Horror & Dark Fantasy




The Low, Dark Edge of Life

Translator’s note: these are the only extant, unburned, and legible (for the most part) pages retrieved from what was apparently the diary of one Lilianett van Hamal, an American girl who apparently lodged at the Grand Béguinage shortly before the Great Summoning of 1878 that left much of the city of Leuven in ruins. No other items from before that event have been recovered from what is now the Leuven Exclusion Zone, which as of this date remains permanently off-limits to the outside world.

• • • •

fragment, date unknown, sometime late May, 1878

and so the train serpentines its way through the Low Country, each car pulling the one behind it in an iron-fisted embrace, all of them together a chain of languid lovers moving deep into the verdant lands toward the quiet, circular town. It is an unseasonably hot day in late spring, and flocks of bright-winged birds burst up from and circle small islands of trees heavy with leaves, while glossy horses and cows nuzzle their grass-fed, brown-eyed bodies up against each other in the flat pasturelands below. Farm lands and fields roll past in an uninterrupted wave of green fecundity: everything alive revels in the warming of the world. Even with my black-tinted glasses, even with my eyelids shut tight, the fertility of the land shimmers in my sight like the roiling surface of the sun; and over the bucolic valleys, great colorless shapes float and dart and spread their death-filled jaws, and no one sees them but me. Inside the car, couples sit next to each other on the stiff velvet seats, drinking fizzing amber ale or clear cold water from bottles while pointing to white clouds colliding and colluding across the delft blue skies. (They aren’t clouds.) The sharp tang of cheese rises in the air: I gnaw at the orange rind sliver of the wheel and lick my fingers and lips, then wash the taste off my tongue with the last of the warm, red wine.

(My hospital-issued, French and Flemish-speaking handler sitting next to me spider-crawls her hands over mine, thinking I need help feeding myself because I’m only fifteen and just her stupid “charge,” but I slap her away; and when she over-enunciates into my stoic face that I need her European expertise in order to ingest my own lunch and drink my own wine—which I suspect she covets for herself—I whisper and spit and hiss back into her indeterminate face: IF YOU DO NOT STOP TOUCHING MY PERSON I WILL REACH INTO YOUR CHEST AND DRAW YOUR STILL-BEATING HEART OUT AND NIBBLE-SUCK IT CLEAN LIKE THIS RIND AND I WILL GATHER YOUR SPURTING BLOOD INTO MY LITTLE FLASK AND SAVOR EVERY DROP AS I LAY IN THE ARMS AND CHAINS OF MY BELGIAN SISTERS, CHANTING YOUR NAME OVER AND OVER UNTIL THE GREAT AND VOLUMINOUS MOTHER HYDRA SPILLS OUT THE GATE OF MY FLESH AND DEVOUR-FUCKS YOUR TWITCHING REMAINS. Appropriately, she slips out of her seat to an empty one across the aisle.)

(Her face is indeterminate because I cannot distinguish human faces. They are the one thing I cannot truly ever see. I only see the bodies, capped with oversized, oval-shaped heads swarming in masses of fat black interdimensional bees.)

I lean back against the seat, running my hands over the ancient ancestral names and starry family symbols engraved on the silver flask. I would close my eyes and sleep, but it never happens. Excepting human faces, I always see everything, and I never sleep.

I have been put in this beautiful car, given this spacious seat, because I am the daughter of a troubled artistic woman with no power save in her family name, who abandoned me at birth for her love of sticky opium dreams but now finally finds a lucrative use for her disabled get; because I am the niece of a highly-disciplined and determined woman with great power, whose deep pockets and dark desires have freed me from my life-long imprisonment only to be delivered into a new imprisonment that will deliver untold new powers unto her and the sisters of her order; because I am a woman who has no power of her own in this world. And so the train transports me and my keeper in these ruby velvet seats from my old prison to the new: through the brilliant bright life and hum of Europe into the ancient walled city of Leuven, Belgium, and then into my even higher-walled destination, where the gold summer sun dares not shine against abandoned black church spires, where eyeless creatures float beneath the flat brown surface of the River Dijle, where my handler will deliver me to an aunt I’ve never met, where I will spend the rest of my life locked in thousand-year-old timber and stone rooms and never leave, even after the absolute end of it. Every bone in my body, every wet sliver of flesh, will be put to good use in the name of my dark goddess. Or some other use, not necessarily good—the letter commanding my presence was a bit vague on that point. At any rate, the Most Holy Order of the Filiæ Solitudinus has many plans for my talents and my flesh; not all require my being alive, I presume.

In addition to being powerless, I am also, according to many learned physicians and alienists, quite impossibly and thoroughly insane—even by Arkham’s impressively rigorous standards. I would say “maddeningly” insane, but that is no doubt redundant, and there’s no one to tell the joke to except these silent pages. But the doctors really are, amusingly, quite maddened by my inability to accept that I am completely, irreversibly, clinically blind, that my pupils (which I can see very well up close in a dust-free mirror, thank you) are as cloudy and white as the banks of mist that perpetually roll in off the wide white-capped waves of the Atlantic. My world should be pitch black, I should require a cane, I should walk in halting steps with my arms waving about me, naked trepidation in my face as my hitching, slithering body prepares itself for furniture or stairs or endless falls. I should be a meek, helpless, compliant, child. And it is true that I have difficulty reading, that I need primers with letters as big as children’s blocks. (This diary no doubt looks like it was written by a primate with a wax coloring stick.) I cannot create fine embroidered linens like other girls my age, and when I sit at the piano I cannot fully perceive all the black flecks of notes on the page. But when I slip my wrists and ankles out of the leather straps on my bed and flawlessly dart down the stairs out the front door and into the cosmic river of starry night, when I race across the neat hospital lawns and clamber down the steep cliff side trails and navigate the great pocked boulders and massive dunes of the thundering beaches and raise my trembling arms up to the wondrous skies, I see everything I need to, and more. My sight extends beyond.

