Memories of Inhuman Nature, by Rick McQuiston
The memories floated back into Jeff’s mind like colorful, detached leaves wafting down to a front lawn on a crisp fall day. Each and every one displayed its own pain, which it seemed to dole out in completely sporadic intervals. All were difficult to bear, although in different ways and for different reasons, but in some strange way seemingly beyond his comprehension, they were necessary, necessary for closure and for understanding.
He focused on his mother’s eyes in one memory. Those soft, warm baby blue windows to her beautiful soul that so many times in his life reflected love and compassion as only a mother’s eyes could. He could still see those eyes as clearly as if she were standing right in front of him.
It had been nearly ten years since she had passed away, a victim to a small, seemingly harmless lump in her breast. He honestly thought she would beat it though. She had managed to pull through a serious car accident, a miscarriage and the sudden deaths of both of her parents relatively unscathed. He smiled to himself as he recalled how she had joked how life’s problems only served to strengthen her resolve. What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger, she would always say and Jeff tried hard to adhere to that philosophy as best he could throughout his life.
Another memory that he recalled was of a lost love that he had. Susie Peters was a very beautiful and petite girl who he had known in high school. She had never really cared that much for him though, outside of a few lackluster hellos and occasionally recognizing that he existed. He fondly remembered her strawberry blonde hair framing her milky white complexion and accenting her soft and yet piercing eyes. How he had yearned to speak his true feelings into those eyes and caress that silky hair.
But it was not meant to be, or so he reasoned with himself. He did realize he was basically lying to himself but what else was he to do?
More memories pushed their way into his head. One after the other they stung his mind with various degrees of pain and loneliness. The bleak outlook each brought with it etched away incessantly at his peace of mind and thinned the already delicate barrier between sanity and insanity.
He leaned back in the seat and took several deep breaths. The soft hum of the Dodge’s motor gently vibrated the car producing an almost hypnotic effect. His wristwatch yielded the time to him; three- fifteen p.m.
Outside, snow had begun to drift down like tiny flecks of white paint, silent and determined to coat the landscape in its beautiful but cold embrace. He was surprised it had not snowed earlier; it could not have been more than twenty degrees outside with colder weather on the way. Perhaps the snow had just been lazy, he mused to himself; unaware of its duty when the temperature dipped below 32 degrees.
He raised his worn navy blue coffee mug to his lips and took a deep swallow. It had grown stained throughout the years due to the endless cups of coffee it had held and had become a comfortable reminder of better days. He knew he drank too much caffeine but to a certain extent he did not care. His life had not been kind to him and he in turn felt like reciprocating. Why he harbored such irrational and downright absurd feelings he could not explain, not to anyone and certainly not to himself.
Was it due to all he had endured in his life? Perhaps, but many others had endured much worse. Or it simply could be summed up as an excuse, a reason attempting to cling to legitimacy.
Another memory drifted into his consciousness. It demanded to be recognized due to its frightening proportions and steadfastly refused to be understood or explained.
Jeff let a wry smile escape. It was in stark contrast to the nature of the memory but he just couldn’t help himself. There shouldn’t be any memories of things like these, he reasoned with himself. There just shouldn’t. Imaginative thoughts from a horror or science fiction author perhaps but not from a normal, hard-working, responsible man who had managed to face and overcome many unfortunate times in his life.
The memory played itself out in his mind. A very pretty and obviously distressed young newscast woman filled the television screen. She reported about confirmed assaults on victims in a grocery store parking lot the previous evening. He could still sense the fear that laced her soft voice and blemished her attractive features. She was apparently accustomed to reporting much more mundane stories.
He felt truly sorry for her; such sweet innocence hardly deserved to be subjected to the dark side of human nature, or worse…inhuman nature.
He remembered her words became garbled, almost incoherent, no doubt due to the stress of her situation. A large screen directly behind her came to life with a grainy image from a surveillance camera apparently situated on top of a building. It panned the parking lot from one side to the other.
