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Fiction

The Sign in the Moonlight

You will have heard, no doubt, of the Bergenssen expedition—if only from the manner of its loss. For a short while, that tragedy was deemed significant and remarkable enough to adorn the covers of every major newspaper in the civilised world.

At the time, I was in no position to follow such matters. However, in subsequent months I’ve tracked down many journals from that period. As I write, I can look up at the wall to see a cover of the New York Times I’ve pinned there, dated nineteenth of May 1908, bearing the headline, “Horror in the Himalayas: Bergenssen five reported lost in avalanche.”

In a sense, I suppose, it’s a spirit of morbidity that draws me back to those days upon the mountain and their awful finale, which I failed to witness only by the purest chance. Equally, there’s a macabre humour in the thought that to almost all the world I am dead, my body shattered and frozen in the depths of some crevasse. But what draws me most, I think, is the memory of what I saw after I left Bergenssen and the others—that knowledge which is mine uniquely. It’s without disrespect to the Times that I say they know nothing, nothing whatsoever, of the horror of Mount Kangchenjunga. Likely, there is no one else alive who does.

No rival can rightly be offended when I say that Bergenssen was the finest mountaineer of his generation. No other but that fierce and hardy Swede would have considered an expedition upon Kangchenjunga after the dramatic failure of the first attempt, and the very suspect circumstances of that failure.

I recollect clearly how we spoke of the matter, when he first proposed the climb to me. Coincidence had brought us together in a London gentleman’s club that I favoured whenever I was there on business. His tone was scathing as he cried, “Aleister Crowley, that self-publicising fool? The man’s as much a mountaineer as I am Henry Ford.”

“You can’t deny that Dr. Jacot-Guillarmod knows his business.”

“Pah! I’ll deny what I like. I doubt if they ever left Darjeeling.”

“Then how do you explain the death of Alexis Pache and those three porters?”

Bergenssen furrowed his brows. “Must I explain it? Perhaps what they say about Crowley is true. Perhaps those unfortunates were sacrificed to whatever ghoulish spirits the man had devoted himself to that week. More likely, he plied Pache with alcohol, drugs, or some yet darker vice and the man remained in India to indulge himself. Even if it’s true, a better climber would have known the warning signs of an avalanche and avoided it accordingly.”

With retrospect, those words seem bitter with irony, but at the time, I was caught up by the Swede’s immense self-confidence and courage, which were as infectious as any cold. “Then you really think it’s possible? Freshfield and Sella confirmed the findings of the Great Trigonometric Survey—it truly is the third-highest peak on Earth. It would be a grand achievement.”

“I believe there’s nothing to be lost in the trying.”

“Nothing except our lives.”

“Well, of course.” He grinned, baring perfectly even white teeth. “So are you with me?”

I was violently tempted to agree on the spot. Instead, I prevaricated, knowing in my heart that I was little more than a hobbyist and, in the final analysis, not fitted to such a venture. Bergenssen’s dream was a marvellous one, but outside the smoky environs of the club it would evaporate, and though I might think of our conversation with a certain wistfulness, that would soon pass.

I was wrong. That month brought both personal and business misfortunes, and with each fresh trial, my mind called back to Bergenssen and to misty, snow-clad vistas. By the end of February, almost in despair, I wrote a brief note and mailed it immediately. If the offer still stood, then I was in.

Bergenssen’s reply came three weeks later, by telegram to my offices. Aside from the date, time and place for our rendezvous it bore only a simple message: GOOD TO HAVE YOU SIR.

***

I won’t trouble the reader with facts that can be gleaned elsewhere, and which have no bearing upon the substance of my tale. The details of our preparation are common knowledge, and the names of our three companions may be found from many sources, not least the May obituaries.

Bergenssen—somewhat contradicting his earlier comments to me—thought it wise to follow the route established by Crowley and Jacot-Guillarmod, and if we didn’t all agree with his logic then there was no question of debate. He was our leader absolutely, and no one would have suggested the excursion become a democracy.

