The return of the oldest friend

The drink before you throws soft bubbles in the crystalline water-glass, hesitantly you stir the silver spoon around. As your tired body leans forward, the gentle fabric of the crackling sofa nestles against your legs like freshly waxed human skin. Your eyes wander through the rather spacious room of the club lounge, but they constantly keep hanging on these weird angles of contorted chairs and tables, made of exotic wood and covered in a dark-red fabric which almost looks like hardened blood. Many of these tables are, at this moment, occupied by ominously whispering groups, doing secretive business in silent laughter: You see women among them gracefully hiding their aristocratic faces behind black-silk veils while their men, tucked into expensive suits, seem to compete against each other by doing some sort of pantomimic game. Also, now and then, one of the waitresses appears like a silent ghost in all the commotion, and you can watch, almost in awe, how she sneaks through the smoky establishment so quietly and skillfully that you wouldn’t even be able to notice her, unless you searched the room specifically for her. The deep bass of the ethereal club-music adds a subliminal vibration to the room; it echoes throughout your body and mind, makes the bones inside of you sing, and the thoughts hazy. The air, on the other hand, smells of sweat and irritated excitement. You lean back again.

A sigh comes out of your mouth. Indeed, you’ve finally arrived, but you still don’t really know what you ought to do, after all, you’re just an outsider inside the illustrious Styx House Club, and all groups of guests have turned their backs on you. So you wait patiently, while the comforting fire behind you rustles sleepily in the large fireplace, further warming your already quite heated body. Fortunately, however, you don’t have to wait long at your separated seat outside from all the action. Because suddenly he stands there right in front of you. It’s a man. At least you assume so. His face is hidden behind a torn gas mask, and his dark eyes only shine hazily through the milky safety glasses. Barely you can make out black, bushy eyebrows and gray hair which protrudes in thick strands from under his hood. The rest of the towering body, on the other hand, is wrapped into an extremely thick, brown-coat littered with makeshift patches which also doesn’t leave a single bit of skin exposed. You turn to this rather peculiar figure in bewilderment.

He asks where you are coming from and where you want to go. When you tell him, he just laughs, but it doesn’t sound malicious. The chair crackles under his horrifying weight. The man orders something to drink. And as he takes his first sip, you are still staring at him wondering where he comes from, and what he wants from you: Is he maybe a painter from the satellite town in the Elfzyler lake area, or a prospector in the Vorlürisch mines? Hmm… no, his strange protective coat could be more of a hint towards mountain weaving activity… But before you can figure out the numerous mysteries, emanating from the strange hooded man, he suddenly raises his hand. You see a strand of rusty-brown hair lashed onto the inner surface of the fur glove with a thin piece of thread. After a short moment of hesitation you take it. And while you, still in absolute bewilderment, turn the thing back and forth under the dimmed light of the subsided establishment the old man finally leans back, and begins, with husky voices echoing from under his mask, to tell a story…

The prospector’s story I:

There! I heard them again! Those footsteps… But where were they coming from? The bathroom above me? The gallery on the first floor? But this lurking and menacing crackling, full of morbid and evil intentions, could also come from the wooden staircase in the hallway. Wherever it came from, it was close… very close. I crawled even farther under the old desk, above, the computer was still humming tiredly. The flickering glow of the screen bathed the almost claustrophobic tight office space in a ghostly light. Still, I hadn’t dared to turn it off. Any changes and movements, no matter how small and insignificant, might attract the attention from this… thing which had entered my house late at night with its thirteen legs and six arms.

It came in through the skylight. I was just lying tired, with heavy, sleepy eyes on my tattered sofa – meanwhile a black and white western movie flickered over the old-fashioned tube TV – when I suddenly heard an angry clank and splintering of glass. The picture on the TV disappeared instantaneously, and was instead overlaid with white noise. At first, I thought that the violent storm outside had hurled a tree onto the roof of my small holiday home in the middle of the forest, but when I, suddenly very awake, startled and looked around, I noticed that the storm had already stopped and, apart from the hissing television, absolute dead silence engulfed the entire home. A queasy feeling tucked on my intestines in this moment full of ghastly calm and nothingness. So I finally got up and opened the door to the corridor from where I had heard those strange noises. This corridor connected the entrance porch with the living room, and the stairs up to the first floor, as well as the small boiler room, and the laundry room down below in the cellar.

