Thus I Have Heard. Thus I Have Seen.
I never thought of myself as a spiritual person. Why should I? Before the fever, there was no evidence that I could see that anything was out there but a cold and uncaring void. Gods were just figments of humanity's collective imagination, little more than an attempt to comfort ourselves in the face of oblivion. I was wrong.
This long after my experience, it is hard to recollect whether the visions were a product of the fever or if the fever was a product of the visions. I do know this: my sickbed was my own Bodhi tree, my own road to Damascus. The things that I saw changed me. You might think that the illness drove me insane. That may be true. What good is a sanity that is steeped in ignorance?
The illness came on quite suddenly. I was, like any of you, just going about my daily grind. I went to work, came home, ate dinner, watched a little television, and then went to sleep. Around midnight, I awoke with the sensation that my skin was on fire. My wife checked my temperature and gave me a cold compress. She told me to try to rest and she we would see if I needed a doctor in the morning. Events became more bizarre after that.
The fever had completely drained my strength overnight. I could barely muster the energy to turn my head, let alone accomplish tasks such as glass of water to my lips. My wife offered all the assistance she could, but there were periods where I was completely alone. Seemingly eternal stretches where I was a prisoner in my own flesh.
Reality as I knew it began to dissolve. Things I knew, things I took for granted because of familiarity took on an alien quality. My bedroom, a dull cube of light blue, metamorphosed into a greyish haze. The sharp angles of corners softened. Even the boundaries between bed and floor, bedroom and bathroom began to vanish. The rooms were at once an infinite expanse of fog and a tiny cell that confined me.
Dark silhouettes, roughly human in shape, hovered over my bed at what seemed to be regular intervals. They groped me with clammy hands and babbled in a language that I could not recognize. When they would leave, other figures came calling.
These visitors danced against the walls like shadow puppets. They paid me no mind as they frolicked, appendages flailing like whips in strobe light. I sensed strange eyes watching this bacchanal hidden within the shadows that surrounded my bed. Growls and occasional hoots accompanied the dancers as they reeled and flipped to the sound of a monotonous flute and the throbbing of primal drums.
The only familiar thing in my room was the man on the nightly news. He stared at me with icy blue eyes and told me of how the world outside disintegrated into chaos. Perhaps it had always been that way and I never noticed. He whispered secrets to me. Things not meant for the ears of mere mortals. Forbidden knowledge of the Gate and the Key, the One in All.
The fever raged for what seemed an eternity. I sometimes wondered if this is what Hell was like. My world had become a whirl of burning flesh, coarse whispered voices, and otherworldly dancing shadows.
My wife would informed me later that, while I was experiencing these waking nightmares, I was slipping in and out of a near catatonic state. I babbled incoherent, cryptic, and frightening things.
All I remember is falling.
The terror of falling lies in the wait. Tripping over our own feet does not fill us with the same dread as the plunge from the top of a tall building or off the side of a bridge does. The time that passes in the first case is negligible. In the latter two, we recognize a significant amount of time that will transpire between our feet leaving the ground and the inevitable pain that comes at the end. Even more terrifying that that is not being able to discern how much time will elapse before striking the ground.
My descent began like every other dream I had of falling: plunging through a bottomless canyon of glass and steel. The roar of wind over my ears was deafening. Faceless men in expensive suits halted their menial tasks to watch me plummet to my doom. Not exactly the thing one wants an audience for, but far better than the dream where I arrive at school naked.
The cityscape swirled below me and transformed into a maelstrom of Technicolor and ghostly irregular polygons. The kaleidoscopic effect formed knots in my stomach. Miniscule bolts of lightning raced along my skin like worms of light. The sparks burrowed through my pores to permeate muscle and bone with electricity.
I continued my journey deeper into the psychedelic abyss. The colors had stopped their rapid shift and became pigmented holes. Red, orange, yellow, blue, green, indigo and violet; the entire rainbow. This polychromatic void offered no clues as to how fast or how long I had been falling. As I recount this adventure to you now, I am uncertain that I was falling at all.
My mind raced through the entire experience. At first, I was terrified. As I moved further into the vision I was calm. Perhaps I was resigned to an eventual end of the dream, jolted awake a fraction of a second before I struck the bottom.
