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My long, spindly legs silently clamber across the crumbling wall of the basement wall as I stalk my prey. A few more strides, and I sink my fangs deep into the side of my helpless victim’s abdomen as it uselessly struggles to free itself from my grip.
But I haven’t always been in this hideous body; once, I too, was human. That is, until I reached the nowhere town of Worshire, a desolate place surrounded on all fronts by an eerie forest landscape. Upon my arrival and exploration, I instantly concluded that this would be the perfect town to resume my work.
“See ya tomor’uh, Sam,” the last drunkard slurs as he crawls his way out of the old tavern. “I’ll be ‘ere in the mornin’…” Helping him up to his feet, I guide him to his car before walking back to the tavern, sitting on one of the filthy tabletops and coughing to draw the owner’s attention. “Hey, I’ve never seen you before,” he said as he continued wiping down the countertop and picking up beer mugs and shot glasses. “You’re the first traveler in months.” He moves on to the table. “But I’m just closing down the place, sorry. I’m going to need you to leave.”
“Actually, I didn’t come here for drinks.”
He cocks his head. “Well, then, mister, why exactly did you come in?” Walking over to the door, I flip over the sign so that it displays CLOSED to those outside and lock the door, pulling out a peculiar pocket watch from my coat pocket.
“I noticed that there aren’t any inns in this town, but it’s already night, and searching the forest for another place is out of the question…” I begin swaying it back and forth in front of his face, and his pupils slowly dilate before me.
“How about you just let me live here? In the cellar?” He tries to resist, and his eyes twitch, but the overwhelming power of the pocketwatch proves to be too much, and he is completely at my whim. “I’ll… clean out… the booze….” A few hours later, the cellar is cleared out, and all of my costly equipment has been set up and is ready for use.
After a few hours’ sleep, I begin my work by setting small traps throughout the forest surrounding the town, strategically placing them beneath trees, in the bushes, and around any holes I notice in the soil. A day of waiting has passed, and I go throughout the area, harvesting the traps of their precious contents, and carefully carry them back to the cellar to begin my work.
The first trap to open contains an angry squirrel, and as soon as I open it, I put down restrainers on its limbs, pinning it against the wall as I pull out my journal from my desk, opening the drawer beneath it and retrieving a scalpel before making the first incision, splitting open the lower abdomen and pouring a stream of blood down into a bowl on the desk I had set up to catch it.
As its useless screams rang out into the night, I used its blood as that night’s ink, and wrote out a long maze of symbols and diagrams in a language long forgotten, one which must never be spoken aloud.
In the silent mouth of my mind, I read aloud as I write, and the lights of the unseen things that go bump in the night illuminated the room.
This work of mine continued unchallenged in the town for weeks on end, work which brought me some twisted sensation of bliss as the pages of the journal grow heavy with the blood of the animals.
Until, that is, a travelling circus troupe came through town on tour. Apparently, one of their bizarre creatures had escaped from their moldy tent, and found its way between the teeth of one of my numerous traps. At first, I consider returning the hideous thing to its owners, but once I see the painful-looking bumps and bruises covering its wrinkled body, I decide that it would be much better to die for my own ends instead of by their abuse.
Knowing very well that this specimen may be one of a kind, I know that this acquirement must be used much more wisely than simply for the inks of my journal; no, I could use this to extend my knowledge of the World of the Journal by bounds and leaps that would otherwise take me years of hard work and dedication.
I first clamp it against the table, exposing its belly so I may scrawl upon like I would a piece of paper, my trusty scalpel now functioning as a pen. Opening up the journal, I flip until I reach the section of pages whose beginning is marked by a large illustration of the fractured skull of some otherworldly being which sent a presence even from the surface of the page that sent chills tingling down my spine. I double check one of the passages, and my suspicions are correct; this circus has somehow acquired an animal of the World of the Journal. And to think they were only teaching it tricks!
With surgical precision, I opened each page, scrawling the shapes, symbols, and hieroglyphics onto the fleshy belly of the helpless animal, tracing the trails of blood with my finger and covering its face and eyes with that very blood.
A few moments of later, I watched in shock and awe as the belly of the thing began to rapidly expand, and pieces of flesh and bone forced their way out, shooting like bullets from the barrel of a rifle, rolling down the walls, and leaving behind red trails of slime. A deafening shriek rang out from inside it, followed by a protruding claw which shredded its way through like a thing I had only previously seen in the old horror films I had grown so fond of as a child.
This is now followed by a second claw, a foot clawing through the lower waist, and finally a horrific face. As it finishes the exodus of the circus creature its gaze moves up to me, making full eye contact with a face clearly capable of sanity and reasoning, hideous though it might be. It, no, he crawls across the surface of the table, growing with each step at a mind blowing pace, until when his feet reach the floor, he was of the same approximate weight and stature as I, and we stood there for quite some time, silently observing each other as though staring into some broken mirror.
“have allowed me to cross the Threshold between our realms, and for this you shall be given the appropriate reward…” and with that he swings a claw in my direction, and my head hits the wall with a thud, making me black out.
