Night of the Haunter

Part Two: Providence
They arrived in Providence a little before dusk. As a first order of business, they sought a place to stay. Bobby rolled down his window and asked a local for directions to a nice hotel, in a respectable part of town, and they arrived at the Providence Radisson just at dark. While Jonathan secured a room at the front desk, Bobby browsed the rack of pamphlets like any good tourist, grabbing ones that looked like they could be relevant—either to help them get a better understanding of the city’s history, its geography, or otherwise. Before getting ready for bed, they agreed on a plan of action: the following morning, they would visit the historical society of Providence’s local history museum, as well as the Providence County Records Office to see what information they could dig up on the Church of Starry Wisdom.

The following morning, as Bobby and Vanessa headed off to the museum, Jonathan went to County Records. There, he asked for access to public records pertaining to the Church of Starry Wisdom. When asked his purpose, he explained that he was visiting Providence with some fellow students from Arkham, working together on a school project for a theology class, pertaining to forgotten fringe religions. The records didn’t shed much additional light on the group; however, he did uncover the address for their old church site, on Federal Hill. Digging deeper, he learned the site had remained unoccupied since 1877, and the property had changed hands numerous times, between one real estate holding company after another, though no one ever did anything to redevelop the property. Presently, a holding company somewhere in Europe seemed to own the site, though, like those who came before them, they seemed content to let the property rot.

While Jonathan conducted his business at County Records, Bobby and Vanessa arrived at the local history museum. Before attempting to speak with a member of the historical society, they decided to go through the exhibit. It was a lengthy journey through years of the city’s history, all the way back to its establishment. It surprised both Vanessa and Bobby to see not a single reference to the Church of Starry Wisdom anywhere in the exhibit, though there were numerous references to its founder, Enoch Bowen. Apparently, Bowen had been a very active and respected member in the Providence community until his death in 1865.

By the time they exited the exhibit, Jonathan had arrived at the museum. Together, they made their way to the office of the Providence Historical Society. Sticking to the same story he had fabricated at the county records office, Jonathan asked if they could speak with someone. They waited for nearly half an hour before an older gentleman finally came out to greet them, and invited them back to his office. He cautioned that he could spare no more than ten minutes, because he had to head over to the civic center for a seminar. Bobby wasted no time cutting straight to the point—if the Starry Wisdom church existed, and if such a respected member of the community had been involved in its founding, how could there be no reference to its existence anywhere in the official town lore.

“That’s a good question,” the historical society representative began. “Enoch Bowen has quite a storied history in the Providence community. He’s something of a local celebrity. You see, Enoch Bowen was an archaeologist—quite a respected one, in fact. He was born and raised in Providence, so of course the town wishes to claim him. Doctor Bowen is best known for his discovery, in 1843, of the tomb of the forgotten Egyptian pharaoh, Nephren-Ka. A year later, he returned to Providence. It is at this time that he founded the Starry Wisdom church. In light of his fame, and also his ample contributions to the community upon his return, the city can’t deny him. But, you must also understand that this city, especially in Bowen’s day and time, was a very religious community. You had your Protestants and your Catholics at odds with one another, of course. But such a battle is one of god against god, not of god against godlessness—which is exactly what the people of Providence perceived their conflict with Starry Wisdom to be. Upon Bowen’s return to Providence, he’d adopted some of the pagan practices and philosophies he made contact with in his time in the Middle East. It is the best of my understanding that his incorporation of these pagan sensibilities into his religious practices, and which was no doubt central to his Starry Wisdom church, that so put off the townspeople—such that, as you are well aware from your own research no doubt, in 1877, twelve years after Bowen’s death, his congregation found Providence a less than ideal place to practice their religion, and so moved on to greener pastures.” He smiled and laughed, “In short, Providence loves to claim the man, but they consider his personal moral and religious beliefs best forgotten. It better suits their heroification of him, I suppose.”

“Well,” Bobby asked, “what did he believe?”

“Who knows?” The man shrugged. “Thanks to a lack of preservation, as well as a number of fires that occurred in a citywide blackout of 1936, most of the documentation about the church and its practices has been wholly lost. Providence lost a lot it had to care about at that time,” he sighed. “Not least of which the life of Robert Blake.”