Things seemed to slow in the violet. The sensation of falling faded away. I tried to turn to take inventory of the strange locale I found myself in, but I could not move. Panic tightened my chest. I was trapped in a void of violet of the most brilliant and pure hue I had ever seen. Rivulets of ink-black snaked toward me. I tried to scream, but there was no sound. I tried to force myself to wake. Nothing. I was enveloped in a darkness like dreamless slumber.
The oppressive dark faded into an expanse of stars. Each a pinprick of light in the emptiness. I remembered when I was younger and my parents took me to a field hours away from the town where we lived. A large flat area free from light pollution. We would lay on blankets and gaze into the heavens, counting stars. I remember being amazed by how many were visible.
The vista before me magnified that childhood amazement a hundred fold. It seemed the stars stretched out into infinity. I could not help but feel extremely small as I considered the distances between and the time it would take to travel to the farthest points.
An unusual feeling washed over me. I was both elated and saddened. On one hand, I was isolated and insignificant. On the other, I was experiencing a sight that had not been seen with human eyes. All the sorrow and creeping despair that I felt from the isolation was matched by the freedom that came with it. The events of my life were nugatory in the context of human history. Human history is minuscule in comparison with the age of the Earth. Earth's geological time was nothing in comparison with the universe in its entirety.
Here I was, an atom of a speck of dust surrounded by countless specks of dust. I could not help but laugh into the emptiness.
Something else caught my attention. Smaller lights, constantly shifting in color and moving. I could feel myself being pulled toward them. For a while I could not make out any shape only the moving blobs of light. I tried willing myself forward, toward this curious phenomenon and felt myself picking up speed. The lights grew closer and I realized that the glow belonged to a group of fellow travelers.
A group of pink crustacean-looking creatures flew in a loose formation through the gulf of night seemingly propelled by vestigial bat like wings. The brightly colored lights I saw were produced by what I assumed would be the heads of these fascinating and bizarre beings. Part of me was filled with fright at not having any indication of their intent.
They did not seem to notice my approach. It was entirely possible that they were ambivalent to my presence. The creatures continued with their flight. They flew in perfect synchronization with each other, like sparrows here on Earth, moving in unison and performing a dance that was most likely programmed into their genetics. A dance to a rhythm older than even they could remember. A dance that was older than most of the stars I witnessed earlier.
My new found powers of locomotion enabled me to join them. Together we soared, climbed, dove, weaved, and twisted through the intricate movements. It was easy for me to keep up as I had apparently gained a level of instinctual knowledge of the ritual. I followed them down toward the surface of a small and, from the distance, a rather unremarkable planet.
We penetrated the thin atmosphere and I was greeted by a rocky world and great city of seamless onyx towers. I flew through the city with my new companions, zipping between black spires until we came to the edge of a massive hole in the surface of the planet. The fleshy, tendril covered heads of the flock quivered and flashed red and they began to chatter among themselves in a series of high-pitched tones. I did not have to understand the language to know that they were filled with trepidation over our current course.
I peered into the pit and dread suddenly wrenched my stomach. There was something down there, something alive and ancient. I could not pull my eyes away from the circle of shadow. I thought I saw something move in the depths. A fear, primal and animalistic, clutched at me. There was a deafening roar and the flock scattered, leaving me alone over the pit. A pair of horrific eyes leered at me. I felt myself losing altitude. I was being drawn closer to whatever horror lurked within the hole. Again, I felt myself falling. Again, I heard myself screaming.
I awoke face down on cold stone. I rose to my feet and noticed that I was in a cave. The scent of damp stone caught me off guard after my sojourn among the stars, but it was a welcome grounding. Against the back wall was a gate of tarnished silver. Each tine was capped with an ornate finial depicting the head of a creature I had never seen before. The most striking feature of this cave was the figure sitting with its back to me. The figure was covered in a tattered robe the color of dried blood and appeared to be sitting in deep contemplation of an unassuming section of the cave wall.
I stared at the gate, running a finger along the scroll work. “What is this?”
“It's a gate.” The voice was deep and seemed to ooze with a supernatural calm.
I turned toward the figure and gasped. It was a man. Skeletal hands withdrew his hood to reveal a bushy beard and a balding head. His eyes were intense, lidless, and bulging orbs that penetrated me to my core and radiated a sublime madness. Or was it wisdom?
