The Whisper of Thunder
To Professor Bartholomew Estheim,
I hope that my letter finds you well, or at least, as well as you can be given all that has befallen you. Too often we who delve into the dark places of the world find that the darkness is a far easier place to enter than it is to leave. It marks our souls, and stains our hearts, and it always, always lingers.
I must apologise for the delay since our last correspondence. I know that the matters of which you wish to speak are of considerable urgency, but rest assured, I did not withhold my reply without good reason. By nature, I am taciturn, not given to speaking deeply of myself or my experiences. But there are things that must be said, and I am the only one who can say them. I do not consider myself a coward, but it is only now, several months after the fact, that I find myself with the courage to speak. In return for my story – my full story – I ask only three things in return.
The first thing is easy enough, and it is, I imagine, a condition that you yourself would impose if you were in my position. Share this letter with no one. I have no doubt that my words will shake even a man of your formidable reputation, so consider for a moment the impact they might have on a less hardened soul. What I have experienced has turned this world of wonder into a place of abyssal, shrieking terror. I will have no part in passing on such horror to those not prepared to face it. If you fear that this letter will fall into the wrong hands then destroy it. If necessary, I shall furnish you with another.
The second thing that I require is your cooperation. We have both touched unhallowed spheres of nightmare well beyond the realm of everyday existence. Though I am seldom one to seek aid, I find that in this matter I have little choice. We are both sailing through troubled waters now, little more than battered ships set upon some roiling ocean of infinity. We can band together, or else, find ourselves separated and damned to perish in ways too terrible for the mortal mind to fully comprehend. Alone, I might risk such a thing, but I have my sister to consider, just as you have your son.
The third and final thing that I ask of you is the most simple yet perhaps it shall also prove to be the most difficult. I ask that you read this letter in full. You are a wise man, professor, and your mind is swift. I have little doubt that the full horror of my disclosure will dawn on you well before my tale is done. Pray, sir, have patience. A story half-told is little more than a half-truth, and we have come too far now to settle for anything less than the whole of the truth. Indeed, anything less may drive us mad – or madder than we already are.
So, those are my conditions. If you feel that you cannot abide by them, then I suggest you destroy this letter now. Do not rip it up, for a cunning man might piece it back together. Instead, if you must, burn it and then scatter the ashes. Let the winds carry away any trace of monstrous mystery. Should you choose to proceed, allow me to make an offer. Upon reading this letter, you will, doubtless, have many questions, the answers to which I dare not put on paper. If you wish to hear these answers then you must come to visit me in Bodhum. Together, we can speak of these final mysteries, and together, we can walk amongst the ruins of elder times that brood, old and silent in the hills nearby.
Should you wish to visit Bodhum, I would recommend the train. The services are most frequent, and there is a certain anonymity involved that cannot be matched by aerial travel. The train will also afford you with another convenience – the Bodhum Guardian Corps central office is not at all far from the station. I know that you may be leery of the authorities, and you have good cause to be, but my superior, Lieutenant Amodar, is a good man. He may not wholly believe my tale, but he has followed many of my recommendations nonetheless. I suggest that you ask either for him, or for me, Sergeant Claire Farron.
With all of the preliminaries aside, let us turn now to my tale. Remember, professor, if you have read this far, you must read all the way to the end. There is no room left for half-measures, no room left for weakness. The truth may be unspeakable, but to ignore it would be unthinkable.
I suppose that it would be best to begin with a brief history of myself. This may seem a little odd, but I assure you, it is relevant. I am the daughter of two fairly unremarkable professionals. My father, who died when I was only four, was a businessman of reasonable success. I remember that he was away often, and that when he died my mother would spend hours at the window watching the sky toward the sea. My mother was a doctor of some skill, specialising in the study of genetics, and there are parts of her work that, to this day, remain unsurpassed by more modern experts. She became frightfully involved in her research during my early teens and then recoiled from it with a horror that has always startled me – until now. There are things, professor, that can break the mind of even the most ruthlessly logical person. In any case, she vanished when I was fifteen, ostensibly swept to her death during an ill-fated swim early one morning. An accident, I was told, though now I have my doubts.
I was thus parentless at fifteen, and with a younger sister to care for, I turned my attention to the acquisition of a stable career. My parents were not poor, and we had been left adequate funds, but I was not so foolish as to think that those would last forever. I finished high school, and at eighteen years of age, I joined the only group that would have me – the Guardian Corps.
