TAINTED LOVE: A Lovecraftian Short (2509 words)

I was happy then. I had a job I liked with a renowned photographer and she was teaching me everything I ever wanted to know about the art of photography. I had an apartment in the city and I was engaged to be married. John and I were planning on moving to the suburbs, buy a house there and start a family. I was getting the normal life I always wanted.  I guess I should have known better, but resisting that gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach, that told me that ordinary life wasn’t for me, was what I’d been doing all my life.

So when I got the assignment to take pictures of some old castle ruins I got excited. I was happy to be cramped in the train for five hours to get there. The air was humid in the cabin. There weren’t many passengers on the train and I only saw the conductor once when she asked to see my ticket. She was an elderly woman with a kind, tired smile.

I had with me my camera bag, which was large and contained all I thought I would need for the project. I had a bottle of water, a sandwich and my fiancé had been kind enough to slip me a book to read.

Of course when he said he was putting a book in my bag I thought he meant WAR AND PEACE, the book I had been struggling to read for the past six months. It wasn’t WAR AND PEACE however, but another Penguin Classic – THE CALL OF CTHULHU AND OTHER WEIRD STORIES by H.P. Lovecraft.

My fiancé is a lover of the macabre. I guess that could have been the first warning sign that I was slipping back into old habits? But no who thinks like that? 

But you see, I was a bit of a Goth as a child. It wasn’t just a cool way to dress though, but an expression for something brewing inside me.

I had nightmares as a kid. Bad dreams that seemed too vivid not to be true and too horrid and extreme to be real. It was a difficult time  in my life, filled with anxious longing and darkness I tried my very best not to embrace. And when I grew up and grew out of these dreary thoughts I reveled in the new wonderful ordinary life I was bound to have.

So though the book wasn’t what I expected I opened it and started reading at random. It was entertaining even.

I wish I could remember the story, what it was called and the words in it. There was an intimate, familiar feeling in the words I read. A soothing sensation came over me and a hint of anxiety I hadn’t felt in a long time.

After finishing the story I fell asleep quietly contemplating why this was affecting me this way. The dream that ensued was familiar and horrendous at the same time. I was being chased by something and I felt it would catch up with me sooner or later and I feared that when it did I would become something else entirely and happily resign myself to its darkness. The sensation was hefty, certain and absolutely horrendous.

I woke up with a muffled scream and was painstakingly happy that I was alone in the cabin and that no one witnessed my outburst. I stayed awake for the remainder of the trip, suddenly not as excited about the assignment I had been given.

I couldn’t, however much I wanted to, back out now so when the train stopped I jumped off and proceeded towards the ruins as instructed.  It was about a twenty minutes walk from the train station, as I had been told it would be. There was a village by the station, in the other direction but I had decided I would go there only after my work was finished. I wanted to catch the twilight that was soon upon me and afterwards I would head into the village and check into the hotel room I knew was waiting for me.

The ruins had once been a formidable castle, but time and changed economy and culture hadn’t been kind to this building that had once been the center of attention in the region. There was a path leading towards it. Once it had been a commonly used route but now those who walked it were youths, looking for some cheap thrills, and the occasional tourist, wanting to see something different.

There were large weeping willows everywhere around the great moat. There was a single path going up towards the castle ruins and the island it stood on was quite a sight. It was obvious it had been a great building, but the towers had crumbled and most of the walls too, though some stood sternly, mostly intact but covered in creeping fig and some plant with crimson foliage.  It was a beautiful sight, especially in that fading sun and so I started taking photographs immediately. I was so absorbed in my work, so entangled in the visual aspects of what I was seeing that I completely forgot my experience from the train, the dream and the stone at the pit of my stomach that didn’t actually leave me alone, though I was at the time semi-unaware of it.

I walked the small island the castle stood on and took pictures of everything I saw. A large part of one of the tower could be seen lying in the water, almost intact on its side, as if it was just napping down in the water. I found myself wondering what secrets this building kept.

When the light had faded too much for me to continue I started thinking of heading back. It was getting too dark and I didn’t want to be out in the middle of nowhere when the darkness set in. So I started walking away, towards the small path that I knew lead to the village. I figured I’d take a few more pictures in the morning before my train left for the city.

I was just about to walk the pathway over the moat when the memory of the dream in the train came washing over me. The sensation was paralyzing and for a moment I didn’t think I could continue. The thought of staying at these ruins after dark was overwhelming though. The ruins were beautiful, but also quite haunting and I did not want to be left out there alone in the dark, so come hell or high water I forced myself to move forward.

When I was half way across I heard something. Or maybe I didn’t hear anything, maybe I just sensed that he was there. Standing by the castle wall, in the shade from a willow, it kept him almost invisible.

I sensed he was there. I knew it. And against my better judgment I headed back. I knew this was where I would have started to run in my dreams, but I wasn’t going to run. I knew what that would lead to, running would only bring me madness and while facing whatever I knew to be underneath that willow by the castle ruins might get me on the same path, I knew it was the only thing I could do.

So instead of running toward the village I headed back towards the ruins.

John was standing there as handsome as ever. He had a smile on his face, a smile that felt unfamiliar and strange, but still I was happy to see him at first. I was relieved.

