I. Excerpts from the diary of the late Professor Eric Hobbes, of Appleton, Wisconsin
June 9, 20—
At long last my duties at the university are over, and I can retire to my summer abode. My little cottage abuts the lake on the eastern side of the peninsula, just past North Bay. The lights of a couple houses gleam distantly at night, and a gravel road comes within a hundred yards of the place, but otherwise all within view is water or forest. The back wall stands just a few yards from a precipice, maybe twenty feet, which overlooks the crashing surf. I like to sit there and look out at the endless blue expanse—well, I know it is not endless, but I may forgive myself some poetry. That is something I may try this year, poetry. Long have I felt the swelling of the poet’s heart within my ribs, and long have I deferred action, fearing my brain unequal to its share of the task, but if I defer a decade or two more I may find my ambitions permanently halted by forces beyond my control, and this danger seems often the worse. If it doesn’t work out I can always turn back to Marat, although progress on him has grown devilishly slow. I will make the drive tomorrow. It’ll be peaceful up there, surrounded by foliage, away from people. I won’t have to wear a mask save for the times I head into town, and no one will engage me in conversation by asking whether, in my esteemed opinion, certain lives do or do not matter. A place away from all the nonsense, all the rot.
June 10, 20—
Arrived a couple hours before sunset. I sublet the place last winter, but it hasn’t been occupied since April, so dust coats everything. I shook out the sheets (this caused a pain in my arm) and cleared off the coffee table and kitchen counter; I will do the rest later. The water was murky at first but runs fine now. I am sitting at the desk in my bedroom now, looking out the window on the lake. I think I hear the faint sound of a loon call, maybe once every half-minute. I wonder what the fellows do it for. Mating, I suppose, like the lights of fireflies, or really anything else you can think of in the same vein. It’s been a while since I have put on a display of that sort. My glasses are thick and chronically grimy, and my wardrobe is mostly a mixture of late-autumn beiges and browns. I do not mind all that much—at this point in the advancement of my age and the ripening of my dyspeptic approach to the outer world, I would be constrained either to live half a lie to charm an idealist or to choose a cynic whose contempt for me would be rivalled only by mine for her. Neither option is very appealing. I would rather retire each evening to a spot such as this, where I can relax and write without having to please anyone, and crack the window to catch the soft pine-scented breeze.
June 11, 20—
A nice hike today, southwards in the direction of North Bay, then back to the cottage. I mostly kept to the trees, as I spent a good hour or two in front of the window by the lake last night. The thimbleberries are not yet ripe, but I await them eagerly. The flies are active this year; I hate to use bug spray, as its stench is terrible and it mars the authenticity of the natural experience (listen to me say this, as if I am not at heart a creature of modern comforts), but circumstances may force me to take this step on subsequent excursions. It is rather hot this summer, and I was glad for the shade. I saw orchids, mushrooms (two of these I ate), cabbage butterflies and squirrels. As of yet I have seen no exotic flora or fauna, but it is only the second day, and this is well-trod territory. I napped for about an hour among some ferns. After this my leg began to trouble me, so I was obliged to make my return journey, leaning on the polished staff I had grasped so lightly when setting out. Truly, I am caught halfway between youthful vigour and geriatric decrepitude.
Tomorrow I will drive north and park near Rowleys Bay. I know the woods around my cottage very well; I need a new place to roam, some location I have not yet explored on foot.
June 12, 20—
An interesting find. I was walking near Mink River when I spotted an old cabin on a bluff near the water. It stood in what may once have been a tidy clearing but was now a tangle of vines and undergrowth, and a large oak tree leaned over its roof. The roof appeared to have suffered some damage, and a couple of the windows were broken. One story, like my own cottage, but significantly smaller. The sun was setting behind the western side of the peninsula by the time I discovered it, so I was constrained to turn back in the direction of my car, but I shall return tomorrow. I must get an earlier start—today I slept in, felt a little off, and didn’t begin my excursion until midafternoon. It is possible the mushrooms I ate yesterday didn’t agree with me, though I made sure they were not of a dangerous species. A bacterium in the surrounding soil, perhaps, one with an unfortunate effect on the human digestive system? (I was going to write “malevolent bacterium,” but truly it is an error to ascribe any moral attribute to such simple creatures.)
Saw some rabbits, more squirrels, and a stork, this last near the river. Moths crowd around the open window as I write, and occasionally gain access; I would put a screen in, to prevent them coming in, getting lost, and dying before finding their way out, but I have an objection to this similar to my objection to bug spray. This latter objection I feel I must finally abandon tomorrow, as the flies are truly frightful in the estuarial conditions around the cabin. There is one in my room now—I have made some halfhearted efforts to kill it, but without success. I hope it does not bite me as I sleep.
June 13, 20—
A great discovery! Horrid, but at the same time great. There are many elements to relate; I will begin with the earliest and simplest, my exploration of the cabin. A little after noon I stood on the marshy ground beneath the bluff. The climb up to the dwelling was not without difficulty, but my walking stick helped me through. Soon I reached the knee-deep plant growth around the building, and I waded through this to the door, pushing stems and leaves aside with the stick. The wood of the outer wall was weathered with age, and in places partially decayed. The door was closed, but when I tried the knob it opened, swinging inwards with a slow creak. I leaned my stick against the wall right next to the frame and entered the cabin.
