Something Left Behind
By Glenn Winkelmann Jr.
“And when you look into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you.“
August 5th, 1934
Your letter has brightened my day, and I am glad that you still fare well in Cairo without me. Moreover, I finally have news to share with you. Albert and I have gone upon our separate ways, and I have opted to continue with my own independent research. Still, the departure of Albert resonates with me, as he was the actual genius behind most of “our” work. I lack motivation, inspiration, or ability – but I will try my best to begin where we left off. I have rented out a cabin in the Alps to house myself, since he has purchased our old mutual residence and evicted me from it. I am in solitude here, except for the presence of Samantha, who is as vigilant a guard dog as ever. I am sorry that I am not coming back to Egypt to be with you. I cannot leave my work uncompleted, or these two years will be for naught. Hopefully by the time you receive this letter I shall have breakthroughs of my own to share.
And yes, my dear Lillian, I believe it is possible to enter the dreaming subconscious mind while retaining full consciousness. Albert believed that it can be achieved with certain nerve and tissue realignments. But I believe it to be more… philosophical. Spiritual, if you will. Imagine, Lillian, that the act of falling asleep ‘here’ brought you to full awareness in another world as fresh, alive, and aware as you are right now, and that to fall asleep ‘there’ would bring you back.
All my love,
A man trailed his hand over the vacant shelving of an enormous book case, and stood upright in fevered concentration, intent on finding a title out of sight. He pried a book off the topmost shelf, sighed in relief, and dusted it off. The illustrious cover bore gold binding and strange inscriptions. A breeze of autumnal air swirled around the room, and carried the aroma of the fire from a great pit which blazed outside the terraced window of his study. He gazed around the room and absorbed the details of the furniture and their arrangements: Dried yellow paint cans were discarded in the corner; the light fixtures were bulb-less; the door was hinged shut; the yellow sign was drawn properly on the door; all of the carpeting was stripped out of the room, and the odor of gasoline still lingered on his clothes.
He quietly paced the room with the book opened to about half way, practiced various hand motions, and mouthed words to himself with a look of contempt. The noise of a dog barking a short distance away rose to a cacophony, but was suddenly ceased by a sudden and deliberate thud, whereupon he clasped the book shut and moved to the windowsill. The sun hung somnolent over the snow capped mountains, but cast no shadows with it’s pale crimson vibrancy, and all the air was sweet and still with the fragrance of the coming spring and, at intervals, calls from the evening things echoed from the depths of the forest to beckon him. Above all else towered the venerable hill of books, still ablaze in a tremendous inferno.
An airy, croaking shuffling began to resonate from the stairwell as some lumbering thuds drew closer to his position by the window. Upon recognition of it, the man opened the window and climbed outside upon the terrace. He was haggard and unkempt with blood stained clothes, and a stark white beard did little to disguise the features of a gaunt, fear stricken man. He leaned over the edge of the balcony, mouthing words of ritual to himself. He nodded, stood upright, and threw a piteous look up at the sky. A flock of gulls were flying south over the crest of the forest. They called in wild anticipation to the sea, the placid immemorial ocean miles away on a stretched horizon of mountains and spruce trees. A violent clambering began to assail the locked door of the study, and after a few moments of waiting he had thrown the book into the fire below him. Upon the book’s impact he collapsed sideways upon his terrace, as if he were made of stone.
“Come in, please! Thank you for showing up; really, thank you. I wasn’t sure you’d make it after all.”
“I told you I’d be here. Where can I put my coat?”
The door closed shut behind him, and after the bolt was latched, he was brought to a rack of hooks near the entrance. The room was aptly lit with the dancing fire of two towering candle fixtures which illuminated the spacious cabin entrance, decorated by various tapestry and paintings. “I like what you’ve done with the place,” The guest complimented as he disrobed himself of a bridge coat. He turned to face his nervous host, who was frozen in concentration.
“So, Albert, can I interest you in some tea then? Or perhaps water?” He broke out of some trance, and offered his guest immediate pleasantries.
“No. Something befitting of the subject, Blackwood.”
“I thought you quit the bottle?”
“And I thought I quit all this.”
Blackwood left the room when Albert’s focus shifted to a picture above the door mantle. It was a solely environmental piece of an ancient cemetery, dark and foggy, under the veil of a thin waning moon. Various outlines and peculiar silhouetted shadows between the crypts, headstones, and skeletal trees suggested ghoulish population dwelling just out of the peripheral of the painter’s perspective. He shuddered.
A door jarred open as Blackwood returned to the antechamber carrying two glasses. He handed one to his colleague, and ushered him forward into a dining room. He placed his own drink down on a table, and seated himself next to it. He signaled Albert to an identical chair adjacent to his own, but the guest coolly walked past.
