by Nick Scorza
I must write this quickly. There is not much time before she overtakes me. I say ‘she’ because part of my crumbling mind still clings to the memory of my dear Catherine, but what pursues me is not of the fair sex, or any sex – it is old, and immeasurably foul.
It is all because of the book, that accursed book I came across in my employ as a dealer in antiquities. I did not choose the profession, but rather awoke to find myself immersed in it – being something of an antiquity myself, even as a young man. I loved all old things, whether from the past century or the past millennium. I was mad for them, but books I prized above all else. Is there anything more wonderful than a book? It is a treasure trove – the wealth and wisdom of the dead preserved for the living as no hoary pharaoh could have hoped for. In books I sought the same commune with things greater than myself that others sought from the church. To me, any book was a bible.
Alas, this love was not enough to sustain me.
My family being of comfortable means, I pursued my education to the fullest extent, but sought the classics themselves, not the busy disciplines of law or medicine. I pursued books and objects first as a private collector. When I tired of something, I sold it, and found I could supplement an already sufficient income in this way, so as to afford even greater and rarer delights. For years this was my life, and my only social circle was a small cadre of like-minded men.
My friend Mr. Charles Denton was to furnish the seed of my destruction, in a form fairer than any my imagination could supply. How strange that I, who had found joy only in the tomes of my ancestors, could be so bewitched by sweet Catherine Denton, the young sister of my dear friend. She was the opposite of all I had loved previously, a bright bundle of life, with joy radiating from her rosy pink face and intricate curls of auburn hair. This was the youth I had spurned in a life chasing treasures of the past, given form to tantalize me. When I met her, introduced in an offhand manner while Denton and I discussed matters relevant to our acute bibliomania, I suddenly realized the wasted weight of my years.
I had read much of love in Petrarch and Ovid, Shakespeare and Donne. I had thought that storied ‘marriage of true minds’ was something I would never experience directly, save for the union of my mind with the texts of the past masters. Now it was before me and so full of life. I longed to join my soul to Catherine’s, and to share all that it is possible to share with another living thing!
I called more frequently on Mr. Denton. It did not take my friend long to guess my intention, and he was not pleased. I could not understand where the man’s objections came from – I was his trusted friend, and in a position to provide his sister with an excellent life. My family name was not so distinguished as his, perhaps, but my income was a good deal larger. As for the disparity in age – I was older than Denton, and much older still than his sister – it was really not such an unusual thing, and an established husband could offer many things to a young woman that a mere youth could not.
But Denton was fixed against the match, for reasons that were bewildering to me. Miss Catherine herself, in those few moments I could arrange to be alone with her, laughed coyly at my remarks and seemed mildly pleased by my attention, with a touch of the shyness with which nature has endowed her sex. Still, the very act of speaking to her threw my age, my faltering manner, my general unloveliness of form into sharp relief. Next to her, I felt like a withered scarecrow, my gnarled claws grasping toward a light and life I did not deserve. Still, I resolved that I would make my dream come true. I sought her father’s permission.
The old man, who smelled faintly of brandy and the horse track, was all too happy to marry his daughter off to a gentleman of means. Catherine’s mother had died when Catherine was young, so there was one less person to convince. I made my case and her father accepted, resolving to inform Catherine forthwith. The very next day, I received young Denton, unexpected, at my apartments.
“Whatley, I’ve come to ask you to abandon this foolish pursuit. My sister will bring you no happiness. She is delicate and unused to company…”
I let Denton continue his little speech, though my blood boiled and I longed to throw him out on his ear. When he finished, I rose and mustered all of my dignity.
“I assure you that my intentions toward Catherine are nothing but honorable. Who better to be with her than I, who am also unused to company and do not seek it out? She will not be required to be some society hostess – you know I have no taste for that. For God’s sake, Denton, why aren’t you happy for us?”
“My father gave her the news yesterday evening, and she wept. She wept, Whatley, at the thought of marriage! I love my sister, but in some ways she is a pitiable creature. I think sometimes she is not meant for any man.”
“I will hear no more of this! I love her, and the matter is decided. You have no say in it. I must thank you not to call again.”