Therefore, after much prevarication on the part of the local authorities, we began in India, and approached our object via the Singalila Ridge in West Bengal. From Ghum, we trekked through Jorpakri, Tongly, Sandakphu and Falut, in an unremitting downpour of the most torrential rain I’ve known.

There’s little else to tell of those days, except that Bergenssen travelled under something of a funk, which in turn infected the rest of our party, even down to our squadron of porters. He avoided any questions as to what had put him out of sorts, and so I took it for a mood of grim determination, or perhaps mere consequence of the abysmal weather, leaches, and other hardships.

In any case, we made good progress. We proceeded in short order through Gamotang, whence the work of mountaineering began in earnest, and on through successive camps until—late of an afternoon, with violet hints already softening the robust blue of the Himalayan sky—we came upon camp five.

In my mind’s eye, I’d expected some place remarkable, befitting the violence that had occurred nearby. In fact, it was nondescript, nothing more than a small mound nestled in the shadow of one minor peak. Strangely, this disappointment didn’t so much mitigate my sense of nervous excitement as increase it—as though I’d unconsciously decided to seek elsewhere for the tragic drama the scenery failed to provide.

We were all of us very quiet, however, and Bergenssen seemed practically catatonic, having said not a word all through the afternoon. By the time we’d pitched our tents and retired, the sky was a dark and livid purple that made the snow seem almost black, and my excitement had risen nearly to fever pitch—though I still couldn’t say why, or what might possibly relieve it.

Rather than settle down to sleep, I sought out Bergenssen, and was pleased to find him in better cheer than he’d been throughout the day. Without to-do, I said, “This is the point where the Crowley expedition floundered, isn’t it? Do you think we’re in any danger?”

“If Crowley’s to be believed then no, none whatsoever. He blamed the matter entirely on Tartarin and Righi’s incompetence, as I’m sure you know.”

I detected a note in Bergenssen’s tone. “And if he isn’t to be believed?”

“Well . . . it’s all very strange, you know.” He lapsed into silence, and for a while it seemed this cryptic statement would be his last word on the matter. Finally he continued, “One newspaper claimed that he heard their screams but chose to stay in his tent, drinking tea rather than hurrying to their aid. There was a quote I memorised: ‘A mountain accident of this sort is one of the things for which I have no sympathy whatever,’ he said. Can you believe it?”

“If there’s anything in the rumours about him, I can. They refer to him in certain circles as ‘the wickedest man in Britain.’ Do you really think it’s strange that he’d let his fellows go to their deaths unaided?”

“That? No, that isn’t it.”

There followed another long pause. These silences unsettled me more than anything because they were so out of keeping with Bergenssen’s characteristic bluster. What he eventually said, however, was nearly as unexpected. “You know, I suppose, what Kangchenjunga means?”

I’d passed a few hours in research before we set out. “The Five Treasures of Snows. . .the natives associate the five peaks with the five repositories of their god.”

“Did you know that Crowley claimed the porters were willing to continue—the next morning, that is, after the accident? He said they told him that the spirits of the mountain had been propitiated. One death for every peak.”

“But every account reports only four deaths, those of Pache and three of the porters.”

Bergenssen looked away, to stare distractedly at the wall of the tent. “Yes. I know.”

I sensed that his brief spell of loquacity had come to an end. I bid him goodnight and retired to my own small shelter. Feeling suddenly exhausted, I climbed straight into my sleeping bag and extinguished my lamp.

Yet sleep was not forthcoming. As often happens, bodily tiredness served only to exacerbate the activity of my mind. Outside, the wind ranged between eerie soughing and a penetrating, almost feline screech. Every so often, a crash marked the passage of some loose snow bank into the abyss.

