r m p
Acute Spiritual Fear
By Robert M. Price
The great Gothic edifice of the Chapel of Miskatonic University's School of Divinity rose like some primal granite cliff through the frozen fireworks of the brilliant autumn leaves. Philip Brown reflected, on his way to the Great Hall, that sights like these were almost reason enough to have chosen the venerable old New England Seminary. Miskatonic's divinity program attracted few students these days, since most who aspired to the ministry in the Congregational Church, its sponsoring body, were impatient with the conservative traditionalism of the place. Here the debates between Calvinism and Arminianism were still in fashion, and the echoes of the old Puritan divines had not yet completely died away. This was the theological cosmos in which Philip delighted to live.
It was New Student Orientation Week, and as he inspected the various displays of campus clubs, he naturally gravitated to some and equally avoided others without a second thought. The Solidarity with Central America Caucus was not for him, nor the Liberation Army, an updating of the old Salvation Army in light of Latin American Liberation Theology. The Feminist Sisterhood left him cold, too. He was cut from traditional clerical cloth and viewed the role of the minister much as it had existed in the previous century: something of a hybrid between personal counselor and pulpit theologian. Social activism was all right for some, but Philip did not see his call to the ministry in these terms. Nor was this the only respect in which he felt himself an outsider in his generation. Perhaps the old ways lingered longest in New England, but he had to admit that they were passing even here.
Philip had all but decided, by the time he reached the end of the in-door bazaar, that none of the student organizations suited him. But then he noticed one intriguing hand-lettered sign. It said THE MISKATONIC SOCRATIC CLUB. This name he recognized, for one of his favorite authors, C.S. Lewis, a champion of traditional orthodoxy if ever there was one, had founded the Socratic Club at Oxford. His goal had been to provide a forum for discussing the great philosophical issues of the day. If that's what the name denoted here, he would definitely be interested. He picked up a leaflet which looked hopeful, as he waited for someone to return to the booth. In a moment, a middler or senior appeared with a steaming cup of coffee and offered a friendly hand.
"Name's Glenn Brindley. I discovered the Club when I was a Freshman, too. It certainly livened up my years here in sleepy old Miskatonic. They started the Club ten years ago because some students felt they needed to hear more perspectives than they got in class. Just the old-time religion there, if you know what I mean."
"I happen to like the old-time religion," Philip replied, a tad defensively. "But I see your point. There's a big world out there, religiously like every other way. We need to know about it, I guess."
The other's smile returned. "That's the true Socratic spirit, Phil! We're having a debate next week. Why don't you stop by? The schedule's in that leaflet you're holding."
Philip gave the pamphlet a glance, then looked up. "Eschatology, huh? The doctrine of the end of the world. I just might come! I cut my teeth on that stuff. Hal Lindsey, all that kind of thing."
Glenn smiled knowingly. "Don't tell me; you're one of us 'Afghanistan War babies'?"
A blank stare. "What do you mean?"
A lot of us were 'born again' back in 1980 when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. Lindsey and a lot of the other paperback prophets had everybody on the edge of their seats thinking Armageddon was right around the corner. Had me convinced. I 'got religion' and started praying hard to escape the Great Tribulation. The whole thing blew over, but, hey, at least it's coming into the faith with a bang, huh?"
Philip laughed, too. "I know just what you mean! I've never heard the phrase, but I guess I'm one of them, too! War babies, that's a good one. You know, Glenn, when I look back at those days, sometimes I feel like a real jerk for getting so excited over a silly scare like that. But I can't deny that when I thought Jesus was coming back any moment, I had a zeal for the Lord I've never been able to recapture since."
"Yeah, right, Phil...," the other mused. "I know what you mean. You 'put away childish things,' but you're sort of sorry to see some of them go. And the Lord said that's it's the ones with the faith of a child that make it into the kingdom of heaven. Where do you strike the balance?"
Philip thought a moment. "Sometimes I think that it's striking a balance that's the problem. Jesus wasn't balanced. People called him crazy. Mother Theresa's not balanced. Neither was Gandhi. Maybe 'balance' is another word for compromise."
Glenn's eyes were fixed on the newcomer with a certain gleam. "I think you'd make a great Socratic Clubber! And not a bad friend, either!" They shook hands again. Phil went on to the library with a new sense of at-homeness. The Miskatonic campus no longer felt such an alien place. He thought he'd heard there was a student position open at the Hoag Library, and he wanted to verify this. Maybe he'd apply for it.
The next two weeks were a whirl of activity. There were last minute registration mix-ups to iron out, permissions to get for admission to closed classes. Philip felt he just had to get into that seminar on the lesser-known Puritan theologians. He had long been intrigued by the life and writings of the Reverend Abijah Hoadley, a Congregationalist parson who had served one of the oldest standing Congregational Churches in this region. Phillips had written a lesser-known counterpart to Cotton Mather's notorious Magnalia Christi. It was called Of Evill Sorceries donne in New-England of Daemons in no Humane Shape and it promoted much the same sort of fabulous rumor and superstition as Mather's volume. In the places where the two compendia of marvels overlapped, there were curious differences of a striking nature. Philip thought he might try a research paper running down local sources of some of the legends. Had there been any remotely factual basis to any of them?
His classes started out unspectacularly, with the calm dogmatism he had expected and indeed appreciated. Over lunch at the Arkham House of Pizza, a local franchise of a small statewide chain that served up the best Greek-style pizza he had ever tasted, Philip got into a friendly debate with Sue Millman, a fellow first-year student. He had taken exception to Sue's characterization of the faculty as "a bunch of old mossbacks."
"I don't see how you can speak that way, Sue. After all, aren't they just 'defending the faith once for all delivered unto the saints,' as Jude says?"
"That's how they dignify the fact that none of them has read a new book in the past thirty years. Get real, Phil! History passed this place by long ago. They say Dr. Nicole actually falls asleep in his own lectures! Once he was half-way through his notes before he realized he was in the wrong classroom! And old Dr. Kline! You know why he's so sure Adam and Eve were literal people? 'Cause he knew them personally!"
He couldn't help chuckling at this, and that broke the building tension.
Claude LaValle entered the fray. He was one of the few students in the ministerial program who signed up for courses in the seminary's vestigial Biblical Studies program. He would pursue a career in teaching, not a parish, when he was done. "Sue's right. I'm thinking of transferring over to Harvard Div. The Bible profs here hardly know what historical criticism is. I asked about D.F. Strauss once last semester and Dr. Stuart thought I meant the composer! I even hear there are important biblical manuscripts here that the faculty never even consult, probably don't even know about." Philip had to admit this might be true. He knew they still used the old King James Bible in classes. Even he had switched to the New American Standard Version some years ago.
"I'm beginning to see the need for something like the Socratic Club." Philip suggested. "Are either of you planning to go to their debate this evening?"
"What's the topic?" asked Sue.
"Eschatology. You know, the end of the world."
"Yeah, right. Like I'm going to worry about that. Count me out, Phil."
"Sorry, old man," added Claude, "but I've got prior plans, too."
The trio split up, Philip and Sue heading off to their respective field work assignments. Sue was working with a battered women's center. Philip's task was more traditional. He was filling in for the semester as a youth minister for a small congregation over in Saugus. And if he didn't get moving he would be embarrassingly late for his first session. So he checked for his road map and headed for the parking lot.