“Who?” Jonathan asked.

Vanessa answered, “He was a horror writer. He lived here in Providence. He probably would have had a long running career if looters in the Providence blackout of 1936 hadn’t broken into his home and killed him. They never caught the people who did it.”

“She’s right,” the historical society representative confirmed. “His body was found by some college students who could see his apartment from their dorm room. When they noticed he had been sitting by his window for several days straight without moving, they called the police. His body was found cold, bloated, and with his eyes cut from his skull. Gruesome, really.”

After the interview concluded, they decided to head to the Providence library to see if they could find any further information on Starry Wisdom or Enoch Bowen in the microfiche collection. There, they discovered an interesting assortment of newspaper, editorial, and journal fragments. With these fragments, the story of the scandal involving Starry Wisdom became a little clearer. Upon Enoch Bowen’s return from Egypt in May of 1944, he bought the old Free-Will Church on Federal Hill. There, his Church of Starry Wisdom was born. In December of the same year, Doctor Drowne, the head of Providence 4th Baptist Church, began to speak out, both in sermon and in newspaper editorials, against the “pagan practices” of the Starry Wisdom Church, warning that the people of Providence should not be seduced by Bowen’s fame and instead stand against his “godless” ways. However, the controversy seemed only to fuel interest in Bowen’s secretive sect, whose congregation had grown to ninety seven members by the end of 1845. Things seemed to calm down, until three people mysteriously disappeared in 1846, their vanishing never solved. Seven more people disappeared in 1848, and Doctor Drowne publicly accused the Starry Wisdom Church of being behind the disappearances. Despite any proof, the mysterious practices of the church were enough to fuel the rumor, and soon the people of Providence had begun to hypothesize the Starry Wisdom “cultists” must be engaging in blood sacrifices. By 1863, the Starry Wisdom church grew, amidst the controversy, to a two hundred plus person membership, its influence threatening to match that of the Protestant and Irish Catholic churches which dominated the community at that time. In 1869, when a young Irish boy named Patrick Reagan disappeared, the people of Providence once again accused the Starry Wisdom church of being behind it, and a group of Irish Catholics vandalized the church in retaliation. Following six more disappearances in 1876, the mayor of Providence called together a special committee to investigate the murders and the possibility of the church’s involvement, in hopes of culling the paranoia once and for all. By 1877, the investigations had brought up no conclusive evidence against the church, and it was believed the issue would be put to rest. Despite this apparent exoneration, a group of concerned citizens expressed in February of 1877 that action would be taken against the church. In the midst of this turmoil, the Starry Wisdom church closed its doors in 1877 and the congregation, in its apparent entirety, left the city to continue their religious practices elsewhere.

Vanessa, Bobby, and Jonathan felt the pangs of hunger, from a long day’s work of research, and left the library to grab lunch at a local McDonald’s. After finishing their meal, they made their way back into the parking lot, toward their car. At this time, they noticed two men get out of a Corvette Stingray and head in their direction, as two more men climbed out of a pickup truck and also approached from the opposite direction. The four men completed their approach by placing themselves between the three friends and their van.

“So,” one of the men began, “we heard you’re going around town asking questions better left alone.” He pulled a chain out from under his jacket. The others followed suit with a pipe, a switchblade, and a crowbar. “I guess no one ever taught you kids to keep your mouths shut growing up. Time you learned.”

The chain flew toward Bobby, striking him in the shoulder as he stepped back and grabbed a car’s antenna, ripping it off and raking it across the man’s face, drawing blood from his cheek. The man with the lead pipe lunged forward, striking Vanessa in the stomach. Jonathan lunged to her defense, but the man with the crowbar swung at his back, causing him to stumble a few step away.

Jonathan righted himself, turning to face the group, and drew, from the small of his back, a revolver. Cocking the hammer back, he leveled it at the attackers and said, “Back off, now!”

The four attackers backed away.