As I lay staring into perfect darkness, I thought upon the rumours I’d heard of Aleister Crowley, tales he seemed to delight in and even propagate. I wondered what succour such a man could hope to find amidst the soul-wrenching desolation and wild beauty of the Himalayas. I imagined myself at the very spot where Crowley had sat, listening as his colleagues were torn from the mountain face, sipping tea as they tumbled down and down toward horrific deaths.,

I don’t remember falling asleep, but I have vague recollections of dreams in which I was led not by the hardy Bergenssen but by Crowley himself, who beckoned me through the most hazardous of routes, paths he crossed effortlessly only to laugh and caper when I couldn’t follow with the same ease.

I remember how I raged at him—and how my cries only made him laugh the harder.

***

I woke late. It was that, I suppose, that saved my life.

I transitioned abruptly from deep sleep into wakefulness, and realised the sounds from outside were my colleagues preparing for our departure. Yet I had no urge at all to move. I felt cold beyond belief, and it was more than I could do to control my shivering.Nevertheless, I struggled into my coat and boots, whilst the urge to vomit rose in my gullet.

The moment I stepped outside, Bergenssen rushed over. “My God, man, are you all right? You look like death! Can you stand?”

I struggled to control my thoughts. “I had the malaria,” I said. “Last year, in Egypt. I think perhaps it’s back.” I brushed a palm across my brow, found it clammy. “I’m afraid I’ll be going nowhere today.”

“Not to worry, old man,” Bergenssen said—though in fact, he looked more dejected even than I felt. “It’s a poor time for a delay, though.”

I couldn’t see how this was true. The wind was high, visibility was poor, and in all it promised to be a bad day for mountaineering. When I pointed this out, he said, “Yes, but we have a while yet. I wanted badly to make camp six.”

I was startled by the lack of sympathy in his tone. It was a sort of childish spite that made me say, “You should go on. I’ll be better soon, I’m sure.” Then, beginning to realise how foolishly I was jeopardising myself, I added, “If you rope the worst parts and send someone back in a day or two, I’ll be able to catch up.”

Bergenssen nodded vigorously. I could see that he very much wanted to believe me. “Yes, I suppose that’s the only way. You can manage, can’t you? I’d leave one of the porters, you know . . .”

“Yes? “ I said, with sudden hope.

“But we’ll need them all at six, you see.”

My heart sank. I felt a flush of horror at the thought that the man before me was nothing like the Bergenssen I knew; that no words I could say would move him. “Don’t worry,” I told him. “What’s the worst that can happen to me here?”

So they set out, and I watched until they disappeared. Had I any premonition? I remember being ill at ease, but of course there was the sudden rush of sickness, my half-remembered nightmares, and Bergenssen’s uncharacteristic behaviour. With all that, it was easy to dismiss any doubts as fanciful.

Yet very soon, I had graver reasons for concern. The weather worsened drastically: the wind rose in a matter of minutes, until soon it was a gale, flinging pirouettes of snow and wailing banshee-like across the cliffs. It wasn’t long before I was driven back into my tent, where I huddled shivering, hoping against hope to hear the sounds of their return.

What I heard instead was the worst thing I could have expected—a colossal crash that seemed to go on for minutes before it subsided into a low muttering.

It could only be an avalanche.

I think I grew feverish then, if I hadn’t been already. I know it wasn’t long after the avalanche that I convinced myself my companions would not be returning. They were gone, and I was alone.

I shouted and raved for a while. Afterwards, I imagined I’d returned to lucidity. The truth was that my temporary madness had taken a different turn. I was sure I should go outside and start back to camp four, where a portion of our entourage was waiting with supplies. If I didn’t, I would be buried—as Bergenssen and the others had been buried.

I staggered outside. The storm was like nothing I’d seen. Visibility was non-existent, except when a flash of lightning offered brief and violent illumination. Other than that, there was only darkness and snow, mixed inseparably, an ever-shifting funnel that howled around my every step.

In a minute, I’d lost all trace of my tent. On one level I realised I was as likely to blunder off a cliff as to come anywhere near our last camp, but that realisation did nothing to slow my steps. Increasingly, I was unsure of where I was going, or why. Was something pursuing me? Yes, that was it—now that I thought, I could hear it, hear its measured steps through the bludgeoning of the gale. Was it a thing or a man? Perhaps it was something of both.

