Lovecraft Idea #24Dunsany—Go-By Street. Man stumbles on dream world—returns to earth—seeks to go back—succeeds, but finds dream world ancient and decayed as though by thousands of years.
I’ve never experienced a more marvelous or utopian society than the forest dwelling Dwusonee. Their symbiotic relationship with the golden-furred Cadlenra monkeys was astounding. The monkeys instinctively cared for the villagers, disappearing into the forest and returning to feed them with translucent, fleshy fruit from deep in the Thelessian caves where, it was rumored, Y’Gdreleh, the sentient fungus grew. The monkeys would groom and wrap their arms around the villagers in an almost human display of affection, and they would keep a watchful eye on the children, never letting them stray far from the village. I laughed when I saw these capricious, child-sized monkeys with their protruding dog-faces, parading through the village wearing a crown of gold studded with green-fire kerelds. My precious time spent with them was made even more so when, one day, I strayed into the forest and was unable to find the village again. It had vanished completely.
I retraced my steps and searched the endless forest for days before giving in to exhaustion. Returning home, I spent my free time researching, writing letters to scholars and even consulting fortune tellers as to the whereabouts of this village, but to no avail. No one had even heard of the Dwusonee or Cadlenra monkeys. I had resigned myself to remain in the ordinary world when I received a letter from a Russian professor by the name of Kurusk.
He had read a letter I had written in an anthropological journal and suggested that he might be able to help me find them. We corresponded for several months before arranging to meet in Vladivostok, on the Sea of Japan. His instructions were to travel by rail to the central station where I would be met by an envoy of his. I boarded a train on the Trans Siberian Railroad in St. Petersburg and was on my way.
It was on an overnight leg of my journey through the taiga near Lake Baikal that I began to notice something strange. The rhythmic rocking of the train had lulled me to sleep, when suddenly it lurched to a stop. I awoke, groggily descended from my bunk and started to dress intending to see what was going on. But, before I finished, the train lurched back into motion and sent me tumbling. Unable to fall back asleep, I made my way to the dining car to have a drink.
The dining car was empty except for an odd looking man with bulbous expressionless eyes and fleshy lips which seemed perpetually open as if gasping for air. The bartender had retired for the night, but the liquor was accessible, so I poured myself a glass of vodka, Moscow’s finest. I settled into an oversized chair near the light and picked up a nearby book. The other man sat in shadow. I thought he was watching me, but couldn’t be certain.
The train having found its rhythm again, and perhaps due to the vodka, I began to drowse. I looked up and noticed the odd man. He was still seated, but seemed to have moved closer. His overcoat was damp and there was a faint odor of moss. He wore a large hat with a sagging brim and was still in shadow, but I thought I saw light reflected on his large eyes. I looked to the window. If there was a moon out, it was blotted out entirely by the dense boreal forest, which threatened to swallow the train. I reached for my drink and raised it to my lips. The vodka seemed to have taken a darker hue. I sipped it, set it down and promptly nodded out.
I awoke in stillness. The train was stopped. The dining car was as it was before, but the odd man was gone and the shades were drawn. I emerged from the train, and was momentarily blinded by the bright light, which surrounded the train. The light seemed to radiate from all directions, and it was only after my eyes adjusted that I saw the daylight glare also reflected off of what appeared to be sand. Surrounding sand as far as I could see. There was no forest, let alone a single tree. The train stood among dunes. I stepped down from the car and looked down the length of the train. There were no signs of life. Unsure if we had arrived at a destination or stopped for refueling, I walked to the engine car and peered inside. No one was there. I wondered if we had been attacked by bandits, but there were no signs of struggle. I left the train standing, a bewildered hulk on tracks which stretched to infinity. I climbed the nearest dune for a better vantage point from which to survey my situation.
The desert stretched to the horizon. I tried to grasp how a train routed through verdant forests had come to be in the desert, and what desert this could be, but I could come up with no logical answer. In the distance, I saw what looked like a narrow platform sitting on the undulating sea of sand, but it being midday, I couldn’t be sure that it wasn’t a mirage caused by the rippling heat waves. Thinking it better not to trek across the desert at midday, I returned to the empty train to seek shelter until late afternoon.
Later that day, I set out in the direction I had seen the platform. As I crested another dune, I saw that the platform appeared to be made of stone. I got nearer and had the sensation of déjà vu. I touched its surface. It was foreign yet somehow recognizable. A stone block, it stood three feet above the ground. I circled to examine its other sides. On the far side, where the sand sloped away, I found an opening. It was the top of a doorway and above it, an engraving of a star map. The observatory! I recognized it. This was the pinnacle of the Dwusonee’s observatory. I had climbed this steep ziggurat and watched over peaceful village life. But, was that village now beneath these dunes? Could that be? Once surrounded by lush forest, now buried under desert. How many ages would have passed?
