the tattoo titled “The Pallid Mask” and something inside him shifted, like a lever moving or a switch clicking gently into place to set off a chain of mechanical events towards an unknown purpose.

It was a single jpeg image, used as part of a brief blog article written a long time ago about a short film made over two decades in the past. There was a photograph at the end of the piece, and it showed a small man—was he a dwarf, or a midget? —with a disturbing, almost featureless yellow face tattooed across the skin of his chest. The tiny man was naked, pictured from the waist up, and standing in the time-honoured bodybuilder pose, flexing his guns. The camera lens must have been focused explicitly on the tattoo because the detail showed up so well while the man’s face was blurred by shadow. The inked image depicted a torn and tattered face wreathed in smoke, the flesh peeling away to reveal nothing but more smoke beneath. The eyes were blank. The mouth was just a gaping hole.

There was something powerful about the image. James was unable to look away. The caption under the photograph said “Tommy Urine, actor/inmate.”

“What the hell kind of name is that?” It was amusing but for some reason he didn’t feel like laughing. He dragged his attention away from the tattoo and began to read the article.

In 1993, during the Bosnian War, an underground filmmaker calling himself Phantomas Ulna apparently used the inmates from a Bosnian asylum to create a short film called “The King in Yellow,” which was an adaptation of a fictional play invented in a book of short stories by the cult author Robert W. Chambers.

Ulna (whose real name is not a matter of public record) used his (probably bribed) connections in the war-torn city of Sarajevo to gain access to an unnamed mental institution and the patients kept there. Over one weekend, he shot a reel of footage that came to be known as “The Yellow Film.” The footage has never been seen, and has in fact taken on an air of legend. Phantomas Ulna was never heard of again—many people say that he vanished, or was killed as he made his way across the city after leaving the asylum (which was bombed a few hours later). Nobody involved in the filming has ever come forward to tell of what actually happened over the course of that weekend. It is rumoured that everyone who appeared in the film died in the blast or disappeared into the chaos of the city, but it is impossible to substantiate these claims.

Nigredo: Cody Goodfellow

Few cult deprogrammers these days would even try to take someone from Ex Libris. Hardly any even call themselves deprogrammers, anymore. “Exit counselor” is the preferred title, in keeping with the warmer, fuzzier new psychology. A human brain must be more than just Descartes’ materialist cognitive model, or its feelings wouldn’t get so hurt by the truth.

My methods were not popular, but they worked. Most of my business was by referral. The clients who came to me had exhausted every other hope of recovering their loved ones. When I could not myself convince them to accept that perhaps they were healthier, more enlightened, perhaps even happy, with their new lifestyle, then I had them sign my waiver and went to work.

Ex Libris was a hard target. They didn’t greet at airports or convention centers or lurk outside euthanasia booths. They didn’t panhandle or turn tricks. Mostly, they meditated to the Master’s audiobooks while toiling in digital sweatshops up and down the coast.

Their leader was a creative writing professor. Dr. Preston Marble used the classics— “guided” meditation, hypnosis, sleep deprivation, protein starvation, mild hallucinogens and traumatic writing assignments. Ex Libris grew out of Marble’s writing seminars and his “Awakened Editions” series of classic books annotated for neurotics desperately yearning to become psychopaths, harvesting the most hopeless wanna-bes, fans and impressionable victims into a militant bibliomancy cult.

Marble’s guide to story structure translated more easily into a practical bible than the Bible, complete with interactive commandments. Every devotee had to compose an “antibiography” of everything they were not and never would be. On average, they ran to five hundred thousand words composed on no sleep and amphetamine-laced oatmeal. When your Editor finally approved your antibiography, you had to burn it and throw the ashes in the ocean or eat it.

If they used Allah, Buddha or Jesus, they’d be on FBI watch-lists, but to the outside world, they’re just a fucking book club.

Sometimes, I can dress up as a senior cult official and pull them out with no headaches. This outfit had no slack, so I cut their DSL line, then knocked on their door. Four surfers in each one-bedroom unit at all times. A van came every other day to rotate them out. Eight more places like this, just in this part of town.

Cable guy uniform. Toolbelt. Wig and mustache, cotton plugs in my cheeks, lifts in my shoes. I chloroformed the geek who answered the door, caught him, threw the deadbolt and dragged him into the living room.

No furniture except for four workstations and a couple futons in the corner. Lysol, incense and macrobiotic farts. Two were awake and pecking at their boards. Another lay on a futon with headphones on. The one I wanted.

She wore a biofeedback harness and a Cranio-Electrical Stimulation cap. They listen to his heartbeat and EEG mixed with his audiobook lectures while they work. The more her brain activity conforms to Marble’s template, the more mildly pleasurable zaps she gets from the cap.

And all while copy-editing or revising the mass media equivalent of lead-painted, asbestos infant’s teething rings. If you’ve ever watched a slab of direct-to-video dreck or mind-numbing scripted reality show patter and wondered how sane human beings can create such empty noise, well… sane people don’t.

The system also tracks bodily functions and location for the home office. Anyone unplugging their unit or wandering out of range triggers an alarm and the Editors come running.

