Death in the Mind’s Eye
by Michael William Douglas
Timor mortis morte pejor.
The fear of death is worse than death. — Robert Burton
Desperate is he that lives in a dream but cannot wake. Terrified is he who wanders a synaptic wasteland of surreal shadows and landscapes of lunacy. I am he - the delirious, the defeated; the wonderstruck, the weary. Yet still, I cling to the hope that I will find a way to cross the barrier into the waking world.
I cannot recall how long I have been in this place. To me, time is as indistinct and unclear as the fantastic world around me. I know this is a dream. The distorted sky is fringed in blackness, and everything around me ripples in constant motion. The trees are burnt out, desolate husks and the ground is bare and cracked. Mighty winds assault me mercilessly, howling in a cacophony of bestial bloodlust. They mock and muffle my feeble cries for help, and lay waste to my ever slipping sanity.
There are no people or animals present, in fact, no life of any kind save me. It is cold here, cold as the grave, the kind of cold that freezes your soul, and lonely, so lonely; the loneliness of all things forgotten. My situation is so dreadful that I briefly entertained the notion that this was some sort of hallucinogenic experience, perhaps drug-induced. Memories that invade my thoughts from the other side however, have nullified this theory.
Indeed, I was something of an introvert in the waking world. A bookish man, possessed of a methodically precise, ordered nature, utterly precluding the wild, reckless use of mind-altering drugs. Always I see myself in a study of some kind; shelves lined with ancient, worm-eaten books, a battered, oaken desk with quill pen and paper, and beside the books, a huge full- length oval mirror encased in bronze.
The books are of particular interest. They are vastly strange, writ in numerous languages and a few, only in symbols. I recognize some of the titles; the Unaussprechlichen Kulten by von Jutz, the Cultes des Goules, by d’Erlette, and the fabulous Book of Xol, by Ixtharion. I think I must have been an historian or perhaps an archiver of ancient texts.
The reflection of me in the mirror is unfamiliar, yet, of course, must be me. I am quite tall, at least six feet, broad shouldered and narrow hipped. My musculature is very sleek, lithe like a serpent. I am dressed head to toe in a shiny, black material; it perfectly matches my cold, cobalt eyes and impossibly deep suntan. The vision before me invokes an ancestral, primitive fear that all animals know. This cannot, must not, be the waking me!
The dreamscape around me now is changing with alarming rapidity. On the peripherals of my vision I can see the blackness, once immobile, now moving, growing. It seems sentient somehow, menacingly so. The writhing, undulating mass grows with every passing breath, devouring everything, darkening to an impenetrable black, deeper than the voids of interstellar space.”Get me out this madness!” I scream, for this is madness, but there is no one to hear my screams; soon there will be no more me.
Nothing matters now, I have gone insane. Fear has left me, and with the strength born of madness I scan my surroundings for an escape route. The living blackness is everywhere now, it will reach me in seconds. A gleam of light appears a short distance ahead.”What now?” I say, and, laughing to myself, stroll over to investigate the apparition in front of me. It is there, spectrally hazy, but unmistakable; the mirror from my study in the waking world!
The madness in me evaporates as the prospect of actual escape presents itself. My leisurely stroll turns into a frantic run. As if sensing my approach, the mirror starts drifting away from me. I must go through it to save myself, for I believe that this is the gateway out of the land of dreams.
My strength is almost gone. The mirror is drifting faster and I cannot close the distance. Almost total blackness nips at my heels like a hound of hell. I gather up every last vestige of dying strength I have left and with one last titanic effort I close the gap and launch myself headfirst at the glass. Pray God I will succeed...
“What in the Seven Hells happened here?” detective Ashton asked to no one in particular, staring at the corpse lying on the floor in front of him. The University of Salem security had called the police out to the office of Dr. Robert E. Lovingston, professor of Cryptology, on what they thought a simple break and enter. They in turn, called him.”Professor King, you were a colleague of his and a friend. Your thoughts?”
King stood transfixed, staring at the chaotic scene before him. Lovington’s office was in shambles: desk overturned, bookshelf rifled, papers everywhere. Strangest of all, in the only clear space on the floor a pentagram had been painted, filled with symbols and hideous monstrosities that could only come from the mind of a madman. The blood, the on-scene forensics unit said, was human, though not Lovington’s.
“The professor had a sleepwalking condition,” said King somberly.”Last time I spoke with him he said he had obtained a supply of an experimental drug from a biochemical scientist currently employed at Miskatonic University. What must have happened”, he said, picking up a huge book lying on the floor next to the dead professor, “is that Dr. Lovington must have fallen asleep reading this Book of Xol, and the combination of the experimental drug, the Grimoire, and his sleepwalking, caused everything you see before you.”
“Grimoire?” said the detective, puzzled.
“The Book of Xol is reputed to be a sorcerer’s book of incantations or ‘Grimoire’,” King replied.
“So,” said Ashton, “that explains the pentagram and the chaos around the room, but whose blood is the pentagram made of, and why did Professor Lovington run headfirst into that mirror over there?” King made no reply. “Poor bastard. I don’t like mysteries, and I don’t believe in ‘evil grimoires’,” Ashton said, firing up a filtered Malboro.”That experimental medication is a promising lead though. Do you know the name of that scientist at Miskatonic, King?”
“I do,” said King. “He is of Middle Eastern descent, apparently from Egypt; his name is Dr. Nepal Aytroth. I wouldn’t bother going out to Miskatonic to look for him. He’s guest-lecturing here tonight at the Lovecraft Symposium on Occult Medicine.”
Copyright © 2005 by Michael William Douglas