Great God! Had I but known what awaited me I would have kept the stick in my grasp. I shall circle around to the main thing presently. First let me say that the cabin was divided into three rooms; the door opened onto a large room with bookshelves, a table, two windows and a sofa, and two other doors nestled in the wall to my right, giving access, so I surmised and later confirmed, to a bathroom and a kitchen. Both windows in the larger room were broken, and the frame in the back wall had suffered some damage. The floor was coated in leaves and detritus, and rat holes studded the bottoms of the walls. A threadbare blanket and half-rotted pillows lay atop the rain-ruined sofa. The bookshelves, of which there were three of varying size, were constructed of rough wood, and I wondered whether the occupant of the cabin had built them himself. They were piled high with tomes, most of them quite old, with worn spines and faded lettering, looking as if they might fall to pieces if I touched them. The table, situated near the front of the room, was strewn with various objects: dirty plates and tarnished silverware, a few books, one of them open and half fallen to pieces, a pot of soil which perhaps had once held flowers, various fountain pens, an open inkwell whose contents had long ago frozen solid. Of chief importance was the short stack of yellowed paper covered in neat, thin-lined handwriting. One sheet, only half-filled with black letters, lay apart from the stack, almost at the table’s edge. There was a chair drawn up to that edge, and in the chair sat a corpse.
I reeled when I first saw it, and leaned against the wall for a moment, but soon I recovered myself and crept closer to make a thorough inspection of the thing. Most of the flesh was gone, and what was left had dried out into a mummified brownish-black. It sat with its head leaning back, skeletal arms hanging at its sides, empty-socketed skull grinning at the ceiling, a few clumps of hair still clinging to the mottled top. Tatters of ancient clothing dangled like festering stalactites from its frame. I marvelled at its state of preservation—only a few odd teeth and finger bones had dropped away, and even these still lay on the floor, unmolested by the rats which must have lived in the holes. The windows were broken; why had no animals entered to despoil the corpse? Or, if they had, why had their touch been so light? Then there was the matter of the dried flesh which still covered perhaps a third of the bone. I do not know much about mummification, but I imagine conditions in Door County are rather less conducive to the phenomenon than those in, say, Egypt. Unless someone had deliberately embalmed the corpse before leaving it here—but this was too bizarre a supposition to entertain.
I saw with puzzlement that there was a small hole in the back of the skull, perhaps three or four inches across. A few skull fragments were scattered among the general detritus on the floor beneath the fellow’s head. Perhaps, I thought, this was how he was killed—a chisel, or a hammer, or some other instrument able to shatter the skull and injure the brain. The hole looked hollow; only blackness gaped from within. A natural thing, I surmised. The brain must have rotted away with the other delicate internal organs; no stomach or intestines were visible on the corpse’s front, and only shrivelled vestiges of the heart and lungs remained inside the ribcage. Or, I reasoned, maybe the crazed individual who killed this man had begun the mummification process by extracting the brain through the opening, his skill being unequal to the traditional method of de-braining through the nose. But, again, an insane speculation.
I then found my attention drawn by the sheets of paper on the table. I first took the one that lay apart from the rest, but I soon saw that this was the ending point of an unfinished discourse or narrative, and that I had better start at the beginning if I wished to make sense of the fellow’s ramblings. Naturally I assumed that the manuscript had been written by the deceased. Odd that the murderer had left it undisturbed. A new thought occurred to me: had this man shot himself? That would explain the hole in his head. A thorough search, however, yielded no gun in the vicinity. Perhaps someone had set it up to look like a suicide—but, I reflected, why go to all that trouble and then abscond with the weapon?
In any case I had the manuscript to ponder, and a quick scan revealed that this would be a much more fruitful path of inquiry than my idle speculations concerning the manner of the author’s demise. I took it with me when I left the cabin and brought it back to my cottage to read. It is the great discovery to which I referred; I will set it down here in my own handwriting so I might in future more easily peruse its contents.
Long have I wandered the paths and ways of the dream lands, and many are the wonders I have seen. I have slumbered in the triangular towers of high Kyrovschtaël in the mountains of the Golden Kingdom; I have trod the great bridge which spans fifty miles of open sea between Tirioth and Andaroth, its heavy stones supported by naught but the Featherweight; I have beheld the endless crystalline fountains of Waterfall City on the tip of the Cyphrian peninsula; I have knelt before the gypsum shrines of Kristling in pine-strown Fietnsra; I have sailed with the slave ships to the rank and fœtid jungles of Thandarra; I have done homage to the court of Rain at the river redoubt of Lacemetal; I have seen from afar the lush boughs of the Mother Tree, the final approach to which is closed to all those whose veins do not carry Arborean blood; I have heard the strange calls of the Crythae as I strode through the forest of Cyrolína; I have walked the streets of Thïos City under the sinister watch of Mount Skygod; I have piloted a boat to the Emerald Falls, where the water cascades down two miles of sheer granite from the Atlan Mountains to the sea; I have enjoyed the sweet hospitality of Sanctuary, nestled on an island in a lake within that same range; I have danced in the lavish ceremonies of Telluria, last star of the fading Deltán Empire, and had deep and weighty conversation with Tyvorax its unhappy king.
Yet after a long while the sweetness and light and purity of my early wanderings began to pall, and I divined within myself a longing for darker and more dangerous things. Thus it was that I was impelled to seek the shadowed corners of the dream lands. Here, too, my exploits were many. I hiked into the Murmuring Mountains and spied on the night-fires of the saw-toothed goblins, my eyes dazzled by the monstrous green flames that shot up when the creatures tossed handfuls of powder on the crackling wood; I visited the ill-rumoured city of Frosthall, and passed through the Valley of Whispering Grass after making proper obeisance to Yig; I journeyed across the tundra-chilled province of Zhyll and stood at the very foot of the Ice; I went to the far northeastern reaches of the Cyphrian Empire to behold from afar the Valley of Bleeding Hearts, and to the far northwestern reaches of Asgoth to behold from afar the beginning of the Land of the Mist; I joined for a time the soldiers of Asgoth’s Cordon, and kept wary watch for any fell creature that might emerge from the Gray Wasteland; I slew an octopus near the edge of the Great Swamp and, with three companions, brought it to the open market of Edgemarsh; I spent an evening on the outskirts of the wraith-haunted city of Erebos, where once the Tristón Empire had its centre, and with my spyglass I glimpsed translucent æthereal things within.