What is the real difference between madness and wisdom? Some would suggest that there is none. Both states of mind are caused by seeing the universe as it truly is. Over the years since this journey, I have discovered that in most cases they are one and the same. The world we encounter every day, you know, the one that makes a sort of rational sense to us, is little more than a mental construct designed by us to make sense. When we actually investigate it, very little actually makes sense. The illusion is shattered and we become possessed by the madness of Sophia.
“So another seeker comes.” The man said with a dry chuckle.
“Seeker? I'm not seeking anything. I'm just being pulled along.”
“Those are the best kind. Most don't make it past the Gulf of Night.”
“I must be dreaming.”
“I suppose you could call it that.” My new companion crossed his arms over his chest and smiled. I felt a chill race up my spine. Though his smile was warm, his unblinking eyes still pierced me.
“Where am I?” I stammered.
“This place has a lot of names. Many of them forgotten by humanity over the millennia. Several more in tongues that would drive you mad if you sought to pronounce a single syllable.”
This guy was definitely not Dante's Virgil.
“But where am I?” I asked, slightly frustrated by this man's odd idea of how to answer a question.
“What good is my opinion?”
I sighed. “Then how do I get through the gate?”
“You have the key.” The stranger touched the center of my forehead with a bony finger. There was a tingling sensation followed by heat and pain.
I fell to my knees, clutching the sides of my head. His touch had activated something inside my brain. Some long forgotten organ or neural system rapidly activated and began to swell. My agonized screams were loud but seemed to be drowned out by the old man's laughter.
For a time, I can only recall darkness following the pain inside my skull. When I could see again, the old man was standing above me.
“The One-In-All was never obtained through sleep. Rise, seeker. You have an appointment which must be kept.”
I did as instructed. My knees were a bit wobbly and I almost fell over again but managed to steady myself against the silver gate. It felt different that when I had touched it before. The sensation was like something warm creeping up my spine.
The gate resisted some when I attempted to push it open. The hinges creaked from an unknown amount of disuse. I grunted and shoved against the metal and it swung wide enough that I could pass.
“Well done,” the old man clapped. “No one has ever made it this far.”
So he kept reminding me.
We entered a chamber. Torches burned in sconces, lighting the stone walls with dim, flickering yellow. I and my companion were standing on a narrow walkway that crossed a deep pit. Once my eyes adjusted to the light, I could discern a multitude of shapes. Humanoid creatures scrambled about, writhing and moaning. Sometimes they would leap toward the walkway. The figures were emaciated with distended bellies and eyeless faces. Their mouths were little more and a slit the size of a grain of rice. I recoiled behind the man in red. He only laughed at me.
“Humanity in its purest state. Hungry ghosts struggling for any morsel to slake their appetites. They toil in blindness and ignorance. Always stumbling headlong toward...see for yourself.”
My guide pointed to the far end of the chamber. A huge mass cloaked in shadows occupied most of the far wall. I inched further along the walkway to get a better look. A giant quivering mouth ringed by barbed tentacles gobbled up the foul grey things that my guide had called humanity. Some of them screamed. Others stumbled right into the slavering orifice. I shivered.
“Is this the truth? Are we all just these...things?”
My guide laughed. It was an almost wicked sound. I looked down into the pit, down at the creatures. I watched them for a while as they moaned and scrambled over each other. An endless supply of fodder for the ravenous maw. Warm tears trickled down my cheeks as an overwhelming sorrow came upon me.
“Come. There is more to see.” The man in red spoke with a dispassionate voice. I took one last lingering look into the pit, horrified by humanity's ultimate fate.
My guide led me deep into fire lit passages. While the route seemed to be perfectly straight, we turned many corners and ascended and descended a multitude of staircases. I grew dizzy and disoriented from the paradoxical course. In the periphery of my vision, I could see the shadow beings from my room dancing their reels across the ancient stones.
The man in the red robe plodded along, staring straight ahead with his wild, bulging eyes. He seemed to be guided through the labyrinth by something other than the five feeble senses we use to negotiate our travels in the normal world. Ha! Normal world. Funny how the specter of the old way of thinking still haunts language.
We entered a large chamber with a vaulted ceiling filled with stars. Statues of inhuman beings on pedestals lined the walls. The air was charged with a peculiar kind of energy. I could feel a hum inside my head, as if the once dormant organ my guide activated were vibrating at a particular frequency. The images were monstrous and did not seem like they had been carved. Instead, these statues appeared to push through the fabric of the universe somehow.
