It’s getting dark… I’ve been following the men in long coats, who are marching through the city’s narrow alleys chanting monotonously, for half an hour. I don’t want to get too close to them because I hope that they will lead me to the place of their horrid rituals. The shadows the street gas lamps cast on the walls are becoming taller and more menacing. I turn around the next corner, but I stop, thunderstruck: it’s a dead-end, there is nowhere to go. The street runs into a red wall, but so irrationally as if the wall had just descended between the houses. It seems unexplainably out of place, an ancient theatre curtain made of bricks.
This isn’t what filled me with overwhelming dread, though. The men I’ve been following disappeared as though the purpose of the sudden apparition of the brick curtain was to prevent me from following them. A second later ice cold fear takes the place of shock: the shadows of men appear on the red wall towering before me, as though it was just a canvas revealing the silhouette of the people standing behind it. The chanting has started again, oozing from the grout between the bricks, it’s growing louder and more furious, as more and more shadows join the choir of madness projected on the wall.
I hear the sound of grating pebbles behind my back too late, I feel the huge blow on my head, then everything goes dark…We’re facing each other, like lonely heroes preparing for a gun duel somewhere in the Wild West, excluded from the coming and goings of the world. People pass us by in blissful ignorance and the noises of the working day grow silent around us. It’s only the two of us standing here, outside of space and time to fight for something, the real horror of which neither of us truly understands.
He is a man in his fifties, whose suit suggests wealth and a good social status. His face seems to be carved in stone. It doesn’t show even the slightest sign of feelings. He reaches towards his dark glasses too slowly, maybe to signal to me that this is not yet a part of our fight and he takes off the seemingly modern, light-blocking lenses which were hiding his eyes.
A repressed cry breaks out of my throat: there are no eyes behind the lenses, just two deep black hollows; they radiate timelessly ancient and cunning intelligence. I sense only from the corner of my eyes that the people around us are ignorant of the incomprehensibly inhuman sight, nobody stops in shock, there are no terrified cries or screams. We are not in the street anymore, but in another dimension. I can’t look away from the cultist’s nonexistent eyes, the horror ensnarls and swallows me. The two dark eye sockets grow wider, I see a cavalcade of swirling stars, unfamiliar solar systems orbiting around gigantic light spheres as they all disappear under a flood of endless darkness and I finally understand that what is happening to me and what collapsed on our world in Mr. Kleiman’s tiny, Arkham room, is infinitely ancient and inhuman. Our small intelligence and short life is pathetically insufficient to comprehend it.
The loud honking of a fire engine dashing down the street tears me out of the vision so painfully that my legs tremble. We’re still standing in the middle of the bustling street, facing each other, me and the elegant man with dark glasses.The cultist knows that I’m following him, and he is walking with increasing speed. I also hasten my steps. A black cat appears in front of me, it jumps out from under a gate. It looks up at me, shakes itself and just before I reach it, it leaps away lithely. The snapshot of the city enveloped in the descending twilight is so ordinary that I don’t even notice it. The cultist suddenly crosses through to the other side of the street and turns a corner, but he can’t lose me.
As I follow him rushing past ancient gates, a cat jumps in front of me. It’s as if it was the same one I’ve met earlier, or at least disturbingly similar, I think for a moment. It looks up at me, shakes itself and hurries away. I’m on my way again. Two more streets and I’m still after him. Suddenly a cat jumps in front of me and I’m more and more sure that it’s the same cat… again. It stops, looks at me, shakes itself and moves on. But I feel its eyes on me. I continue my chase, lost in thought… we hurry past streets and corners.
Here it comes again… yes, it’s the same cat. I also realize that it’s not only the cat, the movement is also the same. As it looks at me, as it shakes itself, as it leaps on. It’s Déjà vu, finding me again and again. I’m clutching at the medallions in my pocket, I know that I would need to use them soon. The man in front of me changes direction again.
The cat jumps out of the gate of the next house. I look into its eyes deeply, only for a moment, and I notice something I haven’t seen before, maybe I just didn’t want to see it: in its menacingly yellow eyes I discover not one, but two pupils. It is as though the animal was trying to see behind my eyes, trying to get to know my thoughts and consume my soul. It’s not there anymore; it shook itself as per usual and leapt on.
The evening is slowly creeping in. Streets and windows rush past me.
