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Restored Republic via a GCR: Update as of Aug. 20, 2017

Restored Republic via a GCR Update as of Aug. 20 2017 Compiled 12:21 am EDT 20 Aug. 2017 by Judy Byington, MSW, LCSW, ret, CEO, Child Abus...

Sunday, July 30, 2017

"An Addendum and a Long Short Story Break?" by Dezerro - 7.30.17

Entry Submitted by Dezerro at 12:22 AM EDT on July 30, 2017

~~~~~

[An addendum to "DarkStar"]

Adioz

……and so, after a while, beyond these adventures, Lovecraft took his leave to another of his realms so unique unto him, and for a while he would again be alone.

I sighed a silent goodbye, and there turned a corner where dimenzions meet – or go away forever, as they so often do – and now with no universe at all to haunt to a frenzy or a calm, I planned another existenz. It would, I decided, be fun.

~~~~~

[A long short story]

CASTLE

Before him, darkness, his most hated fear. But there was no turning back. Behind him the narrow ledge crumbled away to nothing. He felt ahead for any hold, any crack. Each forward step -- probably the first weight on the ancient trail in centuries -- sent small showers of rock fragments and dirt down into the black void.

And again his foot inched out.

He tasted the anxiety in his stomach, imagined the sharp craggy shapes of the cliff wall to be evil devils come for his soul. Even his name, Jeff Bearding, seemed vague and not his. A ghost's name -- a distant tag on a soul for hell.

He shook his head and took several deep breaths, squeezing watering eyes shut. He wiped cold sweat from his brow. For a moment he imagined solid grips hammered deep into the cold wet face of the canyon wall.

Reality slammed him. The handholds melted away to nothing and he shook with rage. He wanted life. He beat his fist into the cliff, sending a small cloud of vapor into the cold hanging air. This pushed him slightly away, teetering, replacing rage with terror at the thought of a dying plunge, so once again he pressed in.

After a moment, a calm settled about him and he rested his cheek against the cool rock. He slowly shut his eyes and recalled earlier conversations with local residents. He saw again the fear in their faces whenever the castle name lingered in whispers. Being proud they tried to hide it. But it was there.

The mystery of Blearywigh Castle forever loomed -- a cold dark cloud, and its stories rose and faded away like fog.

It sat in shadows, in a mammoth hole -- a deep vertical well -- formed by an oval ring of jagged, high mountains, similar outwardly to others in the area, jutting out of the rough surrounding terrain. The bottom of the canyon hid three hundred feet belowground level in darkness. The castle sat on the peak of a smaller rise of granite, dirt, and interwoven growths, eighty or so feet in height, centered in the bottom of the chasm.

Nearly vertical outward faces of the oval, dark and scowling, scoffed at any curious glance. And few were the creatures -- other than madly determined birds and insects -- who managed a climb to their dizzying peaks. Invisible gloom hung, a dark cloak about the place, denying life -- and happiness. No animate forms fluttered nor crawled within. It was a place of eerie solemnity.

The single outer entrance, other than a plummeting dive from above, was an eight-foot high dark oval so hidden that only chance discovery by hikers or other adventurers had ever revealed the way. Thorny twisted vines stood guard, not only at the cave-like hole but also around the entire perimeter. And known or not it remained true - for some ominous reason, no one had ever exited that passageway who had ventured in more than one tenth its dark length. The vines oozed from cracks, flowed as tentacles from the larger body of the mountain. They hid their secrets well.

The agonizing strain tore quietly at his peace. Mentally he wandered and, half dreaming, recalled an earlier, happier time. It was easy to bring to mind for it was not this place. Old images returned as cool water on a blazing day. He’d searched out a code for revealing secrets of a map and had found himself in the desert, the main residents tough bushes of sage and occasional proud saguaro cactus reaching for the sky. Back he thought to distant peaks of the Superstition Mountains shimmering there through heat waves and looming high and jagged out of the scorching desert sand.

He had returned his gaze to the cliff rising in front of him. In its side a huge gash eked out a quiet purpose sheltering a house built mostly of rough-hewn lumber now faded by sun and wind to a dead gray. His questions to a workman flowed out in a rough stream, sharpening the contrast of a scholarly adventure against the mundane task of repairing a building. He thought back...back, and memories formed as he heard the words echo once again:

"The owner has asked me to give you this note. I need to search the house before you begin renovations. I realize it may trouble your work schedule and I am sorry but there may be unique and historically valuable documents hiding somewhere in this house and it would be a shame to destroy them. I hope this check will ease the problem somewhat."

The contractor grunted and snapped up the check, ignored the note, and went to his truck and drove away, leaving a churning wake of dry hot dust. Wasting no time, and relieved of the angry builder, he soon buttoned the old blue work shirt while stuffing the last bits of a sardine and rye sandwich into his mouth. He smiled at the hint of mustard setting off the salty fish. A sagging dill pickle disappeared, and strong lukewarm coffee, white and sweet, washed it all down.

