Artwork for
Vincent Daemon's Vietnam short story
OF CADENCE AND WEATHERED STATUES
by Kara Koma and Shaun Lawton


Monday, May 30, 2011

THE THING AT THE
BOTTOM OF THE SHAFT

story & art by Gil James Bavel

~WITH APOLOGIES TO H.P. LOVECRAFT~




I had come up to the university library to borrow some books, pursuing my strange fixation of the occult and the bizarre. I took the old freight elevator down, down into the mysterious depths of the ancient building, wondering what horrors I would find. The old brickwork panned slowly upward as the car descended. Finally, the creaking elevator came to a jerky stop at the bottom of the shaft. As I pulled open the iron inner door and strode out into the archive of literature, I noticed an old fluorescent light flickering out, and I was suddenly plunged into complete darkness. I thought it a bit coincidental that it should burn out just as I exited the elevator. Fortunately I had previously obtained a book of matches from a local restaurant, which I now withdrew and made use of.

With a sputter, the match lit up like a small flare, the sulfurous smoke singeing my nostrils. I took a tentative glance at my surroundings, and boldly made my way down the narrow corridor between the dusty stack wall and the long tier of bookshelves. A musty odor pervaded the long room, and I noticed the low ceiling had become lined with cobwebs over the years. It was somewhat difficult to ascertain the call numbers on the shelves by match-light, yet I did manage to locate the shelf, which contained the one tome I was seeking.

Some time beforehand, I had been searching for a few books on demonology, for a religion and theology class I was taking. I found most of them to be quite large, being mostly in German and a few of the much older ones in Latin. It was then that I stumbled across the manual which I now sought—the Necronomicon; that infamous book of evil lore containing spells and incantations which reputedly imbued the reader with the power to summon beings from other planes, and to manipulate his fellow man.

Although my interest was purely academic, I must admit I had become somewhat fanatic in my quest for the book, having seen it in the library once and not again thereafter. I plagued the librarian many times to locate it, and she finally granted me the information that it had been placed in the stacks accidentally, and was not for public borrowing due to its age and condition.

According to her, the book was securely locked away in an area of the building that had been closed off for well over a century.

It was to this place that I had now come, amongst the oldest and most secret books owned by the university, one of the oldest in the country. I rounded the corner, and began to progress down between the shelves when the match burnt down to my fingers, causing some slight pain. I cursed, pulling the matchbook out again, and lit another. I noticed to my surprise that there were quite a few fluorescent bars attached to the ceiling, but none were functioning. I assumed that the power had gone out, and realized that I might be trapped down in the old room, which held the legendary tome I so earnestly searched for. I hurried back to the elevator to find that my fear was justified—the lattice-style doors opened, however the internal floor lights were not illuminated and the elevator did not respond when I pushed the buttons.

I thought that naturally the entire building had suffered a power loss, or at least, a fair portion of it, and that electricity would soon be returned, as it tends to be in such circumstances. I made my way around the entirety of the large room, hoping to find a door leading to a stairway, or perhaps a window through which I could exit if power was not restored soon. This endeavor consumed five more matches to no avail. It was then that I realized my plight; I was beneath the ground floor in an old sub-basement, where no windows were to be found.

I did locate a strange, bricked-up portion of what I thought was the north wall, which presumably served as the entrance to a stairway long ago, but must have been covered over when the elevator was installed. I tested a few of the large, ruddy bricks and found that despite the age of the construction, the mortar was quite solid and none of the bricks were loose. Finally, returning to the task of locating the Necronomicon, I walked between some shelves, which I had previously overlooked, and stumbled quite fortuitously upon an old kerosene lamp in an alcove, between some books. I thanked whatever forces moved decades ago when some absent-minded book-tender neglected to return the lamp to the library proper.