Believe me, professor, when I say that the Guardian Corps were my salvation. I was lost, and in the enforcement of law and order, I was found. My service records reflect this. I took every class that I could, took part in every training program that was available, and as I rose through the ranks, I swiftly gained a reputation as someone who could solve crimes that baffled officers many years my senior. What my records do not reflect is how I solved these crimes.
There are officers of the law, professor, that bring to bear their intellect and experience to solve crimes. Such officers rely upon the gradual accumulation of evidence and the application of strict logic to that evidence. I am not one of those officers. To be sure, my mind is quick, and problems of reasoning are no challenge to me, but it is another talent that has allowed me to succeed where others have failed. Tell me, are you familiar with the term 'intuition'? It is a clumsy word, I suppose, but I can think of no other word that is more appropriate.
For as long as I can remember, I have been blessed with a remarkable intuition. It is nothing so gaudy as telepathy or precognition, those tawdry talents so often claimed by the latest fraud. On the contrary, what I possess is something altogether more subtle. It is a feeling, a sense of knowing that allows me to notice things, things that do not fit, things that are out of place. Such an ability might seem utterly pedestrian, but to an officer of the law it is invaluable. No crime is ever perfect, and thus no crime can truly evade my intuition.
But such intuition is not without its flaws, as my story shall show. The issue at hand is that my intuition has no sense of self-preservation. It does not tell me if something is dangerous or not, it does not steer me away from things better left unseen. No, my intuition merely spurs me on, driving me inexorably onward until I can make all of the pieces fit, never mind how terrible the true picture is. There is a reason, professor, that mankind is unable to truly piece together all that it perceives. To know everything is to realise the truly precarious position we hold in the universe. We are but dust beneath the boots of beings that could shatter creation with a thought. Ignorance grants us peace, however false it may be.
Now, let me turn in earnest to the details of the case that forms the centre of my story. It begins, as most cases so famous do, with murder most foul. What makes this all the more remarkable is that Bodhum is not, generally speaking, a town much given to brutal murders. Growing up, I had always felt quite safe walking the streets, and there are few who live here who would disagree. Now, perhaps, I do not, but the reason for that is still to come.
Bodhum, professor, is an old town with a history that goes back at least several centuries. In the beginning, it was a fishing town, well known for the bounty of its catch. However, the coming of the modern age saw a substantial reduction in that bounty to the point where the town's continued existence could not be guaranteed. To combat this danger, a decision was made perhaps half a century ago to modernise. Bodhum would be a fishing town no longer, instead it would rely upon its great natural beauty, upon the clear, shining waters, and the endless beaches of gold and white sand. Since then, Bodhum has prospered as a tourist destination of some renown.
As a town heavily reliant on the money of outsiders, the murders swiftly became something of a media sensation. Indeed, even a casual perusal of the newspapers at the time, both local and national, will reveal a swathe of luridly detailed coverage, devoted less to the specifics of the crime than to all manner of sordid speculation. Even so, the murders could not be allowed to go unsolved. Visitors to the town needed to feel safe, and so a decision was swiftly made to establish an inquiry with the Guardian Corps in command. As someone renowned for their ability to solve even the most puzzling crimes, I was soon placed in charge, reporting directly to Lieutenant Amodar.
There were, as you can imagine, matters of town politics to consider, but of those I can say little. I am not, by any stretch, an adept politician, and I wisely chose to leave such matters to Lieutenant Amodar. Though a skilled officer in his own right, he is also a skilled politician, one well used to handling the pressures of a high-profile case. His support would allow me to approach the case unhindered by the often petty demands of the local political class.
The victims of the crime were a dozen workmen assigned to a work a late shift on the construction site of a hotel not far removed from the finest beach in Bodhum. They had been found strewn about in the muddied ruins of a shed, the structure itself ripped and torn apart as though by brute force alone. The men themselves had been torn limb from limb in a manner that is difficult to fully describe. Suffice it to say that they were covered in marks of the type usually left by teeth or claws, but with the curious addition of burns of a most uncanny sort. That the men had tried to fight their assailants was clear enough – their tools of the trade were scattered about, and many bore signs of frenzied, panicked use.
I decided at once that a most thorough investigation was required. A murderer, or murderers, of such brutality could not be allowed to move about Bodhum unimpeded and unopposed. Some of my more fanciful colleagues suggested that perhaps animals had been responsible, but Bodhum – as I knew it then – has no wildlife of sufficient size or ferocity to commit such acts, nor had any zoo or reserve reported any animals missing.