I immediately formed the worst sort of depraved suspicions about Denton’s feelings for his sister, and I resolved to watch them both closely for evidence of any wrongdoing. I was troubled by the idea of Catherine weeping at our engagement, but I felt it was most likely the usual youthful anxieties, and tried to put it out of my mind.
That was when the book entered my life. A dealer I trusted, despite certain dubious connections, offered it to me from his latest batch of acquisitions. He swore he’d had the book from an Arab trader who’d claimed to have had it from the lost library of the Moorish Caliphs of Cordova – but the book was even older than this, he said. The Arab claimed the book first rose, phoenix-like, from the ashes of the great Alexandrine Library, that lost Mecca of bibliophiles. It was nonsense of course. The book was in poor condition, and no older than the Renaissance – a battered, leather-bound quarto with tarnished silver brackets. It consisted of three disparate manuscripts bound into one, as was common in that time, and all given the vague title Liber Amoris, or Book of Love.
I haggled my dealer down on the price out of principle. The book was not especially valuable, but I still cherished the notion that it might yield a few nuggets of unexplored scholarship.
At first I paid it little thought, as my wedding drew near. I had banished Denton from my life, and his words still galled me such that I did not miss his friendship. It did not help that Catherine’s shy mirth in my presence had been replaced by a kind of dutiful terror. She was pleasant, to be sure, and always mindful of my wishes, but I could read in her hesitations, her white-knuckled grip on the tea service, that my presence filled her with a mortal dread.
“I know I am not young and fair,” I said, “but I will be so good to you, my Catherine. Do give me a chance.”
The look she gave me said what she could not. I was an ogre in her eyes, a loathsome beast, hell-bent on stealing all that was beautiful in her life.
The wedding that should have been a culmination of joy, uniting my love of the ancient and pure world of ideas with the perfection of youth and the physical world, was instead a grueling affair with all the joy of a funeral. The only ones in attendance were Catherine’s father and a few of my friends from the book circle.
My chambers in London were not roomy enough for us both, so we took up residence at my family’s estate. Catherine was at first taken in by the beauty of the countryside and the tumbledown charm of the old manse. It made me indescribably happy to see even a faint smile on her face, but when I reflected on this later, it left me with gnawing bitterness. Could this be the love to which the classical poets had devoted their genius?
I supplied my Catherine with the books she liked, instructed the cook on her favorite dishes, and led her on pleasant country rambles. I even purchased her a fine, chestnut mare for riding. None of it brought more than a wan, passing smile to her lips. The woman was a Chinese puzzle-box, each layer containing nothing but another layer beneath it. Frustrated, despairing, I threw myself into my work, and found the book there, waiting for me.
The first manuscript bound within the book of love was a stale imitation of Ovid’s Ars Amatoria by a decidedly less talented Roman poet. The second text was one of those Renaissance grimoires purporting to teach secrets of the starry spheres and metals of the earth, or some such nonsense. It began predictably enough, detailing methods for distilling lead from gold and the creation of homunculi. The spells and occult treatises grew direr as one progressed: a spell to take the life of an enemy, a means of consorting with certain ‘nameless angels,’ a spell to command true love. If only such a thing were possible.
What the third manuscript contained I still cannot safely say. It shared the title Liber Amoris with the other two, with the subtitle Parting of the Veil. It was in worse condition that the others, and older, and it appeared that in places the text had been deliberately cut, burned, or otherwise obscured. I shudder to recall it now, but at the time I dove in with a sick curiosity. What I found was madness.
In the house of [ ] all delights are known, and in the flaying gardens where each form becomes a blossom of its inner glory. [ ] is the eye and the garden. [ ] is noumenon, dweller in-between.
All forms will become known to it, and all shall be embraced by its boundless LOVE.
Seek the name in the spaces between. Seek [ ], and be filled with LOVE…
The letters in the book seemed to swim before my eyes, or scatter like frightened insects. I have difficulty recalling exactly what I read in it, and that is for the best. The book referred to a particular name over and over, but I could not find it clearly printed anywhere – it was cut or burned from the pages, or drowned in thick smudges of ink. Nor could I establish with any certainty whether it was a person or a place, or something entirely different. The book claimed to speak of a pervasive and all-encompassing love – at first I took it for the ramblings of some obscure Gnostic madman – but something about it made me profoundly uneasy, as if love were a code word for something I could not comprehend.
