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Behold, I Stand at the Door and Knock

 By Robert M. Price

 

Sid nearly didn't hear the knock at the door, what with his favorite CD of Fried Spiders blasting on the box. But whoever it was, he was so bloody persistent that he was still knocking at the pause between songs, and that's when Sid got up out of the lotus position, back aching, to answer the door. He just turned the volume down instead of turning the thing off, since the little gizmo that should have allowed him to locate the cut he wanted after turning the machine back on was broken. He wanted to hear the rest of the album, and he hoped he could get rid of this pest quickly.

As he stuffed his black concert T-shirt into his jeans, he hoped it wasn't another bloody bill-collector. He had them all paid up this time, he thought.

In the doorway stood a man in his 40s, Sid judged, with the look that all door-to-door salesmen have: they had been neat as a pin in the morning, but by the time they got to you, the day's mileage showed in skewed tie, rumpled jacket, dog-bitten pants. How did these blokes make enough to keep themselves in pants?, he wondered with redoubled annoyance now that he saw who, or what, it was.

The man extended a hand, saw it was the wrong one, shifted his sample case to the left, and put out the right for a shake. Sid hated this intrusion of privacy as well as of personal space. He didn't want to shake like a friend with a man he'd as soon kick off the stoop. But he shook, kind of a jellyfish shake, all he could muster at the moment.

"Good day, Mr. Hingley. I wonder if you'd allow me to take a few moments of your time this afternoon. I'm sure you'll find them an investment well spent."

Sid glanced at the huge case, which looked less like a suitcase and more like a foot locker with a handle. Imagine carrying that bloody burden around all day. Poor joker must need the money. Of course Sid needed it too, but it was tough making a paying career out of interests like his. So he read his books, listened to his albums, and stayed in contact with a few other like minds, while by night he washed dishes in a local Brichester pub and by day he passed out leaflets for a Mercy Hill massage parlour. But this he'd never stoop to, God help him.

"Say, how d'you know my name, anyway?"

"Oh, rest assured, you're on the list, Mr. Hingley. Now if you'd just let me show you..."

As the salesman began unsnapping the case, Sid glimpsed the spines of a set of well-bound books.

"I can see you're no stranger to books and reading. That's good," the salesman said, his hand motioning around the tiny room, one of the two Sid could afford in this low-rent block of red brick flats in the worst section of the old town. And books there were in some profusion, scattered here and there in inelegant cinder block and board shelves. There was Colin Wilson's The Occult, the book that had started it all for Sid Hingley, plus a Kenneth Grant or two, some Panther reprints of work by Norman Owen and Ronald Shea, even a few odd volumes of a cheaply produced reprint set of The Equinox.

"Yeh, that's right, but you can see for yourself I'm no Britannica man, so you're wasting your time. Last time I used it was in school. Cribbed from it for a paper. Failed it--must have used the wrong set. Micropaedia instead of Macro. Not long enough."

"Not so fast, Mr. Hingley; you misjudge me. Shouldn't judge a book by its cover, as they say. I think you may find our product interests you after all. If you'll just take a look."

Bloody record was ending. With visible irritation, Sid grabbed the book and, ignoring the engraving on the spine, he opened to the title page for a quick look. He wouldn't be much more interested in The World's Classics than he would be in a set of encyclopaedias. But the page announced:

                                            THE REVELATIONS OF GLAAKI

Sid's inner gears shifted. Suddenly the man and his books moved from the periphery to the center of things. Sid's irritation vanished. He had heard of this book, or set of books. He'd even tried to get a look at a copy a few years ago. He'd felt sure the library over at Brichester University would have it, but he was told the set had disappeared. This was back in the days of the local flap about somebody named Franklyn and a secret cult of homosexuals. The University curators suspected the queers of stealing the books, but they never had any proof. The Revelations purported to have been channeled by the worshippers of some God that lived in a lake, one more local Nessie. The contents, as far as Sid knew, were a jumble of strange facts, almost an almanac of occult oddities, written in fragments by different members of the group. It was almost as if a bunch of people had gone into a library at random and each copied odd passages out of totally different books. Or that was the rumour. He had liked what he'd heard.

So, yes, he was much interested in the salesman's product. He just couldn't believe the books were now mass-published... let's see, by Ultimate Press. Hadn't they become an imprint of Collins or something?

"How many volumes to the whole thing? One, two..."

"I have twelve here, but there are more in the works. It's not exactly a definitive edition, y'see. More of a work in progress."

