To the Dancing Tree

0 438

Szerző: Ian Davey–Peter A. Worthy • Év: 1997

It was unusually cold for an August afternoon when Karl Turner pushed open the wrought iron gate leading to archaic Temphill’s small cemetery. Under his arm was an eighty leaf A3 sketching pad and in his hand a pack of charcoal sticks for he had come to the decaying Cotswold town with the intention of adding to his collection of rubbings of tombstones. Many of his friends commented on it as a rather morbid hobby, but Karl was an admirer of the simple unpretentious artistry of the carvings. As a painter of dark, gruesome paintings he found them inspirational. He had long been in demand as an illustrator for collections of macabre fiction, and often his artwork overshadowed the dark literary images his cover was supposed to enhance.

The cemetery contained under fifty pallid graves, all in varying degrees of disrepair yet, surprisingly, the headstones were very well preserved. The unwelcoming mass of knee-high weeds and grasses standing as mute testimony to how visits to the cemetery of the church in High Street had declined. Not even the usual cursory tidy up by the local council. It was in such places as this that Karl usually found his best pieces, old lichen covered headstones with beautiful antiquated images carved into them. He would have to clear away the choking weeds from each stone before even getting the opportunity to take a rubbing, and it looked as if this would be the greatest difficulty such was the profusion of the grey, diseased grass.

As was usual with his impulsive artistic temperament, Karl had come with only the tools of his trade, so he pushed his way through the tangled mass, heading as always towards the far corner; where the older graves tended to be located. The clearing of the prolific plants proved more trouble than he at first assumed as the weeds seemed to have a mind of their own, grasping his boots or jeans with their wispy tendrils. He did eventually manage to reach his destination none too damaged for his ordeal. Placing his hand on the first headstone he came too, it proved to be a small one almost completely hidden; it certainly hadn’t been visible from the entrance.

It was about two feet high, a small arch flecked at the edges with yellow-green lichen. Putting his paper and charcoal to one side, Karl gently cleared the stone revealing its carved facade to the light of day. He glanced at the inscription: Thomas Harcott 1605—1611, Freed by God’s Divine Mercy. A six year old, he always found children’s graves the most tragic because they awakened feelings of mortality. They also tended to give him the most inspiration; a lot of his imagery depended on childhood fears, and these inscriptions helped him to conjure up such fears in himself before putting them on paper or canvas. He stared at the inscription for a few minutes. Strange, ’Freed by God’s Divine Mercy’ what an odd thing to put. Freed from what? Karl was aware of Temphill’s ill repute, having heard some of the strange tales which now and then filtered out of the region.

He shrugged and reaching behind him, retrieved his A3 pad and tore off a sheet and placed it on the headstone. He also managed to grasp a single charcoal stick from the pack without dropping it and gently clasped it between the fingers and thumb of his right hand. Holding the paper steady with his left, Karl with gently sideways strokes, transferred the inscription onto the paper. “I say. Excuse me...” A low voice called from the cemetery gate. A withered old man with dark, piercing eyes stood watching Karl suspiciously. “What are you doing?” Karl was startled by the sudden voice in the previously still silence, dropping his charcoal stick and losing it in the brambles beneath his feet. He turned to face the man, feeling slightly reluctant to approach. “I’m taking some rubbings...”

Before he could finish, the man came over to him. “Sorry to have caught you there. I’m the curate, pleased to meet you.” Karl felt his rising anger fade almost instantly, only to be replaced with unease. There was something about the curate, he had the notion that the man was not usually this friendly with ’outsiders’ as tourists and travelers were normally referred to by the locals.

He was very relaxed, whereas Karl was now tense and aggravated, his afternoon seemed ruined.

“You like to do rubbings? There are some much better inscriptions inside. Come, I’ll show you.” Karl gathered his gear together and followed the curate into the black steepled church, maybe he could salvage his afternoon after all. Inside, he found the curate had not exaggerated and busied himself, all the time the curate watched him, chatting idly away. “What brought you to Temphill, Mr. Turner?”

“A friend of mine used to live here once. He told me about the church.”

“Once? What was his name?”

“Albert Young. He lived at No.11, South Street. He was a writer, he disappeared...” Karl noticed the curate become slightly pale and a frown cross his face momentarily. “Did you know him?”

“No.” Replied the curate almost too hastily. Karl continued. “He always said I should come and get copies of the inscriptions here. He said they were...unusual. Definitely pieces for my collection.”

“You like unusual things? I think I can direct you to something you’d find...exceptional.” The conf,dent smile had returned to the curate’s face. “Yes, certainly...surprising. Let me give you the directions. I’d take you myself, only I have other things to do.”

An edge had entered the curate’s voice, an unpleasant mocking tone that unnerved Karl. “You know the woods towards Goatswood?”

“Vaguely. Albert mentioned them a couple of times, it was Temphill he was really interested in.”

“Well, follow these directions. If its rubbings you want, then this place is worth visiting.”

“It looks a bit of a way, won’t it be getting dark soon?”

“You shouldn’t worry about that. Anyway, you’re almost finished.”