I unplugged her and took off her headphones—Marble’s sleepy bullroarer voice reading something about an anarchist exploding himself at Greenwich Observatory. She was semi-catatonic, dead on her feet. I didn’t even need the chloroform. I stood her up and escorted her to the balcony.

Someone knocked on the front door, then tried the knob.

Out on the balcony overlooking the alley. My assistant waited on the roof of our parked van, ready to catch the product. I bagged her and lowered her over the railing.

Carl caught the bag and gave me a hand down onto the van, then jumped down and caught the product, dropping her in the back. In and out in less than two minutes.

The Penumbra of Exquisite Foulness: Tim Curran

Camilla: Oh please, please don’t unwrap it! I can’t bear it!
Cassilda: (Setting the wriggling bundle before them.) We must. He wants us to see.
Camilla: I won’t look. I refuse.
Cassilda: It squirms like an infant, but how soft it is— like a worm.
Camilla: Its lips move… but it makes no sound. Why doesn’t it make a sound?
Cassilda: (Giggling now.) It cannot. Its mouth is filled with flies.
The King in Yellow, Act I, Scene 4.

In chaos, I found purpose. In bedlam, there was purity of vision.

That is the skin of my story. And the blood and meat of my little tale is that you can only hide from insanity within the cloak of insanity. This will make precious little sense to those of you who’ve never opened the book—blessed are the meek and ignorant—but to those of you who have (and you are many, aren’t you?) it will make all the sense in this world… and out of it.

Now let me confess, let me expose the yellowed bones of my tale. Once the idea occurred to me, I had no choice but to see it through and do those things that were demanded of me. Let’s call it a cold, blind compulsion. That will sit easier with most. A mental derangement, an insanity, a stark mania. With that in mind, listen: on a perfectly ordinary Tuesday morning, I gave baby Marcus a bath. I sudsed him up and rinsed him thoroughly because a clean baby, so soft and pink and fine-smelling, was a happy baby. As he gooed and gurgled, the madness pierced me like hot needles. I tried to shake it from my head and I tried to shiver it from my body. But I couldn’t get rid of it anymore than I could shed my own skin. So, I leaned there against the tub, a sweat that was foul-smelling and cool running from my pores.

It was communion. Something—I dare not say what—had made me part of it. I had been named, chosen. And in my head, a voice, a very soft and smooth voice said to me, The King comes now. He comes for what is his and you are made ready.

In my head, a fathomless darkness sucked my mind into nether regions and I saw black stars hanging over a gutted landscape. My hands were no longer my own but instruments of something malevolent that crowded the thoughts from my brain. They—the hands, looking jaundiced and almost scaly in the weak bathroom fluorescents—seized Marcus by the throat and held him beneath the sudsy water until he stopped moving, until his cherubic face was erased and replaced with that of a bluing corpse-child, lips blackening and pink skin mottled, eyes like staring black holes looking straight into the vortex of my soul.

Once the act was complete, I sat there, tears running down my face.

Sobbing and whimpering, I studied the hands that had just murdered my darling little boy. I studied them in detail, knowing they were not my hands but those of another, one that did not belong but crept in silent, silken moonlight. Baby Marcus sank like a rock. That is crude, but perfectly descriptive. He would resurface, I knew, when the time was right. And in my horror, I could almost envision that moment: his puckered face breaking the tepid, bubbly water like lips parting, his voice cutting deep into my brain like a scalpel.

The hot needles burning deeper, fed by the kindling of unspeakable guilt, I opened my wrists with a razor, staring at the corpse of my baby drifting like a swollen dead cod at the bottom of the tub. As blood bubbled from my gashed arteries in scarlet rivulets and freshets, I dipped a skeletal white digit into the ragged, spurting inkwell of my left wrist until it was dyed a brilliant red. The vibrancy of my glistening fingertip fascinated me. Without further ado, while the ink of life was still wet and running, I sketched out the form of a simple stick man on the white tile wall of the bathroom in slashes of crimson. It wasn’t until I had drawn in the ruby blobs of its eyes and the tattered mantle blowing out from it that I began to scream. For it was then that my stick figure became something much more and I saw it move as it has moved in my nightmares ever since.

As I slowly came out of it, there was panic. Night-winged panic that filled my brain like mulling bats. It filled my mind until it seemed I had no mind. Grimly, with great burning intensity, I held onto my sanity as reality flew apart inside my head and out of it. I screamed again. I must have screamed for I heard a voice echoing amongst the black and uneasy stars that pressed in from all sides. The walls of the room were gone. And when I looked up, there was no ceiling, there was no roof above, only the inverted sickle of a scarlet moon dripping its black blood onto my face.

Later, after my neighbor called 911, I was stitched-up—much against my feeble will.

A Biting Cold: Brian M. Sammons

“So what’s a Seal doing on a rescue mission?” Lieutenant Kray shouted over the whup, whup, whup of the helicopter’s spinning blades. The man who usually led this six-man rescue team did not like the stranger sitting across from him in the Sikorsky Seahawk. Not one little bit. Kray had heard that the Navy Seal had flown down from the States and had talked to the McMurdo base commander even before he and his men had finished prepping the rescue chopper, and Kray’s men moved fast when lives were on the line. Then the dust-off was held until the Seal, one Lieutenant Robert Lynch, came aboard, told Kray that he was taking operational command of the mission, and issued each man a winterized M4 carbine. All of the Navy rescuers were trained in the use of the assault rifle, but as sailors who specialized in saving lives, not taking them, they usually only packed a sidearm. The added firepower left Kray’s men with questions, and unanswered questions got people killed. Kray was determined to get some answers before the skids touched the snow at the Hamilton Research Station.