I can already see it, I’m waiting for it. It jumps out of the gate, it stops, it looks at me… my head starts to turn… I’m not continuing my chase, I just stand there without words or feelings, frozen in front of the gate. I can’t deny it anymore, it couldn’t be a coincidence, and it wasn’t a mere déjà vu: a tiny part of our world has been ripped out of the fabric of reality and it repeats itself without end, slowly grinding my sanity down.I’ve caught him, I’ve cornered him at last, he has nowhere to go. The yard where he escaped to has no other exit, apparently he doesn’t know the city as well as I do. He seems to contemplate his next move for a moment, if there was any way to save himself, but in the end he decides not to continue his flight. He turns around slowly and deliberately and steps in front of me.
The hood he wears hides his entire face, I presume he is a man because of his clothes. He reaches his right arm towards me with an almost aristocratic gesture and this is when I see the disturbingly strange medallion made from an unidentifiable material that he holds in his hand. It’s completely different from the one I have. As he stretches it towards me, a dark mist seems to rise from the medallion’s creeks, and the smoke reaches for me with its aeriform tendrils. The next moment the cultist lets out an inhuman scream, a high-pitched, continuous screech that a human throat would simply be unable to produce. I grab my medallion and pull it out o my pocket then hold this unholy amulet towards the cultist.
In that very moment the same horrible and unbearable scream breaks out from my throat. Something takes over my body, I feel powerless and it makes the blood freeze in my veins, but I can’t do anything against it, I’m not the master of my body, throat or vocal cords anymore.
I scream just like him, for long minutes, without breathing, as if both of us had an endless stream engine instead of our lungs to power this unbearable cacophony without the tiniest break.
It ends as suddenly as it began. We stop screaming at the same moment, the man in front of me collapses as though he was merely a rag doll wearing a man’s clothes.
I pocket my medallion then crouch next to the lifeless body. I peel back his hood, but when his face finally appears among the rags everything seems lost!
I am looking at myself.
I come around two days later in a room of the town hospital. My hands have been handcuffed to the bed.I’ve been sitting in the café for hours, sipping my sixth coffee while I keep my eyes glued to the building on the opposite side of the street. I got a tip at the police station that this is where those strange men and women, who hide under dark umbrellas even on bright days and who have appeared in our city in the past months, are going to meet tonight. They must be the ones the agency wants me to find and I really hope that tonight I will be able to get some results.
I haven’t seen any movement since I arrived, nobody has entered or left the once so luxurious and imposing building which lost its splendor over the years. Another hour has gone by and my coffee cup is empty again. My stomach feels sick from too much coffee and my temples throb with a dull ache from the overdose of caffeine. Darkness has fallen outside. I glance at my watch and I realize sadly that the café is going to close soon. My informant must have made a mistake.
Just when I step out of the door, an elegant Cord L29 stops in front of the building. A man and a woman get out. If I can see well by the weak light of street lamps, they’re middle aged. Their clothes are elegant and tasteful, judging from their posture and gestures they belong to the upper classes. Their automobile suggests the same thing. They enter the sizable door of the two-floor building silently, taking their time.
I hesitate for a moment: should I wait or should I follow them… I take an uncertain step from the sidewalk when the headlights of the parked car light up. I recoil because I had the impression that they didn’t have a chauffeur – the man got out of the driver’s seat. The Otto engine rumbles and the car turns slowly on the abandoned street. As it turns to face me, my surprise escapes me in a loud cry: there is nobody at the steering wheel.
I run until the next corner without even looking back. I crouch behind the house on the corner, leaning against the wall, trying to catch my breath and gather my strength in case I need to continue my flight from this horrifying and diabolic apparition, but I hear nothing from the direction of the road.
I peep around the corner carefully, but the street is empty.
Did it really happen or was it just the high concentrate of caffeine in my blood playing a demonic trick on me? I keep panting for breath when someone gently touches my shoulder from behind.The medallions in my hand paralysed the man for a moment, then he started turning around as if he was dizzy. He was muttering confused words. It gave me enough time to shoot him twice. He collapsed before me without a sound.
I crouched beside the dead cultist and searched his pockets methodically. After some fumbling, I found a yellowed envelope with a bunch of photographs in it. I leafed through the photographs that all showed groups of four-six men and women, standing around various terrible altars, performing some horrid ritual, as if in a trance.
I didn’t recognise anyone in the pictures until I got to the last one. I didn’t want to believe my eyes and even today I’m still unable to believe what I saw on that photograph. Five men, all of them wearing trench coats, stood in a circle, in the same dazed and trancelike posture like those in the other pictures, around an indescribably horrible altar with the mutilated carcass of some kind of animal. I had never seen a creature of such horrendous deformity, but this wasn’t the most blood curling feature of the photograph. The five men performing the ritual, the five men whose face radiated infinite morbid satisfaction and joy… were us! I saw myself in the middle of the picture, and around me my colleagues with whom we waged our desperate war against the hauntingly real visions of madness.