Yet even as the text’s meaning seemed to deliberately elude me, I was compelled to keep reading it as if frozen to the spot. The sounds of the country outside my study faded to an indistinct hum, while the page before me blurred. I felt that I was still reading the book, even though my eyes could not perceive it clearly. Then from the hum, I began to hear a voice, faint at first, but growing ever clearer. It was my Catherine’s.
“Another dreary day,” she said, or rather her voice spoke within my thoughts. “I should keep a record with notches scratched on a wall, as prisoners do.”
I felt a chill come over me. The whole experience was like being submerged in icy water. Her surface thoughts flowed over me in a torrent – her lonely malaise, her pitiful desire to scratch marks in the wall to enumerate the days of her perceived imprisonment, the way an ivy-decked stone arch reminded her of childhood, and a childish wish to escape through such a door into faerieland. All of these flooded me in a babble of voices, moving faster than I could make sense of. I feared I might go mad with the echo of Catherine’s thoughts, but I sank deeper, and her waking mind became a distant hum, as of the ocean in a seashell, as I descended to the dark recesses of her soul.
She missed her brother terribly, and I was consumed with both numbing waves of her loneliness and my own burning jealousy, and I wished to do something nasty to Denton. His image drifted so frequently through her mind – nearly every moment was the seed of a memory of him. He was as much father to her as brother, it seems. Her own father cast a cold shadow through her life, a void of cruel distance – almost an absence. The worst of it was that I beheld my own image intertwined with that of the old man. I had never been anything but sweet and loving to her, and yet her mind conflated me with this joyless specter. Deeper still within her I sensed the stirrings of primal fears, night terrors that sent her running to her brother’s side; the drunken ravings of her father and the beatings he gave her brother; the horrid image of her mother, consumptive and near death, demanding her young daughter embrace her.
Deep in the abyss of her mind, I beheld a knotted core of buried passions, wild fantasies that bore little semblance to mundane biology – a world of hazy, mingled flesh and warring shame and pleasure. My Catherine’s imaginary incubus had many faces – most I did not know, (though one I could swear was my gardener’s son) but not a one of them was mine.
I confess, a terrible desire took hold of me then. I longed for the ability to give my face to the fleshy hydra of her inmost desires. I wished to sow seeds of myself within her mind, and grow to eclipse her brother and all others in the garden of her love. At that moment, my Catherine’s mind faded from me, and I felt myself terribly, crushingly alone. Except, there was something there, even then – something that whispered that it could make my wish come true…
It was after this that my dreams became strange.
Each night as I slept, I wandered through a garden of sumptuous beauty, filled with exotic ferns and strange, luminous orchids. Walls of carved marble peered out from beneath carpets of vines. I sensed there was a pattern to it, yet it constantly eluded me, and I could divine no grand plan or significance from its layout, only interlocking gardens of ever-increasing complexity. As I penetrated deeper, I could not shake a pervasive sense of unease. Things moved in the hedgerows, obscured by darkness. Strange symbols were carved into the rock, half hidden by creeper vines – the language was unknown to me, but something in it chilled me. In the distance, I heard what I thought at first were bird calls, until they began to sound, faintly, like cries of human agony. Disturbing shapes hovered at the corner of my eyes, only to vanish when I turned frantically to look.
By day I felt I walked through a fog, barely able to focus on the details of my business. I sold few pieces in that time, and I could scarcely rouse myself to search for new acquisitions. My morning ramble through my family’s gardens, once a source of pleasure, now threatened to take my dream into the waking world. I feared I would turn a corner in those pleasant greenways and arrive in the dream garden.
I confess I was hesitant to confront my Catherine as well. After peering through her mind, it was somehow difficult to look at her. Our hasty and awkward meetings accomplished nothing, and I could not very well accuse her of phantom unfaithfulness in her mind, could I? Perhaps my experience had been nothing more than drowsy fantasy?
