Sunday, October 2, 2011

Chapter 1 and 2 (Full Chapters)

Ok, here goes...  This is Chapters 1 and 2 of the book 'On The Paths of Madness', currently in progress.  I welcome any and all constructive criticism, questions, and comments!  Since it's relatively long, I'll put the chapters behind the break.

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Chapter 1

I don’t have a padded cell, like some of my fellow inmates.  My room’s pretty nice, really - I’ve got an oil painting of a sailboat on the ocean on the west wall, just over my little mahogany reading table, on top of which sits my journal.  I write in it often, since Doctor Ward doesn’t let me paint anymore.

My bed rests in the far corner, looking lonely and bare.  My blanket, as usual, sits neatly folded at the foot of the bed, with my tiny, uncomfortable pillow glaring at me from an odd angle.  I hate that pillow.

A new doctor is coming today.  They tell me she wants to know everything that happened to me, that she might be able to help me.  That’s what they tell me, but I know full well my dark fate - it lies before me, crawling ever closer moment by moment.  I’ve come to doubt that anyone can help me now.

A gentle buzz at my door tells me that it’s time for my medicine.  The door opens slowly and I see the regular nurse, Wanda, poke her head in, ostensibly to make sure I’m awake.  I smile wearily and wave her in.  I wonder if all the nurses are as nice as Wanda - I don’t get to leave my room very often.  For my own protection, they tell me.

She sets the miniature plastic cup with my pills on my reading table, then places a white napkin with a pretty flower on the table next to it, before setting a slightly larger plastic cup half-filled with tap water on top of the napkin.

“Thanks Wanda,” I say as she sets down the cup.
“You’re welcome, hun.  You know that Doctor Riley is here, don’t you?  She’s talking with Doctor Ward right now, but she should be coming to see you soon.  Do you need anything else?”  She smiles at me, sincerely, I think.
“No thank you, Nurse Wanda.  I’ll take my medicine now.”
She watches patiently as I down first the tiny cup, then the slightly less tiny one.  “We’ll see you later, Mr. Brennan.”  She takes the empty cups and napkin from my outstretched hands, and closes the door as gently behind her as she opened it only minutes before.  

I sit down in my narrow chair next to the reading table.  It’s pretty uncomfortable, but I’m used to it by now.  I glance up at the light fixture in the corner, as I’ve done so many times.  The fixture itself is mounted just below the ceiling and it extends about six inches away from the wall.  It’s pretty enough, with it’s brass fittings and frosted glass cover.

I nearly jump out of my chair when I hear a voice behind me.  I must have wandered off for a few minutes without realizing it.  I turn and see Doctor Ward, my normal Doctor, and standing beside him is a woman I’ve never seen before.  She’s tall, with long black hair and pretty green eyes.  She’s not wearing a white coat, but instead a smart pantsuit with thin black stripes running up each side.

She smiles at me and extends a hand.  “Hi Thomas, it’s lovely to meet you.  My name is Elizabeth Riley, and I’m very glad that you agreed to speak to me.  I want very much to help you if I can.”

Doctor Ward glances at the journal on my reading table, and a sullen expression seems to cross his face, just for a moment.  Might have been just a shadow, though.  He turns to the new doctor.  “Doctor Riley, if there is anything that you need, please let Nurse Wanda know.  I’ll be in my office if I’m needed.”  He closes the door behind him, nearly slamming it in his apparent hurry.

Doctor Riley sits lightly on the edge of my bed and draws a pad of paper and a pencil from her knapsack.  She looks up at me and seems to study my face for a moment.  “I want you to be completely comfortable, and to take as much time as you need.  If you need to take a break at any time, just let me know and we’ll stop.  I know that some of this may be painful for you, but please understand that, the more I know, the better I’ll be able to help you.  Also, I want you to understand that what’s said here does not leave this room.  Any notes that I take are strictly for the purposes of this discussion and will be destroyed at your request.  You can trust me, Thomas.”
I nod and give a slight smile while trying to adjust my posture in the uncomfortable chair.  “I don’t really know why I’m telling you this.  He’s going to find me soon, and none of this will matter."   I shift a bit in my chair.  Just can’t seem to get comfortable, but I’ll just have to deal with it.  “I guess I should start at the beginning?”  She smiles, but says nothing.  

“The strangeness began some time after I made the acquaintance of one Simon Clipson.  We met at the library a few months ago.  January, I think - it was still cold outside. We hit it off pretty well, considering he nearly got us thrown out of the place in the process.  Anyway, we became fast friends.  