Lt. Lynch did not answer Kray. He was sitting with his head leaned back against the shuddering wall of the helicopter with his eyes closed. Kray didn’t give a damn if the other man was trying to sleep, so he kicked his boot with his own and shouted again.

“I said what’s a Seal doing here? Where the hell is the rest of your team and why are you overseeing a rescue mission of civilian scientists?”

“I heard you the first time, Lieutenant,” the Seal said as he opened his eyes and brought his head down to look at Kray. “Sorry, but I’ve been on four airplanes for over twenty hours. Jet lagged does not even begin to cover how I feel,” Lynch said with a smile. It looked like an honest attempt at being friendly, but it did little to dull the edge in Kray’s voice.

“How the hell can that be? We only received the distress call three hours ago.”

“It was sent out over forty-eight hours ago. It was too weak to reach you and was first picked up by a closer Brazilian base who forwarded it on to us. That put me in motion, and as I neared Antarctica, it was then forwarded on to you to get you ready.” Lynch said.

“Wait, what? Why the hell were we not notified of a distress call until two days later?” Kray said, anger rising inside him. He then thought for a second before adding, “And who is this ‘we’ that got notified before us, and why did we have to wait for you? Who the fuck are you?”

Lynch looked into Kray’s eyes and held the rescue man’s gaze. He did not blink or look away. As for Kray, he could see that the Seal was weary, but also alert, calm, and composed. “Well ‘we’ are the Navy. As for me, I’m a Seal, but you knew that already. As for why you were not notified until I was en route, that was so I could take command of this mission. Any other questions?” Lynch said without a hint of sarcasm. His matter of fact demeanor only served to enrage Kray more.

“God damn it, that doesn’t answer anything! Why are you here? If this is a Seal combat mission, where is the rest of your team?”

“I was the only one close by,” Lynch said.

“Bullshit, if you had to fly twenty hours to get here, you sure as hell weren’t ‘close’.”

The Seal smiled slightly. It looked like he was impressed that Kray had picked up on that, rather than being upset he had been caught in a lie.

Lieutenant Kray continued, “Why are my men carrying M4s? We’re Navy, but we’re primary a noncombat unit.”

“You and your men were the only ones close by.” Lynch said calmly, coldly.

“Do you know what happened out at Hamilton Station? I sure as hell don’t. If we’re going into a dangerous situation, as your presence and these weapons suggest that we are, my men and I have a right to know what to expect.”

Lynch sat motionless and Kray could all but see the gears turning inside the man’s head. He was weighing whatever secret bullshit he knew with his desire to not see fellow Navy men put into harm’s way without knowing the full score. Kray guessed that the Seal wasn’t a bad man, but that didn’t necessarily make him a good one.

After several long, silent moments, Lynch spoke.

“There could be some danger, but we don’t know for sure. It could be a danger you can’t even begin to imagine, or it could be nothing. I am here because I’m one of the few people who have dealt with stuff like this before and survived. Threats like this are exceptionally rare, but not completely unknown to certain people in Washington. You ever hear about the Miskatonic University Expedition down here in the 30s?”

Kray blinked, trying to take in and make sense of what the Seal just told him. “No, never heard of it.”

“I’m not surprised. It was a very public undertaking back in the day, but then that was a long time ago. It made the papers and the radios, especially after a good chunk of the expedition died. Back then the government didn’t have the tight grip on the media it does today, so some of the details got out and caused an uproar. That’s when the government did take notice, and after that they tried their best to make it all disappear. I’m telling you this because it’s not classified, just sort of hidden. If you want to find the info on what happened back then, or what people believe happened, you can if you dig deep enough.”

“So what happened to the expedition?” Kray asked.

“Officially that is classified, and I’m sorry, but I can’t tell you.” Lynch said with a slight frown. “Unofficially it is known that a bunch of people died and the expedition came home. Several people were hospitalized, others were institutionalized, and still others just sort of disappeared after a while.”

The Danforth Project: Stephen Mark Rainey

October 31; 19:47

“I don’t know what we’re seeing. I know what it looks like.”

Christine Danforth, founder and CEO of Geo-Astra, Inc., stood before a pair of side-by-side projected images on the conference room wall, her eyes scanning the faces in the room, clearly expecting a definitive answer to the mystery that had brought them all together. Mid-forties, an attractive brunette with huge, inquisitive hazel eyes, she appeared composed, stern; but when she lifted a metal pointer and tapped the wall to emphasize her point, her hand trembled slightly. Lieutenant Colonel Henry Dyer, U.S. Air Force, thought her eyes might have flickered toward his for the briefest second.

The satellite photo on the left showed a pale, gradated surface laced with crescent-shaped shadows, which suggested a series of small ridges, while the image on the right showed an array of jagged, saw-tooth shadows jutting across a mottled gray plain. Time stamps on the photos indicated they had been taken fifteen minutes apart, at 21:15 and 21:30, some six days earlier.

