Written in an urge of inspiration. As usual, the end sucks (and won't mean a lot to people that aren't from the Netherlands).
"Hungry", the troll growled quite stupidly.
Cronos was a bit suprised by the enormous stupidity of the immense creature standing before him. He had seen many creatures but the one now eyeing him with considerable interest was certainly the most unintelligent of them all. Somewhere in the back of his mind dawned the fact that he himself wasn't one of the most brilliant ones either, but he felt strangely smart in the company of this troll.
It slowly came to the conclusion that Cronos was in fact alive, and thus had to be killed because his mother always said that he could and should eat everything that lived. It decided that it would hit the quite edible-looking human on the head, then eat it. So it did.
Cronos was taken aback by the agility of the huge creature as an enormous fist hit him on the head. Slight feelings of confusion and pain troubled him. He decided the time had come for some defensive actions.
The troll was surprised. Normally, its victims would totally disintegrate, explode or at least die when it hit them on the head. This one, however, remained on its feet. Even more surprising, it hit back quite hard.
Now it was Cronos' turn to be surprised. He had just applied a move that old Ninja master Hang Foy Soozooki taught him, designed purely to obliterate completely any bone structure present in any living creature. Normally, this move would surely kill his victims or at least render them incapable of being any threat to his precious hearing aid. But this troll didn't seem to react to it. It just looked a bit more stupid than it had done before.
The silence that followed was a painful one. The two opponents were pondering over their next moves, not very sure of what it would be because their first moves had always been sufficient until now. The troll decided to repeat the last move since it was the only one it knew. Cronos was prepared now and evaded the blow. The troll had put considerable more force into it this time and not hitting Cronos severely upset its balance, causing its fist to impact on the left tunnel wall, creating a large hole in it. The troll was getting upset now because the tunnel was part of his home. His mother always said he should keep his home nice and tidy.
"Angry!", bellowed the troll and fetched a piece of tree trunk that had functioned as a support for the tunnel. Cronos tried another one of his techniques on the troll, resulting in an even more angry tree-trunk wielding creature.
The troll swung the trunk in the direction of Cronos who quickly ducked and applied a double leg lock on the ravenous creature. He slightly misjudged the momentum of the trunk; the following chaos resulted in three more trunks being torn from their positions, not giving the tunnel anything to lean on anymore. The tunnel, after having been lived in for centuries by whole generations of trolls, decided that its time had come and collapsed quite dramatically.
Cronos felt a slight pressure on his chest as several feet of rubble were piled upon him. Heavy breathing beside him reminded him of a very aggressive troll and seconds later he was standing next to a partly collapsed hill in which he had only wanted to spend the night after fruitlessly searching for a certain renegade general. The fact that the whole country had now been reduced to a pile of rubble and total anarchy ruled didn't seem to bother him at all. Back in his mind lingered some sort of uncle but the connection wasn't really clear. Anyway, the troll was now busy removing the various chunks of hill from itself. It probably meant having to fight again.
The troll wasn't happy. His mother had always stressed that he should keep his home tidy and eat any strangers. Now he had failed her. Years of frustration finally came to the surface. It started to cry. First it was a bit surprised by the water coming from its eyes, but when he got the hang of it, tears came by the gallons.
Cronos was a tough fighter. He had survived many battles on many planets and still managed to keep his no-claim on his life insurance. Somehow, crying always seemed to affect him. No matter what cried, gorgeous young female or ugly troll, the one piece of his mind he had always kept suppressed manifested itself. After a few moments his eyes started to fill with water and after a few more moments, he was standing besides the troll, sobbing his heart out.
Suddenly, Cronos got an idea. He started to rummage through his pockets frantically, finally to come up with a small coin he held in front of the troll enthusiastically. It beheld it with large, ignorant and watery eyes.
"Even Apeldoorn bellen," Cronos said and rushed off to the nearest phone booth.
Written late 1989 or early 1990. Rehashed slightly, September 1994.
When he regained consciousness, the Timetraveller shook his head and moaned. He immediately felt a mindsmashing headache, throbbing through his head as if it wanted the very bones of his skull to burst at every single heart's beat. He once more swore never ever to do it again.
As his senses focused on the sights and sounds around him, he noticed that he was indeed teleported (and even warped) to the era he was supposed to be teleported (and indeed warped) to: The Jurassic era, a massive 150 million years ago - there were ferns as high as three-storey flats, and all kinds of flowers that were to die out at the end of the Cretaceous era, about 65 million years ago.
So this was where the Interstellar Palaeobiological Regeneration Associations wanted him to work for some time to come.
The Timetraveller shook his head again, and blinked his eyes.
There was also a rather enormous specimen of extinct reptile standing directly in front of him, but this he did not notice until it opened its fangs and the sun reflected on some terrifying rows of flashy white teeth - with spots of bloody red on them as well, so the Timetraveller was somewhat startled to notice.
A large piece of dripping wet meat - presumably its tongue - was licking them in what could only be described as quite a menacing way.
The Timetraveller was about to swear that he would never do it again when the rather enormous specimen of extinct reptile (further to be referred to as 'Allosaurus') decided it had seen enough of this pathetic human and knew only one way to rid itself of such a minor irritation: Eating it.
A rather tasteless word that had something to do with used food passed the Timetraveller's lips as he noticed the obviously foul intent of the giant reptile.
The Timetraveller immediately grasped that it was of no avail to try and convince Mr. Hungry Allosaurus of the disgusting taste of his flesh. He pushed a couple of buttons on his portable time machine.
"See you in ten minutes' time!" he said before pressing a purple button labelled 'red'.
Ten minutes later.
The Timetraveller noticed that his headache had virtually vanished when he opened his eyes again, a mere second after pressing the purple button labelled 'red'.
He saw the world what it looked like 150 million years minus 10 minutes ago, and had to admit that it hadn't particularly improved much to his liking.
But, just like he had hoped, the enormous specimen of extinct reptile (sometimes also referred to as 'Allosaurus') had decided not to think long about the mysterious vanishing that had just taken place and had wandered off again.
A positively deafening sound of what could not be interpreted for anything else rather than some mega-amplified and giga-boosted earthquake sounds roared through the trees, and Cronos' attention was instantly drawn to an enormous specimen of extinct reptile (sometimes also referred to as 'Allosaurus') that was experiencing some quite violent spasms behind a couple of ferns. It was balancing at the edge of a gap in the ground that had definitely not been there a mere 10 minutes ago.
And it was getting bigger as mere more seconds passed. He blinked his eyes in disbelief. Was his job that urgent?
The somewhat outdated specimen of extinct reptile (which is indeed sometimes also referred to as 'Allosaurus') disappeared into the gap, making some awesome sounds of terror.
The sound of the mega-amplified and giga-boosted earthquake all of a sudden ceased, and the Timetraveller was even more than a bit shocked to notice that the Allosaurus had truly vanished (and indeed died).
The seismic activity in this region was surely not to be fooled with - the guys at the Interstellar Palaeobiological Regeneration Association were just in the nick of time to send him over to teleport these dinosaurs to a safer place. And if he didn't do something really soon, the dinosaurs would all die out...even before these giant animals would have had the decency to take care of some more or less intelligent mammalian offspring from which men would eventually evolve!
He felt his strength already growing slightly weaker...
Written December 1989.
The man rolled over with a grunt. Clutching at her pillow, he half-consciously realized his wife had already left for work.
After using the bathroom and opening the shades, he headed downstairs. A quick breakfast of cinnamon toast and orange juice went down without being noticed.
Remembering his schedule, he called a number from memory.
"Quentin and Associates," the receptionist said.
"Greg Quentin, please. Tell him this is Joe Brunswick."
"One moment, sir."
"Sir, Mr Quentin has no knowledge of a Mr Brunswick. You did say Brunswick?"
"Yes, that's right," the man answered, feeling perplexed and not a little bit exasperated. "Never mind, I'll call back when he's had time to get organized."
Joe hung up. Going out to get the paper to take his mind off this weirdness, he patted his Weimeraner, Bully. The news was made up of the usual random observations of untrained bystanders. Turning to the unpaid bills left on the counter, he briefly scanned the gas bill, phone bill, electric...all high, but that wasn't unusual.
Wait a minute, he thought. The bills were addressed to Frank Salmson. Did the mailman get mixed up? No, it was the right address. Very strange. Ah well, someone got the address wrong. Climbing the back stairs to the second floor, he tripped over his daughter's jacket; then, farther up, her schoolbooks. "Kiddo," he called, "time to get up. And could you pick your stuff up off the stairs?"
"OK, Dad," came the muffled reply. Of course, knowing his daughter, Joe thought, she'll need to be woken up again in ten minutes. He went into the master bedroom, laid a sportcoat, tie, pants, and yesterday's shirt (it wasn't all that dirty, he told himself) on the bed, and went next door to take a shower.