The book was another matter. It beckoned to me, and I wondered if I could once again immerse myself in Catherine’s mind – to read her like an open book, as they say. I resisted as long as I could, troubled by that terrible dream-garden, but I have never been a man who could keep himself away from books. And so, on an idle, sunlit afternoon, I parted the covers once more, and was confronted by the same scarred and impenetrable text. On its face, the book was meaningless – it seemed to be some sort of code, hinting at and implying things some imagined reader would be knowledgeable enough to recognize. Perhaps things one did not wish to speak openly.
As before, the letters began to swim before my eyes, darting from my gaze and lingering at the borders of my vision, recombining to form strange new words I did not recognize. But before this could drive me mad, I felt the tide of Catherine’s surface thoughts engulf me.
This time was different – her mind was fixed on something, returning to it with every spare moment: a letter, given in secret to one of my own servants. What was this? As I focused on the letter, her mind led me back through the channel of its writing and gestation in her thoughts, and its contents were revealed to me. She planned a secret meeting with her brother, whom she’d entreated to take her away and secrete her far from my sight in some French convent – anywhere I was not likely to track her down. She wrote of growing feelings of fear, strange dreams, the menacing shadow of my figure – I, who adored her! I could taste with bitter irony all of my Catherine’s revulsion at me, and all of her longing for the safety of the wretched Charles Denton.
Then, as if in a dream, the book stood out sharply before me. I do not know if I beheld its physical form in my study, or in my mind’s eye, as I had seen Catherine. Perhaps it does not matter. The letters once again scattered like insects from my eye, gathering and coalescing in strange patterns – but then they re-sorted themselves, and the book took shape as something I could comprehend…
I can give you the love you desire. I can plant the seed of devotion in your Catherine’s mind, and enthrone you as emperor of her heart. All you must do is open the way for me.
“Who are you?” I asked, though my lips did not move.
A friend. Someone who loves you. Do what I ask, and let me in, and what you desire can be yours.
Once more the letters spun before my eyes, but they did not coalesce as before. Still, images began to take shape in my mind, and I knew what I would have to do. A name rose up in my thoughts – a name I cannot now recall, for it seems an unpronounceable blur, but then I knew exactly how to say it. It seemed such an absurdly simple thing, the task that appeared on the pages before me… speak certain words at a certain time beneath certain stars – the easiest thing in the world…
It was simpler than I thought to imprison Catherine for her disobedience. She swore innocence, of course, and my fool heart almost succumbed to her pleas, but I knew the truth, and I made sure she was safely locked away. What I was to perform that night was not magic; the book had assured me of this, as if it had anticipated some latent superstition I had not known I possessed. It was nothing more than an invitation, such as I would extend to a friend. After all, an invitation is necessary to any event of importance. I merely spoke the name and bade it enter, beneath the open sky – my gaze fixed on Catherine’s window, and my mind focused on her heart. It is strange, I can barely remember that night… but I remember my sleep was peaceful, untroubled by anxious dreams, and I awoke to a sunny morning, eager to see if there had been any change.
When I unlocked the door to Catherine’s chamber, she flung herself upon me, embracing me tightly and declaring how she had missed me, how glad she was that at last I was by her side again. Such a joy it was, in those few moments, to be loved so. I had never known affection like this, even in my dimly-recalled childhood.
She would not leave my side all day. When we walked together through the garden, she took my hand, gripping it as if she expected me to drift off into the clouds. The way I felt that morning, it seemed a real possibility.
“My dear,” I said to her, “I hope the rest of our lives can be this perfect.”
“Is it everything you wanted?”
Those eyes, when she said this, were not my Catherine’s… and her mouth… such a terrible, wolfish smile I have never seen. In that moment my happiness crumbled to despair and a terrible, nameless dread. She had the same perfect green eyes and dainty mouth, but they seemed a twisted mockery of what they were – the trappings of humanity, worn like a hollow mask by something that was not human.
“Who are you?” I said, pulling instantly away.
“Who could I be, but the one you love?”
“Yes, forgive me. Something strange came over me.”
I let her take my hand again. Her grip was iron, and her flesh was so cold.
“I hope it isn’t serious. I don’t want anything coming between us today.”