My greatest joy, though, was in the pursuit of frightful and well-guarded secrets, and I spent hour upon long hour talking to hush-voiced sages and reading age-mouldered books while my higher body slept in the world above. I learned of the æon-dead mountain city of Daul Myst and the curse that lay upon it; of the ancient cliffside fortress of Org Vench, said to have been built by elves, and the unquiet prisoners who still wandered the halls within; of hermetic Marblehold, whose sole contact with the world beyond its walls was through emissaries who bought slaves at the Southport market and took them to the mountains, whence they would never return; of the elves, said to have once been rulers of men, who dwelt on the other side of the Land of the Mist, and who would hunt men as men hunt deer if they could but cross; of Mercenary Tower, built on an island in the middle of a lake of lava high in the Atlan Mountains, and staffed by men of solid silver whose services could be bought at a dear price; of the Great Tomb, hidden somewhere beneath the ground in upper Cyphria, whose mummified army—some said it was five hundred strong, some five thousand, some fifty thousand—might be awakened by he who knew the method and the location; of the Walker on the Wind, who came out of the frigid air on the great desolate expanse of the Ice; and, yea, of the mythical Metal Mountains which rose even above and beyond that titanic glacier, and of the Sea of Darkness in back of these peaks, an endless tide of ink-black water which would eat through the Ice and sweep over all the land when the Metal Mountains broke at the end of days.
But at length even the books and the sages did not satisfy me. I considered an expedition onto the Ice, or a voyage to World’s End, but I was put off by the prospect of physical danger; to die in dreamland is to die in the world above, and I was no great athletic specimen. The battle with the octopus had taxed me sorely, and all but glutted my appetite for thrills of the body; what I wanted were thrills of the mind. Anon I found myself back on the streets of Thïos, peering up at the lowering peak of Mount Skygod, which had spat fire six hundred years in the past but lain dormant thereafter. With a telescope of sufficient strength I could make out the spire of Olabolis Tower near the tip of the cone, that olden dwelling built after the last eruption to guard, so it was said, the entrance to the labyrinth whose central chamber housed the Candle of Life. This candle was a totem dating from before the recorded history of any men I met in the dream lands, and it was said to be one of the Thirteen Keys to the Gate. The wise scholars whispered that it held vital energies that could sustain a man’s life for an indefinite period—these energies of course being purchased at the cost of other men’s lives. It was muttered in the marble-floored seminaries, and in the alleys and taverns of the city slums, that a wyvern dwelt within the mountain, and that the tower was inhabited by certain creatures of unspeakable foulness who served the beast and protected the Candle. Learned men called these creatures the Blind Priests, and the uncouth called them the Empty-Headed. Once a year five young men were sent up the mountain to the tower, as an offering to the priests; they were never seen again. Save for this, a heavy taboo lay across any attempt to ascend the slope.
All this was an unbearable temptation to me, and for many days I stayed in Thïos to plan my ascent, gathering food and water, collecting wards and healing potions, and securing a stout sword and good shield. My intention was to see the Candle, or, failing that, to see the wyvern, or, failing that, to obtain whatever primæval secrets the priests were wiling to divulge. After a month of preparation I sought audience with the master of the chief seminary, telling him that, since I was a dreamer, my violation of the taboo would not bring disgrace upon the people of Thïos, and that, furthermore, I was prepared to quit all Narentia after my return from the mountain, and henceforth confine my wanderings to other countries and realms. The master warned me that the dangers of my quest outweighed any reward he thought I might gain, but he understood my motivation and saw I was obstinate, and consented to my wish on condition that I be smuggled past the fence after dark. So the very next night I began my journey up Mount Skygod towards Olabolis Tower.
A menacing and gloom-choked place was that tower, festooned with frightful gargoyles and all full of little candles sporting flames of different colours. I gripped the handle of my sword tight as I entered, but I soon realised that the demeanour of the inhabitants did not warrant such behaviour. They were silent and sedate, and kept to the shadows, and I was obliged to speak to them and explain my reasons for coming before they deigned to give reply. They were robed head to foot in black and crimson, and even the flesh of their faces was hidden; only the gray-pallored lips and ill-scented mouth were visible. They spoke in quiet murmurings and hisses, and at times I had to bend uncomfortably close to their silk-wrapped heads to hear. They told me I could not see the Candle, and could not see the wyvern, but that they could share with me a great secret kept by their order, one not fit for the minds of ordinary men. They informed me that, since I was not one of the youths from the annual sacrifice, and had not come with hostile intent, I stood under no obligation to stay, and could leave whenever I wished. I told them I wanted to stay and hear the secret, and they led me to a small chamber far back in the bowels of the building, lit only by a single candle with a dark red flame and suffused with a musty odour like the smell of old books. The candle stood in the middle of a low stone table, and at the table were two stone benches. On the one opposite me sat a priest; I took the seat across from him, and he began to speak.
He told me that there was a deeper dreamland below this one, much harder to access from this one than this one was to access from my native world, and that the entrances thereto were known only to a few. He then told me that my world was itself a dreamland, conjured into existence by the minds of a higher plane. He said that the chain continued in either direction, each plane, or land, or dimension being simply the dream of the realm above. The inhabitants of some realms, such as his, knew that they lived in a land of dreams; the inhabitants of other realms, such as mine, were largely or entirely clueless. He told me of universes far off in the chain but accessible through portals opened by the great god Yog-Sothoth; fell regions, the telling of which pricked the hairs on the back of the neck: the land of white glass, the land of the mirror demons, the land of the black stars. He said that in the parlance of my realm all these universes might be called simulations, each dreamt into being by the level above, the chain extending both upwards and downwards from any particular point. So, what was at the top, I queried, and what was at the bottom? Or was it infinite?
At this his gray lips curled into a smile, revealing yellowed teeth filed into perfect isosceles triangles. There is no top, he said, and there is no bottom, and it is not infinite. It is a closed loop. Perhaps a thousand, perhaps ten thousand, certainly less than a hundred thousand universes, and no more.
