Lovecraft Idea #13
House and garden—old—associations. Scene takes on strange aspect.
House and garden—old—associations. Scene takes on strange aspect.
Before you proceed, dear reader, let it be known that the words and thoughts that follow are not the ramblings of a mad man, but the recollections that should not have to be remembered by the most ignoble of criminals. Crippled survivors of war often are seen scratching at some phantom limb which was amputated or lost in the blast from an enemy's salvo or discharge on the field. Such is the story that follows the scratchings at the ghost of a real world I once knew - before.
I was nearing the end of my studies at the academy when word arrived via post that my old employer and mentor wished me to resume my position under his wing over the Summer. Even to the gentry and noblemen, the calendar by which academic assiduity was followed still harkened back to a more agrarian age, when the ellipses of the moon were followed and hoary and saturnine rites celebrated the planting and harvesting of succulents and grains to carry villages through the pernicious winter months. With the long season behind, late Spring was bringing with it a period of overgrowth and loamy nights, with their skies filled with the stars. One could, if inclined, lay on an earthen bed of crab-grasses, beset with the evening dew, and stare far off into the cosmos to see even newly discovered Betelgeuse, and perhaps the mind would wander back to the ages of our ancestors, hiding and hunting, sparking fire from flint and adapting to the ever changing environs. It was a time where those established garrisons of civilization became threatened by the more primordial forces, as the wild encroached under the mist distorted lunar cycles of the Summer.
I said farewell to the fellows on the Aquatics Team and wished my best to various instructors throughout the academy before taking my luggage down to the great hall to await my ride. As I stood in the entry chamber, replete with banners touting our many victories over competing academies in various trials of athletic sports since the institutions founding in nineteen fifty and three, I walked under the two billowing flags for our victories in American football and peered into the alcove across from the main entranceway which held numerous trophies which we captured in almost near trouncing of other teams and each other in areas of excellence including gymnastics, academic debating, and impeccable attendance for the term of one complete year. As I looked through the intricately locked glass doors to gaze upon the engraved aluminum plated and metallic-coloured extruded vinyl polymers molded into the manifestations of our victories, when I beheld a spider crawling over the base of a goblet for "Meritable Performance In Achievement." The present stirred and I found myself wondering what it was like for our ancestors to carve an existence skulking through the cyclopean architecture of the of the Great Old Ones who ruled this planet long before Man took his first steps out of the primordial sea of life to strike flint to wood to begin an ordeal of hiding and survival to climb and create myriad histories to develop the age of enlightenment and refinement in which we now live. I was hoisted back through the ages when my piston-coach pulled up outside to take me to the estate of my former employer and mentor.
The driver took me through the bucolic countryside, we passed fields filling with various succulents and grains for the livestock used for milking and supplying the local liveries with the choicest cuts and jerkied muscle striations. As we passed one of the more suburban abodes, my nose caught the redolence of newly mown blades of grass. On the breeze was also the trace scent of petrol, procured at one of the local filling stations to fuel the combustion engine installed in one of the new rotary lawn manicure auto-machines. This was more than enough for my thoughts to slip back to nearly one year ago to the date, and working under the watchful eye of my former employer and mentor. His occupation is to see that the wilds of Nature's onslaught are kept to a minimal intrusive effect on the more civilized establishments of Man's refinements, as was his birthright, finding his blood flowing through an horticultural dynasty spanning well over fifty months. It was this philosophy in which I was schooled by my mentor, as he taught me to not only keep the savage encroachment of flora at bay, but he would teach me with much ardor to sculpt the thwarted hedges and fringes of variegated grasses into something more aesthetically acceptable to the refinement of the more genteel installations of the day.
In remembering this, my thoughts turned to Bernice, and how she looked last year after arriving back from her third term in her studies at The Academy For Female Studies And Etiquette. She was no longer bookish and a prude. She combined sex and intellect, the most powerful of weapons. We would spend numerous sun filled days discussing a variety of topics from the stage plays of Molliere to the local sports team and how they were doing well in improving that particular statistic. In candid moments, I could steal glimpses of Bernice traipsing through her secluded yard, or basking in the warmth of Sol as she was attired in a tanked shirt and short-pants hemmed high so that the pocket-points would peek through the leg-openings of the garment. Living in the Cape Cod-styled abode next to my mentor's, she took an interest in my horticultural predilections.