“These images are from surveying satellite GAOS-12, now in geosynchronous orbit. The center point of both images is latitude south 76 degrees 15 minutes, longitude east 113 degrees 10 minutes.”

Dyer leaned forward, as did the other three men and two women seated at the conference table, as if peering more deeply into the images might reveal some dark secret. Alek Gudmundson, chairman of Miskatonic University’s mathematics department, hesitated a moment before demanding the inevitable clarifying remark.

“You’re saying both photos are of the same geographic region, taken a few minutes apart?”

“Yes.”

“Though these are two very different landscapes.”

“So it appears.”

Gudmundson was tall and gaunt—surely close to retirement age, Dyer thought. His glasses enlarged his eyes so they resembled blue-painted Ping Pong balls. “Obviously,” he finally said, “you’ve ruled out the possibility of an electronic glitch, or we wouldn’t be here.”

“Correct. At 21:27, we detected a few millimeters’ alteration in the satellite’s attitude, possibly due to an impact of some sort. A particle of space junk, we think. We made a remote correction, but for a period of minutes, we were receiving the image you see on the right. Of course, we thought it was a glitch due to the impact. But subsequent testing proved that the lens assembly had not shifted—that the center coordinates of both images are, in fact, precisely the same. And, to the best of our knowledge, the mountain range you see in this photo simply does not exist. Not on the continent of Antarctica. Or anywhere else on Earth.”

The ensuing silence was finally broken when Dr. Sadao Takashima, a zoologist from Okayama, Japan, snapped the pen he was holding in two.

“Doctor?” Danforth said, raising an eyebrow. “Something you wish to share?”

Takashima, his features youthful but shadowed by long, brittle-looking gray hair, shook his head. “No. Not yet.”

“I have something.” Dyer rose from his chair and gave Danforth a searing glare. “You know as well as I do what you think you’re looking at.”

“We all do,” said Dr. Elizabeth Carter, psychiatrist,

magna cum laude

graduate of Miskatonic. “It’s just that, by all rights, it’s not physically possible.”

“‘The Mountains of Madness.’ That’s what your great-grandfather called them,” Nishant Khandar, Geo-Astra’s chief physicist, said to Dyer.

“Which do not exist,” Dyer said. “Every inch of Antarctica has been explored, mapped, photographed, and digitally scanned. Most every country on Earth has a base there. There’s a freaking geocache at the South Pole, for God’s sake. As soon as my great-grandfather’s treatise was brought to light, it was rejected as either a hoax or delusional raving. I favor the former explanation, by the way.”

“What if you are wrong?” Takashima said, turning to gaze at Dyer. “What about the artifacts he brought back? The photographs?”

“All the more reason to consider it a hoax.”

“Some experts disagreed,” Khandar said. “Is that not right?”

“That is right,” Takashima said softly. “And I personally believe it was not a hoax.”

“Go on,” Danforth said, peering intently at him. “This is why you are here.”

Takashima sat back in his chair, closed his eyes, and lifted a cigarette to his lips. “Yes, I know there is no smoking here,” he said, without opening his eyes. “I beg your indulgence.” From his pocket, he produced an ancient butane lighter and a small metal ashtray, and then lit his cigarette with infuriating deliberation. Only after several long drags did he deign to speak again.

“Near the end of World War II, my grandfather was serving aboard an Imperial Japanese Navy destroyer. Japan was critically short of oil, and the military government believed there were great reserves to be found in Antarctica. In 1944, an expedition brought back promising results from the Ross Sea. So in early ’45, they deployed two teams, one to build a derrick in McMurdo Sound and another to begin exploratory drilling farther inland, past the Transantarctic Mountains. My grandfather’s destroyer was one of the escort ships, specially adapted to operate in the ice. The first expedition had discovered a channel near the original Scott base, which led through the mountains, and they went in for many miles without discovering its end. The experts believed it would lead them to the plains of Victoria Land. But they had seriously overestimated their ability to deal with the conditions there. One of the Japan Oil Company ships took serious damage. Both teams were forced to abandon their missions.”

Dyer said dryly, “There is no such channel inland from the Ross Sea.”

“Certainly not now,” Takashima said.

Static: Will Murray

With the steady retreating of the polar icecaps, diverse governments rushed in to stake claims to vast tracts that were formally forbidding moonscapes of uninhabitable ice.

New fishing zones were opened up. Fields of land, locked under thick glacial crusts for millennia, became exposed and their virgin mining and mineral potentials were avidly sought.

Minor skirmishes broke out between nations over areas previously too barren to warrant economic consideration. Battles were fought on land, on the high seas and in United Nations back rooms, as well as vocally over the airwaves.

All that constituted unimportant backdrop to the true threat to mankind.

Deep in Antarctica, the thinning ice exposed new continental quadrants holding subterranean vaults belonging to the race of star-headed beings called the Great Old Ones by their so-called discoverers, the infamous Miskatonic University Expedition of 1930-31.

The opening of these previously-unexplored preserves fell under the operational aegis of the Cryptic Events Evaluation Section of the National Reconnaissance Office. Low-orbit NRO satellites had initially detected the denuding of a portion of the megalithic proto-city that had flourished eons before the last pole shift.