I wake up with a purple mound of flesh across the surface of my forehead, accompanied by an awful aching. Was all of it a dream? Or a nightmare? I shakily pour myself a shot glass of vodka and it pours down my throat in seconds as I try to brainstorm a list of places I should search for him first.
What could I possibly tell the townspeople?! I must find and retrieve him before they do, even if it means I must kill him and start this whole search over.
Once the sun rises, I can naturally assume that the wretched thing has found its way into the depths of the cold, moist cave systems I have read of in the area, as that would be as close of an environment as similar its own as possible.
I make my way inside, wielding nothing for my own self-defense but a single electric torch. The first thing I notice is that, contrary to the books of the aging library, the caverns are not chilly at all, but instead filled with an intense heat, leading me to sweat as if it were a summer afternoon.
The further I venture inside, the more intense it grows, but a deadly mixture of fear and curiosity urge me onward, and soon I find that have begun to approach some sort of illumination which flowed and twisted downhill at angle like a long stream of blood, all leading up a curving spiral of stone stairs and to a brittle-looking wooden door. Another essential detail neglected by the books.
Slowly twisting the rusting metal handle, I push it open and find a room illuminated by the same glowing liquid which has led me here, something I have to repeatedly tell myself is not blood. The trail ends at the end of the room in its corner, in it the escaped creature. I can instantly tell that he is beyond saving because of the massive sword protruding from his stomach.
“You mustn’t do this… you don’t know… what kind of forces you are meddling with…” With those last words a long stream of fluorescent blood runs out of his mouth and dribbles down his chin. “Damn! No!” I pull out the sword, and another surge of blood rushes out, soaking my only pair of socks in a nasty mess. “Can this possibly get worse?!”
“Oh, things can get much worse…” I look behind me, and standing in the door frame is a man in a hideous ringmaster’s outfit, along with a bloody mucus yellow wig beneath an oversized top hat. “Imagine my surprise when my missing animal’s footprints lead me straight to your basement…” he comes closer, pulling a sword from a sheath. “where I find the lair of a witch!”
I shake my head as he comes closer. “N-no! It’s not witchcraft! It’s science! Small minded people like you would never understand my methods!” He belts out a nerve-racking laugh and knocks the sword from my hand in a single swing. “I’m afraid you have me entirely wrong, witch. I’m not here to stop you…” opening his coat and revealing a hidden pocket, he retrieves my journal along with a small surgical set of his own.
“I’m here to assist you! Science, alchemy, witchcraft; the names used by men for this practice has varied greatly, but in truth, they never mattered. Under the guise of a circus ringmaster, I have been doing the same work as you my entire life!”
I shake my head. “Then why did you kill him?!” he cackles once again. “Don’t you see? It’s the final step! Up until now, you have only employed in the killing of helpless animals, but now, in the murder of an innocent being, we may together bridge the Threshold entirely! We will cross worlds!”
“N-no! The animals were a completely different s-situation! It was only for knowledge! Hellspawn or not, I would never kill another person!”
“But is it a completely different situation? Are you absolutely sure that not even a small part inside of you didn’t enjoy the bloodshed?” I stare at the blood on the floor in shame. “And as for the killing of the innocent…” he points at the body in the corner. “You won’t have to. The only part of the job left for you is to open the final doorway. Take up the scalpel, witch! Open the doorway!”
“NO!” In a blind blur of rage, my eyes glaze over with anger and I lunge at him with his own scalpel, shoving it blade first into his neck, impaling myself on his sword in the process. I howl in agony as the blade sinks into my body and comes out of the other end in a loud bloody sllluuurp, a red trail rolling across the floor and soaking into my journal lying there.
The first sensation I feel is an overwhelming mixture of everything I have ever felt in my time of being alive, and it leaves me in a state of paralyzation and shock; numb, freezing, burning, sick, the list is endless, and every moment that passes, they grow in intensity.
A bloody stream of vomit and organs push their way out from between my lips, splatting down into a neat pile that spread around my bare feet, and flowed down my chin and covering my chest. I try to scream, try to call for help, but no sound comes out, no sound but an earsplitting screech I could only imagine coming from some terrifying insect.
“is the doom of your world. A thing brought unwillingly in the end, but nonetheless brought.” I have so many questions to ask. Where are we? How are you alive? The end of my world? Why? But none of those questions come out of my mouth. Instead, each syllable is replaced with the horrible clicking of enormous mandibles and fangs, biting down on a chainmail tongue which flicked about uncontrollably.
“From this side of the Threshold, I have watched your search for this place, cursing each second as this very moment approached; when the last of the free worlds would cross the line, becoming one with this desolate place of torture.” The deafening howls of wind forced their way deep into my ears, horrific screams without any source. “The moment the blade of the ringmaster’s sword dug into your flesh; the moment your blood spilled onto the journal; at that very moment, your world was doomed.
Your shell may pass away, but every time, your spirit will shed it, growing into a new creature more horrid than before.
The minds of you and all you have loved will fall into a state of bloodthirst and madness, both without ceasing or end.
And for the rest of eternity, the ruins of your grand cities, steeples, and kingdoms will rot before your very eyes, until nothing is left of the worlds but my own. This is my curse, though try to end it I did. In the end, the prying eyes of this world were its own downfall.”
CREDIT : Zach Reynoldson
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