I stumbled often and fell more than once, but I seemed to have grown oblivious to pain, or sense, or anything but my fear. I reeled without direction, with no sense of time, unaware even of the storm.

I don’t remember finding the valley. All I recollect is a change in the pitch of the wind, a relaxing in the lash of the snow against my back. It seemed quite abrupt. There was light, for the first time in ages. At first, I thought it was artificial. Then I recognised the pallid glow of the moon. It hung low and gigantic, as though I’d scaled a peak that had somehow brought us face to face. It was bright enough for me to see the crevasse walls to either side—and ahead, the building that rose where those walls met.

I thought it must be a monastery, but it looked as much like a fortress, with four windowless tiers raised on columns, each level roofed in the peculiarly sharp and steep Tibetan style. The wide doors were of plain, black wood, and there was none of the usual ornamentation, except for one detail—the huge, golden pentagram mounted high upon the fourth storey.

At that sight, though I might rationally have assumed myself rescued and safe, my fear redoubled. I managed one more step, before all the strength left my body at once.

I pitched forward. The blackness took me, and—God help me—I was grateful.

***

I woke by stages.

For some immeasurable period, I’d been aware of sensations—motion, and later, the cool of water on my brow—but had lacked any understanding of what those feelings meant or how they came to be. I was oblivious to the passage of time. Regardless of whether my eyes were open or closed, they were met by the same ruddy gloom. I was afraid, but in an indistinct way, as one might fear the concept of dying more than the prospect itself. I’ve no doubt that my fever was still raging, for I remember phases of awful cold and enormous heat.

Eventually, I examined my surroundings with something like clarity. I was muddled, the effort of moving my neck made it ache cruelly, and my inner clothes were moist with sweat, but I was lucid enough for curiosity. However, the room I was in was very plain. I lay on a low, hard bed, and the only other furnishings were a stool in the opposite corner, a small table beside me, and a narrow brazier. I thought it might be a cell, though there was no indication of a lock on the door. Then I remembered the building I’d seen, and how I’d thought it must be a monastery. The chamber was plain enough to be a monk’s.

Yet that was strange in itself. If Crowley had been correct then we’d reached to around twenty-five thousand feet; even a conservative estimate placed us at well above twenty-thousand. Such a height was tremendously isolating, far too much so for any regular supply or communication from the outside world.

I thought back to the research I’d done before I’d joined with Bergenssen. There’d been one sect in particular who considered Kangchenjunga sacred, and who might very well have built a monastery high amongst its peaks. What were they called? The Kirati, that was it—descendants of an ancient local people, practitioners of a religion rife with shamanism and ancestor-worship. If I remembered rightly, their god was “Tagera Ningwaphuma,” called the Supreme Knowledge. Perhaps here, high upon the mountain, I had come upon one of their extreme outposts.

Then I remembered the pentagram above the door. Maybe it wasn’t the Kirati after all—or if it was, some even more obscure offshoot cut off from the rest. Five points, I thought, five points for five peaks, and something in the notion made me shudder.

I climbed unsteadily to my feet. The effort made my head spin, and only a hand outstretched to the wall kept me standing. After a minute, however, the dizziness began to pass. I crossed the stone floor by small steps and tested the door. Sure enough, there was no lock. It swung open freely.

The man who waited outside, who turned at the sound of the door’s opening, was swathed in robes of deep crimson. He looked like any other priest of the region, except for two details: his robe was hooded and the hood drawn up, so that I could see only a crude hint of features, and in his hand he gripped a wooden staff which he clearly didn’t require for support.

He moved to bar my way. He was smaller than I was, but agile. He said something I didn’t understand; it didn’t sound like any dialect of Tibetan I’d heard. Something in the words and in his stance made me nervous.

“I’m grateful for your hospitality,” I said, “but I won’t impose any further.” I don’t know if I really expected him to understand English. When he evidently didn’t, I added in broken Tibetan something to the effect of, “Now I must go.”