With the officers I had charge of, I ordered a complete halt to the construction of the hotel, and adopted a policy of strictest detail. Every man and woman who had ever set foot on the construction site was to be apprehended and questioned. No alibi was to be left unchecked, and no detail was to be missed. The construction site itself was thoroughly searched for any sign of a murder weapon or other physical evidence, yet in this pursuit we were, unfortunately, opposed by the vagaries of nature.
Though normally of admirable weather, Bodhum is, now and again, cursed by powerful thunderstorms. These storms roll in from the sea and move with a speed that can be quite frightening to those not used to such things. In duration, they rarely last longer than a night, but it is not unusual for the storms to carry truly fearsome power. Still, they are usually quite rare during the tourist season, which runs from mid spring to early autumn. For as long as I can remember, I have always been able to tell when such storms have been coming, as had my mother.
In any case, such a storm struck the night of the murders, and it was remarkable not only for its timing – during the middle of the tourist season – but also for its violence. It was not at all difficult to imagine the workmen being forced to seek shelter within the shed, only to find themselves assailed by some grim cadre of killers. The thunderstorm lashed Bodhum for most of that night and into the early hours of the morning, and it did more to obliterate physical evidence than the perpetrators ever could.
In some ways, I suppose, that was a mercy. There is something truly horrifying about walking into the scene of a crime and wondering how a human being could possible have so much blood inside them. Still, closer examination of the shed and the bodies did reveal the most peculiar burn marks. These were not dissimilar to those often left by lightning, yet to find so many of them so close together was unusual in the extreme. There was no way that lightning alone could have left such injuries, and the odds of a dozen workers being murdered and then repeated struck by lightning seemed impossibly small. Even so, some of my colleagues wished to consign the whole matter to bad luck. Fools.
With my investigation stymied, and public pressure mounting, it will come to no surprise to you to learn that I was soon the subject of many ultimatums that even Lieutenant Amodar's influence could not erase. Those in power wanted answers, and a criminal upon whom to foist the blame. I could either deliver one, or find myself a new profession. Confronted by such threats, I did what I always do when confronted by an apparently unsolvable case. I reviewed the evidence, returned to the scene of the crime, and let my intuition do what it could.
I returned to the scene of the crime, and alone, I wandered through the construction site. Let me say, professor, that there is something truly eerie about walking the earth where twelve good men have died in a way that ought not be told. Yet at the time, my mind cared little for such thought, nor for how the shadows lengthened as the later afternoon gave way to night. Even the darkening of the sky was of little concern for I had felt the storm coming and had dressed accordingly.
But it was only with the first crack of thunder that my intuition seized hold of something. As the rain pelted down upon me, a thought occurred. How had the culprits gotten in? I, along with most of my colleagues, had simply assumed that they had either scaled the fence around the construction site, or copied the keys to the gates. But truly, how much sense did those conjectures make? The fence around the construction site was formidable indeed and topped with barbed wire, and there was no sign of damage to it. Similarly, the keys were all kept securely by honest men, and no investigation had uncovered an opportunity for them to be copied. So how had the culprits done it? Watching great torrents of water sluice past, I came to a realisation. The construction site had not flooded during the previous storm. Therefore, the water must have somewhere to go, and perhaps that was the route the culprits had taken.
In something close to a frenzy, I followed the rushing, frigid water through the construction site. Despite my long, waterproof coat and sturdy boots, I soon found myself drenched, but I could scarcely bring myself to care. At last, I came upon what I sought. It was a tunnel, one almost hidden in the partially laid foundations of the building. In terms of size and scope it was nothing especially remarkable. Indeed at first glance, I almost thought it was one of the sewer tunnels that ran beneath the town, which was likely why it had not come to my attention until now.
But looking more closely, I found myself surprised by the tunnel's apparent method of construction. Tunnels in Bodhum are generally built in one of two ways. Either they are paved with stone, or reinforced with concrete. There is nothing remarkable about this. Rather, it is a simple matter of practicality. A proper sewer system is essential to a town's functioning, and one simply dug into the earth is unlikely to last long. Yet the tunnel was precisely that – simply dug out of the earth. As I grew closer, I used my flashlight to play further illumination upon it, and I soon noticed something else that was quite unusual. The edges of the tunnel were not rough, as they should be if cut by a drill or a shovel, rather they were smooth, almost as though the earth had been carved out by some incredibly hot instrument.