He spun the dented cap back on the worn stainless steel thermos and set it on the porch, then wiped his mouth and took a second look at the house.

"Helluvan ol' place y'all," he said to the sage in a slow western roll, "but this drah Ar'zona air'd prob'ly perserv anythin'. Mummy weather. Ahh, shades of Egypt." He angled his arms like Egyptian dancers and grinned at his own weak humor.

But a chill followed, crawling his spine and tingling away. Passing him by, like a distant breeze -- jokes usually produced smiles.

Sure needs a reno, he thought, taking the squeaking front steps one by one. Keys rang quietly, the lock clicked. He pushed through the cracked front door into darkness and found his way to the rear of a wide central hallway. Dirty whitewashed stairs hung angled in space, leading to a dim dusty attic. Thick rope supported the lower end of the stairs, with the top latched to one edge of a four-foot square rough-trimmed opening. He climbed the stairs slowly, aware of their creaks.

Straining his eyes into darkness, shapes emerged. A crack in the roof allowed a thin plane of sunlight lighting up specks of dust floating like tiny stars. Half buried in the rear right corner, a trunk. Dim memories murmured as he knew the patterns – and a deep satisfaction swelled in him.

Excited, but with careful steps, he went to it -- an antique of aging, cracked cherry wood ornately trimmed in pounded brass fittings and straps in varying degrees of halted corrosion. Mummy weather. He tried to laugh -- but only an empty smile. He imagined a cloud, somewhere, perhaps waiting, darkening, and he shrugged off another chill.

He knelt before the trunk, then raising his eyes to the blackness beyond, he froze as raw terror tore at his soul. The red eyes, the dark form slowly turning to face him and then the smile, not of joy -- of burning hatred.

He squeezed his eyes shut and waited but the terror waited with him. Once again he stared into the dark and the eyes and form were gone. Cold sweat stung his eyes and he wiped them on his sleeve. Moving sideways to see better he nearly fell through the attic floor as old boards crashed loudly and echoed briefly in the empty room below. His scraped leg hurt and red eyes still glowed in his mind. But this find was more than worth it, and San would have been ecstatic.

Were he certain the eyes and dark form had welled up from the desert heat, perhaps his imagination, he would have relaxed. Yet he had no such certainty. So he forced it all away.

Dr. Peter Sanoren, an old dear friend and retired history professor and amateur miner had mysteriously disappeared. His body, found by hikers in a forest, had emerged two days after a breakthrough - the turning point in a research project series they had been pushing through for seventeen hard years.

They had found old and strange records, brown, stained and cracked, pointing the way to even further progress. One drama -- a weird pattern of many, globally spread mountains reported by a diverse array of international expolorers. The mammoth rings of solid rock, somehow never before seen –- or at least never reported -- sat around the planet like hidden puzzles now slowly revealed. Contacting the explorers had proved a failure, for they apparently had simply disappeared.

Several connected documents had proved at the time and for a while almost mesmerizing, two with faded titles, “Within The Arms Of Fates Of Hellios” and “The Nemesis Enigma Progression - An Approach”. How strange these had hung in their minds, and after that so often ignored, yet never gone. They knew their futures would never loom a dreary arena haunted with monotony. And they had added another mystery to their list of future projects.

San's tragic death had seemed a grim coincidence but later a thread of connection appeared. He recalled his friend's old, warm face, and wiping his eyes, felt again a deep sadness and loss.

After a bit he got busy and pried loose the false bottom within the trunk and found an old folded oilskin secured with cracked leather strings. He knew that inside would be a map -- the research though long, at times dangerous, had been accurate and complete enough.

Finally emerging from the house after days of combing through every inch of the house and attic, and squinting under the hot glow of the sun, he met with another surprise. She had sauntered up to the house smiling and her name was Jen.

Jenny Burleson was, in every detail, his ideal of beauty. It suddenly seemed as though he had always thought of her and when she might appear in his life. Words, now so useless. So he stood, a totem in the sun.

"Hi," she said playfully, "I guess you’re the one delaying my move to this wonderful old house." Then she stuck out her hand and grinned and he shook it silently, his own gaze lost in those beautiful clear pools of dreams which were her eyes.

They strolled awhile getting to know each other, with a mutual admiration growing all along. She had known the owner most of her life, would be renting the house while studying the survival of desert life. She’d paused on a research project in biology, arid region stuff. She was slightly aloof, obviously intent on her degree and graduating, and hoping for grants for larger, more serious work.

