ShadowCast Episode 004
The Old Ones
By Jeremy Clymer
Read by Jason Warden
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“Name?” the nurse asked. She did not look at me when she asked this, but rather at the clipboard on the desk in front of her.
“Al Mitchell,” I responded, noting to myself her startling similarity to Nurse Ratchet from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
“Guest’s name?” she asked. I found it charming that they referred to them as “guests” here instead of “patients.” It made the place seem less clinical, or at least it would if it weren’t so clinical-looking.
“Paul Hastur,” I told her. Paul, or Professor Hastur as he was known to me, had taught several of my philosophy classes in college. He seemingly taught philosophy for the sole purpose of spewing great amounts of vitriol at any philosopher of historical prominence. He had professed a deep and unrelenting hatred for everyone from Plato to Kant to Heidegger to Sartre, as well as a host of lesser-known contemporary philosophers I could only assume had taught him at some point in his own college years. The only philosopher he had ever grudgingly shown respect for was a Russian nihilist by the name of Bazarov, whom despite my best efforts I was never able to find any works by.
Nurse Ratchet’s doppelganger directed me to room 312 and I went on my way, having never actually made eye contact with the woman. As I walked down the hallway to the elevator, the lights flickered and an ominous moan seemed to emanate from the walls. Anywhere else this would have stricken me as a little bit spooky, but here it seemed like a nice change of pace from the maddeningly harsh fluorescent lighting and the constant buzzing sound it produced. As I reached the elevator, its door opened and three elderly women smiled at me from its interior. I thought it odd that they did not exit the elevator, seeing as how we were on the ground floor, but I figured maybe they were just riding it up and down for something to do. It was probably either that or another game of Canasta. I nodded at the three woman as I got in the elevator and then pressed the button for the third floor.
“How do you do, young man?” one of the women asked.
“Quite fine, thank you,” I replied.
The women smiled sweetly at me, and then quite unexpectedly began reciting in unison what sounded like the ravings of a longtime LSD aficionado.
“All shall weep when a dark sun rises on the forty-second parallel in the place where two waters converge, for on that day he who has been dead but dreaming will rise from the abyss and bring chaos and destruction in his wake. Unspeakable terrors shall be unleashed upon the earth. The Old Ones shall spread over the land, leading mankind to a frenzied demise in an amoral revelry of unmitigated terror and destruction.”
“I… uh… I think we’ve just about reached my floor,” I told them, more than a little put off by their obvious mental imbalance. As the elevator stopped on the third floor and the door opened, I slowly made my way out while keeping my eyes on the three old women.
“It’s been nice talking to you ladies,” I announced. “I hope this doesn’t come off as rude, but you may want to consider having the nurse adjust your meds.”
The three women smiled serenely as the elevator door slid shut. I stared blankly at the closed doors for a minute or so before shaking my head and heading down the corridor to room 312.
As I reached the room, I could hear the sound of daytime courtroom television coming through the open door. A sassy female judge told someone to “drop the zero and find yourself a hero, honey,” and the audience roared in approval. I peeked my head in the door and saw Professor Hastur sitting in a brown, faux leather recliner. He was dressed in a bathrobe and sneakers (no socks) and watching the televised proceedings with rapt attention.
“Professor Hastur?” I called to him.
Startled, he shot out of his chair and adjusted his robe. � He then looked over at me and squinted. “What? Who? Who’s that?”
“Al Mitchell,” I said, slowly inching my way into the room. “I was in some philosophy classes of yours.”
Professor Hastur scowled as if he didn’t quite believe me, but then he waved me in and motioned to a folding chair positioned opposite his recliner. I sat down and he resumed his position in his chair after turning the television off.
“First off,” he said, “it’s been years since I’ve been a professor, so just call me Paul.”
I smiled, happy to be able to speak to him on a more intimate basis. “OK Paul.”
e “Secondly,” he continued, “Why is it so trendy these days for people to visit their old teachers in retirement homes? You’re the third this month. Makes me kind of paranoid. Poor Walt next door gets so many ex-student visitors, he’s practically still teaching.
“Well in my case,” I explained, “I was thinking of writing—”
Paul groaned loudly. “Let me guess. You learned that I was in the old folks’ home, diagnosed with terminal cancer, and you decided to write an inspirational memoir about how I, as your teacher, touched your life and influenced your development not only as a writer, but as a human being and blah, blah, blah, predictable, unimaginative nonsense. Maybe you would even get to witness my gradual decline and play it off for maudlin sentimental value. How base. How cliché.”
That stung a little. I consoled myself by focusing on a single, comically-long hair descending from one of his ancient nostrils. I may be sentimental, I thought to myself spitefully, but at least Rapunzel won’t be climbing up into my nose.
Paul sighed. “Look, Albert—”.
“Just Al,” I interrupted.
“Look, Albert,” he continued, wagging a bony finger in my direction, “I didn’t get into the whole teaching thing to impart invaluable life lessons on my students that would ready them for adulthood and yada, yada, yada. I did it to sew the seeds of discord, to pave the way or an era when a disillusioned, apathetic mankind would allow itself to be lead to the mouth of a hellish abyss and would jump willingly into that abyss because it would seem preferable to continued existence.”
“Oh,” I replied, rather at a loss for words. “I see.”