I was talking to her last summer, through a wall of hedges I was manicuring in the style I had seen at the estates of those in the highest of echelons of the gentry class. Bernice made a most scathing quip on how the selection at the couture's has decreased over the years, yet the local Fair never failed to yield an overabundance of polyesthered cotton (and Carolinian cotton at that) dyed with the visages and slogans of the various minstrel troupes of the past generation's-span, for which a mere sleeve of these "rock-a-tees" would break the coffer of even the most corrupt of local politicians. In most circles one would never think the fairer sex to remark in such a way - one would hardly expect it of the fair sex as well - but being in the sanction provided by the shade and the trust between two near intellectual peers, the mixture of wit and observation made for a headier experience than the finest dish of date-fruit and honey from the halls of Suleiman II, himself.
The abrasions of the vulcanized radials of the motorcar against the loose rocks on the shoulder of the road jerked me back to my present reality as the sound ground against the very fabric of subconscious mementos, and I found myself inside the halted autocarriage, and outside the driveway of the abode owned by my former employer and mentor. The Sun had apparently gone into repose during the excursion from the Academy, and the sky was now approaching that point in the day's cycle where the oft discernable curtain between light and shadow, between object and what the artists and scientists alike called negative space, between the reality and the fiction was blurred. A slight mist was rising from the combination of evening dew and warm summer air, further hindering the true sight, yet enhancing the fanciful dancings of what until now I thought of as false images, creatures and monsters as they skulked, swirled and writhed in the evening phlogiston of late June.
While my Mentor had taken up the edged roto-bladed barrel-mower to keep clear the division between the wilds of nature and civilization, he too had respect for his foe as well. My former employer was well-skilled in the varied arts of removing unwanted grasses, thistles and generic weed catalogued in the annals of both the Ortho and Audubon Societies, both of which he was a member, a prestige carried by few in this day and age. As a single dandelion might in time cleave a rock in two, my Mentor knew the same stratagem might be applied to plants, as was evident in the two shallow dirt trenches striping the length from the road to the door of his home, from where his flat-bedded vehicle had worn away the swaths of grass over the years. As I followed this trail of civilization, I could see the beacons of the lightning bugs (as was the colloquialism for these insects) in the distance and it was as if Mab herself had orchestrated a welcoming back to a Summer's tour of the mission I held so dear since that first season working along side my Mentor.
I had reached the end of the time-hewn promenade, and carefully placed my luggage down on the porch before rapping on the knocker of the old wooden door to the house. As I knocked, there was no sound. There was no knocker. I was taken aback by the sensation of a gentle metallic abrasion against my knuckles and a slight wiry elasticity as my hand bounced against what used to be an oaken door with a black cast-iron pineapple placed high in the middle with an ornately tooled clapper to lift and strike to call forth the inhabitants of the abode. Now, before me was a meshed metal screen, and no means to alert my Mentor that I had arrived and wished to speak to him. At last I found a handle on the screen door and depressed the latch and pulled. Perhaps it was uncivilized to barge in, but in the chaos of the foggy night, with all manner of phantasmic manifestations about I found myself driven to breach etiquette for an instant for peace of mind and survival. Other men might have suffered far worse. But the screen door did not give way, I changed my method and pushed instead of pulled, then gently jostled the door handle back and forth working up to an aggravated pitch but to no avail. I stopped the metallic rattling and heard only the sound of crickets.
Then I heard the creaking of a heavy step on slightly warped wood. I turned around to face my monster and saw nothing in the foggy night's air. The lightning bugs had stopped their celebrations and there was nothing in front of me. I was alone and my thoughts turned to what horrible fate might have befallen my Mentor and former employer mere minutes before my arrival. I had no way of reaching him inside and I had no way of alerting him to presence without shouting, which would only call the attentions of whomever - or whatever set upon him earlier. I knelt down to open my garment bag to get out the electric torch I had packed when I caught a pair of maliciously jovial eyes staring up at me. Then another. My ocular nerves darted all over my field of vision to see a clear path of escape from these lilliputian tormentors which now surrounded me. More eyes, both human and bestial, all looking up in bemused contempt. I finally found the switch on my torch and let the bright light fall on these nocturnal denizens so that I might temporarily blind them and discover their true identities simultaneously.
I reeled in the perversion of the psyche that thought up the formation that stood in the ground at the base of the stairs leading up to the abode of my Mentor. Little ceramic people poised among plastic ornitharies twice their size, all looking at the trespasser with dead eyes, some with no eyes at all where the enamel paint had been chipped away by time or circumstance. These abominations smiled and posed, eternally mocking the living, like the uncovered ruins of Pompeii, or some rummage sale Necropolis telling a warped yarn of history which ended at their moment of creation, but whose stares penetrated both space and time.