"Well, it's sure not the Britannica, you're right there. How much would the whole set cost me? I haven't much to spare just now. But I would enjoy having the books, Mr...?"

"Undercliffe, Errol Undercliffe."

"Mr. Undercliffe, I really am interested. But..."

"We offer the books on a subscription plan. Why don't you keep the first one on a trial basis for a week? See how the book suits you. I'll be back then, and we can discuss terms."

Sid shrugged. Sounded more like a drug dealer than a book salesman. But he had no objection. And in any event, there were always ways of getting some extra money in Lower Brichester. Undercliffe left him his calling card and retreated down the weed-grown front path. Sid watched him for a moment. The man did not turn down the next walk, nor the next. He rounded the corner and was gone.

He would have liked to examine the book at greater length then and there, but it was nearly time to head downtown to the pub, the Black Goat. He hadn't to dress up much for the job since he entered through the alley to work in the kitchen, but he fixed himself up a bit just the same, because there was that new barmaid, Jill, who had paid him some attention last week. So he was off.

As it happened, he wished he'd called in sick. The first sight he caught of Jill was of her coming on to one of the Rugby men from the University team. Bitch. He turned to his pile of dishes and mugs (how the hell did that dart get in with them?), and he began to think about the book. He felt he might be on to something, finally. Not just paperback Necronomicons from Corgi Press this time (though he hadn't been above trying one or two of the spells given there for love and money).

He remembered how his dad had thrown him out of the house a year ago when he'd seen Sid ready to board the Underground wearing his O.T.O. robe and carrying his ceremonial blade for the Gnostic Mass. "Oh, for Christ's sake, Sid, you're not going out in public with a bloody knife...!" And when the old man snooped into it more, he'd accused him of going just so he could see the naked girl they used for an altar. "Be like normal people, Sid, go to a f---in' peep show or something!" It was only a month later he was told to leave, his mother blinking back tears on the doorstep as she watched him sullenly leave the nest.

Suppose he was on to something. Suppose the Revelations really had something. That would go a long way to vindicating him. Yes, it was worth a try.

ááááááááááá That evening he set the Spiders to spinning again, and a bit of pot didn't hurt either, though after a while he found it hard to keep his mind on the confusing text before him. Next noon he would find it impossible to tell at just what point he had dozed off. But somewhere during his reading, he began having visions.

He received an engraved invitation (who gave it to him? Someone at the door, as if it were a telegram. Was it Mr. Undercliffe? He couldn't be sure. But it was inviting him to something called the Feast of Eihort. In the dream he had gone to his closet to don a tuxedo, as if he'd own one. Once he had taken it off the hanger he saw that hanging there it had concealed a trapdoor in the closet floor that he had not known was there. Storage space?

Once the tux was on him, he stooped down and managed to claw the wooden plywood panel upward. Dimly lit below was a decline of many yards.á He knew his path lay here if he was to go to the feast. A few unpainted plank-steps soon gave out, as did all but the faintest radiance coming from somewhere in the distance, and he had to feel his way onward through a squirming tunnel-surface of wet mould and fungi, punctuated by the occasional salamander or insect.

After a vague period of this blind trudging, he reached an opening into a large dining hall. And now it seemed that the entrance through which he stepped was at the end of a long and elegantly appointed foyer, like a huge restaurant. Looking down at his pants, which he felt must be caked with revolting filth, he was surprised to find them as crisp and clean as they has been in his closet.

A soft-spoken maitre d' took his elbow and guided the nonplussed Sid to a dining room specially reserved away from the general clamour of the dining throng. He accompanied his guide through several winding hallways and through a medieval-looking oaken door. Inside there was a great company of feasters. On a second look, these figures threw a start into him, for each was a duplicate of the other, all swathed in blue-black robes and cowls.

Their baggy clothing seemed to bulge and bend in unaccustomed places, but Sid scarcely noticed this as he took his designated seat. He fumbled with his napkin, feeling uncomfortable in his tuxedo. For though he had never been in less danger of underdressing for an occasion (something his parents always berated him for), he felt positively out of place without a robe like theirs.

He looked around at his silent dining companions, whose occasional expansive gestures and pats on the back implied merriment, but whose voices he could not hear at all. In all the confusion it took him a moment to notice just what constituted the main course for the evening. There was a huge meat platter on the large banqueting board, and some great beast had been laid out, cooked, upon it. With a start, and a bit of nausea, he saw that it was a plump human shape, though by now an arm and the best part of two legs were missing. But the light was dim, the fickle product of bracketed tapirs set into the great stone-block walls.