When he was done, he dressed, woke his daughter up again - making sure she was actually out of the bed - and went downstairs. Joe wrote a short note to his wife, reminding her that he had a meeting with the regional Pepsi representative and so might be a little late. Bully wanted to play, so Joe obliged him by throwing the tennis ball in the yard with him. Then he rubbed the big dog's belly, told him to be a good dog, and hopped in his car.
He almost took the wrong exit for his office, but finally made it to Folsom Street. Off the ramp to the right, into the little court, and into the lot of his office. It felt odd, but he knew he was in the right place. Gotta stop staying up so late, he told himself. I'm not so young anymore; up til two and I'm out of it all day.
"Hi Cindy," he said as he loped through the door and back to his office, not noticing the receptionist's odd stare. She'd only been there three weeks, she mused, but he'd never forgotten her name before.
Sitting down at his desk, he began to feel uneasy. Someone had been rummaging through his papers, he could tell. And, oddly...wait a minute. All the correspondence was addressed to Frank Salmson. What the hell was going on?
The phone rang, startling him. "John Winters on line one, sir," the receptionist said.
He picked up the receiver. "Yeah?"
"Hey, Frankie, how's it going?"
"My name's Joe, not Frankie."
"Yeah, right. Listen, I talked to Marilyn about that plastics option, but the percentages were too high. Maybe we should shop it around a little."
"Ah...sure, sure. See what you can come up with."
"Right. See ya round, Frank."
This was very weird. He rubbed his temples, wondering if he'd been out drinking last night. Deciding he did feel a little out of it, he called to the receptionist. "Hey, Cindy, could you come in here?"
"What can I get you," she said when she entered a moment later.
"Nothing, thanks. I just think I need to get away from work for a while. It's been a long week. Could you hold down the fort, tell anyone important I'll call them tomorrow? And, if you want, go ahead and cut out a little early yourself. Say, around three."
"Sure, Mr. Salmson. I didn't want to say anything, but you do look a bit piqued."
"Uh...yeah. Thanks; I'll see you tomorrow."
Hurrying to his car, he wondered just what it was that he'd been drinking. Was he hearing wrong when she called him Salmson? Or was someone pulling a complicated practical joke? He tried to think if he knew anyone who would do something this bizarre, but couldn't come up with anyone. Oh, well, some good food and an afternoon at the movies would take his mind off things.
He caught two matinees at the multiplex theater built where wheatfields had been when he was a teenager. By five thirty the day was all but forgotten. The growling in his stomach urged him to head home. When he got there, an unfamiliar car was parked in the street outside. Inside, though, he found only his wife, his daughter, and the massive dog. The car must have been a neighbour's new showpiece.
"Hi honey. Hungry?" his wife said.
"Boy, am I. And beat, too. Mind if I collapse on the couch?"
"No, go ahead. Dinner's almost ready."
He picked up the remote and flipped channels until he found the local news. Raising his voice over the TV and the noises from the kitchen, he called out "How was work?"
"Well, the new wing is almost done, so it looks like I'll be staying late the next few weeks moving the periodicals into it."
"Bummer. Say, hon, there's some mail on the bookshelf that got misdelivered. Do you recognize it?"
His wife leaned around the corner and glanced at the letters. "It's the right address, hon."
"No, I mean the name." She walked out this time, and picked up the pile.
"Marion Salmson...Frank...Salmson family...hmm...no, it all looks right."
He sat stunned for a moment. The doubts of the morning crept back into his mind. "Uh...honey? This is going to sound weird, but...are you sure that's right?"
His wife looked at him for a long moment. "Are you OK?"
"I don't know, I really don't know." His wife came over and began rubbing his shoulders. "Something strange is happening. I thought at first it might be a gag, or maybe some stress-related hallucination, but... listen. All day, everyone's been calling me Frank Salmson. But...it just isn't my name. Or doesn't seem like, it anyway. My name's Joe Brunswick. Isn't it?"
She looked at him again, searchingly, caringly. "Honey, you are Frank Salmson. I swear it. No joking. You haven't been drinking, have you.?"
"No! No, dammit, I'm completely sober. What the hell is going on here? Is everyone going crazy? Or, am I? I just don't understand."
She came around the couch and sat in his lap. "It's OK, it's going to be OK. Maybe this is some kind of minor nervous breakdown, but that's OK, we'll figure it out. Don't worry, I'll be here. I love you, you know that much, don't you?"
"Yes...yes, I know that. And I love you. I'm just...not exactly sure who I am." She kissed his forehead, and he pulled her close.
"The Channel 8 Six O'Clock News is brought to you by Kupp's Billiard Supply. 'We give you our best shot.'" "Good evening, this is Tom Malone standing in for Scott Stevens, who's on vacation. Our lead story tonight is a case of mistaken identity. Or, make that cases. Jeannie?" "Thanks Tom. That's right. Authorities in Lake County have received two hundred and eighteen reports of an unusual sort of amnesia. The victims, all male, appear to have forgotten their names and those of their loved ones. However, the most unusual aspect of this psychological syndrome is that they all believe they have new names. In fact, they all believe they have the same name. A cause has not yet been determined, however, food, workplaces, and homes are all being examined for possible contaminants that might have affected the memories of the victims. The phenomenon was discovered when a man, after being refused cash at his bank when he signed the wrong name to a check, began screaming at the tellers that he was 'Joe Brunswick' and had to be restrained by security guards. Jamie Instrom is live at the bank right now. Jamie?" "Thanks, Jeannie. Second Fourth bank is on a quiet corner of the Hillside district..."
The couple stared at each other with wide eyes.
Col's OH 3/16/93 MEK
Whistling some kind of tune between his teeth, the man put the pedal to the metal and had his car disappear from the fuel station in a cloud of dust and dead ants.
Would a camera have been aimed at this fuel station, it would have displayed the slow appearance of the somewhat puzzled form of a man in his mid-forties, straining to grasp something as the dust settled down around him. He wasn't puzzled at the enormous amount of dead ants in the car's tracks, nor was he wondering what the hell he was supposed to do with 9,000 Thanatopian credits. He was wondering, however, why that dude had just filled up his Pontiac Trans Am with brown beer. The thoughts of another person exactly, someone dressed in white who disappeared moments later.
The shopkeeper had looked at Warchild with an incredulous look in his eyes, fingering a half-opened drawer for a weapon of some kind - for you could never know.
"But, mister," the incredulous-looking man had continued, "arms's my business, ya know. I wouldn't wanna go sellin' booze when people a' wantin' arms, ya know. I'd be rippin' me own..."
Warchild had cut the man short with a pan-universal sign of a finger on his right hand.
"I WANT BROWN BEER."
Warchild had repeated his demand with a kind of particular 'something' in his voice; a 'something' that would have neatly fitted on someone like the grim reaper.
"Mind ya, mister, I would be sellin' ya beer if I had any, ya know. But I haven't gottit. It's asimple as tha'".
He had tried to sound as if he still has confidence in himself, but he had seemed to fail somewhere. He had almost started to believe that he was lying.
"I WANT BROWN BEER."
Though it had sounded identical to Warchild's previous demand in even its tiniest aspects, the shopkeeper hadn't quite thought so. And the poor man had definitely believed he himself was lying now.
"Okay, okay, mister," the man had said with trembling voice and sweat appearing on his forehead, "I'll be bringin' ya a nice cool beer right away, mister! Brown beer, yeah, in a neat li'l bo'l."
He had turned around and disappeared behind a door labeled "Private".
Cronos had scanned the shop. Quite some interesting gear had been stacked on the shelves, which would no doubt have enhanced his chances of surviving the intricate enemy activities on the fourth tourist world. Had he wanted to buy any of them, he would have had to pay excessive amounts of Thanatopian credits.
Apart from him, there had only been one other customer at the shop. Someone dressed in white, carefully examining a display of hypodermic syringes.
After about two minutes, the shopkeeper had returned from behind the door labeled "Private" with what had seemed to look like some kind of tube that had looked a bit like some kind of post-modern piece of space-age weaponry, unfortunately aimed at the mercenary annex hired gun. Warchild had not been pleased. Not at all.
With a rather tricky move, Warchild had made the shopkeeper sink on the floor, suddenly weak at the knees and a whole lot of other parts of his body.
Still, however, Cronos hadn't got what he wanted. Neither had he found it when he had headed back from the Fourth Tourist world to Earth. So when he visited the gas station and found a fridge full of it, he handed the guy behind the counter enough credits to buy the entire gas station - providing Thanatopian had any more value than monopoly money on this planet. He also found some gas.
Since Cronos Warchild was trained to fight, not to think, he absent-mindedly put the beer in his car and drank the petrol, much to the amazement of an old man who just happened to be sitting in a rocking-chair on the porch, watching the ants fullfilling their daily ritual of slaughtering enormous amounts of other ants in the eternal Battle of the Scarce Picnic Leftovers. Warchild never noticed anything odd, though he frowned at the unusual foam coming out of the nuzzle of his car's gas tank. The beer seemed a bit off too.