For a moment, I debated entering that tunnel, and I wish now that I had not. Certainly, my mind would be much more at ease. But my intuition, that lingering whisper that something did not fit, that something needed to be pursued still further, my intuition drove me onward. I am not an especially curious person, but I am a very determined one. I had a task before me, and I would see it through. Besides, I could hardly afford the loss of my career. So, beating back my unease, I drew my pistol and edged into the tunnel, mindful of the water rushing about my feet. Should I stumble upon the murderers, I had a duty to try and apprehend them alive to face a proper trial. However, having seen first hand what they were capable of, I had no desire to become their latest victim. They would surrender themselves into my custody, or I would bring them to justice in an altogether more ruthless way. Still, I could not help but feel some trepidation. I was confident in my training, and in the speed and skill I had developed over the years, but the pounding of the water around me, and the crack of thunder did much to dull my senses. The darkness too did not help. It granted the already macabre setting an unnecessary level morbidity.
I followed that tunnel for what felt like an eternity, and I cannot tell you in words what sort of an ordeal it was. There is something unspeakably terrible about delving deep into the unlighted parts of the world. My face must have been a foul sight too, for with each moment that passed, I grew more and more certain that I was about to stumble upon some eldritch secret. At length, the movement of the water at my feet led me to believe that the tunnel had begun to slope quite steeply downward. I was swamped with fresh revulsion then. I was a wanderer, a digger of secrets in the dark, unhallowed places of the earth. Murderers had walked this path, and I felt certain that I would soon encounter them. I should have turned back then, but I did not, and I can only call myself a fool.
At last, I reached more solid ground. To my surprise, the tunnel, which seemed well worn, had connected to one of the many sewers that ran beneath the town. The smell, as you can imagine, was horrid, but I pressed on, driven once more by that same intuition that that had already served me so well. In my wanderings, I found more tunnels, some made by men, but others clearly of the same sort that I had first followed. That I had heard nothing of these strange tunnels did not surprise me – sewer maintenance is a necessary, but altogether unpleasant duty. There were not many willing to explore, and even fewer willing to share the fruits of such exploration.
I followed one of these unusual tunnels, a winding thing where the flow of water seemed slowest. It was a strange experience, made even stranger by the fact that I could hear the thunder raging overhead. There must be other tunnels, I realised, that connected to the surface. A shudder ran through me at that thought, though I would only later realise why I found such an idea so troubling. Finally, I reached a broadening in the tunnel, a chamber too large for the feeble light of my torch to fully illuminate. If I had to guess, I would place the size of the chamber as similar to that of a small building. Instead, I was forced to play my flashlight back and forth in hopes of catching some glimpse of what was held within. When at last, I did see something, I was hard-pressed not to scream, and it was only my iron will that kept me from turning and running in a chaotic burst of sheer animal fright. The floor of the chamber was littered with bones, some animal, some human, and others of a viler, much more indeterminate sort. These bones – which seemed to be of some degraded ape – had claw-like hands, and scraps of pale hair still clinging to the skulls, though the light was too poor for me to accurately tell the colour. Still, the hair was of a pale shade, something blonde or close to it.
But as I lingered there, another crash of thunder rang out, but this time it was answered from deep within the network of tunnels. A roar, distorted by countless winding passages cut deep into the sodden earth, shook the chamber. Though I could not quite discern the exact nature of the source of the cry, there was a vague suggestion to it, a thinly veiled menace that stirred such panic within me as I have never known. The roar was bestial in its quality, yet the rhythm of it, the timbre sounded almost human. My iron will was overthrown and I fled in a paroxysm of fright and terror. By the time I recovered myself, I was covered in mud and soaked to the bone, and laying amidst the drenched shadows of the construction site.
It took me some time to recover myself, and at first, I was certain that I had gone mad. Such things as I had seen – the inhuman suggestion in that haunting roar – such things could not be real. But with the light of day, my thoughts took on a firmer cast. Perhaps, I thought, there were other possibilities. Perchance there was some dark cult at work, or some evil conspiracy. Such things were certainly rare, but they were far from impossible. Yet whatever my suspicions, I knew that my word alone would not be enough, nor would a few bones. I would need a solid theory with associated evidence if I wished to dispatch a team of officers into the sewers, anything less would see me made a laughing stock and stripped of my position.