* * *


The field led upwards in a steep slope and a narrow mud path snaked its way gradually, as if afraid to take a direct path into the woods. Karl followed the path silently, he didn’t like the oppressive atmosphere of the forest. It had looked gloomy and dim from the path, now from inside it was positively dark. The canopy must be very dense, he reasoned, for it blocked out so much of the sunlight. To ease his tension, Karl began to whistle only to find that he stopped almost instantly, he realised he was listening out for unfamiliar noises.

At one point Karl thought he saw the gleam of dull metal but carried on, the sky was clouding over faster than he would have assumed possible. It had been cold, but the sun had been shining brightly when he came out, maybe he’d missed the gradual encroachment while he had been in the church. The further into the wood he headed, the quieter it became. He looked up ahead and saw that just a few more twists and turns remained on the path and the trees were getting thicker. Closer up, the trees seemed bloated and malformed, the trunks were curved strangely and the branches were bent and twisted as if in pain. A breeze blew through the treetops, making a sound like desperate whispering.

If the curate’s promise didn’t come up to scratch, Karl decided, there would be no harm in sitting and sketching the forest, there was definitely a sinister air to it and it made him shudder. He continued on in the dimness, light flickering like a kaleidoscope pattern through the leaves on the swaying branches. Karl couldn’t help but notice that the path seemed well worn, he couldn’t imagine who might come here and for what reason. The wood just didn’t seem to invite the casual traveller of walker. He checked his directions and then turned onto another path which led its uninviting way into the murky shadows. Karl tripped several times over gnarled, exposed roots and he found himself thinking that he did not recall the woods appearing to be this big.

He guessed that it was getting darker because it was clouding over and his grip tightened on his pad, it had better not rain, any drawing or rubbings he took would get thoroughly ruined. Abruptly, the path came to an end and Karl stared at his surroundings. He was in a clearing, weak sunlight came through a break in the treetops above, making twisted shadows on the muddy ground. Searching for whatever the curate had sent him here for, at the far end he noticed a large tree as his eyes swept past, immediately he returned his gaze there with an astonished gasp. Almost stumbling in his rush to get to the tree, he found himself looking upon some of the oddest carvings he’d ever seen; the tree was covered in them as high as he could see and though they had the appearance of having been there for a long time, they were not at all distorted as would be expected due to the growth of the tree.

The carvings were the work of a diseased mind of genius, dancing, writhing figures involved in adoration of ghastly, alien creatures made up of masses of hooves and tentacles; that the tree had been a site of worship at some point for a religion which could even now still be practised in the backwater areas of the Severn Valley occurred to Karl. Hadn’t Albert hinted as much? Tracing his fingers over the meticulously carved figures, marvelling at their depth of detail. He followed the flowing images as they danced in their dev,tion of the foul, twin hoofed monstrosities and noticed a more sinister aspect, didn’t the faces of the worshippers appear slightly pained?

Karl put down his paper and charcoal, he had to see higher up the trunk and clambered up onto one of the lower branches of the sturdy tree, sure enough the images assumed a more sinister aspect. The dancers were depicted as writhing over the creatures which were more clearly defined, rope like tentacles reaching the sky like palsied fingers and a huge mouth. The dancers were twisting at unnatural angles, legs bent back and necks twisting. He hauled himself further up the tree. More horror impinged on the dancing figures as they were now being devoured, he shivered as his fingers ran over the carvings, fascination mingling with distaste. Karl found himself thinking he had to find the artist, his own work paled in comparison next to the intricate work.

The work continued up the tree to the very top, he’d climbed so much he hadn’t realised that there were not many more climable branches left. How could anyone have gotten up, let alone been secure enough to carve the figures? Still, he had to see more. He took hold of the next nearest branch to his head and pulled himself up with an immense effort. The flickering light from through the canopy cast shadows across the figures, giving them the illusion of a strange kind of movement. The dancers were no longer clearly defined, the creatures having taken their places in the dance. Just above him he could see another carving, a single being made up of a huge cloud with various appendages reaching out as if in answer to the cavorting of the other creatures.

A flurry of sudden movement caught Karl off balance and he fell away from the tree, hurtling towards the ground. Consciousness deserted him and in his mind he played out the bizarre ritual in a series of terrifying dreams. All the grotesque things he had ever painted came slavering before his eyes. He fled hopelessly away, for all his ingenuity he could not escape them. They were relentless, knowing better than he what he was trying to do. He could sense they were toying with him, hunting him for pleasure. Voices called out to him, luring him to join them, to be one of them. It was all Karl could do to resist and as the battering of his subconscious drew to a close he retreated into a welcoming grey mist. He relaxed all was silent.


* * *


A cacophony of weirdly ululating piping music drew Karl awake and as his eyes flicked open, he saw the tentacled horrors moving in circles around him. Unable to tell if he were dreaming still, or very much awake he stared terrified at a group of people dancing in the circle about him too—presiding over which was the curate of the church in High Street. All chanting. In panic he tried to get up and flee, only to discover like the dancers, he too was naked. Two people paused in the dance and grasped his arms, lifting him into an unsteady standing position in the centre of the circle.