(Those learned doctors have no idea what rolls in with those banks of ocean mist, or what peers down at us from the whorls of the galaxy. If they did, they would gouge their own eyes out, cram them in their gibbering maws and mash them into pulp with their flat yellow teeth, praying all the while that they might choke upon their own flesh and sink into a black and endless nothingness of death. But I’ve seen what peers down, what rolls in. Whether it sees me, I cannot say.)

I lean back against the stiff columns of upholstery and stare out the window like everyone else, wishing I had a bar of chocolate, wishing we could have stayed in Paris an extra day, wondering what it is all those holy men and women in the ancient labyrinthine churches of Leuven think that I shall see in their machines, wondering what it is they need to see through me

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out the windows, pointing and staring ahead. The handler does the same, her moist pudgy exterior registering no emotions as usual, although I detect a slight flickering in her pupils, a dilation that betrays her waxen bee-covered face.

(I have decided to refuse to speak or write the handler’s actual name, as she does not deserve a proper name any more than does the lock on a jail cell or a cage.)

I shouldn’t look out the window, but I want to. Shouldn’t/want, shouldn’t/want. My life always narrows down to these two opposing points. The end is always the same. I hook my finger around the metal frames and pull my glasses away. Not that it matters. But when I’m horrified, I always like to be horrified to the fullest degree, without pretense or illusion. I give full respect when it has been earned.

Ahead of the train and the tracks and the low flat lands, I see—or rather, perceive—the circular beginnings of a tornado hovering like a flat brown mouth opening up over what I presume is the location of Leuven. Of course the women in the car are trembling, the children are crying, the men are gasping. These inexperienced Europeans from their small tame towns with their small tame weather systems—they’ve never seen anything like it. The handler has seen it—she was born in the vast middle expanse of North America, raised under the gaping maw of wild northern skies, skies that rip open and vomit out hectares of lightning-crowned destruction, destruction as wide as Europe itself. And those skies, that mouth, stretches all across the land, from one shining coast to the other. This small, snuffling snout of a storm? It’s nothing. But I can tell even from this distance that no natural light shines down on whatever village or town it stalls over, and I can tell from the curved, sinuous direction of the cars in front of us that we are drawing ever nearer to it. How could this not be my destination?

I shouldn’t have looked up beyond the clouds, but I did, and

end fragment

fragment, same date, early evening (approximate)

gables, each of them the same: two small multi-paned windows topped by a roof of long flat shingled wood. At the highest front edge of each gable, a single metal spire juts up like a sharp blade into the dark grey sky. From down on the street, all these rooftops look like armed sentinels, guarding against whatever might be hovering above Leuven. I remember reading in my primer about the friar whose torso was found stuck on the flèche of the Begijnhof cathedral, as though he’d been split in half and the leftovers tossed away. I laughed when I read that! Honestly, these gables and spires aren’t really much of a defense.

The handler had the map, and although my mother made me memorize the map before I left Arkham, I dutifully followed behind for once, letting her think she was leading the way simply so I could enjoy our walk in silence. (My mother had two gifts: rolling balls of opium, and memorizing maps. The woman was a living, walking cartography of this world and all the others.) Away from Grote Markt, the spectacular carvings of Sint-Pieterskerk Cathedral (I forgot to mention—I can see human faces that are carved in stone!) and the bustling commercial center of Leuven (which I know I will never see again), there were walls everywhere, walls lining the narrow streets and lanes, walls to keep curious pedestrians out, to keep neighbors and scholars and clergy safe within. The walls in Leuven are fashioned of crumbling rust-red brick, one and often two stories high, and the very tops of the walls slant steep, so that it would be impossible to climb over them without sliding back down. The architecture is different than in Massachusetts, but the intent is so very familiar that even now, writing this under the rooftop of an unlit six-hundred-year-old room, I feel like I’m

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the handler said, her first words in almost an hour. “Groot Begijnhof. Gesticht rond 1232.” I realized she was reading from a small sign attached to the side of a great stone arch in the wall. The arch’s thick steel gates were open—beyond them, a gracious courtyard that split off into several round-edged cobblestone streets, each disappearing into a forest of medieval buildings. The Grand Béguinage of Leuven, we were finally there. My new prison. But there was warm lemony candlelight coming from many of the windows, and I saw masses of bright flowers, thick trees brushing the rooftops, ribbons of smooth green lawns. The blanket of perpetual clouds overhead obscured the setting sun, and round black globules and spidery masses floated down the quiet streets next to the black-clad priests and nuns, but there was beauty here. I did not expect that. We picked our way across the high, slippery cobblestones over to a small bridge that looked down into the Dijle, less a river here than a canal. After the vast waters of the Atlantic, I have to admit I was less than impressed. The water was light brown like milky coffee, flat and slow-moving under a canopy of willows and ivy that erupted over the continual bricked-in garden walls. I stopped and peered down. Shapes formed just under the surface, some that darted back and forth in the current, others large and lengthy, making their way in calm increments through the waters like miniature cetaceans. For one brief second, I almost thought I saw a human-like face breaking the surface, masculine and bearded like Zeus, with unblinking black eyes.

