True-to-life Lovecraftian horror. / Any good analogy seems obvious in retrospect. / “Well, why don’t you write a story that a few million people will love and a few hundred million people will hate?” – “I can do that.” / The Greatest Story Ever Told.
⁓The Voice before the Void
“The Cult of the Monstrous Man-God”
The Voice before the Void
“It is tonight, Larsen.”
Alexandrov was picking through coils of rope stacked on a shelf. With his right hand, he hoisted one coil off the shelf and upward into the florescent light glare from overhead, eyed it, then, pursing his lips in apparent satisfaction, stuffed the rope into the rucksack in his left hand.
“What, exactly, is tonight?”
Alexandrov’s summons to the clubhouse that morning had been peremptory and irrefusable; it was the culmination of many months of outlandish research and surreptitious inquiry.
“I have information – don’t ask me how I got it – of a secret ritual taking place this very night, Larsen. It is a ritual of a most bizarre and enshadowed cult.” Alexandrov had moved from one storeroom into another, with me trailing behind. He was ranging his eyes evaluatingly over a stock of knives. “A cult that many otherwise worldly and learned men refuse to believe actually exists – for the actual existence of such a cult and its beliefs would be too horrifying to accept. But I have acquired near-proof that this cult does exist, Larsen – that, in fact, there is a contingent in this very region.” Alexandrov paused, rolled his eyes upward thoughtfully, and added, “Which, I suppose, is not so very surprising.” Glancing back at the knives arranged on the shelves, Alexandrov set upon the concrete floor the rucksack in his left hand, took the second rucksack off his shoulder and set it next to the first, then threw a sheath knife into each ruck. He straightened up and looked at me significantly. “And this ritual to be enacted tonight in remoteness and secrecy, Larsen, is perhaps their most sacred – and disturbing – ritual. I trust you’re with me?”
I picked one of the rucksacks off the floor and shouldered it. “Since that business on the Ridge, Alexandrov, you know that I am ever with you.”
Alexandrov smiled warmly and clapped my shoulder. “Good, good, Larsen.” He turned to the other side of the storeroom. “In the last half-year, Larsen, I have seen fragments of their books – ancient tomes, forbidden things – filled with wonders and horrors that strain sanity.” Alexandrov was surveying the firearms. “The legends they tell, the mysteries they reveal, the horrors they exult… Such books ought not to exist.” Alexandrov picked from a rack two 20-gauge shotguns with the barrels shorn off quite short: effective for close-in work and not much else. “I don’t want to tell you the effort and resources it took to locate and gain access to such things. These are books that but few people in this world have ever seen, and that none can encounter and remain unchanged by the mere horrible knowledge that such books exist.”
“I thought you looked aged,” I interjected with a grim grin.
“The worry is upon me, Larsen,” Alexandrov replied somberly. “The main cause for such is the realization of the terrifying influence that such books can have upon diseased or evil minds.” He held out to me one of the shotguns.
I squinted my eyes at Alexandrov and, after a pause, accepted the weapon. Alexandrov turned to an ammunition locker. I pulled back the slide of the shotgun, opening the chamber.
“Do you really think we will need the armament?” I asked, peering into the chamber of the shotgun.
Two bandoliers in his hand, Alexandrov turned to face me and intoned solemnly, weirdly:
“It is written that men will rise from the dead.”
* * *
As we checked the Legend Tripper before departing, Alexandrov twice pointedly verified that the supplemental gasoline can bolted to the exterior of the vehicle was full.
We loaded the gear and ourselves into the Legend Tripper, left the club compound, and drove north, away from the city. We drove far, far into the north.
* * *
We drove north into the old woods.
“What is the plan?”
The lights of the dashboard lit Alexandrov’s face eerily as he worked the wheel, guiding us over the black wet two-lane asphalt road and through a heavy hanging springtime nightmist. I was eating Reese’s Pieces.
“We are going to observe the ritual, document it… and, if need be – if even possible – stop whatever the cultists might call into this world.”