It was to that end that I decided to investigate the history of the town. If there were tunnels beneath the town then surely there must be some record of them, however slight or vague. Such records would also go some way to assuring me that I had not gone mad. The histories I uncovered, professor, were of a most troubling sort, an impression that was only exacerbated by the lengths to which I had to go to obtain them. The public libraries were of almost no worth at all, and it was only by delving into the most private of collections was I able to learn much. In this regard, Lieutenant Amodar once again proved his trustworthiness to me, for it was only his influence that allowed me access to such vaunted tomes.
As I had been taught, Bodhum had indeed started life as a small fishing village. What I had not known until then were the wild stories told by the very earliest of those fishermen. These were collected in a battered, ancient tome that had seen the better part of three centuries.
The fishermen spoke of an ancient tribe that had once occupied the land that Bodhum now stands on. They had worshipped the sky and the sea, but had done much of that worshipping in vast catacombs cut into the earth by unknown means. The end of the tribe came when the fishermen sought to claim the land for themselves. They were aided by a young woman of the tribe who had been exiled by her peers. This woman was said to possess the most remarkable features, but no tome I explored would describe them. In any case, the fishermen wiped out the tribe, and the foundations of the tribe's settlements formed the foundations for the town that would come to be called Bodhum. The tribe's tunnels and catacombs were either destroyed or incorporated into the new town's primitive sewer system. Interestingly, no mention is made of thunderstorms in the vicinity of Bodhum until the night the tribe was destroyed. From that night onwards, however, thunderstorms became a feature of the local weather, and there was not a year that went by without some poor fishermen being lost at sea in the midst of those terrible upheavals.
In later years, the tunnels, which stretched all the way to the sea, would find further use by smugglers desperate to avoid government scrutiny. In response, the government ordered the tunnels blocked up, though it is unlikely that all such orders were obeyed. Smugglers, I am told, were often an integral part of the community of coastal towns such as Bodhum. More remarkable is the strange fear that the townsfolk seemed to develop of thunderstorms. This fear was in utter excess to what might be expected of an otherwise hardy population, and it is striking that I could find no account at all of what exactly it was that the townsfolk feared. Still, what little information I could find seemed to implicate the descendants of that renegade tribeswoman.
It was that curious association that prompted me to investigate that family further. By all accounts, the family was of substantial means and prominence, which made the lack of information about them all the more puzzling. Later, I discovered that this lack of detail was quite deliberate. The townsfolk had, at some stage, made the decision to all but erase the family from history. The family's name was removed from all records, and only the vaguest descriptions of their dealings were retained. Of the family's appearance, there was almost no mention, save for references to the unusual colour of their hair, and the unearthly brightness of their eyes.
The cause for such action was revealed in a tattered diary preserved from more than two hundred years ago. For some reason or another, the townsfolk had come to believe that the family had made a pact with ancient and terrible beings, beings capable of shaping the weather itself, of calling down thunder and lightning. They whispered that perhaps the tribe had exiled the family's ancestor for a reason, and there were whispers of wild doings. The family's members were said to be witches – or worse – and to commit the very vilest atrocities, including the murder and sacrifice of countless innocents.
For a time, the townsfolk had no choice but to tolerate these excesses, so great was the family's influence. The pivotal moment came when a member of that family, perhaps horrified by what they had witnessed, confessed that all the accusations were true. The family was filled with monsters, and left to its own devices, its madness would surely drag the town into unfathomable abysses of horror. Aided by this renegade member of the family, the townsfolk launched a desperate assault upon the family's manor. Save for that solitary family member who had offered aid, the townsfolk put all others within the manor to the sword. The manor itself was first burned and then levelled to the ground. The catatcombs found beneath it were destroyed as well, and the decision was made to remove all trace of the family from Bodhum's records. For the most part they succeeded, and almost all that I have written here comes from a single source – a rotting diary more than two hundred years old.
I knew at once that I had to find that manor, to see for myself what horrors had been dispatched there so many years ago. But first I had something else to consider, a notion brought up once again by my intuition, by the memory of that chamber of bones and the roar that answered the thunder.