“Joseph Blackwood… I never thought I’d be talking to you again, honestly. But I’m going to cut straight to the issues,” He began as he turned away from another piece of artwork. He furrowed his brow at Joseph who recoiled slightly. “you should remember that when we agreed to part ways, I told you never to contact me again, under any circumstance, unless it pertained to Lillian. And, considering she is fine and well, and that she has already warned me of your lunacy, I suspect other things are what brought me here tonight. Despite my pleas and defense in your favor initially, by god, man, you truly are a case for the asylum!”
He brought his sight away from his host who had shrunken completely into the chair and was drained of all colour. Albert, paused for a moment after such a winded introduction, turned his attention to pacing the compact dining room.
“But… I have to accept there must be some important reason for your summons,” he finally continued. “you always were pragmatic about this sort of thing. So, get on with it then.” He walked over to the liquor shelf and poured himself another drink. “What the devil is this all about, Joseph?”
Joseph Blackwood rose from his chair and traced his guest with a meticulous gaze, and weighed how to approach the conversation. He was silent in contemplation as he walked towards an obtuse bookshelf. “I came across this book while I was in Egypt. Strange little thing, that book,” he pointed vaguely to the shelf, “it harbors knowledge that I never thought so readily accessible to the common gentleman like myself. As educated as I may be in the, hm, esoteric, I do not thing of myself as anything close to an expert. Because of that… this book took me by surprise. Theories are in here that I cannot even rightfully explain. Moreover to this, beyond the introductory phase, I can honestly say that with this we can complete our research, and whatever dysfunction we may have come to can all be resolved with your acceptance of this… gift… as a means to complete my research. Or, maybe, our research…? Anyway,”
Albert rocked back and forth on his feet in an uneasy hesitancy as his host fumbled over various titles in the shelf. He reached up high and seized a particular title. Shelved between a collection of various philosophical, alchemical, scientific, geologic and historical titles was an intricately embroidered book of black leather and gold ornate inscription.
“Doesn’t look familiar” Albert lied, “and given the amount of books we both scoured over to achieve our research, I can’t see what makes this one so important to you as to break our agreement. You found it in Egypt, did you? Did you really bring me all this way just to show it to me? Why not just mail it to me?”
Joseph didn’t respond. He opened it to a page near the middle which was illustrated with various notes in the host’s handwriting. Fierce underlines were struck under sentences which, to both men, held connotations of an utmost sinister quality. Albert’s colour left his face, and his face distorted with fear and worry. He looked at his old colleague, who smiled and traced his finger over various passages and laughed to himself quietly. “I need to get out of here. He’s insane.” Albert thought.
“There is nothing,” Albert lingered on rephrasing his approach, “….it cannot help you.An occult method to ‘enter’ your dreams is something we discussed and dismissed with prejudice, isn’t it? You were the one, in fact, who rejected the whole idea in the first place. You favored, and eventually stole, my scientific and medicinal approach. God, it is why you own all these books on those exact subjects,” Albert swept his hand in a grandiose motion over the shelf of academic merit. Joseph scowled.
“But we won’t get into personal. I know you wish you could be me, I know you harbor a resentment for my abilities in achieving what you couldn’t possibly hope to. I know that you cannot fathom the lengths I’ve taken our – no, my research in. But… look, this line here,” Albert continued as he pointed to a yellowed page open to him, “how does this make any sense in context of the research? It says, ‘A method to enter your subconscious mind can be constructed as easily as a mental door to another room.’ The idea is not only vague but incredulous.” He paused to observe his reticent host, “and this paragraph here:”
“The act of sleeping is merely the intrusion of a person or persons into another realm or dimension of reality not bound in our world, but in the next. It is the portal we all can take to observe what is to come for our souls. It is not by imagination but by clear and truthful foresight that the environments and actual stimuli of dream are brought to us. And to live there prematurely, in a permanent sense, while our souls are still locked in our physical prison of ‘this’ realm, requires but a small sacrifice and a spiritual adjustment of the acoylte.. Only upon completion of the ritual can a man permanently reside in Paradise, without fear of waking in the ‘real’ world ever again.”
Joseph clasped the book shut, and fiercely stared upon Albert. “You reject me too quickly,” he fumed. “I invited you here tonight to discuss the probability of it’s success, and how to implement them. To theorize, weigh, and analyze like we did… in our older times of friendship. But look at you now. When you never even read this book before you’re still presumptuous, and superior. What progress can you speak of, Albert? Still wrapped up in the Botany angle? Medicine or drugs, was it? Or was it Lillian you’re too occupied with? I can’t remember“
“I abandoned that road,” Albert explained quietly as he ignored the aggression of his host.“I’m not talking about my science now, either. I know where that book came from, and what it holds. I know them all by heart. Trust me… Blackwood, there are no answers there. I am on the verge of breaking through – using surgical methods – to the final steps. I am sorry, but I cannot work with you again for a multitude of reasons but, please, heed my warning: destroy that book immediately, or you will discover what sin really is.”