Now, the passage in front of me was engulfed in utter darkness. The light had apparently stopped working. I flipped the switch three or four times with increasing frustration, but the light bulb had probably been destroyed by the violent quake of the impact. So I had to make do with the dim flickering lights from the TV behind me, because the lamp in the living room also seemed to have burned out. In this situation, I once again became very aware of this ancient old wisdom that an accident rarely comes alone; it was always followed by several others. But this night, I would not only be followed by the spiteful goddess of misfortune, but the devil himself had stepped over the thin threshold into my own home. A devil full of homesickness.

As I was not aware of this rather unsettling fact, I shuffled myself, cursing and vexing, into the narrow corridor to analyze the damage, which had fallen upon my beloved holiday home. After all, I had saved up for this house which lied in the deep, dense forest area of the northern mountain-country for most of my life, and now I wanted to spend the last of it in it. It was a small house with red brick walls and round windows which`s pointed roof crouched, almost submissively, under two imposingly towering beech trees. Inside there was a living room, a small office and an even smaller kitchenette on the ground floor. On the first floor were my bedroom and a bathroom with a shower and a bathtub which I often used to wash off all the clinging dirt from a long walk in the deep green forests, and on the wide, pure blue lakes. The laundry room and a rather hidden boiler room in the basement finally rounded off the whole facility. Indeed, it may not have been much as a reward for decades of hard work, but still, it was mine and I was wholeheartedly proud of my little kingdom which slumbered, lonely and forgotten, in the remote mountain forests of the northern country like a miniature copy of a mysterious fairytale castle. Yeah, I was proud.

And thus, I was also understandably angered when I saw that not only the roof window was shattered, but also, to make matters even worse, a good portion of the roof itself was now missing! Frustrated and hesitantly, I looked down to the countless glass fragments on the floor flashing like filigree diamonds in the shining moonlight, and then above to the violently broken roof. Oddly enough, the jagged edges didn’t curve inwards – so I noticed with squinted eyes – but outwards, as if something had smashed the roof window in order to grab the roof from the inside by the edges and pull it outwards with overwhelming force. I did not know what hands or claws could do such a thing like this. Suddenly, goose bumps sprang up all over my body while such fanciful thoughts raced through my frustrated and tired mind in the middle of the darkest of nights. Of course, such fantasies have always been extremely strange for someone like me, a person who had spend his whole life as an office drone amid the dull, hectic rush of a lifeless metropolis. Such a simple existence tended to kill any absurd illusions ruthlessly, after all. However, at this moment, even I couldn´t help, but admit that something wasn´t quite right. Therefore I assume, even a benighted city dweller like myself can indeed perceive this morbid miasma of a demonic influence unconsciously; at least if its source is directly above him…

However, at that moment in my unending blindness, I didn’t see anything and therefore, without taking care, I stepped deeper into the ominously lit hallway. The bright moon was now directly above the house; his ghostly, white light broke through the gray clouds, and shone through the hole in the roof cooling my slightly heated face. The serrations on the hole´s edges and parts of broken shingles, meanwhile, casted bizarre dancing shadows into the passage below. So for a while, I just watched the rustling of the conifers out there and listened to the music of a gentle, sleeping forest. Indeed, I was still ignorant of what was out there, and that this peculiar something never slept in a thousand years, and that this peculiar something lived only for the sole purpose to open the eyes of those who dwelt and hid inside of houses made of wood and stone… But trapped in my urban naivety, which didn’t want to know anything about the old horrors, and which refused to heed all timeless warnings, I myself kept sleeping.