As he drove the narrow, winding New England lanes, punctuated as they were with green and white road signs for towns with quaint names like "Pride's Crossing" and "Folly Hill," he almost felt he had left the quiet expanse of Essex County for the living pages of Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress.
He turned on the scraping wipers of his feeble Volkswagen Beetle to scatter the tears falling from the lowering Puritan skies. As he did so, he began to reflect on whether he, too, was something of a "mossback." (Actually that had been only one of the least colorful epithets Sue, an excitingly modern woman in every sense, had used for religious traditionalists.) Maybe the way to recapture some of the excitement that had marked the early years of his spiritual pilgrimage was to experiment with new ideas. But could anything new thrive here in these old precincts of Cotton Mather and Abijah Hoadley?
As was so often true in dying parishes like this one, the youth of the church were few and scarcely interested in their parents' religion. For most, MTV was their church, various decadent Rock and Roll stars their idols. Philip could see he had his work cut out for him. It was hard to relate to them; when he was their age, he had been busy studying scripture and trying to decipher whether Henry Kissinger or Yuri Andropov was more likely to be the Antichrist. He had precious little in common with the few teenagers who showed up for the meeting. This first session had made that abundantly clear.
So it was not with much enthusiasm that, some hours later, Philip parked outside his dorm and rushed, skipping dinner, over to another dorm lounge where the Socratic Club must already be underway.
He found the door and tried to edge his way in as inconspicuously as he might. He was surprised at the number of seminarians, plus a few of the other University students, crowding the lounge. Who would have thought the end of the world would be so popular a topic? But perhaps the recent turmoil in every corner of the globe, wars and rumors of wars on every newscast, had made it a live question again. Two speakers stood at borrowed classroom lecterns. The first, white-haired Professor Jenkins, was just finishing up. Philip heard enough to know it was the predictable party line: Christ would return at the close of the Millennium when the gospel would have permeated the whole earth, defeating the powers of evil once and for all. He had to admit it did sound a little stale.
As the venerable old academic seated himself uneasily on a flimsy piece of lounge furniture, the other rose to speak. He was a youthful-looking man named Winthrop who pastored a Congregational parish in the nearby town of Foxfield. Philip didn't recognize him, but he thought he remembered the leaflet saying the man was a Miskatonic alumnus. And it was beginning to get interesting.
"Let me suggest a rather different perspective than the one so ably set forth by our previous speaker. I wonder how many of you are familiar with the Gospel of Thomas." Here he raised a thin brown hardcover book and opened it to the middle. "This is a collection of sayings attributed to our Lord, fully as old as our New Testament Gospels, but excluded from the biblical canon in the fourth century. It was rediscovered in 1945 in the sands of Chenoboskion, Egypt. Here's a passage germane to our subject, in saying number... um, 51. 'His disciples said unto him: When will the repose of the dead come about, and when will the new world come? He said to them: What you expect has come, but you know it not.'
"Suppose that's true. Suppose in the providence of God this scripture has come to light in our day to warn us we ought not to be looking forward for the kingdom of God, but backward. Can it be that the Second Coming of Christ has indeed already occurred? And that, just like two thousand years ago, we, the religious know-it-alls, failed to recognize him?"
The earlier speaker could not contain himself. Rising as if by reflex, he sputtered, "Now, listen here, young man! Our Lord has made it quite clear in Matthew chapter 24 that his glorious Second Advent would be unmistakable, that his coming would be as when the lightning flashes forth from one end of the firmament to the other, that every eye shall see him!" His face had purpled, and he seemed altogether too outraged to speak further.
The Reverend Mr. Winthrop was not flustered. "Dr. Jenkins, will all due respect, I'd say you have your quote from Jesus and I have mine. Him who has ears to hear, let him hear." With that, the tempestuous exchange came to an abrupt end. The student crowd began to disperse, some apparently deep in thought, others no doubt eager to get back to their reading assignments. Those immersed in biblical Hebrew and Greek courses, poor devils, could think of little else. But Philip, who certainly had work of his own to attend to, nonetheless made it a point to seek out the heretical Reverend Winthrop. "Excuse me, sir."
The man turned with an expression of affable interest. "Yes, young man?"
"To tell you the truth, I almost feel guilty talking to you. You see, I suppose I agree with Dr. Jenkins. At least that's the way I've always been taught. But what you say is intriguing, fascinating, really, and I'd like to hear more. Do you have a few minutes?"
The Reverend Winthrop looked at his watch. "Well... I do have to be back for a deacons meeting at six, and I've got to check in with a parishioner in Mercy Hospital... but, yes, I think I can spare twenty minutes or so. How about a cup of coffee over at the snack bar?"
Once the two of them were seated, ritually consuming a pair of coffee and danishes, Philip spoke all in a rush, as if to a confessor. "It's just that I miss that zeal I once knew when I believed Christ would come again at any moment. I eventually admitted that was naive, that Christians have been predicting the Second Coming for 2,000 years, and they were always wrong. But what you said, well, it does sound heretical, like Dr. Jenkins said, but maybe Sue is right, and he is a mossback like some of the faculty."
Winthrop burst into laughter. "You said it, I didn't! He was the same when I was a student here. He's a good man, but you're not liable to hear anything new from him, that's for sure."
Philip smiled and continued. "If what you say is true, it would be just electrifying! Amazing! It would like being back with the original disciples following the Lord Jesus himself!" The wistfulness, the growing will to believe, was evident with every word, and none of it was lost on the older man.
"Congratulations, young Mr. Brown. Unlike some, you can see quite clearly what's at stake here. It becomes far more than a matter of theology, of whose doctrine is truer. We would be talking about the rebirth of the Christian faith. And what does St. Paul say about faith turning into sight?
"Look at the time! I really must be going. But, here, let me give you my number. Let's talk again. Meantime, why don't you look up this verse of scripture and think about it?" He scribbled a brief citation on a napkin, folded it and passed it to Philip.
Back in his dorm room, Philip hastened to his desk and grabbed up his Bible. During the walk back he had tried to place the chapter and verse number, but with no luck. Here it was. Matthew 17:10-12. "And his disciples asked him, saying, 'Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?' And he answered and said, 'Elijah is coming and will restore all things; but I say to you, that Elijah already came, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they wished. So also the son of man is going to suffer at their hands.'"
Philip looked up from the text, perhaps staring into space, perhaps praying. But in a moment his reverie was interrupted by a knock at his open door. "Phil! I saw you at the meeting. How'd you like it?"
"Glenn, I have to admit, it's really set me to thinking. I'm entertaining new ideas I would have rejected out of hand only days ago. And I don't mind telling you it's not very comfortable!"
Glenn sat down on the bed next to him. "I know what you mean, old buddy. I've been there myself. I remember my first semester. I came in here thinking I had it all sowed up. God had called me, and I just needed some practical know-how, or so I thought. It wasn't long before I was doubting everything I ever believed and then some! Theological education does that to you, and it's good that it does, I think. No other way to maturity."
