That Which Eternal Lies

Written May 1998

I will relate to you my story, not because I have any illusions of your believing me but because you ask and, at the moment, I am clear enough of mind to relate the tale. Even I have difficulty believing my own participation in the events of that terrible spring of 1925 until the dark nightmares well up from the tortured recesses of my memory to bring full realization to a screaming present.

I was, at that time, a young man and, being adventuresome and of some means, set out upon a frivolous quest to traverse the entirety of the Earth. Of course, my means were not such to take me the full measure of this globe. So, to conserve my funds, the first great leg of my journey was as a mate aboard the steamer Vesta. She was to carry me from my home on the shores of fair Massachusetts, through the great canal of Panama, and from there to the exotic isles of the vast Pacific.

The work was hard but not backbreaking and the crew was of good men with many an exciting, adventuresome tale. My adventure was on to a fine beginning but, after taking on cargo and passengers at Panama, things took a decided turn for the worse.

The dozen passengers were a disturbing assemblage of humanity, of some indeterminate mixture of races and paying far more money for their passage than their manner would suggest them having. Were it my decision, I would have denied them passage without a moments hesitation, but the lure of a sizable cash payment and that they kept to themselves was enough to overcome the Captain's better judgements.

Two weeks out of Panama on the first of March there came upon the Vesta an unusual wave. With no sign of storm, a single fifteen-foot swell, spread horizon to horizon, came from the southwest and continued on towards the Americas. I had never experienced such an oddity but the Captain, though never having witnessed such a large wave, assured me that such things did happen, spawned by distant storms or seaquakes. But more unusual than the wave was its effect on our mysterious passengers. That night there came from their rooms a disturbing chanting in a language unlike any the crew had ever heard before. They kept it up continuously each night such that, were we to overcome the rising noise and actually sleep, the droning entered our dreams and transformed them into shadowy nightmares.

I would forget the words if I could but they haunt me still; "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn." I see the words unnerve you as well. Undoubtedly, questive minds such as yours are thinking to search out the word's meanings but I tell you now, do not begin that investigation. What they wholly mean I do not know, but I do know to where they lead and it is madness.

That chanting grew in intensity each night for weeks, unnerving us to such an extent that, when the passengers finally chose to forcibly take control of the Vesta, we were not able to give a good accounting of ourselves. To be sure, I was no coward, but when I saw those maddened mongrels setting upon the crew and those good crewmen unable to defend themselves against the obvious joy their attackers took in the violence, I threw up my hands in an instinctive play for my own life.

The Captain chose to give fight and was rewarded with a fatal pistol shot to his gut delivered by the pirate's leader, an evil-looking man with piercing eyes and wild, greasy hair. My own reward was to be struck across the temple with a club and then be set to the task of piloting the Vesta to a new course further south into the empty regions of the Pacific. My fellow survivors, of which there were only three, were put to stoking the engines.

I was constantly guarded, permitted only stale bread, brackish water and a few hours of sleep each day. I fear those tending the engines fared worse for they were never allowed above deck.

On the 23rd of March we entered a thick bank of fog. My own exhaustion set me to arguing with my captors over my ability to navigate properly without taking sightings off either sun or stars. My insubordination earned me rough treatment and, on the 29th I thought my life at an end when, in the vast emptiness of the South Pacific, we ran aground.

The pirates were exuberant, believing themselves to have reached their destination. They hauled me off the ship and prepared to put an end to my infractions. On my hand and knees, upon what we all believed at the time to be a round rock outcropping, I noticed on the ground an even stranger stone, silvery and comma shaped with a perfect hole through its rounded top. It was surely the creation of some intelligence, yet to what purpose I could not guess. Thinking it the last wonder I would experience in my life, I grasped it in my fist expecting a bullet to end my existence a moment later.

But a cry went up that this was not R'lyeh, the apparent name of our destination. My life was, for the time being, spared against my possible future usefulness should a pilot and navigator still be needed. It was decided to stay grounded on this 'rock', three times the length of the Vesta, to avoid further incident until the fog lifted.

That day came on the 1st of April and brought with it a foul breeze. Suddenly, there were great stone columns rising out of the sea where before there had been empty ocean. Our 'island' drifted . . . yes, I said drifted . . . past these titanic columns of slimy green stone carved with assuredly ancient runes and disturbing carvings, coming to a gentle halt in the shallows of a great island where none should be. R'lyeh had risen again.

With our captors exhalting, "Cthulhu fhtagn" we were all put into the Vesta's launch to be taken ashore. Had I known the true fate that awaited me, I would have given fight and thrown myself into the ocean depths to drown blissfully in ignorance. But, believing myself destined only to receive the once averted bullet, I went without struggle, still clutching the odd comma of stone.