As time passed he could not easily peer at a blank wall without smiling back at her eyes grinning out at him. At one point he had torn his attention from a stack of references on the origins of the word love, only to answer the telephone to a come-on for advice on romance from the star charts.

Soon after had found them in a weekly routine of personal letters. He began to note her growing admiration of him and his scholarship, and they more and more felt this a match made in heaven.

But he had once again, on penning those naive words, ignored a chill, had lazily refused to note that something stranger than gods of fate might have brought them together. Logic sadly followed love toward an unseen section of broken track.

Like some unyielding ghost the cliff whispered as he wavered in fragile balance and, tasting bitter terror, hugged it in a surreal embrace of hate. Sighing deep gasps of precious air he relaxed, and holding at bay a mad crying grief, faded slowly back into his dreams as he recalled his approach to this unreal mountain of madness only hours before.

The winding road leading to it was a maze designer's dream, yet the map led him along, helping avoid false turns and dead ending overgrown branch trails. Are those, he had thought, quiet voices calling yea or nay to other routes? Perhaps they are wailing up from my own active imagination.

How wrong he had been. How he would pray he had abandoned the whole damned journey and gone to visit Jen as she had wished in weekly letters. For that however -- far too late.

A passage from his diary, entered during the time working with San, and referring to an earlier time of business worries, reveals items of importance:

"Things had gone poorly and I had allowed a growing evil to well up within. I wondered that I should call on forces normally of the darker corners of life. And then one evening, in a plunging spiral of mania, I conjured ominous powers to guide me, and called for the demise of tough business competitors.

The evening of madness faded quickly and submerged, forgotten, owing to distractions of work and life, until much later. At the time I thought it merely strange methods of self-counseling, designed, perhaps subconsciously to reverse my failing self-esteem. After all, how could purely subjective thoughts and intents have any effect on others or the real world? Yet strange events happened.

The owner of a successful business chain nearly perished in a plane crash, and a business adviser almost drowned in a friend's pool. Both still lay in deep comas, with parts of their bodies drying out, as though some far vampire fed on their energy and life. At the time these did not haunt me, but quietly gnawed subconsciously.

After that I recovered financially, yet a gloom grew unseen and malignant. These were however modern times, and well-known of course, such events -- simply the entertaining fictions of horror and the stranger sides of life. Purely escapism for those gray afternoons."

Unknown to him – he’d created a barrier, a cocoon -- a mental wall to protect from distant wailing nightmares, but items as real as pounding hail on a stormy night. And to protect himself from the knowledge of what he had done.

Deeper, also hidden -- he had tapped a conduit to -- or between -- darker dimensions, for lack of better terms.

"I must also mention what gave me the deepest shock of all -- which called to my attention the natural balance always to arrive in the end, no matter the time involved -- settling of the sands.
It was a small, worn book centered alone on a long empty shelf in a dusty rear room of an old library. It stood upright and slightly fanned, the spine facing out -- it could have waited for so long.

I was on a search for insanely rare references and learned of the room through an hour’s talk with an old retired caretaker who would watch over buildings in the area between sales or changes of tenancy.

I ran my hand slowly along some old fine trim and turned a corner, ready to leave, when I hesitated for a final look. I turned, and there, where I swear before had been a full section of old books…the now empty shelves, and the single small volume in a silent song of sirens, pulling on my soul.

How could I ignore it there, alone, on the dusty boards? I went to it and opened it and nearly at once felt those words burn into my mind, a fiery mystic brand.

"Tides will gently fall away
Back to Mother Sea to play.
But then some calm and quiet day,
Return to carry him away.

I closed the book, laid it down gently and left. I may have looked further through the old pages but I don't recall. I was numb.
What did it mean to me, to my future, to my past? I knew I would find out."

The jealous cliff, once again, spoke to him -- a silent wail. It taunted that it loved him, an evil grin in that cold jagged face he now caressed as a dead lover. But never was there love between these two.

Hard soil crumbled underfoot and he screamed, and legs trembling, he jerked a frantic step -- then another.

Soon he moved along the ledge, leaving falling rock and dirt gratefully behind. Step-by-step he absorbed further into that dark abyss, and with his progress grew a spark of hope. Turning back was out -- but a dark future was better than nothing.

Struggling, he suddenly rejoiced, his heart pounding; the trail fanning out -- walked with greater ease. He strode in a brisk but careful crouch, and finally, after most of an hour's winding decent, reached a wide outcropping of rock level with the base of the castle and dropping sharply into a deep chasm. From its lip a sturdy rope bridge hung woven with boards along its base. Ancient dust gave them a stone-like hue.

Action had boosted his spirits and he looked across the bridge with a challenge and, one by one, negotiated the thick planks leading straight into the dark silhouette of the castle.