My attention turned to the records of crime kept by the Guardian Corps and then, once I had exhausted those, to the far less adequate records kept in less civilised times. At first, there was nothing. Certainly, there did not seem to be the elevated rate of murder one might expect if some maddening cult of degenerates truly were preying upon the people of this town. But then I came to consider another possibility – that the crimes had not been classified as murders at all, but as something else altogether. I turned my attention to missing person reports and other things of that nature, and slowly but surely a picture of utter horror emerged. The rate at which people went missing in Bodhum was indeed somewhat greater than would normally be expected. How could no one else have noticed this? Perhaps such disappearances were attributed to vagrancy, or to the somewhat festive nature of the town, both at least a little plausible, but both, I feared, far from accurate.
The suspicions I harboured were then confirmed when I collated reports of the weather. The disappearances usually involved revellers or vagrants – those often out and about during the darkest parts of the night – and almost all seemed to occur during one of the thunderstorms that periodically swept in from the sea. I might have laughed then, and if I did, it was no sane laugh, but a sound filled with all the madness building up within my soul. I had, I felt, stumbled across something utterly beyond the bounds of my everyday experience. The only matter left then was the manor, and knowing what I did, I could not rest until I found it.
Finding the manor proved more difficult than I had anticipated. None of the texts that I had examined provided a specific location for the manor, nor were any of the descriptions detailed enough to submit to further analysis. To further complicate matters, the manor had been burned and levelled, all but ensuring that no sign of it remained. In the end, I was forced to undertake a thorough study of the terrain around Bodhum. The manor had been outside of town, and of quite substantial size. Those two clues would have to be enough.
I identified several locations, trusting my intellect and intuition to guide me as they had done thus far. The first three proved to be of little help, but the fourth location, set amongst the tall, brooding hills just outside of Bodhum, proved to be more promising. Just driving up there filled me with a keen sense of dread that I had felt only once before – in that abhorrent chamber deep beneath the earth.
Once I arrived, I quickly got to work. After an afternoon of toil, I stumbled across the first sign that I might have found the manor at last. My shovel struck a thick layer of smashed stone and ash, and in a frenzy of excitement, I continued to delve into the earth until at last I uncovered the battered foundations of a large building. But still, this was not enough. It was only when I came across a pit filled with bones, some human, and others maddeningly deformed, that I was certain. I had found the manor of that accursed family, and soon, I found the remains of a tunnel, one that must have, at some earlier time, led deep into the bowels of the earth.
I cannot say that I felt much elation at my discovery. If anything, I felt a sense of revulsion, of unmitigated fright beyond all human endurance. Something monstrous had lived here, and now, the shadows of that terror were reaching out, riding the thunder with fangs and claws made sharp by centuries of unhallowed hunger. Shaken, and barely coherent, I went to Lieutenant Amodar to set out my conjecture. To his credit, he listened keenly and asked several questions that demonstrated his full engagement with the matter. However, he could not authorise the scouring of the sewers by a large force of armed officers. My lack of progress in the case had infuriated the local politicians, and moves were already being made to replace me. The lieutenant had done his best to protect me, but his efforts had left his political capital sadly exhausted. If I wished to have the sewers scoured, I would need proof – physical proof of incontrovertible nature. That left me with but a single option.
That very night I returned to the construction site, and from there I went to that tunnel. There, beneath the pale moonlight of a cloudless sky, that shadowed circle seemed for all the world like a portal to the edges of creation. I could have walked away, I suppose, for what sane person would walk into the darkness knowing what it hid? But instead, I steeled my nerves as best I could and proceeded. I am officer of the law, professor, and that means I must stand against evil, whatever form it takes, and however great it is.
I was quite some way into the system of tunnels when I felt a most peculiar sensation sweep through me. Yet it was a sensation I knew very well. A storm was coming, and within moments, I heard the crack of thunder above me, and the rush of water came from all sides. The timing of it all was most unfortunate, for I was caught in a sharply slanting tunnel, and before I knew it, the flood of water swept me off into the fevered darkness. I cried out then, I am sure of it, but my cries were swallowed up by the foul waters and the soaked earth around me. At some point I struck my head, and my consciousness fled, leaving me to dreams filled with leering half-human faces and glittering eyes of impossible brightness.
When I finally regained myself, I was slumped against the walls of another tunnel. With little choice, but with my flashlight and pistol both lost, I groped forward as best I could. I wandered through that darkness for what felt like forever before I finally reached a chamber, one far larger than I could have imagined. It was as large as a stadium, so vast that my mind struggled to absorb the sheer size of it. I wondered at first how I could see at all without my flashlight, but then another bolt of lightning sizzled through the sky, and I understood. This chamber, this titan colosseum, was open in many places to the sky, and it was the storm above that provided light. And in that light, I saw something that shook me to my very core, a shock so great, that even my research could not prepare me for it.
