Wednesday, 13 February 2008

The Grey Story

Dear Readers, I am, again, sorry I have taken so long to get another post up but here is a brand new story. I have to warn you though, that this is a dream story, not a spanking in sight, no nudity and no dropped knickers. Those of you who know your H. P. Lovecraft will see that I am, indeed, inspired by the master.

By the way, the picture is a close up of the electric ring from our cooker, after the explosion. It is a very old cooker, I believe it is from the 60s or 70s.

"No eye had seen, no hand had touched that book since the advent of man to this planet."

(The Shadow Out of Time, H. P. Lovecraft, 1936)

In the first dream she found herself flying over a strange and frightening landscape. Before her eyes endless vistas of dead and tormented wasteland stretched to the horizon. The colourless landscape appeared moonlit but there was no moon in the sky. Nor where there any stars or planets. She moved swiftly through an empty sky across an endless wasteland.

The wind hit her face but she sensed no joy, no pleasure. The air seemed stale despite her speed and her whole being was in agony, her soul oppressed by the weight of inevitable doom.

She wanted to cry but there were no tears, she wanted to take a deep breath but she could not fill her lungs.

In this wasted land there appeared a strange city. She knew it was an ancient city, she knew it had not been seen by humans. It was older than man, older than time. It lay there on the surface of the blistered earth, like a blasphemous prayer cut in rock.

She circled the city and in the gloomy light she started to discern some details. She saw a grand edifice in the centre of it. It had the outline of a gigantic dome crowned by a high spire. When she got closer she saw that the dome was not round, not arched but made of gigantic rocks cut in odd angles and placed in a way that made them seem to be thrown there by a giant.

Around the angled dome there lay low grey buildings. She saw no pattern, no order among the buildings, there were no streets, no plazas in the city, only oddly angled open spaces between the houses that were built in strange shapes. It appeared to her as if the whole city consisted of randomly placed shapes that seemed designed by some madness.

She saw that the shapes were not random but built deliberately as they were planned but she could not see a reason or a purpose for the strange shapes. She felt dizzy as she circled the odd city with its distorted grey buildings.

There were no windows and for a moment she thought they were only stones and this was not a city but some odd freak of nature. Then she saw that there were doors. Every building had a square, jet black openings to the interior of the buildings.

She felt herself lowered towards the city. A great horror came over her and her mind was full of fear of having to come close to those distorted structures, to have to see what dwelt inside them

Then she fainted.

She screamed as she woke up and her husband came rushing to her. She was held by strong arms and her mother and the maid came in. She cried and talked as if she was delirious for a long time before she started to calm down.

She wanted to speak of the dream, to tell about the horrible city and the doom that she knew was there but she couldn't. She could not tell anyone. She had no words for what she had seen.

She fell asleep again and this time her husband sat by her side. He was worried about her but did not know the nature of her fear, the cause of her agony. He silently prayed the it was not the madness that had fallen upon her.

The sun was shining as she woke up and slowly the terrible dream faded. She deliberately averted her eyes from the images that still lingered in her head and soon the sun and the green lawns of their house and tea that was served made her heart beat slower and the darkness dissolve.

Although she forgot about the dream the grey fear lingered. She was suddenly afraid of the dark and could no longer stand when the sun was shaded by clouds. She could not explain and she could not tell and she saw in the eyes of her mother, her husband and the maids that they feared for her.

The second dream came some weeks later, when she had started to feel at ease again and when she no longer felt that she had to leave the candle burning at the bedside to be able to go into dreamland without fear.

This dream was different. She was inside a building. The walls were grey and seemed to be made of stone, not blocks standing on each other but smooth stone as if the whole room was cut from the bedrock.

She knew she didn't belong. She knew that she should not be there. She knew she was a stranger. And she knew she was in that city, that horrible city she had seen from the sky.

She was in one of those oddly shaped buildings and when she looked around she saw that the room had more than four walls. She could not count them; five, six or even seven, she could not say but there were more than four.

She was standing on a stone step and she was holding her hands in a kind of basin that seemed to be cut from the same stone as the walls. It had the same grey colour or lack of colour. Her hands were immersed in some strange substance. She found she was kneading a repulsive kind of dough. She imagined it to be made from flour made from the rock, inedible and horrible and forbidden for humans.

Then she realised she wasn't alone. There were others in the room. She knew she could not show her surprise. She had to stay calm. She pulled the hood down over her face. The shapes, the figures that stood around her were cloaked and hooded as she was but she felt her whole body freeze, her breathing stop because of their presence.

They moved in odd, smooth movements but said nothing, gave no sound. She glanced at them from under her hood but she could not make out their shapes. She knew, though, that they were not human.

She was then forming a rounded shape from the dough that seemed to set and become hard under her hands. The ordinariness of her movements and the strangeness of the dough filled her with terror.

She saw an odd kind of instrument lying beside the shape. It had a crooked handle and an edge that had the same grey colour as the walls. She took the instrument with trembling hands and before the dough had become hard as the stone she cut the surface of it with the instrument.

She knew she had no time and felt an overwhelming urge to finish the job before the doom came over her. She cut the surface and struggled with the strange material and marked the shape with a letter, the letter K for her first name. She knew she had to do this, to mark as hers this strange shape she had created.