He pressed closer, with the staff upraised, as if herding me back into my cell. He spoke again, this time more abruptly.

“No,” I said, reverting to English, “my friends . . . on the mountain . . .” I’d suddenly thought of Bergenssen, and the previously unconsidered possibility that someone might have survived. “Thank you, I must be leaving.”

This time he spoke loudly, and waved one hand close to my face as though swatting at an insect.

Suddenly, I felt terribly afraid. I pushed him away. At that, he looked as though he’d shout along the passage for help. In panic, I grabbed for his staff, and had it away from him before he even realised what was happening. He took a swift step back. I swung clumsily. The blow caught his shoulder. In a crouch, he backed off again, and I knew he was preparing to run. I struck again. This time, he slipped backward and his balance went. His head struck the wall with a ghastly slap.

I stood panting for a while, staring down in uncomprehending horror. Finally, I realised the dark trickle pooling between the cobbles was blood. Was he dead? I dared not check. But he wasn’t moving, and I could hear no sound of breathing.

It had been an accident.

Or had it?

In either case, how could I explain it?

I’d committed an abominable deed. I had killed a man on the most tenuous of grounds. Yet all I felt was fear, so profound that it swallowed every other sensation or possibility, morality included.

I decided I must hide the body. That might forestall any suspicion until I could get out of there. Setting the staff down, I grasped under his shoulders and, with much clumsy effort, managed to manoeuvre him into the room where I’d awoken.

I tried to drag him onto the bed, but it was too difficult. I let him flop to the floor instead. As I did so, his hood fell back, and I finally saw his face. He was slim-featured, quite young, and unexceptional—except for the scar on his cheek.

It was a perfect pentagram of whitened skin.

I shuddered with a feeling far worse than fever. Something was terribly wrong here, and in that moment, the fact I’d killed a man didn’t seem the worst of it. What had I stumbled onto here, high upon Kangchenjunga?

If I was under threat and had no means to reason with my captors, if I was already responsible for the death of one of their number, there could be no question but that I’d be safer even in the tempest outside. I returned to the corridor and considered it properly. It was very plain, and so long that I thought it might stretch the entire length of the building. Spaced along its length were other rooms or cells at roughly even intervals. At the far ends were double doors, each pair like those I’d observed from the outside.

It seemed a safe assumption that one set led out to the valley from whence I’d arrived. But which?

I settled on the nearest. In the interest of covertness, and also because its tip was sodden with blood, I abandoned the staff, choosing to support myself against the wall instead. I moved softly, on the very border of panic, convinced I’d be discovered at any instant.

In fact, I reached the doors without incident. After much nervous hesitation, I pushed one slightly open. Only blackness lay beyond. I pushed harder. Crouched low, I eased through the gap.

I was aware of a large space, then of light at its centre, and finally of figures standing within the illumination. Cockroach-like, I scurried through the shadows, hoping for some intense dark to conceal me. I was sure I’d be seen. Yet when I paused to look, the figures were still absorbed.

That calmed me fractionally—enough that I could take in the scene about me. I crouched at the edge of a large, circular chamber cleanly split into halves. The inner portion, where I knelt, was bordered only by plain stone walls. The other, however, presented a series of arches to the most astonishing vista. Evidently we were perched on the very edge of the mountainside, because the view was horizonless and dizzying.

At the centre of the room, directly above the point where the figures were gathered, a narrow well in the domed ceiling let in a beam of scintillating moonlight. Beneath, borne on a low pedestal, sat a large, pentangular dish of crystalline filigree, so delicate and translucent that it might have been carved from ice. So much did it glow and its surface ripple that it seemed to have been filled by the rays shining from on high.

I could make no sense of it all, except to find it strange and frightening. Nor had I time to consider. Suddenly the figures, who previously had appeared sunken in reverie, began to mill about and to converse in that clipped tongue the monk had employed. I feared I’d been discovered, and tensed instinctively. But none of them were looking in my direction.

