Saturday, January 23, 2010

Walking the Spiral


Obediently, the librarian disappeared down the side passage. Peter wanted to maintain some distance from the monster as he led Irene along, so he was unsure as how to follow it into the new passage.

He paused and took note of the slightly shimmering trail of slime left behind in the creature’s wake. If it had any jointed bones or muscles in its body, Peter did not know about them, but he did recall a bit of invertebrate physiology from a book in general zoology that he had once been assigned to read as part of his deficient anatomy training. The term “foot” had been used to describe the single muscular structure upon which a snail or slug would traverse the terrain. The librarian, as alien as it was, did seem something like a mollusk, and Peter could easily (but not pleasantly) imagine its columnar body sliding along the ground on one lubricated muscle. Alas, there was no shell – only a shawl.

Irene kept staring at her feet, clad in shoes that were never meant for spelunking, and shuffled carefully along after Peter. Without looking up from her feet she could see that beyond the unlit corridor, beyond the resting mass of joints and legs and shells that made up the styrgae’s bodies, the faded luminescence at the end of the main passage seemed to flicker. They were unmistakable now: the grayish light and the soft sound of fluid crashing and washing upon a distant shore. That light reflected from the hard carapaces of the bugs and from the polish on Irene’s shoes. There was a homely quality in it that reminded her of early morning on a northern shore. There was something drawing her towards that place.

Having allowed the librarian to go ahead of them a little, Peter traced its path by following its slightly glowing trail of mucous. The unlit corridor described a broadly arcing curve. After a length of a hundred yards or so, Irene and Peter both realized that they were traveling at a slightly downward angle. After a hundred more, they discerned that they were walking a slowly tightening counterclockwise spiral. Peter first, then Irene following behind him with her hand in his, the pair walked the spiral down.

Two voices rang at once from the unlit path. “Down here, pardner!” they both exclaimed, overlapping only slightly.
“Halp!” yelped one voice.
“Down here pardner!” cried the other.

Irene had chalked the first pairing of voices up to an echo effect, but the two separate calls coming at once was proof enough that there was a fourth party in the passage. She barely kept her head from jerking up.

Yet Peter had been assured of the presence of another party from the moment he had heard the librarian’s new accent. Not for the first time did he wonder why the librarian had only used his own voice, and the voice of the ephemeral Henri. If it remembered or recorded vocalizations, then its limited repertoire of human speech seemed to indicate that it had only recently encountered humans at all. Though he could not say how long the creature had dwelt in the library, nor what other kinds of being it may have had encountered during its existence, the fact that its acquisition of human vocalizations seemed significant.

It was only slightly bothersome to Peter to think that he was considering the librarian now as rationally as he would any other problem. He had grown familiar with the thing, in some sense.


The New Yorker had just disappeared in front of him, and the wanderer had been left with nothing but a goddamn sea of bugs. So he had done the only thing he thought he could: he had just plum taken off into, then up, and then down that chopped-out cave in the cliff face and kept going. Didn’t know which direction to run; just took to running, and that had been good enough to keep him ahead of the bugs for a few minutes.

The wanderer hadn’t realized that he was plunging deeper and deeper into a corner. He had been so panicked by the onrushing tide that he simply had been unable to understand the predicament of his surroundings until the coils of the pathway downwards had gotten so small that he had started to feel dizzy. It took him almost to the moment where he realized that he could once again see the dim topography of the cavern walls to understand his danger. Then he saw that the dark had subsided and that a silver light was reflecting from the metal of his gun, which he hadn’t been so stupid as to fire, and he finally realized that he was headed to a dead end.

So he went down anyway. This was not the first time in his life that he had felt assured of his end, but he was unhappy that death would come in the form of a bunch of clattering, squeaking bugs – a goddamn sea of bugs. He pressed on as forthrightly suicidal as ever.

When he reached the end of the line, it was beautiful. But he had seen it before, and he knew what it was. It was the very same shit that had gotten him here, what shit had made that bear go crazy. (That beast what had killed, more than killed, fucking annihilated Colonel and the horses. Shoot, then. Maybe these bug things and the loopers and the coot and the New Yorker had something in common.) What shit was now shifting and seething in a vent in the wall of the cell-like room wherein the spiral path had terminated. It was hardly what one would have called a lode. A “lode” was copper or gold pulled like taffy through rock. A lode was solid. A lode was valuable. Lodes were what prospectors wanted to find. The reason the wanderer couldn’t think of it as a lode was because it was moving. It shifted like molten metal in this concave space in the rock wall, but as light and viscous as mercury. And it shed that silver light. And it had enveloped him.