And that’s when the hand clamped around my left arm, dragging me around and away.

“Stupid girl. Get away from the railing or you’ll fall in.” It was a woman, clad head to toe in plain black, bees writhing in fierce circles under gray hair bound in a tight bun. She spoke in a weird hodgepodge of Belgian, French, and R’lyehian. The language of the Sisters.

“Only if I climb over the wall,” I snapped (in proper, pure English, because I am a proud American, and an even prouder bitch) as I tried to pull my arm from her grasp.

“You were told to wait at the station.” The woman let go of my arm: and then she slapped me, so hard that my glasses flew off my face, so hard that extra black dots danced and swam in my sight, along with small sparks of light, those bright bridesmaids not of the supernatural but of ordinary shock and pain. The handler let out a small gasp—back at Arkham, I had been prodded and poked and experimented upon, but it was all done in the name of knowledge and science, all done with a certain amount of trepidation and religious fear. No one ever hit me like a common whore—they didn’t know which dark god’s whore I might turn out to be.

I raised my fingers to my stinging flesh.

“There was no one at the station to greet us,” I replied. “And I am a van Hamel. I don’t wait.”

My aunt struck me again, her skeletal fingers lashing out like bolts of dry lightning. I couldn’t help but cry out. There were others gathering around us now, young women all dressed in the same severe black clothing, buttonless and seamless as though the garments had grown over their bodies like fizzing mold, their heads nothing more than ugly scratches of agitated bees against the honeycombed tablets of their faces. Behind them, some small commotion—the handler, being led away into the warren of darkening lanes. As I scribble these words in the middle of the quiet night, listening to distant screams that echo out over the empty courtyards and canals of the Begijnhof, the screams that might very well be hers, I know now that I will never see her again.

(What a shame. I had hoped that I would have been the source and inspiration of those screams, perhaps after sticking my fingers deep into the sides of her head until her brain congealed under the moons of my nails, and then feeding into her scrambling thoughts visions of what it is I see when I stare at the supposedly blank walls or the supposedly empty stairs or the supposedly quiet skies.)

“I don’t know what your doctors—” she spat the word out of her mouth like it was poison “—or your mother told you, but in this place you are not a van Hamel. Your name is worthless.” She picked up my glasses, and tossed them into the canal. “There are no individual beings in the Begijnhof, no independent thoughts. You are property of the Most Holy Order of the Filiæ Solitudinus, and you will not disobey us again.”

I said nothing. If I learned anything in the asylum, it was how to pick my battles. She stepped forward, this queer, strange relative of mine, her angular face swimming up out of an evening air filled with wriggling particles that seemed to feed off the intensity of her emotions, and in shock I stumbled back against the low bridge wall and

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led us single file into a quiet courtyard surrounded by two-story houses, plainer than those we had just passed. At the side of one dwelling, clear water trickled from the double-headed Janus mouths of a very large marble cistern. Despite my fear of the unknown, of my strange situation with my horrible and apparently completely insane aunt, of the ominous clouds overhead and the strange shadows that paused at the curtained windows to watch our progress, I could not help but be moved by the somber beauty of the place. There were flowers everywhere, green trees and low thick hedges in long columns, trimmed with great care. My aunt led me through an iron gate into a private garden behind a row of attached houses, her faceless attendants following close behind. Stopping at the first door, she turned and grabbed my right wrist. I didn’t struggle or fight as one of her attendants clasped and locked an iron manacle in place. And then she did something supremely clever and cruel. My aunt took a small ring attached to a chain, and slipped it onto my middle finger. She bent the finger back until I couldn’t help let out a tortured moan—only when I did so did she attach the deceptively slender chain to the back of the manacle. In this way I had limited use of my hand, and could not pick the lock or remove the cuff.

And then she manacled my other hand.

“No wriggling out of this for you, I’m afraid. Orders of the Order,” she said, her words accompanied by the subdued hum of the bees that flew in and out of the hole of her mouth.

“I wasn’t planning on trying to escape,” I replied. This was true. I have always fully, even joyfully, embraced my power and destiny. Why does everyone think that every young woman who is led in chains to some terrifying end doesn’t actually wish for that end? Why doesn’t anyone just ask us? You would all be so shocked at how many women would be happy to walk to the devil when you assume we need to be dragged.

“Perhaps. I don’t disbelieve you. Still. Precautions.” My aunt looked around the garden, as her retinue silently filed in through the rounded wooden door behind her. She grabbed the chain and yanked it—at the far end of the hedge-lined stone path, I could see it clanking out of a flywheel attached against the wall of what looked like a gardening shed, a brick box covered in waves of ivy and capped with wavy terracotta tiles. There were yards of that chain, but it only went as far as my aunt’s door. I stood at its very limit, not even close enough to touch the main house. I looked through the high lead-paned window we stood beside. Inside, between the wooden slats of the shutters, I saw flashes of movement, the flicker of candle flame and fire, and smelled the savory spices of cooking food. It wasn’t my home, it would never be. And yet.

“I know my place, Aunt.”

“I am not your aunt anymore. You will call me Sister.”

I paused only slightly, then began again. “Sister. And I am not a dog. This treatment is unnecessary and cruel.”