At first all seemed normal with scattered customers casually strolling to and from their vehicles pushing shopping carts in front of them. Some had small children latched onto their sides. Jeff vividly recalled a small woman of foreign descent setting her bags down to fish her keys out of her purse. She was still rummaging through her belongings when she became aware of someone…or something, on the far side of her truck. In a flash the assailant was on her, easily overpowering her.
Jeff swallowed hard as he remembered seeing the poor woman fighting for her life with an enormous shadow. It was twisting its flabby bulk as it swung its mockery of a head from side to side. The memory of flailing tentacles from the thing’s head stung his sanity repeatedly, driving him ever closer to losing his grip on reality.
The woman stood no chance against such a powerful adversary and was sucked bags and all into the thing’s loathsome abyss. Expansive wings sprouted from its back and within seconds it shot straight into the night sky, gone from sight but not from memory.
He twisted the wiper blade handle on and watched the damp windshield wiped clean. Strange, he thought to himself. How with a simple gesture the state of something could be completely changed around. One minute one way, the next minute something different.
The distant tree near the end of the street somehow caught his attention. It was large, perhaps an oak or maple, and the shadows it cast on the snow-covered ground were impossible to ignore. Distorted, thin limbs jutted out from its trunk and stretched in every direction like frantic children attempting to flee from a kidnapper. The overall visage of it spawned yet another memory, which like the previous ones was unpleasant and painful.
Images of being alone in his room as a young boy pouring over the literary giants he adored roamed freely in his head. Lovecraft, Derleth, Clark Ashton Smith, they all transposed their will of words upon his mind. He had passed many midnights wandering helplessly in the nether regions of their minds, subject to their horrific whims and vulnerable to their nightmares. The passages spawned in their imaginations littered his thoughts with frightening landscapes which he further contributed to, although without intent, with his own twisted visions.
Visions of the Great Old Ones blotting out the sun with their malevolent bulk, seeking their prey relentlessly across waste-strewn fields clotted his soul and corrupted his sanity. Terrible thoughts of the perverse deity Shub-Niggurath unleashing her Dark Young upon unsuspecting investigators and the Crawling Chaos Nyarlathotep spreading a plague of confusion and madness across the lands seeped into his mind.
His parents had been too late in realizing their only son’s descent into the seemingly harmless realm of horror fiction. They had argued constantly about which educational direction their child was going to travel but never really addressed his creative and imaginative pursuits. Fiction, mainly horror, dominated his impressionable young mind and spurred his thoughts, for better or worse, to new levels. He would have hung posters of Cthulhu, Azathoth, or Daoloth on his bedroom walls if it were not for the fact that his parents would have undoubtedly torn them down in an instant; that in addition to not being able to easily obtain such items.
Outside, the snow had abated considerably, reduced to a gentle dusting barley heavy enough to sustain the white ground cover. But what caught his eye and tightened the already twisted knot in his stomach was what lay beneath the snow.
He focused on a small area off to the side of his car. The snow was gradually melting despite the temperature falling, revealing a viscous, black residue underneath. It was thick in consistency, loosely resembling used motor oil and absolute in its color.
Only it wasn’t an ordinary shade of black. It was a deep, unyielding black, many times darker than any color on Earth, and it was exposing itself at a rapid pace, swallowing up all traces of the snow and enveloping everything in its path.
Jeff pushed aside the memories that had been assaulting his mind and watched the surrealistic nightmare unfolding outside of the car. An unconditional sea of the substance coated the ground as far as he could see. Its nature or purpose was as curious as it was frightening and the consequences of its appearance chilled his blood.
His mother stood on the sidewalk. She gazed at him with her soft, baby blue eyes as if trying to convey her dire predicament to him. She looked exactly as she had on the day she had died, frail and weary of life. Jeff remembered how much pain she had been in and was surprised and delighted to see that she did not seem to be in any now, despite her appearance. He wanted to leap out of the car and embrace her but thought better of it. He realized that the thing masquerading as his beloved mother was not human and most likely not friendly. He forced himself to look away.