For you see, professor, the chamber was full of bodies. They absolutely filled it, a veritable carpet of mangled corpses, all in varying states of decay. There were men there, and women and children, and even animals. And there too, gnawing and biting, laughing and tearing, were those responsible. They were hunched things, looking very much like devolved apes or humans, though the faint, inconsistent light made it hard to see clearly. I should have turned back then, but I had come too far for that, so instead, I crept closer, inching my way into the chamber and hiding in a crevice.
These creatures, I was certain, were the ultimate result of some foul bargain between man and that which could not come from any sane part of the universe. They were the reason the ancient townsfolk had feared the thunder, and they were the reason those townsfolk had laid waste the manor and all that lived within. As I watched, the lightning crackled through the sky again, and as the thunder boomed past, the beasts gave cries of their own, and raised their claws to the heavens. Sparks of lightning flashed, not from the sky this time, but from those long, jagged claws that looked so very much like hands. Now, at last, I knew how they had killed those poor construction workers, and how they had carved the tunnels out of the earth. That ancient family had made a pact with the unholy beings that called up the thunder and the lightning, and in exchange, they had been warped, transformed perhaps, into something that could harness some small measure of that power.
For centuries, the storms had called up these creatures, these vile aberrations, and it had driven them to kill and maim. As the tumult overhead grew stronger, I saw the creatures begin to sway back and forth in insane fashion, their voices raised in some unearthly ululation that seemed to echo the cadence of the thunder. Their backs were to me as they turned their faces up to the sky, and bayed and howled and danced. I felt a shiver run through me, as my intuition called up a memory, one that I had long treasured. I do not treasure it anymore.
As I have said professor, I have always had a peculiar affinity for thunderstorms. They do not frighten me, but my intuition has always been able to predict them. There are even times when I turned my gaze out to the sea expectantly, knowing long before anyone else that a storm is coming. My younger sister has yet to show such ability, but I remember there were times when my mother was still alive, when she would gather both of us into her embrace, and take us to watch the storm. She would rock us, singing some wordless song beneath her breath as the sky tore itself apart.
But just as quickly as it had come, the memory faded. What were people thinking to build a town atop the bones of this horrid past? Terrible things had been done here, and still a town had been built, still people had delved into the earth, never thinking of what they might unearth, of what ancient horror lay still brooding beneath them. But perhaps I could end it here. There were only a dozen or so of the creatures, and I had the element of surprise. The bones scattered about would make fine weapons, and they could hardly be more than beasts. I could outwit them and put an end to this centuries old cycle of ruin. I was gathering myself to strike when I heard it.
It was a deep sound, far deeper in pitch than thunder, and it seemed to shake the chamber. It was the sound of countless feet, of unnumbered claws scraping the earth. And what it implied was so horrific as to drive the very breath from my lungs. Mere moments later, hundred, perhaps thousands of the vile creatures began to flood into the chamber. That alone should have been enough to unhinge me, to damn me forever to madness, but somehow, I stayed sane. It was what followed that truly broke something within me, my soul perhaps, if indeed I actually have one. Monsters, I feel, should not have souls.
The sudden rush of bodies jarred my footing and I tumbled from my crevice right into the middle of the inhuman throng. At that very moment, a flash of lightning lit the sky, and at last I was close enough to make out their features clearly. I remembered too, the words that had been written about the accursed family in the haggard tomes I had examined.
Their unusual colour of hair…
The brightness of their eyes…
The accursed family that had birthed these abominations was known for their remarkable features, and there, in the brutal glow of the lightning, I saw the unspeakable truth. The creatures had faces with an unmistakably human cast, though they were badly degraded, enough that a casual observer might call them monster or ape. But what drew my eye, what scorched my soul, were the thin scraps of hair that clung to their skulls – scraps of hair that were a shade of pink quite familiar to me. And their eyes… Maker, if there is any mercy in the universe, would that I had not seen their eyes. There was animal cunning in those eyes, but human evil as well, and every single eye that I saw, every single one, was the same unmistakably brilliant shade of blue that I see in the mirror every day.