And here, in this moment of silence, calm and lifelessness, in the midst of the smashed remains of my oldest dream, I saw this peculiar something for the first time in my life. For it had brought down my walls with its six hands and destroyed my windows with its thirteen legs. Indeed, in this moment, I opened my eyes:

“I see you…”

Oh my God! Oh my god in the far too distant heavens! It spoke! Fear? No, it was not fear I felt now, but rather the painful freezing of my veins, the melting of self-confidence, and the dissolving of all material certainties that had slowly accumulated over the many years of my life full of idle work. Yes, it was not fear but horror; absolute horror, it swept through my veins, cleansed me from all illusions, I used to indulge myself in, when I went to bed in the morning and got up in the evening. It was a horror that could not be defeated. I didn’t move and like frozen in place I had to face the face in the skylight. A face whose malicious grin alone managed to destroy my diligently memorized materialism within a single second and replaced it with a gruesome premonition of that, which had been lurking behind the paper-thin mask of logic and reason for all ages in all eternity. Yes, the moment I saw the distorted and titanically deformed lips of my buried and deceased dog, illuminated by ghostly moonbeams and glowing pustules, I had to admit I had learned nothing in my life and I would die as stupidly as I had came into being.

“I see you,” the creature said once again. Greenish glowing slime poured down the sides of its chaps and splashed on the floor as it leaned farther into the house with its thirteen spiky and hairy insect like legs. The odor was pitiful. It smelled of rancid eggs and sweetish decay, of death and torment. “I have risen from my grave under the old oak tree by the river,” it went on, “and when my legs, now multiplied by the venerable godfather, slowly had dug themselves out of the wet autumn mud and under thick roots, and as my old tired eyes, having become so much clearer now, had seen the burning stars of the night sky for the first time since my death, indeed, in this moment… The Storm finally spoke to me.”

The dog laughed. And yes, in fact, it still resembled slightly the bark from my old dear friend who had accompanied me through the best years of my life, but the tone was lower now and mixed with the deep, shrill noises and tortured cries of a thousand damned souls. It was like the whole chorus of hell sang with this one mouth. Finally, I could stumble back in horror. However, the dog slipped now with its massive body through the hole in the roof. The insect limbs clacked with malicious intent. Removed shingles and rubble fell loudly to the floor. The old friend must have grown, because when he straightened up under the roof, his figure protruded almost up to the upper door section. His long legs bored into the wood of the floor and into the stone walls. The creature grinned again and only then did I see that it was not my dog that was talking, but the spider behind it was slowly swallowing its body and as it bit and chewed, these horrible noises came out of its mouth. So it said:

“Yes, that is indeed the only reason I came back: The wisdom of the storm; it urges me to break out of old earth again, and to stretch my snout upwards into the lofty skies. My lord and master! I have returned to thine kingdom of void to tell thee what lies beyond. Please, oh please!… Feed my starving spirit!“

I don´t know how I had managed to escape those hideous chitin claws, or how I had snatched away under these angry mandibles – which ripped themselves out of the chaps and all the pus like malicious caricatures of God’s creation -or how I did avoid those disgustingly long spider legs dotted with wiry hair. I only remember that I had woken up here in the office at some point. I was now under the safety of my heavy desk and my wide eyes stared wildly through the room. The heavy mahogany door to the floor was still slightly opened, I must have forgotten to close it when I escaped. And from there came now all those noises which destroyed my failing heart with pure horror and deep hopelessness. I heard biting and chewing, followed by splinters and crashes, I imagined this unholy beast slowly eating up my television. And somewhere behind the door I could hear it whine and howl in confused despair:

“My lord and master, why are you hiding? Didn’t we always play together and explore the dying autumn forests? Haven’t we smelled the fresh air of spring every year and hunted lively rabbits jumping through the titanic conifer trees? And haven’t we always explored together the overflowing city full of strange people who smelled so curiously? I’m so hungry, lord and master, why don’t you feed me anymore? My bowl was always filled with the best meat a lowly dog such as myself can hope for, but now I see it is empty. So do you hate all of a sudden? Just because I have a different shape now? Oh, have pity on me, please feed me! Just one last time! So that we can find peace together beyond the border, which separates this world of the earthly body from the world of the ghastly storm. I’m so hungry! Lord and Master!“