When he had found the lode, he didn’t have the time to think about what to call it. He pressed his back into it as the insects poured into the chamber. He drew his other revolver. His trigger fingers twitched as the bugs covered the floor. Flowing like oil, they swam up his boots (stolen from a dead ranger in the shadow of the great Arizona crater), climbed up the legs of his pants (bought in San Antonio), filled his blouse (sewn by a Cibecue in Nuevo Laredo), and squirmed in his britches (the only thing left from San Francisco). They had covered him like a blanket, then like a thick beard, and finally like another layer of skin. A few entered his ears and his mouth. One bold and blasphemous beetle sprawled over the business end of his revolver.

They settled on him and rested. They did not bite him. The wanderer held his position, leaning against the wall, and stayed very still. Soon they, like the tide he had first mistaken them to be, receded. They withdrew painlessly from his orifices, fell away from his clothes, tickled as they climbed out of his underwear. He did not draw a breath until they had moved away from him, until the swarm had disappeared back up into the wider regions of the spiral passage. Why hadn’t they devoured him as they had done to the looper?

A shiver ran down his spine. The wanderer hunched his back and then straightened out, hoping to shake off the cold. It remained. He crossed his arms over his chest and held himself, meaning to rub some warmth into his shoulders. He began to realize what had happened.


Peter knew that he was finally nearing Agasthiya’s steed. But things were potentially becoming very complicated. Neither Peter nor Irene could be sure which voice was crying out.

“Halp!” cried the first voice. “Is someone up there?”
“A goddamn sea of bugs, pardner!” replied the other.
“Shit! Git down here fore they come back!”
“Sea of bugs pardner! And proteins, goddamn!”
There was a pause as if the first speaker was having a difficult time understanding the second’s meaning. He continued, “Come an’ cut me out!”
“Let’s go!” called the librarian in a more enthusiastic version of Peter’s voice before returning to the Western American drawl. “Goddamn sea of salts and ribbons of proteins!”
“What? Who are you?”
A holler alerted Peter and Irene to the meeting between the librarian and the man whose voice it had been borrowing. It was something like the braying of an ass and the despondent yowl of a feral cat, and it would have been an utterly silly sound under most other circumstances.
“What are you?”
“What are you!
“Nother fuckin’ step an I’ll kill you.”
“Nother step kill you. Fuckin’.”
“You darin’ me dude? Won’t be the first man I shot today. Now, get that sheet off yer head.”

Irene had still not lifted her gaze from her feet, but she noticed that there was now a light source, a dim silvery light. It was unlike the grey radiance from above, which was suggestive of an overcast day. The silver light reflected from the faint slime trail between her feet. The twinkling gave the impression of silver tinsel; Irene thought of Christmas.

Looking ahead in the tunnel, Peter saw, in the same light, the long shadow of the librarian twisting around the tightly curved tunnel wall.

(Peter and Irene can tell that they are within a few yards of the terminus of the downward spiral. If they just press on a bit more, they’ll end up in the chamber ahead, which is where the librarian and an unknown person are at this moment engaged in some kind of standoff.

Peter passed an idea roll in part I.)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Lingering Things

Bathed in the reddish-orange light of the gallery, Irene and Peter rested limply at the open mouth of the tunnel. Their hands wound together.

Blood whistled in Peter’s ears, pounding in vessels placed by nature far too close to his tympanic membranes. Was something hemorrhaging? Of course not. Filthy and bitten, he raised his free hand and without thinking extended a finger to his ear, meaning to stretch the canal out a bit. But he stopped. What if one of the horrible insects had lodged in there? What if it was now unable to fulfill Irene’s command? It would be thrashing, piercing the gentler internal layers of his sensory organs with its tiny bug-hooves and many-spiked leg segments. His finger would push in, piling wax under the nail. The black bug, separated from its brood, would kick. A claw would scrape the ridges of Peter’s fingertip.

Peter relaxed his hand, which had become tense, poised at the side of his head. What would the struggles of a stuck insect sound like? And with the arrival of this thought, Peter became sure that there was no bug in his ear. He was reassured that it was merely the blood circulating in his own skull; it was a noise that had always been there. Peter was, rather, healthily paranoid about the possibility of stray insects buried in his hair, his clothes, his person. An old instinct, inherited from furred ancestors thousands upon thousands of generations ago. The nature of those ancestors was yet debatable. Were they bat-like? – two-breasted with long fingers so adaptable that they might take to flight as easily as tool-making? Or, perhaps they bore the stereoscopic facial configurations and nimble clinging hands of the tarsiers, tiny predatory primates of Asia? But, whatever the case of his origin, the instinctual aversion to insects had been carried with the first ape-man from his very birth, from the moment he had slid out from some hairy womb. And with that instinct came the need for a companion to pick out the lice.