I was called into the office of the Director in our Chantilly, Virginia headquarters and briefed.

“Banis, you’re on a C-130 headed to the South Pole Station within an hour. It’s waiting for you at Andrews Air Force Base.”

I didn’t blink an eye. I was used to moving fast in order to deal with External Threats—Crypticspeak for Extra-Solar menaces and other-dimensional incursions.

“I’ll pack an extra sweater,” I said dryly. No matter how I pitched my humor, the Director seemed impervious. But what can you expect from a guy who requires regular exorcisms the way you and I need to scan our home computers for viruses?

He didn’t disappoint me this time. “Do that. Here’s the drill: We have a team already on-site. They’ve encountered anomalous material they can’t decipher with mundane methods. Maybe you can break through the block.”

“What kind of team?” I asked.

“Exo-archeologists. That’s all you need to know. They’ll fill in the rest down under.”

I didn’t bother correcting his geography. I just said, “I’ll bring an extra deck of Tarot cards.”

I did bring an extra deck. A Rohrig. My war deck, I called it. But I just used it to pass the time as the C-130 blundered south to the pole, rattling all the way down to the Antarctic Circle.

I had started with CEES as a Cartomancer First Class, back when Special Powers was a pilot program. The Old Guard fought it tooth and nail. Time passed. After a decade or so of casualties and fatalities, the Old Guard fell by the wayside and the psychic operatives moved up in the ranks.

Now we were the normals. Not that we really were. But growing threats meant adapting to new challenges. Multisensory applications were the only ones that seemed to work any more.

We landed at the McMurdo Sound Station on the edge of Antarctica for final refueling and to be fitted with skiis. I was no fool. The C-130 was heated, so I stayed on board. I would have my taste of the true South Pole soon enough.

On the last leg, I slept in a netting hammock, waking up only when the great engines changed pitch for landing and the entire aircraft rumbled as it made contact with a skiway.

When the drop gate yawned open, I was blown back by a blast of cold air, and several mittened hands reached in to drag me out.

My beard and cheeks frosted over immediately. I had to shut my mouth to keep the tip of my tongue from freezing, too.

“Banis Power?”

I nodded.

“Come on. There’s a Sea Stallion helicopter waiting for us. No time to lose.”

I had been looking forward to the comparative warmth of the cluster of regulation buildings that constituted the South Pole Station since they tore down the big geodesic dome. But once they bundled me into the Sea Stallion, I was fine with that.

I shook hands with a bunch of frozen beards like myself. There was one woman. She introduced herself as team leader.

“Kim Greene. We’re headed directly to the dig. Hope you don’t mind.”

“Have I a choice?”

The way she laughed said No. I took her for a Sagittarius, and since I needed to warm up, I put it to her for validation.

“Sag Sun?”

“No. Rising. Leo Sun.”

I laughed it off. “Close enough for government work.”

We both laughed. Then she grew serious.

“We discovered a fortress west of the great plateau. Dome shaped. Intact. One way in and one way out. Interior consists of a winding hall running to the center in a spiral.”

Receiving a flash impression of a mollusk, I asked, “Like a sea snail shell?”

“You got it. Along the walls on either side are bas-reliefs of a kind we date from the later period of habitation, during the Jurassic era. We think they’re important. But there appears to be some defacing of the carvings at critical points. We don’t know what’s missing, but we hope you can help visualize the absent designs.”

I got it then. In dealing with essentially alien bas-reliefs, even experts couldn’t deduce or adduce what was missing from the surviving work. That was my job.

Tekeli-Li!: Edward Morris

FADE IN: INT, STUDIO SOUND STAGE, DAY

NARRATOR paces, smoking and looking pensive. NARRATOR is ROD SERLING.

ROD SERLING: Tonight’s hour-long special broadcast was originally written in Nineteen and Thirty-One, by a gentleman from New England whose imagination was too big for his time. It is brought to the CBS screen by a good friend of mine, another great writer, Charles Beaumont, and a star-studded cast.
I told Chuck no one else could do this like he could. Chuck says, ‘No one’s going to.’
Material may be strong for some viewers. Please use your discretion. And enjoy the show. Based on At The Mountains of Madness, the great novel of Cosmic Horror by Howard Phillips Lovecraft, we present “Tekeli-Li!”

DISSOLVE TO: STOCK OPENING “TWILIGHT ZONE” MONTAGE

CUE OPENING THEME:

ROD SERLING (Voice-Over): You are about to leave the last hint of the known world behind, and enter a haunted, accursed realm where Life, Death, Space and Time, have made blasphemous pacts in the unknown aeons since Life first wriggled and flopped in the primal steaming waters as the continents slid across the planet like butter on a hot skillet. The stars overhead are not of this Earth… but of the Twilight Zone.

SLATE: “TEKELI-LI!”
STARRING:
DARREN MCGAVIN as DR. DERLETH
PAUL PETERSEN as HOWIE
VINCENT PRICE as DR. PICKMAN
HENRY DANIELL as DR. WAITE
and SLIM PICKENS as GEDNEY

FADE DOWN OPENING THEME. FADE IN: INT, BEAUMONT HOME; WOODLAND HILLS, CALIFORNIA,
NIGHT
SLATE: AUGUST 13, 1963

Chuck leans back in his leather office chair, massaging his temples. Under his fingers, his chestnut hair is going gray there, nowhere else. Slowly. He catches sight of his reflection in the window-glass. Outside his window, two houses away, a transistor radio is playing the Drifters’ “This Magic Moment”, but he hears the song only as white noise.