It occurred to me they must be wondering after their missing companion, and this was confirmed when a delegation hurried out through the double doors. A minute later came shouts, and a second party followed the first. For a while, there was much activity. I was sure that at any instant one of them would penetrate the shadows and discover me. Yet, though they had time to scour the place, not one seemed to consider that I might have penetrated their sanctum. Eventually they reconvened, and I allowed myself the faintest release of held breath.

My relief was premature—and hopelessly misjudged.

The gathering split into two factions. Five of the monks surrounded the pentangular dish, whilst the others retreated to form a crescent round it, with the open side in the direction of the doors. Immediately they set up a chant, in a language just as unfamiliar but quite different from the one they’d employed before.

The words played havoc on my nerves, and brought incomprehensible images into my mind—as though I was perceiving something I couldn’t rationally grasp. As the chant heightened, raising towards crescendo, so the slant of moonlight seemed to brighten, and then, to pulse. At last, it was as though a column of brilliant, throbbing whiteness fell through the centre of the room. Though it scorched my eyes, it never occurred to me to look away. The dish seemed full almost to overflowing, as though brimming with fluid light.

The five monks assigned to its pentagonal tips, who so far had played no part, lurched abruptly to life as if galvanised. Each grasped his respective point and heaved with all his might. Slowly, the bowl began to tip.

As impossible as I knew it to be, I expected its contents to run out, to splash like mercury over the floor. Instead, just as impossibly, they were projected—in a manner that bore no resemblance to the projection of light. The flow seemed to crawl and seethe through the air. It fell upon the door, where it splashed like thrown paint.

When it settled, a glimmering pentagram hung upon the boards.

I’d barely registered all this when the chant adopted a new tone, shifting register without any loss of intensity. My attention was focused entirely on the doors. They looked soft and unreal under the stamp of fluid moonlight.

They seemed to shudder—once, twice, and a third, most violent, time.

With a force that made wood shiver like paper, they sprang open.

I fell backwards. I think I even cried out. If I did, it drew no attention. All thought was devoted to that hideous mantra—which seemed now like a wail of condensed experience, of horrible knowing borne by unfathomable words.

All eyes hung on the open doorway.

I couldn’t help but look.

My first thought was of a mirror, so similar was the scene beyond. There was the circular chamber, there the arches opening onto inconceivable space, the pedestal, the figures clustered about it.

Yet almost straight away, I perceived a difference. The view through the distant arcade was not the one behind me. Those stark grey pinnacles were unlike any on Earth.

Then it struck me. They weren’t of Earth at all.

If they were, what could explain the blue-green orb hung in the sky behind? I knew with absolute certainty that I looked upon a world not my own. More, I felt sure it was our moon, the very same that cast its rays through the ceiling—whose radiation had somehow riven a path through untraversable space.

But if that was true, who were those unshapely forms, robed like their earthly brethren, who turned towards us? They were not men; too tall, too long in limb. A faint and bluish glow ebbed from within their cowls. As they moved towards the door, the shadows flickered jarringly around them. The swish of an arm revealed . . . what? Not a hand.

They lurched closer, and my heart contracted. I knew that something wholly, inimically inhuman approached. They were almost upon the doorway, and I was frozen. I could only watch—as the foremost reached the brink, tilted its head, as I caught a glimpse of what lay beneath that updrawn hood . . .

With a cry of horror, I threw myself forward. All I could think to do was hurl myself upon the pentangular dish. I struck it with all my strength. It moved a little, and the moonbeam wavered.

Every one of the creatures turned its stare upon me. Together, they hissed in fury.

I heaved. I thought my bones would break before that dish moved, and still I drove against it. For something so seemingly light, it felt like lead set in concrete. I pushed, without hope, too desperately afraid to stop. At any moment, one of the monks—or, unimaginably worse, one of the moon-beings—would pry me away. I pushed harder, though I thought my tendons must snap. When finally it shifted, it was by hardly an inch. I could do no more; I fell back, panting, my back and arms slick with sweat. I’d given my all, and still I’d failed.