The eyes burned through me, and had me expecting a paranormal assault from behind me, as the eyes (or rather eye) of the largest of the dwarves, almost approaching my patella in height, and with the side of his hat broken out, revealing the soulless, empty innards - a constant reminder that the most saturnine, flawed, twisted and disfigured creations, warping and breaking the conscious mind lie in waiting for time immemorial - gazed at me, I could see that it was in fact staring behind me. Wheeling around and gripping my electric torch to use as a cudgel, I raised my arm to deliver a stunning blow when what I saw standing was a complete lack of entity. Merely the door and the sound of crickets. Only this time did I notice a small button next to the handle of the meshed screen door. I had heard of such contraptions, that when depressed, would complete a simple electrical circuit ending in a small, but loud bell which would ring and summon the proprietor of a house, or one of his man servants, to greet the traveler at the other side of the door. Thinking that this button looked similar to the model I had seen in my studies, I pressed the button.
A loud, sharp ringing came from within the house, akin to the sounds made by the rotary telephonic machines from the days of my forefathers. I heard the sound of a bolt and chain locking mechanism being removed, and suddenly I saw the figure of my Mentor, in the flesh, standing before me. He seemed pleased to see me, and bade me to enter. He said it had been quite some time, and we could catch up and talk of times past over the evening meal which was nearly fully prepared. As I grabbed my bags and entered, I could not help but think that something was slightly out of place in our meeting after all this time. Certainly it was not in my Mentor's joy at seeing his protege after I had gone away to the academy. No, it was something much more insidious, something of an incoming inexplicable tide with an undercurrent so strong, it threatened to tow anything in its path into the darkened reaches of the psyche's existence, fathomable only to the most alien and evil of minds. There was something out of place, but I was so enraptured at the prospect of once again learning the horticultural arts that I brushed aside such pernicious thoughts as merely a flea whispering in the ear of a very large animal, and followed my employer inside his abode.
Prior to my arrival at the abode of my former employer and mentor, I had caught rumors often left to the darkened recesses of alleyways, or whispered into the emptied pewter tankards at the local public house, never to fall audibly on the ears of proper ladies and gentlemen traveling during the day. One cannot pass the caravans and kiosks into town without hearing these strange stories, engendering the listener to conjure the most phantasmagoric images in one's mind. Of these rumors, which caught my tympanum, were of the strange habits and gastric predilections to which my former employer and mentor had fallen. As he descended along the balustrade to greet me, my olfactory nerves were assaulted by a most distinct odour - one that betrayed symptoms of my host's condition, only confirming the murmurings of the transients we had passed during our travels. Indeed, he offered me a plate of domestic pasta. This in itself did not bother me, so much as when he confided that it was concocted with a sauce of synthesized cultured bovine lactations. At this I had to withdraw my jasmine daubed handkerchief and press it to my nose, as not to be overcome by this offer. I could see in his eyes that he practically relished in such a display of epicurean blasphemy, accompanied by the mustering of all my moral fortification to ward off its effects. I inquired of my host as to whether this was some new culinary alchemy which one of the new servants had taken liberty to produce, when his reply nearly caused me to stagger and succumb to shock. My host informed me that not only did he find preparing the daily comestibles to be a task accomplished with much ease, but that he concocted his meals without aid. I was aghast. To add to my now blanched complexion, my former mentor had mentioned that he found that bombarding these meals with invisible rays of some of the highest frequency quickened the completion of the entrée’s preparation, which allowed him to utilize his time more efficiently, and devote his attentions to experimentation and study.
I tried to swallow to fight such moral degradation while my former employer removed his meal, and followed him as he led me down the hall. As we approached his dining room, I heard voices, and thought I was happening upon a gathering of sorts. I imagined myself rounding a corner and finding the circle of socialites to which my host and myself belonged, whereupon they would make much merriment at my falling prey to the amusements which tested the moral fiber of the strongest of men. I too would laugh and join in the musings as we all raised our glasses to toast the honour and humour of our gracious host. We would then open the leaded glass windows and disperse with the gastronomic abomination to the yard below, whereby we would take much pleasure in watching the local peasants and panhandlers fight for their share of the pasta while my host's dogs did the same for their share of the rabble. But all was for naught, as I was to come to know a heightened fear the likes of which no man should know.
As we rounded the corner, I could see the hallway and the dining room lit with a strange blue iridescence. The artificial luminescence, when combined with the voices gave no hint at the silhouettes of visitors in waiting. This was the most prominent sign of the electric nannies, which were becoming prevalent in the more pedantic strata of society. To most dullards, they could fool themselves into scrimping and saving their menial earnings to purchase one of these contraptions to placate the soul and assuage resentment toward the learned classes and transmogrify the harbored ill-will into laughter at comfortable scenarios and predicaments which would leave the more cultured class despondent and yearning for tennis on the grass courts or perhaps a brisk match of charades to send the wits racing.
