The story below is a winner from our Fiction Fantastic Young Writers Contest, open to all youth in Lane County. For more information on this contest, including how to enter, visit here. Support this program with a donation.
You can purchase this story in the 2022 Winners Anthology, Tales from the Deep Beyond here.
“Of Madness and Men” by Joseph Davis, Cal Young Middle School
Third Place, Middle School Level, 2022
Of Madness and Men
By Joseph Davis
Cal Young Middle School
Now, I am a man of science. I believe that nothing is without a logical explanation. So why do I find myself struggling to find something, anything, to explain away what happened on that cold November night?
I should elaborate. My name is Dr. Alexander Mortimer, and I am a physician. I am sixty-seven years of age, with no wife, children, or living family to speak of. The incident that I speak of occurred on November 18th, 1949. I was thirty-two at the time, in Wales on a business trip to the city of Halsbury. Frustratingly, our train broke down 120 miles away from our destination, at about 8:00 pm. Luckily, we were able to lodge in a small, nearby town called Millington. I asked the elderly keeper of a nearby shop where one might find someplace to stay the night, and he simply pointed down the street and said, “Turn left at the cemetery. It’s right there, you can’t miss it.” I thanked him and started down the road with my briefcase in hand. As I walked, I heard him shout something to my back, but I paid it no mind. As I walked past the cemetery, I suddenly felt very cold and odd, like someone or something was watching me. It made me rather uncomfortable. I shivered and quickened my pace, and found the hotel without issue. I checked in, went to my room, and fell asleep.
A crash startled me from my bed in the middle of the night. I checked my pocketwatch, the time read 12:38. I then heard an odd groaning, almost like a wounded man’s low cry for help. I got dressed and pulled on my wool overcoat as quickly as I could and rushed to the bottom floor, thinking that somebody had fallen down the stairs or a shelf had been overturned and had trapped somebody beneath its weight. When I entered the dining area, I found that all was well, except . . . the back door was hanging open, and there was an odd black liquid in a small pool on the floor. “Maybe coffee?” I thought to myself as I strode out the door, seeking to find the source of the noise and the open door. Then, I saw a cloaked figure staring at me from the darkness. As soon as I noticed it and called out, “Who’s there?” it disappeared into the cemetery.
Almost blindly (for it was very dark,) I followed the figure. At this point, I was following whomever or whatever it was purely out of my own curiosity. Was it perhaps a thief, who, while entering the building, had dropped a piece of his equipment or knocked something over and fled? I pondered this as I walked briskly towards the ivy-choked gates of the cemetery. They were already ajar, and so I squeezed through the gap and entered the field of headstones and mausoleums. Oh, how I wish I had simply gone back to bed or at least enlisted help from another. How foolish I was that night.
As I walked among the graves, I began to hear some rather odd noises, like a dog’s snuffling. Perhaps a stray had squeezed through a gap in the fence and was now looking for food? I paid it no mind. I was intent on finding and apprehending the man, who I had at that point decided was a clumsy or inexperienced thief. I would find him, report him to the authorities, and then return to my bed. It could not have been a minute after I had this thought that I saw him dash into the section of mausoleums.
“Stop!” I cried, and gave chase. Through the maze of stone crypts we went, my feet matching his in pace. Every corner we took, I was sure I saw him disappear behind another! It was maddening, to speak the truth. After a long while of chasing, he finally made a mistake, and turned a corner too tightly. He slipped on the rain-soaked grass and fell to the ground, his breath heaving in his chest. I approached the fallen man, removing his hood to reveal . . . the shopkeeper? But something was wrong. He looked terrified, he was shaking, and tears rolled down his cheeks. I could have sworn his hair was whiter than it had been when we had first met. I was about to begin my verbal assault for his incompetence when he cut me off.
“It has no eyes with which to see, and yet I still feel its gaze.”
I grabbed him by the shirt with both hands and shook him violently. “Get ahold of yourself, man! Are you mad!?” I cried, my anger now replaced with confusion and worry. Was he drunk? Had that puddle of liquid on the ground been spilled beer? And yet, he continued his accursed chanting.
“It has no tongue with which to speak, and yet I still hear its voice.”
What was he talking about? Was he truly a madman? All of these thoughts rushed through my head as I grabbed him, pulled him to his feet, and started half-dragging him to the cemetery’s gate, with him muttering his gibberish all the way along.
“It has no mouth with which to feed, so how is it eating away at me even now?”
As we moved closer and closer to the wrought iron gates of the cemetery, I began to hear the groaning noise again, but this time it was louder, angrier. As it intensified, the shopkeeper’s muttering became speaking, and as whispers and demented laughter and screams were added to the groaning, his speaking became slurred shouting, and his sentences forming together into a river of garbled words.
“IT HAS NO EYES IT HAS NO TONGUE IT HAS NO MOUTH IT’S HERE IT’S HERE IT’S HERE!” he yelled. We were almost to the gate when the old shopkeeper stiffened. He grabbed me by the shoulders and his wide, madness-addled eyes suddenly calmed as stared into mine. “Leave,” he said softly, but with a steely determination. “The beast is not far behind, and I have lived long in this world. You are young. You have much ahead of you. Go!”
I was about to protest when he shoved me, hard, through the gates of the cemetery. I fell onto my back, and then I heard the shopkeeper scream, a scream of the purest, most palpable kind of fear imaginable. As I looked up, I saw . . . it.
Now, I write this as clearly as I can remember it, and I remember it like it was yesterday. The closest thing I can approximate it to was the crawling chaos Nyarlathotep from the works of Lovecraft. It was an enormous shadow that shifted its shape before my very eyes. One moment it was a giant grey-skinned hound, with ribs visible through the skin and a foaming mouth, and another it was a mass of the same foul black slime I had seen on the floor, covered in gaping maws of sharpened teeth and eyes that bored into my soul. It became things too horrible to describe, and thoughts that were not my own invaded my mind. “Give in. I am life, I am death. I am all, I am nothing. I am the end, I am the beginning. I was here before, and I will be here after. I am God, I am the Devil. From the great Void beneath, I was born, and to the Void I shall one day return. I give shape to the nightmares of men. I am war. I am madness. I am plague. I am suffering made flesh. You are nothing. Give in.” And yet, somehow, through a combination of a will to live, instinct, and pure, unadulterated fear, I found the strength to run.
And so, I ran.
I write this with shaking hands. Ever since I left that accursed town, I have been paranoid, unable to sleep without the strongest medication, and even when I do, nightmares plague me. Am I mad? Perhaps. Perhaps not. I feel as though, on that night, I saw something that I wasn’t supposed to see. Something . . . not meant for the minds, or eyes, or even worlds, of mortal men. Since that night, all that has followed me has been misfortune, misery, and death. All who I have tried to love or befriend have fallen ill or gone mad. The beast has marked me, and I believe it has been following me. When I die, I do not fear the light of heaven nor the flames of hell, for I have already seen far worse.
I can hear the groaning sound again.
If I am to die today, then know this, dear reader: I am not a madman. Madness would be preferable to having seen what I saw. It is hopeless to take up arms against the damnable thing. But, I will not die without a fight.
The groaning is getting louder.
I take up my cross and my pistol.
I steel my resolve.
This is the end.
Dr. Alexander Mortimer