Such A Quiet Place
Written & Illustrated by Andy Paciorek
With Special Thanks to Andreea V. Balcan.
I had to keep moving though, I did not doubt that soon others of its kind would smell blood and discover their kin lying near lifeless in the frost. But where could I go? I just had to keep on moving. If the beasts did not kill me then surely the devouring winter would soon claim my life. To retrace my steps on Lumley Lane would likely be a fatal idiocy and Glannoventa Street was certainly a no-go area. With some difficulty I scaled a wall beside the garage into a yard and then finding the back gates of the yard locked and bolted, I scaled another which was no mean feat and sapped me of more energy still. I then made my way limping down the back alley towards Gaiman Road again.
There I traversed along the nearest thing to a main road that Derleth possessed, though with the deepening snowfall it was difficult to differentiate between road and field. I would have to keep my wits about me not to wander too close to cliff or to shore. As best I could I kept to the shade of hedgerow and the dark shadows of the scattered gnarled trees that lined the route. Slow progress, especially as constantly I looked around in all directions for the approach of more of these monstrous talking hounds. For the most part, luck finally seemed to be on my side, as I would only gaze upon the occasional beast at a distance or hear their howling carried on the wind. As I traversed over a dip, the most intense light I had seen all night momentarily blinded my eyes. Could it be? Could I dare to hope? But yes, indeed ahead of me upon the road was a car parked with its headlights at full glare. With trepidation I approached the car and as I neared I saw that the driver’s side door was open. Keeping to the shadows still I crept closer. My eyes then beheld a scene of the most gruesome atrocity. The driver of the car, a man as best I could tell, had been dragged from his vehicle by three of the abominations, which now were indulged like hellish gluttons in tearing him limb from limb.
Against wisdom and conscious effort I dry-retched groaningly and one of the creatures stirred and glanced upwards, its muzzle a mass of blood and flesh. Thankfully for me, though it was more concerned with the others claiming all the choice spoils and it dived its head back into the gory mess that had once been a man.
Again another route had been denied to me and what was the sense of heading that way anyway, back to my dead car, to my own death by freezing, on the slim chance I would make it that far?
I again edged backwards keeping my eye on the car and the foul activity around it, and slipping behind a tree I climbed a barbed wire fence into a farmer’s field. This was a risky manoeuvre as I was heading away from any source of illumination in the darkest and most dangerous of situations, but I knew not where safety and comfort could be sought on this terrible night.
So wading through the deep snow in a gradually upwards incline, I wandered aimlessly, my clothing stunk of frozen blood, my leg and head ached and my lips were chapped to bleeding point. I felt nauseous, exhausted, disorientated and desolate. I was truly lost in all senses of the word but still something, some spirit deep inside of me spurred me onwards. I could barely see in front of me, the blackness of the night was impenetrable and clots of blizzard stuck to my eyelids and face. I fell over something, my hand touching something sticky and cold. Raising myself to my feet I realised I had stumbled over the remains of a slaughtered sheep, its body a filthy tangle of fleece and bone and scarce remnants of innards. Looking about me squinting my eyes, I realised that what I had taken for small hillocks of snow were in fact the carcasses of many more sheep, scores of them. All of them butchered roughly and callously, the field was a swamp of offal and wool. The predators had been here obviously, but where they now?
I struggled onwards and upwards for what seemed an eternity, my body growing noticeably weaker from the exertion of the conditions. I stopped to catch my breath and in doing so I looked behind me. Looking down onto the Gaiman Road and beyond, though my visibility was dimmed, against the great white canvas blackened at the edges by sky and by Irish Sea, I could see here and there moving the figures of these strange dog-like beings and could hear them both barking and shouting in English. Some came across the snow-covered sands, not in a straight line but following as if by instinct the safe route over the salt marsh. Others streamed from the boats moored to the small quay and rushed along the jetty and across the road.