My aunt responded only by pointing down the path to the pitch-black opening of the shed. “It’s summer, but there’s a cot with blankets, so you’ll be warm enough. There are two covered pots—one has candles and matches, one has bread and cheese. You’re right next to the canal steps, so I suggest you eat without the light, otherwise you’ll attract flying things, and some things that do not need to fly.” Even in the dark, she could see the look on my face. “We are the Daughters of Isolation, not the Daughters of Sewing Circles and Chit-Chat. It’s more than they were going to allow you, until I stepped in. I am but a mere Sister here, yet the van Hamal name still has some weight.”

“Thank you.”

“I told them you needed to be segregated from the other Initiates until we’ve confirmed your health and virginity. We can’t have the disease-riddled flesh of the daughter of an opium-addicted, syphilitic whore infecting the purity of the Order.”

“Thank . . . you?”

(I must constantly remind myself that my aunt is a stranger, and perhaps even my enemy, even though from time to time the mask of her honey-wet bee face slips and I see flashes of the true human face beneath, one that is imperious yet beautiful and seductive. My weakness in thinking she can be understood or swayed by familial sentimentality is her strength. She does not think of me as family. I am nothing more than the thirteenth vaginal canal of a bio-mechanical machine. Therefore, I must always remember that she is a viper with the delusion of self-relevance, and I cannot turn my back on her.)

She lifted my worn portmanteau, the one my mother had left with me at the asylum twenty years ago, after she collected her money. “Violeta’s,” she said, inspecting the clasp. I started at the sound of my mother’s name. I hadn’t spoken it myself in over a decade.

“I recognize it from when we were girls,” she continued. “It was your grandfather’s.”

“I didn’t know that.” I gestured with one manacled hand, praying she wouldn’t take it inside. When she held it out, my body almost buckled with the relief. “Thank you,” I said, as I gingerly held it to my chest, ignoring my throbbing fingers. “For everything. I’ll make our family proud.”

“Which family?”

“The Order, of course.” And my mother, I thought to myself—who despite her failings deserved a better life.

My aunt slipped into the house and closed the door quietly behind her. It was painted a slate blue, and probably looked cheerful and inviting in daylight, next to those windows lined with red and blue and lavender flowers. But I heard no sounds, other than footsteps and the clink of dishes. Twelve women I’d counted, and none of them even now, in the downtime of evening, had said a single word. And so, tomorrow or the next day or the day after, I will become one of them, I will be joined. We will all be one, all chained to each other, chained to whatever it is our joining brings up out of the cosmic deep.

I have eaten my bread and cheese in darkness, knowing full well my aunt (or someone else) has been watching from the window, and now I scratch out these words by the queer creeping light of the sky that only I can see. Outside this door, down the path, my aunt’s home hulks in the dark, as do all the other ancient crooked buildings—the Begijnhof no longer looks as lovely and inviting as it had just a few hours before. Much pain is before me, and perhaps finally true darkness. But now I hear the canal on the other side of the wall, the waters rushing low and lilting like a bedtime song, and the wind rustles the leaves like a woman brushing her long unbraided hair, and I cannot help but feel th

end fragment

fragment, date unknown (there has been some debate as to whether the next section occurs the same evening or several days after the previous fragment—no consensus amongst scholars has been reached)

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standing at the edge of the chain, until the very limits of my body have been stretched so completely that I felt my bones are cracking, and my little middle fingers bent back and I heard the joints creak and crack but the trail of phosphorescence that ended at my doorway, that ended at the middle of my cot, that ended in a large hand print against my cheek, led to between two small cottages and down steps that descended directly into the canal. The waters were dark and dank, and thick ivy grew all across the bottom steps, so I couldn’t even see where they ended, if at all. The phosphorescence trailed off onto the leaves, into the water and across the canal to the opposite side, like shining strands of peridots and emeralds against a slender throat, but the smell of the steps and the water was rank; and I realized that this was where the women and all the other inhabitants of the houses lining this garden came to relieve themselves, directly down the steps into the waters. Across the canal, another brick wall, covered in long strands of vegetation that bulge outward, almost as if breathing. I stood at the top step for what seemed like forever in the night, watching creatures swim back and forth in the currents. Waiting, for what or who, I don’t know.

I still taste the salt on my lips. The canal water is not salt

There is something in those waters I cannot see

I’m still trembling

end fragment

date unknown, approximately two days later

me further into the Begijnhof, past the beautiful lawns and over two more bridges and into the great cathedral. There were no pews or benches or chairs, we walked across a massive gray stone floor made up of slabs chiseled with the names of those buried beneath our feet. MARIA VAN PIVIEREN. That is the only name I remember now. She died in 1692, I think. Below her name, a small skull and crossbones was etched into the stone. There were hundreds of skulls, hundreds of crossbones, none of them sinister, most like children’s etchings, with a touch of a smile in their jaws and round eyes, as if death was simply another amusement. Perhaps, after all this is over, I can return and do some grave rubbings. They would look so beautiful on my walls back home. I looked for a van Hamal, but didn’t see one. (I think our people are elsewhere, where there’s no need for pretense of Christianity for the sake of the rest of the world, as many Catholics still worship at this place, despite the best efforts of the Order to dissuade them.) The priests led us across all these ancient bodies and back past the nave, down several flights of very small and worn steps into the catacombs, into a warren of rooms I’m still too tired to describe in much detail. Libraries of strange tomes, tiny altars clogged with delicate and profane statues of multi-limbed gods, crevasses where the mummified remains of anchorites and anchoresses sat or stood, staring out at passers-by with bejeweled eye sockets and gold-plated grins, holding giant tridents or multi-bowled drinking cups in their deformed, flipper-like hands. (Well, in all honesty, those mute corpses did make quite the lasting impression on me. I’ve never owned a single piece of jewelry in my lifetime—it was never allowed in the asylum, the inhabitants more likely to eat or gouge out a few eyeballs with it than wear it.)