So now he stood there. In the middle of nowhere.
Maybe, 'nowhere' was actually a bit of an exaggeration, but it definitely doesn't fall into the confinements of this story's boundaries to discuss whether a thousand square miles of bare desert sand (with a dune here and there) can be described as 'nowhere' or not.
The car had seemed to run smoothly for just about as much time as was necessary to get him PRECISELY in the middle of this thing called 'nowhere' and then had quite spontaneously ceased to operate in an enormous belch of fumes and a disgusting smell of rancid Brown Beer.
After he had let the synonym of an animal's solid excrements pass his lips a great many times, he decided to get out of his burning excuse for a Pontiac.
Just at about that moment, a guy wearing a small, dark, flat hat with a ridiculous small erect thingy on top of it, holding a bottle of red wine and a lengthily shaped loaf of bread, barged onto the scene.
"Excusez moi?" the strange chap seemed to inquire.
"? Whatthe.... ?"
Completely baffled to an extent Cronos had never before imagined possible (well, it was universally known that the mercenary annex hired gun HAD a somewhat limited imagination - hence), he looked around, carefully scanning the surroundings for someone that might be jamming his newly acquired hearing aid.
He failed to see anything but enormous loads of sand grains spread around him on an area which he quickly estimated to be 986.54 square miles in size. That, and the somewhat strange chap, of course.
"Est'ce que je aider vous?" the strange chap inquired further.
Warchild was now sure that no one could possibly be jamming his hearing aid. That could only mean one thing - he was being insulted in the rudest way someone from Sucatraps could possibly be. And, with a short shock that lasted at least several scores of nanoseconds, he saw that the lengthily shaped thing the strange chap held under his arm looked pretty much like a tube that had been shoved under his nose only recently.
So he did what he was trained for to do in dangerous situations such as this one. Accompanied only by the sound of several millions of air molecules being savagely torn from each other, his fist rocketed through the air, impacting on the strange chap with a rather unhealthy speed at a proportionately unhealthy spot.
About a quarter of an hour later, a deafening 'boom' followed by a softer 'thud' was heard by the gas station owner, who was now discussing red ant picnic scavenging war strategics with the old man, after which they looked at the approximate centre of 986.54 square miles of sand grains with slightly puzzled looks.
Note: Please excuse the authors of this story for their blatant lack of French grammar. Due to circumstances that fall beyond their current intention to reveal, they both flunked this subject at highschool and can be safely said not to know any better.
Except maybe for "Voulez vous couchez avec moi ce soire" - a phrase they both use every time they see someone wearing a small, dark, flat hat with a ridiculous small erect thingy on top of it, holding a bottle of red wine and a lengthily shaped loaf of bread - their French can be considered non-existent.
Cronos decided not to hang around the scene any longer. The desert vultures where already noticing a heavily mutilated body in the middle of all that sand and were displaying a growing rate of interest for it. Because he hated all birds of prey, vultures particularly, he started on a brisk trot. He savagely and unwittingly splattering some ants who were carrying picnic remnants with triumphant looks on their little faces. Instead of to their nests they'd now have to take it to the Eternal Honeyjar.
Note: Recent research by reknown biologists has revealed that ants believe the world evolves around them and that they spend their afterlives in the holy and indeed incredibly sweet and plentiful Eternal Honeyjar which floats amidst the remnants of the Great Picnic at the start of their World, with scores of decaying animal remains nearby to munch on (or to go to on posthumous honeymoons).
It is quite a well-known fact that, each year, more people who happen to enjoy a picnic get shocked by the ritual suicide of enormous hordes of ants who hurl themselves into a honeyjar carelessly left open.
Warchild had strolled briskly through the seemingly endless desert for a whole lot of hours when he felt a strangely nauseating feeling in his neck. At about the same time, from the shimmering air above the hot load of sand grains came a shape.
"Do you see those bilds, Sjau Long?" the shape said.
The voice wasn't meant to be heard by Warchild. Instead, a reaction came from a second shape that now appeared slowly above the horizon, shimmering and uncertain.
"Yes, honoled mastel! What ale they? Alen't those vultules?" this other shape now replied.
Some music now also sounded across the many millions of billions of sand grains. It sounded like some kind of Oriental folk music, and the lyrics seemed to go like this:
"Blackened is the nonwolthy end
Wintel it will send
Thlowing each nonwolthy thing we see
Into unhonolable obsculity"
Then, it seemed to be cut off abruptly - as if the tape had been damaged, savaged by an event somewhele...eh...somewhere in its owner's past.
"See what I will do with those vultules, noble applentice!" the first shape now said. It started to make strange movements, not wholly unlike those made by someone dangling at the end of a ten foot rope without any ground support.
A shining piece of metal could be seen, thrown in the air by the shape, slicing the genitals off one of the more eager vultures circling in the air above it.
The second shape waited several seconds, and then exclaimed:
"All nice and well, noble mastel, I tlust that vultule will nevel have sex again, but I guess we will not be having soft vultule feathel filled cushions to sleep on tonight either, will we?"
"I guess we won't," the first shape said.
Cronos looked at the shapes in bewildered puzzlement, and after loads of long thinking (I suppose you know now how hard this is for him, since he was trained to...well, you know it by now) a reluctant remembrance shuddered his consciousness: It was Ninja Master Hang Foy Soozooki, the guy who had taught him the move that was purely designed to completely obliterate any bone structure present in any living creature!
Staggering, licking his dried out, crusted lips, he stumbled slowly towards Hang Foy Soozooki and his servant annex apprentice, Sjau Long. These were now engaged in a tea ceremony of enormous complexity, involving the burning of sand grains, the inserting of precise quantities of honey in tea mugs, the purging of some dried out leaves in water, and the fencing off of a couple of hundred frantically fanatic ants that seemed to have millions of perfectly valid reasons to hurl themselves into the Ninja Master's honey jar.
Needless to say, each and every ant trying to do so was sent back home after having been rendered memberless.
"Moo Moo Moomoomooo..." Warchild tried to cry in some kind of happy voice. Whilst trying to cry out the Master's name, the mercenary annex hired gun dashed (or, rather, clumsily crawled) forward.
Neither Hang Foy nor Sjau actually seemed to find it necessary to notice him, and quietly proceeded burning grains, inserting honey, purging leaves and performing mass micro-surgery.
"Water. Please." Cronos said weakly.
Sjau Long now seemed to notice him.
"Water?" he looked at Warchild with the same kind of look that had occupied the face of the mercenary annex hired gun before - one of puzzled bewilderment, that is.
"Water. Please." Cronos repeated, even more weakly.
"Oh! Watel!?", Sjau Long now enthused.
There was now nothing left in Cronos' voice besides weakness.
The servant annex apprentice took an enormous jug in which there must have been gallons and gallons of crisp, clear and cool water. He poured it gently over Warchild's dried out-head and crust-covered lips.
The fata morgana disappeared, and Cronos only felt the harsh and bitter taste of a relatively minor quantity of sand grains in his mouth as he fell into the desert, face down.
It felt to him as if someone was pouring down his aching throat each and every bit of sand to be found in the desert.
It might be a wise idea, he thought to himself, to faint. So he did.
The spiralling feeling of plunging into endless voids ceased only then when he impacted on something that was quite awkward to impact on. Instead of being nastily solid and quite splattering (like, say, a circus tent floor), it was very soft, and liquidish.
Cronos opened his mouth to scream in agony, only to have it filled with a large amount of the liquid. It tasted very sweet, and indeed very familiar, but he couldn't quite place it yet.
Nor could he even pretend to like the fact that this liquid, no matter how good it tasted, obstructed his breathing in a rather efficient way. He also didn't like the slow sinking feeling he was experiencing. He liked to be in control of things, which he now most certainly wasn't.
Taking each and every muscle in his body to the very limits of its capabilities, he struggled to stay alive. When he opened his eyes and looked through the thin layer of the thickish fluid on them, he was disgusted to notice that a couple of rather large ants were at the verge up jumping in the fluid, too.
Were they really wearing little sandals?
They made a sound that could not be mistaken for anything else rather than...chanting, really.
One after the other, the ants started plummeting themselves into the mass of soft, sweet, thick fluid; a vortex of many times six huge insect paws.
There were hundreds of 'em now. Cronos tried to scream once more. His mouth got filled with the soft, sweet fluid as well as several dozen ants. He decided against screaming some more and instead just tried to breathe. This on its own was already hard enough, as his nasal openings were cluttered with ants, too.
"Cronos! Cronos" he seemed to hear. The voice floated like a mist would float over the endless marshes of Spargoflactic Yllozud.
Note: Many light years from Earth (or even from Sucatraps), there is a planet called Spargoflactic Yllozud. It is by all means quite a small planetoid, but its marshes are of quite gigantic proportions - many scientists believe that a freakout in the space/time continuum has actually resulted in them being ENDLESS.