In that instant of mind breaking realisation, every memory I had of thunderstorms and of my mother came to the fore. She had loved thunderstorms, and she had studied genetics, and then she had met her end. Had she realised then what she truly was? Had science finally revealed the truth that I have now come to realise? After all, not all of that accursed family were killed. One had cooperated with the townsfolk, and so that one had been spared, but might not their blood also carry the curse? Might not their blood also be the product of unspeakable unions between men and things with neither name nor solid shape? And might not still others have escaped the purge by fleeing into the tunnels, to brood, and hunger, and kill, and turn into monsters over the span of centuries?
Horrified, I stumbled about, and every monster there turned to face me. If I had any doubts of my conclusions, they were removed when the next peal of thunder rang out. The creatures rushed out, leaving through countless tunnels, and not a single one of them laid hands on me.
Why would they?
We were kin.
I stumbled out of that chamber of endless secrets and faithless lies, and found myself swept up in a fast flowing current of water. It carried me to some far off stormwater drain where I was found the next day. Not a single person would believe my tale, and Lieutenant Amodar quietly recommended that I take leave to recover from what had clearly been a most shocking experience – the sort of experience that might lead to the fabrication of wild stories. All the same, however, he did follow my advice to double patrols on days when a thunderstorm is expected. He may not believe me entirely, but he trusts me, and that means very much.
As you can imagine, the newspapers had a field day. I became the object of immense scrutiny, so when Amodar offered to extend my leave – and with pay – I was only too happy to agree. My leave also gave me time to plan, and you may recall that not too long ago someone sabotaged the sewer system, flooding it entirely. The culprit, professor, has yet to be caught, and I am certain it will stay that way. I do not know if mere water can efface the horror that I encountered, but at the very least, it should bury it for a time.
And there my story ends, professor, and by now it should be clear why I contacted you. I have heard whispers of you from others, whispers that speak of your study of forbidden things. Like myself, you have come across dark hints of the wider universe, a universe in which man is small to the point of insignificance.
I know what I am, professor, and that knowledge sickens me beyond all description. But I have a sister, and she has never known when thunderstorms are coming, nor have they ever fascinated her. If the Maker has any mercy, perhaps she has avoided the curse that dwells within my blood. It is for her alone that I endure.
But I wonder how much longer I can go on. As of late, I find myself looking more and more to the sky over the sea, and as of late, the thunderstorms have come with greater and greater frequency. Am I calling them? Or are they calling me? There are times when I hear the boom of thunder, and I feel something inside me stir, something that wishes to laugh and sing, and bray and dance, all to the cadence of the storm. If that ever happens, then I will shoot myself. I have also acquired a rather curious habit of breaking machinery. It is not, I assure you, a matter of clumsiness. In fact, closer examination of the machines I break seems to suggest that they have suffered damage not unlike that created by a sudden surge of electricity. Some would call it bad luck, but I know it has nothing at all to do with luck. Those creatures could call lightning with their claws, and perhaps I am not so different.
If there is a way to undo the dark bargain that has made me a monster, professor, I intend to find it, and if there is not, then I shall see to it that the madness ends with me. My sister seems free of this taint, and I will ensure that she never knows what our ancestors did, or what forces they meddled with.
Let us help one another. You lost your wife to the same sort of madness that has robbed me of any peace or hope. Perhaps together we might find a solution, perhaps at least one of us might find peace. I only pray that there is still time.
Sergeant Claire Farron.
X X X
As always, I neither own Final Fantasy, nor am I making any money off of this.
Well, I thought it was time to write something a little different, and a little bit of Lovecraft is about as different as it gets (in comparison to what I've been working on recently). Astute readers will notice that the story contains ideas adapted from a range of Lovecraft's stories, such as The Horror at Redhook, The Shadow Over Innsmouth, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, and The Lurking Fear. All four stories are amongst the best of Lovecraft's work, and I strongly recommend that any fan of horror (or fiction in general) read them. If it helps, they can easily be found for free on the internet, and you will be surprised by just how widely Lovecraft's influence has permeated fiction, even beyond the confines of horror, science fiction, and fantasy.
With regards to the chapter itself, I decided to give Lightning a somewhat tortured background. There are few things quite as horrifying as realising that you are a monster, except perhaps, watching yourself slowly turn into one. Whether or not she gives in to her horrific ancestry is a matter for the future. The format of an epistolary is also well suited to this sort of horror.
As always, I appreciate feedback. Reviews and comments are welcome.