After the sudden death of my grandfather I had discovered that I was his sole heir. It came as some surprise to me as I had spent many years estranged from my family and had only recently returned to town. It came as an even greater surprise to my kin. During a tense reading with daggerous looks between his remaining relatives, his house and properties were willed to me alone. I was uneasy with the estate for my prior experience of home ownership extended little beyond possession of a sleeping bag and a talent for cadging a sofa by night. Failing even those luxuries I had camped out beneath the stars in a series of tents and rough spots. Drifting, always drifting. Yet I had returned home at long last and thanks to the quixotic will of my grandfather I had a reason to stay.
I had a house of intriguing and oddly shaped rooms to do with what I wished, and the considerable enmity of my cousins. So it was that I came to be alone for much of my time browsing aimlessly through my grandfather’s vast collection of intriguing trinkets and the countless leather-bound tomes of strange subjects and suggestive titles which littered every room of the house and surface within it. There is something tiring to the eye of such incessant jumble and I sought out quieter vistas.
Amongst the seeming endless ring of keys that had been pressed into my hands by the sweating fingers of my grandfather’s executor was one labelled ‘attic’. I had not yet ventured within. Indeed I had not yet gone above the second storey of the tall Victorian house.
As I fingered the key and ascended the stair to the third storey I felt a speeding quiver in my heart – is there not always a thrill to exploring an attic or cellar? Somehow they bind a house with mystery and potential. I left behind the halls of open doorways and found myself in a hallway in which were five doors – two to my left and right and a fifth facing the stairs.
All locked and unmarked, save for one which must have been at the back of the house (I had gotten somewhat turned around in my ascent and there were no windows in the hall – a room must have been built to enclose the sources of natural light). That door was also closed, but held an ostentatious lock on its outside with a bolt that plainly ran deep into the wall. Its frame was deeply scratched around the lock and lacerations ran its full height from ceiling to floor as if something had deeply desired entrance, yet lacked the key. I felt little desire to test it myself.
At the end of the hall a hatch was set into the ceiling, directly above the fifth door. The attic key was the only one so marked and it fit smoothly into the heavy padlock which lidded the attic shut from beneath. A twist and a tug removed the chain and the hatch swung open eagerly. I was almost struck by the shape which thrust at me with sudden violence from within the darkness above and fell back in alarm. My shock gave way to laughing relief as I realised it was just the folding ladder leaping to greet a visitor.
Heart still pounding and resolute I climbed the ladder and pulled at the cord which hung from the ceiling. Dim lights flickered into life along the length of the attic, blocked and channelled by the hundred trunks and crates which populated the space. A weave of dust hung in the lamplight and tickled at my nose and eyes. With no particular aim I wandered about the huge room, which plainly stretched over the entire plan of the house. I marvelled again at my grandfather’s fascination with collecting and wondered how I would ever manage to dispose of his assets.
I opened a few trunks and examined the disturbing contents: a series of child-sized death masks, a quartet of verse on The Nature of Unions in Undeath, candles and statuettes depicting crude physical acts, a necklace made of teeth and a straw doll with the face of some amphibious creature. I felt dizzy with confusion and the dust eating at my lungs and restacked the oddments where I had found them. I prepared to leave, taking a last look around this warehouse of intriguement. Perhaps I would be able to find a specialist evaluator to examine the house’s contents.
My attention was captivated by the light rebounding in a dazzling arc from an object which hung above the trunks and parcelled books. The arc was almost a rainbow in shape, though it offered none of the rainbow’s jolly hues. The singular item which cast the achromal arch swung by a lightbulb from a leather thong binding it to the rafter above. It was a slender tube of around a foot in length made of some supple and slick artifice that my fingers could barely grip. My eyes slid off the patterns embossed on its curious surface. The shapes hinted at hidden meanings and glamorous twists in perspective.
I gazed at it, entranced by the mandalas and I was scarcely aware of removing it from its resting place and sitting cross-legged upon the floor with the unusual cylinder in my lap. The glyphs and script upon it seemed as if they might be the cousins of a text I’d perused in my grandfather’s study. There they had been described as the words of an ancient people who claimed to perceive time in reverse and whose rites prescribed mutilation and promise of fearsome revelation.
Idly I traced a spiderweb of ancient wisdom with my finger. The tube hummed, grew warm and separated with neat clicks… like the teeth of a skull. Within lay an object which seemed familiar to me and yet had not the familiarity of such items as I had handled before. It was, perhaps, a time piece, for its shape resembled that of an ordinary wristwatch. Yet the chronometry which ringed its face meant nothing to me, telling only the time belonging to an occult and ancient calendar.
The hours were too many, or at least those things I assumed to be the prime divisions of an inhuman day were too great to match our revolutions. The hands were numerous and sprouted in interlocking shapes across the face. Worst of all, it appeared to be made of a glistening gristle; it lay swaddled in the velveteen packaging like a stillborn bone child.
A tremor of fear thrummed in my heart and yet my fingers reached out of their own accord and plucked it from its bed. It was wet and cold in my hand, like a bleeding fish. The lights in the attic dimmed until I was left in blackness. A grisly ticking commenced immediately and with its beat a rush of blood filled my head as if my heart were powered by the engine of a monstrously vigorous furnace. I felt hot, heavy. And then nothing.
I awoke in the dark, though not the dark of the attic but that of night. I lay on my bed, in the guest bedroom (my grandfather’s chamber is too rich with his interests to permit a peaceful slumber). I faced the open window and the starry night sky beyond. Often have I gazed in wonderment at the vastness of the universe with hope that there must be beauty in its vastness and a future for mankind out there. I felt also a calm contentment with our tiny slice of it. For all the petty annoyances of man’s life (and mine had had its share) there are fresh air and butterflies to balance it.
Yet tonight I felt different. My heart ached still from its earlier pounding and there was a dry nausea in my mouth. Frowningly I regarded the starscape anew. It was… wrong. A perverse irreality of the night intruded upon my senses. Where were my astrological friends whom I nightly greeted and goodbyed before I slept?
The Hunter no longer hunted. Instead he cowered, shrinking back from his spectral quarry. New constellations, or rather – ancient skies? I saw the hints of stars I knew, but paled in comparison with the devilish reds and putrescent yellows that dominated the night, threatening my astral familiars. The wrongness of the air threw my head into a spinning dread.
I drew the curtains to evade the portentous sky. It was then I noted the grotesque time piece which lay like a streak of eviscerated organ upon the bedside table. It seemed to me that it throbbed hungrily for the witch lights I had curtained. I resolved to ignore the foul thing and so I swept it into a drawer and resumed my slumber, for even these brief minutes of wakefulness had wearied me.
I fell into bleak dreams pierced by strange threads of symbolism which drew me into a tapestry of sweating horror. Great staring eyes tormented me and penumbrally monolithic structures haunted me vertiginously. At the end I was repeatedly horrified by a trilobite crawling in and out of my slipper as I lay alone on a cold wet floor. I felt unable to draw them forth from beneath the bed when I awoke, slick with fear. I stepped barefoot and fearful to the window and steeled myself to draw the curtains asunder.
The world was as it normally was in the afternoon. I had slept late and the sun was beginning to diminish. Red tinged shadows stretched across the roads outside, their talons reaching through the gardens and scratching at the window, keen to be let in. I looked up to where the dark moon was rising, jaws spread wide to consume our native satellite. I thought nothing of it and turned away from the outside. My hand was drawn to stroke at the cartiliginous thing that wrapped about my wrist, its hands whirling and its pulse beating blackly in counterpoint to my own.