Lillian sat at her desk and organized her outgoing letters to various corespondents. Birds chirped passively, chimes delicately struck in the breezes which carried the scents of dates from the plantation outside, and incense, which swirled around the room in colorful wisps, burned freely from a holder adjacent to her desk. Various musical instruments from Europe and the Orient were displayed across the room, and an ornate lantern cast dim orange glows on the shelving that lined the walls. Two terraced windows captured the view of the setting sun on a peaceful Egyptian countryside, where sand spun in spasmodic patterns and palm trees swayed in the wind.
Pulled out of a trance of thought, she returned to scratching out her rebuttal to the legal implications of her husband’s research. Lillian placed her signature on the bottom, stamped the Blackwood Seal upon the envelope and dropped it into the ‘outgoing’ bin. She leaned back in her chair and heaved a heavy sigh. “How long will this go on,” she lamented bitterly.
“Two years since he moved us from our home in France to come to Egypt… and now, another two years since he left on his own to return to Italy, all for that damned research.” She reached across the desk and traced her green eyes over an opened letter. A small frown formed on her face.
“He must be telling the truth,” she began coolly, “Albert and Joseph really must have parted ways. Hm… but who will be there to keep him in check now? He has no one to keep him level. Ah… I can’t respond to this. What would I even say? I’d invite myself to move in with him, but he’d just say no, like last time.”
She rose up from her desk and walked over to survey the final moments of a setting sun. The stars were lightly fixed against an arriving inky sky, and Cairo cast the dim hues of orange and yellow cast from far off against the horizon. She turned mechanically upon remembrance, and contemplated an unopened letter sitting at the corner of her desk, addressed to her from Joseph Blackwood as a priority mailing.
“I’ve put up with this for years,” she began as she leaned both hands against her desk, “and yet I never confronted him. Never stopped to ask why it is he’s so obsessed with such a… strange idea in the first place. Isn’t all this enough?” She opened the window and gestured the spanning horizon to herself. “This is my world, my home. Why can’t it be his?”
“He’s ran after his theories almost as long as we have been together. I wonder which anniversary he’d celebrate first… his ideas success, or ours. And Albert was the only foil he had left. He never listened to me about these things. Who will be his center of gravity? I fear… I fear it will no longer be a who, but a what, that drives him forward. Life is so vague… so mysterious. I feel lost. I can’t live like this anymore. I… I can’t,” she drifted lightly into tears as she returned to her desk and cut open the envelope addressed to her. “I’ll read what he has to say and reply. This is the end of it. I need to move on with my life. Yes, for sure. I need to go forward without him. He’ll never come back.”
Tears dropped steadily on the paper as she unfolded it and straightened it out. Lillian flipped it right-side up and scanned the text. Upon completion she threw it down and rushed out of her room, calling for assistance to getting to the nearest port.
May 1st, 1935
The sleepless nights have brought to me introspection beyond the usual frequency man is accustom to. Through cold, haunted evenings I have realized that an impassable bridge has formed between us, and my instinct tells me that I shall soon receive letter that you wish to depart from contact with me. I feel it in my heart this is the case. And… know that I understand, I really do. I would not want to know me, either. I only ask that you do one last thing for me, one final gesture of kindness for which I know you possess. You must contact Albert and ask him to come to my residence at once. I am in need of his help. I tried to complete my research… and I failed. I entered my conscious mind, I was capable of that much, through the methods inscribed in a particular book – one which I shall not name, for ignorance alone will protect you – were not exact, nor were they… holy. But the long trip through that venerable land of shadows has brought back something. I feel that some… thing… has returned with me out of the plains of dream, and lives in mournful solitude in the forests. It is something that was left behind when I came back. The evening air carries with it the haunting resonance of unhallowed flutes, and they grow closer each night, so that I could swear they resonate from outside my very window. I’ve found footprints outside in the snow that could have been made by no living creature of earth’s demesne. Likewise, I have found these same prints on the terrace of my bedroom. Dreadful noises and pleas, paired with howling, echo from the depths of the blackened woods I surrounded myself with. There is a placid evil on the air that is only detectable by the sensitive like myself.
Lillian, I am afraid that the only method in which I can dispatch this creature is both confusing and formulaic. The ritual cannot go uncompleted, or this thing will linger still, to consequences inconceivable. Albert will know what to do if you tell him that Blackwood has an ‘uninvited guest.’
