Tuesday, July 24, 2007

House Trained / The Imprimatur of the Monster


My name is Matthew Shakewell and I nearly died yesterday.

I shall try to relate as closely as I can my experience, but please keep your hand on your heart and read this story in the clear light of day...for you may die of fright, as I so very nearly did. Please take care, make sure my words are not those of a mad man or one who wants to frighten you gratuitously; make sure you do not put too much credit in their meaning as appreciation of their truth could have damnable effect on the mild-mannered or the nervous...but, as I write this, I genuinely believe each word I am about to devote to paper.

So much for the warning, now for the facts.


I snuggled into the warmth of the carriage as the train churned through acre upon acre of English countryside. It was impossible to view the trees and village stations we must have passed through, for the night enshrined everything; so the most sensible thing to do was to try and sleep until the time for arrival at my destination, where my uncle would be waiting to greet me.

I slept for how long and with what vague dreams? Nebulous vistas of strange dimensional cities intruded, warped visages staring and tentacles clutching, wet lips and things sucking near. I awoke to the carriage, the formless darkness sliding away past me and an old man snoring in the corner. I was quite shaken by my dreams as the memory of them lingered incoherently. But I soon realized on looking at my timepiece that I should have arrived at my destination about an hour before!

It was then that I comprehended I had not seen one thing from the carriage window. True, I was travelling through a comparatively uninhabited part of England, but this was decidedly peculiar; even though there were no stars nor moon, I should have seen the distant glow of some big town or the lonesome light of a spinster's cottage. But absolutely nothing could I see, presumably on acoount of the unusual blackness of the night through which I was speeding in a corridorless train. Might it be fog?

I relaxed back into the seat and viewed my sleeping companion. The fog would explain the lateness of the train, but what about its apparent speed?

I was convinced the train was traveling at a phenomenal speed, but it was now two hours overdue--without precedence on that line. I resolved to wake my companion and I stepped over to shake him. What curled from the hood of the duffel coat was an evilly scarred face and, on unwinding, gave me an imbecilic smile: a moon-face topped by a schoolboy's cap, giggling in the depth of its rasping throat.

"Mutation" is a word too medical, too clinical, as what I saw was essentially unwholesome; nothing created by a mother on this world, but fashioned far away in dim lands beyond the galaxy we know. The transfiguration took me completely by surprise as, before my eyes, the monstrosity literally dissolved and dripping from the brown duffel coat was a green, sticky slime, forming a viscid puddle on the swaying floor.

It held all the smells which disgust man throughout the world and others completely new to his nose, recalling my dream vistas and certain other things I could not quite place.

My first thought was to pull the communication cord, but I felt the train was slowing down--presumably my destination had been reached. My mind was a maelstrom as the train drew to a halt. On jumping to the platform, I realized it was not my intended destination, but a strange station ... and the nightmare train was drawing out, leaving me bewildered and valiseless. Amid the chaos of my mind, I knew I had to find a porter and share the horror I with him.

Empty tins and scraps of paper scuttled along the deserted platform, driven by the night wind. So, no fog! Visibility was excellent, but it still puzzled me why I could not see the moon nor the stars. I shouted for assistance, but none came: a forsaken station, forgotten by all who used to work there, those who, under a happy sun, waved green flags and blew whistles, carted parcels and drank tea. Dazed, I shuffled along the cluttered platform towards the station-house, sithouetted against the ceiling of the sky, ominous and spectral.

I came to a turnstile and, not surprisingly, it was enlaced with choking cobwebs, twining through the bars. The only exit I could see was through there, and so I pulled myself together to cut a path through its creeping entropy. As I entered, an over-nourished spider skittered to its lair. I wish to God I had not looked to the left into the ticket-collector's cab, for here was not a deserted seat, but the ticket collector himself sitting, not as he used to be, but a decaying skeleton-creature with a puncher in the bones of a hand. A plump worm coiled through his skewered ribs ... and I screamed ... ran from that blasphemous railway station...

...into avenues of ill-lit horror, through lines of trees, black and twisted against the blacker sky, along country roads twining between untended hedgerows ... until exhaustion put paid to my progress ... I saw the House; it rose out of the darkness, looming forbodingly. It was more of a castle than a house, and had two towering wings, pointing and mocking at the sky.

I should not fear its occupants, I told myself--they would probably disperse my fears and show my position on the map - so I plucked up enough courage to walk to the main door. Its massive oaken surface and golden knocker filled me with awe, but I grasped the knocker, pulled it heavily from the wood, and let it drop with a crash echoing throughout the whole house. It was such a loud noise that it startled me and put the fear back. There, I waited for what Fate would bring to the door, waiting, eternally waiting. But no one came. No one deigned to answer my call for help, so I decided to force my way in for shelter, but the door looked too mighty for entrance there. But I was mistaken as a single trial caused the door to swing open with a splitting creak revealing ... only darkness. I coughed as the atmosphere tightened in my chest and I felt for a suitable position to sleep the night out.