With her face pressed into the crook of Peter’s neck, Irene found minute solace. The mental noise of the styrgae’s clatter finally began to recede from her conscious mind. Yet – just as the swarm itself had only withdrawn deeper into the shaft from which Peter had emerged, their calls did not and could not fully vanish. There had been in her mind, as in all human minds, a film stretched across the abyss. By dark magic, this film had been pierced, and there would always be a scar. Through this aperture the styrgae’s echoes continued to reverberate. Something else echoed through this rupture too, marking the disparity between the current and former woman –

The pain was sharp and sudden for Peter. His immediate response to it was to slap his free left hand down over the tear in the back of his right. He felt it then, in his palm, between Irene’s thin fingertips. He had been right: something had been caught in his person. In a wound on Peter’s hand, an insect had remained. Camouflaged in the general soreness that had wrapped his body all round, Peter had not noticed the pressure of the unmoving creature – until it finally did squirm. Now it kicked as he had imagined it would. The sensation of claws against the unprotected inner flesh of his hand proved more terrible than his imagination could have prepared him for. Peter suppressed a high pitched note, short and not unlike a bark. It came out as something like a hiccup.

Her attention drawn from the comfort of his shoulder, Irene moved her entire body to bring Peter’s hand before her. As she shifted her feet beneath her, she pushed the dust of the library floor into a little pile against Peter’s knee. She felt it too now, a body moving just below Peter’s skin. It was blindly struggling, still trying its best to obey her, but horribly misinformed about the proper direction to take. She pressed her fingertips more tightly against the bones in Peter’s hands. She felt the tiny intruder nudge against her knuckle. Peter bit his lip. Only moments ago he had been enveloped in pain, his entire corpus had been chewed, and he had somehow persevered. But this single sting . . .

His eyes began to well with moisture. Irene saw the sinews in his neck become tense. She massaged the beetle. It seemed to respond to her touch. Peter lifted his left hand from the wound and locked it around Irene’s wrist. He looked first to the fidgeting lump in his skin, and then to Irene, who was concentrating, and then back to the remnant beetle.

Something short and black and jagged emerged: a mandible. The other, broken and opened wider than its twin, dragged alongside the creature’s head, slightly tearing the acute edge of the wound as it passed from Peter’s flesh. An antenna sprung into the orange light, like a stiff hair. The other was missing. Peter could stand to watch no more – the lost antennae must have been rested somewhere inside his right hand. Irene’s concentration remained unbroken. Having this task, into which she could pour herself – this helped.

Freed from its confusion, the bug fell into the dust. Neither Peter nor Irene could have smashed it. Devoid of the strength required for anger, neither of them would have garnered any satisfaction from killing it. The insect writhed and righted itself. It scurried from Peter’s knee, across the miniature dune created by the pressing of the two giant primates’ thighs. It left a trail as it fled. Tiny footprints kicked the dust into a series of chevrons that seemed to point the way to the lip of the shaft, and over the edge.

Above them, the shelves loomed, filled with the relics of even greater beings.

Beneath them, the chatter of the styrgae had faded into a soft murmur. Other sounds rose. A lapping, almost of waves; then a disturbingly familiar sound. “It’s all right.” Peter’s own voice was calling to them from below. “It’s all right. I’m right here.” Irene’s brow furrowed and her lower lip curled into a bunch. She looked to Peter – but what could he say? – then into the tunnel. “It’s all right now.”

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


She had managed to tire herself. Dry of tears, Irene coughed and cleared her throat of all its dust and sobs. Done with panic, she caught her breath again and listened to the creases in the silence. A squeal echoed from somewhere in the distance, an animal or a machine or rocks giving way under pressure . . .

She sat up. She was not on Earth. So where then?

In her shock, she had only been able to dwell on the irrevocable fact that the magic had led her to someplace beyond her kenning, someplace inaccessible to the machinations of rational thought. Glancing around at the contents of the massive shelves, she recognized something in some pieces that she thought to call "technology." Then she remembered Peter's words, which were now a warning. ". . . the Library, so gigantic it's like another world unto itself." A world unto itself: pipes, chimneys, wheels, lenses, tomes, scrolls, crystals, screens, blades, bulbs, spheres, shapes, objects, things – she might be able to put a label on almost anything here if she were willing to sacrifice precision.

Her surroundings were roughly as Peter had described. Before her was a canyonesque corridor cut between two rows of black shelves, which towered above her, disappearing into the orange glow of the sky high above her. Her position was in the center of a four-way intersection. She surveyed the areas on either side of the corridor, and estimated that between either pair of shelves, there was around an acre and a half of dust and ruin. The compartments of the shelves were linked by staircases cut into the black stone of the structures. Some were cut for humans, or creatures of approximately the same size and locomotive style; but ahead of her one grand pile of steps climbed the full height of the adjacent shelf. Who could amble up those stones – each one the size of a house – and into the formless light above?