Chuck’s been preoccupied tonight. He doesn’t want to have to admit the headache has returned. Not now. God damn it, not tonight.

Tonight feels like a dream, like everything is just that tiny bit off, down the rabbit hole, as clear as it is utterly unearthly. Perhaps the headache will keep him awake to finish. They almost invariably do. But magic moments come with them, and sometimes decide to stay.

When the headaches come, Chuck feels like a child with a nosebleed, or a case of the mumps. Like a child who had to go and get meningitis, and make his poor mother work so hard she had to get… mad, a little mad, sometimes mad enough to punish him. He never told Dad about those punishments. Dad must have known. He must have known something.

Mom called him a faker. Mom made him put on… those clothes, the wig. Made him go about in a dress until he said he was sorry, or she’d do for poor little Belshazzar with strychnine in the Alpo. A man didn’t talk about those things with anyone, not when a parent went crazy like that.

All right, parents. And the creepy Aunts up in Washington wondered why he got so twitchy when they tried to tease their foundling, after he stopped living with Mom and Dad. He couldn’t tell them, and Grandmother knew enough to keep quiet.

A man didn’t talk about those things with other people. Only on the page. “Better this present than a past like that.” Chuck mutters into the silence of his own studio. Lovecraft’s father died of syphilis on a nut ward, he thinks for the thousandth time, staring at the typer and waiting for the red cloud to clear.

He’d seen a picture of the young writer in pigtails and a middy blouse, never explained, a half-forgotten plate in an old collection. The Providence Spook had crazy parents, too, and aunts who tried to clean up the mess.

As he thinks this, the thought gives rise to thoughts of several other kinds. He is so consumed, he barely has time to scribble them down, right on the typescript of his notes for the teleplay.

Chuck snickers. It’s coming easier now. He can’t believe how easy any of this is. This show, this new show of Rod’s, is the greatest gift anyone ever dropped into Chuck’s lap, or Dick Matheson’s lap, or any of the boys in that gang.

Even Chuck’s own kids get as ramped-up as he does when a new episode comes closer and closer to air-time. His wonderful, long-suffering wife Helen wept when she saw a younger version of him, played by an actor, suddenly popped out of his Walter Mitty job by a little wooden doll coming to life and playing a clavichord.

Everyone loved what he and his friends were doing, and the stick of female dynamite who was his best editor loved it best of all. And in workshop, Richard Matheson kept him honest, or he kept Dick honest, or somewhere in between.

One of the two of them was always going under the earth to mine raw ideas, while one stayed above to weigh them and clean them. Like sparring-partners. “Or like a drag race,” Chuck grins tiredly. “Like a couple of goddamn J.D. kids drag-racing.”

The teasing doesn’t touch his heart. What does is the chance he has been given to take so many chances, the buffer that Rod Serling makes between the writers and the network execs as thick and strong as a mountain.

Like their writing workshop. Chuck thinks of the way everyone in that room looks at him sometimes. Like he was a real writer like Bradbury, or that young fireball Harlan Ellison. Like he, Chuck, was somehow responsible for anything the rest of them were doing. Like he was…

But he can’t say it. Not even to himself.

BOOM. BOOM. The headache starts up again at the base of Chuck’s skull, twisting red fibers down his spine.

Not now. God damn it, not tonight. The kids are doing homework or in bed. Helen just cut the label on a bottle of Scots whisky that was almost as old as he was.

The Leonid meteors were supposed to fall tonight, or the Perseids, or some -id or other. He was lucky he could remember she’d asked him to come watch them on the lanai, let alone what month it was for meteors. There were stories to get out, checks to collect…

But Poverty hasn’t been Chuck’s real motor for a little while. Chuck knows what his real motor is, and keeps it finely tuned and oiled. He learned that motor from the ground up.

It was never the money, the girl to impress, the mouths to feed. Chuck came to wind that motor out, to push the red, and if he went down in flames it would be at speeds no other human being was capable of the bare-wires courage to even attempt…

Into the Black: William Meikle

I don’t expect you to believe all of what I have to tell you—after all, I’m not even sure I believe it myself. But what follows here is as true and accurate an attempt at some kind of clarity as I can muster. Whether it is enough to deter you from the course of action you seem hell bent on following, only you can decide. Know this—I intend to be as distant from that dashed place as is humanly possible if and when you make a fresh expedition there.

You already know why we were there, so I shall gloss over the basics and get to the pertinent part. Our problems began a month after drilling started. Hodgson’s new screw bit worked superbly, and we were growing increasingly confident that the latest British Expedition was going to go down in history as the one which finally pierced the secrets which lay hidden under the ice on the Antarctic Shelf. We passed the four hundred yards depth and kept going straight on, setting a new drilling depth record in the process. But there was no time for celebration just then. We were men on a mission—a mission of discovery.