For a few moments I had kissed the greatest joy in life, and it had fled in an instant, replaced by desperate, animal fear. A fear I could not show. When I could first excuse myself without arousing suspicion, I made arrangements with a servant to ready my coach. I dared not risk confronting Catherine directly, or giving her any intimation of my fears. She had to know, though – she must have seen it in my face. I wondered if the thing that was once my Catherine could slip inside my mind, as I had done with hers. I tried my hardest that day to think of obscure origins of words, a catalog of the species of local butterfly, anything but Catherine, anything but my wounded heart, or my desperate thoughts of escape.
I had no appetite for anything at dinner with Catherine. She, on the other hand, savored each morsel slowly, as if she had never tasted it before, but her eyes never left mine, and as I watched her chew each bit of food, I shuddered at what lay behind those eyes. The way she looked at me… I felt like prey.
When she tired of the charade of dinner, she got up and boldly announced she would be waiting for me in her bedroom.
Just a few hours earlier, such a thought would have flushed my face and filled my heart with secret joy – but now the thoughts it inspired were grisly and fearful. I told her that I would join her momentarily. As soon as she was out of sight, I made hasty preparations to leave. My coach was already prepared. As I raced from my chambers, I caught sight of the book, its battered cover leering at me. The last thing I did before setting off into the night was to cast it into the fire. I had never dreamed of destroying a book before, but I could not wait to be rid of this one. Alas, this brought me no relief.
I rode to London, but I dared not stay in my apartments long. I sold what pieces I could quickly, made arrangements to rent my rooms, and booked passage on a ship for the continent. I needed answers, and I feared for my life. The dreams had returned, and I felt each night not only the fearful presence of the garden, but the dreadful, unshakable feeling that something scratched and pawed at my mind.
In Paris, I tracked down the dealer who had sold me the accursed book. I found I could barely stomach the man now – my past enthusiasm for the wonders he had provided had blinded me to his grasping, loathsome greed. I now had little doubt that he moved in the worst sort of circles.
In Cairo, I found the Arab who had sold my contact the book. The man was shrewd, no doubt, and learned, but he was used to selling ancient Egyptian forgeries to the credulous, and was surprised to hear the book was anything genuine. From Cairo he directed me to Athens, where I traced the book to a ring of thieves and forgers. One of these men, when plied with drink and the promise of easy money, related to me that he had absconded with many books from an island monastery, the well-meaning monks of which had been foolish enough to offer him food and shelter.
Being well rid of the ruffian, I set sail for the secluded monastery he had described, my mind reeling with the thought of humble, holy men unknowingly harboring such a loathsome evil in their midst.
The monastery was a cloud of white marble above red crags and dark blue water, a sight that would have stirred my soul in happier times. I felt no joy at seeing it, however, beyond the faint hope that it might offer answers and some hope of relief. Each night, and now even in daylight, I felt the dull scratching of that thing at the borders of my mind. Sometimes, when I opened doors, or looked around behind me, I beheld the most fantastic, inviting garden path open before me, laden with rich aromas and lush blossoms – an enticing mystery I knew to resist with every fiber of my being. If only Catherine had known this as well – I had no doubt that this was the means by which she had been ensnared.
After climbing the rocky path with some difficulty, I was admitted to the monastery by a hulking bear of a novice monk, by all appearances a simpleton, who silently led me to the abbot’s humble chambers.
The abbot was this novice’s polar opposite, a silver-haired little man whose face had all the wit and taut energy men associate with hawks and owls. When he inquired as to the purpose of my visit, I was relieved to discover he spoke near-perfect English.
“I have come on a matter urgent to myself,” I said, trying to convey the utmost respect, “but one which should not trouble you overmuch. I simply wish to research certain things in your library.”
When I said this, the man’s face darkened visibly, the many lines around his mouth hardening, as if to bar my way before he even spoke.
“We can no longer permit outsiders to enter our library. What proof do I have that you will not abuse our trust?”
I had no choice but to tell the abbot my sad tale and hope he did not consider me a lunatic. As I spoke, and told him of the book, I saw him grow more interested. By the time I finished telling him of the trail that had led me to his doorstep, his features had softened, and he seemed to regard me as a brother-in-arms.