It was only once the chef emerged from what might have been the kitchen door and served Sid the head on a platter, with an apple in its mouth, that Sid saw plainly that the head was his own.

He awoke, apparently straightway out of the dream, on the floor of the tiny bathroom, heaving into the toilet. Lucky he hadn't puked lying down and choked on his own vomit. He rested the remainder of the afternoon, pondering what he had dreamed. And then it was time to go to the designated corner with his leaflets.

Each leaflet was a little bit of pornography, showing a poor color photograph of two women, neither your top-grade model, not even by industry standards, giving sexual service to the same man. One sucked him, the other squatted on his face. Better to imagine your own face there, he supposed... Still, his was not to reason why.

He took the stance of the pamphleteer, leaflet at the ready, held out tentatively so as not to seem too pushy, never meeting the eyes of a prospective customer unless he seemed to slow down. He would mumble some inanity, it didn't much matter what. He wasn't particularly eager for anyone he knew to recognize him. It was a pitiful line of work and paid a pittance. Still it did add to his washer's income and kept most of his day free for studies and sleep.

And there were the side benefits. One or two of the Asian girls would give him the five minutes he needed occasionally, especially when he did favors for them. Their English was not so good. After the way Jill had spurned him (had he only imagined her initial interest?), he felt like taking a bit of comfort. So he arranged things with Benazir for closing time.

At the Goat nothing much was happening. No Jill to be seen. Maybe she'd married her University man and he'd taken her away from all this. Time dragged by, and he tried not to give much thought to his dream. But he couldn't let it go. He didn't know what to make of it except that it had coincided with reading the Revelations, and it made him think things were beginning to spark. Time to go. Benazir was waiting, he hoped.

He hadn't seen her in recent weeks. Arrested in a recent raid, which was always a danger, though little more than a formality, an occasion for the Brichester police to get their cut, he

guessed. But the girls would be tested on such occasions, and there was some merit in that.

He entered through the back door of the establishment, wanting to avoid the tangle of a couple of drunken underaged teenagers being shown the door by the bouncer in a rare display of scruples. He passed the bar and went right into Benazir's "dressing room," they called them. She was wiping herself from another of the teenagers who had proved too drunk to aim himself properly. He was passed out on the couch, from which Sid dumped him unceremoniously into the hallway.

"It is good you are here to help me, Sid. I am wanting to be rid of this bastard."

"Yeah, I'll see they don't let him in again" (sure, as if Sid had any kind of authority in the matter). As he unzipped his pants, his erection already making him zip carefully to one side, he said, "Get the gag, OK? You know how I like it."

She let him chain her to the bedposts, waiting for it to be over, with the eternal resignation of the women of the East. She knew there was nothing to fear, that it was this ritual symbolism of power more than anything else that was important to men like Sid.

He mounted her and began to ride, feeling himself get stiffer and longer. His hands rested a moment on her rib cage, his sweat falling like raindrops on her stomach, collecting like a rain pool in her navel. He looked at her full breasts and licked his dry lips. He made to grab her and squeeze, but his eager hands went numb as her breasts began to elongate fantastically, forming a pair of squid-like tentacles. These caught him in a cloying embrace. Each was lined with a double row of suckers, but Sid could see, and more to the point, feel that the suckers were shaped and worked like human lips, kissing him everywhere at once.

He began to feel a kind of lust he had never known, a lust for things he had never known were possible. He was almost able for the first time to give a name to urges he could never before identify, much less fulfill. He was floating in a cloud of heady ecstasy, even though the illusion passed quickly. But now something else seemed to be happening. Was this possible? He seemed to go right on growing, reaching the maximum dimensions of the biggest erection he'd ever had. Benazir could tell the difference, too, as her eyes widened in interest, then, it seemed, in panic. For it kept growing, like a python expanding within her.

The thrill of it was almost too much for Sid, who was now sure it was another of those strange dreams. He was about to faint with the painful pleasure of it. Benazir was flopping like a fish now, desperate to get out of the straps and off the bed, to get Sid out of her. The gag stifled her screams effectively, but the cuffs were cheap stages props, and she soon had shaken one of them off. But before she could go further, she stiffened, back straight.

Sid's back arched, and at first he only heard and did not see the impact against the headboard as his living club of a penis, having penetrated her entrails, ripped resistlessly through her esophagus and tore her head three quarters away from her shoulders. It was the splash of blood which brought him out of it.