It was then that I heard something which I can hear even now inside my head, a funeral moan, harmonically illogical, resonant, deep but also shrill, coming from up above me, approaching down a rickety staircase, a moan carrying at one and the same time the horror of the graveyard, the scream of delight as ghouls ecstatically lift a prutrescible corpse from its resting place, the terror of a lunatic's laugh as he carves his own flesh, and all the pain and panic of the Pit where shapeless elementals vaguely swim in fire, chewing off the heads of the human damned.

After, came a slithering and bumping above me: a thing was moving across the floor and, then, it was squelching down the stairs emitting the long drawn-out moan. The alternate slithering and bumping rode the creaking, teetering stairs, inexorably drawing closer, nearer, faster, down, down, down...

...it seemed as if I were in another world, sucked in by intangible forces to a revelation of the cosmos, a panorama of all time; stars and streaks of light reaching to infinitudes of chaos and cult, ethereal glows and fresh, unmathematical lands. I saw a city with dome-like, square buildings on plains of kaleidoscopic bubbles and, in each bubble, a grotesque gargantuan gargoyle leering at the citizens in the buildings. Those citizens themselves were immaterial, covered by jellified green slime and motivated by an ectoplasm of orange exactly in the middle of its soul-light.

I saw vague ski-runs of blue effulgence stretching for aeons from

the mamnoth, bubbly planet past the barrier of time and space, almost an interpenetration of two universes. I saw an enormous sled skim down the runnels, carrying those unfathomably huge monstrosities of green slime, and it looked as if they were waving and laughing, gobs of jelly forming into limb-strands and mouth-holes where the orange ectoplasm turned into a flickering tongue.

They laughed! They waved! They grew even larger! And on their interuniverse journey, they bred more and more of themselves as they neared a familiar planet...

The vision changed: I was looking at the cities of earth--London, Paris, New York, all empty except for ill-twisted skeletons littering the streets, doing exactly what they were doing when they died. Until the visions faded...

I was still in the House blanketed in darkness. The slithering and bumping grew yet nearer until I could see it!

It was a luminous blob of green pus - looking as if it had plucked itself unceremoniously from the incubating slime of its huge host monster following arrival on Earth. By turns it materialized and dematerialized as it squirmed and hobbled towards me... and I imagined I saw a crease of a wicked smile where the green fat folded and twitched. I screamed and screamed. It touched my foot. It actually touched my foot! My blood curdled as I felt it gradually creep up my body. The breathing gunge greened me over, covering my face like slobbering clay. I was then a gibbering, juddering puppet, insane with disgust, but tittering in ecstasy. I felt it enter my mouth, ooze into my throat, a seething, thickening mess of spitting, burping stew.

I found myself back in the train, watching an old man in a brown duffel coat sleep opposite me ... and out of the window the distant glow of a city.

It must have been a nightmare.


The train was three hours late when it arrived at my destination. I feel an impending doom on our world. Nothing to be done. As I lie here in a hospital, the doctors are amazed and disturbed by my body, which is dyed a hideous green in and out.

(Previously e-published)



I forget whether my memory is as good as it used to be.

I once knew how it all ended, but now I despair of remembering it. All I can do is make various attempts at retracking - rat-tracking through the sewers of the past.

I decided to pay another visit to the house where, all those years before, events transpired which mythology has all but subsumed. It is said that the past is a monster waiting to return from the direction of the future, with green-flecked lips and accusing eyes. But, I vowed to ignore such fears and to face out any residual shame from such ill-reported times.


Could the house be in the mind, thus not just a simple train journey away? I sat in the shuddering carriage watching the leather window-strap swing from side to side. I itched to tug the red-painted alarm chain in the slot above the warning to passengers not to lean out. The tunnels seemed to be prolific - dark interludes in an otherwise straightforward succession of events. From all available evidence, there was no other passenger in the long corridorless train. But how was I to know for certain either its length or population? Only by disembarking.

I pulled down the arm-rest from its niche in the carriage's uphostlery and leaned my greasy head of hair upon the lightly engraved antimacassar. I desperately wanted to dream, in case reality had played me false and would land me in an incomplete scenario of trackless trains heading for infernal countries of night.

I did dream, I think. I saw visions of others who had dreamed before me - lands where history had come clean and laid bare the bones of its villainous participants - scores of skeletons clacking above the sleepers, like the tail-to-tail bony carapaces of unfreighted flesh - cities of scientists who went mad with religion - plain upon plain of inverted mountains....

I woke with a start. I had not been dreaming at all, only dreaming that I had. The train was pulling into a station, since I saw white boards flashing by with its name written up in clearer and clearer, and yet unattainable, definition.

I had embarked at Paddington, since the house I sought I knew to be in Wales. This principality had not yet been affected by the changing disguise of Europe, unlike the more malleable souls in London such as myself. During my last days in the hospital, I had ranted, it seemed, in my sleep, about the Black Mountains, where Creature Beings perched and spoke in the same Celtic lilt as I, the dreamer. Such Beings, through me, spoke goldenly of a Race older even than themselves which represented the most important group of Beings which Time and Space could ever encompass. And that Older Race, in turn, spoke of even greater Beings who managed to exist, in spite of their intrinsic untenability.