Next came the sound of sirens. Everyone looked to see a sheriff’s car, gunning it across the street from the Dunkin Donuts parking lot on the opposite side. It whipped into the McDonald’s lot, near the fight, and came to a stop as both doors opened and deputies stepped out, donuts in one hand and batons in the other. “What in the hell do you kids think you’re doing? Everyone drop your weapons, now!”

About an hour later, the three friends and their assailants all sat, separated, in the booking room of the Providence County Sheriff’s office. Eventually Vanessa, Bobby, and Jonathan were taken to a separate room, where deputies removed their handcuffs and told them to wait. After a few minutes, a man entered and identified himself as Sherriff Bowen. “What brings you kids to Providence?”

Jonathan did most of the talking, sticking to their original story. When Enoch Bowen’s name came up, Bobby chimed in, “Out of curiosity, are you related?”

“No,” the Sherriff said. “I get that question a lot, though.” He went on to explain that as far as he was concerned, the situation was a clear cut one of self defense. “I’m not surprised,” he added. “There are still people in this town whose families pass down stories of the old conflict with Starry Wisdom here, and a lot like the Germans and the Nazis people here don’t take too kindly to the past being brought up, let alone dug through by a bunch of outsiders. So, do you want to let bygones be bygones here, or do you intend to press charges?”

After charges were pressed, Bobby, Vanessa, and Jonathan headed back to the hotel to get a night’s rest. A little after ten o’clock, a call from the front desk came up to their room, and the clerk told them Sherriff Bowen had come to the hotel to have a word with them. “He’s waiting in the lounge.”

They dressed quickly and made their way down to see him. The Sheriff was no longer in uniform, but a pair of jeans, a t-shirt, denim jacket, and boots. He bought all three of them a drink, and made small talk through a good bit of his own before getting down to business. “This report you’re writing, what do you intend to do with it?”

After Vanessa’s journalistic ambitions with the Boston Globe were mentioned, Bowen said, “I haven’t been entirely up front with you. I am Enoch Bowen’s great grandson. I wasn’t raised in Providence, because my grandmother was taken from Providence shortly after the Starry Wisdom church dissolved in 1877. I’m going to tell you the truth about what happened to Starry Wisdom, because I prefer truth, and I’m tired of everyone wearing masks and running from their demons around here. The truth of the matter is no one ever figured out conclusively if Starry Wisdom was behind all those disappearances. The mayor’s exoneration of the church wasn’t enough for the townspeople, though. History says the Starry Wisdom church left Providence. It didn’t leave Providence. One night, while they were worshipping in their church, a unified force of the Catholic and Protestant churches in the town surrounded the building. They broke in and murdered every one of the congregation. Men, women, children—it didn’t matter.” He finished his drink, and stood to leave. “Tell it like it is, kids. Someone needs to.” With that, he left.

The following morning, they made their way to Federal Hill, and stopped to stand in front of a church that looked exactly like the one from their shared dream. Together they made their way through the front door and up the aisle to the altar. But when they reached it, they did not find the strange artifact waiting for them, to offer any revelations. They did, however, hear a man clear his throat behind them. When they turned to look, they saw none other than Laszlo Pendergast sitting in the darkness of the pews, his face downcast.

The first thing they thought was they had been caught in the act and would have to confess to their treachery. Bobby and Jonathan instinctively stepped between Pendergast and Vanessa. But the professor seemed entirely unconcerned with them. Instead, he merely began to whisper, “I used to wake up every morning, staring out my window. I prayed for… something, anything different than what I had seen the day before. Anything but the same horizon, the same blue skies. Then I found Starry Wisdom. Starry Wisdom holds open the window. It shows us sights unseen. Its reward is to see. Starry Wisdom can show you the truth. It can show you all the forgotten gods and forgotten places that man refuses to see.” He looked right at them then, eyes wild, and snarled, “Let me show it to you,” lifting high into view the impossibly shaped artifact all three friends had gazed upon in their shared dream.