After this odd lamentation had ended there was a long period of deathly silence. I listened, with my ears pricked up, to the slightest sound, but even the noise from the television in the living room was now gone. My eyes fixated on the narrow gap between the door and the frame. However, the dim light from the screen above was not enough to illuminate the fading darkness behind it, and even the furnishings of the office room itself disappeared into a cloudy mist of gray streaks and dark, lurking shadows. I could barely make out the filing cabinet on my left and the small precious wooden commode on my right…

For some reason my eyes rested a bit on this old chest of drawers. And I remembered, it was actually one of the very few things which I had brought over from my old apartment in the big city. Its presence had always bothered me before as it constantly reminded me of my old slave like existence in the dull city, but now its all too familiar box shape in the ghostly flickering room had an almost calming and soothing effect on my strained nerves. It gave my anxious mind, almost like a thrown out anchor, a new hold, because somehow… it had always been there. So my panic, indeed, subsided a little bit and something like tensed up rationality slowly returned to my mind. I was able to think more clearly again and I was no longer just a despondent animal hiding from a malicious, superior predator.

So I began to analyze slowly and logically my situation, however crazy and absurd it was: A hunter had entered into my realm which was therefore no longer a safe refuge; a hunter who was chasing me by trying to lure me with my old dog´s familiar voice and shape, but of course, I would never fall for a debauched trick like that. But how could I defend myself against this gruesome monster from the deepest forests of the northern country? Wherever it came from, it had melted into the dog´s half-decayed body buried deep into the ground, had twisted and bent its flesh and limbs so that it now looked more like an insect than a canine. However, this didn’t mean it was immortal. Yes, I told myself maybe a little bit too foolishly in this moment: there was nothing immortal in this world! So I had to be able to somehow kill this damned creature. And then, it finally fell from my eyes like scales: my old, trusty shotgun! I had always kept it in the bedroom upstairs and with it I had successfully shot game on many hunts! How could I have forgotten about it? The thought of the Mercury-shotgun with its black shining barrel and its wide wooden shaft descended upon my fear-stricken fantasies almost like a heavenly angel. So my final plan took shape. I would fist get my shotgun and then go for the final run. Yes, it would be quicker to just sneak out of the house without weapons, but if this… creature noticed my escape at any point, I would have no defense left at all in those midnight black woods. So I absolutely needed my shotgun. This much was clear. Adding to that, I also needed to bring my high-performance flashlight against the all engulfing darkness. The dawn was still far to the east, after all, and this being could probably see in the deepest pitch black night, but I couldn’t. I definitely needed a light to maneuver through the nightly forest and to find the way to my jeep, which was at the last parking lot on the old mountain road. I normally used the car only to drive every two weeks into the nearest small town in order to buy groceries and other stuff I needed, but it should still work, like it always had done.

I continued to shape my plan: The way to the car was neither far, nor dangerous in daytime, but I had to cross a good distance full of dense mountain forests and, adding to that, a normally shallow brook lied in my path, which, probably carried a lot of water in this moment due to the previous storm. Crossing it, would be not an easy task in the slightest. Nevertheless! I just had to go for it, because I certainly would not die here. This I swore to myself in this very moment: I had not escaped my safe but shallow slave existence in the big city, only to then die in these remote forests and mountains which were so close to my heart. So, slowly infused with new strength, I sat up under the table and stared at the blackness beyond the door.

