That is not dead which can eternal lie
Written by Glen Colling
Illustrated by Andy Paciorek
My tale starts only 24 hours ago.
One day, that has changed everything.
One day, that has changed everything.
It was a typical summer morning on Lake Windermere. The sky was a pastel shade of blue that was reflected on the calm waters of the lake. A soft breeze blew from the South keeping the heat down to a comfortable level.
I had come to stay with friends in Bowness only three days previously, hoping to find some peace away from the front line, and had already found a deep love for the area.
Each morning I would rise early, before the crowds, and travel down to the waterfront where I would hire a small boat and coast out onto the lake. There, I would spend many an hour lying back and letting the boat drift where it would as I watched the river birds hover above me.
I had found a solace that was previously missing in my life, and I was trying hard to forget that in another two days I would have to report back to my unit.
The first sign that I was in trouble was easily dismissed.
My boat began to bob up and down on the surface. But, lost as I was in my own thoughts, I passed it off as a passing rower, or a swan landing close by.
It was not until my small boat began to bounce rather wildly that I started to grow concerned.
I immediately sat up and looked around me to discover that I was in serious trouble.
To my right, a violently swirling vortex of water had formed upon the previously still surface and was growing larger. The mouth of the vortex was already two metres wide, spewing a cloud of moisture and causing the waters around it to roil and twist.
I reached over quickly and grabbed my oar as the hungry waters sucked at my craft. Plunging the oar through the rivers surface I began to push against the greedy pull of the vortex.
At first my efforts seemed to come to naught as I was inexorably drawn towards the dark maw of the whirlpool. But slowly, oh so slowly, I began to edge away. Inch by agonising inch I began to hope that I might, just, get away.
But Poseidon was not to be cheated of his quarry so easily and the vortex all but doubled in size. The drag of the swirling tides became too much and though I strained with every last reserve of my strength, I was pulled towards the violently spinning waters.
My boat was caught in the swirling currents and I began to spin at such speeds that I was soon feeling light headed and a little nauseous. Water splashed over the sides of my boat, stinging my eyes. By now, the mouth of the vortex was a full five metres wide and with each revolution I sank deeper and deeper into the dark depths.
The black waters of the lake rose up around me, whirling around and around with a deafening roar. The peaceful blue sky was a tantalising promise that was quickly being pulled away. And then my faithful craft could take no more and the boards fell apart around me. Freezing cold waters grabbed at my clothes pulling me with desperate strength to the dark depths of the abyss. And finally, with a last sorrowful glance at a hovering osprey, the waters folded over me and all was black.
I awoke with a cough, the river water desperate to leave my lungs.
As I lay there, my breathing harsh and strained, I took stock of my aches and pains. Amazingly, though I was scratched and bruised, I had suffered no permanent damage.
My clothes were sodden from the tepid lake waters, and my body shivered with a chill, but the very fact that I was still alive sent a warmth through my chest that I had never experienced in all my years serving on the front line.
Finally, I dared to open my eyes and take in my surroundings.
I was lying on a stone floor, deep blue in colour with veins of green and black. It felt smooth to my touch, and oddly warm. The water from my clothes formed small puddles which gathered upon its surface.
Looking up, I found that I lay on a long path rising at a slight angle above me. To the other side the path continued down into a dark, still body of water. Sight of the path was soon lost in the stygian depths so it was difficult to judge how deep it went.
All of this, stone and lake, were to be found in a narrow passage formed form dull grey rock that contained veins of a stringy green-blue algae that projected a soft blue light. The fronds of the algae writhed and twisted towards me as I moved as though possessed of a strange, curious intelligence. As a result of their insidious movements the shadows surrounding me danced and capered as though in a strange, macabre dance.
It would seem that I was, somehow, below ground, with but two choices of egress.
I decided that I must move on if I ever hoped to return to the surface to relate this strange tale to my friends. However, the dark, still waters held no temptation to me. And so, I chose to climb the path and see where it lay.
I ascended the gently sloping path which led to a narrow archway carved from grey stone. As I moved closer I began to discern that the arch was not natural in its formation. Stone blocks, closely fitted, edged the entrance with a larger keystone in the centre.
When I reached the top of the path I noticed that the stones were carved with some sort of pattern, or a language with which I was unfamiliar.
The carvings were shallow in nature but cleanly cut into the dark grey stone with the use of a delicate tool. The script, if such it were, was harsh and consisted mainly of intersecting lines and loops.