"I suppose you're right, Glenn. But this idea that the Second Coming of Christ has already happened...! That he came again and went unnoticed, and, if I'm reading this passage right, that he might even have suffered again... I don't know. That's tough to absorb!"
"Again, Phil, I've been there. I know what you're going through."
At this Philip turned and stared at his new friend with wide eyes. "What? You mean you believe this? That Christ has already returned?"
Glenn laughed and said, "Don't look so startled, for Pete's sake! I was the one who arranged for Reverend Winthrop to come speak, though I did think he'd have a bit more of a chance to air his views!"
"Does the whole Socratic Club believe this way?"
Glenn paused to consider what seemed to Philip a simple question. "I'd rather not speak for anyone but myself. But I'm sure I’m not alone."
"Okay, Glenn, then I've got to ask you this question. I wanted to ask Winthrop, but he had to rush out. You must have some specific idea of who it was, don't you? I mean, if Christ returned already, was it somebody you have a name for? Or are you trying to identify him? Waiting for him to reveal himself?"
"Yes to all of the above," Glenn replied. It's complicated. But let me give you a couple of clues. Maybe you'll guess. We think that the pattern of his coming would be the same both times. So you have to look for a candidate, so to speak, who was born of a virgin, a humble country girl. There would be signs in the heavens to signal the birth, maybe not a star necessarily, but, let's say, thunder and lightning. And that's where Dr. Jenkins's Matthew quote fits in: that's the lightning flashing from one end of the skies to the other.
"And he'd be marked by physical ugliness, because Isaiah predicted, 'He had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not." You'd even expect him finally to be set upon by the authorities and killed, then to rise from the dead and ascend into heaven to rejoin his Father."
"And you're saying this has happened to somebody else in recent history?" Philip's initial incredulity had returned with a vengeance.
"I'm saying more than that, Phil." Every trace of casual conversation had drained out of Glenn's voice now. "I'm saying it happened to somebody in this very state. Some of it even happened on our own campus."
What Glenn said began to strike echoes in the recesses of Philip's brain. He had heard something, something that sounded like this, but he never saw the significance in it that Glenn seemed to see.
"You're not talking about that Whateley guy, are you? That must have been, what... fifty years ago?"
"Sixty-seven, to be exact. What do you already know, Phil?"
"What I saw was some kind of 'In Search Of' show on TV. It was one of those Loch Ness Monster kind of things, where they 'investigated' some local sightings of a creature. As I remember, it boiled down to some horribly deformed lunatic, somebody that looked like the Elephant Man or something, right? And he was killed on campus by a Doberman. And this all happened to occur just before a hurricane up in Dunwich, right? The survivors they interviewed were full of wild tales of the guy being born without a human father, having an invisible brother who rose into the sky... I'm surprised I remember that much of it, to tell you the truth. All rumor and exaggeration, like the Bermuda Triangle."
"You know what you sound like, Phil? Just like one of those modernists, the Bible critics who have an explanation for everything, 'cause they just can't believe in the supernatural. Do you think Jesus walked on the stepping stones in the Sea of Galilee, too? And the resurrection appearances, they were probably just hallucinations, weren't they?"
Philip was not used to having such accusations leveled at him. It was precisely to avoid that kind of teaching that he had sought out this, the most traditional of theological seminaries. "You know that's not how I believe!"
"Phil, be careful that you don't wind up like the old scribes who dismissed Jesus as a devil and a madman. Don't close your mind like they did. If it happened once, it could happen again. And what if it has happened again? Wouldn't you want to be a part of it? I know for a fact you would!"
For this, Philip had no answer. As outlandish as the thing sounded, he still found himself excited by the prospect--just like the old days! He suddenly realized he wasn't really arguing with Glenn; he was really trying to fight down his own rising desire to believe in what Glenn said, what Reverend Winthrop had said. It did make a seductive kind of sense.
"Look, Phil, as I said, I remember feeling just the way you do now. Take some time to think about it, pray on it some. And in the meantime let me lend you this."
He held out a dog-eared copy of a crudely printed paperback book with a stencilled title: THE DIARY OF WILBUR WHATELEY. "There's a group of us that meets to study it. Really, it's become a kind of Third Testament for us. You'll see why."
It was time to hit the sack. Both men had early classes the next day.
Morning in the dorm kitchen witnessed a frazzled Philip Brown mumbling a hello to Sue Millman, who seemed enviably bright-eyed. She must be, Philip quipped to himself, living the righteous life, not flirting with heresy like himself. "How's your clinic work going these days, Sue?" he asked with a bit more animation.
Her large brown eyes narrowed, and she brushed her bangs aside. "I'd be lying if I said I enjoyed it. Every day I see women come in bruised and bleeding because they said something that set their husbands off. Most times they don't even know what it was that tripped the land mine. And their husbands, most of them, aren't boozers or criminals. They're doctors, lawyers, professionals. It really makes you sick, and there's no way to distance yourself from it without losing your humanity. But I feel I'm doing important work. I'm even thinking of going into it full time. I mean, instead of the parish ministry. Maybe I'll quit the Div School and switch over to Aylesbury State for a Masters in Social Work."
"I'd hate to see you do that, Sue!" said Phil, his interest now patently genuine.
"What, you don't think there's a need for the kind of work I'm doing?" She began to bristle.
"No, that's not it at all, Sue. It's just that... I'd... miss you, that's all. But you're the one to find God's will for your life, not me, that's for sure." He was turning red, and she saw it. It seemed to amuse her, but for a moment, Sue looked at him with a funny expression, as if seeing him in a new way, assessing him in a new light.
"Well, I guess you're right about that, Phil. Hadn't you better get to class?"
"That's right!" he said, looking at his pocket watch, one of his many odd affectations. "I've got that Puritan seminar, and it's starting right now!"
"Sounds like fun. Don't let me keep you from it." she said with a chuckle. He grabbed his satchel and trotted up the steps and across the wide, leaf-littered lawn.
It was not Philip's best day of the semester. He found himself uncontrollably nodding off in class. One student paper on old Preserved Cromwell of Newport only augmented his drowsiness, but when the name of Abijah Hoadley came up, it woke him like an alarm clock. Cromwell had apparently exchanged a few letters with his colleague. The import of this Philip missed, but it suddenly struck him that Reverend Hoadley had served in Dunwich, the very place from which the mysterious Wilbur Whateley had hailed. It had been called New Dunnich at the time, but he was sure it had to be the same place.
The seminar presentation had more to do with some polemical theological tracts circulated by the combatative old preachers, something to do with the Halfway Covenant debate that racked New England Puritanism for a generation. The paper steered clear, perhaps from embarrassment, of the controversy over Reverend Hoadley's pulpit battles against Beelzebub and Dagon. Philip's own research for the seminar had acquainted him with this darker side of Puritan theology.
He left the seminar room after an apology to the professor for his inattention. Philip reflected that he had some time on his hands today. He had planned to drive out to the Wilbraham area to do a bit of research for his project on Abijah Hoadley, but the skies had clouded up already. As he made for his dorm room, the target of the first practice shots of the rain volley that was to follow minutes later, he decided he'd spend the day, after a quick nap, with a different sort of research. He was itching to get into that odd-looking paperback Glenn had loaned him.