Albert must guarantee my success by burning my house, possessions, and anything that remains of the property. I will initially set one to my residence, as well as to my own clothes. If by some chance the fire does not destroy my home, or the books entirely, please, implore Albert to come and finish the job. If I fail, that Stygian thing will still linger on our threshold. I intend on doing it myself, but the wind is so frigid, and this thing could possess certain methods of nullifying the fire entirely if it sees fit. I do not know what this shadow out of nightmares is capable of.
My soul is bound to the book, and it is bound to me. I shall burn every title I possess, and draw the yellow sign to protect myself in the next life. That will be the end of it – the end of me. I mustn’t forget to incinerate my own body, either, before the book’s… demise.
A woman paced down the hall of a clinic and frantically hailed down a disconcerted physician who, upon notice of her, began to quake and tremble slightly. She stopped her march in front of him, and mechanically, he began a recited speech.“He is completely unconscious. He can’t hear you, so don’t bother trying to talk to him. And… don’t be startled, but his eyes are wide open. Rest assured the coma is permanent.”
“Look, I just found out about his health. I chartered the earliest boat I could. You’re telling me that, suddenly, a man in full health dropped into a comatose state? Where did you find him? Was it at my husband’s house?” Lillian asked, shocked. The doctor, stark with fear, shook even more. “No. He was found in his own bed. His Priest realized he was absent from his ritualistic attendance to Mass. Uh… his brain has ceased to function, and he is slipping into bodily vegetative state.” He continued, unphased by her early questions: “Having no next of kin, wife, or notable colleagues, he wrote your name down on his will as his caretaker if things were to falter with his health. Because of this, after a moment, a nurse will come to see you about the decision pertaining the extension of his life support.”
“He also wanted your husband to have this. But he’s… he’s passed on, as you know. I’m sorry. So it goes to you. Please, don’t ask – just… here, take it,” he stopped himself from turning away and pulled a small journal out of his pocket. “I read it,” he slipped. “The rest of my natural life will never be the same.”
He hurried away, leaving Lillian behind with a small red journal in her hands. She stood at the precipice of a pitch black room where, “Patient Albert Curwen,” was printed on the plaque of the half opened door. As she entered the light shuddered into a halfhearted existence. It buzzed and blinked between white and yellow, before maintaining a dull sepia tone. The room was unoccupied, except for the patient on the bed. He was propped upright in a sitting position against the back, pillows keeping him postured and a blanket covered most of his torso.
His eyes were thrown open to their fullest, and his eyebrows were distorted in a look of pure hatred. The iris and pupil were hidden beneath milky white cataracts. Lillian shuddered at the sight and seated herself next to his bed. She placed her hand on his, but immediately retracted at his coldness. With nothing left to do, or say, she opened up his journal and began to read.
April 28th, 1935
The surgical methods have been applied, and recovery – though oddly sleepless – has been perfect. I suspended myself in a vivid, lucid dream for nine hours straight this evening and began to watch in stoic acceptance as the reality around me phased and shifted into a twisted fragment of what it once was. Certain particular lighting and scenery changes bled through the familiar, and I realized that I was on the threshold of something great. I retained full awareness over my five senses and grasped firmly the concepts of ‘willing’ the evacuation of my reality in favor of a grander, broader cosmic one. Calmly I pulled myself out of a deep sleep, which felt to be only minutes, and awoke on my bed to a shining sun through my window, and immediately tackled some fine tuning adjustments I would need to make for the next evening.
April 29th, 1935
This time my entire room dematerialized before my very eyes. Instead I found myself in the presence of a lone, thin mountain against a horizon of limitless trees. A placid, inky vibrancy clung to everything and I found myself confused at the general aesthetic as there was no discernible ground or terrain to place my feet on. I was floating in restless awareness, and vaguely recall some semblance of conversation, though the words spoken allude me. Still, I could discern sound, smell, taste and consciousness beyond the usual wall of sleep in the conventional sense. Lost of orientation, as if underwater and spun around, I brought myself back to my bed where I found myself still, and cold, from sweat. I had only been sleeping for fifteen minutes this time.
April 30th, 1935
The inhabitants of my dream land call themselves something strange. I have conversed with the ones who dwell in the tunnels, and have grown to hate them. They are manipulative sorcerers in arts that I cannot fully comprehend, or explain now that I am back. There are elements and designs which are entirely alien to the way our world works that they possess with utmost sinister intention. These ghouls of a bygone dimension are nothing but evil, and last night I found myself in combative disagreement with them about certain conditions. They envy me for possessing the ability and resources to transcend dimensional and cosmic barriers, and their avarice grows with each colloquy. I achieved it, why can’t they? Above all else, above their tightly knit gray skin; their gelatinous voices; their monstrous flute beckoning, it is their gigantic, lidless milky eyes I despise the most, which gaze at me with such hatred.