It loomed hundreds of feet high and tremendous in girth -- the number of floors he couldn't be sure. Rope and boards creaked and swayed but held fast as he approached a huge double door -- massive hinges slowly grew out of the blackness, fastened with thick square bolts. A heavy brass handle, brownish green with age and weather suggested what he must carry out next and he hesitated, fear gnawing in his gut. He set his jaw and pressed on.

Near the end of the bridge he paused, a faint hum growing in the distance, then fading and gone. He knew it had to do with this place and its madness and he knew it would return. And this certainty alone, among all the dark faces in a tragic play, gave him strength. He tried to picture Jen's face smiling to him, but only a cold hollow shadow came to mind. He screamed and shook free all thoughts and glared into the towering darkness ahead.

A sigh of relief marked his step from the bridge onto solid rock. As he glanced back with thoughts of dismissal, a mist grew there as though erasing his past. "GO THEN, DAMN YOU!" He screamed and cried at once, then turned back to the castle. Behind him the mist slowed, inched again forward and then stopped, as though barely repelled -- or as though deciding to wait. Only then did it fade away to nothing.

Jeff craned his neck and looked up, gazing into the blackness. A shimmer of silver, a waving section of some live tornado towering from the top of the castle climbed upward, shining faintly. Then it was gone, replaced with blackness.

"This puzzle now weirdly played," he said softly, "but I am only a piece, a player only in hope." He thought of a huge chessboard, pieces carved in dull granite, standing firm, centered on their squares. He stood rigid, looking across at them. The face of a horse, its eyes hot red, scowled back. Then glancing down, he saw his own plot. It was black. And frozen there, large chips missing from their sides, were his feet.

He looked up and saw, above and beyond the misty perimeter of the board, a huge gray hand, fingers outstretched, inching toward him. He heard the ticking of the game timer in the distance. To his left the opposing Queen, smiling faintly, gripped a shining dirk pointed at his throat.

"I HATE CHESS," he screamed the lie, and the board and players were gone. He tasted bitter dirt and, spitting it out weakly, got to his hands and knees. He hung his head and wept and cried. "I am more than a broken piece and I want to play the game, oh, I want to PLAAAAAY!"

For too long a time and like some forlorn starving dog he held himself pitifully aloft on trembling exhausted limbs, barely refusing to add his own tiny mass to the dusty grave of earth only inches distant. Equally near hovered life-and-death chanting their singsong rhymes to the center of his soul. And he knew neither would sprint the final paces of a race of madness, but would only taunt, and hover near their own sharp ledges above opposing chasms. Were it up to them, they would grasp and wind around him and carry him away in a breath. But it was not their call, this insane race. Somehow it was his alone and on his will rested the fate of more than he would realize for some time -- if he lived to have the thoughts at all.

Decide he must so he screamed and leaped to his feet and lashed out at nothing, arms flailing, and once again stood glaring up into the castle's face. It thundered back in dark silence, but he stood firm. The grim reaper would harvest nothing this hour but in patience would have to wait.

Jeff looked to his left and right and then to the huge front double doors. He stood and thought and began to plan. He recalled a computer program a business associate had once used. Coded into that finely polished work was a back door - a secret entry. It had nearly wiped the poor man out for a competitor had used it to read the man’s private files and plans. The sleek front entry of that program had been a trap.

He peered at the door again and squinted, then turned and walked to the left, planning to search the rear of the castle.

On a sudden whim he wondered what may lie beneath the bridge. He turned and went back to the edge of the huge canyon and peered down into a deep, dry moat he now saw encircled the castle. Nearly hidden within a faint blue flickering brought to mind old fluorescent tubes dying in their fixtures. Pulses shot around in the bottom of the moat to careen inward every few seconds.

He took a double fist sized rock from near the castle base and went back to the moat and tossed it in. Seconds later the hum sang, then a hissing crackle as the blue haze flared. He imagined the rock propelled to the end of some hideous barrier and disappearing.

He thought of the theory of conservation of matter and energy -- that something decaying would by natural law convert to some different form but remain in existence. Why did the idea seem laughable here -- a missing rule. His spine chilled and he shook violently and jerked back, away from the moat. He trembled, terrified that he hovered over a line, but dividing what he did not know.

He looked around, eyes glistening. He saw the moat and its blue glow, the oval of mountain, the vine guarded entrance, the haunted fear of nearby townspeople, the connection to an old musty and timeworn library and...no...the desert house! JEN!!

Jeff opened his eyes. He had fainted and was on his back. Blood had dried over a head cut from a sharp rock and a headache pounded with his heartbeat.

Again he thought of Jen and winced. He couldn't go back. No trail. Suicide. And what the hell waited ahead? With a weak giggle of glee, he though of a rhyme:

Find some wood and build a boat,
Throw it down into the moat,
Sail off into the blue,
Never to return to you,
Keep on sailing through the void,
Trying not to die annoyed,
Sailing till the end of time,
Crying out this crazy rhyme.