A black cloud began to ooze from it, much like ink might ooze from the puncture wound in a great squid, spreading out in the air, growing wider and thicker. The three friends found themselves suddenly gripped with terror and panic, hearts beating in their chests as though they might explode, and screaming at the very top of their lungs even as Pendergast howled with laughter. Bobby was the first to move, running toward one of the stained glass windows. He lunged for it, placing his duffle bag between it and himself. The glass shattered as he tumbled through it, landing in the church lawn. Vanessa and Jonathan followed, running as fast as they could as the dark cloud moved after them with something like bloodthirsty sentience, as though it sought only to devour them. When they tumbled through the window, into the light of the day, it did not give chase, but lurked, seeming to watch them, from within the darkness of the church.

They did not waste time studying it, but ran as far as they could from the church on Federal Hill, until they were so winded that they could run no more and had no choice left but to calm down. Only when the calm returned to them did they realize the strange creature was not the only thing their eyes had seen. Each had seen within the artifact exactly what Pendergast had described. It was as though a window had opened in his hands to a place beyond space and time, and as they looked around themselves now and saw the mundane world which surrounded them, it paled in comparison to even that slight, momentary glimpse of the fantastic, horrific world of non-Euclidean spaces and cyclopean cities waiting on the other side. Their desire to see it one more time overcame them, and they made their way back to the Starry Wisdom church.

But Pendergast was already gone, and all that waited for them was the structure’s mundane, vacuous emptiness.

“New York,” Vanessa whispered, longingly. “When I interviewed Pendergast, he said he was going to New York. It’s next on his itinerary.”

“We have to go,” Bobby moaned.

“Yes,” Jonathan said through quickening breath. “We have to.”

“We have to find him,” Vanessa agreed.

Bobby whispered, “I need to—”

“Yes,” from Jonathan.

And Vanessa, “We need to see it again.”
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Part One: Arkham
Half price pint night at the Arkham Ale House.

The Miskatonic University crowd, looking for reprieve from preparation for summer semester’s impending finals, filled it wall-to-wall. Just such a need brought Jonathan there, looking to relax with his friends, Vanessa and Bobby, and to escape the black hole of physics textbooks waiting to devour him in his dorm room. Vanessa sat in quiet spirits, gorging herself on a bowl of pasta, while Bobby eyed two attractive, young hippy girls hovering near the jukebox. Jonathan knew where this was going; the Miskatonic rowing team star would try to rope him into playing wingman, poorly, while he worked his ample charms. Bobby liked to use Jonathan’s bottomless pocketbook to break the ice. Jonathan couldn’t really blame him. He would probably do the same thing if he didn’t have a trust fund to abuse.

At Bobby’s insistence, Jonathan broke down and called over the waiter. He proceeded to order two beers for the women, and the waiter sent them over. When the girls offered glances back to their table, and polite smiles in thanks, Bobby stood and made his way over to the jukebox. As Godzilla, the recently released single for Blue Oyster Cult’s upcoming new album, helped energize his groove, Bobby invited both girls back to their table, and the women accepted. It turned out to be Bobby who steered the entire conversation, and captured all the attention of the young ladies, as Jonathan’s mind stayed behind with his studying and Vanessa couldn’t shake the foul mood a rejection letter for internship at the Boston Herald had put her in. When one of the women asked Bobby if he liked to party, before using her tongue to feed him acid in a lengthy, sloppy kiss, Jonathan paid the bill and bid everyone goodnight, offering to walk Vanessa back to campus safely. Equally seeking to escape the public display of affection, she readily agreed.

Vanessa looked forward to a long night in the campus library. The Herald criticized her student journalist portfolio for lacking a necessary level of ambition. Well, earlier in the day Vanessa learned the school paper wanted to assign her the task of interviewing Laszlo Pendergast, a visiting lecturer from Oxford University, and writing the subsequent front page article. She intended to use this opportunity to prove the Boston Herald wrong. After saying goodnight to Jonathan, she went straight to work. She knew Professor Pendergast stopped in Arkham as part of a U.S. tour promoting his recently released autobiography, Cold Comforts, and was surprised to find a copy of the book already on the school’s shelves—but then again, Miskatonic had always been known for its exceptional library, counting some of the rarest texts in the world among its available titles. She proceeded to seek out any of his other titles that might be available, stumbling upon copies of Gods and Monsters, Cosmicism, and The Children of Thule. Strangely, not a single copy of his last title, When the Stars Are Right, written over twenty years ago, could be found among the school’s musty collections. Regardless, a long night, and following day, of reading and preparation clearly awaited her if she intended to be fully prepared for a face-to-face encounter with the sixty-four year old super-intellectual who founded the twentieth century’s most controversial philosophical movement.