Recently, discussions have arisen in many of the salons across the lands, pertaining to how these visual and aural transmitters would seek out fissures in the more educated psyche and exploit these weaknesses, and much like a spectral moss growing into the cracks of a steeled fortress, would cause the mind, no matter how educated and regardless of pedigree, to crumble to the wills of the daytime melodramas and late night charlatans. This would cause a self-perpetuating disease, as the passive victims were prone to spend the sleeping hours awake in the foul, spirit-infested airs of the night.
I reproached myself for yawning, for the gesture was forced and duplicitous in nature, and feigning an unnecessary need for slumber was not how I wanted to engender myself to my Mentor after such a long absence. At this, my former employer apologized for not having made the guest chamber available for my rest. He paused slightly and tilted his head to peer at the ceiling, above which resided the chamber where I would have been sleeping during my stay and then looked back at me, with an almost pure aversion to my own eyes as he told me the room had become converted into what he termed a "planning area" for the implementation of his newest tactics in his horticultural mission.
To that, I bedded down on the day sofa in the parlor, forcing my eyes shut and turning my head toward the wall to shield my frontal lobes from the rays emanating from the mass of cathodes, anodes, and vacuum tubes displaying the drivel of the day. Most disturbing were the intermittent gales of laughter from my host as he sat in the parlor watching these projected charlatans through the night. At one point the laughter from my Mentor stopped, but I still heard the prattling of the infernal box in the corner. I turned and opened my eyes to see the parlor bathed in the unearthly glow of the impersonal broadcasted images and sounds. Initially I thought that my former employer had ceased to find this electric contraption amusing and was coming to the senses of the refined mind I knew him to have. I was far from correct as the only companion I had in the room was the televisual machine as it mocked living actions and words by capturing them and parading them as devils march the lost souls around the bolgias of hell for all to see the sins of vanity and greed.
Much worse, it seemed that my former employer had abandoned his state of repose in this room to wander off or retire for the evening through some act fueled by some manifestation of newfound eccentricity. Knowing that the next day started earlier than that to which I had grown accustomed in the course of activities and studies at the Academy, and perhaps in hope that my Mentor might return and turn off the electric nanny, I once again turned over and shut my eyes and suffered this display of what I hoped was absentmindedness, praying that dementia had not set in too deeply.
I awoke to the sound of a static click and the cessations of an electromagnetic field. Turning, I saw my Mentor depressing a button on the electric television set and wander back through the room in the direction of, if my inferences of the previous night's encounter were to be counted as correct, the architectural hybrid of kitchen and refectory.
I followed and saw that my former employer had not lost the sense of how important the morning repast is to even the most rote of tasks, but his choice of comestibles were not unlike those withheld from tooth-rotted whelps whose parents have realized all too late the value of the medical and nutritional practices as prescribed by Dr. Kellogg during America's great age of enlightenment. Before me on the table were pastries and sweetened cereals. Having not eaten since before leaving from the Academy, I was in need to consume some form of food in order to recover the strains of the previous day and to hold me through much of the day ahead, which was sure to be full of a mild retraining session and delving into new areas and methods of fighting this war. I was assured that my former employer and Mentor would have new techniques and theories to share to more effectively ensure that civilization would win out over the primordial forces of savage nature.
I had barely finished sinking my incisors into a saccharine doughnut, when I felt a third presence in the room. I could account for my host and myself, but no other corporeal existences entertaining or participating in the morning meal or conversation, and then I saw him, or rather it. Printed on the box of pressed, sucrose coated corn cereals, was a leonine figure, whose anthropomorphized oculars seemed to follow my every movement, from bringing hand to mouth and then with full recognition as my eyes fixed on its felinthropic gaze- Its saturnine grin goading me to indulge in whatever hollow nutrients and satisfaction the box upon which its visage was poised to promise. I excused myself from the table feeling faint, though the entire time I skulked away I could feel those bi-dimensional eyes staring through me to know how thinly I wore my veil of stalwart brevity which masked my fears and only served to deepen the slope into which my reality was bending and slipping, becoming twisted and flayed to the whims of a consciousness wholly and preternaturally evil. I found myself practically running and dodging each obstacle in my path to gain access to my daily ablutions, perchance to wash off the irrationalities suffered through the taxing excursion and lack of sleep. Perhaps the clear water would do much to rid myself of the clutter of the road which clouds the mind and prevents clarity in the perception of the events of what I knew until not long after that fateful morning to be the real world.