I scrunched my brow. This did not make sense, I pointed out—a closed chain of dreamers with no ultimate real plane to dream them into existence, a nested loop of simulations with nothing to simulate it. Was he certain his cosmology was correct?
Of course it does not make sense, he replied, his rotting gray tongue wagging like a snake. Only a mad mind could believe in such an illogical construction. And, indeed, it is a mad mind that has dreamed it up, that believes in this thing that cannot exist. This mind goes by many names—you may know it as Chaos, or Ginnungagap, or Azathoth. We call it the Blind One. Were it sane and intelligent, it could not suppose such a thing to be, could not dream it into existence, just as a man cannot suppose that two and two make five. Yet it is an idiot, the Great Idiot. In the shrieking madness of its slumber it has conjured up a reality that cannot be. Our reality—the only reality.
The blind priest then sat back, an air of satisfaction hovering about his still faintly smiling lips, and drew from the folds of his cloak a tiny stoppered bottle, glass, half-filled with a clear liquid. A concoction, he informed me, if I wished to forget the secret, but it must be quaffed quickly lest the onward trickle of time dull its effectiveness.
The musty air was getting to me, and I felt my head swim a little as I told him I did not understand. This was the great secret? Some mad supposition concerning the nature of reality, obviously false—indeed, deliberately constructed to be false? What was there that needed forgetting?
He said then that it was no great wonder I did not understand, that I was sane, as once he had been, a state that would not last unless I drank the liquid he proffered. I thought that I did not believe, he said, but I did—to hear the secret from the lips of the Blind Priests was to believe in its truth, and once I saw that the universe around me could not be, I would begin to perceive that in fact it—was—not.
This was not nearly convincing enough an argument to compel me to drink the potion offered by the mouldering being in front of me, and, not wishing to taste what could have been poison, I asked whether there was anything else he wished to tell me. He simply set the bottle on the stone table next to the candle and remained silent. I rose, left the chamber, and, after ascertaining that I would not be granted audience with anyone else, left the tower and started down the slope of Mount Skygod on the far side, heading towards the lake. As the sun rose I camped in the foothills and stretched out to sleep, thoroughly disappointed with the result of my trip. Perhaps, I thought, I would have more luck visiting the sorcerers at Starving Mountain near Erebos.
Soon I awakened in the upper world, and I set down a few notes concerning my experience in the tower, notes which I have just referenced to detail the description above. I ate, took a morning constitutional along the river, and spent the rest of the day working on my most important waking-world project, a new (and, I hope, newly accurate) translation of Von Junzt’s Nameless Cults. It seemed to me that certain correlations between the Blind Priests and cult-men who haunted the Scandinavian wilderness many centuries ago might be possible, though the name given to the black-robed worshippers by the Nordic sources—mouse-heads—baffled me. Perhaps, I reasoned, that was what they looked like beneath those black and crimson folds—giant mice.
The evening proceeded normally, and I lay down to rest that night, confident that, as usually happened in those days, my brain would follow the guidelines of long repetition and automatically perform the mental sequences required to enter the dream lands. I fully expected to open my eyes on the twilight gloom of the far side of Mount Skygod, refreshed after a long day’s sleep.
But, instead, when I opened my eyes the sight that greeted me was of my own cabin, and it was morning! Incensed, I took drugs to conjure sleep, and went back to bed intending to perform the steps consciously as soon as my mundane dreams turned lucid.
You may well imagine my surprise and dismay when I again awoke around noon to find myself in the upper world. I could not remember having any mundane dreams at all, let alone having reached that state of lucidity necessary to follow the conscious steps—a state long known and enjoyed to me in the years before my entrance to the dream lands became automatic. I took a more powerful drug, a substance not without its dangers but blessed with the power to enable me to perform the steps in conscious wakefulness. I reached for the sequence in the cabinets of my memory—and found the cabinets empty. Nothing. There was nothing there. I knew that I should know the steps, but even the shape of them, that maddening almost-thing one might feel upon trying to reach a just-forgotten memory, was gone. It was as if I had never learned them. I only knew that I thought that I had learned them, and my sorrow and bafflement were great. In one fell stroke all the joys of the dream lands had been snatched from me by cruel claws.
For several days I languished in a deep depression. After a time I conceived the idea that I might closely scrutinise the section of Von Junzt’s book where he discussed the mouse-heads—this section, I knew, was not available in any extant translation, the scholars of olden days having considered it particularly dark and foul. I picked up the volume, flipped to the page in question, and—the symbols swam before me, unrecognised, unrecognisable. I could not read German. German, a language I had mastered at the age of twelve.
A great panic seized me. I sprang to my feet, rushed to the door, wrenched it open and ran outside. It was early in the afternoon, as far as I could tell, and the sun streamed down in hot, skin-blistering waves. I became aware that a sheen of sweat marked my palms and forehead. The forest swayed a little before me, and I vomited in the underbrush. Truly, what little I had eaten over the past few days had not greatly aided my health. I straightened back up, breathing deeply, squinting at the sky. Was I right? Was it early in the afternoon? I looked for the sun.
I could not find the sun. I searched all over the sky, and indeed the sunlight poured down, but a mental block, something like the eyes’ blind spot, prevented me locating its source. A throb of despair penetrated to my very bones, and I turned around and around with hesitant little footsteps, trying to get my bearings. A musty smell, like old books, curled about my nostrils, and I remembered the words of the smiling, sharp-toothed priest who held court in that dim-litten chamber.
To hear the secret from our lips is to believe in its truth, and once you see that the universe around you cannot be, you will begin to perceive that in fact it—is—not.