Unusual for his cat naps, Philip dreamed. It wasn't the first time he had dreamed himself in the role of one of the twelve disciples, but there was something different about this dream. He couldn't quite focus on the Lord, as if it were one of those too-reverential movies where they didn't show the face of the actor playing Jesus. But now he was going somewhere with Jesus, up a hillside, while most of the other disciples slept. There were a couple of others with him. Upon awaking a few moments later, he would realize he had been dreaming about the story of the Transfiguration on the mountaintop.
In silence the three disciples and their Lord continued till they reached the top. Then, wordlessly, Jesus stood apart by himself and looked up to heaven. Now his face could be seen. He looked as Philip had always imagined him: slender, of medium height, inappropriately European of feature, and with chestnut brown hair and forked beard. But suddenly he was surrounded by a nimbus of light and hard to look upon. Two other figures appeared as if hovering in the air on either side of him, but their shimmering shapes frustrated the eye. Perhaps there was a suggestion of a star-shape up top.
But then it seemed that the Lord Jesus himself changed. He grew to a height of some eight or nine feet. And it was hard to penetrate the light-cloud that enveloped him, but he seemed to have too many limbs, like the statues of Hindu deities, but the arms rolled and flowed with boneless grace. The face, what could be seen of it, seemed vaguely elongated. And the eyes flamed as with a flame of fire.
A peal of thunder spat explosively: This is my Son; hear ye him!
And Philip awoke. He jumped from the bed and stood sweating, head aching, heart hammering. It was the most vivid dream of his life. He thought at once to get down on his knees and pray, as he usually did whenever he came to a crisis point. Somehow this seemed to qualify. But it wouldn't calm him. He couldn't seem to get past empty words. So he did the next best thing, went down the hall to the dorm lounge, vacant at the moment, and clicked on the TV. Alpha waves were what he needed, and right about now Philip was willing to take them where he could get them.
After a couple of sitcoms of which he remembered nothing at all, he felt better. He felt he could thrust the disturbing dream from his mind if he could distract himself. So he decided he might as well go back and pick up that Whateley book. See what all the fuss was about.
As he had it in his hand, he realized he might be opening Pandora's Box. But he had come to far to turn back now. He did not try to start from the beginning, but instead felt he stood to get a better idea from a random sample. So he opened the book, which, he now saw, had the loosened spine of a volume much read. Ironically, it reminded him of those early years when, as a young believer, eager to divine the guidance of God, he would "cut scripture," just let it fall open anywhere, assuming the Holy Spirit would pick the page.
"Back from the Zone of the Colossi, just as Grandfather said, in the twinkling of an eye. Folks hereabouts don't know of those worlds. Don't know even of that world they live on. Had no form in that Zone save as vortices of violet gas. Saw much of the past there, also much of the future. Grandfather says time does not flow there but is frozen like the Miskatonic in February. Now understand that chapter in Dee."
"Mother took me out to the woods, said I'd been spending too much time with my nose in old books. She and Grandfather argued and shouted for a spell, but in the end Grandfather told me to go with her, said we wouldn't put up with sech womanly interference forever. She packed a basket and said she meant to have us a picnic in a clearing she used to visit when she was a young'un like me. Only she got confused and said maybe it weren't there no more. We kept going till she said this one would do. So we sat us down and spread out the cloth and the food. But then she saw what the trees looked like, how the branches wasn't like other trees, how they had little mouths, and didn't stay still. She left it all where it was and got up running. This was funny and I got to eat the chicken by myself."
"Inside the Voorish Dome today. Took shape when Grandfather said them words in the Aklo and danced the Mao Game. I will learn that dance, too. We was up at the hilltop between all the tall stones, and then all at once the stones reached up and closed like fingers
when a body prays. Grandfather says it is I who will be the King of the Kingdom of Voor, whence the earth was first stolen. One day I will ride its winds alone."
"Looks as if That above will play host to me fine. I asked Grandfather why he wouldn't use it hisself, but he said, No Willie, it's for ye 'cause it's like unto ye. He said that in that day I should see it is myself and nothing else. Then my Name from them in Yian-Ho shall be Bugg-Shoggog, and his will be Kamog. And then Grandfather bowed down in front of me, and I laughed at him."
Philip's first impulse was to throw the crazy text aside, but he stopped himself. It wasn't his own book, after all. But there was something else. There was a sense of something more than strangeness. These words were not the product of anyone's conscious artifice. They didn't make enough sense for that. It was like half a telephone conversation. You felt you were eavesdropping on something utterly alien and frightful. And the fact that the diarist didn't seem to sense it himself, that he was so, well, accustomed to this terrible cosmos of nightmare hints and cryptic enigmas--that's what made it chilling. And that chill was almost, no, it was spiritual in nature. He couldn't rightly use any other word for it. Here in this crudely duplicated paperback lurked the Dark Mysteries, a sense of defiling, demonic holiness. So he handled the book with a reverence as great as the loathing he felt for it, and put it back on his desk.
It had stopped raining. More than ever he needed something to bring him back to terra firma. In another moment, he had it: he decided there was still time this afternoon to head over to the library and apply for that opening. As bookish as he was, it would be the ideal job for him. His field work didn't pay enough to cover his various fees and leave him any pocket money. His head seemed to clear like the skies above once he got out under them.
As it happened, he was in luck. No one else wanted the job. It seemed most of them spent enough time among the musty stacks as it was and couldn't stand spending an extra minute there. Fine with Philip. He would have to start work next week. That would make his schedule even tighter, so he'd best get his research done while he could. Maybe tomorrow would afford a better chance to make it out to the west of the state.
The day was cool yet sunny. Philip grabbed a writing pad and a guidebook. He headed for the Massachusetts Turnpike and rapidly passed into the familiar mental state he called "driver's Zen." The miles sped by, and soon he was looking at a local map for the Wilbraham-Hampdon-Monson Historical Society. He hoped they might have a collection of the papers of the Reverend Abijah Hoadley, or at least maybe they'd know where to send him next. He didn't trust the telephone, because experience told him you couldn't trust a curator any more than teenage store help to know what they had on hand. He wanted to look for himself.
The inconspicuous white wood-frame building was disappointingly small, but it was occupied. Philip had to wake the curator, who resented it. He was willing for the young man to putter around. "Just don't steal anything." Mere moments revealed there was nothing here. Philip paused on the steps outside to consider how he might salvage the trip. He walked to the gas station across the narrow street and got a Coke out of the machine. It was still a quarter in this backwater.
Then it occurred to him that the Congregational Church in Dunwich itself might well have some relics of its famous former pastor. It had been his last parish, since Hoadley had mysteriously disappeared, most thought killed by Indians whose ways he openly condemned from the pulpit. So he looked at his map again and made a couple of notes.
It proved no easy matter even to get into Dunwich. The roads to the place had only recently been reopened and cleared of encumbering growth. The town had been completely shut off from the outside world for decades. It was only a Commonwealth flood relief effort that had caused access to be opened again about fifteen years ago, and the roads were all but unpaved. The rutted paths veered crazily among the steep shoulders of bulbous tall hills, and one rounded corners with heart in throat for fear of invisible oncoming traffic--until one realized there was no such thing. No cars came out of Dunwich, or into it--except for his own.
