Flash Fiction Month 2015, Day 23
Challenge #10: Write a cosmic horror story from a first person perspective. It must include tentacles and at least one suspicious character.
The Henge was a marvel. Where so much in the Alterworld was chaos and madness—adaptation indistinguishable from aberration—here was order and sense. This was an object with meaning: a function to perform, a message to be discovered.
I lifted the mouthpiece of the radio to my lips. “The structure is approximately eight feet in height and between thirty and fifty in diameter. Difficult to be say without better illumination. It appears…” man-made would be hideously inappropriate, “deliberately assembled.”
I walked around the perimeter of the Henge, apparently a perfect circle. It would be difficult to prove conclusively that this was not the result of some natural process. It could conceivably have been an artefact left by some long-dispersed ALICE hotspot, but it could not be purely geological. For one thing, the streaks of rust suggested it was at least partially composed of iron. For another, each of the pillars contorted into strange and unlikely angles on its path from silt to sky. The structure danced like a figure in a zoetrope as I progressed around its circumference.
“What’s the Ferniot counter reading?” asked Professor Warner, clearly on much the same train of thought as me.
“It’s…” for a brief, horrible moment, I thought the device wasn’t working. Without it, I could have encountered a fatal concentration of ALICE without even knowing. However, just then it produced a faint stutter of noise. “It’s low. Very low. We’ll need to come by with a more sensitive instrument to get an exact figure.” Still, that in itself was an interesting development.
“Are the searchlights nearly ready?” I asked. The feeble beam of my torch could never do this masterpiece justice, but with any luck the petrol-powered lanterns on the nearest hillock would be able to illuminate more or less the whole thing.
“Almost,” answered Warner. “Are you ready to view the interior yet?”
“In good time.” I was taken with the artful construction of the Henge, but not enough to allow myself to become foolhardy. Few things in the Alterworld were entirely safe.
I took one more stroll around the Henge’s circumference, wondering at its construction. Looking at each pillar in turn, trying to decipher a pattern, was fruitless. However, when I simply took in its features, let my eye wander, I saw that it possessed the mathematical perfection of an old master painting or a finely played sonata. Nevertheless, I began to suspect that I was viewing it in negative: that it would only truly take shape once I stepped inside the ring.
“Strange to think that the chap who put us on to this never thought to leave his name,” I remarked over the radio.
“Probably didn’t realise what he’d stumbled across.” Warner’s answer began even before I’d managed to lift my thumb from the transmit button. “I imagine the fellow thought it no more than a curiosity. Lots of curious things out here, you know: what’s one more to the untrained eye? Pass it on to the University, let the eggheads deal with it. These outwalker ruffians have no real appreciation for the world they’re out to plunder.”
I stopped in my tracks, having just spotted one of the small, spindly starfish creatures as common in these parts as daddy long-legs in my loft apartment. It was dragging itself through the silt one long, willowy tentacle after another, and here I saw an opportunity to discover whether or not it would be quite safe to step inside the Henge.
Picking the creature up by its hindmost tentacle, I flung it at one of the pillars. The tiny beast was understandably distressed by the experience, but no more than I would have expected had I chosen to fling it at a lamppost or a police box. Stepping up to the same pillar, I gently placed a hand against it.
The metal was cool to the touch, which was expected, and seemed to vibrate like a tuning fork, which was not. Pressing my ear to its surface, I began to notice variations in the tremors running through the structure that seemed somehow to match the animated contours of its design. I had seen the notes, and here was the music.
“What do you see?” asked Warner. “Have you gone inside?”
I wondered, since he was so keen to hear my report on the structure, why he had not insisted on investigating it for himself. “I’m about to. What I see is…difficult to describe, but beautiful. I’m going inside.”
I stepped away from the pillars and into the round arena, but the metal’s tingling song stayed with me. Faint shapes danced in my vision, but I was more preoccupied with the shapes in the torchlight. The pillars were a palindrome, it seemed, with no front or reverse. Still, from the inside it was possible to take in far more of them at once: or it would have been, had my torch been able to illuminate such a stretch.
“I’ll need those searchlights, if you please.”
There was no response through the radio. There wasn’t even static. I resigned myself to the torchlight a little longer.
Then, perhaps by Warner’s own initiative, the searchlights came on.
Seen all at once, the Henge was utterly different. The iron pillars were, I realised, merely a portion of something even grander.
“It’s a shadow,” I spoke into the radio, not knowing if anyone could hear. “The Henge is just a shadow of an even greater object. It…” I struggled to describe what I could not even comprehend.
The pillars were supporting something that did not fully exist, and yet—faintly—could be seen in the searchlights. The something was dense beyond material, occupying a space greater than itself, and it was alive. Each fold of its self-consuming surface seethed, so frantic that it never moved, and yet was never still. The pillars were a shadow of its substance, their song an echo of its cries.
The sonata became a scream, and I screamed in tune.