Sunday, 17 February 2013

Fleeting Tales #18: From Afar by Jacob Prytherch

The first short story on the new and improved Fleeting Tales is from author, Jacob Prytherch, who has contributed the excellent Lovecraft inspired tale, 'From Afar'.

Jacob Prytherch Biography:

'I was born in 1980, leaving the splendour of Derbyshire for the Midlands at the age of five. I started writing when I was seven due to a love of Tolkien and have been writing ever since, studying English at university and thoroughly enjoying every moment. I currently live in Birmingham with my wife and two daughters, writing as much as I can in the darkness before they wake up. Coffee is both my friend and my enemy.

I don't do moody black and white photos, I don't pay to enter vanity competitions, and I have no interest in investing hundreds of pounds just so a couple of people will think I'm 'bonafide'. I self proof or occasionally force my stuff on long suffering friends, so there may be one or two errors for which I apologise. I welcome criticism as I am always looking to get better.

I just like writing and hope that one day I can support my family with it. If not, I'll just keep plugging away in the wee small hours for my own amusement. Either way, I'll be happy.'

Below are a few of Jacob's books, available from Amazon (click on image).

Just One Day
Heal The Sick, Raise The Dead
The Uncanny Mr. Bones

From Afar by Jacob Prytherch

Must we go over this again, Doctor? I have lost count of the times I have explained the events that led to my being committed and since I know I am not mad, then recounting my experiences is hardly going to relieve my fictitious mania! These words are the truth, though I fail to swear it on God, as I now cannot believe in any deity save the malignant presence that Marcus awakened with his ill-conceived actions.
So, to begin, once again…
I remember that day clearly, a miserable day in March, where the sheets of rain arced down from the darkly overcast heavens, soaking every part of my clothing within a minute of my stepping outside the shipping office. I pulled my coat close around me and carefully jogged to where Marcus was standing, gaunt and pale against the dark shape of the commercial liner H.M.S. Majestic, with the rain breaking off his characteristic top hat and long traveller’s coat.
Marcus could never have been called “average”, even before his fateful trip to the darkest reaches of Egypt to uncover some tomb or other, but when he returned there was an even more shadowy facet to his character, though at the time I could not readily identify what it was. His brooding eyes were perhaps a little darker, his voice a touch more measured and that merest twinkle that had occasionally lit his stoic features was now completely absent.
I gave him a nervous smile and enquired as to whether I could help him with his bags, but he brushed my query aside with a curt shake of his head.
My companions have it all taken care of. But thank you for your concern Joshua.”
His reply had a strange stilted quality to it, but I put it down to the long journey and the fatigue that it must have caused. Clearly he was in no mood to talk and I must admit, neither was I, as the rain was chilling me to the bone. Just then the companions that Marcus spoke of appeared on the gangplank, each carrying one end of a strange metal container, perhaps a burial casket of some kind.
They both wore the decorative clothing of the Arabs of the Middle East, voluminous robes with less practical value in the weather of Boston than in the desert where they had no doubt hailed from. Black silk covered most of their heads and faces, so that only their dark eyes were visible. Their clothes were soon as sodden as both Marcus’s and my own and when the silk started to cling to their limbs it revealed severely undernourished bodies, no doubt due to the sparse diet that one had to endure in the poorer regions of the East.
I wondered briefly why Marcus had taken to socialising with men so obviously different to him and his standing, but the rain pushed those thoughts aside, and I briefly greeted the Egyptians, introduced to me as Mohamed and Sayed, both hailing from Cairo.
We walked for the rest of the journey to the carriage in silence, with the only sound being the rain slapping on the cobblestones and tapping the lid of the small and exquisite gold sarcophagus, delicately inlaid with veins of silver, and the startling image of a huge staring eye in darkest amethyst.
It was not until I later reached my home that I realised that Marcus had brought back no other belongings from his three-month trip…