Indeed, that morning brought a breakthrough we had not foreseen, for we thought that our drilling might come to an abrupt end when we hit bedrock, so I was most surprised when I stood over the drill head and heard a distinct gurgling in the shaft, coming up from the depths. The drill’s fixtures rattled and shook, and I urged the others to retreat a safe distance, but in the end it was all rather anti-climactic as there was merely a small burp leaving a puddle of water, already starting to freeze, for six feet around the shaft.

We hurried to collect what samples we could before the cold could take its toll, but I was dismayed to find on getting them back inside to the lab that much of it was just so much crushed ice and slushy water. My dismay was fortunately short lived, and a quick look under the microscope soon had me excited again—for there was clearly life on the slide I had prepared, life brought up from the depths where it had lain for ages too long to comprehend. I saw diatoms and algae, amoebae and hydra, a veritable profusion of microscopic life, such things as had never been thought possible in such a harsh environment. And as the water heated up under the light stage of the microscope, so things began to get more frantic under the slide. Frenzy and fights for survival replaced the torpor of the deeps; a long awaited spring was sprung.

And that was when I caught my first glimpse of the thing.

It was so tiny at first that I took it for a mere speck of mineral brought up with the water, too small to allow me to make out any features even under the scope’s highest magnification. But it quickly became apparent that, although it was small, it was moving under its own volition—it was, in some sense, alive. Even as I watched it the mote made its way swiftly across my field of view, moving with what seemed like singular intent, embedding itself deep inside a spinning Volvox colony. The result was startling and immediate. The colony went from green to black in an instant, the individual cells subsumed into a smooth-surfaced oily globe that spun slowly and glistened in the faintest rainbow aura. I had to look twice to make sure it was still there, for I could not quite bring myself to believe what I had just witnessed. But there was one fact of which I was certain—I currently had something completely unknown to modern science under my microscope, and much as I could hardly take my eyes off it, I had to tell someone&mash;anyone. I left the lab and went out into the corridor. Hodgson was there, stowing his outside gear in his locker.

“Quick, man—you have to see this—you won’t believe what we’ve found.”

I was gone for less than thirty seconds, barely enough time for Hodgson to close his locker and follow me back into the lab. The black stuff had been busy in my absence. The slide, the light stage and an area some six inches in diameter around the base of the microscope was now coated, black and oily and glistening, giving off the same faint shimmering rainbow aura I had seen through the lens. I instinctively started to back away but Hodgson wasn’t quite so quick—perhaps it was because he was unused to laboratory procedures, perhaps it was no more than simple curiosity—or perhaps the glazed look I thought I saw in his eyes had a more disturbing cause. The last was something I only thought about much later, but whatever the case, Hodgson had stepped over to the microscope before I had time to stop him. He put a hand on the counter some ten inches to one side of the scope as he bent over to have a closer look. The black stuff flowed, smoothly, like Mercury across glass, and engulfed the hand before he had a chance to pull it away. Hodgson turned towards me—the glazed look had gone, if it had indeed ever been there, to be replaced by confusion.

“What in blazes is this?” he said. Those were his last words—the black stuff surged up his body—I can describe it no other way, and was over his mouth and nose before he took another breath. Hodgson made a grab for the counter, missed and pulled the microscope with him as he fell to the floor, his heels drumming twice on the linoleum then going still. Black stuff foamed and bubbled in his mouth for a long second—then vanished down his throat.

It was only then I remembered my training, and instinct took over. I backed out the door, slammed and locked it, and hit the emergency alarm by my left hand. John Greer arrived twenty seconds later. He was just in time to see what the black did to poor Hodgson.

It was almost like watching a speeded up film of a body turning to Corruption—his chest caved in under his clothing, and his skin, what we could see of it, writhed and swelled as if infested by a small army of burrowing insects. Then the black came out, oozing like diseased sweat, small beads at first, then rivulets that tore at flesh, rendering it into so much mincemeat before running to the linoleum. It spread tendrils, moving faster than if it had been a mere spillage of liquid—moving purposefully, as if looking for something else on which to feed. What had mere seconds ago been a pinprick was now pints—perhaps even a gallon— of oozing, pitch black, fluidity.

“Freeze it. Do it now,” Greer said softly.

“But Hodgson…”

“Is gone and you know it. Freeze it, before it’s too late.”

Our purge procedure was a simple one. I pushed the button, and heard a hiss as the liquid nitrogen was released. The viewing window in the door fogged up for a second, and I had a moment of panic, stepping back quickly and checking at my feet, for I was sure that the black had made its way under the door. But there was only an increasing blast of cold, and when the window cleared it showed a dark mass of mangled flesh and frozen tissue.

It had been my best friend mere minutes before.

Garden of the Gods: Cody Goodfellow

In perfect stillness and absolute cold, not a molecule stirring, the Scientist sleeps. Then, fire and alarms, vibration and pain. Out of a dreamless sleep of one hundred million years, it awakens.

Layers of nitrogen hoarfrost crack and melt away from the hermetic cocoon, which in turn vaporizes and disgorges its occupant into the buried ruin of the research outpost it once maintained.

Extremities still frozen solid, yet it springs to full alertness, reaching out with its ruthlessly curious mind for the psychic spoor of its mates. Total silence scours away its instinctual arrogance. As sensory stalks and locomotive tentacles finally begin to thaw, it shambles to the airlock.