She didn't scream as she woke up. This time she lay panting and staring at the ceiling. She felt strangely calm. She had gone back to the city and she knew she wasn't done with it.

She could not speak of it. She could not explain and share what she had experienced and in the company of her lovely friends and family she knew that it was only a dream, only a dark shadow that came in the night and scared her.

Her husband had asked her cousin to come visit and he managed to keep her occupied with parties and theatre and all sorts of activities. She knew he was worried. She knew he did it for her, to drive away the evil he feared had come to her. He didn't understand but he knew something was amiss.

She couldn't hide her fear. He noticed how she seem to be startled by any sound when they were sitting together by the fire in the evening and how she never went to bed alone or left the room without company. He knew she was afraid of something. He knew not what it was. She didn't know what it was. Her dreams had faded but she had kept the fear.

When the third dream came she was almost prepared, almost waiting for it. She was back in the city. This time she was in one of those open areas between the houses.

She was moving among those cloaked and hooded creatures. She felt the same fear of giving away she was not one of them. She was carrying the strange loaf or shape she had made the last time she visited the city. She looked at it and saw the letter she had carved in it.

The throng of creatures seemed to move in one direction and she followed, moved among them, tried not to touch them but followed the flow of them. She saw that they were carrying things. Everyone of them were carrying something. Some of them had round things like the one she was carrying, others carried small spire like sculptures crowned with spiked spheres, others carried glowing orbs.

It was at that moment she realised that these creatures had arms and hands. This familiar detail filled her with an unexpected fear and she felt like she was about to faint. She wanted to faint. She wanted to go back to sunshine and husband and green lawns.

She moved among the oddly angled streets and more and more of the cloaked figures joined the crowd. She realised that they were moving towards the angled dome in the centre of the city.

She knew she had to go there, she knew she had to be there among those creatures and move to that dome, to that temple and there she knew she had to do what was required of her. She knew now that the round shape, the strange loaf she had baked and marked was an offering. It was a gift to that which dwelt in the dome.

She knew she should not see what was in that dome. She knew she would not return should she see it. She knew she could not give her offering to it. She looked around but she could not turn around. She had to follow.

She had come to the gigantic dome and she stood at the foot of the stair. She saw the odd angled dome towering over her head and she saw the grey steps leading up to a black opening. She saw the cloaked and hooded creatures scrambling up the stair and entering the dome. She fainted.

This time it took more than an hour before her husband could understand her ramblings. He held her close and felt the fear that held her in its grip. He held her and loved her and wanted her to be safe with him.

She was exhausted and stayed in bed the whole morning but in the afternoon she was well enough to dress and join the others. She tried to smile and say she had had a headache and not felt well but that she now was much improved. They saw that she was still shaken but they reassured her.

Later they went to the museum, the museum of natural history. Her husband knew she loved it and there was an exhibition of fossils that was new to the museum. Anything to keep her mind from wandering, the husband thought.

It was a strange place for the change to take place. She was forever changed when she fainted in the museum. It was inside the new exhibition and no one noticed what happened until she sighed and fell to the floor. Her cousin managed to hold her so she didn't hit the floor too hard and she recovered as she was carried out into the sunshine again.

Those around her didn't noticed the change at first but her husband felt it immediately. It overwhelmed him and it was the fear of that change that made him leave her side, as he had never done before and go back into the museum.

He went back to the place where she had fainted and stood in the place she had stood and he looked at the showcase she had been looking at. There was nothing special there, just a round grey rock with a fossil in its surface. He looked at it and found it odd that the fossil, black against the grey looked very much like the letter K.


Paul said...

Janice, this is well crafted, it has the same feeling of inevitability that Lovecraft's work had, leaving one with an inexplicable terror with no real explanation.
How about trying a story in the style of Arthur Machen, if you can spell or even pronounce the names.
Warm hugs,

Wystan E said...

VERY intriguing. I enjoyed it from top to bottom. As Paul said, there is a Lovecraft feeling, but also a tone that is yours alone.

I hope you post these delightful anomalies from time to time...

wilhelmina said...


I did very much enjoy this and loved the suspense. I wanted to see right inside those buildings when she first saw them yet felt afraid to see inside. The common place action of kneading dough and it being so regular yet in that place made it strange and creepy. Then he walking with the others but not wanting to be seen or suspected. Loved it all. Just my sort of caper.

Well done and as always I love coming here never to know what I will find next.

Big Hugs

Janice said...

Dear Paul, I do think the unexplained is far scarier than the dangerous but known. I would really like to be able to write like Machen. But he is hard to follow. Especially considering that he has written the best ever short story, I have read.

Dear Wystan, thank you, ever so much for your compliment. I don't think Lovecraft, ever, had a female main character...smiles. I do admit that he is the main inspiration, though.

Dear Mina, thank you for those words. Yes, I think the strange combined with the ordinary makes a creepy combination.



wilhelmina said...

Oh, I just noticed your picture. The burnt element? How scary, you poor thing, and I am glad you weren't hurt in the process.


Janice said...

Dear Mina, no, I wasn't hurt or anything. Still, very scary though.