Now, as the train drew to a juddering halt, I, in a moment of misplaced logic, wondered if there were yet other Beings immeasurably greater than even those. And so on, ad infinitum and, perhaps, absurdum, until...

"Until you come to Man himself." A porter, or one I took to be such, had opened the carriage door for me and spoken as if continuing a conversation. In the dim flickering lights of the wind-swept platform, I saw his face possessed an imbecilic cast, topped off with a purple schoolboy's cap far too small for the head. Snot bubbled at one enlarged nostril. After he took my luggage, I saw he had a graveyard lurch, as he headed towards the station house and its waiting-room.

As I followed him, I heard the train shunting behind me, steaming up for the rest of its journey and, fleetingly, I turned to see faces pressed up against the grimy windows of that hissing beast. They were yearning with their eyes and I do not know whom I pitied most, me or them, as they sashed up and down upon the surface of the glass in a strange indulgent rhythm of farewell.

The thing in the cap motioned me towards a gas-fire which warmed one corner of the waiting-room. I rubbed my hands slowly above its glowing grid of orange bone, my mind inevitably drifting from the more natural courses of my thought-patterns. I had come to revisit the house, where I believed I had once been granted a vision of the future - when mankind would amount to nothing in the scheme of things. But now I suspected that the monster of green squelch I had faced then, had traversed the interlocking entropies of unimaginable existence from hyper-spiritual worlds, not as a precursor of Earthly colonisation, but as an emblem of the truth that had prevailed prior to the onset of reality itself. Or, at best, tangential to it.


One can learn to grow less afraid of any monster, if it is believed it is real, rather than a concoction of one's own terrified mind. Such is the crux of the matter, since I now realised (in the true sense of that word) I had come to this spot to lay the ghost which I myself once created, and I would achieve this by proving beyond reasonable doubt that it was truly *real*. And still is. Hence this rite of passage across the neat meadows of England...

To staunch the onward tread of worse and worse nightmares that are not nightmares at all, I needed to ascertain that the house contained a true monster of flesh and blood in its own terms, a monster that I could rationalise, encapsulate and even believe explicity when it spoke of forthcoming human doom in its characteristic voice of slimy conviction. Only by believing the truth of its message, could I exorcise and, consequently, nullify its effect.


I left the station behind me, as I trudged the once familiar country lane. There was the house. But, no, not yet, just a head of woods, grown together to present a common front to the hurricanes now so prevalent in this part of the world. A seat of green amid the swirling greys.

I was grateful for the warm-up in the waiting-room. How long I had been there listening to the ludicrous tales of the overgrown schoolboy, I could only measure by the growth of beard. He told me that the house was no longer in situ, since it had contracted a teetering, cancerous stairwell and collapsed in upon itself, even before the seasonal hurricanes had become endemic. I could not believe him, of course, because he also told me that I was a different person to the one who had come here all those years ago - not the one who had been frightened by the skeleton of a railway ticket-collector in his platform booth. He looked bemused when I countered by saying that I had not been afraid of the skeleton as such but by the plump worm for which its bones acted as home.

My dismay was great when he said he wanted to come with me to find the house. However, he spotted another train steaming towards the station and he went off to categorise it, number it and wave it through.

I left the woods behind me and, just as one of those lilty Creature Beings cut a screaming wedge of yellow light in the sky's blanket of night, I spotted the house itself, just as I think I remembered it.

But, incredibly, it was careering towards me out of the past, with steam churning from every chimney-stack.

Lights were being flashed on and off in every window, greenness slicking down the glass like net curtains of foullest slime. The monster had actually become the house, rather than remained an inhabitant of it. I put my fists to my ears to dull its pained bellowing - it had originally come to destroy the whole of mankind, but had merely managed to get up a sufficient head of steam to destroy only myself.

I realised I had, since my earliest times, absorbed the vile imaginings that this monster had created. Its metagalactic imprimatur was to mythologise the only tenable beings in existence who happened to be Earth's humans - and I now knew I had rescued the future for humanity. By fixing the monster under the impenetrable varnish of my creativity, I also fixed its dreams of us and made them real. As I sucked its Hell into my brain, the better was our chance to become angel-eyed and paramount - shimmering creatures in our own right with grains of honest phantasy - happily wandering among the gildenspires of the Heavenly City.


I am that house, I am that train, I am that ghoulish schoolboy, I am that ideologue weirdmonger...

I made myself actually become that monster. And, without me, you would never have been you, with desires and dreams and fancies and loves, all fit for gods and goddesses. You would have been mere puppet-jerks of Older and Younger Races, with a blood-engorged worm in the night-hutch of the head to replace that human brain of infinite possibilities.

To stop my own head from exploding into a thousand bone-shards, I ask you, please, I beg you, to hold me close - let me nuzzle in your cosy lap, so that such love and care will enable me to bear man's worst nightmares on your behalf.


But I look up and see that awful schoolboy's moon-face leering at me imbecilically, the maggot-riddled flesh slowly drooling from the sicker bones within - and my despair at forgetting how it all ended is never-ending.

Published 'Crypt of Cthulhu' 1994

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