As he drove over a recently but crudely reinforced covered bridge, he noticed one steeple stabbing crookedly above the low and sagging skyline, and it turned out to crown an old church made over at some point into a Dry Goods Store: OSBORNE'S, a faded sign proclaimed. It had been long ago abandoned. So he drove down the ghost town streets a bit further. No one was in evidence. Perhaps they were such xenophobes that they hastened out of sight upon the entrance of an outsider, like roaches fleeing when you turn on the kitchen light switch.
But turning another block or two, he did manage to find the structure he sought. It was an old meeting house with nothing so pretentious as a steeple, in the unadorned style of the early Puritans. He pulled the Beetle over, noticed the antique absence of a parking meter and carefully climbed the front steps of the church. Modern church buildings had office entrances, but he knew such a relic as this would not. So he pulled at the bell and wondered why he bothered. There was no way anybody but a ghost could be home. If he were lucky it would be the ghost of Abijah Hoadley. He turned to go and call it wasted day.
He had turned the ignition key when the half-oval of the church doors split and then opened wide. Philip jumped out of the car and strode up the steps, hand extended. He faced a small, stooped man who looked little inclined to return his friendly gesture. He was vested as if a service were in progress, though no sound from within suggested activity. And these were certainly no
Congregationalist trappings. The robe was faded and colorless, but the bug-eyed man's oblong pate was adorned with a curious golden tiara. Philip's eyes could not trace the delicate workmanship of the thing without impolitely looking away from the man's flap-lipped, expressionless face.
"Help?" grunted the cleric tonelessly.
"Uh, yes, Reverend. My name's Philip Brown. I'm a seminary student with Miskatonic Divinity School, and I'm doing some research on Dr. Abijah Hoadley, who I understand once preached here. I hate to trouble you, but I wonder if the old church might house any papers, you know, sermon notes, pamphlets, letters by him."
"Papers... hmmm, might at that. Come on in."
Philip felt a slight sense of foreboding at stepping into the shadowed narthex. It was really pitch dark, though the odd little man didn't seem to mind. In a moment an antique kerosine lamp sputtered into flame, and the peculiar cleric led him past the decrepit sanctuary, barely visible, into the church office.
"Been cleaning it out. About to dump this. This box, old records. Take a look if you want." Philip lost no time stooping to examine what he could see in the flickering dimness. He guessed it was this or nothing. Whatever papers were in the box were so brittle and yellowed that it seemed not unlikely he should find what he was looking for. And yet they could date from any time in over two hundred years since Hoadley's day. What were the chances? Still... he remembered how Tischendorf had discovered the precious leaves of the Codex Sinaiticus in the garbage can of St. Catherine's Monastery.
"Since you're only going to throw them out anyway, why not let me take them off your hands?"
The other man signaled his assent (or so Philip interpreted) with a vague wave of the hand. Philip picked up the carton and carried it to his car. Just as the man was about to seal himself back in his empty church, one more silent relic among so many, Philip had an inspiration.
"Uh, one more thing, if you don't mind." The impassive face paused in its retreat into the dark.
Philip was back up on the steps. "Would you know anything about a man named Wilbur Whateley? I understand there was some big ruckus over him back in the Twenties. I was curious..."
"No, never heard of that gent. Young sir, I dun't know the taown much. Bishop jest sent me here from another town to get th' church goin' agin. Not much interest. Dun't know whut's amiss. A lot o' church-goin' in my town. This Whateley go t' church much?"
"I don't know. Good question. Thanks anyway. Good luck with the church!" Philip drove off with the blank face staring after him.
Hours later, Philip lugged the old box into his room and collapsed onto the narrow bed. He ached from the dullness of driving. Ordinarily he would be sound asleep in seconds. But here came something loud, dragging him reluctantly back into wakefulness.
"Phil! Good! I was afraid I'd miss you! Come on! It's starting!" Glenn Brindley practically dragged his befuddled friend out of bed.
"What? What is it, Glenn? Another Socratic meeting already? For Pete's sake...!"
He was soon accompanying Glenn down the hall and out of the dorm. It seemed on balance the easiest thing to do. He was too tired to protest much.
"Hope you don't mind, old buddy; I took the liberty of picking up that copy of the Diary I loaned you. Have a chance to look through it yet?"
"Yeah, as a matter of fact, I did. But where is it we're going?" He had begun to get pretty steamed, friend or no friend.
"Think of it as a Bible study meeting, Phil. Remember I told you a group of us gather to study the Diary. Well, tonight's something special. We have a guest speaker, and he wants to meet you."
Philip stopped in his tracks. "Meet me? You've got to be kidding. I'm going back and get a nap." He turned, but Glenn followed.
"Really! It's a professor, the only prof on campus who sees things like we do. We've told him about your interest, and he says he'd like to meet you, maybe answer some of your questions. Now there's an opportunity for you!"
Philip stopped again. One of the mossbacks? It seemed impossible.
"Yeah? Who is it?"
"None of us knows. You see, he can't very well reveal his identity. You and I can accept a new idea and not much will happen. The Dean will shake his head if he hears of a student becoming a modernist or a pentecostal or something, but the faculty have to sign a doctrinal statement or they get fired. You know that."
"You mean he's teaching here under false pretenses!"
"Come on, Phil! What's the problem? Don't you want to know more about the doctrine?"
A moment of silent musing, then the inevitable: "Sure. You're right, I don't know what's eating me. Just exhausted, I guess. I'll go with you, Glenn. Come on."
They entered one of the classroom buildings that had the hall lights on, but no rooms were illuminated. They entered one of them nonetheless. To Philip's surprise, once his eyes had adjusted to the gloom, the place was full. At the desk, shrouded by strategic darkness, was the heretical professor, the coreligionist, the mentor of the campus sect.
"Ah, I see our new friend has arrived!" The voice was artificially hoarse. Philip could make out little detail belonging to the seated figure. The outlines suggested none of the few professors he knew, but that meant nothing. This was his first semester.
"Glenn tells me he's lent you the book. What did you think, my young friend?"
Philip sensed every eye upon him. He wondered who the students might be. How many of them had been eyeing him for days as a potential recruit?
"To tell you the truth, I couldn't make much sense of it. But I didn't start at the beginning, just flipped the pages and read here and there. But I admit there's a real power to it even without understanding it." It was his answer that made little sense, but in the circumstances he couldn't think of much to say. The shadowed man spoke again.
"And that's what you're looking for, isn't it? Spiritual power. I think that's what we're all looking for. A greater experience of Christ, a Christ at hand, here with us, not two thousand years ago, not just in the pages of the Bible."
"Yes, sir, that is exactly how I feel. Glenn's probably told you. But there's something I don't understand. Why this Whateley man? What reason is there...?"
The dark whisperer cut him off. "Son, if you're looking for proof, you're not going to remain any kind of a Christian for long, are you? Do you think you can prove Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ? You know what they used to say, 'Can anything good come from Nazareth?' That's what folks hereabout say of Dunwich today! 'We did esteem him stricken, smitten of God...'" The voice trailed off.
One of the hitherto silent students chimed in here: "It's an act of faith, Phil. You can't escape that. But that's what Christ asks of us, isn't it?" The voice sounded familiar, but without seeing the face, he couldn't hazard a guess.