Simon is about my age and a bit taller than me.  He generally prefers to wear coveralls and a loose-fitting shirt.  He was an archaeologist by trade and wrote a good many papers on the subject.  We would talk for hours at the local cafe, or in the sitting room of my home.  Sometimes, we would walk through the long, winding trails in the wooded refuge at the edge of town, often getting ourselves lost in the process.”

Doctor Riley interrupts me with a gesture.  “You mentioned that Simon was an archaeologist.  What is your profession, Thomas?”

I smile grimly at the question.  “I am....  I was a painter.  I never made much money, but I was able to live off of a small inheritance from my father, God rest his weary soul.”

She nods and jots a few notes down.  “Do they let you paint here?” she asks.

I give a small sigh.  “Doctor Ward doesn’t like the things that I paint, so he doesn’t let them give me the supplies anymore.  At least they let me keep a journal.  It helps, a little.”

The Doctor gives an understanding nod.  “I’m sorry for the interruption, Thomas.  Please go on.”

“After spending a good deal of time together, Simon revealed to me some of the research that he had been delving in, and wanted to know if I was interested.

I’m no scientist, and certainly no archaeologist, but he showed me some of the artifacts which he had retrieved during his travels.  Much of it was artistic in nature, and it pleased me greatly to hold such ancient works of art.  When he told me of some of the places he had visited, it planted within me a longing - not for scientific discovery, mind you, but Simon could create such a wondrous picture with his words of the dark, musty passageways, and of great winding spires covered in long-forgotten symbols and runes.  Those places and things which Simon could so exquisitely paint with words, I wanted to paint with oils and canvas.

Anyway, I actually had a good time with him.  Sometimes, we’d drive out to old libraries looking for rare books, or even the occasional dealer, though I always wound up paying, it seems.  Simon’s book collection was extensive - he had shelves after shelves filled with old, moldering tomes and scrolls, as well as a few more modern books.  Many of them were virtually unidentifiable, at least by their binding, with a few exceptions here and there.  There seemed to be little organization, at least not that I could determine.  Books of poetry were intermingled with histories, memoirs,. and others.  Some were written in languages I couldn’t recognize.  I never got to spend much time perusing, however, as our research consumed most of our time together.”

Doctor Riley takes notes occasionally as I speak, but now she glances up at me with a questioning look.  “What were you researching, exactly?”

I shift uncomfortably in my seat again.  

“Simon had discovered several old manuscripts while visiting a town in New England.  He never told me exactly how he found them, but I gathered through fragments of conversation that he had explored some abandoned archaeological digs during his time in Rhode Island.

The papers, containing an old form of Spanish,  seemed to describe an all-powerful deity.  Simon was researching an ancient religion - well, more of a cult, really.  His translations were incomplete, but he said that they called themselves the ‘Followers of Azathoth’.  They apparently worshipped this ‘Azathoth’ as the ‘Maker of the Gods’.  

Simon explained to me that his curiosity in this old cult was piqued when he found evidence for them in a vastly different place - in Russia.  Through correspondence with several people overseas, Simon was able to obtain a copy of a Russian pamphlet which was purported to be from the late 14th century.  The pamphlet seemed to be religious propaganda which warned of ‘a rising tide of evil’ and to be watchful of  the ‘hidden worshippers of Satan’.  Several other names appear in the pamphlet, including Azathoth, as well as others which I did not recognize.  Due to the vast distances between the finds, he suspected that the cult might have had a larger influence than anyone was aware, and was determined to learn more.

After some time, though, a couple of weeks I guess, Simon seemed to...  change.  He spent less and less time going out and tended to stay in his room most of the time.  When I would visit, he would usually send me out to get him food, or fresh notebooks.  It didn’t bother me much at first, but on the fourth day I insisted that he talk to me about what was going on.

He wasn’t angry, and in fact he seemed almost... relieved?  He apologized for his behavior and promised to make it up to me.  He asked me to meet him at a certain address the next night, hugged me, and bade me good night.

Chapter 2

How I wish I had stayed home that next night...  but I’m getting ahead of myself.  At the time, I was simply relieved that my friend was all right, and was looking forward to having the matter settled once and for all.

The address he gave me turned out to be a huge, abandoned house.  It was three stories tall, with crumbling, gray bricks.  Hanging next to some of the boarded-up windows were broken shutters, many of which swung absently in the gentle breeze.  Upon arriving, I found Simon around the east side of the house.  He was grinning with anticipation, and hurriedly explained that he hoped to find evidence of the cult here, in the basement.  He had already broken the ancient lock on the thick, wooden double doors and now he all but pushed me down the solid stone steps.