“I suppose I didn’t do that good a job, considering how many ex-students have come forth to taunt me with their exuberance over how clever I made them feel.”
“Forgive me for asking, Paul,” I said cautiously, “but how exactly did you intend to…”
“Sew the seeds of chaos and discord?”
“Yes, that bit,”
“Well, I taught you Nietzche, didn’t I?” he howled incredulously. “I mean, what more do you want from me?”
“And why do you want to lead mankind—”
“That includes women, too, to be fair,” he interjected. “I’m no sexist.”
“Why do you want to lead… humanity… into the gaping maw of a dark, hellish abyss?” I asked, finally getting into my groove as interviewer despite the jarring absurdity of my former teacher’s ramblings.
“Well, to be frank, I’m part of a millennia-old race that ascended from the depths of the sea and assimilated with humanity for the purpose of ushering in an era when our ancient, forgotten gods would once again walk the earth, bringing terror in their wake and causing humanity’s doom.”
“That seems a bit rude.”
“It’s nothing against humanity in particular. That’s just kind of how our gods go about their business.”
“I see,” I said. Then, trying a tactic I picked up from my Intro to Psychology class back in college, I asked, “And how does that make you feel?”
Paul shrugged. “Whatever works for them, I guess. Who am I to question the will of those for whom death is merely a cat nap? They have existed for an eternity and will continue to exist long after you and I have shuffled off this mortal coil.”
“Seems a bit essentialist to me,” I commented.
“You just always seemed to me to lean more toward the existentialist perspective, even though you pulled no punches in your criticism of Sartre and Camus.” As I said this, I was particularly proud of my correct pronunciation of “Sartre.” It had taken me years to get that down.
“Couple of pricks.” Paul scowled. “You try confronting an unimaginable and undying horror and let’s see you cling to existentialism. In fact… I have some in my closet if you’d like to give it a try.”
“You have some…” I paused. “I’m sorry, some what now?”
“Come, come, let me show you.” Paul stood up slowly from his chair and straightened out his back with a few loud cracks, the first real sign of old age I had seen in him other than his severe dementia. Then he meandered over to a closet door on the other side of the room and I got up and followed him.
As he opened the closet door, I heard the same ominous moaning sound I had heard in the hallway downstairs. I stood up and walked over to the closet, and just as I approached it the moan seemed to morph into a piercing shriek. By the time I reached the closet, the sound was maddeningly loud and high-pitched. There was also a quality to it that made me want to shit myself, possibly from fear but I wasn’t entirely certain. I looked into the closet and the scene was like a planetarium thought up by a psychotic marine biologist. Swirling masses of stars were visible in a vast expanse, but in the space in between these celestial bodies were a countless array of pulsating, amorphous creatures with writhing tentacles and a sickly-looking pallor to their flesh. It was these creatures that were emitting the terrifying noise that was both ear-splitting and ground-shaking at the same time.
The presence of these creatures elicited in me a terror I had never felt before. It was the terror of knowing that life is utterly meaningless in the face of such unmitigated destructive power. I wanted to tear my own skin off to stop it from crawling. I wanted to howl at the heavens in protest of the unfairness of it all. Most of all, I wanted it all to end. I wanted these creatures to get on with the inevitable and snuff out my inconsequential existence.
Then Paul shut the closet door. I returned to my senses but my mind still reeled at what I had just seen.
“Impressive, isn’t it?” Paul asked with a sly grin. “I don’t have much of a wardrobe so I figured I’d put my walk-in closet to good use by making it a portal to another dimension. It took a few tries to get the incantation right, but it was well worth the effort, I think.”
I walked back over to the folding chair and sat down in a daze, trying to collect my thoughts. My whole understanding of the universe had just been changed. It all seemed like a cruel joke. I wanted to pounce at Paul and snap his leathery old neck. He resumed his position in the recliner and looked at me with some concern.
“Hey look now, Albert, he said, “don’t get all sullen on me. You seem like a decent-enough guy despite a certain amount of dull-wittedness. Look, no one really knows when the Old Ones will return to overrun the earth. It might be tomorrow or it might not be until another thousand years from now. Did you happen to catch the prophecy from those gals that hang around in the elevator? They’re friends of mine; we go way back.”
“Well, that prophecy is at least five millennia old. On top of that, it’s so damn vague you’d think that fool Nostradamus had written it. And look at me, riddled with cancer but still hopping about like a lad of forty-three. What I’m trying to say, I guess, is that we’re all here on earth to die terrible, often agonizing deaths, so you might as well do what you love. Me, I love breaking people’s spirits and softening them up for the apocalypse. You seem to enjoy hackneyed, overly sentimental writing. Whatever.”
I thought for a moment. “Maybe not,” I said. “Maybe I can still write my book about you, but really write it about you instead of my sentimentalized version of you. You can teach me one more lesson, and I can teach the world that monsters like you exist. What do you say?”
Paul smiled. “Now you’re talking like you have some sense in you. What the hell? I’m dying anyway, I might as well try to get my point across one last time.b Maybe I can still crush a few more souls yet. OK, let’s get started.”
I pulled out an audio recorder from my shirt pocket and turned it on.
“Before the universe even existed,” Paul began, “there were the Old Ones…”