Yet somehow, that minute jilt was enough. Free of its axis, the disk tilted, rocked—and fell.

As it shattered, it was like ice cascading over the cobbled floor.

Looking back to the entrance, I saw the doors still stood open—but upon that familiar passage I’d arrived by. I sank to my knees, no longer concerned for my safety. Let the monks tear me to pieces if they would. I’d saved my world from something appalling. Even in death, I could take comfort in that.

No hand fell. No blow was struck.

When I eventually dared look up, I understood why. Dust was showering from the ceiling, as though the building were in the grip of a minor earth tremor. An instant later, I felt it, a pulse travelling up through the floor tiles. The pulse became an unrhythmic throb. A block tore loose from the roof and shattered, showering us in fragments. One of the monks screamed and stumbled.

Though I hardly glanced back, I’m sure I was the only one who tried to flee. The monks merely stood, resigned, as their blasphemous temple ruptured around them. Only I ran—darting amongst the falling rubble, certain that at any instant I’d be pulverised. I forgot my weakened state, forgot everything except the hope of night air on my face.

Reaching the second set of double doors, I found them already mangled and half off their hinges. I pressed through the gap, and still I didn’t stop. I kept going until the last rumbling subsided—until the night was utterly still. Only then did I pause to look back.

There was nothing to see but a vast bank of snow, pierced here and there with hints of shattered masonry.

The monastery had been utterly erased.

***

You may wonder how I survived to write this record.

I wonder too. I walked, or staggered rather, for some time—hours, days, I can’t say. I don’t remember how I discovered the remnants of camp four. I came to myself huddled in a tent, with only fragmentary recollections of the intervening time.

I suppose I’d been uncommonly lucky. What had happened, I later discovered, was this: five men died that day on the way to camp six—Bergenssen, our three mountaineering companions, and one of the Sherpas. The rest of the porters turned back immediately, found me gone from camp five and so backtracked to four. Meeting with the party stationed there, they had democratically decided to forget the whole sorry mess and return home. From either idleness or some vestigial loyalty, they’d left both the tents and the supplies.

Thus, I found shelter, food, and medicine enough to nurse myself back to health. Eventually I felt capable of attempting the downward climb. It was slow progress, but I was in no hurry. In Sandakphu, I learned the truth regarding Bergenssen and the others. It came as no surprise. I carried on, deeper into India. I had some money with me, and access to more. I felt dimly that I could not go home.

I write now from a location I choose not to disclose. I will send this tale to a number of reputable journals, in the hope that one may see fit to print it, whether they believe it or no.

No one should think to seek me out. They won’t find me. I’ve come to realise I have too many unanswered questions weighing on my mind. What had been that impossible passage in the moonlight? What those gangling, unearthly figures? The monastery had been destroyed, its tenants crushed and buried; yet dare I hope that there were no other temples, no other routes between worlds, no acolytes so destitute in soul that they might open them?

And thinking upon that last, one more inescapable question came to my mind: what part in this monstrous affair was played by Aleister Crowley, so-called “wickedest man in Britain.” Could that wickedness extend to the betrayal of all mankind to something malicious and inhuman?

I have my suspicions.

Now, too, I have a little knowledge; hints to dark and sordid truths, the corrupted fruits of my research. In the course of my search, I have made allies . . . a very few. The one thing I lack now is proof. When the time should come that I have it, only then will I return—and there shall be a reckoning for the horrors of Kangchenjunga.

© 2013 by David Tallerman.

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David Tallerman

David Tallerman

David Tallerman is the author of the comic fantasy novel series The Tales of Easie Damasco, graphic novel Endangered Weapon B: Mechanimal Science, the Tor.com novella Patchwerk and the recently released The Sign in the Moonlight and Other Stories, a collection of pulp-styled horror and dark fantasy fiction.

David’s short fantasy, science fiction, horror and crime stories have appeared or are due in around eighty markets, including Clarkesworld, Nightmare, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and Beneath Ceaseless Skies. He can be found online at davidtallerman.co.uk.