That is what he said, as near as I can remember, and even as I write the memory fades from my mind like a coloured-pencil sketch hung nigh a sun-drenched window. It is scarcely a week since that fateful failed search for the sun, and my deterioration has been rapid. Great blocks of the world have disappeared from sight, from hearing, from memory. Around me at all times is that accursed old-book smell from the priest’s chamber. O cruel irony of the idiot void, that such an innocent pleasure from all the long days of my life should turn on me at the last, destroying my appetite and near suffocating me with its now execrable stench! I look past my pen and paper, past my table, and there is no wall, no forest, only a blue sky empty of clouds, and each night there are fewer stars! The last time I was out in the woods, I came upon a couple hiking, and they spoke to me, I believe they were concerned about my unkempt state—no words! no sound! I cannot remember my parents, I cannot recall my own mirrored aspect. Sometimes when I look at these very words all I see is gibberish—soon I think I shall have to close my eyes to write, until such time as even that skill is taken from me.
But I can see it, I can see it all, or rather none of it, the great nothing. The priest was right. There is nothing, not really, there can’t be. Dreams without a dreamer, simulations without a simulator. That is why we cannot answer the first question, why we cannot name the first cause, save by calling it “God”—O, what a bleached and flaccid word, drained for us of the burning power it once held, when men knew the true gods, and the lord above them all, the Blind One, the dæmon sultan Azathoth! There is only anything here because He thinks there is, and He only thinks there is because He is an idiot, and someday someone will point out to Him His error, and nothing will be anymore. Well, I am but an infinitesimal tendril of His lunatic mind, and the error has been revealed to me, so I see that there is nothing. Il n’y a rien. I do not know what language that is.
I hear the tapping of little feet around me. Ha ha ha. Little feet! There are holes in the wall that were not there before. The mice are here. I am a mouse-head now. Tee-hee! I will be a little mouse. Mice don’t know anything. Mice aren’t conscious. Mice are in the nothing. What a foolish thing it was to write this down. Burn it if you find it. Burn it! I would myself, but I have forgotten how to make fire.
I have a headache. I think I will rest for a while.
It ends there. Certainly a competent literary creation—a chill ran through me as I finished it. The manner in which I discovered it disquiets me. It is all too easy to imagine the poor fellow actually living the events of his tale, his heart ceasing to beat as in the last extremity he stops believing in his own existence. Perhaps I will find out who he was, and get his work published posthumously. I suppose I should tell the police what I found, but I don’t want them butting in—imagine, they might seize this manuscript as evidence! Anyway, no one likes the police these days, so by leaving them out of the loop I am simply conforming to the zeitgeist. I will tell them in due time, once I have finished all my private researches. I must return to the cabin to see what else I can find there; it is possible I will uncover clues as to how the man died.
That is all for today. Doubtless I will have more to write about the case tomorrow. This is a much more interesting matter than the trifles with which I thought I would be filling this journal!
June 14, 20—
The corpse is gone. I was at the cabin by two in the afternoon, and I entered with only a small shudder of trepidation, fully expecting to see the fellow keeping his vigil at the lonely table—and he was gone. There was no body. Teeth and finger bones and skull fragments still littered the floor around the chair, along with leaves and rat droppings and whatnot, but my dearly departed author friend was not present. Someone, maybe the murderer, must have moved him. The corpse had to have been there for years, and its disappearance so soon after my discovery suggested to me that the murderer was keeping watch, knew I had found his handiwork, was perhaps watching me at that very moment. I gripped my stick and searched all three rooms of the cabin, then went outside and circumnavigated the tiny building, peering intently into the forest as I went. I could see nothing resembling a watcher, but, I figured, such a man would know how to conceal himself. I would have to be careful, buy a gun, maybe. I went back into the cabin.
On the table I found a very old, worm-eaten volume labelled Von unaussprechlichen Kulten, and a weather-worn notebook of much more recent date with Nameless Cults scrawled on the cover in the dead man’s handwriting. I took both of these, thinking I might use my imperfect knowledge of German to finish the translation spoken of in the manuscript. I also found a richly carved cigar case on one of the bookshelves, with five prize specimens still inside. The kitchen disclosed many strange vials and powders, as did the medicine cabinet in the bathroom, the mirror on whose door was splintered with a thousand cracks. I took one glass-stoppered vial, of a deep green liquid, fancying I could make some researches and discover what it was. More books and medicines can be retrieved for investigation later—I will bring a bag tomorrow. All in all this is a great treasure-trove I have found. On the way out I thought I saw a flash of movement by one of the holes between the wall and the floor. A mouse or a rat, I suppose, or maybe a squirrel. I am still baffled that the corpse was not rent asunder or picked clean by animals while in a less decayed state. Maybe the murderer filled it so full of chemicals as to make it unappetizing, or stayed in the cabin while it rotted away. In either case I hope I never have occasion to encounter such a man.
Upon opening Von unaussprechlichen Kulten I immediately saw that translation would be no easy job. It was printed in 1839, but written in a deliberately archaic style that appears to mix multiple regional dialects, and on top of this the author tends to state things in an obscurantist, elliptical manner that reminds me of Derrida, or Faulkner, or Joyce. And a century before them too! Clearly he does not want his book understood by those not already familiar with at least some of the esoteric secrets it purports to contain. I think I can riddle out some of it, though. I will start where my deceased acquaintance left off, after reading the English renderings he has already made. These look to be piecemeal, a passage here, a group of pages there. The original has no chapters or sections—it is just one continuous discourse from beginning to end, for a hundred and ninety-three pages. At least Von Junzt didn’t pull a Bernhard and leave out the paragraph breaks.
I smoked one of the cigars. Nice tobacco, but it made my head a little fuzzy for about half an hour afterwards. It’s possible that the author spiked it with one of the strange drugs in his cabin. Still, if that is the only negative side effect, I would not mind smoking the rest.
I detected a musty old-book smell on the author’s manuscript, akin to that which wafts from the pages of Von Junzt. Worth mentioning only because I did not notice it yesterday. Odd. I suppose I was too affected by the magnitude of my find to note such trifles.