“Dance. Dance for the Black Goat of the Woods.” They whispered and though he tried to resist the music seeped into his mind and took hold of his body, making him dance his own dance in the center even joining in the chant for it was all he could say. The piping grew louder and the tempo of the alien music shifted to a faster melody, the dance had purpose for a nexus was forming . Here in the Garden of the Thousand Young was one of the places where the layers between Humanity and Outside were thinnest, and with each passing moment the gateway grew.

Screaming somewhere inside his own body, Karl looked up into the maw of Shub-Niggurath...


Clark Ashton Smith:
Hasisevő, avagy a Gonosz Apokalipszise, A


Robert E. Howard:
Harp of Alfred, The


Robert E. Howard:
Red Thunder



Howard Phillips Lovecraft:
Cthulhu hívása

Ez az egyetlen történet Lovecraft részéről, amelyben jelentős szerepet kap a szörnyisten, Cthulhu. 1926 későnyarán, kora őszén íródhatott. A dokumentarista stílusban megírt történet nyomozója, Thurston, a szemita nyelvek egyetemi kutatója darabkáról darabkára rakja össze a rejtélyes kirakóst. A fiatal kutató egyre több tárgyi és írásos bizonyítékát leli a hírhedt Cthulhu-kultusz létezésének. A kultisták a Necronomicon szövege alapján a nagy szörnyisten eljövetelét várják. A történetek a megtestesült iszonyatról beszélnek, ami átrepült az űrön és letelepedett a Földön sok millió évvel ezelőtt. Most hosszú álmát alussza tengerborította városában: Ph’ngluimglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn, vagyis R'lyeh házában a tetszhalott Cthulhu álmodik. A Csendes-óceán déli részén néhány bátor tengerész megtalálta a várost és felébresztette a Nagy Öreget. Ennek hatására őrülethullám robogott végig a Földön, több ember lelte halálát ezekben az időkben. A találkozást csak egy tengerész élte túl, de ő is gyanús körülmények között halt meg. A fiatal kutató érzi, hogy ő is erre a sorsra juthat... A novellát nagy részben Lord Tennyson Kraken című költeménye inspirálta: Cthulhu is egy csápos, polipszerű szörny, egy alvó isten (ez a gondolat nagyban Lord Dunsany műveinek Lovecraftra gyakorolt hatásának köszönhető). S. T. Joshi felveti, hogy számottevő hatást váltott ki Lovecraftra Maupassant Horlája és Arthur Machen A fekete pecsét története című története is. Maga Lovecraft e történetet roppant középszerűnek, klisék halmazának titulálta. A Weird Tales szerkesztője, Farnsworth Wright először elutasította a közlését, és csak azután egyezett bele, hogy Lovecraft barátja, Donald Wandrei bebeszélte neki, hogy más magazinnál is érdeklődnek a sztori iránt.


Howard Phillips Lovecraft:
Őrület hegyei, Az; Hallucináció hegységei, A

Egy déli sarki kutatócsoport, köztük a narrátor, William Dyer a Miskatonic Egyetemről az Antarktiszra indul 1930/31 telén. A fagyott környezetben 14, a hideg által konzerválódott idegen lényre bukkannak. Miután a kutatók több csoportra oszlanak, és az egyikről nem érkezik hír, a megmaradt tagok felkeresik az eltűntek táborát, ahol szétmarcangolt emberi és állati maradványokat találnak - néhány idegen létformának pedig mindössze hűlt helyét... Legnagyobb döbbenetükre azonban a kutatás során feltárul előttük egy évmilliókkal régebben épített, hatalmas kőváros, amely a Nagy Öregek egykori lakóhelye lehetett. A kisregényt szokás Poe Arthur Gordon Pym című kisregényének folytatásaként tekinteni, az enigmatikus és meg nem magyarázott jelentésű kiáltás, a "Tekeli-li!" miatt. Eredetileg a Weird Talesbe szánta Lovecraft, de a szerkesztő túl hosszúnak találta, ezért öt éven át hevert a kisregény felhasználatlanul a fiókban. Az Astounding végül jelentősen megváltoztatva közölte a művet, több bekezdést (nagyjából ezer szót) kihagyott, a teljes, javított verzió először 1985-ben látott napvilágot.


Abraham Merritt:
Moon Pool, The

Amikor dr. David Throckmartin elmeséli egy csendes-óceáni civilizáció ősi romjain átélt hátborzongató élményeit, dr. Walter Goodwin, a regény narrátora azzal a meggyőződéssel hallgatja a hihetetlen történetet, hogy a nagy tudós valószínűleg megzavarodott. Azt állítja ugyanis, hogy feleségét és kutatócsoportjának több tagját magával vitte egy "fényjelenség", amely az úgynevezett Holdtóból emelkedik ki teliholdas éjszakákon. Amikor azonban Goodwin eleget tesz Throckmartin kérésének, és társaival a titokzatos szigetre utazik, fantasztikus, megdöbbentő kalandok sorozata veszi kezdetét.



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