Not the kind of marsh you would be happily flollopping around in if you were called Zem.
Also not the kind of marsh where you would like to be part of the expedition that, for 37 generations, has been travelling to that 'nice looking patch of hill on yonder horizon'.
As the ants absorbed him, Warchild made some rather spastic moves. And suddenly he was floating through a kind of rotating warp tunnel that provided his retina with more different colours to absorb and interpret than the black eye of a stained Frenchman lying despirited somewhere in the centre of hundreds of square miles of desert sand. He felt giddy with vertigo, and tried to grab hold of something. Unfortunately, there was nothing to grab hold of. With what seemed to Warchild like a deafening 'thud', he landed on the floor of what, after a couple of seconds' examination, turned out to be some kind of bar.
Lefty was behind the bar serving a drink. The girl sitting next to him wasn't extremely pretty, but she sure had some legs down there. Cronos was a bit surprised by all this, since nobody seemed to notice his sudden appearance. After a few moments, a man in some ridiculous white polyester clothes came out of the toilet, carrying a remote control and a red rose. He walked towards the bar and ordered a drink.
"Hiya," the man said to Cronos.
"Larry Laffer is the name, you look kinda strange," he said.
Cronos considered his next move. The man didn't seem a threat in any way so he quickly discarded the thought of smacking the pathetic jerk's face. He did notice a foul odour arising from the smooth jerk's mouth.
"Hey. Your mouth smells like the inside of a motorman's glove," a voice said.
Cronos looked around him in...well...puzzled bewilderment. Or shall we say 'bewildered puzzlement'? Yes. Good idea. Anyway.
"WHAT WAS THAT?" the mercenary annex hired gun inquired.
"Oh, really, that's nothing out of the ordinary," the slick jerk explained, "It's just good ol' Al giving me some advise. He tends to do that now and again." With a slightly embarrassed look, he produced a small spray bottle from the inside pocket of his incredibly ill-fitted suit and used the contents on his oral opening.
"It sure was about time, Larry," the omnipresent voice concluded.
Warchild looked around him again, instantly reaching for one of his recently acquired killer gadgets. When he found it, it turned out to be all sticky with honey or something like that.
"Cronos! Cronos!" another voice yelled.
The jerk now also looked around him. That surely wasn't good ol' Al's voice; it was a voice that would have made the sound of Jessica Rabbit seem like that of an eighty-year-old-Napalm-Death-crying-grandmother in comparison. Not heeding it, the smooth jerk went off to the toilet, where Warchild's super hearing (aid) noticed him talking to a bozo about roses, and afterwards drowning himself.
There was one other rather interesting door on the ground floor of the establishment. It looked quite sturdy and there was a small peephole in it. After walking towards it, the mercenary annex hired gun knocked on it - accidentally knocking the door completely off its hinges.
Behind it, a rather fat pimp was watching a sleazy adult movie ("John & Marsha take a Bath"), who suddenly wore a somewhat frightened expression upon beholding the rather square silhouette in the door opening.
"Er...shouldn't you just say 'Ken sent me' or something?" the fat man ventured in a quite unusually subtle way.
Warchild was planning extensive apologies, but "GRMPF," was all he found necessary to pronounce.
"Er...yeah. Er....if you wanna, you can go upstairs and...er... have your pipes cleaned...er....if you get my drift..." the pimp continued.
Cronos' facial expression told quite clearly that he didn't know nothin' about no driftin' - nor did he know anything about cleanin' (unless one was talking about toilets in an Ambulor Eight Thai Boxing School). He walked passed the abashed man who was very wise and decided to continue watching the sleazy movie.
"Have a nice lay," the pimp muttered habitually.
Upon arriving upstairs, Cronos saw a rather tarty girl lying on a small bed. She was reading the printout of some kind of on-line fiction magazine and was apparently enthralled by the adventures of one of the characters occurring in the introductory novella.
"He walked towards the bed, wondering what the rather tarty girl might be reading in such an unusually enthralled way," the girl read aloud to herself, "and he wandered why she read aloud. Then the girl looked up and saw him standing - her squarely built Adonis, her hero of all quests..."
The girl looked up from her reading to see Cronos standing. Her eyes opened wildly, not entirely grasping the meaning of all that was happening. She read the next line of the printout aloud.
"She arose from the bed, screaming widly about male potency, enormous muscles, square build and a desire of fourteen hours of passionate sexual intercourse."
Instinctively, the mercenary annex hired gun quickly looked around him. What to do now?
As the girl was getting up from the bed, licking her lips and taking off her clothes, he spotted some pills in the window frame. He mistook them for the explosive eggs of the Taroglyphoxian killer wale. He decided to lurch for them. He made a run for what he considered to be his only means of saving his life without getting dirty hands (and without getting some kind of somewhat transferable disease). The momentum of his fear combined with her passion, however, caused him to actually jump clean through the window.
A rather unattractive garbage container with a rather callous hammer in it was coming closer to him in a fashion described centuries earlier by a guy called Isaac.
He turned around many times, and suddenly there were colours. Many colours, indeed. Even more colours than those present on the black eyes of a thousand million billion Frenchmen lying spread all over many 54 square miles of sand grains.
He felt giddy with vertigo (as usual), and turned and turned and turned...
Freedom of choice
Choice is made for you my friend
Freedom of speech
Speech is words that they will bend
Freedom no longer frees you!
The song was sung by a blue-haired creature with a tail and yellow eyes, circling along with Warchild in the vortex of vertiguous vehemence. It was followed by about a dozen religious nuts, complexily floating within the same vortex and yelling sentences which mainly existed of the word "Blasphemy!". These, in turn, seemed to be followed by about two dozen large sandals that seemed to have been lost in all the nuts' enthusiasm.
Two seconds later (well...give or take a couple of nanoseconds), Cronos found himself back in the enormous honeyjar, every (EVERY) opening in his body filled with crawling and throbbing ants. It seemed as if they were actually building little ant homes in his organs, and were preparing for many posthumous honeymoons.
A voice echoed through his subconscious consciousness as it were. He thought he must be dreaming, for now he even felt clear and cool water being used to moisten his cracked lips.
Dizzy, he tried to open his eyes. He managed to do this quite well - though there was still a thin layer of honey obstructing his sight, at least much of it. There seemed to be someone sitting on top of him, sweeping ants off his face. Normally, this would have resulted in immediate termination of the creature in question, but this one was different...
His eyes had trouble in convincing his brains what they beheld.
A woman, wearing a white robe (on the back of which was written in large, red letters in a font normally used in cheap B-movies, "Ambulor Eight Hospital for the Very, Very Splattered") was a few inches above him. As he looked up, he could see the loose buttons on her shirt and the black lace revealing itself teasingly. Her soft roundings were pressed against his chest and he could feel her breathing in a very special way.
She had a very worried expression on her face. The face itself was so perfectly shaped that Cronos almost had to avert his eyes to prevent them from being blinded forever. Her eyes were faintly moist which made them glitter as if they were prizeless diamonds catching the rays of the sun above which suddenly didn't seem to burn viciously anymore, but merely functioned as a device to envelop her in an almost divine light. When her long fawnen hair fell forwards on his face, he was overcome by a smell of blossoming roses on a warm summer afternoon in some distant and heavenly country. With one sweep of her arm, she brushed aside her hair and continued feeding small amounts of water to him.
"Cronos", she whispered in a voice so clear and so full of emotion that tears welled up in his eyes, "are you all right?"
Cronos swallowed some of the water and decided to stay still for some more time so he could enjoy this with every fibre of his body.
When she moved to take something from the little bag she was carrying, one of the lower buttons on her shirt gave up and the sight revealed to Cronos was enough to almost render him senseless again. Never before had he seen such finesse, or such perfect shapes. He decided to get up now before things really got out of hand. He didn't have any tissues handy.
When he stood up next to her, swallowing heavily, he saw that it was the same nurse that had saved his life already once more. And, so he was pleased to note, she still looked like an identical twin of Gloria Estefan.
"Wooo wooo," Warchild said, his voice shaking, trembling and flollopping with emotions of extensive gratitude.
"Hush, hush," the nurse whispered whilst holding one of her delicately shaped fingers to his lips, "don't talk, beloved. It brings you naught but pain."
He felt kinda insulted by the sheer mentioning of the possibility of him being able to sense pain, but decided not to act and feign that he was indeed in severe pains. Instinctively, he seemed to know that this was not going to be bad for him at all.
He drew her slowly towards him, repeating his exclamation of gratitude.
"Don't, beloved," the nurse whispered.
She thrust her lips towards his, unable to restrain her passion and love much longer. She ripped open his black leather jacket and closed her eyes.
"Oh, Cronos!" she sighed passionately.
Her lips froze in mid-thrust, and her hands did likewise as they were about to let the heavy leather jacket drop on the desert sand.