June 15, 20—
It rained all day today, so I was not able to visit the cabin again. I contented myself by perusing my missing friend’s fragmentary translation of Von unaussprechlichen Kulten. If you thought his own manuscript was strange you have not read Von Junzt’s—the man was obviously completely insane. Online researches reveal that he came to a bad end not long after the book saw publication, and for almost a century thereafter authorities in the Western countries used various methods to suppress the tome. They were largely successful, as all subsequent printings and all translations were watered down to some extent. The book was last a topic of interest during the occult craze of the early twentieth century, and was apparently an object of interest in sundry cases of murder and disappearance. After that, everyone pretty much forgot about it. The New Age movement showed an almost complete lack of interest in the book, with some swamis, lamas and the like going so far as to completely deny the existence of both Von Junzt’s manuscript and the much older Arabic text to which the German author makes cryptic reference. Neither of these texts—either in the original or in translation—are available on the Internet as far as I can tell.
The bulk of what I read in the unfinished translation pertains to certain intelligent beings and races that, according to Von Junzt, predate mankind, sometimes by impossibly long stretches of time. He mentions the Yig whose name appears in the translator’s manuscript, and a race of short, vicious scaly-skinned people who do the creature homage; the high priest Klúlu, whose corpse lies miles under the water, and his distant cousin Klúga; the Yúggothoi, who come down from the heavens and take captives who are never seen again—I could go on, but I have no wish to copy out the text as I did that of the manuscript. It is the same sort of thing, but an even greater feat of imagination, at once morbid and full of cosmic awe. The nameless cults of the book’s title are the secret organisations of men who take it upon themselves to serve whatever remnants of the aforementioned beings and races survive to the present day. I half suspect that Von Junzt was a disturbed inventor whose tales were taken rather too seriously by the credulous people of his day, and that my own decaying friend wished to pay him literary homage. In any case this is all much more interesting than Marat, or any of the drudgery I have to deal with at the university for that matter. Maybe I will publish a paper on this Junzt fellow instead. Who is the modern Von Junzt? I could ask. Whose flights of less than sane but ultimately harmless imagination are treated too harshly by the censors of our own day? A dangerous topic, though, the censors of our own day.
I’d meant to continue where my predecessor left off on the translation of the passage about the Scandinavian mouse-heads—he managed about a page, mostly a rambling paragraph pertaining to the locations of various ruined castles—but I smoked two of the cigars and they had a soporific effect. I just recently woke up, made some coffee, and started this journal entry.
That musty book smell is stronger today, and it now comes not only from the manuscript and the original Von unaussprechlichen Kulten but from the translation book as well. I could have sworn the scent did not cling to all three items on the days before today. I can even detect a trace of the odor around the two remaining cigars and the box in which they nestle. In addition to this I have developed the idea that the vial of green liquid is turning a darker colour. I have been alone too long, I think, and I have allowed the macabre atmosphere generated by the discovery of the corpse to cloud my perceptions. I will go into town tomorrow.
Later—The green liquid is definitely darker than it was just a few hours ago. I know this is crazy and pathetic, but the rain has stopped, so I put all the items from the cabin on the porch, and tossed the last two cigars into the lake. The storm has cleared the air somewhat, and my little night sojourn was refreshing. Now I can retire to bed with a lighter heart.
June 16, 20—
I went into town today. While buying food I saw the news playing on a small TV near the checkout counter. More riots, it seems, and as usual they don’t call them riots. The stubble on my face itched under my mask. All of a sudden my trip into town did not seem at all like a relaxing and sanity-restoring break from my lakeside isolation, and I quickly paid for my items and left.
On the way back I had an unpublishable idea about Marat—as his death was the catalyst of Robespierre’s terror, so George Floyd’s is the catalyst for our own revolution. I could publish it, I know this, but I would not keep my job at the university. What have the institutions of higher learning to hold me, though? What can they present to fascinate and divert my mind in the face of what I have found out in these peninsular woods? Yet in a deeper sense I might ask what the subject of Marat and Floyd has to hold me. These human squabbles seem so petty and pathetic from the remote vantage point of my cottage. I give about as much of a damn for them as I do for the territorial squabbles of chimpanzees or the travails of ants. I imagine replacing all the names—Floyd, Marat, Paris, Minneapolis—with eldritch terms out of my dead friend’s manuscript, placing them all in a make-believe world I will never see, and I find I cannot care one whit whether any of them live or how all of them die. Let the planet burn; I will stay here in my cottage and while away the hours writing and reading and hiking.
When I got back to the cottage I found that the vial formerly full of green liquid was empty and the cigar box was missing. The books and manuscript were as I had left them. This was odd—had someone taken the box and emptied the vial? The stopper was secure, but the inside was totally pristine, as if it had been carefully washed out, or had never held any liquid at all. Moreover I noted that the vial lay in the same place I had put it on the previous night. The thief, I figured, must have been very careful… but why preserve its location while stealing its contents? Curious, I unstoppered the vial and looked inside, then probed with a finger. At once my hands developed a slippery texture, as if I had poured soap over them. Alarmed, I dropped the vial, and it shattered on the concrete of the porch. The slipperiness persisted, but I could see nothing on my skin. I let myself inside the cottage and washed my hands. It took minutes to clear them of that odd sensation. Now, as I write this, I notice my fingers and palms have begun to break out in a rash. This is unaccountable. I know the “obvious” explanation is that the liquid turned invisible, but I refuse to credit this. I must keep a hold on my mind.
I brought the books and manuscript back inside, but after the business with the vial I could not bring myself to study them. I will look at them again tomorrow. Instead I went on a walk in the vicinity of the cottage—well-trod territory, as I have noted, but that didn’t stop me from almost losing my way on two occasions due to my distracted state. It was not as pleasant a constitutional as it could have been, as I failed to find my bug spray before heading out, and the flies were after me. At least the moths have stopped coming in the window. I wonder why, though.
Later—The smell from the books and manuscript has become even stronger. I put them outside again. That is where they will have to stay unless their odour abates somewhat. A fungus must be growing on them.