My mentor led me to a derelict shack behind the manor and opened the door, revealing an array of equipment, from the rustic barrel-bladed instruments manually pushed across a lawn to crop the invading grasses, to the more conventional combustion driven engines, thriving on a belly always yearning to be filled with the lesser refined octants of petrolines such as diesel, or in the more desperate hours of our war, kerosene, dressed in a green enameled aerosol paint, where the driver would sit atop the steel beast as commander, steering and maneuvering the herbivorous contraption to mow swaths through the encroaching chlorophyll-saturated hoplites of our necessary enemy. This was the latest weapon of choice to we few in number to whom the Gentry and Aristocracy referred to as Lawn Manicurists, to focus on the aesthetically pleasing results left after our battles, rather than have the mind lingering on the brutality of the process necessary to arrive at our victories.
Seeing that the dew had finally burned off from the rising Sun, I pulled down my safety goggles and prepared to begin my mid-morning assault while my employer excused himself to his research. While back at the Academy, I devised a strategy for battle that was rather unorthodox when compared to most theories on fighting our war. I would take the smaller, self-propelled contraption and edge out most of the details around the corners of the house and the trees, taking care not to topple the stone wall which contained a small garden of perennials near the front steps. If my theories were correct, this would corral Nature's insipid tentacles into two central fairways on both front and rear lawns, which would be cut low with the seated engine. The hand-shears would seek out the remnants of the succulents hugging closely to the abode and lawn fixtures that had escaped the revolutions of the lathe-sharpened blades of Civilization's combustion tanks.
I was not to successfully accomplish even the first leg of my attack. I was familiar with the layout of the lawn of my Mentor, so I depressed the small bar on the semi-manually propelled mower and let the engine take over, so I might walk behind and steer the contraption without having to exert much force in pushing it along in its mission. Rounding the house to begin my assault on the rear yard I came face to face with an abomination of both Man and Nature so horrific, it pierced the mind and soul with images harkening back to the dawn of our species' memory pool. Before me stood a bird, almost an ostrich in shape - but it was wholly not an ornithary at all. Sightless, flightless, I followed the verdant form from its leafy head down to its body, having but the impressions of wings, down to its leg, with talons firmly rooted in terra cotta pottery. In some dark recesses of what should not be considered human society, some of our order had their minds warped. Some have theorized that the most steeled mind, when exposed to the battle for civilization over prolonged periods, have the lines of reality blurred, where Man and Nature are fused in the unconscious only to manifest itself in such eldritch forms to defy and appall the senses of both sides of the war.
There have been times, even at the academy, when Manicurists with an experimental sense of the aesthetic would display for the enjoyment of all what they had labeled "topiaries." Often they reminded one of the foliage represented in architectural concept art, or the childish musings of a land of candy, with lollipop-shaped trees and gumdrop hedges. Harmless in its inception, for how much danger could a confectionpomorphized plant pose? What stood before me, however, was an example of plants and innocence lost to the wills of a time nevercome. Perhaps my mentor left that saturnine figure as a reminder of the paths that we all must tread carefully to avoid, lest we unleash our most preternatural fears upon the earth. I gave the thing a wide berth as I continued my task, and made note to inquire about it from my Mentor after he had returned from his greenhouse.
As I proceeded to cut a swath of victory over my verdant foes, I peered into the neighboring yard in hopes of catching the eyes of the radiant Bernice, whom I had not seen in a year's span. The thought of having the chance to have a thought provoking yet jocund conversation with this most beautiful creature almost made me lose my course and mow over an already defeated line of grass, going with the grain and violating the aesthetic nature of my attack, for I was well drifting into the almost tangible possibilities of hearing her dulcet voice and getting lost in her large irises and pupils - the likes of which were the envy of Southern Belles who used frequent doses of morphine to achieve the natural gift which the angels had bestowed upon my Bernice. I was caught in heaven betwixt the sound of the combustion engine and the musings on my flesh love, when I was jerked back by a most horrible sound - or lack thereof. My lawn tank had consumed all of its ethyl and now stood lifeless, only to be mocked by my foes which until moments ago were paralyzed with fear and full realization of defeat knowing I had but one pass left before the battle was over. The silent pause was soon replaced with an almost deafening roar as I heard each tiny blade extracting nutrients from the earth to regenerate and rejoin their remaining brethren on the field. I quickly ran to the storage building to retrieve the gasoline container with which to fill the contraption's steel bladder, knowing full well that in order to sleep calmly at day's end that I would have to cut over the entire lawn to mete out retribution. This time, I would not allow myself to tarry or to be distracted, no matter how tempting, by the thoughts of human interloping.