The tears were floods. He lay in the dirt on his back, elbow across his face so no one could see. He had never liked anyone watching him cry and he didn't feel any different now. So he covered his face just as he had done as a child. But never had he felt this naked to the cold winds of life, even in the worst freezing storms praying for a warm coat.

Broken piece indeed. They at least had a game board under them like sad pawns shoved around as toy boats in a puddle. They at least had other pieces to share the trap. He was here, alone, buried under the board, hearing crazy sounds, waiting for blue icy winds to carry him away. He was a breath away from nothing, and -- he could barely hear the thought -- it so much more than merely hurt.

Exhaustion swept him into a dreamless sleep, with almost no game left, a discarded broken piece.

He awoke, his aching arm still covering his face. He felt a little better and sat up and looked around with a tiny spark of hope. He bit his finger and it hurt. They did that in stories to make sure they were alive.

Wonderful, he thought. Get some pain to make sure I'm alive. What a damn stupid way to run things!

He felt the anger swell, and knew that mad people ACTED, and fast. Apathy got one eaten fast. He would do something.

He found several types of round leafed plants and some grasses that looked edible, and after trying small bits of each and waiting for a reaction, munched hungrily until his stomach was no longer a hollow pit. He recalled certain animals, often large and strong, that ate nothing but plants. He found some with thick fibrous stems and leaves, and while too tough to eat they gave up a mild tasting juice when chewed. One was even sweet. He felt the energy course slowly back along exhausted limbs and an hour later he stood up and looked around.

He felt he was settling into a war. But who with?

He walked to the left corner of the castle and peered down the side. More blackness. He crept along in a crouch, expecting anything. He felt along the side. There were no windows or doors to try. He reached the rear corner and slowly peeked around. Blackness again, so he inched along feeling ahead, hands trembling. Sweat stung his eyes and he wiped them silently.

Suddenly the ground below his feet crumbled and he fell, his heart thumping like a drum. He careened off a slanting hardness, tumbling further, finally crashing into a hard damp floor. It seemed he had fallen about two hundred feet. The curving chute had slowed him, with only a couple bruises on his arms. A faint blue luminescence showed vague outlines of the cavernous room and a doorway darkened the opposite wall. A huge column, flared at its ends, stood centered in the room, holding up the sky.

He crossed slowly and entered a long hallway, another huge door guarding its far end. The steady blue haze glowed everywhere. He went to the door and opened it to a stairway and noting how wonderfully fitting it was, descended to a landing against which rested a wooden ladder. I'm finally going to hell, he thought, as numbed terror wound around him, an unlikely cocoon of support.

He peered around squinting his eyes to the now fainter blue glow. The room was larger than the other, and on the far wall were...carvings or deep paintings of...faces.

Jeff crouched under the handrail and descended the ladder to a cold dry floor which felt hard but yielding as though only partially real. He walked over to the wall of images and saw they were three-dimensional carvings or castings. Several at one end were blank. One traced a familiar outline, the hair...JEN!! He went to his hands and knees and retched until he trembled. He looked down into the floor and it was misty, not solid at all. Dizziness swayed him and he fell to his side, holding his knees to his chest. A baby floating in a cold blue empty womb.

Again the headache kept time with his heart, a new age biological band, and with each pulse the wall shook and he closed his eyes, not in sleep but escape.

A second or an aeon later he awakened and looked to the wall. Next to the blank images and Jen’s forming outline two sets of eyes, two faces, peered at him, stared like hunting eagles. The two businessmen in the hospital. The eyes did not accuse. They knew.

Jeff shut his eyes. He struggled back to his knees and crawled away, his mind blank. His head hit a wall. To his right a corner and an archway. He crawled to it and through and as he looked up his terror sang.

What must be the lower end of the silvery tornado, its tip disappearing below the floor, wound in a spinning undulating sheen, the silent violence of it deafening. Within was sand, dead gray. The sound of fine crunching gravel rose and filled the room and his ears with a strange record of progressing fate. This was somehow the end of a line, a gray disappearing train riding converging tracks to an infinite and final horizon.

He saw the hole in the floor, on all sides a foot wider than the spinning phantom and surrounding it. He crawled to the edge and peered down through more bluish haze, and what he saw amazed and jarred him to the core.

The tip of the funnel ended in a fine point, out of which a grain of sand fell every few seconds or so. Then as each grain fell, a blue jolt of lightning surrounded it and became absorbed by it into a larger grain, which then turned a dead gray and continued falling until it disappeared. Into a vast inverted sky of dark gray finality.