June 17, 20—
The smell now pervades the entire cottage, with some of the scent from the cigars mixed in, even though I am keeping the papers outside. It is not that the smell is unpleasant—I have always liked the aroma of æon-old tomes—it is the damn unnaturalness of its persistence here. Then there are my hands, which are covered in red welts, though the pain is only mild and the swelling has gone down a little since I woke up in the morning. The itching, by contrast, is even worse, and I have to stop after every sentence I write here to dig my nails into a particularly bothersome spot.
My perch by the lake seemed rather lonely and restrictive in the morning, and I made to go into town again, but I could not find my car keys. I searched, but not thoroughly, as my head felt rather fuzzy and my temples ached. I could not find my bug spray, either, so I took only two short walks in the sparser areas of the woods. I did some work continuing the dead man’s translation of Nameless Cults and found out a little more concerning those hypothetical priests from Scandinavia. The claims Von Junzt makes are disquieting and I will not rewrite them here. It is late afternoon, and overcast. A storm is building.
I thought I just saw something crawl into a corner of the room, by the bed. Like a mouse, but black, with too many legs. I got down on my knees and poked around there with my cane but found nothing.
Later—Howling wind and thrashing rain. The swelling on my hands has gone down, but the red spots are now scabbing over, and the urge to scratch is strong. When I do, dark green liquid wells forth, and the urge subsides somewhat. This liquid produces the same slippery sensation as the original, though, so I have decided to hold my hands under hot water whenever I “pop” one of the scabs. I don’t want this to become a cycle. Smell of books throughout the cottage is even stronger.
The scabs are all popped now. I will go to bed and see whether more rashes show up tomorrow.
Even later—Something just crawled across my face in the dark, while my eyes were closed. Jumped out of bed, spasm of pain went up my leg and back, looked all around, found nothing. I am done with this. The deceased inhabitant of the cabin said to burn his manuscript and that is exactly what I will do, along with that hateful German book and the translated passages. I will burn all these things in the fireplace and I will not think about what was written therein.
They are gone now. The smell has not dissipated, but I’m sure it will fade eventually. I flip back to my June 12 entry and find a well-balanced mind—perhaps I may now return to this state.
June 18, 20—
I regret somewhat my rashness last night, as those papers were really quite interesting, but I am also quite confused. I still cannot find my car keys or bug spray, and I searched for more than an hour. I suppose I will have to call my sister and ask her to bring the other set from my house.
The ground is soaked, and it continues to drizzle on and off. Not a good day for on-foot exploration. That damned mustiness still pervades the house, and I now smell it even when I leave the cabin and walk to the treeline, as if it has taken root in my nostrils. A fungus, as I said—maybe the problem has been my own nose all along, and I suffer from some sort of infection contracted at that dilapidated old cabin. I shall have to visit an ENT doctor.
My hands did break out in a new rash, but this round is much less extensive than the last. This strange affliction should burn itself out in a few days. I guess I will have to see a dermatologist as well. After that, I can call an exterminator for the rodents in my cabin—mice or rats. I only noticed their scratchings in the walls today. They are very annoying and make it difficult for me to focus on these words.
Later—I had a strange episode just now where I forgot the first name of Marat, which is of course—Jean-Paul! I had to look it up again, while writing that sentence, to refresh my memory! The subject of my next paper, a name I’ve known in full since childhood! Obviously I am getting old, and the stress and fatigue of the past few days have affected me badly. I am going to bed.
June 19, 20—
I picked up my phone to call my sister but found I had forgotten the passcode. Try as I might I could not recall it. Those months of muscle memory—gone. The same thing happened when I opened my laptop. I forgot the password that grants me access. Maybe something in the cigars damaged my brain.
There is a tree missing outside. I know the treeline by my cottage rather well and a tall pine with a distinctive twisted branch is gone. It didn’t fall over; it simply disappeared. It is as if the forest is a photograph and someone edited it out. The tree is Trotsky. Ha!
In one sense I know exactly what is happening but I refuse to seriously entertain the idea.
Later—I lost my phone. I thought it was on my desk next to this damned diary, but it is gone. I am going for a walk.
June 20, 20—
I can’t see the sun. It’s bright out but I can’t see it. My hands have scabbed up again and the smell in my nostrils is sickening. There are things crawling around, always just out of my sight. Their legs are too sharp to be those of rodents. Those clacking sounds on the floor. It is over now. It is over. It—is—not.
June 23, 20—
Deterioration is astonishingly swift. The world outside my window has been stripped of its variety. I can see the crust of the earth miles below, for the love of the unhappy cosmos! The lake is not there!
The roof is gone, but when I look up at night there are no stars. I know I will soon die as did the dreamer in the cabin. I hope only that what takes me is in fact death.
Later—Great blank stretches in my own memory. Forgetting words now. Can’t smell anything. Damned headaches. Going to bed.
June 24, 20—
I think it was all wrong, my whole life, the search for knowledge. We should have stayed peasants who prayed to the old gods.
Either I never really loved anyone or I have forgotten whom I loved.
Burn it all
All of it
In the fire
Make no investigation
of the circumstances
underlying my death
suspicious as they may b
II. Notes found on the laptop of Craig Wilson, Sergeant Investigator at the Door County sheriff’s office
The body of Eric Hobbes, a professor at Lawrence University and resident of Appleton, was found on July 2, 20— after police were contacted by the deceased’s sister, whose attempts to contact her brother had repeatedly failed. The professor was discovered seated at his desk in front of an open window looking out on the lake, his diary open before him. Officers at the scene determined that he had been dead for no more than one or two days, but the coroner has expressed doubts—I am waiting for his report. There was a hole in the back of the deceased’s head, roughly circular, three and a half inches in diameter, and his brain was missing. Fragments of skull and bits of gray matter lay on the floor behind the chair.
Following a perusal of Hobbes’ diary, I ordered a search of the estuary by Mink River to see if the cabin he mentioned actually existed. A burned-down building whose general contours matched his description was found; the fire seemed not to have spread more than a few yards beyond the shell of the cabin itself. Teeth, finger bones, and skull fragments were found among the detritus; forensic analysis is underway to determine the origin of these items, and investigators continue to search for human remains in the vicinity of the site.