"Damn. Dr. Hamilton wants me at the Hospital," she concluded.
"? Whatthe...?" Cronos uttered unbelievably.
Completely baffled to an extend Cronos had never before imagined possible (not even earlier that day), he looked around, carefully scanning the surroundings for someone that might be jamming his newly acquired hearing aid.
Had some honey come into this device? Or were a couple of ants having a honeymoon gang-bang orgy in there? Unfortunately for Cronos, nothing had and none were.
"Got to go," the nurse said, adjusting her shirt.
She sensually disappeared in what seemed like a puff of pink smoke. A commonly used synonym for an animal's solid excrements passed Warchild's lips.
At that precise moment, an alien landed RIGHT before him. Warchild was still busy being baffled with what had happened just now, so he really didn't know what to do with this new thing happening to him.
It alighted gently on the ground, and what little hum it had generated died away, as if lulled by the afternoon calm of many, many square miles of desert.
A ramp extended itself.
Light streamed out.
A tall figure appeared silhouetted in the hatchway. It walked down the ramp and stood in front of Cronos.
"You're a jerk, Warchild," it said simply.
It was alien, very alien. It had a peculiar alien tallness, a peculiar alien flattened head, peculiar slitty little alien eyes, extravagantly draped golden robes with a peculiarly alien collar design, and pale grey-green alien skin which had about it that lustrous sheen which most grey-green faces can only acquire with plenty of exercise and plenty of very expensive soap.
Cronos boggled at it.
It gazed levelly at him.
Cronos' first sensation of hope and trepidation had instantly been overwhelmed by astonishment, and all sorts of thoughts were battling for the use of his vocal chords at the moment.
"Whh...?" he said.
"Bu...hu...uh..." he added.
"Ru...ra..wah...who?" he finally managed to say and lapsed into a frantic state of silence. He was feeling the effect of having not said anything to anybody for as long as he could remember.
The alien creature frowned briefly and consulted what appeared to be some species of clipboard which he was holding in his thin and spindly alien hand.
"Cronos Warchild?" it said.
Cronos nodded helplessly.
"Cronos Jehannum Warchild?" pursued the alien in a kind of efficient yap.
"Er...er...yes...er...er," confirmed Cronos.
"You're a jerk," repeated the alien, "a complete asshole."
The creature nodded to itself, made a peculiar alien tick on its clipboard and turned briskly back towards its ship.
"Er..." said Cronos desperately, "er..."
"Don't give me that," snapped the alien. It marched up the ramp, through the hatchway and disappeared into its ship. The ship sealed itself. It started to make a low throbbing hum.
"Er...er..." Cronos tried to shout, and tried to run helplessly towards it.
The ship made somewhat more sound, heaved itself up in the air, and disappeared in what seemed like a fata-morgasmic blur.
Totally abashed, shaken, lovesick and (let's not forget) insulted, Warchild stumbled further. The sun was sinking slowly behind a couple of highly unromantic sand dunes. If Warchild would have been in better spirits, he would have chanted something like, "I am a poor lonesome mercenary, and far away from home....."
But he wasn't, so he couldn't and therefore didn't. In fact, he decided to pass out once more, falling down quite dramatically. In the process he ruined the first date of two teenage scorpions that were brutally obliterated by Cronos' bulk.
When he regained consciousness, he found himself in a clean, cool bed. When he looked up, he saw a very familiar face.
"Korik!!" he exclaimed full of joy. Finally, a trustworthy face. Would the madness finally be over?
"Hi Cronos!" Korik said, a load of sorros falling off his shoulders, "you sure are lucky I got tired chasing all those celebrities and deciced to take a nice, long walk through the desert. You were pretty much dead when I found you."
Things could have been worse, but could have been better too. Cronos Warchild rescued from pending death by Korik Starchaser, probably the biggest git this side of Klaxos Nine.
Korik had recently got the headlines when he finally got hold of Miss Fragilia Franatica, the second Princess of the Zantogian Empire. This Empire spans the larger parts of the eastern spiral arm of the Galaxy and is so ginormously wealthy that their Royal Vault covers the outer three planets of the Zantogian system. Since she is still single, she is the most wanted and also the most famous female in the Universe (even the unknown bits). Anyway, he got hold of her in a very literal way and her bodyguard had bluntly removed him from her in front of approximately 600 billion viewers watching the Annual Washing of her Armpits. The humiliation was complete when, in front of those same 600 billion viewers, the princess knocked him out.
"So I found you lying there," Korik continued, "babbling about nurses and insults and ants and honey."
"Where am I?" Cronos inquired, glad to have regained the ability to utter anything other than "moo's" of various length and intonation.
"You're in the Second Desert Hospital For The Very, Very Dried Out," Korik replied.
"Hungry", growled a shape in the bed next to Warchild.
After a lot of rummaging in the dusty parts of his brain, the mercenary annex hired gun recognized the phrase and remembered vividly wrestling a ghastly creature in a dark tunnel. It was the sort of creature that ate innocent Hobbits and turned to stone when the sun had its rays fall upon it.
Immediately, his reflexes took over and in a frenzy of hard-core action and deadly gadgets he savagely ripped the sheets from the bed where the sounds originated, ready to turn the shape into something round and flat that Italians like to eat. It was quite a surprise to see him moving this fast and agilely considering his state.
Only barely in time did he recognize the fragile human that turned out to have uttered the aforementioned phrase. Warchild's monomolecular - and thus infinitely sharp - dagger was hovering mere millimetres above the throat of one of the authors of this piece.
"STEFAN!!" he yelled.
"Cronos!!" Stefan muttered, his voice still uncertain if it would be wise to mutter anything at all.
There was a sudden movement in the bed on the other side. Warchild turned sharply, observing the emerging human.
"RICHARD!!" he bellowed.
"Cronos!!" Richard exclaimed, not bothering to mutter since he didn't have a frighteningly sharp dagger hovering above his throat.
"Uuuhhh...Cronos...could you please remove that knife?", Stefan probed.
"What?? Oh yeah...sure." The absurdly dangerous weapon disappeared wityh insane speed somewhere within Warchild's hospital outfit. He flinched, his eyes crossed. The two authors looked at a stain of red that appeared and increased on the meticulous white of the pyjamas.
"I told you," Stefan said, "it's no use ending a story like this."
"Maybe," Richard replied, "introducing ourselves broke a few unwritten story conventions too many."
"And let's not forget Cronos' skin," Stefan remarked.
"And that," Richard said, in thought.
Someone was thinking of inhuming the nasty person who had designed the dagger's sheath.
At that moment the door opened. Gloria Estefan walked in and started to sing "1...2...3". And that rhymes with "happy" so that's how the story eventually ended.
Original written spring 1990, rehashed September 1994. Lyric bits used without permission.
There was once a person called Wilma Thearson. Wilma had worked for the "National Publicist" for twenty years, and was now in her early forties. Wilma was the sort of person who didn't have many friends, mainly because she wouldn't change her principles - or anything other - for anyone. Some called her obnoxious. Nevertheless, Wilma was a widow, and her husband had died an early death, which was someone she rarely talked about. Her friends sometimes caught her talking about him in a spiritual sense, but never dared to ask her about him, not for any reason.
Now, Wilma didn't have a lot of life. But at this time everything changed for her. One of her friends asked her if she wanted to join her working nights at the municipal greenhouse (!) with small things like mending broken pots, planting flowers, etc. Anything a greenhouse had to offer, for short, come good and bad. She accepted it, hoping it would decrease her sadness, which she almost always feltinside. One night, she met Arthur. Arthur showed to be what Wilma called "a perfect gentleman", who was in his late fifties and made her feel young again. And happy. They started going out to restaurants, and suddenly Wilma smiled when she was with her friends, telling them of what had happened on her latest meeting with Arthur. Her pessimism almost vanished. It almost was as if she were brought back to her youth's days, when there were no troubles at all. Then Arthur made her the proposal. They were getting "hitched properly", as she told her friends.
There was a big ceremony, almost all of their friends attending, but only Arthur's father - their other parents were dead - came, leading him to the podium and Wilma walking by herself. They were happy, very happy.
At the wedding night, after a lot of drinking, singing, dancing, etc., Arthur carried Wilma over the threshold and they made love. Some minutes after, Arthur was excited. He was very keen on showing some kind of machine to Wilma, which was supposed to be "a blast". She waited for him to unpack some kind of strange-looking case he had under the bed, and in some way, connect it between the phone cable which went to the phone, standing on the bedside-table. The machine which seemed to split the cable, consisted of a box with a tube in the middle, sticking out at the edges (up and down).
"Wilma, you know I wouldn't do anything in the world to hurt you, now would I babe?" Arthur asked Wilma, looking at her excitedly.
"I do know that, Arthur, but what's that machine for?" Wilma asked, looking awkwardly at the machine which AT&T didn't put there.