Fortunately, Simon had had the forethought to bring a lantern with us, and after igniting and handing it to me, I held it aloft as we descended the dark stairs.  The air around us was..  stale.  Musty.  It was obvious that nobody had been down there for years, though why I wasn’t sure.  After a short walk downstairs, we found ourselves in a bare, stone room.  It was chilly, but we both wore warm coats for the weather.  There were two doors in the empty room, one of which was open, the other closed.  Deciding quickly, we moved through the open, rotting wooden door and into what seemed to be a storage room.  Dust-covered shelves lined one wall of the small room, and the only other inhabitant was a small scrap of paper which had evidently been burned.  There was nothing readable left, but it seemed odd as there was no other evidence of a fire in the room.

Finding nothing else of interest, we approached the other door.  It was heavier than the first and was made of a different type of wood, one which seemed to have aged much more gracefully.  There was a huge iron lock hanging underneath the black, cast iron door handle.  Simon grinned with a twinkle in his eye as he slid a crowbar in between the posts of the lock.  With a deft swing of his arm, the old lock was broken and fell to the floor with a loud clatter.

I cautiously manipulated the handle and pushed the door ajar, holding the lantern just inside in order to get a good look.

I was immediately overcome with fear, or maybe it was..  revulsion.  I nearly dropped the lantern as I frantically backed out of the doorway.  Simon rushed to my side with a look of concern on his face, which quickly turned to resolve.  He took the lantern from my shaking hand, then turned away from me and walked straight into the room.  Something on his face, something about how he walked - it beckoned me to follow.  I steeled myself and managed to put one foot in front of the other, and to walk into that accursed room.”

Doctor Riley speaks in a soft, soothing voice.  “Thomas, are you all right?”

I just realized how much I’m sweating.  My hands are shaking a little.  Doctor Riley looks at me with concern mixed with curiosity.  “We can take a break if we need to, Thomas.”

My mind is filled with ghastly, horrible images.  I can feel the hair on the back of my neck rising and falling with my beating heart.

“No... thank you Doctor.  I’ll be all right.  I’ll continue as best as I can.”  I take a few deep breaths and rest my hands in my lap.

“To begin with, I was overwhelmed with a stench that seemed to come from everywhere at once.  After a few moments, I began to recognize it - formaldehyde.  I had smelled it only once before, back in grade school when we dissected a sheep’s eyeball.  The horrible stench was not the worst of it, though.

As Simon held the lantern in the air, I beheld that the room was filled with jars, bottles, and glass tanks of all shapes and sizes.  Within these vessels, every despicable last one of them, were severed human heads.

I stumbled to the ground and vomited, violently.  Through the corner of my eye I could see Simon standing off to the side... He seemed completely oblivious to my condition.  I vomited several more times and kept my head low to the ground.  It was as though I could feel the eyes of every head in every cursed glass vessel glaring at me, piercing me with their cold, dead stares.  

Most of the heads in that horrid room were completely intact, some with eyes open, many of them closed.  The light from the small lantern cast ghastly shadows which seemed to move according to the dancing, flickering flame within the thin glass globe.

I might have fainted then, I can’t be sure.  I only remember slowly, gradually picking myself up off of the floor, holding tightly to the edge of a table.  My fingers shrank away from sudden contact with cold glass, and I fervently avoided looking at whatever hideous specimen floated just millimeters away from my bare skin.

Finally, I heard Simon speak.  “Thomas, come quickly!  Notebooks, journals, it’s all here!  Hah!  Can you imagine it?  Thomas, get over here!”

I fumbled my way towards him, keeping my eyes trained on him and desperately trying to ignore the hundreds of stinking heads glaring at me.  Slowly, I made it to his side and looked up at him.  His face was nearly unrecognizable.

Gone was his playful grin of only minutes before.  In it’s place was a cold, icy stare, and behind his eyes danced a black flame that seemed to reach out towards me.  At that moment, I felt as though I was bound in place by some unseen demonic force.  I could do nothing but stare into the twisted, hideous visage that had overtaken my friend.  I felt that I was falling into myself.  Blackness seemed to rise up all around me like some amorphous, viscous thing.  I tried to scream, to cry out to some forgotten shadow of a God for deliverance, but I could not even part my shivering lips.  Horrified, I felt, rather than saw, the inky blackness suddenly rush through me, and wash over me.  For one terrible instant, I saw every one of the revolting heads in their ghastly translucent tombs.  Their eyes were all open, and glowed with an unearthly hue as they each turned in their glass vessels to face me... and smile.

Edit: I went ahead and added Chapter 1 to this in order to made some of it make more sense.

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