An empty cigar box was found on the porch of Professor Hobbes’ cottage; the keys to his car and an aerosol can of bug spray were found on the chest of drawers next to his bed. Techs were able to access his laptop (the password was his sister’s birthday), but found no information pertaining to the case. They should have access to his smartphone soon, but my instinct tells me it will furnish us with no more leads than its larger cousin. No signs of rodent infestation were found in the cottage.
I am quite honestly baffled by this case—I have seen cases that were sadder, or more frustrating, but none this confusing. My initial supposition was that we were dealing with a serial killer with a taste for encephalectomy, and that he had known Professor Hobbes well, forged the diary, and planted it on him after murdering him, but handwriting analysis matches the contents of the diary to the professor’s surviving letters and effects, and the only fingerprints found on the diary belong to him. I will speak with the coroner tomorrow; I hope he has something new to say.
I spoke with James, the coroner, today. He said that what he was about to tell me was only what was baldly indicated by the data, and that of course this could not be taken at face value, surrounding circumstances being taken into account. He then proceeded to inform me that it looked to him like something had forced its way out of the professor’s skull by applying a low level of pressure over a considerable period of time. He said there were no entry wounds on the body and said he could not account for the absence of the brain. He was also at a loss to explain the divergent rates of decay seen in different tissues—the intestines, for example, indicated that the man had died on June 24 or 25, while the skin and muscle suggested death had occurred only a day before his body was found. James then assured me that this was only what the data said; obviously there must be some more normal explanation for what he had observed, and he was not competent enough to find it.
We got a drink after that, and once his tongue was loosened some James told me that this had scared the hell out of him, and he thought we ought to contact the CDC, or someone of similar calibre. He then told me that maybe he was getting old, and wasn’t cut out for the coroner’s business any longer, and maybe it was time for him to retire or, failing that, find another line of work. One that took him far away from Door County, across the ocean, maybe. He got quite drunk and became unsteady on his feet, so I drove him home in his car and led him to his front door. Before we went inside, I told him that it would be better if he didn’t share any of what we’d talked about with his wife. I made sure she had him in hand, then left the house.
Then, of course, I had to spend half an hour walking back to town to get my car. I’m not an easily spooked man, but that was an unsettling trip. I thought someone might be following me, and I had my hand on my gun nearly the whole way. Back in town, just a block away from my car, I glanced up and saw—at least, I thought I saw—a tall figure in rags standing on a rooftop. I couldn’t make out much detail; it was only a dark shape. I gripped my gun tight, clicked the safety off, blinked, then heard a dog bark loudly somewhere off to my right—my attention was diverted for a second, and when I looked back at the rooftop, the figure was gone. Like something out of a goddamn dime novel. I considered going up there to check it out, as I was pretty sure the guy had just flattened himself behind the lip at the edge of the roof, but for some reason I didn’t feel up to it. Instead I got in my car and drove home. Almost skipped a light at one point. I didn’t act like myself—James’ fear must be a little contagious.
The professor’s body is missing. I got the call about noon and came to the morgue; James showed up jumpy and hungover about fifteen minutes after me. James says he locked the body away in its drawer yesterday afternoon; well, the drawer was still locked when the assistant opened it, but the body was gone. The security camera shows nothing, by which I mean not that it shorted out, but that it shows a night of no activity in the autopsy room. James puts the body in the drawer, locks it, and leaves, and nothing happens until the next morning, when the assistant leads the sheriff in to show him the body, which turns out not to be there. It’s as if there’s some secret corpse-removal tunnel behind the drawer. (A search was duly performed and no such passages were discovered.) I’m assigned to this “case” as well but there’s little I can do. I gave the camera and recording to the techs to see if they could find tampering, but I haven’t heard from them yet. They did crack Hobbes’ phone—no useful information there, which doesn’t surprise me.
James and his wife are gone. They left for his dad’s ranch in Montana last night. He sent an email saying he was resigning. I called his cell, trying to talk him out of it—I think he’s overreacting, everyone comes across something inexplicable at some point in his life—but he didn’t pick up. I must confess to being rather on edge myself. I’m developing an irrational conviction that someone is watching me, especially when I’m alone in the office or the house, or driving in the woods. I’ve started to smell that old-book smell Hobbes talked about in his diary as well. It must be some sort of psychosomatic reaction to my work on the case.
I am definitely being watched. I saw someone standing at my window just now. The sun was setting, and the guy was silhouetted against the west, so I couldn’t see much. Looked like he was dressed in some kind of tattered cloak. I got my gun, went outside and searched all around the house, shining a flashlight into the woods, but I didn’t find anything. I’ll discuss this with the sheriff tomorrow; it’s possible he’ll want to put cameras around my house, in case the professor’s killer is stalking me. What an absurd situation.
There are mice in my house. I’ve never had problems before. I just saw one skitter into my closet. I think it was a mouse. This is a malevolent coincidence if ever there was one.
Someone’s knocking at the front door. Won’t stop, and none of my windows provide a good view. I’m not expecting anyone. I’ll take my gun and go out the back way so I can get the jump on my visitor.
III. Notice concerning the Hobbes/Wilson case
Sergeant Investigator Wilson remains missing, and the whereabouts of the body of Mr. Hobbes are still unknown. Anyone who has information that may lead to their recovery is encouraged to come forward.
Bone and tissue samples taken from the body of Mr. Hobbes before its disappearance, and bone and dental fragments found at the Mink River crime scene, have been sent to the CDC for analysis. Results are expected shortly.
Former coroner James Cline was interviewed by Montana law enforcement. When informed of Mr. Wilson’s disappearance, he became incoherent and had to be restrained. He is currently receiving treatment for his mental health at Montana State Hospital and remains a person of interest.
Investigation is ongoing.