When I recall that night so many years ago, among the foul mists and brackish fens of the Great Southern Swamp, a great wave of shame and guilt rises within me, beneath which lies a vaster and darker force: madness, pure and unending, threatening to swallow me whole.
That morning, I had set out with Cedric (a fellow medical student at Miskatonka State) with the intention of putting to rest a ludicrously backwoods Southern legend. We had set off in a massive horse-carriage, a true leviathan capable of holding twenty souls, which bore the chrome mark of its maker: Chrysler Manufactory, Detroit.
As we left Atlanta, we gave the horses free rein, and our great carriage set sail down the broad, cypress-lined highways. Our easy progress, however, was not to last. As the hours stretched on, an oppressive mist began to rise from the accursed marshes that surrounded us. Cedric and I spent uncountable hours peering into the gloom, and just as I was about to lose all hope, at the side of the road, a faded sign shewed forth:
SHACK OF INDULGENCE
Our wagon shuddered as it turned off the highway and onto the dirt road, following the arrow on the sign, the horses whinnying in indignation — or perhaps fear. I cannot say how long we continued along that accursed lane of rock and dirt. I may have slept, but if I did, it brought no rest; only shallow nightmares. After interminable hours in that gloom, as we were about to abandon all hope, there suddenly appeared from the darkness a second sign more faded than the first:
SHACK OF INDULGENCE
500 YARDS — PLENTIFUL PARKING — FREE ICE-CREAM
Our driver halted and I stepped out and approached the sign, raising my electric torch to read the words scrawled below the painted letters in what appeared to be a tramp’s lip-rouge:
STAY AWAY, FOOLS
FOR BAL CH’GAATH REIGNS
AT THE ZIGGURAT OF LHAV-SH’AAK
Shaken, I returned to our wagon and bade the coachman continue — but no matter how he whipped or coaxed the horses, they refused to go any further, and we had no choice but to proceed on foot. Alone in the wilderness and utterly servantless, we trudged on through the foul swamps, knee-deep in brackish water, serenaded by toads and spectral mynah-birds.
Eventually, we broke free of the oppressive canopy and into a moonlit clearing — where, suddenly and horribly, we beheld, set way back in the middle of the field, a vast and inconceivable structure, rising from the darkness under sickly moonlight. From within the stone temple came a cacophony of voices, chanting a profane, inscrutable incantation.
We braced ourselves and approached the massive stone door. Unsure as to how to open it, we banged and banged upon it with our bare hands until, with a terrible grinding sound, it slid slowly open, releasing a hellish blast of heat, scented with exotic perfumes and mint juleps, loud with peals of drunken laughter.
We stepped through the terrible portico and into the dark temple, lit only by torchlight. The heat within was stifling, almost oven-like, as if the whole structure had been built over some ancient magmic vent. Our discomfort soon overcame our modesty, and we were compelled to remove the majority of our garments.
As our eyes adjusted, we beheld throngs of swaying bodies, themselves barely clothed, caught up in some sort of blood-trance, all of them shimmying as if to some unheard music, circling a massive, formless statue, all intertwined in a seething mass of sweat-covered skin and beehived hair-dos that seemed to defy gravity. As the voices grew around me, and countless profane hands strafed over my naked flesh, the words of the chant, which at first had seemed mere sounds, grew clear:
The rust upon the roof of tin
shall see your heart and know your sin.
I soon lost myself in the primitive, rhythmic chanting — how much more difficult it must have been for Cedric, who was a quarter-Iberian on his mother’s side — until I was shaken from my reverie by a great and terrible shuddering of the floor. I gazed upward and beheld the unimaginable: the stone statue, or what I had thought was a statue, beginning to rise. Its aspect was indescribable; I remember countless eyes and an overabundance of appendages assembled into a profane, ancient form, incomprehensible to the human mind.
Its horrible gaze fell upon me, and immediately its disciples swarmed over me and tore off what remained of my ragged clothing. With frightening speed, the hulking form began to advance. I broke free of the seething mob and found my clothes upon the stone floor, whereupon I drew from my vest pocket several bags of glitter-powder I carried for such occasions.
Taking aim at what I assumed to be the creature’s eyes, I threw one of the bags, which exploded into a cloud of fabulous iridescence. I shall never forget the shriek of that eldritch thing: ageless and unearthly. I ran outside, and with all the strength I could muster slid the massive stone slab closed behind me and collapsed in exhaustion on the temple’s stone portico.
And then I heard it — oh, gods! — a sound more hideous and unearthly than I could ever imagine: the sound of countless beings throwing their own bodies against the door of the temple, pulverizing themselves against the immovable stone. And above it all, the voice of my companion, trapped within that sepulcher of lust, now a charnel-house… not crying out… no, I can hardly bear to say it… he was laughing, laughing with the depraved, animalistic sounds of the truly mad, and would forever pound his bare fists against the stone: bang, bang, banging on the door for eternity!
Gathering what was left of my sanity, I turned and walked into the darkness. I left no traces in that abominable place, save for a faint, gleaming trail: glitter on the front portico, glitter on the highway, glitter on the reeds and bracken of that cursed swamp.