“You have come a long and hard way, and I believe you are sincere, though your story is wild. You have three days within the library. I hope you find what you seek.”
Another monk led me to a tower at the back, which housed floor upon floor of books, most of which predated Gutenberg’s press. In earlier days, the sight would have provoked in me a feeling akin to religious joy. Now, with the dull scrabbling in my head growing ever more furious, I could find no joy, even in books.
I was not sure precisely what I was searching for, but my years of fanatical reading served me well. I devoured mythology, histories, mystical tracts and treatises on the bizarre. I hoped I would find my answers in medieval bestiaries and lexicons of the demons and devils that beset man, but found nothing of help.
The monks brought me food and water, and one helpful, silent brother brought a straw pallet so that I might sleep in the library as well. At night, among the books, I had the familiar dream, now stronger and more immediate. The garden no longer tried to entice me. In my dreams it was now a place of horrors, where men and women hung flayed of skin, the innermost secrets of their bodies laid bare by cruel instruments. And in the center of this ghastly scene stood my Catherine, dressed in white, and radiant.
“Let me love you, and never be alone again,” she said.
When I awoke, I thought I still heard the cries of agony echoing within the monastery. Always there was the presence, scratching at my mind. I did not have long to find the answers I sought, I felt, and the endless tomes detailing baleful witch cults and their alleged atrocities, and the innocent girls that were tortured and burned to assuage the popular hysteria, were taking a toll on me. It was with the hope of a few moments’ relief that I pulled Philoctetes of Thessaly’s Feasts of the Gods off the shelf. I expected to find no answers in an overview of ancient Grecian religious rites – only perhaps something charming to divert my mind back to the dreamy escape a book once represented to me.
It was in Philoctetes’ description of the Bacchae that I found my answer, and plunged yet further into the gulf of horror. Here is where I should include a note about the virtues of ignorance, and an admonition not to go looking in the dark places of the world, but if you are reading this, I suspect it is already too late for you. This is what I found in Philoctetes:
The Bacchae were worshippers of Dionysus, God of wine, whom they honored with wild, drunken rites of sexual excess and savage violence. The faithful, in their frenzy, could tear a live bull to pieces with their hands and teeth. They were accused of worse things: arson, murder, cannibalism; and their path was said to end in madness. Needless to say, they were hated and shunned by the rest of society. All of this was known to me already. But Philoctetes also described an ‘offshoot’ of the Dionysian tradition, though I am not sure if it can properly be called such. This cult, whose name was never fully established, was accused of abductions and various other crimes in cities throughout Greece. Their rites, held on hilltops beneath the moon or in secluded temples, were said to be quite calm, and free from orgies or revelry. Instead, they consisted of the slow and agonizing murder of a young man or woman, by first flaying the skin, then the muscle and viscera and so on until ‘hidden truths were laid bare.’ They did not worship Dionysus, but claimed their god came to them in dreams, and offered to open secrets for them, to reveal all and, ultimately, to lead them to a world of all-consuming love. The name of their god was secret, and members would not divulge it even under torture. In the accounts that Philoctetes referred to, the cultists were seen to share one mind, to act with one will, and those who attempted to stamp them out disappeared, or were driven mad by strange nightmares.
Then, the cult abruptly vanished, and all discussion of it ceased. Many believed that they had been successfully wiped out, but others, Philoctetes among them, believed they had simply become better at hiding.
No sooner had I read these words than there came a knock on the door. It was the little old abbot, flanked by two other monks. He handed me a letter, addressed to me. I was taken aback by the sheer improbability of any letter reaching me here, in such a remote place. Though I was extremely suspicious, my curiosity got the better of me, so I read. It was from William Harrow, a fellow book collector and friend to Denton and me.
I am sorry to be the one to convey such news to you, Whatley, but events have transpired since your departure of a truly shocking nature.