At once he realized at least part of the truth as it tiptoed on the fringes of his mind and called lightly to him. Each blue jolt was the essence of a person after their body had died. Here it came not to rest, but remain buried, still a live essence, in a final burial ground. It sickened him, this perversion. It was a trap -- a final trap -- created long ago in a terror of the idea of freedom.

He turned over on his back to rest because he felt he was going to be deathly ill. Memories flashed and out of a forgotten ancestry he saw the funnel set into place and the first entities trapped. Then the stream became a raging river. Was this his imagination or was it the truth, buried all this time, until a broken piece, falling off the edge of the board, found it out.

Each in the lineup of images on the wall waited their turn for burial. And he now knew he had caused those two professionals this fate. Perhaps not everyone would come here, but would escape. Perhaps.

He had called on the forces, and part of the price was his honor and part of it Jen. He would not, now knowing the mechanics of the trap, likely become its victim, but instead become his own victim in guilt, forever.

Unless...

His hope surged.

Jeff thought back, along worn and windy trails snaking down like dark vines into the depths of his own mind, and then beyond. He knew this was a dangerous road to travel, and there were not mere potholes, but chasms -- deep voids with no saving shelves to grasp in a final lunge, no soft floors to end the terrifying fall. This was the true final frontier, not the movie's lies. He knew monsters lived here, their teeth not merely razor sharp, their breath not merely of acidic wretchedness, their eyes not merely a deadly blazing red.

This was some true hell, where tones of denial played no songs. Delusion wrung out the sad face in a play of temporary comfort but the curtains always dropped, with one left harvesting seeds sewn long ago.

Was he up to this, could he pull it off and survive?

Just now he felt he would rather die, but then he knew that would not end it, that final false finish. So once again he breathed deeply the air of physical life and got to his hands and knees and opened wearied eyes to the cool blue of this place.

Jeff stood up and arched his back, willing away the stiffness. He turned again to the lineup on the wall and thought. After a few minutes he began a search and finally in some dark corner of an adjoining room in a dingy closet- like cubicle, found a large, dense stone against the wall. He carried it back to the wall of faces and, lifting it high over his head, smashed the first blank square, then the next. Finishing with the two executives he came to Jen's image, now slightly more defined in features. He winced and prayed as he hurled the rock and felt fragments sting his skin. He hoped with a crying thought that this would delay their grim fate.

Jeff returned to the room with the dervish and this time with a scowl of opposition, leaped straight into the tapering image. He hit the outer surface hands and feetfirst and as they disappeared within he barely smiled. He crossed the outer barrier and floated for at least an eternity. Time here was a joke, a fictitious ploy and a lie. He vainly searched for a rhythm, a tick or a tock, any motion or mass to measure everything else. He thought of the chess timer but no sound came.

He decided he would be the point of orientation, but this made him so sick he began to vomit up his guts. He wiped his mouth and then on a sudden whim mentally drew a thick black line down the center of the vortex. He viewed it steadily until death no longer loomed. And then viewing the rest of the madness spinning about him as an outgrowth of this single cable he had strung, he sighed. It helped so much that he cried in relief and his hope soared.

He looked up and down. Which way? One descends to hell went the fairy tale. Logic was out the window here like a bird fleeing its small thin bars, so he reached for the cable and felt with no surprise a dead solidity. He tugged and found the harder and faster he pulled the slower he rose, so with occasional light touches he made his way higher and higher.

The sand hung there unreal and thin, granular ideas holding their little places in a three-dimensional game of fate. He went through them and beside them at the same time, and in this place it made perfect sense.

The vortex became a tunnel through which he traveled to an unknown future. Jeff barely made out the sides as they increasingly sped along, finally blurring to a glassy pulsing sheen. He knew he was not merely chasing the far limit of motion but sequentially altering his coexistence with reality. And the rate of it made him gasp.

Weird, but here it didn't matter that it failed to make sense. Here it didn't have to; that was not part of the game. It was what it was. Tugging on the idea of a cable with a reverse speed change also did not have to make sense.

It held a hint of freedom -- one he began to grow used to, even depend on.

Wonder where I'm going, he thought. "I wish I would get there," he added in a whisper…and there the tunnel vanished and he was floating. He peered ten feet down to a smooth dark gray ocean of fluid gently rolling in subtle waves every twenty seconds or so. Flowing energy surges came to mind as he watched.

For a while he felt wonderful, sweet relief almost too much to bear -- and then he thought of Jen. Rending chords of terror blasted his mind, shattering the blessed calm he had so dearly required. He mused that he couldn't float in air -- and at once fell with an odd, subdued splash into what resembled water. It was neutral in taste and he sensed no aura of temperature about it. It could have been dead. It didn't seem wet either -- as though he wasn't truly touching it, even though he was so obviously within it. He calmed himself and forced Jen from his mind.