What in the name of damnation were they, where did they come from and how many of them were there? Below clearly progressing in my direction were at least fifteen of this foul brood. Were they and the freak unprecedented weather peculiar to this area, I wondered, or was the rest of Cumbria … Britain … perhaps Europe and further even, now also facing an onslaught … an invasion under preternatural snow-clouds.
I did not dally in hypothesis but forced myself further uphill as fast as I could drag myself.
As I approached the top of the hill, a mental map of the geography of Derleth gleaned from leisurely strolls with Caroline and Aunt Isobel etched itself upon the contours and ridges of my brain, and I knew what I would find at the summit of this crag. I hauled myself over the perimeter fence of the field and snagging my cheek upon a long barb of knotted wire, I felt a chunk of cold flesh tear away and a stream of metallic-tasting blood slid over my broken lips into my mouth.
I gazed from weary eyes and recognised where I was. Though un-signposted, this area was commonly known to the Derleth folk as The Hallows and across the track I could already see the long wall of Saint Beda’s churchyard. Upon the track, already beginning to fill and vanish beneath the constant fall of ice crystals, were the paw prints of a number of the animals. Though all seemed to head in the direction of the path leading into town, I knew the creatures had recently been in the vicinity and I must take the greatest vigilance. I crossed the track and I kept tightly to the way of the wall.
The church itself was small, little more than a chapel but the cemetery was immense; centuries of Derleth’s dead lay here. I had never been religious and had not been inside the church itself before, I was not a hardened atheist but I had no wishes to go into the domain of a God I didn’t believe in and would only pass through such doors on seldom occasions for weddings, funerals or rarely for the baptism of babies. I had however taken numerous walks around the graveyard with Caroline and Isobel, looking at the wildflowers and sometimes reading the epitaphs on the ancient, lichen-encrusted tombstones. Isobel would tell tales and anecdotes of those lying here that had died long before she was born and of those that she had known but outlived. I recall Isobel saying that prior to the construction of the Anglo-Saxon church, the Hallows, hence its name had already been an area of spiritual significance. She related how in times of the Roman occupation, the foreign soldiers and servants that had been taken into the work of the empire and stationed in the region, would pay pilgrimage to this area to worship their exotic gods and also prior to that even, that the native tribes had used the area for rite and ritual.
I reached the church gates and could see gentle rays of coloured light passing through the snow-caked stained glass windows and this granted me a feeling of hope in my desperation. I entered the gates with caution and again hope, as I was certain that I could hear the melody of a pipe organ from within the chapel. Perhaps it was gleaned more from watching the horror movies; that my wife and I would cuddle up and giggle at in the cinema seats when we were a young courting couple, more than remembrance of school-day scripture lessons but I thought that where else than the village church, would the inhabitants seek sanctuary. I hoped that the makers of those trashy movies were correct in their assumption that entities of evil could not pass into the holy interior of churches.
But hope again turned to despair, but then to determination once more, as I saw that though the cemetery was infested with those vicious monstrosities, my intention to enter that church was tantamount. I could not take the straight path into the church, so I had to meander silently through the snow-covered sepulchres so as not to arouse the attentions of those hellhounds. And yes by the token that I did not believe in God, I did not believe in the Devil either, but what could these beasts be except the spawn of Satan? Here I saw some, sniffing about and cocking legs and urinating on some gravestones, there a pair of them that appeared to be copulating upon the top of a long flat tomb covering the dusty remains of a respected village elder from a bygone age and worse still, some of the newer graves had been violated by these beasts. Digging into deep snow and soil below, they had retrieved bodies and bones on which they now gnawed and squabbled over.
I was not religious, but upon hearing the faint tones of the organ carried on the wind playing hymns that I neither recognised from wedding nor funeral; no Here Comes the Bride nor Jerusalem nor God is my Shepherd and witness to this dark tableau unfolding before me, I cried dry tears and I prayed. I prayed from the depths of my heart that I would make it through the doors of the church and find my wife safely waiting inside. Lo, though I walk through the valley of death … but my feet did not step on pastures green but sunk into deep snow and remnants of discarded and defiled putrefied human flesh.