"Darling, you know that I've been busy these few days before the wedding, right? I mean, except for the normal absence?"
"Well, I've been putting the finishing touches to this little machine," Arthur said, pointing to the machine. "It's going to be our own little pleasure-dome!"
"Oh yeah, how?" Wilma asked, raising a brow and a corner of her mouth.
"Well, I'll show you," he said, putting the machine on his side of the bed, now sitting on the floor with the machine between him and her. He suddenly inserted his right index-finger into the tube and said "Now all you have to do is to press the number I'll be telling you," at the same time as he gave her a machine, oblong, with a lot of digits and a button with an arrow on it.
"But what's going to happen?" Wilma asked.
"Oh, just complete pleasure," he answered, smiling wide.
He did what he instructed her to do, pressing the right buttons.
"Now, point the controller towards the machine," he instructed her. "And press the button with the arrow on it." Wilma did so.
"All we now have to do is wait." he said, smiling and sitting with his legs crossed.
A minute passed. "Here it comes," he said, watching Wilma as she pulled back a little to her side of the bed. "No, nothing bad is going to happen to me, even if it looks that way--" He was interrupted by strong convulsions, his body turning straight on the spot, having spasms like an epileptic during an attack. "Arthur!" was all Wilma could say. Suddenly Arthur came to. He sat straight up, looking at Wilma as though he had slept for ten hours and not had seen her since. "It was terrific," he said, looking at her terrified eyes through his calm ones. "Nothing to be afraid of. Mixing electrical currents by adding my own machine to it, suddenly changes a person's vibration level. You feel like you could take over the universe or something! Gives you a great self-confidence, anyway. I thought you'd like to try it," he said, as he climbed onto the bed, finally kissing Wilma on her mouth.
"I...I..." was all Wilma could say, as she pressed her right hand to her chest, looking into Arthur's eyes with her very opened ones.
"Trust me. It will take you to other worlds." he said, kissing her again.
Wilma lay down, the bed and other things around her carefully put away, with her left-hand index-finger in the tube.
"Don't worry," Arthur said, pressing a lot of numbers on the controller, and then, pointing it towards the machine, pressed the arrow.
"That should do it, my dear! You'll feel like a queen in a matter of seconds! Nothing's too good for my lovely!" he said, smiling and caressing her face. Suddenly he looks into her eyes, and doesn't look as nice as he previously looked. His shape changes, turning into a whirl-pool of images from their wedding, the day they met, etc. Suddenly the pictures aren't post-Arthur anymore. They reach back. Long time back. Limitlessly. Colours and shades are not of any importance anymore. She knows how the Universe is built up, and she has reached her apotheosis.
Arthur is no longer of any importance. The world is hers any shred of humanity flows within her blood. Anything else stands as a speck of intelligence within her, the Earth itself is no longer any intelligence to speak of, Time isn't any problem, there are NO LAWS for her anymore. She is no longer one with the universe. She Eats the Universe-.
"Hey kitten! Wake up! You've been in there for a full minute! That's enough! Anyone can't stand that much power at first! Up!" Arthur's voice came ringing out to her.
Wilma suddenly felt like someone had given her a thousand-dollar-note, and then ripped it to pieces. She slapped Arthur.
"You idiot! How dare you!" she howled at him, discovering nothing but the way her finger still was stuck to the machine.
"Hold on! Hold on!" Arthur said, as he tried to grab her hands.
"What's this? First you show me something... Something...-"
"Yes..." he grabbed her hands. "You've entered a world only we two know about. I've been developing this for the last five- "But... But..." Wilma started shaking the machine like nuts, when phone started ringing.
When Wilma woke, she saw Arthur lying in a pool of blood across the floor. She looked at her hand and couldn't see her fingers. Or the rest of her hand. Her ex. hand was covered by the tube, which had increased, becoming one with it.
What we (the Netrunners) see at the screens everyday had become one of her everyday impulses. She was connected. The net had absorbed her totally. What she knew was the everyday fantasies coming directly from us, The Netrunners. Everything she had ever known became none, and her psyche became the net. She controls us everytime we think of her and vice versa. Her brain is no longer one with "the universe". It doesn't have to be "fantastic". Look at what we have and try to improve this instead of dreaming. Or shall we skip the whole idea for something new?
I will not have it said that I am some kind of deranged person, not by the mere fact that I have borne witness to the events I shall relay henceforth, extraordinary as they are. Even though people have been avoiding me of late, pulling up collars and urging their offspring inside with hushed whispers and agitated motions, I am still quite certain of my sanity. Yet I shall no doubt acquire repeated frowns of your brow once I have disclosed to you in full the extent of the horrors I have experienced ever since I moved into that old and rather dilapidated house in Providence, Rhode Island.
Having graduated from University last summer, I had spent some initial months hitchhiking, breathing in the air of my first true freedom and seeing many quaint and sometimes truly beautiful sights. From car to truck, from truck to van I went, stepping into worlds I had never seen, and leaving them when the experience became either uncomfortable or somehow claustrophobic. I made casual acquaintance of many people, until in the end my wandering spirit died, or at least fell asleep beyond rekindling, and I became gradually aware of an ever keening desire in myself to settle and join the life I intended to lead until the day of my retirement or my getting tired of it, whichever was likely to happen first.
Having had writing ambitions for as long as I remember, I longed for a somewhat secluded residence, having always cherished the inspiration often brought upon me by the silence of loneliness, the gothic quality of dusk outside town, the rustle of the wind through the woods and the eerie sounds of nature at night. I sometimes think my writings saved me from a total loss of reason, even after that one terrible night that...
But no, allow me to relate to you the story from its very beginning, from the moment I first caught sight of my new domicile to the moment that these people came to fetch me and locked me in the dreadful, half-dark room with its by now familiarly damp, fungi-bespecked stone walls, leaving me only with the few writing utensils I employ to trust to paper my story now. There are still a few hours left before the lights are put out, which will bring to me yet another gloomy and sleepless night pregnant with the hauntings of dark memories - memories so penumbral I would myself not have considered them possible if it hadn't been me they were haunting.
It had been one of those almost proverbially sunny days, one of those days one which fate smiles benignly and everything happens the way it should. I went to a Providence real estate agent's to enquire if perhaps there would be any vacant properties to let. I had thought of purchasing, but decided I would need my scant savings for other things first. Once writer's wealth had found me - if ever it would - I could always look out for something to one day call my own.
As it was, however, there was little choice for me. There were only two or three places to let, of which all but one were too small and located rather in the centre of town, far away from the silence I would need to strike my inspiration's light and at too large a distance from a healthy morning's stroll through the forest I longed for. The one left was a rather large house, built of wood and looking all but dilapidated. Upon studying the picture in more detail a clerk came up to me - in retrospect he seemed quite eager for something - to tell me that in fact the house was in pretty mint condition despite its outer looks, and that the last previous owner, an elderly lady, had passed away fairly recently. The clerk himself could have passed for the very old woman's husband, for he appeared haggard and ageing, dressed stiffly, balding, with two patches of grey hair hiding part of his ears and the arms of his glasses. Something about his disposition also seemed to imply a personal involvement, perhaps a more than casual acquaintance with the deceased.
I imagined the place being quite deserted save six or seven cats that would all purr and rub my legs as I walked in, a new owner of the place. I imagined its dank smell, the hairs on the couch, a layer of gathered dust on a dresser the next of kin had forgotten to cover with linen. I imagined the stairs making woody noises under my feet as I ascended to the top floor landing on my way to pick out a room where I would henceforth put myself to sleep, and decide upon another room where I could put my typewriter. This would preferably have to be one with a hearth.
Despite the fact that the house, perched on a small hill with a bare valley below and dark green forests behind, appeared much like one of those places where women were bloodily knifed to death in showers, I decided to take it. The rent was affordable, and as it was the horror genre I wished to explore and possibly redefine with my future writings I estimated this particular house would be all the more inspiring for my work. I decided to keep the cats, should there be any.
When I nodded and asked more as to the conditions of rent and where the document was that I had to sign, I could have sworn I heard the man sigh profoundly. At the time I didn't make much of it, but now I know why the man let out that obvious sign of relief. I wonder if he knew anything about the real horror, anything other than the superstitions that might have roamed the little village, preventing any of the locals from wanting to have anything to do with the house or its inhabitants.
That might also have explained the fact that none of the agency's employees seemed at all willing to show me the way to the estate and there give me the guided tour I had expected came with any such agreement. The same man that had uttered the deep sigh handed me the key, and I distinctly recall a lingering sense of guilt in the way he looked at me - and kept looking at me until I left the office and had disappeared out of sight.