As daylight waned, I became aware of a faint glow emanating from the opening. Was there still be life beneath this sand? Perhaps they had adapted to some natural catastrophe. Curious, I crawled into the opening, and slid down to the floor inside. It was dark, but as my eyes adjusted I became aware of an unearthly, violet glow which permeated the room. Its illumination was dim, but it was enough to make out the dimensions of the room. There was a doorway with stone stairs leading downward. I crept to the top of the stairs and looked down. The glow was stronger below. Cautiously, I descended. Entering, a larger chamber, I looked for the source of illumination, but did not see it. The eerie glow seemed to come from everywhere. In wonder, I realized that the glow came from the walls themselves. They were covered with some sort of ghostly fungus! Another staircase went further down, and the glow from that direction was even stronger. I continued my descent and was startled to see a skeletal figure lying at the base of the stairs. At first I thought it the remains of one of my beloved Dwusonee, but it was smaller in size, and had a protruding, dog-like mouth. This, then, was the remains of one of the monkeys. A casualty, but from what I could not guess.
I pressed deeper, down more stairways and through more chambers. Occasionally, I encountered more dog-faced skeletons laying about, but never with any indication of ceremony. My discomfort at these sinister surroundings was surpassed barely by my desire to solve the mystery and my hope of finding the Elysian people I had known.
I passed through what I was sure had once been the ground level of the observatory and tried the outer doors, but found them either sealed or blocked by walls of sand. Searching the interior chambers I found a passage which led to another descending staircase, this one more rough-hewn with stones placed haphazardly. As I descended, the air took on a fetid odor. I coughed in an attempt to clear the cloying stench from my lungs. Here, the walls glowed still brighter, and the fungus was more pronounced, rippling like veins across the rock walls. I considered turning back, but decided that I must have an answer to this riddle.
At the base of the stairs, the passage became irregular. I picked my way through larger fungi which now began to reach out from the walls. To the left was a large chamber. I entered, and surveyed the interior in horror. Arranged on shelves along the walls, were neatly stacked and separated bones and row after row of skulls. But, these skulls were not dog-like. They were human, and on closer inspection, I could ascertain grooves and ridges on the bones, indicating that they had been gnawed upon. Here was my answer. These were the remains of the gentle Dwusonee. Massacred, but why? The simian skeletons I had encountered earlier indicated that they had survived later, perhaps arranging these human bones and roaming freely. Had they been the executioners? Had starvation driven the simian species to this grisly extreme? What macabre ritual would have motivated them to arrange these bones so neatly? I remembered how the monkeys had watched over and fed the Dwusonee. Had reaping human flesh been their actual plan?
Sickened, I left the chamber. I heard muted whispering, from further down the corridor. I intended to return to the surface and leave this nightmare behind, but the whispering beckoned, and I thought I might find another clue. So, I went deeper.
The fungal walls seemed to tremble as I passed. I entered a gargantuan cavern, the floor of which dropped sharply away, opening into a vast space which rushed out of sight below. Pungent air wafted up, and I choked but not from the smell. Here was a final vision of unspeakable hideousness. The fungal tendrils from the corridor behind me swelled in size and surged over the edge, joining larger knobbed vessels, which continued on to merge into a towering saprophyte. The obscene, slimy mass seemed to sense my presence, quivering in such a way that it rustled. Profane whispers filled the cavern, growing into gibbering voices. It was then that I noticed the sea of bones and decay which surrounded this blasphemous necrophage. Skulls of many shapes and sizes twitched and muttered as they looked up at me, hollow-eyed. I stumbled back as hope drained away. An infinite void opened before me. A drone filled my ears. Y’Gdreleh, the divine corpse eater murmured in a multitude of voices and languages predating humankind by aeons. I may have shrieked or sobbed, I’m unsure. My grip loosened, first on reality, then on consciousness. I staggered under the weight of incomprehension. I don’t recall how long I was in that abhorrent cavern, but at some point I must have clambered to the surface, for I regained consciousness on the desert floor. I stumbled among the dunes for some time before finding the train tracks and eventually, the train. I boarded and collapsed from exhaustion.
I was awakened by the train conductor, who informed me that we had arrived at the final destination, Vladivostok. I waited at the pre-arranged rendezvous location, but no envoy came to meet me. When I tried to obtain the whereabouts of Dr. Kurusk I was informed that no such man existed.
Originally from Philadelphia, Gregory Kramer regularly succumbs to New York City's voices, playing guitar in schizophrenic, noise rock band Wetnurse. They can be found at www.myspace.com/wetnursenyc. Some of his artistic musings can be found at www.gregorykramer.tumblr.com
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