But I did manage to reach the doors of the church, so engrossed were those demons in their disgusting activities that despite the chattering of my teeth that echoed inside my skull like the beating of an ominous drum, I managed to sneak past them.
Next to the church door I noticed the sign, over the paintwork declaring this to be the ‘Church of St. Beda of the Lakes’ crudely gouged into the woodwork as if by razor sharp talons, were the letters, ‘CTHULHU’. This word or name was entirely alien to my vocabulary, never had I heard it before nor did I know even how to pronounce it; yet there was something intrinsically familiar about it, as if it were engraved into the primal racial memory of mankind. The mere sight of it sent a chilling rivulet of fear coursing through my veins and resonating in every cell of my body.
I found the door unlocked and I entered the church.
I closed the door behind me and even before I turned to behold the scene before me; a nauseating stench crept into my nostrils, bringing bile to my mouth from my virtually empty stomach. It was an aroma of foetid and fungal incense, the smell of burnt tallow and rotten fish, the reek of human sweat, of damp dog and of abattoir floor. Yet this assault to my senses was nothing to what my eyes would witness next.
My eyes accustomed to the air thick with incense smoke and steam and I viewed ahead of me first, seated in the back rows a number of figures wearing white satin hooded cloaks, men women and children and from front to rear they were rising in turn and filing down the nave as if going to receive Eucharist. Ahead of them the first few pews had been ripped out and thrown in a pile in the transept of the church. On top of this stack of wood were broken crucifixes, smashed statues of saints and ripped religious paintings. Quickly scanning the church I noticed in their place hung and stood instead horrendous icons of bizarre improbable angles and shapes. Upon the altar stood to one side a statue of a woman, her gender identifiable only by her swollen breasts, her head and lower quarters being a tangle of tentacles. On the other side was a carving of creature of an amphibious aspect and between them, taking precedence was a strange chimera – part humanoid, part octopus and bearing a pair of bat –like wings. Yet the living horrors I beheld in that once holy building were more dreadful still. A number of the devil-dog creatures milled about the church, some sitting as devoutly as parishioners at prayer, others were moving out of the side door.
At the head of the nave I beheld the most grotesque of sights. As the cloaked figures moved down the line they unrobed and prostrated themselves naked before the central of three figures. The men on either side bore the perfect heads of wild dogs. I instantly thought them to be masks but they were not. There were no lines between their hairy heads and their muscular dark skinned human torsos and the articulation of expression were far beyond the capabilities of the master mask-makers. Naked to their navels, save for intricately worked armlets around their biceps, below their waists they wore long skirts of silken material. The one to the right garbed in scarlet, the one to the left wore black. Bearing huge ladles in their great arms, both stirred huge cauldrons of a steaming evil-looking, rank smelling broth. In their midst stood the vilest of figures.
This central figure, which I took to be the high priest of this warped black mass, was garbed in silk vestments of a rich purple hue. Upon his head he wore a long mitre of the same shade; the base of which was circled with a diadem of silver and precious stones, worked into a convoluted web of intricate arabesques. His frame was stout yet powerful and upon his chin he bore a great beard of salt and pepper hues; the end of his whiskers appeared alive and writhed like medusae tendrils. His skin was pallid and shiny and seemed to be pulled taut across his bones, and was in places blushed with a hue of sickly pale green. His lips were wide and full, his eyes both bulbous and somewhat slit. Yet for all those inhuman deviancies of feature, I recognised this man-thing though I had never seen his person before. I remembered him from a pencil drawing I had seen briefly several years before, for this was none other than Athanius – the treacherous lover of teenage Isobel, seventy or more years previous. Though greatly mutated now compared to the portrait, it was him, of this I am certain.