“The Old Ones,” my guide said in a hushed almost reverent voice. “Avatars of the One-In-All.”
“A god for any mood.”
My guide chuckled, “Basically.”
One alcove in the back of the chamber was empty. I felt like there was a rope tied around my midsection and I was being pulled toward the empty space. My head began to throb and my abdomen began to feel warm. The sensations grew with every step closer to the alcove.
My fever had returned in earnest, but there was something different about it. Rather than sapping my strength, I was invigorated by the heat. It was a cleansing fire.
The empty pedestal was within my reach. The marble was obscured by a thick coating of dust that had accumulated over countless years. The heat within my body and the throb within my skull reached an apex. I felt as if I were going to explode. I wondered what would happen in that case. Would I awake in my sick bed still in the throes of illness and surrounded by shadowy figures?
“Reach out to it as it reaches out to you,” My companion said softly.
I looked back at him and for the first time I saw him smile. A genuine smile filled with warmth. The first real indication of the humanity I knew since I had begun this strange ordeal. I still did not know what my guide meant when he called me a seeker. Another seeker. My mind raced with questions. How many had there been before me? How many had stood before the empty pedestal in the hall of Old Ones?
No one. I tried to console a growing apprehension within me. This was only a dream. Right?
I reached out to the top of the pedestal and felt my finger brush against the coarse grey dust. An image formed in my mind, a symbol. There was something familiar about it, like it had been with me my entire life. A pattern drawn between the evening stars by a small child lying on backyard grass in the heat of summer. The inebriated napkin doodle of a college student. I can never recall the symbol, only recognize it when I see it.
My finger traced the symbol automatically as if it had done so many, many times. The glyph began to radiate with a light that grew in intensity until I thought that my eyes may burn. I was plunged into darkness and silence.
I have no words that can describe exactly how I felt. No words other than stillness. Not stillness as we normally feel it but a deeper kind of stillness. One where there is absolutely no movement, as if outside of time.
I was surrounded by a myriad of orbs glowing and shifting in color from the familiar to hues unseen by human eyes. The glow pulsated in a pattern that was more akin to breathing than biological or electrical luminescence. They moved with no noticeable means of propulsion.
I did not feel alone here in this void. There was a second presence which I assumed was that of my guide, but I could not see the red cloaked figure here. If he was in this place, he offered no guidance.
This second presence was not my guide. It was old and alien and seemed completely indifferent to me standing there with my mouth agape.
“Bear witness,” The voice, or should I say the multitude of simultaneous voices, came from inside my head. I stood there shivering, uncertain what to think about this encounter. Was this collection of orbs the being represented by the empty pedestal?
More orbs appeared from the sea of nothing. They surrounded me, orbiting me in every possible direction and in a disorienting variety of speeds. Each orb pulled at me physically and mentally. I felt as if I were going to be ripped into millions of pieces.
I closed my eyes and saw planets being formed, the birth and death of stars, countless manifestations of life rising from primordial ooze and eventually reaching out to the stars. I saw entire galaxies being ripped apart and the heat deaths of infinite universes. Billions of years of history unfolding in mere seconds. Everything in motion. Everything connected. The scrabbling hungry wraiths of humanity dissolved along with the cavernous, indiscriminate maw. The same for the innumerable universes. The lines that divided me from everything else faded and then shattered violently. There was no longer me. Self and Other was revealed to be a fiction. There was only this! There was only Yog Sothoth!
I next recall my guide's wide eyes staring down at me. He reached out a hand.
“What was it like?” He asked softly.
I recalled all the things I had seen. All the wonder and horror. The lesson I had learned. Everything I have relayed to you now. My response? “What good is my opinion?”
My guide laughed and pulled me back to my feet. “There is one more lesson, one more wonder you a required to see.”
“What could possibly be more wondrous than what I have experienced?”
“The highest truth.”
My guide pointed to a large golden door that I had not noticed before. Then again, could I expect any less from this psychic outing? I moved closer, and inspected the intricate carvings that seemed to vibrate. The portal slid open and I was bathed in bright violet light.
When I could see again, I was standing in front of my washer and dryer. I scratched my head in confusion. The dry chuckle of my guide echoed from the spaces in-between.
“The laundry has piled up while you were ill.”