"Yeah, I guess it is." Phil found creeping over him the familiar feeling of conviction. He had felt it a hundred times over the years of his Christian life, seated in the aisles of a chapel or spiritual retreat: the speaker pressed home the message of repentance, surrender of the will and recommitment to Christ. The laying aside of every proud idol that stood in the way of total dedication to God. Many times he had been obedient to these calls to the deeper life. Now he felt it again, that magnetism of inevitability, that weight on the conscience.
"Tell me one thing, though. I know about the virgin birth, the stories about it, anyway. But was Wilbur Whateley raised from the dead? How could that escape notice?"
"It didn't, young Mr. Brown," the professor replied patiently. "He died, as you probably know, right here at Miskatonic. But certain once-sealed records written by eyewitnesses reveal that the body vanished within seconds. And then, look it up in the local papers if you don't believe it, an Entity burst out of confinement up in Dunwich. That was Wilbur, returned in his glorious resurrection body, in his true form. The theological term for it is a 'shoggoth,' the form he had before he condescended to come down among men. He appeared in his greatness to make a final appeal, but again they persecuted him. 'He came unto his own and his own received him not.' Shortly afterward, he left his powerless persecutors behind. Calling on his Heavenly Father, he ascended into heaven, just as he did before, as we read in Luke chapter 24. Surely you know that text."
The pieces were beginning to fit together at last. It was still terribly hard to believe, to accept, but then Philip had felt exactly the same way when he was first challenged to accept the resurrection of Jesus and the miracles of the Bible back in 1980. He had taken the leap of faith then. Why should it be so hard now?
The professor, as if sensing his hesitation, spoke again: "You work at the library now, don't you Philip? We have someone there who has access to the rare book room. I want you to ask him to give you a look at the Bible manuscript kept there. He'll know the one you mean." He said the name, and Philip recognized it at once. It was the staff member who had hired him only the other day. He didn't doubt there was a connection. Philip was silent for the rest of the meeting, content to listen to the professor's detailed commentary on selected passages from the Diary. But he could make little of the arcane exegesis of the equally esoteric texts.
When it came time to go, he was relieved and ached for some sleep. Glenn walked him to his room, keeping up a steady flow of pep-talk chatter. Philip promised him he would seek out the manuscript as early as he could the next day. Finally his pesky friend left him alone and he dove for the pillow.
Philip appeared at the library yet fully three hours before he was due to work. As a staff member he used his privilege to get into the rare books collection. He found the man who had hired him. The latter now regarded him plainly with a look of silent recognition and led him to a locked cabinet. He opened the doors and from within carefully lifted a huge vellum codex of great antiquity.
"I don't need to tell you how careful you have to be with this. It's old and it's priceless. See, the label says 'Codex Miskatonicus.' Have you heard of it, Philip?"
"No, but I'm not that familiar with textual criticism. I know of Codex Sinaiticus and, let's see, Codex Vaticanus, one or two others."
"Right. They're from the fourth century. The time of Constantine, the first Christian emperor of Rome. This one's from the same general period, at least they think. It's so rare because it's one of the Bibles that escaped burning, maybe the only one."
"You see, Constantine was the one who convened the Council of Nicea, where they decided which books ought to go into... and out of the Bible! Once they made the final selection, he had an edition of fifty deluxe codices prepared for his bishops--and then burned the others, the older ones that had different books. This is the only one known to have survived."
Philip's eyes were round now. "How... how did we come to have it?"
"Some decades ago, one of our professors, old Dr. Bowen, found it on an expedition to Egypt. He was looking for an ancient gem of some type, which some say he actually found and kept in a church he pastored up in Providence after his retirement. He had found the Codex almost as an accident and, incredibly, he wasn't really that interested in it! So he donated it to the library as a bequest when he left."
"And it lies here unknown?" Philip marveled aloud.
"That's not such a mystery. This Bible has some striking textual variants, some altogether different books! Local clergy were invited to examine it when it was first brought here. After flipping a few of the pages, they shuddered and urged that it be burned at once. Obviously, the school wasn't going to let that happen to a priceless manuscript, but in the end they did agree to hush the thing up. Remember, the Congregationalist Church endowed this place and still supports it heavily. They couldn't have the local ministers badmouthing the seminary. But you're here, as I understand it, to take a look for yourself. Be my guest. But for God's sake be careful, okay?" With that he left Philip alone and returned to his cataloguing.
Philip turned the pages with a sense of dumbfounded awe. He had been vouchsafed a privilege such as few students of the Bible ever had. Luckily he had taken New Testament Greek during his undergraduate years and could work his way through much of the text without great difficulty. The book had been opened to the Gospel of Mark. There were few surprises here, few departures from the canonical text thus far. Here was something: a resurrection story reminiscent of Lazarus, but it ended in a strange way. Jesus, it said, spent the night with the resuscitated man, the two of them clad only in linen sheets, Jesus initiating the man into the Mysteries of the Kingdom of God. That sounded vaguely odd, even offensive. But he could find little else out of the ordinary and was about to turn to one of the other gospels when his eye fell upon what seemed to be the Transfiguration story. Here were some difficult Greek constructions.
One unfamiliar word stumped him, so he got up and fetched a Greek lexicon. He was surprised to see that the word denoted some type of sea creature, a squid or...
Suddenly stunned, he forced himself to read on. It read almost as a transcript of the shocking dream he had dreamed the other afternoon! He tried to proceed further down the page, scanned a chapter in which Jesus encountered Simon Magus and revealed his saving mission to him...
Philip was becoming dizzy now. He shut the book with a thud, the noise not escaping the librarian, who flinched and came running. He began to admonish his new assistant. He really must take better care... But when he noticed Philip's ashen face, he calmed himself and quietly urged the young man to take the day off, return to his room and pray about what he had read. Philip left without further comment. He had some thinking to do, once he could do any thinking again, that is.
Halloween came mid-semester. Philip was not in the habit of celebrating it. His piety had never allowed him to be comfortable making light of devils, witches, and the like. But this year was different. Still not an occasion of revelry, to be sure, but he did have special plans for the evening, at the campus chapel. All Hallow's Eve, All Saints' Eve, was after all a church holiday. It was dedicated to commemorating the holy heroes of the past and their victories over the Powers of Darkness. That's what he and his newfound compatriots would be doing tonight, but that was to understate it. He could hardly contain his excitement.
Sue Millman noticed his anticipation that afternoon and asked whose party he would be attending. None, he had replied sanctimoniously, he was going to church. Sue gave him a puzzled look and left the snack bar.
But now the time had arrived, and Philip picked up his copy of the Diary and headed over to the chapel. There would be a preliminary period of prayer and study, kind of a miniature retreat, as they sought to ready themselves for the Epiphany. This should occur at the stroke of Midnight. He did not know exactly what to expect. None of the others were willing to tell him. He wasn't totally sure any of the veterans, even Glenn, had seen one of these events. They had said something about needing Philip to complete the circle of twelve, symbolizing the original disciples. Maybe only the professor, whose identity Philip still did not know, had been here long enough to have seen the last Epiphany of the Returned Christ.