I picked the lamp up carefully, and observed to my dismay that it contained no fluid. Hoping the bottom end might still retain some fumes or residue, I withdrew the wick from its holder, and turned it around, re-inserting it. I then lit my second-to-last-match, touching it to the wick, which sputtered but eventually grew into a fairly bright flame. I covered the lamp with its glass top, and hoped the kerosene resins would burn for a few minutes at least. Slowly walking back to the shelf that contained the Necronomicon, I noticed the shadows from the lantern playing off the old bookshelves, dancing as if to mimic the flame inside it. The large book stood out among the others, its black leather binding after all this time retaining some kind of glossy sheen, and really, all told, was in relatively good condition compared to the decaying books surrounding it.

The book’s title was not on the spine, but some sort of lettering was present; the runes of an ancient alphabet were embossed deeply into the cover’s fiber. Neither title nor name was necessary; according to legend, he who had the grimoire in his possession knew what it was, those who did not probably were better off not knowing its true nature.

I reached for the Necronomicon, and my hand closed around the spine and grasped it firmly. Pulling the over-sized book from the shelf, I found it to be much heavier than I had expected. I looked over it for a moment, and sat down on the floor to examine it at greater length. I lost myself in it for some time, reading the Arabic to which it had been translated. No one knows in what language it was originally written, though it has been speculated that it may have been Babylonian or Sumerian.

After some time, I noted that the flame from the lamp had grown dim, and I remembered my predicament. Taking both the lamp and the tome, I stood up and made my way back to the elevator to find that power had not yet returned. I opened the doors, entered, and closed them behind me. I looked up and noticed a hole in the ceiling, which I knew led into the shaft above that could be my only means of exit. I jumped up and pushed on the panel, which offered no resistance, and merely fell to one side of the opening.

Stashing the tome and lamp on top of the elevator, I prepared to venture into the shaft myself, when I heard an ominous scratching sound from beneath the car. I knew at once that something was amiss. At first, I thought perhaps some poor soul had been trapped underneath the elevator, but then my concern turned to fear and then stark terror as the scratching became louder and louder, until I could feel a powerful vibration under my feet. It was then I realized that something was not only alive under the car, but something primal, intelligent, and evil.

Something had been living at the bottom of the shaft, undisturbed, for God knows how long—and now, it was trying to get out.

My mind raced with horror at the implications. To climb up the long cable would most certainly be an arduous task, but the horrifying alternative, to remain in the library sub-basement alone with the thing at the bottom of the shaft was not a savory idea. I could barely conceive the notion of waiting for the power to return while that unbearable screeching of metal resonated throughout the archive. The unwholesome cacophony was growing progressively louder and more terrifying, and I knew that if I did not escape it, my hysteria would turn quickly to insanity.

Without further hesitation, I jumped for the opening overhead, and pulled myself into the shaft, which was growing ever darker by the dying flame of the lamp. I somehow overcame the instinctual urge to leave both book and lamp behind and climb the cable with the greatest possible expedition, and instead, against my better judgment, lowered the lamp warily into the elevator proper to observe what I could.

Up from below the car came the most horrid shrill growling I have ever heard, either before or since. Suddenly, with a terrible sound, the elevator floor was torn apart as if it were paper, and through it came that which my unbelieving eyes determined to be huge, metallic claws supported by stone-like arms of basic humanoid appearance, if not proportion.

I gasped, my eyes wide with terror, and stuffed the Necronomicon into my shirt, tucking it in so as not to allow the book to fall below where I surely would never recover it. Then, hooking the lantern handle around my arm, I began climbing up the elevator shaft toward the more modern levels of the building. To my horror, the thing, which had come through the floor of the elevator car, had made its way into the car, and jumped effortlessly onto its roof.

This event filled me with the utmost fear, and I redoubled my effort. I was able only to take sporadic glances below, but I saw well enough to know that the thing which had come from beneath the shaft was not natural, nor of this earth, but perhaps some dark cavernous catacomb, from which it found its way into the tunnels and sewers underneath the library, eventually breaking into the shaft. But this was no time for theory, for I could tell by the shrieking of the creature that it was no less than ten feet below me, and I was still well below the first floor; the light emanating from under the elevator doors above made this plain.