I jolted at Alexandrov’s words, and scanned the dark trees lining the road, intently but futilely attempting to pierce the forest with my gaze. I leaned forward and looked upward through the windshield at the black cloud-covered sky. “What might they ‘call’ into this world, and from where?” I chewed the Reese’s Pieces with my mouth open.
“They believe that an alternate dimension exists parallel to our world and is intimately connected with our world, and, most horribly, they believe that this dimension is accessible to humans… but in only one manner: through death. As to ‘what’ they might call forth… Well, this night is the purported anniversary of the night upon which, a couple thousands of years ago, they believe their murdered man-god rose from the dead.”
The windshield wipers pumped across the windshield intermittently.
I had found the opened one-pound bag of Reese’s Pieces in the glove compartment; the candy was not fresh.
“What of this ‘man-god’?” I proked.
Alexandrov was quiet for a moment; his weirdly lit face was contemplative. I scraped my molars with my tongue; peanut butter had adhered to every tooth, it seemed. Finally, Alexandrov said, “This is not any analogue of some recognizable, fabled, apathetic god of our known religions. There is nothing familiar about this thing; nothing sane about it. This is no dreaming god beneath the gentle waves, nor any such god-creature from placid, indifferent outer space. This is a man-god, born of earth; a man-god-thing bred of some imperceivable entity and born of a human host, imbued with a power from some unknown and unseen and unseeable dimension, but with the passion and fury of a mortal man. This is a monster, is what this is. And it has a terrible, terrible, powerful interest in humankind.”
I was utterly befuddled. “What kind of a god would be interested in humanity?”
“You have struck the point exactly, Larsen: this is no god – not as we would understand a god. This is a meddling god; this is a feeling god; this is a judging god – this is a man as god.”
Stunned for a moment at this outrageous notion, I finally croaked in response: “I can imagine nothing more horrific.”
“Nor should you try,” Alexandrov replied.
* * *
We had turned off the wet pavement onto a muddy two-rut track leading into the deep, dense woods. As we crept along through the darkness, Larsen was disclosing to me incredible details about this impossible cult.
“They believe in unseen things, Larsen – unperceived things. They believe that a person is not a person, not made of meat and blood, but that a person is a mystical, magical, otherworldly, undying entity, and that the meat is just an embodiment of that immortal entity upon this world.”
The wheels slid and spun through the mud.
“Truly, there are people who believe such? This cannot be. This is madness!”
“Indeed, Larsen: utter madness. And this is why these cultists are so dangerous. They have not merely no connection with reality, but they have an active denial of reality, and an unswervable belief in a supernatural realm of immense power. And in their madness they would go to any length for their blood-encrusted man-god – if they had the numbers, they would go to war and burn the world – they would march to holy wars that would make our medieval Cthulades for the Sacred Isles look like slap-fights between babes.”
Dazed, I stared out into the black, bleak night, which now seemed all the more sinister, for my new knowledge of the human horror that must be out in it.
* * *
The woods had become yet denser and the track had dissolved. We parked the Legend Tripper and shouldered our gear, to continue further into the forest on foot, to Alexandrov’s expensively acquired GPS coordinates of the ritual.
“Be warned, Larsen – these cultists may be cannibals.” Alexandrov spoke as he tilted gasoline out of the supplementary can into a bottle and strapped the bottle to his ruck.
“Yes. In the fragments of their dread tomes that we have, there are passages that describe the consuming of flesh and the drinking of blood as consistent components of even their most commonplace rituals.”
I thumbed shells out of the bandolier slung across my chest and into the tube of the shotgun in my hand.
“I’m glad we brought the scatterguns,” I observed with sudden earnestness.
* * *
We walked for hours, hearing nightbirds call into the gloom and our own faint forest-floor-softened footfalls and nothing else. We were walking uphill, and the grade gradually got steeper, until it rapidly got much steeper. As we tramped upward, Alexandrov spoke.
“There may be children – boys – there, as well.”
I was silent; no reply seemed appropriate.