Marcus, who had been almost a recluse before his trip, keeping himself to his books and a small but close circle of friends, was now if anything even more of an outsider, allowing only me out of his other companions an occasional visit to his quarters deep in the heart of the poor quarter.
From the outside, his apartment looked like any other in the area. It was placed at the top of a crumbling and run down tenement, with broken guttering channelling water directly outside the only window and roof tiles patched over holes in a decidedly haphazard fashion, but inside… oh, if only you could have seen it Doctor, the beauty of the place, filled with the wondrous items of a lifetime’s fevered discovery!
With the wealth that he had inherited after his parent’s tragic death on a dig in the Persian gulf, he could have bought a lavish house anywhere in New England, but instead he chose to place his wealth in artefacts, whilst keeping his housing to the bare minimum necessary to keep such relics safe.
The floors were covered with carpets and rugs coloured in lush reds and blues, interwoven with mesmeric winding patterns of gold and green. On the walls hung tapestries, portraits, landscapes, and framed scrolls recovered from the furthest reaches of the world. On the many shelves were statues, urns, ancient pieces of masonry emblazoned with glyphs and all manner of sculpted objects from both the heights of civilisation to the depths of primitive cultures. And the books…piled high on shelves, loose in stacks, interposed with notebooks and loose pages of scrawled notes and thoughts, hundreds of volumes chronicling every nation under the sun. Stepping into Marcus’s home was like stepping into a museum… no, to use a more accurate simile; it was like stepping into his very mind. Truly, he was an intellectual giant, a true great, and his thoughts were as varied and numerous as his possessions.
But something began to change over the next few weeks, as his outside journeys ceased altogether. He started to become more pallid as time went on and grew even more skeletal than previously, which was a feat in itself. he no longer seemed to change his clothes. He even wore his hat at all hours of the day, even when the sun was at it’s brightest.
The two Egyptians had taken up residence with him, and constantly kept him company. They never revealed their faces, preferring to keep their silk scarves close around their features. They chose to sit quietly in the shadows whenever I visited, sometimes playing chess with delicately crafted figures of ebony and ivory as Marcus and I talked. Slowly, his apartments started to gain a semblance of order that had previously seemed impossible. Books were now almost geometrically in line with their counterparts. The previously loose notes were neatly filed away, and once I even checked through them when Marcus had left the room to fetch a bottle of brandy and found them meticulously placed in alphabetical order according to their subject. And that sarcophagus… it now took pride of place in the most prominent corner of the room, replacing the delicately crafted suit of samurai armour that had previously stood there, which I found neatly packed away behind the new addition.
It was late one Sunday evening, after the horizon had obscured the sun’s blood red luminescence, when I decided to broach the subject of the ancient relic and what it held.
Both Egyptians looked up from their chessboard, with a curious look in their jet black eyes. A smile played across Marcus’s withered features.
So, finally he asks.”
I sat back in my chair, and tried to keep the strange uncomfortable feeling that had crept over me absent from my features.
Marcus, if you don’t wish to speak about it, then…”
No, it is quite alright Joshua. You are, after all, my oldest and dearest friend. I was going to show you sooner or later anyway, and now is as good as any time. Mohamed, Sayed, if you would…”
Before I could act, both Arabs had leapt from their chairs, scattering the chess pieces across the carpet and had lunged for my arms and legs, holding me fast to the leather armchair in which I sat.
Marcus! What in God’s name? Have your men unhand me!”
Marcus merely smiled, and crossed over to the curtains, closing them slowly to obscure us from the outside world.
Please Joshua, don’t struggle. We bring to you a gift.”
As he moved behind me towards the trunk, I continued to writhe in vain against the inhumanly strong Arabs, as a sense of terror started to overwhelm me. What spell had these creatures laid upon my dearest friend, and what were they driving him to do?
I heard the casket open with a creak, before the room was filled with the sound of clicking and scratching, a frenzied sound that had been muffled by the trunk’s lid. It sounded like a multitude of cockroaches, and try as I might, I couldn’t move my head enough to see what unnameable horrors were trapped in that container.
When Marcus spoke, he was behind my head, and I heard a clicking separate from the others, close, very close, to my head…
My dear Joshua, you cannot imagine what marvels I found in that dark tomb, the ancient burial site, lost for centuries beneath the sand of the Egyptian desert… there are some things that can survive far longer than our own species, and some things which can bless such gifts…”
Something brushed my hair, and I yelled out in desperation. One of the Arabs slapped his hand across my mouth and stifled any sound I wanted to make.
No one can hear you my friend. No one can see you. And no one, soon, will even know you…”
Tears of fear ran down my cheeks in torrents. My body started to shake with the amount of adrenalin coursing through it.
I found them, and they found me… the children of a sleeping God!”
I felt knife-sharp fingers clutching at my scalp, desperately clawing at my flesh and sending rivulets of blood down my face. With a last effort I managed to pull my right arm free and throw my fist into the face of the Arab holding my legs. He tumbled backwards as I struggled free of the second Arab, whilst desperately grabbing for the only source of light… the oil lamp on the table nearby. Blood started to obscure my vision and I blindly hurled the lamp towards what I hoped would be a significant target.
There was a blinding eruption of flame, and I staggered away from it, luckily coming in contact with the door to the hallway. I could hear an accursed screeching from behind me as I opened the door,and I glanced over my shoulder, witnessing a sight which chilled my soul.
Marcus flailed his arms desperately, trying to extinguish the flames that engulfed him, all the time emitting that obscene howling. His hat for once was absent… and I swear Doctor, on the crown of his head…there sat a hideous spider-like creature, covered in purple and blue veins, with sharpened claws sunk deep into his skull, and one sole eye, staring at me with vicious and eternal hatred…
I turned my back and ran, down the long and winding staircase and out into the street, from where I watched the building burn, a towering and purifying inferno! I do not know what evil Marcus released from that tomb in Egypt, but it is gone, gone before it could spread, gone before it could reign! I know that many people died that night, but they were a necessary sacrifice! I am glad I saved us! I saved us! I saved us!

The End

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