I opened the shed door to grab the red metal drum full of gasoline, when I spied bags and containers each marked and dated. I had not noticed these earlier, and probably was unconsciously blind to their presence, accepting that it was the ample storage needed for my Mentor's vast array of gardening implements. Knowing that my Mentor always kept on par with only the latest in devices to help aid our war, my curiosity was piqued and I could no longer restrain my interest and walked to the closest container, ignoring the writing on the label, so eager was I to behold the shiny metal of the new tools. Opening the container, I was confused and shocked as it was full with grass clippings. I quickly shut the container and opened the next. More grass! The third - leaves! Each was labeled as to each particular type of plant and dated as to when it was harvested. I turned to run and resume my work to try and make rational sense of what my own eyes had just seen. I completed the battle before sunset but still the memory of the brief sight was worming its way into my brain.
I walked into my Mentor's dining hall, for the meal was ready and set on the table for us both to sup after a grueling day of fighting. The meal was ready, but my Mentor was nowhere to be found. I was even moved to elevate the volume of my voice as I searched for him. Then I glanced out the leaded glass window, resting my hands on the ecru painted sill, and saw my Mentor and employer closing the door to the supply shed which I had carelessly left ajar in my earlier state of fright. I saw him clamp a large padlock on the now closed door to the shed and then turn sharply toward the window out of which I was now staring, visually piercing me with his eyes. I shrunk away from the pane and stood by my chair at the dining table and awaited my Mentor's return so that we might eat and discuss topics of a more civilized nature.
My Mentor returned and immediately seated himself and began to eat. I had no choice but to join him, if anything to not tip my hand that I might have overstepped the lines laid out in the unspoken etiquette between guest and gracious host. The meal was mostly eaten in pregnant silence, save for the sounds of utensils against plates. I could take it no more, and started to inquire when my host interrupted. Though nervous at first, his explanation elucidated what I had seen. He explained that as the top men in the scientific fields are wont to collect specimens of various animals and microbes in order to examine and further learn how to combat dreaded ailments and understand the mechanics of the natural world, so was he collecting specimens to unravel this most uncivilized rubric to come up with a solution to what many in our line had coined as the "chloroplast problem." As he spoke, everything fell into place and I quietly berated myself for ever being so puerile in doubting the means of a master in his field, no matter how unorthodox those means might appear to a layperson.
My Mentor finished the last morsel on his dish and pushed himself away from the table, excusing himself, for he had much research to do throughout the evening. I inquired as to whether I might be of assistance but I barely finished my query when he curtly stated that I should not. He then took a deep sigh and told me that it would be dangerous for the uninitiated, and that he needed me to watch over his abode for when he was finished with his research in the greenhouse, he had to trek out into the countryside. I asked him if it was to further the fight and he paused, giving me a hesitated affirmation. As he went out the door he told me that for my safety, that I must not enter the outbuildings for they contained many dangers for those unskilled, for only Master Horticulturalists had been fighting the war long enough and had the wisdom to perform these most delicate experiments without being overcome by our chloriferous enemies. With that, he donned his naugahide gloves and left, slamming the door behind him.
I could not help but to feel slightly abandoned, for abandoned I was, as my Mentor and current employer went off to combat civilization's foes without me. I resolved that this was in fact a test. Perhaps I was in store for a promotion of station in this regiment, for all knew it was well overdue and that I was in fact the most able of body and agile of mind, learned in the horticultural arts, having studied and served under such a Mentor of nonpareil, and I could say so without the taint of hubris as yearly many clambered and were turned away from the opportunity to work under my Mentor. Admittedly, a lack of patience was my largest fault next to being unable to differentiate octanes of refined petrol olfactorially in a closed shed without lighting, and perhaps this was to see if I could overcome such a downfall. I began to gather the dishes and head to the kitchen.
It had taken some getting used to, but the lack of domestic or indentured help would not mean that the flatware and dishes would not get cleaned, just as I am sure the clothing would be laundered - and besides, one of the benefits was that one could starch one's clothing to the lever of personal taste, and not skimp on the amount like house-people are wont to do in cutting corners so that they might get back to their gossipry. Having watched the help go through this process before, I opened the cabinet doors under the sink to see if I could locate the proper detergents and perhaps a pair of latexed gloves to prevent the dishwater from unnaturally exfoliating the skin of my hands. Having retrieved the proper reagents and returning to my natural upright stance, I turned the faucet knobs until water flowed out of the spigot to fill the basin of the sink. I looked out of the kitchen window and across the yard to see if I could see any happenings inside of the greenhouse. It was only wishful thinking, for my Mentor had recently replaces the clear glass with translucent panes to better gather thermal energy rays during the day and trap them within the building throughout the night, keeping the specimens within alive so that various experiments could be carried out to their completion to ensure that the advancements in the laboratories would translate to our advancement on the field of battle and, one would almost be given to extrapolating that into advancements and victory in our war.
