Thursday, May 5, 2016

Story: "Nameless, Timeless"

"A temple to the faceless god lies within those sands, and with this map I will find it!"

Edgar Hamilton carried himself in that cocksure way only men who know the whole world adores them can. Given his recent discovery of an ancient map, perhaps the world did. However, I hated him, and his awful rose-scented cologne, and his Souvarov moustache. What my brother saw in him, I do not know.

Edgar and Roger--my brother--possessed a shared obsession with ancient religion. Roger lectured on the historical occult at Miskatonic, while Edgar traveled far afield in search of ruined temples. Perhaps this is what Roger admired in that loathsome man. But many  men were archaeologists and also not Edgar Hamilton.

At some point in his friendship with Roger, Edgar mistook my polite dislike for coyness. Since then, I have been quite unable to halt his unctuous attentions.

Good heavens! Was the man still rambling on?

"--I shall mount a grand expedition into the desert--You must come with, my friend! Your expertise and companionship would be invaluable to me."

Roger demurred, murmuring about lecturing duties. In that moment I loved my brother as never before.

"Oh, bosh!" Edgar clapped Roger on the back. "Tell 'em it's for research--I'll arrange it all, old boy."

And then Roger said those dreadful words. "Well...I should rather like to, but I can hardly leave Eileen alone for months..."

A guffaw from Edgar. "Pshaw! Is that all? Why, she might just as well come along too! I've seen her reading Jung and Prinn. She could lecture nearly as well as you, I wager!"

There was nothing more to it. Edgar swept aside all protests with his usual loathsome blithness.

We departed a month later, on a steamer bound for Cairo. Roger, now caught up in the spirit of the thing, spent every waking moment discussing logistics with Edgar. As for myself, I spent as much time as possible sequestered away. Studying the cult of the faceless god, I explained. As if any dabbler in the occult did not know of Nyarlathotep! I know what the faithful of the Black Pharoah professed. I knew the promises of the Crawling Chaos.

I had progressed beyond Roger's sanitized, expurgated texts long ago. Like so many dabblers, Roger's interest in eldritch things was a dilettante's, searching for the controlled thrill of a cheap Gothic novel.

What drew me into the left-hand path was a promise of power. These Old Ones had priestesses as well as priests. All were equally insignificant to the inscrutable Outside!

All idle fancy, of course. I was a young woman reliant on her brother. The flappers and suffragettes did not appeal to me. And everyone knows that all those old books were written by religious crackpots.

Edgar, when I could not escape him, grew quite intolerable. At dinners he waxed eloquent about how this discovery would shake the world ensure his future--his, not ours--and then, voice dipping to a confidential whisper, all0w him to marry. The leer on his face sent me into conniptions each time.

When he spoke of what plunder the faceless god's temple might hold, the light in his eyes shone with dead men's dreams. His hideous theories about sacrifice and ritual in the temple could have given Prinn nightmares. For myself, the brush of his hand upon my arm kept me awake with dread.

At last we reached Cairo. Dreadful place. All heat and bustle and babbling tongues. It stank of spice and sewage.

Everywhere we went, traders accosted us with wares. Edgar walked now with intense purpose. Roger and I drifted behind as if in the wake of the Medusa. Much haggling occurred, over camels and guides and porters and supplies.

After a week we set out into the desert. If I thought Cairo smelled, camels were worse. I've heard the beasts called "ships of the desert." Most ships do not palpably hate their passengers. Of course, Edgar got along fabulously with his mount, lending him plenty of time to bustle about me in a solicitious fashion. He wore a pith helmet, whether as an affectation or a convenience I do not know.

Nearly a week of wending from one oasis to another later, everyone grew saddlesore. Even Edgar. And so all of us rejoiced when, after consultation with a guide and his precious map, Edgar announced that the faceless god's temple lay one more day away. Poor Roger nearly wept. Heat had broiled him like a lobster; I believed him sunstruck.

Near sunset the next day we found it. The temple of the faceless god, blood-golden in the dying sunlight. Architecturally, it resembled Grecian ruins far more than any Egyptian temple--a rectangular structure, walls faced with fluted columns. I found the effect incongrous.

Edgar insisted we make camp and leave exploration for the morrow. Even I could agree this was sensible. Still, I found myself gazing at that ancient temple as a starving man eyes table scraps. The temple of the faceless god existed! Might then the faceless god spoken of by Prinn and Jung also exist? I thrilled at the possibility, the chance of power and freedom. None of us, I daresay, slept a wink that night.

We rose at dawn and prepared to enter. Roger and Edgar bore cameras, I carried a field journal. In fresh morning light, the temple's resemblance to a Grecian structure grew more profound. Edgar commented on the similarity, gloating over its archaelogical significance. The pillock.

All together, we ascended a small flight of steps and entered the faceless god's temple. At the front lay a wide, open area--for worshippers to kneel or mingle--I knew without knowing. Near the rear stood a raised dais, and upon it an altar of red stone. On the surrounding four walls rolled an unbroken panorama of heiroglyphics, a history of the cult.

A faceless figure--Nyarlathotep!--descending from the stars, burning scepter in hand. Smaller figures prostrate before the faceless one. Rays of power descending upon some of the worshippers: Three women and two men. The blessed ones partaking in rites. (To describe them would upend your sensibility). The actions were improper, blasphemous in their adulation. I revelled in every image. There was power here for men and women alike.

Edgar and Roger had moved to examine the altar. I hurried to join them.

Much like the surrounding walls, the altar was decorated with obscene and titillating heiroglyphs. Gazing upon it, I realized it consisted of a single block of the same sandy stone as the rest of the temple, but stained a deep and even rust. In the center of the altar, a circular depression had been hollowed out.

Seized by a whim, I darted out to our camp and returned with a waterskin, which I emptied into the depression. Roger looked befuddled, but Edgar grasped my intent. "Clever, dear girl! Quite clever!"

My fingers twitched and I longed to slap him. This desire was set aside as a grinding sound echoed from the altar. Slowly that great block of stone slid back to reveal a staircase. I believe that Edgar kissed me then. I do not clearly remember. But it was then my dislike for him crystallized into hatred.

Procuring torches, we descended into a great circular chamber with shrouded walls. Through a tattered curtain, I caught a glimpse of more heiroglyphs. Their secret gospels, no doubt.

Edgar and Roger drew off to opposite walls, brushing aside the shrouding fabric. But my attention focused on the abyss looming at the far side of the room.

No. Not an abyss. A tabernacle of lightless black stone, darker than my loathing for Edgar. It called to me with a pulsing psychic moan.

I stepped closer, and trod upon fabric. Underfoot lay four bodies, garbed as the blessed ones depicted on the walls. Two men and two women. Where was the fifth?

As if in response to my unspoken question, a grey-glowing fog began to seep forth from the tabernacle. It swirled up around me and I felt my spirit torn away.

I stood, a spectator spirit, as Edgar and Roger--no, two priests--struggled over a dagger. At their feet lay the bodies of two other blessed ones. While the priests fought, the last priestess passed through me as one walks through a curtain, bearing a swathed and squalling bundle.

My spirit dissolved and I returned to corporeal form. Though I did not know what had transpired, I understood its implications. And I understood myself.

In the world of the present, Edgar shouted. "My name goes first on this discovery! I'll not take no for an answer, Roger!"

"Rubbish! Equal billi--"

Roger did not finish. A gunshot rang out, but as it dispersed... I--I do not remember. But Edgar is dead. So is Roger.

The tabernacle lies open. Inside is a mask of cold black stone. Expressionless. Featureless.

Somehow I know that it is the Oracle of the faceless god. And I am his lost prophet, returned at last.