There he squatted, astride the mutilated form of a Pakistani whore, the both of them soaked in blood. He stumbled off her, off the bed, and grabbed a towel. A few moments later he tried to listen, then ventured a look out in the hall. The place was deserted. How long had he been at it? He looked himself over. He seemed physically normal. He would have sworn it was all one of those crazy dreams, but the carcass on the bed gave the lie to that. Unless he was maybe still dreaming. For now he'd best assume it was all real.

He felt no grief; the girl was merely an instrument to him. And with the clarity that emergency lends, Sid went back over things in his mind. Who had seen him go in? He didn't think the bouncer had noticed him. Most patrons had left. Well, there was no way to clean this up, that was for sure. He just hoped no one would think to suspect him. And from the type and especially the extent of the damage, he wasn't even sure they'd be looking for a single assailant, maybe not even a human one.

So with a surprising air of casual nonchalance, Sid quietly locked the body into what had now become a meat locker, and made for his flat. He had a quiet confidence that in the last analysis no facts could justify, that he would not be caught. He somehow felt that someone or something was watching over him. And he wondered just what would happen next time he felt in the mood.

What followed was a night of lamplight reading of the Revelations. Despite the crudity of the writing in many places, it was something Sid just couldn't put down. Much of it, too, was apparently providing the answers to questions he couldn't even understand. What the f--- was the Zone of the Colossi anyway? He was in way over his head. But he'd take it slow, find an entry point somewhere, and then he was sure things would start making more sense. But it was bloody interesting anyway. He suspected that if he did get to understand it better it wouldn't be as interesting. Less of a sense of mystery.

He dreamed again. This time he was in a slaughter house. He stood beside a man wearing a bloodstained apron. He was working over a side of beef. But suddenly the man seemed to be a doctor, and Sid dimly realized he was playing the role of the man's assistant. And the side of beef was now the body of an obese man. It was a relief to see that this time it was not his own.

The doctor/butcher reached down to the side of the slab table on which he was working to hoist up another meaty mass. It was a different color, pale blue-green. And the texture didn't quite match either. Sid looked closely and was surprised to see it was a whole octopus. The doctor handed it to him and, though inert, it was still unwieldy, and he came close to dropping it.

While he held the reeking thing, he watched the doctor neatly saw off the head of the corpse before him. Dropping this heedlessly on the floor, he motioned for Sid to hand him the dead octopus. This he somehow proceeded to sew in position where the man's head had been. He injected some fluid at several points on the hybrid form.

The tentacles began to stir, at first slowly. As they parted, Sid could see the beak of the octopus, but then the feelers parted again, and the beak had been replaced by a set of human lips. And they were forming words. He bent close to hear, his curiosity overcoming his natural repugnance for the nightmare before him. He heard gibberish: Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn... He had no idea what it meant but instantly his heart began to pound, and he awoke. He was shaken. And yet there was a whisper of a desire for more.

And there was more. Two days later he returned to Mercy Massage, and there was Benazir, her cherry lipstick almost purple against her natural swarthiness, just as alive and tawdry as ever. It had been a dream, then. So, just to see what would happen, he got her to let him tie her to the bed frame again--and the same thing happened. And just before she started to scream, or to try to, there seemed to come into her shaded eyes a strange look, as if she knew what was coming, as if she remembered it.

He found himself the next night facing a lonely row of a half-dozen dilapidated houses that leaned crazily in all directions, seeming to support one another like a group of drunks staggering together down the street till they all fall in a heap. It must have been two in the morning, and he didn't know how he had come to be here. The wind whistled off a lake behind him. It chilled him to the bone. Then he noticed he was naked, and that some kabbalistic designs had been painted on his body. Hm, had he done it? He couldn't remember.

He took a few steps closer and looked at one of the houses. Dimly visible through a large front window was a gaunt man, peering, he supposed, at him. He could make out no features except that he was sure that the man had a full beard, which, unless the dusty shadows lied, moved like a nest of serpents. He stepped forward, up onto the rotting porch, and stared straight into the window where the man was.

He couldn't have been more than six inches from the face that he still could not quite see, except for the fact that, yes, those locks of beard--if that's what they were, were moving. There was a thick coating of grimy fingerprints and caked dust. Just couldn't see through the window glass even at this range.

And there was a sudden conviction that he was missing something, like a punch line of a joke that left him feeling stupid, not getting it. He knew in a moment, though he knew not why, that what he must do was to recite the Daoloth formula. He had read it in the Revelations and seemed to know it well, though he didn't recall bothering to memorize it. There was much here unseen, and he wanted to see it. The words came unbidden to mind.

