The gnarl-tongued lizard man coiled itself for another strike. I slapped it firmly about the scaly chops and earned a moment of respite. My incarceration in the Halls of the Soulless Ones had been alternately tedious and freighted with menace. Worse still I had long exhausted my supplies of travelling brandy and caravan opiates. It was doing my nerves no favours at all.
The nameless horrors grew more horrible and nameless by the hour. A fearful dread struck me whenever they laid their cold unidentifiably alien minds upon me. The chill terror they wrought in me I diffused by allocating them disparaging nicknames. ‘Old Cock Stalk Eyes’ was unamused when I named him so and through my hysterical laughter I stepped back from the brink of madness.
They tormented my frail humanity in that weird place between the stars and moon. Only my environment seemed fixed while time ran amok like an epileptic lady-gibbon: the hours raced by or dilated for seeming days. The hands of my watch disported themselves energetically which helped not at all. I sprawled, bored and confused upon a slab of stone so unusual in hue that I hesitate to grant it colour at all – perhaps its colour was in my mind only and there are not words to represent it. Walls of stone rose high above me. I imagined that they met in a vast arch in the sky – if sky there was. The vault was filled with windows subtly aglow with a gross tantric haze and behind them a darkness that grew blacker the longer I looked, as if I were being drawn into a bleak pupil of my own death. Gloomy.
I contented myself with staring at the floor, for the windows were too terrible to contemplate. Through the floor I grew dimmingly aware of another man such as myself, leaning against a similar slab of prisonhood. I attempted a tapping Morse upon the stone, with hopes of conveying a greeting through its resonant essence. He stirred not, though the sound was returned to me thrice-fold and punchy to my ears. As I watched (in a manner unlike voyeurism, for I was lonely in this space with only the grimming faces of ‘Old Gashey Face Spume’ and ‘Lady Horn Buttocks’ to oppress me) the man started in alarm and cowered by the slab.
My heart leapt into my mouth and I was obliged to swallow it lest my fevered pulse choke me. Approaching him clawfully was a vile nightmare brute: half fish-scaled goat and half horse-lobster, its head a single hugely glistening eyeball rimed with bloody sleep. The poor fellow fled, but the eerie chimera was before him at every turn. My unique eyrie gave me an unrivalled view, though I’d have traded it for a blinding. The ocular beast held the man down, and its dire pupil widened as if plunged into night. A chitinous nether spout unfurled from the gaping orb and jerked ominously before loosing a wetly spurting string of ichorous insectile oospore into the man’s terrified eyes. He screamed, which struck me as entirely reasonable, as the monster’s roe burrowed into his face.
The cackleberry-headed thing retreated, with its spiny recoiling pistil. I realised the rime was not bloody tears but the crusted rudiment of its own lost progeny. The man lay on the unhueable slab, hands over his eyes sobbing with horror. As the only other human present I felt I ought to pat him on the shoulder, or offer him a handkerchief. Some well-intentioned platitude or other in this dark and gruesome place. He was unreachable – as cut off from my cotton kerchief as man is from the mind of woman. He began to shudder and buck as if swiving a reluctant tiger. For the eggs were hatching. Those appalling nuclei of the Soulless Ones delivered by Captain Jism-Eye himself had completed their awful gestation in mere seconds, though to our time-shagged senses it might have been years.
The man threw back his head and his face was seamed with writhing ridges where those horrid oculist spawn roved. The spectral germs opened his mind like an origami crane handled by a child, rippingly and without grace. His inner eye floated free and was drawn into the future. I saw what he saw, a future rife with flames and misery: the Soulless Ones returned to our realm with their cold hatred of our life, a terrible insight into the future these creatures desired for us. It was as I shared in these visions that I had cause to wonder how it could be that I, pitying this fellow’s plight from above whose fate I envied not at all, could be twinned with him for this portentous glimpsing…
Aaagh! The worms wriggled under the flesh of my beautiful features – it was I, not he! For there was no he – only I suffered in that hellish Hall. It was my eyes into which that opthalmic bastard had spurted its embryonic eyeballs. I bellowed and raged, scratching at my face as I blundered about the hall cursing the Soulless Ones with all the names and mockery my gifted tongue could muster.
Apparently displeased by my description of its majesty as ‘Buttock-clad mal-faced leper-fist of faecal croco-chickens’ one of the ancient creatures stirred into motion. I named each one of those cruel and unfriendly gods and derided them loudly in their sacred space. With a victorious squeeze of my cheeks I exploded a gout of wriggling oculant horrors from my flesh. I took no little pleasure in stamping them to an ectoplasmic smear. It was perhaps this which roused their wrath for they all rose from their slumber; walking, dragging or even hopping dreams made flesh (albeit from half a hundred ill-chosen species, blended with the skill of a coprophilic artiste) hating at me with their emanations of terror.
I was beyond their reach, so agog with their seeding of my brow that my anger impelled my imprecative oratory to ever greater heights of insult. I realised I might have pushed the cockish jerk monkeys too far when I found myself standing in one of those bleak window arches, the darkness pulling at me- a mortuary ghost suckling on life. With wide, crazed eyes I stared defiant into their many, many eyes and found myself free. A roaring filled my ears and I fell backwards into the gloom.
A billion stars rushed around me and were still. I lay in a rose bed, ringed by the concerned faces of my neighbours from Harleigh (a small town temporarily unstained by my reputation). They helped me to my feet and I was grateful for the warm crush of their hands. Laughingly, I attributed my battered state to a gardener’s combat with an aggressive weed. I fended off further aid by declaring that whiskey and a hot bath would doubtless set me aright.
It was as I lounged in my tub, steaming clean the stink of the ancients that I felt a popping by my ear and heard a splash. An undulant tremor of horror ran through my belly. A grub of optic flesh waggled through the water. I splashed it ineffectually in my panic before anger strengthened me. I leapt from the bath and seized a jar in which I trapped the disgusting parasite. I sloshed it full of with paraffin and grinningly set it ablaze. The worm thrashed and swelled alarmingly, growing to the size of a burning horse in mere moments. Resuming my panic, I hurled the remainder of the oil at its maddened head-orb. The explosion blew me into my drawing room where I dazedly seized the bare necessities of life and fled the house.
I squatted in a robe, sopping wet and drinking whiskey in the street, and watched the flames spread through the neighbourhood with dreary predictability. The ghastly optomobeast ululated its immolatory end in a slow death of taking its pyre to the rest of the town. At least I’d leave this place with my reputation intact, for it seemed there would be no survivors. Damn those Soulless Ones, I feared that their bitter reign already begun.