Kneeling before this nefarious, amorous cleric of the oceans was a young woman of fine figure, her dark curly hair rolling down her back. With long tentacle fingers, Athanius was scooping globules of the steaming unguent from the vats and rubbing it all over her body and into her open mouth. A middle-aged man shed his white cape and kneeled naked before the sea-bishop as the young woman then moved to the side where the seats had been torn out and joined others in rolling about in pained yet ecstatic convulsions. The sight of their bodies twisting and turning and contorting as the hair fell from their scalps in massive clumps turned my stomach. Again I almost dry-vomited as I saw and heard the bones breaking and re-forming to new anatomy inside their skin. The noise of which provided a discordant percussion to the weird melody coming from the pipe organ.
Looking up to see who was playing the unearthly church music, I felt more sickened still.
There, virtually nude, save for the white cape that clung to a single brittle shoulder and hip, was Aunt Isobel. Grinding her body in a lascivious manner against the instrument, her fingers stroking the keys as if by instinct; Isobel threw her head back, the long white hair that normally was pressed tightly into a bun and furthermore covered with a headscarf when she went to church was now hanging freely down her ridged spine and onto her skinny buttocks. Her eyes rolled back into her sockets in frenzy and her mouth veered from gaping wide in rapture, revealing her ill-fitting false dentures to her biting her bottom lip so hard that flecks of froth and blood speckled on her chin. Like a synaesthete nymph, Isobel rode the music with furore, but she was no longer the attractive youth of her pencil portrait and resembled now, nothing less than a haggard matriarchal witch from a medieval engraving.
And then a thought occurred to me, if Isobel was here then where was my beloved wife Caroline?
The perverse Bacchanalian vista before me, the heat of bodies and candles, and the worry over my wife’s well being were taking their toll on me and I nearly fainted. Moaning I stumbled forward, sweat pooling on my ice-burnt brow; I reached and steadied myself on the post of the end pew. This attracted the attention of Athanius; looking up from his duties he removed his long scintillating fingers from the mouth of an elderly woman and with grease dripping from his writhing digits, he pointed at me. In a deep yet liquid voice he uttered, “Ah I see we have a late arrival”.
A gruff, thickset man turned his white silk-hooded head to look at me and declared, “He’s not one of us!” The coarse hard-faced woman sat beside him reiterated, “No. He’s not from these parts”. “Is that so?” asked Athanius knowingly, his blubbery lips spreading to form a grin revealing a row of small white piranha sharp teeth.
As white-cloaked men stood and reached to grab me and demon dogs walked up the aisles and naves toward me, outside I could hear scratching and heavy breathing at the church door. The fight in me had drained entirely from my body and it was only then that I noticed that somewhere on my strained journey to this dire place, I had dropped my weapon the spanner. I was racked with fear and repugnance, both at these gross entities and their blasphemous sabat, but also I felt disgust at my own weakness and myself for I confess at that instance both my bowels and bladder relieved themselves of their loads.
I could see no hope of escape. There was no escape from this living nightmare.
I closed my eyes.
I closed my eyes, wishing and praying to any good god that would listen that this was indeed a nightmare, a hallucination from which I would awaken. And even if awoke to find myself still in my car, entombed with snow and shivering and sweating with pneumonia I would smile. I wished with all my might, that I would open my eyes and waken from this fever-dream and gaze into the eyes of my wife.
I opened my eyes.
I opened my eyes and gazed into the eyes of my wife.
I would recognise those eyes anywhere. I recognised them instantly, even now as they settled into that bald-headed, long-muzzled, sharp-toothed face.
Perhaps there was a hint of recognition of me too in her eyes. A hint of recognition perhaps but not of affection, for I was and always had been an outsider. There was no longer the slightest glimmer of love nor even mischievous curiosity in the eyes of my wife.
I gazed into the eyes of my wife and saw only the merciless glint of raw animal hunger.