“In the oldest incarnations of the cult, there are no priestesses whatever, and the high priests are disallowed sexual relations with women. The cultists provide their own sons to the high priests to… service them.”
“I cannot believe this.”
“We are encroaching upon an evil that is unbelievable.”
* * *
The grade leveled somewhat; Alexandrov halted us. He referred to the GPS device a final time, then put it away into his ruck. He retrieved his camera from his ruck and hung it by its strap around his neck.
“Not far now, Larsen,” he said. We chambered rounds in the shotguns, then moved forward, shotguns in our hands.
Moving slowly and more slowly, cautiously and more cautiously, past black treetrunk after black treetrunk, we eventually discerned a sound floating through the forest.
It is no exaggeration to state that it was a sound more eerie than any I had heard before and any I have heard since.
Moving yet onward, yet more carefully, stepping and pausing, stepping and pausing, the sound grew more distinct.
It was a monotone, call-and-response chanting, in an unplaceable language. One stentorian voice would recite strings of bizarre syllables, then a group of voices would repeat certain of those syllables. Though human voices were producing these outre sounds, the tone of the chanting was inhuman, emotionless, deadened.
The effect that hearing that unright sound in the night forest had upon me was profound; my skin, particularly at the back of my neck and down my spine, felt physically chilled.
Onward we crept, until we perceived faint light shining through the trees ahead of us.
Growing more wary with each careful step, crouching down and moving from tree trunk to tree trunk, we crept still closer to the source of the chanting and the flickering light.
We discovered that, some meters yet in front of us, a fallen tree lay between us and the object of our investigation; it was not large, but it afforded some little cover to hide ourselves behind. We flattened ourselves to the ground and crawled slowly to the log. There we paused, sharing a significant glance and nod between us, faint shadows flickering upon the tree branches about us, then raised our eyes above the log to peer towards the source of the eerie light in the forest.
I took in a sight that no human ought ever to see, and certainly that no human can see and continue to hold honest faith in the inherent goodness of humanity nor in the safe and mundane reality of the commonplace world. Indeed, I know that a portion of my sanity was sacrificed forever in the moment of my mere first glance of that accursed ritual of blasphemous horror.
In a miniscule clearing, a score of men and women were lined up in rows before a tall altar, facing the altar, though with their heads bowed. They were all standing upon their knees, as slaves, though not appearing cowed, but rather with an air of the fanatic servant: one who is keen to subsume one’s own will and submit wholly to a terrible outside power. Behind the altar stood a man in bizarre costume consisting of white robes with purple and green ribbons laid across the back of his neck and running down the front of the robes, and with a tall pointed hat of gold and white. Flaring candles covered the altar, throwing an unbearably grotesque light about the tiny clearing and, especially, upon the disturbingly solemn face of the high priest. Behind the high priest – oh, it is almost too awful to describe! – there stood a grotesque carven idol of a sallow man nailed to two pieces of lumber. The man’s arms were stretched wide and he was nailed through the wrists and feet. In the ghastly candlelight, I could see that the idol was painted: red blood was captured in effigy pouring out of wounds on the hanging man’s head and body and from the abhorrent wounds in his extremities. Thankfully, there were no children present.
I was shocked to paralysis. After several moments of staring horror-struck at the scene, I regained myself and ducked my head back behind the log. Sickened, I whispered dazedly: “That idol! Never have I seen something so hideous!”
“It is their sacrificed man-god. They worship him fervently and love him fanatically.” Alexandrov was quickly but smoothly and quietly configuring the settings on his camera; he was whispering just as quickly. “They believe him to be both son of a father-god and an intrinsic, incomprehensible part of that same father-god, as well as born of a human woman.” He poked the camera above the log, looked at the viewer, then pulled the camera down again and rapidly adjusted settings. “They believe they can talk directly to him, and that he listens, and that he will talk directly to them, if they be worthy. They believe he protects them because they serve him and that he is fated to punish the remainder of humanity. They believe he is their savior, to save them from this world.”