He saw a distant darkness, prompting the idea of an island, to which he then wished he were closer. Suddenly it loomed twice as large and he realized he had also skirted the shadowy thought that he didn't like to leave jobs half done but often did just that.

These thoughts, he wondered.

"I'm There!" he yelled -- and he was sitting on gray sand not minding instant actions. But of course grilling a steak this way would be no fun as the fun was in the doing. He then knew dealing with all this, even with Jen's torturous ruin hanging over his head -- possibly enjoyable. But only, he thought, if he could bring himself to KNOW, for sure, that he would succeed -- so he tried it.

Some states, real or imagined, do not begin to make sense -- they do not seem possible. They are the sprites of airy dreams or darkest nightmares. He had never been so violently sick nor ever heard of such a state as now engulfed and twisted him. He felt mashed to a thin wet paste. He retched volumes of nothing, and then was certain his head was split wide, his brains spilling out in viscous gray rivulets, winding down across dead gray sand to a patient waiting mother ocean. Only moments earlier -- the joy was so dear -- but now gone.

He quit. There was no hope.

Down on the bed of gray he lay, inert, a mass of dying cells merging to one with the sand, to nurture quietly their contented defeat, to add to their dead being…

"The sand," faintly wailed the minute spark of thought, but then it fell to a barest glow.

Deep...deep down, the glow would not quite die.

He peered at the mammoth grain approaching. Behind it others waited for their mate to return with its prize. They hovered among themselves, watching, reaching. They urged it on and to return. It came, slowly, in unwavering viscosity toward him.

I'm going home, he deluded -- a puppet thought not his. Warm, safe home. Mesmerizing waves wound around him and held him, gently at first. Through and behind the grain of sand so huge he saw the later waves yet to arrive, and saw their jagged rending barbs approaching slowly, quietly, hidden by a veil of gray mist. He wanted dearly to return for he felt lost. This grain would carry him back, and to do that it must hold him fast so he would not fall, would not become lost even more.

This...grain...of sand. The thought floated nearby and he began to hear, quietly at first but then...

He tried to recall...sand...one with...the sand. To become one with the sand one must...die...and...

I must not die, he thought. Jen would want...oh Jen...

The grain shimmered, then all was black.

Love does not conquer all, tough competence does, and caring. Love can keep alive the spark which ignites the power deep within, and this will bring one through.

Jeff awoke, slowly, still Jeff and still alive. He lifted his head and looked around. In the distance the gray oval of mountain and above it gray clouds. He went back to the gently lapping shore and drank some water, which tasted dead. Vaguely refreshed, now and then resting, he began a slow walk back to his hulking nemesis. Shading his eyes with his hand he again saw the faintly blue spinning phantom flickering in and out of view.

Pausing, Jeff saw a scorpion scurry from the center of a tough bush of sage to the safety and shadow of a space under a huge rock. He suddenly knew this desert creature had at least a basic, simple plan – and it had survived to grow to an adult of its species in a rugged world.

Jeff calmed himself, and then somehow gathering and energizing all the wisdom he had ever won, he began to plan. He now saw with clarity a battle waited just beyond this current slice of time. He decided he must win. And he planned.

Now and again there forms in some sky that certain darkness, and with it, lightly rumbling, a hint of storms arriving. It will quietly remain... And then suddenly with all the raw fury of all the storms of hell will rend and blaze across the land and wipe it to a barren plain.

Jeff formed a frown, and with it his own slight darkness. He was intrinsically hard to truly anger but this dawning cloud roiled no mere mortal emotion. It somehow violently simmered the dawn of free, unreigned and wild nemesis arrived. He lay slammed and beaten and cheated to within an atom width of death and complete extinction, and had love torn from his soul.

That madness – now done.

Now he knew – and oh so insanely simple…

Someone planned, began and DID this!

He would not merely find them. He would not simply end their game, their traps. At immortal risk -- the lightest jest compared with what they now were. For the first time in eons they would feel firsthand what they had done. Traps they had set, now traps they would know -- to the centers of their twisted, demented souls.

In that small span of time since emerging from certain death, Jeff changed. The rumbling started low, deep within that vast universe of him. He had seen lightning set fear in the hearts of gods, seen storms ravage entire regions, felt violent seas crush anything in their path. But never had he experienced the raw power which now roiled and built deep within his now warrior soul.

Something somewhere had called him out -- threatened him, his life, his love. In ignorance he had called on evil, and perhaps had won a just retribution. But all that mattered now none at all. For evil was going to go to hell.

He peered into the distance and saw the ring of mountains encircling the castle of madness. As he approached he began the chant he had seen in the library but had forgotten:

Evil may come
And Evil may try
To kill all dreams
Then pass on by

But in the end
Of all dark nights
Goodness prevails
With hard-won rights

Jeff aimed himself at the ring of mountains. By the end of the first mile sage, as he passed, rustled as though taken by a breeze. At mile two a path cleared ahead of him. By mile three he left no footprints but simply moved ahead undeniable as fate.