“John,” I said, “What are you doing here?”

He didn’t say anything, but waited until I was right by his side before he spoke to me.

“You don’t know how happy I am to finally do this,” he said.

His words worried me. I don’t know why. In strange situations it’s easy to try to explain things away in your mind. Things that seem too outrageous to be true are never your first conclusion, no matter how much the evidence points you into that direction.

I guess the stone at the pit of my stomach told me the truth, but there was something that kept me calm and collected, something that didn’t allow me to loose control of myself or my situation.

“You’ve been waiting so long, I know,” he said and I believe that’s when I started shaking my head. “All you need now is the final initiation. You’ll be the perfect Queen.” 

“What are you talking about?” I mumbled, but it was already too late. I knew this was bad. I knew the familiarity of this scene from my nightmares, though what had chased me then on the path over the moat wasn’t a man, not John, but something else, something else entirely. And though I didn’t think it was John I suspected that whatever had been present in my dreams was ever so present now, right there.

I turned around and I started to run.

It was a mistake, I know that but what else could I do? I see no course of action that would have led me to safety, unfortunately.

You won’t believe me when I tell you that I noticed it crawling underneath his skin before I started running. I saw the green glee of excitement shining in his eyes.

I ran and I heard him laughing as he started after me, as if this was a part of a game we were playing. I was just about over the moat when he caught me. His arm seemed to stretch after me unnaturally as he caught me and he grabbed me by the shoulder. The impact of that threw me in a semi-circle and I fell backwards towards him.

I fell to the ground and he was upon me. Sitting on top of me. He had a mad glee in his face, madness I had never seen in John before. It was as if he was a completely changed man, someone else entirely.

“Don’t do this? Please! What are you doing?” I asked, pleadingly. But he just laughed and started to rip my shirt apart.

This made me furious and frantic at the same time. I started kicking and screaming but to no avail. He was a lot stronger than I was, in fact he was so strong that I felt it was unnatural.

I saw it crawling underneath his skin then. It blew out in places like a balloon and I noticed the green membrane on his tongue.

“What do you want from me?” I screamed at him. I tried to bite, kick, claw and use every trick in the book but he was slowly, but surely making his way. My shirt was torn to pieces, revealing my upper body and soon he started working on my pants.

I tried to grab the camera that was lying on the ground next to me, hoping I could hit him in the head with it – remotely thinking of the safety of the camera and the pictures I had taken, as if that mattered in the situation.

“You are delicious,” he said. “You’re going to help me. I’ve waited so long for this but when I saw you I knew and you would help me.”

In my dreams I never got away from whatever was chasing me. I ran and I ran and I got caught but I don’t remember there ever being more to the dreams. I always woke up.

Not this time. This time I suddenly found myself underneath this monster with my pants down around my knees and I could do nothing, nothing at all to hinder him.

What slithered out of him and inside me was grotesque. I can’t explain what happened. Can’t bare to think about it. Whatever was inside John, used him as a conduct, a host, wasn’t human. The language that came out of him as he was performing his mating ritual on me was like nothing I’d ever heard before, guttural sounds I didn’t know a human man could muster up – and I don’t think he can.

There was nothing I could do. My frantic pleas met dead ears and as he proceeded I saw him untangle, unravel and change right before my eyes. Transform into a beast of estranged alienation. And I felt him, as if he was tearing way for what was to come.

The calm I felt before, when I met him under the willow, ensued when he was finished. An unnatural, unearthly calm that kept me functioning as a human being while my inner mind, or subconscious, rages in its own private hell and madness. Surely what I have lived through was just a figment of my imagination?

When I came home my fiancé was perfectly normal, smiled his own ordinary smile and talked to me as if he knew nothing of my trip to the ruins.

He seems the same as before, and I dare not even think about what happened to me out there. Where they ordinary nightmares? Or did I suffer something outrageous so my mind thinks it better to make things up instead of facing reality?

Or is reality as twisted and damaged as I always feared? Are the fissures and rifts in the fabric of the ordinary this disorderly, this immense?

I’ve learned that I carry a child in my womb. The thought is almost preposterous, though John thinks it’s the best news he has had in his life. I smile and I join him in the celebration, my mind seems chained to follow his lead and his command. We bought a house in the suburbs, like we dreamt of but I am unable to rejoice in these successes. I am a prisoner within myself, unable to  break this servility. It’s as if my mind was trained to suffer the horrors and stagnate at the brink of madness.

What lives within me is his and mine. And that thought is somewhat reassuring, because though whatever he is might taint and mold whatever it is, then surely I can have a hint of hope that my own sentiment will smitten whatever it is, and surely there might be a hint of hope in that?

I hold on to it, whatever it is, the last straw of a drowning woman, but though I haven’t seen a hint of the beast from that night I know it’s still there lurking, underneath his skin. I know it abides its time and when whatever this thing is that I carry inside me comes, (it’s been ten months already), the thing in him will emerge again I am sure.

The world is not ready. It never will be, but if I’m lucky he will let go of the chains on my soul and let me slip away into madness, because remembering what he did to me that night surely would push anyone over the edge? Anyone at all.

If only I was allowed to slip away.

© Eygló 2016

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