It was pitch black, but a geyser of light now seemed to erupt from behind him in the direction of the lake. And in that light, things were transmogrified. There were no more six crazily leaning houses before him, but rather six huge, high heaps of living stuff. From the top of each waved three primitive eye-stalks, and from the sides emerged a forest of porcupinish spines, giving the things the improbable appearance of titan, living haystacks.

And then Sid flexed one of his eye-stalks and beheld that he no longer faced the houses, or the Colossi, but was instead one of their company, the one on the extreme left.

The visions and hallucinations went on all week. By the middle of the week, he had called in sick at the pub, just stopped showing up at the massage parlour.

The knock came again. This time no CD spun on the player. Sid Hingley lay, naked, in the middle of the floor, dry mouth and bloodshot eyes wide open.

"I see the door's not locked. I trust you are well, Mr. Hingley? I see you've made full use of the book. Remember, it's just the first in the set. Wait till you get to the one I wrote, that's number fifteen. It's at the printer's now, they tell me. Can I sign you up?"

Sid had risen with difficulty to a sitting position. He fingered his crotch with one hand and rubbed his reddened face with the other. "Yeh," he muttered, "it's really great... I didn't suspect.. But how much? What price to pay?"

ááááááááááá He began to manifest the drunk's belligerence. He rose unsteadily and tried to grasp Mr. Undercliffe's lapel. "Y' bastard! It's too much, ain't it? More than somebody like me could pay in a lifetime, idn' it? Why? Why'd y' torment me wi' it, then?"

Straightening his jacket, Undercliffe tried to reassure his star customer. "You don't understand, Mr. Hingley. We don't want money. We're simply concerned that this important truth be propagated. We'll give you the books. I suppose its really like winning a sweepstakes. We wanted to see if you were the man for the job. And you've acquitted yourself well. Don't think we haven't been watching the past several days."

"Unh?"

"Let me put it this way, Mr. Hingley. In every age the world has need of a Mighty Messenger. I feel that from your studies that name will mean something to you. Over the years, the centuries, really, special individuals have been chosen to transcend the limits of the mundane and to carry out that special task. It is a path of glory and knowledge untold. You have tasted a sample of it. The rest of the books will fully fit you for that task. I am in the position to offer you this high privilege."

Sid was speechless, but the dimensions of what he was hearing were quickly pulling his mind together. He was beginning to understand what was being offered him.

"Now, I don't want you to tell me anything now. I know it's a big move. A life change. Nothing will ever be the same again. Sleep on it, Mr. Hingley, and I'll call on you again tomorrow. Is this a good time?"

The door shut. Sid dragged his naked form, which he now realized, with acute embarrassment, he had shamelessly displayed in front of the officious Mr. Undercliffe, into the shower. The cold water helped bring him farther along the way to normal waking consciousness. It was really funny, he thought underneath the pressure of a now-blinding headache, how the after-effects of a mystical trance were so similar to those of a drunk.

Coffee helped him even more. In the cold light of early afternoon, by the slanting of declining sunrays against the wall, illuminating his posters of Fried Spiders and the Whisperers, he found himself considering his position. Here in these familiar and, he admitted it, depressing, surroundings, he faced two possible futures.

One was as a worthless ne'er-do-well, bearing the scorn of family and employers, his pretensions of esoteric knowledge and a higher purpose revealed as a pathetic defence against an adult world for which he was unsuited.

The other meant confusion, to be sure, even horror, but that was just the acclamation of the worldly mind to the glories beyond. He had seen enough to know that firsthand. And though it meant the end, really, of human life as he knew it, the end of any hope of a normal existence... what choice did he have? He knew too much.

And to go in one big jump from being one more nothing from Lower Brichester to being the Mighty Messenger, winging across the void bearing forbidden knowledge... visions of Hermes Trismegistus and Thoth, Crowley and his Aiwass, the Word of the Eon. It could be his. He would do it.

 

*

 

Some weeks later, the Mighty Messenger was hard at the job. But things weren't quite as he had imagined them. For one thing, no matter how much of the Revelations he might read, the wild visionary splendours were a thing of the past. Unless he tried for a day to shirk his duties--then visions came, came with a vengeance! Like the one in which he played the role of supine Benazir strapped to the bed and torn apart in unspeakable ways. Yeah, those visions came easily enough.

Thus muttered the great Revealer, the Mighty Messenger, as he pounded the pavement of Temphill one hot August afternoon, looking for the next address on his list, his neck-tie chafing him, dragging along that bloody suitcase full of books.

Copyrightę2004 by Robert M Price
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