I could see that the lights were on, but I was unable to espy as to what was taking place within the greenhouse walls. It was easy to see how this was a good alternative, as it blocked Civilization's enemies from glimpsing our secret plans. The structure was also physically and psychologically daunting to any of the uninitiated. Large and looming, it disallowed any eyes to pierce the walls to see how knowledge was extracted from within the compound. The tympanic nerves were assaulted unrelentingly by the screams of silence as grasses and shrubs were subjected to what a more civilized era could devise to finally bring a swift cessation to the war waged against us by the most insipid of foul Nature's armies. The analogician's psyche would be pierced with images of the great cyclopean temples hewn of the earth to house the horrors known only to our ancestors as they were subjugated to our ancient masters in a time before humanity beheld the Sun rise to celebrate the freedom of existence. But that was a different age when we were fighting to live, whereas now we were fighting to maintain what we had survived epochs to achieve.
So many images raced through my mind that I missed a sequence in my own reality. Apparently my Mentor was in the process of leaving the greenhouse to run the errands about which I had been informed when the dinner meal ended. I heard the shrill cry of what was unmistakably feminine horror at undoubtedly a most phantasmagoric sight, and looked up to see the crimson tail-lanterns of my Mentor's auto-car speed off, like the eyes of some beast retreating into the night to bait its would-be captors into a pernicious trap, or the luminescent growths on the deep aquatic beings who live where the underwater pressure would crush a man's skull like an egg, regardless of how strong the resisting air-pressure within the deep-diving suit - creatures that wait deep below the waters of the world with the sleeping city of Great R'lyeh where waited the gods of our ancient masters who once enslaved us aeons ago.
I continued my charade of washing the dinner plates until I was certain that my Mentor was off of the premises. I quickly stopped what I was doing and hurriedly put on my evening coat and hat, my after-dinner gloves, tied on my ascot to further ward off the foul humours of the night's air and grabbed my cane. Making sure I still had my pocket watch, for I did not want to be out when my Mentor returned, I opened the door and gingerly stepped outside and headed toward the green house.
I tried to run to the outbuilding, but before me the yard seemed to buckle and stretch for miles between my destination and myself. I could feel Nature's regiments regrouping and growing under my boots with each step, eager now that my Mentor had left me to solely guard this bastion. Certainly I was outnumbered, and no soldier in his right mind would obstruct the much-needed sleep to battle the encroaching forces in a war the scope of which they could not possibly hope to understand. Besides, Nature had been enlisting the ever so subtle elements of dust along with insidious though miniscule arachnids to form cobwebs which became a horrid hindrance in feeling around the shed for the exact instrument to complete a task which would be much more efficiently performed under a lit sky.
As I neared the green house, I could see that the door was still slightly ajar, and I could hear the humming of the iridescent longbulbs that illuminated the interior of the verdant laboratory, where prior to my arrival the screams came. I pulled the door outward until I heard the metallic click of the latch, notifying me that it was securely shut. Still teeming with adrenaline, I spun around, fully courageous and confident to make five yard trek back to the house.
As I started to open the door to the house, my curiosity was piqued. What if there was someone truly in distress inside the green house. What if that person was still alive and being held captive - or worse-- by the tortured inmates of my Mentor's laboratory? What if that person was??
My pace quickened as my mind raced with thoughts of the lovely Bernice - that fragile figure whom I'd not seen since my arrival this Summer. Could the reason of her absence have been that she was being held captive all this time? The thought was utterly absurd, for if Bernice had wandered in and had come under any trouble, surely my Mentor would have vanquished the foes and set her free. This was his domain. He knew how to handle any problem, and the only experiments that took place here were those done to discover the limits of plant life, and how we might use that knowledge in our war. Unless? The darkest recesses of forbidden world rarely glimpsed upon by men were coming to the forefront of reality. The nonsensical and horrific were threatening to invade my brain. I had to shake these thoughts and clutch reality once more.
I slowly depressed the latch on the green house door and pushed it inward just wide enough for my body's frame to fit through the opening, and was almost blinded by the harsh illumination provided by the electrically charged noble gases in the bulbs affixed to the ceiling. Through squinted eyes I saw shallow plastic and terra cotta flowerbeds filled with myriad varieties of grasses and shrubs, from the most vibrant vermilion to the pale yellow of desiccated crabgrass. It was when I centered my vision that I found relief in her form. Bernice was here after all. She was facing away from my entrance, but her shape was unmistakable and undeniable.