The irrational feelings of turning his back on his dying mother instantly rushed into his head but he suppressed them successfully, content in the knowledge that it was the right thing to do.
Susie Peters was briskly making her way through the formless black sludge, staring hard at Jeff with her piercing eyes. Specs of the black matter stained her strawberry blonde hair and flawless complexion, marring her soft features into a mockery of beauty. An anxious look smeared her face, not unlike a hyena standing over a freshly slaughtered gazelle and it sent further chills down his spine. A sickening thought then entered his mind…he was the gazelle.
He closed his eyes tight, so tightly that they hurt. He concentrated on his memories, trying with all his might to secure pleasant ones.
Misty images of happier times floated about in his head like plump worms on a fishing line, dangling high above eager eyes. He strained to reach them but failed at every attempt. Less friendly ones clung to his mind, bustling to gain access to his consciousness, each a portal to a cold and possibly hostile environment.
The death of his old dog Dusty and when he had stumbled upon her rigid corpse in the kitchen. The doctor’s words informing him that his two lower discs in his back were completely gone and that major surgery was his only option. The disbelief he felt as he watched the tip of his bloody finger drift down into the dust due to his carelessness with the Brush Hog he had been using. All these memories and more clogged his mind and toyed with his strength. He had endured much sorrow and hardship in his life and they had sensed that in him. Perhaps that is what had attracted them to him in the first place. He was a portal, a link to another dimension, to another time in space where unimaginable things squirmed in eager anticipation to advance their malevolent plans.
The tree stretched out its sizeable limbs and efficiently swatted the mockeries of Jeff’s mother and Susie Peters aside. Lumbering its hugs bulk down the sidewalk, it crushed all objects in its way as it swung its ropy black tentacles from side to side.
The car was predictably unresponsive to his attempts to shift it into gear and soon stalled out completely. He fondled the small caliber handgun on the seat next to him, debating on whether to use it on the inhuman horrors outside the car or on himself.
Dark Young he recalled they were named, evil servants of the Outer God Shub- Niggurath and spreaders of its faith. The smell of open graves permeated the interior of the car as the tree thing drew nearer. He instinctively rolled the window down and fired five quick shots at the thing, being sure to leave one bullet for himself. Although the attack had no effect whatsoever on the thing it did offer a small amount of satisfaction nonetheless.
He slumped back into the seat and concentrated on happier times. Times when the sun bathed the landscape down with its warmth, times when flowers bloomed and wafted their natural fragrance into the air, times when there were other people still alive. But the memories would not come easily, for more recent and considerably more frightening ones overwhelmed them.
Images of gigantic beings lumbering across waste strewn fields, destroying all in their path played themselves out in his head. Innocent people being scooped up and devoured by forces and intellect beyond their comprehension. Entire cities being ravaged and plundered until nothing remained but charred and lifeless shells littered with smoking corpses and the stench of death.
Jeff reached for the radio in a vain attempt to soften what he had already accepted as his final moments. He knew very well that nothing would come in but he twisted the knob several times nevertheless; pure, irritating static filled his ears. He suppressed the feeling that he was somehow lucky. He was after all quite possibility the last human left alive on the planet. They had undoubtedly kept him around until they were finished with everyone else thus allowing him extra time, which is more than anyone else had gotten.
He slowly opened his eyes and turned his head just as the tree-thing slung its huge limbs around the car. And this time he knew no memories would be able to save him.
I’m a forty-five year old father of two who loves anything horror related. I’ve had well over 300 publications so far, including ones in numerous anthologies and contests, and am currently working on my fifth novel. My third novel, “When Only the Nightmare Remains” is due to be published by DIP Press.
Posted on January 20, 2014, in Issue 12: The Shadows Only Hide the Monsters: Poe & Lovecraft Tribute and tagged e-zine, Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, horror, monsters, short stories, The Were-Traveler, Tribute. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.