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long journey, with an unsettling and entirely predictable end. A white room, three doctors, two who held me down and parted my legs, and the third who authenticated the state of my maidenhood. (When I say doctors, I mean that these were men instructed by our church to act as doctors on its behalf. These men were not doctors. SoON when all the skies ABOUT THIS WORLD are AS dark as the edges of the milky way I will show them what it is to be a doctor, what it is to inspect a living subject, what it is to tear the pumping dripping organs of a howling patient by your oh-so-delicate teeth and deem them fit to live EVEN AS THEY BEG TO DIE.) I said nothing the entire time. There was nothing to say. My aunt and two of the black-clad women stood guard over the proceeding, also saying nothing. When the moment happened, my aunt simply remarked that she was astonished that none of the many male doctors and attendants hadn’t thoroughly abused me with as much abandon as the rest of the female patients. I thought the heat from my blush would have set the entire room on fire. After the doctors left the room, my aunt stayed behind, reading to me from a small New England auction catalog an entry describing the history of a powerful and rare grimoire while the women stripped me completely naked and proceeded to sew me into a long wool garment exactly like theirs. Even after they had finished, she continued reading, her low alto words accented by the thrumming wings of the bees that swarmed in agitated fury over her hidden face. I do not have the book with me, though I asked for a copy that I might transcribe those passages here in my diary, because I do not in this instance think my words would even begin to suffice. My aunt looked incredulous—rather, the bees made a waxen, misshapen semblance of incredulous disbelief over the pulsing folds—and said I was free to write what I wished, as she’d seen the chicken scratches and insane scribblings that I believed in my blind state to be actual legible writing, and couldn’t possibly imagine anyone ever being able to decipher a single word. I told her there would therefore be no harm in my copying the entry for my own erudition. She agreed, and left me to recover from my examination with the book on the table. I did my best to set down what I could in the half hour I was given—a very small portion of which is written below. However, the catalog would stay in the catacombs, along with the now-complete thirteen book set that had been commissioned by our ancestor, Maria van Hamal so many centuries ago.

I now know my exact purpose, and it is no greater or lesser than any of the other twelve women who comprise the

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perhaps I am not so willing as I thought to be a part of this great work, this wondrous summoning of the great goddess of perversion and destruction. I love the ocean in all its majestic and unfathomable power, I have forever loved my great father Dagon and Mother Hydra, but I have no desire to invite them or the ocean to leave their vast beds and visit me upon the land. But my part in this ceremony is inevitable. So I sit in my chains with my fingers bent backward over my diary, scribbling in the dark as the mice come to nibble at the remains of my bread and cheese. The canal serenades me, a deep bass lullaby that recalls the majesty of the song of the ocean shores that I shall never walk upon again. How ironic that I see everything yet cannot see a wa

end fragment

• • • •

Translator’s note: the book in question is The Catalogue of the Occult Library of the recently disbanded Church of Starry Wisdom of Providence, Rhode Island, an illustrated auction catalogue printed by the occult auctioneers Messrs. Pent & Serenade. Few extant copies of this catalogue exist today—a copy resides in Rare Books Room at Miskatonic University, but we were not allowed to view the copy; and requests to other libraries and private collections have netted no response. Lilianett van Hamal’s (unfortunately) largely illegible transcription of the passage below is the only public version of the entry in existence to date.

• • • •

ILLEGIBLE SECTION travel journal and feverish spiral into nightmare-fueled madness, Las Reglas de Ruina was written sometime in the early 1500s by the Spanish friar Philip of Navarre, ILLEGIBLE SECTION a recounting of various legends surrounding an obscure and ancient deity, sister and bride to a chthonic god, who awaited release from her prison in the stars to wreak unspeakable, apocalyptic perversions upon mankind.

After finishing the manuscript, ILLEGIBLE SECTION affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church but as a northern fortress and stronghold for Filiæ Solitudinus—The Daughters of Isolation, an all-female religious cult with Assyrian roots, formally founded during the last days of Etruscan Rome. There, the final version of the manuscript was hand-copied, bound ILLEGIBLE SECTION.

In 1527, an additional thirteen copies of Las Reglas were commissioned by Begijnhof resident Maria van Hamal, widow of ILLEGIBLE SECTION records, Hamal, whose vast fortune had already paid for several private buildings and an extension of the network of canals covering the béguinage grounds, ordered custom metal bindings ILLEGIBLE SECTION At the same time of the fire—and after inflicting a goodly portion of the Begijnhof sisters with a mysterious flesh-putrefying disease that ILLEGIBLE SECTION like rotting flowers—Friar Philip ILLEGIBLE SECTION.

ILLEGIBLE SECTION “profane” variant of Las Reglas, remained absent from historical record for over three hundred years, until all thirteen copies resurfaced in the aftermath of the Great New York Fire of 1835, which destroyed over seven hundred buildings at the southeast tip of Manhattan. A series of subterranean rooms hewn from the island’s natural rock were discovered beneath the ruins of a Maiden Lane basement, along with the unclothed bodies of ILLEGIBLE SECTION. The other twelve have once again submerged into the unknown folds of history and time.