All any of the other students seemed to know for certain was that there would be something analogous to the resurrection appearances of the Gospels. And this was enough for Philip. Tonight he would find out once and for all whether he had been correct in the leap of faith he had at last decided to take. And he felt sure his decision would be vindicated. It would be the high point of his spiritual life. Thus he reflected as the chapel clock struck the quarter before the hour. It was time to make the circle and start the liturgy.
He stood next to Glenn Brindley. Across the nave he could make out the hooded faces of Reverend Winthrop and one other. Squinting, he saw with some surprise that it was Claude LaValle! Claude had never let on that he belonged to the campus sect. Perhaps he was another novice and knew did not know of Philip's recruitment either, until tonight.
All linked hands and began with the Lord's Prayer. The rest of the litany seemed actually pretty conventional, though he noticed the phrase "Principalities and Powers" kept recurring in it. The circle bent like one of Salvator Dali's melting watches, extending up the chancel steps and into the sanctuary proper. There, still in shadows, the lights turned off up there, was the professor, their mentor and celebrant. After a chanted reference was made to the Nine Angles, or something like that, everyone went silent and waited with held breath.
Philip could hear the distant baying of dogs in the sudden silence. Then the professor began to step forward into the light. Philip was expecting something, something spectacular, but even so, this was a surprise. He couldn't believe a professor who had kept his identity a secret for so long would take a risk like this. Why would he dare being discovered? Suppose some outsiders were secretly watching? He had been afraid of someone recognizing him for the same reason. He was willing to suffer for Christ if need be, but neither was he particularly eager to be expelled from divinity school.
It must have been an effect of the confused lighting pattern in the cavernous place, but Philip thought he saw the form of the professor growing taller as he entered the lit space. But perhaps that was only because he had thus far misjudged the height of a man he usually saw sitting in the shadows. Then the face became visible. There was time only for a brief glimpse. It was definitely no one he had ever seen on campus.
The face changed. For a split second Philip had the absurd idea that the man's beard grew longer even as he watched. But no, the face was elongating, like something he had seen in a dream once...
The shape of the figure, who was now raising his voice and saying something in a language Philip didn't know, was vague and seemed to billow out. His liturgical robe, of course... unless... There was now plainly visible an extra pair of looping arms, each holding a communion chalice. And now the voice spoke in familiar English, with familiar words: "Peace be unto you. It is I myself. Do not fear."
Philip's spine now froze with the thrill of numinous fear. He dimly heard Glenn announce something about consecrating the body and blood. Philip lowered his eyes. Like Moses in Exodus, he was afraid to look upon God.
Glenn released his hand, which fell nervelessly to his side, and Philip bowed to the ground. Thus he posed in reverent awe, losing count of the minutes. He no more knew what to say or to think than poor Peter did on the Mount of Transfiguration when he had stammered empty words about building booths for Jesus, Elijah and Moses. Best to bask in the divine Presence.
And then from somewhere in the narthex he began to notice the trespassive sounds of yelling and cursing. Philip felt, almost like physical blow, the sense of sacrilege that some profane person might dare to disturb the holy gravity of this occasion. The noise, instead of abating, was actually growing nearer and more strenuous. Despite himself, Philip could not resist the reflex to look back and see what was going on.
What he saw was Glenn and a couple of the others, with more hastening to assist them, holding a naked and fighting woman. As they came closer, he had the crazy idea that it looked like Sue Millman. They were trying to get her wrists into a pair of handcuffs, but she was going down fighting. It was Sue.
Wait a minute! What was going on here? What could she be doing here? Spying on him? Maybe--but naked? And what were the other brethren doing with her? He looked back to the One on the chancel steps. That One beckoned hideously with waving arms and empty cups that seemed to be parched for some liquid to fill them. And then he saw the gleam of the knife.
He snapped out of it, almost felt like the deaf man in the gospels who could suddenly hear again. It was as if some spirit of animation had decided to transfer itself from one host to another, for in the same moment Sue went limp, perhaps from some blow he could not see, and Philip was galvanized into motion. Acting on instinct, he jumped up, ran for the knot of robed figures who carried her now-compliant body through the silent nave.
Apparently this move took the rest of them as much by surprise as Sue's appearance had startled him. He barrelled into them clumsily, like a ricocheting bowling ball, but the blow was effective enough. They dropped Sue among them--and she landed on her feet. Philip realized she must have been playing possum, hoping for a chance to surprise her captors. Philip had provided it for her, and now the two of them made the most of it. They implicitly agreed not to waste the time trying to fight the larger group, now augmented by the other stunned worshippers. Better just to make a break for it.
Bolting for the twin half-doors, they evaded one or two stumbling attempts to catch at their pistoning legs and cleared the nave, then the narthex, finally bursting through the doorway and into the chill night air. They ran a few more feet before Philip turned about for a glance at the chapel to make sure no one was following. As might be expected, the campus was alive with festive activities, some of them not entirely sober. Those in the chapel, he reasoned, would not pursue them in the open, revealing themselves as a ravening lynch mob.
He paused for a breath and in a moment had stripped off his ritual robe to cover his friend's shivering nakedness. Wordlessly, he took the hand of the traumatized woman and led her back to his room.
In another few moments, Sue, clutching her unaccustomed garment, was her old self again. "What the hell was that?"
"I might ask you the same thing," Philip replied, his seminarian prudishness reasserting itself. "I can smell the alcohol on your breath. You were at one of those fraternity mixers, weren't you?" As he said this, he was busy pulling out an old carton from beneath his bunk and hastily sorting through some old papers inside it.
"That's none of your fucking business, Phil! I'm about sick of your pious bullshit! You and the others--you're just a bunch of old..."
"'Mossbacks'? Is that the word you're looking for?" mumbled Phil as he scanned a piece of yellowed manuscript.
Both were abruptly brought back to their present dilemma with a sudden pounding on the door. A voice came, Glenn's, speaking in measured tones, as if trying to control itself: "Hey, Phil! Is Sue with you in there? You must have misunderstood! It was just part of the drama of the thing!"
Sue spat back, "What was I supposed to be doing--jumping out of a cake? Get out of here, you bastards!" Then, in a whisper to her friend, "What are we going to do? Go through the window?"
There was the muffled sound of a huddle of people deliberating on the other side of the door. Then one voice emerged. This time it was Reverend Winthrop. "Look, you two, let's open the door and talk before the campus police get mixed up in this and we all get into trouble over nothing." No answer.
Another knock came, this one with sufficient force to splinter the door. And judging from the height of the impact point, the blow must have been thrown by a freakishly tall figure. More blows came. Philip was studying another old paper. Sue's eyes widened. "Jesus! What the hell are you doing? In a minute they're going to..."
"Sometimes it's the old mossbacks who have what it takes, Sue. Here goes. All I can say is, I hope my Hebrew's good enough!"
What followed was a snaky string of unrecognizable syllables. Among them Sue thought she recognized the divine Names Adonai, Jehovah and Tetragrammaton. Then others with a similar ring but no familiar meaning: Buzrael, Lucifuge, Demogorgon. The words made her wince, spun about her the queasy aura of a migraine's onset. She seemed to be missing part of it, as if some other wave than ordinary sound were intersecting the frequency of Philip's voice and canceling it. Then she began to see spots, then the shrinking into tunnel vision. She focused on Philip and saw the tiny lines of blood trickling from his nose and mouth.