Armed with her completed research, and lacking a proper amount of sleep, Vanessa attended Professor Pendergast’s lecture, which preceded her planned interview. Jonathan and Bobby accompanied her for moral support, which turned out to be a wise decision—on several occasions during the lecture, Vanessa started to nod off, only to be saved from missing insightful moments by the nudge of Jonathan’s elbow. The majority of the lecture focused on material she already knew well, from Cold Comforts—Pendergast’s thoughts on being a creature from two worlds, having grown into manhood isolated in the rural countryside of Lancashire and subsequently escaping that world to embrace life as a cultured, urbanized intellectual during college and onward. Clearly he felt that resolving these two lifestyles, which he saw in distinct opposition to one another, played a large role in his development as a philosopher—as much of a role, in fact, as the horrors of World War II may have played in the crystallization of his philosophical system of Cosmicism.

As the lecture drew to a close, Bobby found himself more and more unnerved by an ignorance he believed Pendergast to be exhibiting. Despite his rural roots, he seemed overly critical of simple country folk, likening them on several occasions to the barbarians waiting to storm the gates of Rome. Bobby rose from his seat as the professor received applause, weaving his way through a flood of attendees working their way forward to capture Pendergast’s signature on their copies of his work. Containing his own anger, he challenged the doctor’s opinion on the subject, pointing out that if it hadn’t been for cultures that predated so-called civilized society working toward its end, everything Pendergast valued never would have come to fruition to begin with. Pendergast countered that to be the very nature of evolution, biological, social, or otherwise. Sensing Bobby’s dissatisfaction, he clarified his message, saying that he had nothing but respect for people who chose to live a simple life beyond the walls of urbanization; however, as urban culture increasingly became the gold standard of societal development, it was inevitable not only that the countryside be riddled with those who lived the simple life, but that it also became the lair of society’s outsider, its dark “other,” so aberrant in thought or behavior that the city’s underbelly could not even contain it, and so pushed it ever outward in rejection of its vile spirit. “Take for instance New York’s own .44 Caliber Killer, the so called Son of Sam. In the city, you find the serial killer,” Pendergast said, “because it is a cancer within the progress itself. Yet, such a person is truly unfathomable to a sane mind. So what of that which lurks beyond the gates, not by choice but by necessity? The rotting cruelty of such people is not merely unfathomable, dear boy. It is truly unthinkable.” Bobby thought of a few possible answers, but opted to keep his mouth shut as Pendergast signed one last autograph before disappearing from the auditorium.

Roughly half an hour later, Vanessa waited for Laszlo Pendergast in the Miskatonic University faculty lounge. She found herself overcome by his presence and poise when he arrived, and nervously looked through her notes to regain her bearings for the interview. Fortunately, the doctor’s experience with interviews came into play, as he talked casually with her at the start, making a few jokes to help her loosen up. They discussed some of the thematic elements of Children of Thule, the cultural zeitgeist that gave rise to his theories in Cosmicism, and his opinion of the literary value of his first work, Gods and Monsters which, while commercially successful, was clearly, Vanessa felt, written purely to fulfill his dissertation requirements. Following up on Bobby’s concerns, she spoke with Pendergast about his theories on the divide between rural and urban culture. She also asked him about When the Stars Are Right, as she’d failed to find a copy of it to study. He spoke of it only briefly, saying, “When the Stars are Right may have been too dark for the times, certainly far too heady if your reactions to what I’m saying are any indication. It wasn’t terribly popular, which is why you probably couldn’t find it. In summary, I attempted to apply non-Euclidean geometry to astrological systems, as well as historical research into various religious and superstitious mythologies, in an effort to formulate a plausible theory about the fate of mankind following the conclusion of the Mayan calendar in the year 2012. Too much,” he laughed, “for people in the nineteen-fifties.”