The profane Las Reglas, ILLEGIBLE SECTION duplicate of the text of Friar Philip of Navarre [this is yet unconfirmed]: there the similarities ILLEGIBLE SECTION ovoid shape has been pressed into the leather on the cover: within the ovoid, small folds of leather have been sewn as to mimic the effect of a maelstrom or whirlpool—or perhaps, it has been suggested, the most intimate ILLEGIBLE SECTION outer edges of the ovoid are surrounded by two Latin phrases in fading silver capital letters: IMMENSUS ASTRA INCLINANT FILIÆ, SED NON OBLIGANT FILIÆ ~ LAS REGLAS DE RUINA INCLINANT KASSOGTHA, SED NON OBLIGANT KASSOGTHA, ILLEGIBLE SECTION.

Attached to the back of the book is a thick leather-covered protrusion approximately ten inches in length, curving steeply upward. Five chains are attached to each side of the book. According to notes and sketches taken ILLEGIBLE SECTION were attached to the end of a limb, with the fifth chain attached to a bit placed in her ILLEGIBLE SECTION series of interlocking patterns until an entire circle of iron links was created, the center which was hollow like a portal or gate ILLEGIBLE SECTION.

ILLEGIBLE SECTION ceremonial instructions have been found to date. Careful examination has revealed machinery of an electrical and ILLEGIBLE SECTION paroxysm in female patients suffering from hysteria. The discovery site notes reveal that ILLEGIBLE SECTION. Removal of the books and devices from the bodies revealed numerous sharp instruments hidden within the protrusions, devices which, ILLEGIBLE SECTION fretwork, chains and accouterments reveal fine wires of an unknown geologic material woven throughout ILLEGIBLE SECTION “wondyrechaun” of “iron, flesh and bone” through which Kassogtha could return. An astoundingly creative use of Las Reglas de Ruina, envisioned by Maria van Hamal and Filiæ Solitudinus so many ILLEGIBLE SECTION.

end Lilianett van Hamal’s transcription

various fragments, mid-night through early morning, next day (approximate)

So many horrible dreams throughout the night, and yet if I had only known then what I know now, in the calm light of morning. So many moments of chilly, anxious wakefulness, hearing my own panting breath in the humid midnight air, feeling the quaking of my heart like the hooves of horses pounding against the earth. Time and time again I awoke with my crippled hands flailing against my chest, the chains clanking like Marley’s ghost. Earlier in the evening, when a vestige of the sun still pounded down through the thick clouds, I had stood at the door to my aunt’s lodgings, barely able to contain my dismay as she once again chained me like a beast and left me outside. “This is for what your mother did to me, and what she did to the Order,” were the only words she spoke. I have no idea what transgression she spoke of, but that is of no matter.

(The bees told me a different story—even as they parted from her mouth to reveal that impossibly wide grin of her saber-toothed mouth, the ivory so overgrown and thick, the smell of her breath so foul, even as she pushed the words out of with her pustule-encrusted tongue, the bees swarmed at her forehead, undulating in a multidimensional frenzy as they transmitted her thoughts into a living winged sentence that hovered in the air: YOU ALONE OF THE ACOLYTES WILL KNOW YOUR TRUE FATE, AND YOU ALONE WILL SCREAM WITH DELICIOUS HORROR EVEN BEFORE WE CHAIN YOU TO THE FLOOR. THE UNENDURABLE PLEASURE AND PAIN OF THE THIRTEEN IS OUR GIFT TO THE GODDESS, BUT YOUR UNENDURABLE TERROR EVEN NOW, IN YOUR EYES, IN THE SHALLOWS OF YOUR BREATH, KNOWING THAT THE ATROCITIES KASSOGTHA BRINGS ARE ALREADY BURROWING INSIDE, FEEDING ON YOUR SOUL—THAT IS A LITTLE GIFT TO ME.)

How stupid I have been, how naïve. In the asylum, I imagined myself a queen, and I was, of a sort—a queen with no kingdom or power, save the power to believe she had any to begin with. I ruled daydreams and foolish visions, I crowned myself before a court of childish fantasies. What do I know of true power, of true sacrifice and pain? My mother, even my sad addicted mother, knew the price of all these things.

Now I have knowledge of that price, too.

I rose from my damp blanket and cot, pacing back and forth, standing in the garden walkway like a mournful specter all in black. My once-fine traveling dress, all matted and stiff with sweat and dust and browning traces of blood, lay somewhere far beneath the vaults of the cathedral, a new nesting ground for the mice. Quietly, I made my way to the very limits of the chain, this time not to the canal stairs but to the windows of my aunt’s lodging. In the deep pitch of the night, under the gaping black mouth of the never-ending storm, I could see the faintly glowing Odic outlines of the women, all of them laying about the floor on thin mattresses, like chess pieces that had been tipped onto the floor, the bees on their faces silent and heavy with sleep. Will it be tomorrow that I lay with them, all of us spread out in a circle, our hands and feet entwined, all of us chained together in layer after layer like a massive web, a net to catch our uncatchable prey? If I had the power, I would silently open that blue door now, float through the air upside down over each supine body, slitting their bodies from stem to stern, watching as they sank into their own spurting, escaping life, all of them together slipping into freedom and away from the invisible chains of this terrible life. It would be no worse than what awaits them with the dawn, what awaits me.