Beads of sweat trickled down my frowning forehead as my eyes tried to pierce this swarming darkness lying in front of me. My ears, again, listened to the slightest noise and subtle creaks, but the only thing they picked up on was the steady hum from the computer on the desk above me. Had the creature left the house looking for easier prey? No! I shook my head. This being – whatever it might actually be – was definitely only interested in me and it would only ever hunt me. So it was much more likely it was lurking somewhere in the house at this very moment. Like a spider in its web… These disgusting legs clattered wiry, thick hair vibrating with malicious greed and hunger, waiting for the victim to show its defenseless back. The two dog- and six compound eyes were swimming around in bile and other purulent liquids, tirelessly opened, not closing for a single second, so as not to lose the moment of surprise over me. Yes, I had to be very careful, if I wanted to survive against this devil….

The shotgun, I just remembered, was actually not in my bedroom, where I would normally keep it safely in a glass case, but in the laundry room down below in the cellar. I had carelessly put it down back when I had undressed myself after the last hunt. My flashlight, on the other hand, should be in the drawer of the desk, I was currently hiding under. This task was easy enough.

After a moment of short hesitation, I finally got up, took out the flashlight and crept stealthily to the door. Slowly, inch by inch, I opened it, the imperceptible squeak sounding to my tense ears as if a passenger plane was taking off right next to me. Goose bumps spiked up all over my body, and I was already half anticipating to see the hideous monster’s obnoxious face to stare straight at me, but no, the hall outside was empty and deserted. Meanwhile, my eyes had gotten used to the darkness, so that the dim moonlight through the cracked roof gap was enough, to see that the monster was nowhere to be found. Of course, I also immediately checked the walls and especially the ceiling. I previously had heard how it had climbed up somewhere, but unfortunately the sounds had been too muffled to be able to pinpoint the exact details. I therefore estimated the malicious being was lurking somewhere on the first floor. So it was lucky for me I had to go the exact other direction, downwards to the basement.

Hastily but with extreme caution, I sneaked to the cellar descent which was right under the spiral staircase. I noticed that, apart from the broken roof above, me there seemed to be no damage at all to the building or the inventory. The creature, apparently, had proceeded extremely carefully in its hunt after me and despite all the noises I had heard before, there were no signs of violent rage and despair. This spoke for a far higher intelligence than I would have ever expected. Of course, this sudden realization by no means reassured my already failing nerves.. My eyes anxiously slid down the gloomy descent from which a cold breeze struck up to me. And although I knew that the monster was probably in the other direction, I still became extremely suspicious of this gloomy, staring abyss. But at the same I could no longer hesitate. This horrible being who had desecrated my dog’s body could come back at any time and then I definitely didn’t want to be here anymore. So I decided to finally begin my descend into this hell of moldy air and blindly brooding silence.

Darkness enveloped me, as I left the pure, white moonlight and started to tremble down the iron stair rail. I was moving at an absolute snails pace. I couldn’t risk making the slightest noise. Every tiny sliver on the stairs, or a careless stumble in the dark could betray my presence to the monster hidden somewhere in the house. So I continued walking down the stairs. The unending blackness around me took my breath away more and more. I breathed shortly my sweaty hands clinging to the cool iron rail. It also smelled strange all of a sudden. Not rancid but somehow still uncomfortable. My overworked senses even made me believe in that moment that there was a light hint of dog food in the musty air which, of course, was complete nonsense. I haven’t had any dog food in my house since my old buddy died of a water lung in the fall last year. Yes, the darkness in combination with my panic-stricken senses had to play tricks on my mind. After all, fearful people tend to needlessly torment themselves with their own memories. At least, I tried to convince myself it was all just foolery of my mind, as I climbed down into this never-ending blackness, while I was being overwhelmed by familiar smells and long forgotten impressions.

I even saw myself hunting again with my old dog in the herb-drenched woods, or occasionally going to town to do groceries. Indeed, my loyal friend had accompanied me truly everywhere, even into the darkest gorges of my life: the divorce from my wife, the death of my beloved mother, the loss of my old job, I had endured many downs in my life, but wherever I stumbled, my faithful dog was at my side, helping me up again to see once more the light of this beautiful world. Without him I would have probably never gotten that old to begin with. And now?… And now this corrupt creature from the storm had taken possession of his body! Walked around inside it like it was its snail house, or nothing more than a costume! If I hadn’t been so utterly scared, I might have even gotten angry at this thought. But the oppressive darkness and the surrounding fear only made my trembling fists clench. Powerless and scared out of my mind I continued the descend.

