The Temple of the Worm
By Glenn Winkelmann Jr. on Oct 30th, 2012
“I slept with faith and found a corpse in my arms on awakening; I drank and danced all night with doubt and found her a virgin in the morning.” – Aleister Crowley
The dim rays of a gibbous moon cast lonesome shadows that stretched across the sleeping valley, and the wind poured between the trees, rustling the reeds of the marshy plains into spasmodic disarray. An overcast began to mount, and a lurid discoloration of the landscape highlighted the amber lanterns proceeding upthe forested trails leading towardthefrost capped mountain. It was amid this concourse that I kept my identity a secret, for I was disguised in a waxen mask, my hands were gloved, and I was hidden under the veil of an enormous robe; all giving me the genuine appearance of being one of them. We darted this way and that, silently slithering through the reeds of the encumbering marsh.
Ahead of me some of the figures were bipedal and lumbering, while others still were leaping incessantly on all fours. I was disquieted and wholly fearful of my company, but I was confident still under my mask, which was a mixture of wax, charms, and feathers, and concealed my face from the suspicious. I intercepted their secret summons and now, upon this evening, I would follow them to the site of their sinister worship. I was emotionally prepared for the engagement of whatever horrors may lie dormant in the porous caverns they would lead me to, and was equipped with various religious and explosive apparatus to protect me.
Upon completion of my mission all of their esoteric hideousness in that vaulted catacomb of ghoulish festivity would remain a blissfully ignorant subject to the populations which lived in the towns adjacent. A convergence began at a series of focusing trails ahead of the mob which lead to an entrance of some kind. It was a monumental oak tree complimented by a stone aperture, lit by lantern, leading downwards. A number of the procession began to disappear at this point. It was then I was assaulted by the hideous odors of strange incense, and vague connotations of sulfur.
It was overwhelming to me and, try as I might, I could not withstand the urge to clear my lungs of the foul air. I released a cough which, to my dismay, caused a mass cessation of our progression. The lanterns were immediately snuffed around me and, with a mind as of the birds, that sinuous gathering of night-terrors stopped immediately and, upon that instance, converged to apprehend me. I could feel my senses being robbed of natural order whilst they motioned to me in identical patterns of movement. As I ran in stark horror from them I realized I could not discern a single sound.
There was not a reverberation, nor a splash or patter from the downpour, or a howl from the gusting winds which spun their cloaks around madly. The focus of my anguish was upon the cowled supplicant gaining upon me, it’s painted eyes reverberate with the inky blackness of the void. The subtle twitching of it’s neck and head towards the left repeatedly increased in speed as it drew closer. It was then that a disembodied voice, hailing from the depths themselves, shattered the placid reticence and betrayed my sanity. It must have said more, but the first utterance was enough to rob me of my consciousness:
“Albert Curwen… at last.”
Clara and I were unaware that the island of Camille housed a cult who held a cabalistic veneration for the deceased. We would often seclude ourselves from the offensive torment of society within the same forests where their temple resided in shadow. Our attendance to the subtle nuances of nature and introspective conversation would culture in us a lasting bond, and it was under the cool rays of a thinly waning moon that we first heard the flutes. Piping from the abyss of the forest around us were the feeble moans which grew louder in a chorus that threatened to deafen us. The cacophony of dreadful melodies sounded fiendish in design as from the lungs of nameless, despondent creatures.
The wind carried the piping’s southward towards the town of Camille which, as tradition dictates, would react with utmost immediacy. Orange glows in the window panes would swiftly be snuffed out; curtains would diminish the silhouettes of reading men or playing children; the bells would toll in all the churches; the electric street lights would cease immediately and the dogs would howl and roar. It was only after the annual concert of those drifting harmonies of hellish intricacy did we learn that winter had arrived. We lived in a remote cabin nestled between two rocky alcoves, bombarded by the sombre glacial winds.