Pendergast concluded the interview, cutting it short because he had a couple hours worth of further obligations at the campus before he could retire to his hotel for the night. Vanessa faced reality. Nothing here would help her change the Herald’s opinion about her work. But then Pendergast let slip, off the record as they parted ways, that after a two-decade long absence from publication, beyond mere essays, he was presently putting the finishing touches on a new book. “It’s the one I think I’ll be remembered for,” he answered, when she asked what it was about. “My publisher hasn’t even made the announcement yet, so I can’t say anything more.”

Vanessa seized the opportunity. Rushing to the Arkham Ale House, she found Bobby and Jonathan, and told them everything that happened. She intended to break into Pendergast’s hotel room, but she didn’t want to do it alone. She needed their help.

“I don’t know,” Bobby said. “We could get arrested.”

“I don’t get arrested,” Jonathan corrected.

“So you’ll help?” she asked.

“Sure, why not,” Bobby shrugged.

“Yeah,” Jonathan agreed. “Let’s do it.”

Vanessa walked into the Hotel Miskatonic and approached the front desk clerk. “Excuse me,” she said. “My grandfather is in town, and he doesn’t know I’m coming by to visit. I’d like to surprise him. I was wondering if you could tell me what room he’s in, and maybe give me a key?”

The clerk gave her an odd look. “What’s his name?”

“Laszlo Pendergast.”

The clerk looked through the guest registry. “Yes, he’s here. He’s in room thirty-two, but I can’t give you a key. You’re just going to have to knock. I’m sure he’ll still be surprised to see you though.”

She thanked him, and waited until the clerk busied himself with other things before leading Jonathan and Bobby upstairs to Pendergast’s room.

“What do we do now?” Vanessa asked. “We have to get inside. He didn’t give me a key.”

“We pick the lock,” Jonathan said.

“How?”

Jonathan shrugged. “I don’t know. I’m a future engineer, not a locksmith.”

After a few seconds of silence, Bobby sighed. “Move over.” He knelt down, produced a set of lock picks from his pocket, and effortlessly picked the classic, tumbler style lock on the aged, gilded doorknob.

“Well,” Jonathan said. “You learn something new every day.”

“I used to have a summer job when I was a kid. It’s no big deal.”

“Oh?” Vanessa asked. “What job?”

“Breaking and entering.”

The three set about searching Pendergast’s room. Vanessa found the typed manuscript, currently bearing the title Strange Horizons, and a collection of hand-written notes on the material, stashed under the bed, in an old shoe box. Armed with her Polaroid camera, she quickly snapped a few pictures—title page, a few sections of manuscript text, some unsettling and very odd illustrations, and any hand-written pages which seemed ripe with information on the work’s overall purpose. Bobby focused a lot of attention on the notes while Vanessa captured stills of the actual manuscript, and concluded from a few references, as well as a well-worn and referenced map, that the city of Providence was critical to the material in some way. Jonathan also found items of interest—notably, the illustrations. At first glance, they reminded him of the strange symbols often seen in horror films involving satanic rituals and the like, except that these images were not occult in nature. They drew heavily on high-end geometric concepts which should be far beyond that of a philosophy professor. Perhaps that rationale explained why Pendergast seemed to be forcing upon them some kind of non-mathematical or non-scientific meaning. Lacking context, Jonathan failed to grasp their exact purpose, but they fascinated him nonetheless.

They did their best to leave the hotel room exactly as they found it. Afterward, Vanessa felt like she finally had something to prove her value to the Boston Herald. It was Bobby who pointed out she shouldn’t get ahead of herself. “You know he’s writing a book. You have some blurry Polaroids. That’s it. Big deal. If you really want to prove to these people you’re a go-getter, you need more. You need more info, and you need to take more risks. We should see if we can’t figure out what this thing is about. You know, investigative journalism. That thing you’re in school to learn how to do.”