I called thrice to her, but she did not respond. She just stood there motionless in her nightgown. It now all made perfect sense, and I had no recourse but to laugh to myself for my prior anxiety just moments ago. The situation could not have presented itself more apparently. For years, Bernice had lived next to my Mentor, and last Summer became quite intrigued in what it was that we, the initiated did. I had tried to put things into a perspective suitable for such an astute intellect such as hers. With the increasing rate of experimentation coming from her neighbor's yard well into the night, and my return to the battlefield so close to her home, a powerful combination of assiduity and curiosity must have come over the fair creature, and she could not help creep into the green house after my Mentor left to see what was occurring behind the lines. Upon seeing the specifics of the methods justified by our cause, Bernice must have become paralyzed with fright. After all, it was a well-known adage that the general populous should never know how their grass - or snuff-was cut, for those unused to our craft, the senses might well be over-saturated causing a shock to the nervous system upon exposure to the specimens of Civilization's bane, the various abominations of succulents, and the wide array of stainless steel instruments, still stained with the cellulose and chlorophyll of the most recent experiments.
Left alone in this room, there was no hope for Bernice. I did not know when my Mentor would return, so she would not be shielded from a quick strike made by the captives within the green house. I thought perhaps the touch of a human hand, full of warmth and that of a close friend, might stir her from her current state. I walked up behind her and reached outward to softly place my hand on her delicate shoulder, and doing so said the name, which sounded and danced as light of the tongue. Bernice. But as my palm came to light on its destination, the most dulcet name turned into a gasp, as my nerve endings received not the sensation of alabaster skin beneath an evening gown, but a harsh rustling.
My mind was having great difficulty in comprehending what was transpiring. I instinctively withdrew my hand as some cat stepping in a shallow puddle, or a casualty of the Great War who had unwittingly stumbled into a field of landmines. Shaking off the initial sensation, I steeled myself to face Bernice to see for myself what the problem was. I stepped in front of her and raised my gaze to poignantly meet hers to let her know that she was safe in my presence, but what I next saw was something that as I tell you this tale, I still cannot, nor should any man have to, comprehend.
Before me stood Bernice, though not at all Bernice. She was a composite of grasses, leaves, and shrubs. Like the hell-warped ibis, or whatever plantimal I encountered while engaged in battle the day after my arrival, so stood this visage before me of a person I once knew to be soft flesh, sanguine with the life-stuff that made her most human, now transfigured. Before me were lifeless eyes, two hollows with stems and thin branches intertwining where the ocular orbs should be, staring at me, through me. Where her cheekbones once stood high and delicately, were now replaced by mocking oak leaves, covered in blights, which formed welts on the pallid-green skin to give a warted look. Her mouth was now as bark and juniper, tent spiders clinging to the edges.
I looked at the figure I once knew to be Bernice. It was as if her thoughts became leaves; and her leaves became thoughts. All was as some Dunsanian horror made real, and the utter resolve it took to not scream, thereby alerting the inhabitants and their newest victim to my presence, and sealing my own death, would have seemed a Herculean task for men with the strongest fortitude alive. In my mind I steeled my heart for what I knew had to be done, for my Mentor had relinquished his oath, his morality, his place in civilization, and in conducting his experiments had allowed the seeds of madness to be sewn in his already fractured psyche.
I took a container of ethylene and knocked it over and let it flow over the floor of the green house and around the vermilion death that stood before me. Taking match in hand and striking its crimson head against the flint-coated strip on the back of the matchbook, I produced a flame. I stared for a while, taking in the gravity of how much our regiments were able to accomplish due to the advancements made here in this laboratory, of the dual irony of how my Mentor fought so ardently against the very thing which he was to become, and how refined petrol, the very thing which breathed life into the combustion engines which served not only my Mentor and myself, but all of those who fought the encroaching forced of Nature, was about to bring a maelstrom of destruction on the very place that was the shining bastion in Civilization's war.
I stared perhaps too long, for the match had burned down to my fingertips and I dropped the tiny flame to the floor. A blossom from the garden of Prometheus himself erupted around me, engulfing this horticultural lyceum and the monster I once knew as the gentle Bernice in scorching brilliance. Almost paralyzed myself, I knew that my Mentor would return, and that his state would be unfathomable, for who could truly say how far over he had gone?
I ran to the house and gathered my traveling bag, coat, and fix something to eat while on the road in my hurried trek away from this horrid place. As I ran through the pitch of the night air, filled with the noisome scent of burning greenery, and my back lit by the orange of the inferno behind me, I swear to this day I heard the voice of Bernice in the distance yelling that there was a fire, pleading for someone to help and to call the department of fire control. I could not turn around. I had to keep moving forward - for myself, for humanity.
I tell you this dear reader, if you have braved the words preceding these, as a warning. There are things that one was not meant to behold and should not. It is as Icarus cast down by the gods themselves, so we might too, if the psyche is not distanced from the struggles which our race must overcome, as we did from the Elder Gods, and now against Nature herself. As in the beginning, our sanity was lost and regained out of fire.
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