(Oh, what I would have given for a small brown ball of opium and a slender pipe of bone, then and now. Vestiges of my mother’s excesses still linger in my flesh and bones, raising their heads in the most distressing of moments like Medusa’s tresses, writhing through me like faint itches than cannot be scratched.)

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and the hedges kept me company throughout the night, as I paced back and forth, up and down, pondering my fate, and so did the numerous black squiggling clusters shuddering in the air, the eyes of strange birds with clusters of eyes like spiders that stared at me unblinking from the high spikes and gables. And in the early cracks of the morning, as I found myself staring down the steep stairs into the canal, watching the long strands of deep green vegetation blossom and pulse against the wall, it came to me. I suddenly realized what I could not previously see before me, what was staring out at me through the phosphorescence-dappled wall of trailing ivy and willow branches, not unlike how the attendants would stand and stare behind the curtains of the communal showers at the asylum. It was the perfect vantage point, from across the waters, to see all the acolytes and sisters of the Begijnhof, all the women young and old, lifting their petticoats and exposing their notches for everything about the canal to see. Including, for the past several mornings and nights, me.

An idea, as profane as this situation, crystalized in my fretful mind.

A solution so simple, I almost laughed at the thought of it.

(I must confess I am glad for my terrible handwriting and miserable eyesight that cannot form legible letters on paper, as well as for these chains that inhibit the grip of the pen even more than usual. These events I write of would be the death of me were anyone to read them—the thought of it makes me almost sick. I may have a temper and a bit of bloodlust and a wholly unrealistic view of myself as I move throughout this strange world I both see and cannot see, but what I am about to put on these pages . . . words fail me. And yet, they cannot.)

The chains and manacles prevented me from descending to the lowest steps just above the water line, but the trail of bright green bioluminescence from the prior night already confirmed that an underwater assignation would not be necessary. Which I was quite satisfied with, as the waters of the Dijle were quite easily the filthiest I’d encountered in my short life, especially considering what was flowing into them at all hours of the day and night. Therefore, I positioned myself on the top step, overcoming my revulsion at sitting down in such a spot by reassuring myself that I was not touching the stone with bare flesh but with a horrid and quite unflattering dress made of scratchy fabric that could only have been woven from the skins of porcupines. So it was something of a relief to lift the long straight skirt up above my

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he swam toward me, his powerful arms traversing the length of the canal in a mere three quick strokes. And then in a flash he stood on the steps, his feet hidden by the curling leaves and vines clinging to the water’s edge, and my breath caught in my throat, not because I had never seen a man like this before, but because I had seen many of his kind before, or like him, diving and arcing through the crashing cold waters all along the eastern coast of my home country, their thick tentacled beards and barrel-chested bodies cresting the waves like whales, eyes like flat slashes of licorice, tapered at the ends. Not the most handsome creatures, but compared to some of the horrifically deformed souls that kept me company at Arkham, I could do worse. I thought of the book, of the description my aunt had read. Yes, there was worse. My heart galloping in my chest at the impropriety, the sheer audacity of my actions, I leaned back until I could see only the cloudy sky, my legs and womanhood as uncovered as the day my mother birthed me. (My mother, who would no doubt be supremely proud of her daughter in this her most desperate and shocki

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black as pitch, as oil, and skin, so cold and slick, but the power of his movements, the power I could feel under his skin, like the roiling of my beloved stone gray Atlantic, a power so mesmerizing that the split-second pain of his

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and if he felt pleasure or joy in the act, I could not surmise beyond the obvious, his language so ancient and otherworldly that the few words he might have uttered were beyond my ken, but oh, after the first sharp shock and the rolling aching, it were as if the infernal clouds above parted; oh, the stars, so many stars, clear and bright in a sky devoid of membranous monsters plummeting down on an unsuspecting world, only stars, and our breath, and a rising tide within that I

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nd so was I now a woman according to the customs of the day, but if so, how is it possible that I was not before? I can say with the utmost honesty that there was no difference between the before and the after. I remained no more or less but only what I am supposed to be, even with this strange being shuddering inside me—a woman who sees all but is blind, a woman surrounded by the all the creatures of the universe but who is alone.

After a time, he removed himself from the scene, slipping back into the fetid waters of the river without a single word or glance back. I was neither glad nor sorrowful at his departure; only tired and sore, and suddenly in great need of sleep. With some difficulty, I pulled myself to my feet, smoothed out my garment as much as I could, and proceeded to make my way in small stiff steps back down the path to the garden shed, where I fell upon the cot and slept as though dead for several much-needed hours.

And now it is morning, and I hear the door opening from the far end of the path, and I hear the hum of bees and the soft rustling of fabric and slender limbs, and the musical clinks of the keys to my manacles. And so I shall put this diary away and pray to Mother Hydra with all my heart that I shall return to it before nightfall, that I shall live to see nightfall, that this will not be the la

end fragment

• • • •

Translator’s note: the following is the last section from Lilianett van Hamal’s diary, and the only complete entry, with no illegible text or missing sections. This section was discovered not in the actual diary, which was excavated at the Leuven Exclusion Zone during the last authorized Miskatonic University expedition (in 1976), but in the town of Bruges, over one hundred and twenty miles away. These pages have generally been interpreted as a natural continuation of the original diary, with clear indications that these are not the only entries she wrote after the event. However, despite intensive ongoing research in both Europe and North America, to date no other entries, pages, or books have been found. No additional mentions in public or hospital records have been found of Ms. van Hamal; and there has yet been the discovery of a final resting place. Our search continues.