Suddenly the lamp unceremoniously flickered and died, plunging both the beast and myself into a nearly absolute shroud of darkness. Overcome with panic, I became somewhat irrational, but it was perhaps this fact and this fact alone that permitted me the insight that may have saved my life. I let the brass kerosene lamp fall from my arm into my hand, and wrapped a leg around the elevator cable. I could hear the heavy breathing of the beast directly underneath me, and hanging on to the cable for dear life, I blindly swung the unwieldy lantern with all my might.

The lamp connected with a loud bang, which reverberated throughout the shaft. A loud and horrible wail came from the monster out of the darkness, and I heard it fall from the cable down perhaps twenty feet of shaft onto the elevator roof below. I could tell that the thing had not been killed by the fall, but only hurt and angered, for its intense wailing did not cease, but in fact, increased substantially.

My load partially lightened, I continued my climb upward, and found it faster going without the encumbrance of the lantern. Upon reaching the first-floor doors, I set one foot on the ledge, and pressed the other against the cable for leverage. I slipped my free hand through the handle of the outer door, but it would not budge. The freight elevator doors had been designed to open in unison, to prevent the unwary from falling down the shaft.

The screaming thing below must have gotten to its feet, because the cable started vibrating as if it were being climbed. Electricity must then have returned to the building, for suddenly the cable jolted, and the car below began to quickly rise. I gasped as I made efforts to regain my balance, my foothold on the cable lost, and I almost fell to a grisly death below, either on the roof of the elevator, or at the fangs of the unnamed creature on it. I managed, however, to grab hold of the sides of the outer doors, and locate the catch that allows them to open. Flipping the catch, I opened the door and fell onto the first floor, breathing hard.

A small crowd had gathered around the doors, obviously attracted by the unearthly shrieking of the thing that was now on its way up the shaft. I wasted no time in scrambling to my feet, looking around for any object I could use as a weapon. Nearby, I spied a small staircase, accompanied by a railing, which attracted my attention.

Pushing my way through the quizzical group, I bolted to the stairs and grabbed a loose bar from the rail, looking it over. It was made of aluminum, but was sturdy and would serve as an effective bludgeon. I spun on my heel to see the elevator doors, which had slammed shut behind me re-opening. I ran at full tilt through the parting crowd at the now-widening gap between the doors.

The demonic thing lunged out of the elevator with an ear-splitting shriek, only to be directly impaled on the bar that I had intended to use on it as a club. The momentum of the creature toppled me to the ground, where I observed it stop and clutch its stomach, which spewed a greenish-red mixture of intestinal fluid and blood. The crowd collectively gasped at the sight, but nevertheless stood paralyzed in fear. Quickly regaining my wits, I swung my leg into the back of the demon’s feet, causing it to fall backward into the dark shaft and plummet to its death.

Later, supported by the eyewitness accounts of the crowd, the authorities and I filled out a report and collected the remains of the hell-spawned creature, which were to be examined and submitted to a postmortem by the county coroner. University officials were quite concerned about the matter, busying themselves so with the strange account that they perhaps forgot to question my presence in the old archive in the first place. I was ultimately released and allowed to go on about my business, which of course, included the perusal of the Necronomicon, which had been furtively hidden in my shirt. I found through my long course of study that a curse had been laid upon the manual by the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred, which must have been responsible for the fantastic experience I had undergone.

The Necronomicon stated that:

"Those who do not first recite Cthulhu’s own Ritual of Eternal Banishment upon opening the book, will cause Nhgh the forbidden to be summoned from his agony pools of perpetual waiting, granting merciless and unending torment to those who tamper with the Necronomicon."

I read on, and discovered a passage that filled my very being with the utmost dread:

"Lest he is killed, Nhgh will surely slay all who caused him to appear and return with their doomed souls to his dark corner of the abyss...."




~End~








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