The outpost is buried in stone, but daylight pours down through a shaft bored out of the strata of granite and basalt… by design.

Shock follows shock with its first glimpse of the world. The crisp, alpine air and barren, broken terrain suggest that eons of geological flux have wrested its resting place high above its previous altitude and buried it, only to be excavated—

It considers, only now, the absence of any recognizable organisms. None of its own kind are present for its emergence, and it tastes no spore-sign, senses no echo of the reassuring vibratory tongue of its race on the aether. Obscene! To have been abandoned, to be greeted by slaves—

For such it judges the mesothermic bipeds that cower before it in manifest awe; for are not all the species of this earth but the products, or by-products, of its ancestors’ masterful designs, created to serve at their pleasure?

Though their construction is so novel and unnerving that he must strangle the impulse to smash them—how can such things walk upright? —yet the more rational facets of its mind extrapolate the span of breeding necessary for such things to be shaped—a few hundred generations if farmed, several million, if spontaneously evolved—but such aberrations as these would never be tolerated, never trusted. Though the puny projectile weapons they hurl at it are hardly an annoyance, they make it clear by their behavior that they are neither slaves, nor feral beasts.

The Scientist senses meaningful patterns in the shrill, howling cries of the creatures fleeing up the tiered walls of the enormous open pit. It studies the crude artifice of their tools, and recoils from the stench of sentience—the telltale signs of that insidious neural rot that ever claimed the finest of their fruits. Most unnerving, yet useful— It unfurls its wings and locomotive tentacles to present its pure radial form in all its majesty, towering over the awestruck hominids in a tableau embedded in their genetic code long before their remotest ancestors emerged from the sea, and blasts them with a raw wave of untempered psychic force. Half of the feeble minds it touches are instantly snuffed out, and it is riven with awe and elation, at both their highly advanced sentience, and their fragility.

From the labyrinthine bladders in its massive, barrel-shaped trunk, it expels a breath pregnant with an aerosolized viral command. Inhaling it, touching it, the surviving hominids fall in a herd to their knees, and the Scientist takes comfort that this much, at least, is unchanged.

This world is still ours.

Gedney: Laurence J. Cornford

Letter to Edward Lyle of Brown University:

Dear Edward,

Having now had time to examine the full archive of the Starkweather-Moore Expedition, I can say that I think it would make a fine web site. There is an abundance of material including diaries, reports, manifests, photographs, drawings, logs and the surviving gramophone recordings, all of which would make an excellent immersive account of early polar expedition. Indeed, there is considerably more material than from the Miskatonic’s disastrous expedition of only a few years earlier, and upon which the Starkweather-Moore Expedition was to build.

I would advise that the connections with the 1931 Miskatonic trip and the sensation caused by Professor William Dyer’s press briefings at the time be downplayed. The opinion of the time was that Dyer suffered a mental collapse upon his return from Antarctica, and these unfortunate events only mar the beginning of the expedition. They can probably be dealt with quickly, despite the interest of conspiracy theorists and cranks looking for lost pre-human cities in Professor Dyer’s statements. I think we should not seek to encourage such people with the site. After all, the clinching proof that Dyer was unwell lies in his claim that there was a mountain range taller than the Himalayas on Antarctica—if so where is it! Starkweather and Moore report nothing of the kind. Nor did the Second Byrd Expedition later the same year. How can the world’s biggest mountain range vanish in the space of three years? Unless an enormous piece of the physics puzzle is missing, then the only rational answer is that Dyer’s account was fiction.

If the conspiracy theorists could see the whole archive, they would certainly make much of the subjective impressions of the explorers. Indeed, although nowhere near as eventful as the 1931 expedition, there are still a number of odd events recounted in diaries, such as the account of the frozen bodies of many hundreds of penguins, apparently crushed or bitten, covering an icy inland plain. Or the sound of aeroplanes heard at night, although none of the team’s planes were flying at the time. Of course, the Starkweather-Moore Expedition was not the only one in the region at the time, but even so, these reports are curious.

Perhaps most curious is what was reported to have happened at Base 2. Base 2 was a storage dump and refueling point for ferrying supplies further inland, and as such it had only a three-man crew (using the old lighthouse keeper principle that if one person was fatally injured, the remaining men would still be able to support each other until help came). Probably the last thing any of them expected was for some stranger to come walking out of the ice and into their camp. Yet that is exactly what happened on the morning of December 28 1933.

They hadn’t been keeping any sort of a lookout, as they were not expecting anyone to arrive from the expedition. They saw him on the edge of the camp shuffling with awkward movements towards the main building, his clothing heavily rimed with frost. Quickly they ran to help him inside. The first thought was the man was in a bad way, heavily frostbitten, and they set about the process of warming him up. He seemed to recover quickly and showed no signs of long-term harm. He is described in journals as having the physique of a none too successful pugilist. They estimated that he was just over six feet tall, and thick-set, with rough-hewn features, although his ears were not the “cauliflower ear” of many boxers. Nor did they see signs of scarring to indicate fighting, accident, frostbite, or any major adverse effect from his long exposure to cold.

He spoke like a man unused to speaking. They were most shocked when he gave his name: Gedney. He claimed to be a survivor of the Miskatonic Expedition.