The three friends headed to the library and worked together to pull up everything they could on Providence, RI. During their search, they tried to keep their minds open to anything and everything about the town which could appeal to someone of Pendergast’s interest. The only thing that stood out to them was a couple of references in a handful of old, archived newspaper clippings to something called the Church of Starry Wisdom, founded in the 1800’s and disbanded in 1877. Beyond that, remarkably little about the organization could be unearthed, besides the name of its founder—one Enoch Bowen. Vanessa read through some of the captured images of Strange Vistas, and decided it was likely Pendergast might be attempting another alternate history, much like Children of Thule, except centered on the city of Providence. Bobby proposed a road trip to Providence might be in order, and they discussed the pros and cons of doing so in the middle of summer finals, before heading back to the dorm, to their respective rooms, and to sleep.

They shared a dream.

Standing in the cold, outside an ominous church, with a terrifyingly knife-like steeple that seemed intent on piercing the bowels of god, each looked on, alone, at the untouched structure, calling to them from some alien horizon. Each made their way through its ornate doors, of a wood so dark it may as well have been the blackest obsidian, or a portal into nothingness. They walked down the aisle, between rows of pews as dark as the doorway that led inside. At the far end, an altar waited; behind it, strange whispers calling them closer even as their hearts beat quicker with every step. Reaching it at last, looking over the podium, they stared into not a person, nor an idol of some anthropomorphic god or devil. What they stared into was forbidden geometry itself personified—something whose angles were so off, so terrible, so utterly and inalienably wrong, that to see it was like not seeing it, for their minds failed to comprehend its size, its depth, its texture, its color. And in a chorus of hungry, whispering voices, it pleaded:

“Let us show it to you.”

They each awoke in the dead of night, unable to return to sleep, and weary as though from the end of a long journey. It wasn’t until they were all fully awake that they realized they had not woken up in the middle of the night—but the following evening. Vanessa, Jonathan, and Bobby gathered outside of the dorm. She mentioned her dream first. The more Jonathan finished her sentences, the more terrified they became. Bobby did his best to keep it together, remaining silent, but even he was unnerved.

The decision was quickly made: they all climbed into Jonathan’s van and began their road trip to Providence. They made their way out of Arkham, into the countryside of New England. Several hours into their trip, in the middle of night and the middle of nowhere, the van suddenly died and rolled to a halt. Jonathan turned the key, and the engine failed to turn over. Vanessa froze with fear. Jonathan’s hands shook. Bobby quietly breathed, maintaining his own composure. He grabbed a flashlight and climbed out of the van. Jonathan followed suit. Both men went to the front of the van. Jonathan opened the hood and tried to diagnose the problem while Bobby provided the necessary light. It didn’t take him long to isolate the problem—nothing Jonathan’s ample skill with engines couldn’t solve.

“But there’s one problem,” he said to Bobby. “I’m going to need a part to fix it.”

They argued for awhile about whether or not it was smarter to walk forward along the road, into the unknown, or back the way they had come, into familiar territory. Eventually they decided to continue backward, and walked together, a terrified Vanessa refusing to move out from between the two. Half an hour down the road, a starry glow came up behind them, rapidly approaching—the headlights of a beat-up Chevy truck, which slowed and stopped beside them. The driver-side window rolled down, revealing a sweaty, hollow-eyed, bearded man in faded Levi overalls, chewing something like tobacco, which in the moonlight gave off a deep, ruby red hue. His jaw slacked a little as he sucked on his cheek. His eyes bore into the three friends, cruel and cold. “Y’kids duhn out ‘er? These wuds’s no place fer yuh.”

“Our car broke down,” Bobby said. “There an auto shop around here?”

The driver lifted his hand quickly, a switchblade snapping to life in his hand.

Vanessa and Jonathan jumped back.

Bobby stood his ground, and smiled.

The driver smiled back, and proceeded to pick dirt out from under his fingernails with the tip of the blade. “N’place open rund her, this time a night.” He spat out the window, saliva tinted by the blood red of the chaw in his cheek. “Know a guy though, prolly hep yuh’n the morn.”