Through the archway I could see the passage continue on a level path through another narrow tunnel, however, in the distance I could hear a soft thrumming sound, as though giant pistons or bellows were at work. My heart lifted at the sound, maybe I could find assistance further on, and thus a way back to the surface.
The writhing light cast by the algae never changed and made it difficult to guess the passage of time so I cannot say how long I walked down that mildewed passage, cut from the dead rock beneath Lake Windermere, but growling of my stomach reminded me that too much time had passed since I sat at my friend house for breakfast.
The pulsating rhythm in the distance became a beat of measurement that tracked my progress. Thrum, left foot forward, Thrum, right foot forward.
The air in the corridor was cool, but dry which I thought unusual for a cave system. And neither did it seem to move in any direction.
Occasionally, I would come across more signs of the eldritch carvings on the walls, the floor, and in one instance the ceiling. I had decided they were definitely a written form of communication as I began to recognise certain repeating patterns. But I was no closer to discerning either their meanings or their origin.
Finally I came to a second archway, identical to the first, built into the side of the passage. In my fugue state of mind I had almost missed it, except that I reached out a hand to steady myself and felt naught but air which caused me to loose my step and stumble.
Beyond the arch lay a vast cavern, its walls curved inwards to meet at a point above. The floor cut across the cavern on a raised slope, the sides sloping down about two feet to the cavern floor. It was lit from more of the green-blue algae and by its cerulean glow I discerned a strange, fascinating, sight.
Scattered around the room were artefacts that would make a historian weep.
Closest to me were a collection of Greek urns, carved with the images of Gods and mythical beasts, amongst them lay suits of lacquered armour and wide bladed spears. Alongside these stood a row of sarcophagi, their surfaces carved with faces of gold, silver and a jade, the white eyes of pharaohs and men of power staring back at me in the gloom. At the base of these caskets were scattered a number of coins, scarabs, gold jewellery and other paraphernalia.
Across from them stood the carving of a mighty alabaster bull, exquisite in its detail. Again, it was surrounded by pots, bowls and weapons.
As I looked down the cavern I could see relics from every civilization of man through the ages, thrown haphazardly together in loosely organised piles.
I could not guess why such a collection would be brought down here, or indeed where so many artefacts could have been found. I began to suspect I may have found the base of an international ring of thieves.
Except that the items had not been preserved. They were chipped and cracked, covered in dust and cobwebs. It was as though, once brought here, they were quickly forgotten.
There was no other exit from this room so I turned and left the mystery behind me.
I came across a further 3 rooms identical to the first, each filled with the detritus of the past, except for the last which lay empty.
The thrumming sound was growing louder now, as I continued down the passage, and I could feet the faintest of tremors through the floor.
The fourth archway I discovered looked as the others, however when I walked inside it was to find a scene straight out of a Bosch painting.
The room was divided, floor to ceiling, by row upon row of sturdily constructed shelves. When I first entered I could see each of the shelves held several strange jars. The top two-thirds of the jar was glass and contained a semi-transparent orange liquid. I could not see what was lay within the liquid from the entranceway. The bottom third of the jar was a system of bronze tubes and leather bellows that inflated and deflated like lungs.
Curious, I moved into the room for a closer look.
I stepped up to the first shelf and looked into the jar. At first my mind refused to recognise what I was seeing, and I felt my body grow tense with horror and despair. For, floating in the jar of liquid, was a human head.
The head was of a male, around twenty to thirty, with soft features and a faint buzz of blond hair on his chin and cheeks. Strangely, he was wearing what looked like a Roman helmet.
The head bobbed slightly in the liquid in an obscene parody of a fairground goldfish. I could only thank God that its eyes were closed, I do not think my nerves would have held if I had to look into his dead gaze.
In the next jar was another man, this time darker of skin. Across his head was an elaborate head-dress, similar in design to those I had seen on pictures of the Pharaohs.
The next jar was a woman, with rich red hair that floated around the jar like kelp. She was obviously of Indian descent, and wore traces of dark Kohl around her eyes that had managed to resist the smudging effects of the liquid.
I turned and looked down the room at the hundreds of shelves, each of them containing dozens of heads and I felt my knees go weak. What kind of a person could be so ghoulish as to store these grisly ornaments like heirlooms to be treasured and observed.
For the first time in my ordeal, I began to feel the sticky clutch of fear in my chest.
It was then that my nightmares took form.