“Great Old Ones, I cannot believe it!” I was yet dazed.
“It is unbelievable. Many refuse to believe that such madness can actually exist amongst humanity.” Alexandrov was again aiming his camera at the awful ritual. As he snapped a picture, the camera made a soft “click” sound.
“Why the blood? Why is he covered in blood?”
“Their savior man-god was executed as a criminal.”
My mind was reeling; “Insanity! Insanity!” reverberated within it.
“And they believe that he will come again. And they believe that his coming will be concurrent with the destruction of the world.” Alexandrov was clicking pictures. “They are waiting for that return.” Alexandrov pulled his head back from the camera and looked up, in thought. “Though perhaps not patiently,” he added, then returned his attention to his picture-taking.
My mind slowly pulling out of its daze, I became aware of an odd incongruity. “Is that not a digital camera?” I asked.
“It is a digital camera,” Alexandrov answered.
“Why does it make a shutter-click sound?”
“Ah, that’s an interesting matter, Larsen.” Alexandrov smiled indulgently as his attention momentarily diverted from the arcane and abhorrent cult ritual taking place before us. “Because film cameras have always made a ‘click’ sound when the button is pressed, camera-users expect to hear such a sound when they press the button of any camera. Manufacturers thus add an artificial ‘click’ sound to their digital camera buttons. This is but one example of the fascinating phenomenon of –”
“Is there a way to disable the ‘click’ sound?” I interrupted.
Alexandrov pushed his eyebrows together and pursed his lips speculatively. “Hm, not that I know of,” he proffered, then resumed clicking pictures.
The high priest was chanting in an unnatural cadence in a bizarre language. At intervals, the cultists would chant back certain syllables. The overall effect was singularly outre and unsettling.
“What is that language, Alexandrov? Do you recognize it?”
“It is Latin,” Alexandrov intoned gravely.
“No!” I whispered. “How can that be?”
“This is an ancient cult, Larsen.” He gazed intently into the viewer on his camera. “Ancient, and insane, and dangerous.”
The chanting continued for what seemed hours, but was probably mere minutes, before ceasing abruptly. I cautiously raised my eyes and peeked over the log. After a long moment’s silent pause, the cultists rose from their knees to their feet and began singing in unison! The effect was supremely eerie.
Gazing upon that abominable scene, I became transfixed by the candle flames atop the broad altar. As I stared, the flames of several of the candles seemed to merge into one. The song of the cultists droned on, but seemed to crescendo in intensity, to be reaching a climax. Some of the words of the song became clear to me – I became aware that the cultists were not singing in that hoary and horror-fraught Latin, but in my own language!
“Oh Lord, we await your return!”
They were singing of the imminent return of their judging man-god, and about their own crossing over with him into his paradaisical alternate dimension, while the rest of humanity suffered on a war-torn and burning earth!
Oh Cthulhu, the horror of it! The horror!
“The Christ will return! He will return and smite the unbelievers! He will judge all!”
As their song swelled, I saw in the impossible aggregate flame the weird and searing vision that has tainted with horror all my remaining days, from that day, until my last.
Alexandrov was rapidly snapping pictures.
The cultists stopped their singing suddenly, in perfect, eerie unison, and in the next horror-besotted instant, the soft, barely audible, unnecessary “click” of Alexandrov’s digital camera echoed through the forest with what seemed a drum-pounding reverberation.
Predictably, sickeningly, each head in the group of cultists rotated in our direction, and we all gaped at each other. What followed was a silent, still, half-beat pause, seemingly for comedic effect. The mob then charged, save for the high priest, who, in my final view of the scene as I stood up to run, turned to the carven idol of the executed man-god and raised his arms high and let his head fall backwards, and I heard the first syllables of a terrifying incantation in that ancient and dead-but-undead language, Latin.