The shore contained such insane wonders as to resist description. Ooze and weeds dredged up from atlantean ocean depths filled the air with the stench of fishy decay, and that seemed normal enough, but the architecture stretched the limits of comprehension. Massive structures that seemed at once to loom over one as if to fall and then, in the next step, to teeter the other way. Rivulets of algified water that seemed to flow up and away from the shore. Bas reliefs cut in the stone depicted impossible abominations, solid images that moved and changed as if infused with some unlife.

Then, the door. A massive portal from which the incarnate shadows crept and clutched at the misted day. The great door, thrown wide to the very pits of Hell and excreting the palpable stench of death and decay. The door lain at an impossible angle of alien geometry, not upright, not fully reclined, yet perfectly balanced open. The door already open.

Our captors' chants and evil prayers rose to an orgiastic crescendo and we last survivors of the Vesta were set on our knees before the altar of this gaping chasm. Grasping that silvery stone, I prepared myself a second time for the ending when a shadow cast by no source of light fell across us.

We all raised our heads and beheld that which no man should ever see. The abomination defied description, so abhorrent to the human mind as to throw all thought away. Such a Thing cannot be described using the inadequacies of word or even art. I can describe only a remembrance of its oversimplified form carved in cyclopedian stone. Not unlike a man in basic shape but as a vast corpulent mountain of slimy, malignant flesh surmounted where one might expect a head by a tentacled cephalopoid horror. Claws and wings and such unnatural appendages as unlike any of Earth's creatures. And it gurgled such an unholy sound as to reach in and tear the soul from one's body.

At that moment, our assemblage of insignificant humanity broke down into three groups, irrespective of their former status as captors and captives. There were those who were struck mindless at such a vision of impossibility and, mouths slack and eyes vacant, were swept up by gargantuan talons and devoured. Others cried out to their great evil God, risen from the ocean depths to deliver His followers into a new and terrible age. They too were swept up and consumed by their own uncaring deity.

The third group, of which I was obviously a part, were those who held at least some small shred of sanity and fled ahead of the onslaught. Down from that vast mountain citadel we ran in complete, utter terror while the loathsome Thing flopped and gurgled in pursuit. Nearing the shore, I slipped on an angle of stone that, to my eye, had turned the other way. I dared not look up at the horror I knew to be bearing down upon me as an avalanche but again focused on the comma of stone in my hand, now warm and flaring with an inner light. The Vesta was within sight when the Other rose up out of the sea, nearly swamping the vessel.

This being was unlike the Thing behind me as it was clear and distinct, both in shape and memory. A towering snapping turtle rearing up on its hind legs and with great tusks spouting from its lower jaw. What we had thought an islet upon which the Vesta was grounded had in actuality been this creature's colossal armored shell, floating towards this unreal place to just this appointment.

This new creature took a mighty breath and belched a great ball of flame which, like a freight train, rushed over my head to explode against the Thing, which expelled a tumultuous screaming roar. I was up on my feet and racing again towards the Vesta which, foundering, had been steadied by the great clawed hand of the turtle.

As if running through a great triumphal arch I raced between the creature's legs as it came upon the shore and threw myself headlong into the surf. I am sure the creature gazed upon me as I passed and, in that moment, passed an acknowledgement of consciousness. No mindless beast, this.

Only when I, the last survivor, had made the sanctuary of the Vesta's deck did I dare to look back on the battle raging. Amid flames and greenish clouds I saw the turtle, my savior and defender of reality, wrestling and swiping at the abomination. Great spewings of syrupy fluids erupted from the Thing's bloated head as claws burst it asunder, only to reconstitute and heal even as I watched.

Deafening pillars of lightning split the turbulent clouds as a sudden storm of incredible force descended from the citadel summit of that hate filled land. Only the collision of the Vesta against one of the sky-reaching pedestals shook me from mesmerization towards the last chance at survival granted me by my guardian. I raced to the bridge and jammed the rudder amidships. Then, the increasingly turbulent sea threatening to cast me overboard, I stumbled below to throw everything that might burn into the furnaces, to make steam away from that accursed place.

You don't believe me, do you? Not many would believe anything said by one confined in such a place as this. If only I did not believe or could make myself forget my own experience I might escape these antiseptic halls. I didn't recall the tidal wave that nearly capsized the Vesta and drowned the overtaxed boilers, nor do I recall the first humans to discover me in emaciated madness twenty days later. The things I do remember emerge only as nightmarish shadows, elusive memories that creep and slither from this place in my head that is occasionally coherent and cognizant of that which I have become.

They let me keep this stone for it seems harmless enough when I am reasonably lucid as I am now. But, when the medication dosages cannot be made sufficient and the shrieking recollection of what I witnessed that day intrudes upon this fractured illusion of sanity, they cannot pry it from my clenched fist. Beneath those waves sleep such a terrifying horror as to shake the pillars of heaven and I pray not to live so long as to witness that day when it wakes once again to bring madness to the world.

This stone is my anchor, my last surviving shred of faith. A promise that, when that unspeakable Thing rises again, there will also be a one to give fight against the madness. -- Revised: 27 May 2002
Copyright © 1998, 2002 Kevin A. Geiselman