I was quite alarmed to find a police constable in my office, asking me very pointedand peculiar questions about both you and your wife. It seems the young Mrs. Whatley, nee Denton, had gone to meet with her brother after you departed on business. Mrs. Whatley called on Denton at his family’s house, that much is certain. The day after she arrived, however, the maid came upon young Denton, or, shall I say, what was left of him. I hesitate to write this, or even think it, but Whatley – Denton was eviscerated. The constable said it wasdone slowly, by a hand as skilled as a master surgeon’s. The doctors believed it had taken poor Denton hours to die, and those hours were spent in the most profound of agonies.
Whatley, I pray you have heard something of the whereabouts of your wife, for she was no longer at the Denton household, and the police have been unable to locate her. Let us hope that she is all right, and that your love can guide her through so terrible a tragedy as has befallen her only brother.
As I looked up from the letter, my face drained of blood and my body wracked with chills, I saw the abbot smiling at me – such a terrible, hungry smile. I had seen it only once before.
“Do you see, now?” it said to me. “I love you. And I am everywhere you turn.”
The two monks lifted me swiftly from the table and bound me, dragging me through the monastery. They did not bother to cover my eyes, and as we passed I wondered how I could have been so foolish as to mistake this place for a house of Christian worship. In the depths of the monastery, weird and blasphemous symbols covered the walls. Paintings depicted landscapes that could not possibly exist, and beings that made me shudder and weep to catch sight of. In a black vault beneath the monastery, I discovered the source of the screaming I had earlier attributed to the echoes of my dreams.
Bloodstained tables filled a room like some nightmare hospital, along with horrible gibbets and other devices I dared not even contemplate the use of. All of them bore signs of use, however – some quite recent. I began trembling violently, fearing the monks that held me would strap me to one of these tables. Instead, they lowered me into a pit, and sealed an iron grating above me.
“Why not butcher me like the others?” I called up at the abbot, whose twinkling eyes I saw peering through the grating; eyes I had last seen peering out from the husk that was my Catherine.
“You are special.”
Its voice hummed in my ears like the buzzing of insects. When I blinked, the pit melted away and we were in the garden, beneath its alien sky. The thing addressing me wore Catherine’s form again. I could not bring myself to look at her face, for fear of the look I would find there.
“Most require an extreme stimulus before they are in a state to receive me, and they do not last long after that. But you… your mind called out to me, desperate for what I, too, seek in my way. Catherine’s did as well, once you had provided me introduction. I love you, Albert Whatley, and it will only be a matter of time before you receive me.”
“What are you?”
“Someone who loves you. Someone who would do anything to possess you.”
“Why? Why us?”
“You gave me form – your little species. I have waited quite a long time, in the lonely place I live. So long I thought I was alone. One day, one talking ape wrote a story with crude marks, and another read that story, and something happened, greater than the sum of their feeble brains, something more than simple reading or writing; something… in-between. It is hard to explain, but for a moment you go somewhere that does not exist. Somewhere where I live. It was like a window opened on my dreary world, after a solitude longer than your species can comprehend. I knew I had to have more, but so few called to me. You were one such, whose sweet thoughts reached me through the book. That, Albert, is why I will always love you. I will never let you go.”
Catherine’s arms reached out for me, her eyes flashed with inhuman lusts beneath the auburn curls I had loved. Her smile… God… her smile was sick with the cruelty of desire. I screamed, and when I opened my eyes I was screaming alone, at the bottom of the pit.
It left me with that. Or rather, it did not. The scrabbling and scratching at my mind has only grown stronger, and each minute I lose the will to fight. The monks still bring me food and water, and they have even given me paper and a pen. I have written this account to focus my thoughts. Perhaps you chanced to find it, pressed into the crack between two loose stones in this dismal pit. Perhaps you too are a prisoner here. If you have seen someone with my body, with my face, who tells you he is Albert Whatley, he is the foulest of liars. Even now, I feel it wearing away at my mind, at all I hold dear of myself. The garden is ever before my eyes, with its many torments and delights. I can no longer turn away from it. Something impossibly vast, a void, a thing that is and is not, engulfs me now, and I am loved. I can feel it, licking at my thoughts and memories… Let the veil fall away, and the true Love enter… all praise… Love is a horror… all praise its name…
Copyright © 2012 by Nick Scorza
Nick Scorza was born in Seattle, WA, and grew up in Washington, DC. He lives with his wife in New York City.