• • • •

Eventide, the 31st of December, 1878

(I have become an expert in rolling those sticky brown balls. My mother would be so proud. And with every inhalation, with every smoky exhalation from the furnace of my lungs, I become more proud of her, more in awe of her courage and strength, that she was able to endure and survive that terrible, mismanaged first ceremony at Maiden Lane, that she was able to carry me in her womb for such an unnaturally lengthy amount of time, giving birth to me in painful secret only after years of fighting my contractions, after decades of confusing and stunting my purpose and sight with seductive poppy dreams. But I am older now, and I have power. She did not create me, but she gave my primordial flesh its final form. When the smoke billows into my body, I know how to hold it, how to shape it into purpose, how to extrude it into the air along with all the other invisible squiggling black horrors that populate the world. This is not addiction. This is destiny.)

And smoke still rises to the southeast, a lightning-studded pillar as thick and coiled as Krakatoa, a muscular demon rising out of the volcanic center of the earth to grab and pull down the sky. When I sit at my writing desk with my diary and pen and pipe, I see it billowing up past the medieval gables and spires of Bruges through the delft blue mornings and violet nights, all the smoldering remains of Leuven wafting back into the cosmos. I wonder how much of my aunt is above me now, and how much remains below.

Forever will I feed from the look on her face, the look she gave me as the twelve acolytes—so beautifully laid out against the lush carpet of morning-kissed grass, their pale hairless limbs parted wide and draped in silver chains that formed an intricate web, copies of the profane book of the goddess Kassogtha attached at their trembling wet notches, the Odic force flowing thick and hot between them like a cyclone—all started in perfect unison, the interdimensional bees streaming away from their now naked, sepulchral faces as they half-rose and cried out when they felt the thirteenth book with its massive protuberance inserted into my womanhood, my energies merging with theirs as I too cried out in tremulous painful joy. My triumphant aunt, and all those smug-faced priests with their tall linen and gold caps, their bejeweled vestments, their chalices of wine and bowls of incense. All of them dancing and rubbing themselves, waiting for their goddess to rise from the tangling birthing circle of limbs and suck them off while my aunt stared on like a Roman statue, imperious and oblivious to the cacophony around her. Eyes and the eyes of her bees, only on me.

And how I will remember until the vast fecund river of time becomes as dried up as a prostitute’s bottomless pit how those same eyes widened as my cries of joy and pain turned to high-pitched laughter, laughing as the twelve young women around me screamed and writhed whilst their insides were whipped into a pink gelatinous froth that spumed and sputtered out of the sides and backs of the profane books, their bodies thrashing like fish dying in poisonous tides of red; how my aunt slipped and fell backwards into the sticky flopping mess of boneless limbs as I gracefully rose, pulling the chains around me like a cloak as I bathed in the great river of dying life all about me, drank the thirst-quenching fear and thick sexual release given off from their sad animal bodies even as they collapsed like mounds of fly-specked shit at my feet. And all about us, the black speckled floaters scratched away at the pale air, and I raised my hands and they descended in swarms, pouring over the priests and dissolving their flesh to the bone. Had I seen them all these years, not knowing they had always been mine to command?

I don’t recall what I said to her as I stood over her supine body, my naked body dripping viscera onto her austere black gown as she held out her arms to me and screamed the name of her perverse goddess over and over again. Perhaps I said her goddess would not save her. Perhaps I said I am her goddess now, vast desire and will and cosmos made bone and flesh. Perhaps I said nothing at all. Everything grew so much darker than usual, and even my limited vision failed me, the world scratching itself out as I reached down, down—and then, for the longest time, nothing. Pure black. So calm and beautiful, like a deep sleep. I awoke in sun-drenched fields, next to grazing cows, staring at my gore-covered hands.

Did my aunt see her goddess? Wherever she is, does she understand now?

I wiped my hands on the grass; and then I moved on.

Bruges is a strange town, but I have cooled my heels long enough, and made myself too familiar; and there are people back in Arkham that must answer to me for all the things they have done. My birth mother thought she was finished with me, thought life was finished with her, but there is a long-overdue conversation ahead of us that will crack the world in two. Tomorrow morning I will take a carriage down long straight roads under steel gray skies to a shore so flat and wide that the very waters of the channel seem to rise above it; and I will claim my berth upon a ship that will carry me first to England, then across the low dark edge of life back to the New World and home, home to great wide waters and great wide spaces and room to run and scream and consume. The agent who sold me my ticket warned against travel this time of year, warned me against rough seas and rougher men; but he is a wriggling insect whom I shall someday crush then wear as a tiny bead on a necklace made of all the bodies of the human race. He is mortal and so therefore fears everything and has everything to fear. I do not fear. I bring it.

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Livia Llewellyn

Livia Llewellyn

Livia Llewellyn is a writer of dark fantasy, horror, and erotica, whose short fiction has appeared in over forty anthologies and magazines and has been reprinted in multiple best-of anthologies, including Ellen Datlow’s The Best Horror of the Year series, Years Best Weird Fiction, and The Mammoth Book of Best Erotica. Her first collection, Engines of Desire: Tales of Love & Other Horrors (2011, Lethe Press), received two Shirley Jackson Award nominations, for Best Collection, and for Best Novelette (for “Omphalos”). Her story “Furnace” received a 2013 Shirley Jackson Award nomination for Best Short Story. Her second collection, Furnace (2016, Word Horde Press), was published this year. You can find her online at liviallewellyn.com, and on Facebook and Twitter.