If anything, the house looked even more desolate in reality than it had done on the picture. It still appeared as if it was falling apart at the seams, though, and I can tell you that I was not particularly looking forward to autumn, when nocturnal darkness would fall early and hide from view the bits that would be torn off if any storm dared tug at the ancient woodwork. I looked around me. Something was distinctly discomforting, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. The sun was already setting, and in the valley below a few lights on farms and homesteads had already been switched on. I estimated the nearest to be about two or three miles off, but the gathering dusk made it difficult for me to estimate it more accurately.
I walked up the garden path, at which time it became apparent what seemed so odd. There were no sounds. Even though I saw the woods behind the house move to and fro gently in the evening breeze, the leaves made no sound whatsoever. All I heard was the soft wind in my ears, hardly enough to blot out all other noises. At the time, however, like the unconscious knowledge of the clerk's sigh lingering somewhere within a deep recess of my mind, I made no more of it. It was just a really quiet late summer's evening. Probably the wind took the voice of the forest away from me, back to its own centre.
When I stood in front of the door I put down my luggage, fumbled in my pockets for a while trying to find the key. Once retrieved, I inserted it in the lock and turned. There was a twist, some resistance, a click. After opening the door I went inside and locked it again. The typically cool are of a perpetually shuttered house embraced me.
My premonitions about a cat had been right. A lean black animal with eyes shining bright yellow in the half-dark descended the stairs and came towards me, rubbed my leg for a while and then lost interest.
There was quite a stench. I couldn't quite identify whether it was just the dank dustiness of a long-empty home or something else. I put my luggage inside and closed the door behind me. The stench seemed to grow. I had to find out where it came from. I followed my senses, which let me go down an old and rather noisy stairway to the cellar. I fumbled for a light switch, found it, flicked it, and found a pale light emerging from a single light bulb in the middle of the cellar. There was a boiler, the kind that groans and clanks when toiling but that currently wasn't active, as well as some half-decomposed old paper piles. The smell gathered intensity. I knew what it was. It was the smell of death. Maybe the cat had a private store of dead mice or rats down here. I followed its black form around a corner in the L-shaped room, suddenly to find my stomach twisting. I had to swallow to keep from retching too violently as I saw about half a dozen dead cats lying there. They were partly decomposed, their eyes glassy and dull in the scarse light, small insects crawling over the fur and partly exposed innards. I could have sworn the cats had died of fright; I am not quite sure what cats look like when they're scared out of their skulls, but I reckoned it might very well be the way these cats looked. The teeth were visible like those of an angry cat, the hairs on their backs raised in post-mortem.
I went back up, switching off the light as I left, resolving to clean up the whole cellar the next day. I was beat, for some reason or other, and wanted first to go to bed and have a good night's rest. The one living cat followed me up the stairs. It seemed to show no affection but a need to join me upstairs, as if being all on its own was simply too bleak a prospect to the animal. I didn't think much of it, though, at the time.
Little did I know of length of the night ahead of me.
I am not easily frightened, nor afraid of the dark, but at night the house seemed to have its own subtle means of producing inexplicable sounds. Never were they actually clear enough to be able to tell their cause. Whenever I had identified a specific sound to listen to with more attention it ceased, to be replaced by another sound that took a while to isolate, and then disappeared again to be replaced by another. It was like looking intently at a star in the sky and suddenly seeing it disappear when looking straight at it. Somehow the sounds seemed to want to elude me.
At some instants I could have sworn to hear the cellar stairs making their familiar creaking noise, as if someone else, something else, was in the house. Surely I had locked the front door? I knew I had.
At just past midnight the cat starting making a strange whining noise, something quite unlike the sounds I had ever heard cats make. I had left it outside the bedroom door, as I wasn't wont to have a cat on the bed, which was where they were most likely to turn up eventually if only you'd give them the chance. I had once read a book where mention was made that cats could steal your breath away if they slept on your chest, but I am quite sure that had been no part in my decision to leave it outside.
I sat up straight, trying to establish the reason for the cat's discomfort. There were some sounds, like there had been all along, again seeming to want to elude me. I lit a candle and got out of bed. The cat seemed to startle from my appearance through the bedroom door and scratched viciously at me, lacerating my pyjama trousers and tearing my flesh at the surface. I cursed and tried to kick the cat but already it was gone.
It struck me that the cat seemed to want to evade being close to the walls, as if it were playing some childish game with deadly seriousness.
I touched my leg. It might be torn but barely bled. I probably didn't even have to get a tetanus shot.
When my attention once more shifted from my leg to the house, the noises I heard seemed louder. Moreover, they seemed to come from downstairs quite explicitly. The cellar? Were there rats, feasting on half a dozen cats' mortal remains?
My cat suddenly stood still, tail curling and twisting strangely and somehow significantly, in front of a door to a room I had not yet explored. The cat made a frightful noise, then attacked the door, started scratching it viciously.
I walked to the door and held the knob. It was cold to the touch. The cat retreated when it sensed my intent of opening the door. I could have sworn there was a presence in the room, but the feeling disappeared at the instance I turned the knob and pushed it open. There was a slight woosh of air, cold and unmistakable, a draught probably. Next instant it was gone. I closed the door behind me, feeling a perverse desire to cover my back.
The flickering flame of my candle threw strange shadows across the table and books that seemed to be the prime feature of the small room. There was a window in one wall but its heavy curtains were drawn. Had it been day I seriously doubted there would have been any more light.
I looked up and down the walls. There were strangely surrealistic pictures, some rather scary. Some portrayed church towers around which haunting shapes had somehow draped themselves. Others showed a lonely writer with a large looming something behind him, threatening to strike at the first opportune moment. The most terrible of all, and I couldn't help but be fascinated by it, was a huge demonic monster stretching out its clawed forelimbs to a water vessel, the background filled with unnaturally large blocks, like slabs of concrete, tilting halfway out of the ocean as if they had been recently revealed remnants of domiciles of a frightful and oversized race of beings no longer known to earth.
I went closer to see the writing on the bottom part of its frame. "Cthulhu" it read, simply, but this simple word instilled in me a fear I would previously have considered myself incapable of feeling. What had happened to me? What had happened to the ever-present rationalisations with which I used to drive other people out of their minds with irritation?
It was then that I saw the diary. It lay on the desk, covered with dust, with an inkpot next to it. A quill stuck in the ink pot but the ink had dried to a thick crust, locking the writing utensil. Why hadn't the writer put the lid back on the inkpot?
I must have stared at the diary, thinking of its implications, for a few minutes before I finally stretched out a hand to take it. I blew the dust off, revealing the initials "H.P.L." Who was this mysterious previous occupant? The old woman they had mentioned?
I opened the book. I had expected a leathery croak, but still the only sounds I heard were those I assumed came from the cellar. The cat had developed an odd affection for my leg, rubbing against it. It seemed totally unaware of having scratched me mere minutes before.
I turned pages to the end. The handwriting was meticulously executed, densely written. It was a bit archaic, using a complex vocabulary. I arrived at the last page that was written on. March 15th 1937. The diary must have been of someone - judging by the handwriting probably a man - who lived here prior to the old woman, or maybe even before that. Why had the room been left intact, untouched since as far back as 1937?
A felt a strange morbidity take over me as I read what might have been the man's last writings.
"I feel death tugging at me. Things are getting out of control. Should I notify the authorities of...even now, I can't get myself to write down the words. Is the ancient Mythos true after all? And why do the cats act thus strangely? Yesterday night I heard the noises intensify, but now they make it almost completely impossible for me to think. There are scratchings at the door. What creature stands there? Is it"
At that instant the man must have been distracted, or startled mortally by something. Attached to the final "t" was a long scratch, then nothing. Had these words been his very last? If so, who - or what - had put back the quill in the inkpot? I leafed through the diary, reading some further parts that were all but horrible. Then to the first page...there was a name. Howard...
Below, whatever was there didn't go through great lengths disguising its sounds. I was certain I heard steps, but they were soft, as if made by bare feet. Or furry claws. My imagination was getting the better of me, but those sounds were real.
Any moment, somehow, I expected scratchings at the door like the man had described in his last moments. This place was too much. Or perhaps there was a logical explanation that I would discover in the morning? That was it, probably. I had merely got what I had catered for - a house that inspired me to write horror stories.
Behind me there was a bookcase containing various tomes. Like the diary, they were covered with dust. It was obvious that this room had been left untouched completely, almost reveredly so. The books seemed to cover various arcane and occult topics. There was a book about Satanism, even. Had the man been a Satan Worshipper or had he perhaps, like me, just bought the books for research purposes, him being a writer perhaps? My breath stuck in my throat as I saw among the books a leather-bound copy of the book of the Mad Arab, "Necronomicon". An intricately shaped pentagram was engraved on it, in the colour of silver. I felt strangely elated but horrified too. I had rented the house previously owned by a person that had The Dread Book! No wonder that this house seemed to attract its particularities. My previous rationalisations suddenly seeming trivial. Perhaps there was truly something going on in, or around, this house. Suddenly, I remember the clerk's sigh, the weirdness of there being no sound when I had stood outside, surveying the house. The total lack of people around this place.