“That doesn’t help us much. We have nowhere to go.”

The driver sized him up, coolly. “S’pose I kin put ye up sum’err. Got a rum’n muh place, r’cently came vay-cay-ted.”

“A room recently vacated,” Jonathan repeated, his heart pounding. “Why?”

The driver only laughed at him, and shook his head. “Y’not frum ‘ere, fer sure I figger. Anyway, ain’t got all night. Y’want a freeze, fuhn. Y’want a come, fuhn. But mek up yer muhn. Got things tuh do.”

“What’s your name?” Bobby asked.

“Clint,” he said, pocketing the knife. “Y’comin’ er wut?”

Bobby threw his duffle bag into the back of the truck. Following his lead, hesitantly, Vanessa and Jonathan climbed in the back. Bobby joined them. Clint drove them off a dirt path, deeper into the woods. The route ended at a small shack that looked like it hadn’t been given a fresh coat of paint in over a century. Clint led them inside. The whole place smelled like spoiled meat, curdled milk, ammonia, and cheap tobacco. He led them upstairs to a room with a single spring bed, no locks on the door, and all its windows boarded up from the outside.

“Make yer’sef at home.” His cold stare hung with them as he backed out of the room. Then, with a laugh and a shake of his head, he closed the door and they listened to his footsteps grow softer as he descended the stairs.

Bobby got a rowing oar out of his backpack and planted his back against the door, while Vanessa laid down on the bed and Jonathan spread out on the hardwood. He intended to stay awake through the night, guarding his two friends.

The sleepers woke up a few hours later, to what sounded like something being beaten with a stick outside, in the front yard. Jonathan crept over to the window and found a small crack in the boards, through which he could look and see what was happening. In the yard below, Clint stood over a large burlap sack, with a baseball bat raised high. Whatever the sack contained, it struggled and flailed about as Clint brutalized it with the slugger.

“He’s beating it,” Jonathan’s voice rasped, in his wide-eyed terror. “There’s something in a sack, it’s moving, and he’s just beating it!” He continued looking on, frozen, as the sack stopped moving and Clint grabbed hold of it with his free hand, dragging it slowly from view.

Vanessa planted her back against the headboard and curled her knees into herself, closing her eyes and shivering in fear.

No one went back to sleep.

When dawn came, Clint shouted up to them from downstairs, “”B’rkfust! C’m awn!”

They emerged into the kitchen, where plates of steak and eggs awaited them.

“Hope y’like uhm scrambled.”

“Actually,” Jonathan said. “Thanks, but we’re vegetarians.”

“Yes,” Bobby said. “We’re vegans.”

“No,” Vanessa said, “we’re vegetarians.”

“No, we’re vegans,” Bobby said.

“Vegetarians don’t eat meat. Vegans won’t eat anything that comes from the animal, including those eggs.”

Bobby smiled at her a, “Please shut up,” smile, and said, “Exactly.”

“Oh, right!” She looked at Clint and said, “We’re vegans.”

He scowled, “Fuhkin’ lib’rals.” He grabbed the chunk of meat off Bobby’s plate and held it like a candy bar, tearing the bloody flesh off with a ferocious bite and chewing with his mouth open. “Ain’t lived til ye et some coyote. Them’s good eatin’.”

“I’m sorry,” Jonathan said, clearing his throat. “Did you say coyote?”

“Yep. Li’l fuhk’r been et’in muh chickens fer munths. Caught ‘im las’ night, I did. Threw ‘im in a sack an’ tenderized ‘im good an’ ded. Don’t know wut yer missin’.”

After breakfast, they all climbed into the back of Clint’s truck. He turned up the radio as Jefferson Airplane came over the airwaves, singing along poorly in his thick dialect and enjoying every second of it as he drove Vanessa, Jonathan, and Bobby to a nearby auto shop. Jonathan bought the part he needed to repair the van, and then Clint drove them back to it. He said farewell before continuing on his way. It didn’t take Jonathan more than ten minutes to make the necessary repairs, and they all climbed back into the van, continuing along on their road trip to Providence.

In the light of day.
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