Clara would paint surreal dream-scapes that illustrated the suggestion of nightmarish haunts, or vistas of ulterior architecture of star bound civilizations while I, rested in our study beside the fireplace mantle, would strike out passages and narratives upon my typewriter. For many weeks we lived in creative duality and complimented each others works. Occasionally we switched roles: I practiced my hand at the brush whilst she studied the finer theories of written expression. The image of her long auburn hair swirling in the night wind stayed with me as we watched in worried anticipation upon the crest of the forested hills. Illuminated between the enormous trees were the fiery eyes of some sinister line of marchers, moving towards our residence with startling speed.
Her face twisted into a look of fright which confused me as I had not hear what she did – howls of an inhuman aesthetic resonating from that direction. It was upon that Yuletide night that our humble existence was transformed into a violent disarray as our cabin was besieged by a cowled throng of chanting celebrants. Any rigid weaponry I could muster was used to assail the cackling procession of gaunts which steadily gained territory in our tiny housing. As I was backed into the study Clara cowered behind my shoulders.
I struck one of the advancing figures with ease. The waxen mask was dislodged from what should have been its head but, instead, revealed a terrifying void of vacant space. I do not recall fainting, but I awoke in confusion and startled panic some time later in the bed of a hospital renowned in Camille. The nurses spoke to me considerately but when I inquired about the whereabouts of my lover she only shook her head in resigned ignorance. It took a group of orderlies to restrain me to my bed as I spat and roared. My pledge to return to those forests and find the responsible sect must have been heard throughout the whole of the town.
My current predicament became startlingly clear to me as I wrestled myself to consciousness. I was locked to a dank stone wall by rusted chain. My surroundings were decrepit and sinister: a lantern fixed to a sinewy rope bobbed in the current of freezing subterranean air from the ducts adjacent to me. As I gradually relaxed myself and adjusted to that chamber of deviltry I began to analyze it more clearly. There was blood caked into the cyclopean walls, and the domed ceiling of brick and mortar dripped with an opalescent liquid.
It took me too long to ascertain that directly ahead of me was an altar of black stone over which the lantern circled in suspension. In the foreground were iron bars flanked by pillars of an unsettlingly ancient architecture. Out of my immediate surroundings I could discern no sound. Not a footstep nor a procession nor chanting nor the familiar moans of the flutes. I remained mercifully ignorant for the majority of my imprisonment of the skeletons chained directly to my sides upon the same wall, which only near the end twisted my nerves into a stark pandemonium of terror.
I was completely unclothed and robbed of my apparatus and disguise, defenselessly strung up in that temple of untold horrors. It took ages for the scene of my torment to change, for as the days rolled on I grew famished and delirious. My struggles had dislodged the bones of my wrists from my hands and, resigning to my presumed death, I began to pray for the duration of my sparse waking moments. When they entered the dungeon I cannot recall. I awoke to the clattering of equipment and the stealthy infiltration of shelving into my prison.
Around me were ghoulish figures of a frighteningly monstrous design. Their stretched gray skin hugged tightly to withering or entirely dislodged bones and eyeless sockets of blackness stared upon me. Their gnarled fingers clutched violently to scrolls and tomes only legend spake of. The altar, previously unoccupied, now housed a slender and tall corpse which was wrapped in embroidered velvet. The rigid cadaver was bathed in what appeared to be salts while flanked by recently lit candles which bore green flames.
The lantern in suspension was removed, in its place now a sigil of antiquity which chilled my very soul upon recollection of it’s implication. The veneration of the corpse by these necromantic blasphemers was nigh impossible for me to bear watching for, in a ritual of respected traditions, they began to read in the most hollow and gelatinous voices from the literature they possessed. The room grew colder than any winter I felt. The previously absent flutes began to besiege us in a hurried chorus of broken notes. Their hollow eyes flexed in unnameable expressions of contempt for me as their words began to pour outward, revealing to me their desire to return the corpse upon the altar to a mockery against the living.
I screamed in protest and shrank backward up the wall as the stirring motions of that carrion thing began to part the velvet. It rose up to survey the room, rotting and degenerated, and cried out for a familiar name. Upon that moment a gale of torturous wind assailed us from the ducts, and dispersed what remained of her auburn hair into the air.