I left the room, cursing at myself for superstitiously scanning the hallway to my bedroom for strange appearances. The sounds continued unabated, crawling up the stairs as if alive. I found myself dashing to the bedroom and slamming the door behind me. I didn't heed the cat's scratchings at the door, frantic almost, that progressed until the morning when I awoke from about half a dozen short sleeps that had each been haunted by strange noises and even stranger voices coming from my cellar.
When the pale sun struck my face, waking me for the final time, the scratching had ceased.
After refreshing myself I left the bedroom. The hallway seemed perfectly normal now. Had I closed the mysterious room or had it somehow closed itself? I couldn't remember, but it was closed nonetheless.
The cat was nowhere to be seen, and there wasn't a sound, not even those that could penetrate from the outside. I descended the stairs, listening to their familiar woody noises. After making myself some breakfast - it's strange how a bite to eat can change your outlook on a past night's events - I fetched a large bag and went down into the cellar to clean up.
When I switched the light a hammer of fright struck up and down my spine, making my ears ring quite literally. On the floor lay the cat that had been alive but few hours before. Its limbs were extended and nailed to the floor, its entrails spilling from a gash in its abdomen. It hadn't been done by a knife, I could see. The edges of the wound were far too rough, too uneven. It must have been fangs. The cat had been dead for hours, obviously. It was already going mouldy, ants and flies having been at it longer than an hour at least.
A shiver ran through my entire being. What had made those scratching noises at my door up to the early morning dusk?
Struck by paranoia, I looked behind me. There was nothing save the stairs. I took my hand from the light switch, where it had remained as if glued of paralyzed.
I bolted up the stairs. There was something ghastly about the house, definitely. I could easily have imagined the sounds or the whole mystery room for that matter; I could have had a nightmare or something. But now I was wide awake and certainly I had not just imagined the dead cat, horribly cut up, or half-eaten, or whatever.
What to do? Go back to the real estate agent's and claim my money back on claims of there being something horrible in the house? They would have me fetched by the men in white coats. One card short of a full deck, lost my marbles, that kind of thing. No, I would solve all of this myself. I was an adult, I was up to it. There was probably a very logical explanation that would render all superstitions and weird thoughts futile.
I spent most of the day preparing myself for the night. I did not have a gun but I had found a crowbar in a shack in the garden. Whatever it was that ate cats at night, I would surely be able to handle it. I took a short nap in the afternoon so it wouldn't be too hard to stay awake the whole night.
The nap took longer than I had intended. It was already darkening outside, and there was wind tugging at the ancient walls and roof. It rained softly, but there wasn't a doubt in my mind that the rain would get heavier during the night. There were a few lightning flashes outside, but the thunder itself was too far to reach me - yet.
I pulled on my sturdiest set of trousers, the working trousers that I had done some fruitpicking labour in, last summer somewhere. I hefted the crowbar, tapping it on the palm of my other hand.
I didn't light a candle when I went down. The darkness was almost complete now, and the sounds were already occurring again. There was no moon outside, and had there been any I doubt if it would have been full. I knew I had resolved to get whatever was in my house in the very cellar, but my knees felt weak as I touched the cellar door's knob. It was cold, like that of the mysterious room the other night.
"What the hell," I thought to myself, "I had better get it over with."
I threw open the cellar door, feeling like a hero for an instant. There was no applause, however, which tore me back to reality. The sounds were not actually deafening, but already they were beyond the comfortably audible, distorting slightly.
I could see nothing but darkness in which I fancied shadows moving. I put my hand on the light switch, at which moment there was an angrily hissing noise coming from the far side of the cellar, where the half dozen dead cats lay. I could have sworn there was a munching sound, but it ceased at the very instant I flicked the switch. There was no light though. One moment later something was thrown through the cellar - I caught a very brief glimpse of something metallic in a ray of light that was emitted from somewhere. The next instant I felt it crashing at my feet.
The light bulb. Whatever was with me in this cellar, had some sentience. The thought of an intelligent monster scared me witless. As if it had some immaculate sense of drama, it chose this moment to reveal to me two bloodshot eyes at about 10 feet distance from me. I froze to the spot, suddenly finding the cellar very warm. I felt my forehead suddenly moist, and as I regripped the crowbar I felt the perspiration in my hands making it slightly slippery. I swung the bar, but the creature's eyes didn't even blink. It was still too far off for it to be hit by me, but already it was far too close to my taste.
I got a strange urge to start yelling at the beast, cursing, hollering, but thought better of it. People did that in cheap horror B films. This was class A reality, as bad as it ever gets.
The beast closed its eyes. I heard a faint hint of a shuffle, then it opened its eyes again. A bit closer. It was homing in on me. I saw before me the morning's slaughter, the cat, its guts spilled on the floor, the odd lack of blood. Lack of blood? I had never really liked cats but I didn't want to suck them dry either. Outside I heard a rolling sound of thunder that belonged to a flash of lightning I hadn't seen.
I turned around and ran up the stairs. This seemed exactly the moment the beast, animal, monster, abomination, had been waiting for. I felt it speaking in my head. It spoke in vivid images, black and red all over. Its tongue I did now know, but it must have been a universal language dormant in all living beings. I knew it was speaking of death, impending death. And I was the one going to be it.
All of this had taken an instant, a precious instant, in which my run up the stairs had slowed down. It had been sufficient for the horribly vile creature to gain on me and grab an ankle. Mortal dread hurled itself over me, and I think I cried in panic, begging for someone, someone, please, someone, to help me. But I knew there would be nobody to hear. There was a thunderstorm outside, and nobody liked to go here anyway.
Frantically I kicked. When the grip loosened and I got to run up again, I couldn't get rid of the impression that I had escaped only because it wanted me to. It wanted to play with me, not just kill me, eat me, do whatever it wanted with me. It seemed pointless the slam the cellar door behind me, but I did so anyway.
As I retreated in the ground floor hallway, towards the front door, I rediscovered the crowbar in my hand. Why hadn't I used it on the beast? Had it had some psychological hold on me? I heard the sound of feet, clawed furry fangs, on the cellar stairs. My eyes opened wide, but I suppressed a cry of fear. I could handle this. I hefted the crowbar again. I was an adult. I could handle this, sure I could. There was some fumbling at the cellar door, after which it opened slowly. Its hinges made no noise whatsoever. Then the eyes came, amid a silhouette humpy and horrible, with limbs where there shouldn't be any. And fangs. There was some light, from somewhere, that caught the fangs, long and white-yellowish, dripping with saliva.
For a moment it seemed as if the house rode the lightning. Horribly explicit the beast became as it crawled forth from the cellar door opening. I fell, the way dumb women in films fall, cursing at my own stupidity. I clung on to the crowbar as if it was my life insurance. It was. Not a good one, but it was all I had.
"Come on," I said, trying to sound threatening but probably failing. I could have sworn the monster grinned as it poised itself to leap, like a grotesquely misformed, many-limbed large cat. I clambered back, eye to horrid eye with certain death. It spoke to me again, spoke of charred flesh and blood pouring from wounds shaped like serrated edges, fangs, white, yellowish, dripping.
There was a violent knocking behind me, suddenly, and I could have sworn the beast's grin widened. I cried in dismay, causing the knocking, the slamming on the front door, to increase. The monster must have warned a previously invisible partner outside. I was cornered. Why had I not thought of the possibility? Monsters came individually in class B horror films. This was class A reality. Here they came in twos. At least.
I yanked open the front door, at the precise instant of which a flash of lightning almost directly atop me flashed mercilessly, the sound coming within the same moment, obliterating my hearing. I had my back to the cellar creature, and now faced a squat threat, appearing hideously misformed in the bolt of lightning as it sped through the sky. I swung the crowbar. It impacted something hard that gave way. I swung again, hacked, until the wretched creature fell down, and then I hit some more until the crowbar came back gleaming red with bits of hair clinging to it.
Something laughed behind me, the disturbed, loud laugh of the irredeemably insane. I swirled around, where one more lightning flash revealed to me the form of the impure creature as it retreated down to the cellar, as if it had successfully performed its task.
I looked down on the dead shape lying on my doorstep. The rain lashed at its remains. As the throes of half-madness left me be, I recognised in it the clerk that had arranged this house for me. Why had he come here at this ungodly hour? Why? Why had the vile creature downstairs projected in my mind visions of an evil accomplice, of death upon me instantly?
I sank to my knees, no longer able to suppress my sobbing. In the morning men came to take my numb self away.
Maybe I should never have opened the maddeningly explicit diary after I had read its former owner's name. Maybe I should simply have left, never to return, when I discovered I had moved into a house previously occupied by Howard Phillips Lovecraft, a house that no doubt gave birth to many of his horror stories.
But now it's too late.
Written during a few sessions in early summer, finished July 23rd 1994. I think the Lovecraft inspiration is pretty obvious...