He paused behind a large clump of rocks and, adjusting to a comfortable position, lay in the sand and peered at the mountain and that space hovering above. For hours he focused, sometimes on tiny spots, then wider. And he grew, and then forced his view to limits he had not known existed. And yet, this surge of power – could it, would it…endure?

He saw a pattern emerge, a web of energies forming a zone of focus and control, itself gathering and manipulating other arriving energies into some ghastly face of evil grinning out to all humanity. An evil spirit come to feed on and claim the unaware -- claim their freedom. It was nemesis.

He saw the narrow tunnel, a tube of energy, hanging in space connected to the tiny lower end of the vortex, and saw grains of sand flow through it to another place and time. The tube silently hurled straight down, disappearing into the castle’s central garden. With a chill he realized no one had ever survived who had discovered the secrets of this evil ring of mountains.

Jeff Bearding, sick and thoroughly exhausted, sagged. He went to a small stand of trees near the base of the mountain and lay there in shadows and fell asleep. After ten hours he cracked open groggy eyes, peered around, and rested, pulled a thick sandwich from his pack and ate, washing it down with cold coffee from his dented and loyal thermos of many and varied journeys.

Once again he scaled the mountain and descended within to then face the castle. He searched outside until he found a door which he opened and found gardening tools leaning against the wall and various materials piled on shelves.

He grabbed a stout shovel, tested it in firm dirt and again entered the castle through the side door. He made his way carefully down a hallway to a large double door leading to the inner garden area.

Finally creaking open and swinging outward at urging from his shoulder, the door surrendered and he stepped into the dark and quiet garden and approached that insanely spinning and wavering tip of the vortex.

And with some effort ignoring it, he began a furious digging nearby into the damp dirt with a cold and focused determination. He might have been an ancient bronze statue come alive to perform some haunted planting by the light of a weird and wayward moon.

He dug until he ached, and then he dug some more. And soon all about the thin vortex disappearing into the garden he had loosened all the dirt to a foot deep except for one tough area of harder soil and roots. He returned there and attacked it, and soon his shovel rang on an obviously solid object hiding nearly a foot down.

He dug more, finally uncovering a metal plate of some strange and unfamiliar metal. Following scraping its surface with the blade of his ever present, heavy pocketknife, it felt and looked as some exotic alloy. It produced a strange glowing reflection of dim available light.

He returned to the shed, grabbed some old worn rags and a brush, and soon wiped away the last of the dirt from the plate face. The corroded surface revealed in a curving exotic script the letters “ll--” – two “els” and two unclear symbols, probably letters or numbers -- obviously the final part of a now illegible term.

On a whim he returned to the hole where the plate had hidden and dug more. A concrete-like block, gray and dense but more like granite, emerged several inches further down, with a top surface inset area the same dimensions as the sign’s height and width. Seemingly at one time the plate had rested flat on the top of the block. And either added dirt had raised the garden or the block had sunk. The latter appearing far more likely considering the garden’s well-matched height compared with the walls and door steps of the castle garden area.

Jeff suddenly knew “an approach” remained now in progress, and what it might be he knew not, and his previous swelling bravery and fierce determination felt hauntingly threatened.

Dark thoughts crept forward steadily and at once. And then a mind shattering realization backed by no real evidence but only strange soul based certainty – the mountain rings! A nemesis, a multitentacled was, had been for so long…g r o w i n g.

Jeff, now more and more drawn to the vortex, heated light steam rising from the dirt, he saw the vortex itself undulated with a hunger and wavering shade of grayish-red. Jeff felt a spiraling, dizzying change of the space of the garden. And as he slowly approached and then merged with the now pulsing vortex, he saw the fading sign lying in the dirt and knew the word on its face…was “Hellios”.

Suddenly so agonized -- intense now an urge to warn others, anyone, anywhere – but he knew he would not be leaving this place. He watched Jen’s face, somewhere in his own waning mind, fade away to a dark spot in a field of grey.

He mentally flashed to those old strange documents – it seemed decades ago: “Within The Arms Of Fates Of Hellios” -- “The Nemesis Enigma Progression - An Approach”

He knew it now, the origins of the myth called “Hell”, and this one of many entry portals to a long planned destination for so many, welcoming Jeff Bearding in a warm, steaming embrace of rising mist.

As he faded, something other grew in power, in a raging feeding frenzy around a sleepy planet unaware of “The Fates Of Hellios”. And now, progressions into some vague yet voracious, ravenous “Nemesis Enigma” so long waiting patiently, yet now so undeniably demanding, for nourishment.

~~~~~

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