Alexandrov was up and running beside me, but we were soon separated by the trees we were dodging amongst. I was not running fast for the ruck on my back and the shotgun in my hands, while, behind me, for the crashing sounds of determined pursuit reaching my ears, the mob of cultists was moving with what seemed a preternatural speed. I continued running desperately until I heard footfalls closing directly behind me, almost upon me. In mid-stride, in a panic, I planted my right foot and pivoted upon it to face rearward, my momentum yet carrying me forward, and looked immediately into the enraged face of a charging mad cultist no more than two meters behind me, while in the same fraction of an instant, I raised the muzzle of the shotgun in my hands and, though I do not recall tugging the trigger, the shotgun discharged and a hot wetness splattered the front of my jacket and my chin.
The cultist barreled into me and we both tumbled to the ground. I instantly stood up; the cultist clearly would never stand again. On my feet with the shotgun to my shoulder, I scanned and listened to the forest; I heard footfalls racing away from me, scattering in several directions into the forest, which seemed, upon reflection, a natural response of a pursuer to the sudden and violent revelation of the pursuit-discouraging capabilities of one’s quarry.
In another moment, I heard a gunshot in the forest not far off from me, and subsequently more footfalls scattering and fading into the forest. I turned my attention to the mortally wounded cultist.
As he lay splayed on his back on the ground, horribly and incredibly retaining his fervor though with his body open and his lifeblood pumping out of him, he fixed me with his eyes wild and terrible and spoke words that will ever haunt me: “Now I am off to paradise, unbeliever! I am to meet the sacrificed Christ, and he will welcome me! I live forever, unbeliever! But the Christ is coming here for you! He will return to this world and judge you, unbeliever! Ah! Isus! I can see him! I can see him! Isus! Isus! Even now, I can see him! And all my dead ancestors! They are all come to me now! Ah! Aah!”
After the unsettling expiration of the cultist, I quickly located Alexandrov by reckoning on the direction whence I had heard his shotgun blast. He had likewise relieved our world of one constituent of an ancient and unspeakable evil.
Alexandrov was adamant upon one point: “We burn the bodies. We cannot risk them rising again.” He unpacked the bottle of gasoline.
“Could they truly rise again?” My skepticism was hardly adamant.
“’Truly,’ Larsen? I do not know what is true. I have seen things. I have seen things that I cannot explain. As have you. And that accursed ancient tome of unfathomable horror, the dreaded Bible, recounts incidents of corpses favored by the man-god rising from the dead. We burn the bodies. I do not know what is true; my sanity frays a little more with each revelation I encounter regarding these man-god worshipping cultists, with every word I read from their esoteric texts of madness and death. I cannot say what is true. But we burn the bodies.”
* * *
“…the conjoined candle flame grew into a great blinding white light, and within that light – I can’t be sure, I can’t be sure! – but within that light, it seems to me that, for an instant, I saw the image of a man… a man with a terrifyingly calm visage… a man with holes in his wrists and feet!”
I breathed heavily. The act of recounting my witnessing of that impossible sight had left me agitated, but had also left me relieved, for surely Alexandrov would corroborate my sanity-preserving belief that my vision had been entirely imaginary, induced in the moment by the weirdness and sensorial intensity of the cult ritual.
Alexandrov was quiet. Deep cogitation distorted his face, which was lit warmly by the sane, dancing fire in the main hearth of the clubhouse. Our tumblers had just been refilled.
Alexandrov blinked his eyes, returning from his reverie. “Larsen?”
“Alexandrov, do you believe that any of this could be… true? Do you think it possible that a man-god monster once walked the earth? That such a thing could come into our world again, and sit in judgement of humanity?”
Alexandrov stared at the flame in the fireplace as he replied. “Well, of course it is ludicrous, Larsen. But – as we have seen – there are people who do believe it. And that is the truly terrifying reality, Larsen – not that some grotesque cultish fantasy might be true, but that there do exist people who do believe such a thing to be true. These cultists must be stopped. If their mad beliefs were ever to gain a goodly number of followers, the bloodshed and horror that the world would suffer would be appalling. And for that particular horror to reign, no actual return of a blood-drenched man-god would be required.”