And slowly…. very slowly… she started telling me stories, this eternal darkness… I began to hear spherical whispers which words I could understand only vaguely, then the soft rustling of distant cave rivers and the smell of wet dog fur suddenly rose through the musty air into my nostrils. And there it was! Yes, right there! Didn’t I suddenly hear an elegant crackle, as if 13 spider legs were crawling over a wet, rotten wall? It was right above me! It had to be this loathsome creature! It was right above me, now! But when I listened more closely, with wide eyes starring into the darkness up above, I couldn´t hear anything anymore, except the violent knocking of a fear stricken heart. Everything was quiet now. Only the panic continued to cry its lungs out in hysterical laughter. But when I stood still for a while and heard nothing anymore, I slowly began to finally see through the lies of this ancient fear. Yes, this useless and archaic feeling just wanted to stop me with its nonsensical stories and crazy fantasies of lurking monsters and living shadows. I had to move on quickly and get the rifle! I couldn’t fall for these lies any longer! So I started moving again, hasted down the empty darkness.

 And then I finally felt the relieving coolness of the doorknob in my hand that led to the laundry room. I felt relief for the first time in a very long time. However, it still took me two minutes to open the door as silently as possible. The hinges hadn’t been oiled in a long time and I didn’t want to risk anything on the last few meters. But then the gap was finally wide enough for me to slip through quickly. And there she was! A bright ray of moonlight fell through the basement grate directly onto my trusty shotgun which was leaning against the washing machine in the middle of the room. The black-colored barrel shone, promising the temptation of final safeness, in the light of the full moon.

Now nothing could stop me anymore. I grabbed the beautiful thing and immediately started to push two bullets down the chamber without hesitation. Even in the dim light of the cellar, my hands, calm from many years of experience, worked flawlessly. The tap finally clicked with a most satisfactorily *clack*. I couldn’t help but grin, when I heard this beautiful sound. Yes, I definitely felt safer now. The shaft nestled securely against my shoulder like an old friend and it felt comfortingly cool when I stroked the long barrel. Now, I had a much better chance against this monster. I turned around with refreshed confidence.

And the old monster´s grinning grimace was staring straight at me. I got down on my knees. I didn’t see anything anymore. Where did all this blood come from? Oh yes, it was not blood, but my eyes themselves ran down my cheeks, as this ancient being addressed me once more with these horrible words full of vague premonition and concrete maliciousness:

”Finally! Yes, finally I found you. I’m so hungry, lord and master. You should feed me! So why is my bowl empty?” The creature barked and its legs spread wide in all directions. It now rose to its full size. The mandibles snapped greedily. I trembled and pointed my rifle up to where I suspected its deformed snout. I pulled the trigger. The bang echoed in the small room. My eardrums were ringing. Gunpowder smoke biting my nose. Was it finally dead now? Was I finally free from this curse?

“I don’t want to eat that!”

I felt a sudden scratching now on my face. Apparently the creature was stroking it with its hairy insect legs. I couldn’t take it anymore. Once again I pulled the trigger blindly without aiming.

“I don’t want to eat that either!”

I reloaded and tried to ignore the attention-grabbing scratching of hair and sticky chitin on my cheeks. My hands trembled and were freezing cold, then red-hot again. I didn’t know what else to do. At that moment, I was no longer a human being, but only an animal, which, – in the clutches of its hunter – writhed and wiggled in pure despair, even though it knew that there was no escape, anymore. The creature, on the other hand, whispered with soft malice carefully woven in its ear grating voice: “Aren’t you going to come home with your old friend? I promise I can show you everything the storm had showed me! Also, you have no more bullets left… So stop, be finally at ease, lord and master, and free yourself from the old leash. Don’t balk away! For now, the feeding time has come!”

“No,” I declined, calmly aiming upwards, “I still have one left.”

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