Then there was the peculiar sensation of hearing the echo of a mighty scream without the scream itself. And perhaps something had popped disgustingly in the hall outside (though subsequent investigation revealed no residue). There were confused sounds as of stumbling and falling, dragging and footfalls. And the sound of a body falling somewhere behind her.
Sue turned to see the limp form of Philip spread ungracefully on the floor. She tried to get him onto the bed, decided just to prop him sitting against the bunk. She looked quickly about and grabbed up a baseball bat, then tentatively opened the dorm room door. No one. Then she called down the hall for someone to get campus security. No one answered, apparently all out celebrating or praying. Or just too scared to get involved. So she opened the window and called out.
The campus police were not long in arriving, having apprehended a couple of the slower, more dazed cultists as they made their way across campus. It seemed that Sue's disappearance had not gone altogether unnoticed when she had been seen leaving the party with a young man no one in the fraternity recognized. It seemed seminarians just could not help appearing incongruous at such events, so someone noticed a "creep" leading the half-inebriated Sue Millman away and fumbling with her clothes. Though too drunk to intervene himself, the student had possessed the wits to call security from the lounge pay phone. The ruckus at the chapel had sparked another call, so the police had gone there from the dorm.
The scene there was inconclusive though suspicious, so the officers had begun to patrol the campus till they spotted several robed figures in an apparent state of semi-shock. Mere Halloween revellers? Few could speak coherently, yet none appeared to have been drinking. And then they had heard Sue's screamed summons.
It was a matter of just a few minutes till Philip was brought around. He and Sue tried as best they could to explain what had happened, though Sue was almost as much at a loss as the police. Philip spared them those details he knew that, as worldly men, they would never believe. Sufficient to say he'd blundered into what turned out to be a lot more than a Halloween prank. Sue was quick to confirm that her friend hadn't been a part of it and had helped her escape.
In the next week there were more questions to be answered and, this surprised even Philip, there were bodies to be identified. He found himself nauseated at the sight of the strangely... distorted bodies of Glenn, of Claude, of the librarian he worked for--and of the Reverend Winthrop. No one could say precisely what could have killed them. Oh, it was some sort of severe impact, almost as if the bodies had been selectively crushed at close range, like the old Puritan witch pressings. But in a dormitory hallway? And why were not all of them affected the same way? For some were more mentally affected than physically. Only one or two had after some days begun to return to lucidity, and their memories were spotty, unless they were lying.
No one was expelled from the divinity school, to the initial surprise of the campus community, for the simple reason that none who survived were in any condition to continue there. The parishioners of the Reverend Winthrop took the news with surprising equanimity, almost as if some such denouement might have been expected. The people of Foxfield were always known to be queer in their beliefs and it seemed that nothing surprised them very much.
It took a few days, but at the end of the week Philip was satisfied that all the Miskatonic divinity professors were alive and well, harumphing at all the campus mischief. He was by now persuaded that the rasping mystagogue he had met was not one of them.
The dean had a lot of explaining to do to the grief-stricken families of the slain students, though he had little in the way of explanation to offer them. Philip was just glad that job was not his, though he did try to come up with something to write on a sympathy card to Glenn's mother. Best she not know what devilish business he had been involved in. So he said one late November afternoon, just before Thanksgiving break, to Sue Millman as the two spent the afternoon in her room talking.
"One thing I haven't asked you, Phil; I know from my work at the Women's Center that people sometimes need time before they can talk about their traumas. But I'm dying to know. You were affected by that... blast, too. I saw you bleeding. You were knocked out. But how come you weren't killed or... driven insane like the others? And why wasn't I affected?" She took Philip's hand. "And, well, Phil, what the hell were you doing reading those old scraps of paper while they were trying to kill us?"
He laughed. "They weren't just scraps. Those particular scraps happened to be some of the letters of Abijah Hoadley, you remember, my research topic. I found them in that box of documents I scavenged from the Dunwich church. Most of it was old bills and ledger pages, nothing much. But it turned out my hunch had been on target. There were a couple of letters by old Hoadley, even draft pages of his famous book. What I was reading was a letter to him by a colleague, a Dr. Ward Phillips, over at a Baptist church here in Arkham. He knew of Hoadley's one-man crusade against witchcraft in New Dunnich and warned him he was getting in over his head. So he sent him copies of certain old cabalistic spells he said might protect him."
"Must not have worked, though," Sue interrupted. "The one thing I do remember you saying about Hoadley was that he disappeared under dubious circumstances, right?"
"Oh, they would have worked all right. You saw the evidence of that on Halloween night. That's what I was reciting. That's what got rid of our pursuers. Hoadley just didn't use them. The old mossback rebuffed Phillips's advice, said it was all too Popish, too superstitious, and he would rely 'onlie upon the strong Name of the Saviour.' That mistake cost him his life. His soul, too, I'd guess."
"What's the difference?" Sue muttered. "Well, I don't know what to make of it. Maybe you're right, but your 'explanation' sounds just as crazy as what you're explaining."
Philip shrugged. "You've got me there, Sue."
Sue got up to fetch another cup of coffee. She took advantage of the momentary discontinuity to change the subject. "I guess you could see this coming, Phil, but I've decided to leave the seminary. It all seemed less and less relevant the more deeply I got involved with people's problems, out there in the real world. I'm going to look into that Social Work degree I told you about over at Aylesbury State."
Phil rose and looked out the window. "You're right, Sue. That doesn't surprise me. But this may surprise you. I'm leaving, too."
"What? Why?" She rose and stood beside him. He turned to face her.
"This is going to sound ever crazier than what I just said, but here goes. Right after Halloween, I had to rethink everything. You remember all the business about the second coming, about..."
"Yes, I remember," she said, putting a hand on his shoulder. There were deep wheels turning here, and she knew enough to be a sensitive listener.
"At first, given what I saw that night in the chapel, and then what happened in the dorm, I decided I had been lured into a cult. I'd seen the same thing happen to friends of mine who joined the Children of God cult, Guru Maharaj Ji, you know the type. I prayed and asked Christ to forgive me. Especially when I realized what almost happened to you...
"But then I remembered the dream, and what I read in that biblical manuscript. Even now it makes too much sense. It all fits together too well!"
"Phil!" she gasped, "You don't still believe it's true, do you?" He could sense her body stiffening, reflexively withdrawing from him as if he'd just confided he had a communicable plague.
Philip laughed bitterly. "I do, Sue! I do believe it's true! But I don't want anything to do with it! It's like having God appear to you and hearing him tell you his name is Satan. In fact, it's not like it--that is what happened! The 'real' Christianity: I wanted it and I got it. But I don't want it anymore. You see the irony of old Hoadley's position. Poor fool! To think the name of Christ would protect him. He needed to be protected from it!"
Sue's eyes were round. She had to regather some presence of mind to try and fill the bomb crater of ensuing silence. "So... so, what will you do now?"
"I'm open to suggestions. Got an extra copy of that brochure on the Social Work program?" Smiling a small smile, Sue said that she thought she did.
Robert M Price
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