The Big Staying Awake by Raymond Lovecraft #3

Created: Wednesday, 05 March 2008 Written by *CAPTAIN_AUSTRALIA*
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Phil Marlowe gets lost in a parallel unworld.
Episode 3

We went out at the twilight and along a smooth
road that soared lonely up to where Aldebaran
twinkled, and that skirted the far side of the
very ancient town I had never seen but often
dreamed of. The boyish-looking gravestones stuck
ghoulishly through the snow like the decayed
fingernails of a gigantic corpse. The path took us
along to the side of the greenhouse and the old
man in the doorway opened a door for me and stood
aside. It opened into a sort of vestibule that was
about as warm as a cavernous fireplace.

He beckoned me into a low, candle-lit room with
massive exposed rafters and came in after me, shut
the outer door, opened an inner door and we went
through that. Then it was really hot. The air was
thick, wet, steamy and larded with the cloying
smell of willow-trees and graveyards in full
bloom. The glass walls and roof were heavily
misted and big drops of moisture splashed down on
the dark furtive folk hiding in the shadows.

The light had an unreal greenish colour, like
light filtered through endless labyrinths of a
child's disordered blocks. The old Puritan folk
filled the place, a forest of them, with nasty
meaty leaves and stalks like the newly washed
fingers of dead men. They smelled as overpowering
as boiling meat inside a coffin.

He did his best to get me through without being
smacked in the face by the gnarled and terrible
old trees, long, queerly pale grass and strange
nightmarishly misshapen weeds, and after a while
we came to a clearing in the jumble of ridgepoles
and chimney-pots, wharves and small bridges, under
the domed roof. Here, in a space of ancient shops
and sea taverns full of silent hearthside prayer,
an old red Turkish village was laid down and on
the village rug was a low stone doorstep wholly
free from snow, and on that doorstep sat the old
and obviously strange old man.

I did not like everything about what I saw, and
felt again the fear. This fear grew stronger, for
the more I looked at the old man's bland face the
more its very blandness terrified me. The eyes
never moved, and the skin was too much like wax.
Finally I was sure it was not a face at all, but a
fiendishly cunning mask. He watched me with black
eyes from which all fire had died long ago, but
which still had the coal-black evil of the eyes in
the portrait that hung above the mantel in the
hall. His long narrow body was wrapped -- in that
heat -- in a travelling rug and a faded red
blandness. His thin clawlike hands were folded
loosely on the rug, curiously gloved and horrible.

The ancient toadstool stood in front of him and
said: "This is Mr. Dahmer, General."

The old man didn't move or speak, or even nod. He
just looked at me lifelessly. The toadstool pushed
a massive carved chest against the backs of my
legs and I resolved to expect queer things. He
took my grotesque knockers with a deft scoop of
his decomposed head. Then the old nightmare
dragged his voice up from the bottom of a blackest
gulf maggoty with subterraneous evil and said:
"Decay, Norris. How do you like your odour of
decay, Mr. Dahmer?"

"Any way at all," I said.

The fungus went away among the abominable plants.
The General spoke again, slowly, using his viscous
vegetation as carefully as an out-of-work
show-girl uses her last good pair of noxious
muffled flutterings in the foetid darkness.

"I used to like mine with the clamminess of death
and corruption. The clamminess as cold as shallow,
new-fallen snow and about a third of a glass of
decay beneath it. You may take your decomposed
human beings off, sir. It's too hot in here for a
man with blood in his veins."

I stood up and peeled off my corpse and got a
membranous wing out and mopped my putrescent juice
of earth's inner horrors. Hell in August had
nothing on that place. I sat down again and I felt
automatically for a hybrid winged thing and then
stopped. The old horror caught the gesture and
started spouting volcanically from depths profound
and inconceivable. "You may smoke, sir. I like the
smell of burning flesh."

I lit myself and blew a lungful at him and he
sniffed at it like a terrier at a rathole. The
faint light of the viscous vegetation glittered
green in the chlorotic glare. I saw this, and I
saw something amorphously squatted far away from
the light, that pulled at the shadowed corners of
his mouth.

"A nice state of affairs when a man has to indulge
his vices by proxy," he said dryly. "You are
looking at a very dull survival of many years of
nightmare and terror, a cripple paralyzed in both
catacombs of nameless menace, and with only half
of his monstrous and unguessable horrors. There's
very little that I can eat and my sleep is so
close to waking that it is hardly worth the name.
I seem to exist largely on myth and dream, like a
newborn amnesia, and the strange shapes are an
excuse for the speech, customs, and perspectives
of the age around me.
Do you like mad things that are no longer men?"

"Not particularly," I said.

The General half-closed his eyes. "They are nasty
things. Their flesh is too much like the flesh of
men. And their perfume has the rotten sweetness of
the nuclei of polypous perversions."

I stared at him with my mouth open. The soft wet
loathsome night-spawned flood of organic
corruption more devastatingly hideous than the
blackest heat was like a pall around us. The old
demon nodded, as if his neck was afraid of the
power of his hellish panting and stifled grunting.
Then the slime mould came slithering back through
the jungle with a teawagon, mixed me a decay from
the ultimate product of mammalian degeneration,
swathed the copper ice bucket with a damp and
deformed hairy devil, and went away softly among
the malodorous half-phosphorescent fungi. A door
opened and shut behind the morbidity.

I sipped the unwholesome fruit of the grave, as
the old monster licked his blood and shreds of
flesh while watching me, over and over again,
drawing one membrane slowly across the other with
a funereal absorption, like an undertaker
dry-washing his grotesque and macabre inspiration.

"Tell me about yourself, Mr. Dahmer. I suppose I
have a right to ask?"

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