Irene stood. A place totally apart. Yet, as lucidity crept back into her person, it seeped into the canyon as well. There was some kind of rationale here: It was a library, was it not? As disconnected from terra firma as she knew she was, Irene could not help but to notice that, whoever the builders may have been, they shared a common urge with many archaeologists. They were driven collectors and compilers.

There was no catalog as Peter had described. Nor was there a guide waiting. The air did not stir.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Peter ran, swatting at his clothes, his hair, high-stepping through the horde like a dancer. The squealing din of insects and the frantic tapping of his shoes covered the noise of the countless exoskeletons he was crushing beneath his feet. The racket did nothing, though, to alleviate the physical sensations of the black bodies giving in under his weight, of the pressure of hundreds of tiny pops under his shoes. Nor could it erase the pain of the bites. They were like swords, stabbing at Peter's flesh, and claws, tearing at his skin.

Arms flailing, he gained the narrow terraces. Looking up, he knew that his chances of staying ahead of the swarm as he tried to climb back into the orange canyon were slim. If only he had reacted sooner to the black folds – fled from them, not into them . . .

He ran. With a slight hop, Peter grabbed the lowermost ledge. He felt something round and sharp, but not warm, beneath his fingers. He crushed it as he pulled his frame upwards, felt it explode across his knuckles like a misplaced sneeze.

First his eyes -
the bugs were all over the ledge -
then his arms and shoulder -
he laid his forearms on the stone -
then his shoulders and his torso -
as he steadied his legs on the ledge, he noticed the flattened and torn fragments of fat segmented bodies clinging to his forearms, his knees, his chest, the sides of his hands.

He pulled himself over another ledge.

And another. As his head crested the third ledge - so near the top of the hole - he saw that the bugs were already swarming even this high up. They flooded over his face as he rose, and he could do nothing but keep pulling himself upwards until -

He screamed and clawed at his face just a moment too soon - it had bit him in the bloody eye, stabbed into the flesh of his eye orb with a tiny sucker needle that Peter had seen coming in a blur, but only too fast to react to - he slipped - slid down to the next ledge - caught himself - wrenched his face.

His arms were burning. Had he been able to see them through the tears and blood, Peter would have seen a wreck of flesh on his arms, his hands covered in bites and swelling thick around his finger nails. Things were biting him all over, inside his clothes, writhing into indecent places, cutting, swelling, bleeding.

"No!" he yelled at the bugs and pulled himself higher again, and then higher still.

“No!” his own voice called after him from somewhere down the passage.

The crushed monsters - monsters!, not bugs, not insects – and their ichor mixed with Peter’s own fluids and straying bits torn from his body. He yelled no words, only a hollow roar of fear as he grasped the lip of the hole and clung. Peter found himself stumbling to his feet in the midst of the orange radiance.

He tried to run. Peter leaned forward, his legs swung beneath him, leading him along on two, three, four, five rises and falls before his weight, clumsy under the pain and blood –
blood, he was covered in his blood, in their blood –
dying they were dying as he swatted weakly at them, he was dying as they ate him, drank of his fluids, tore pieces of flesh from his body, from his face, gnawed away at what he thought was . . .

Peter let out one last, loud sob. Terror would allow nothing more articulate to escape his lungs but the meaningless wail of an animal at the chopping block. His eyes rolled about like those of a rabbit under the claw of a wildcat.

With that last scream, his strength had left him, his eyes could not bear the curtain being pulled over them. He felt something push its plump cold body into his ear. Another pinched at his scrotum. His eyes shut. Peter felt his knees, his shoulders, his face hit the cool, moist floor of the Library. He felt the monsters die beneath him as he fell upon them, into their frantic jaws.

(Two climbs, one allowed per round, would have gotten him out of the hole. First climb roll passed, second failed, third passed. Round one damage: -1 hit point. Round two: -4 hit points. Round three: -3 hit points. After emerging from the hole, one round of flight would have out him in the clear, but round four damage was too much for him: -2 hit points. Peter fell into unconsciousness and was unable to defend himself against the black mass. Peter has died. Continuity picks up in "Guests on Frederick's Street", and action continues in ”Unheimliche”.)

Friday, May 1, 2009

On Life in the Arcade

By no means did Peter feel that the time was dragging. No, nothing like that – the time was whipping him more like, for his attention could only dwell on its passing for a short period before it was distracted by some sound or sight. Over the course of another hour or more his awareness of the library's contents had grown more and more acute. The great canyon or cavern, he had come to realize, was populated. The Librarian was there and was, probably, a living thing. The same could have been said of the domed molester.

A few of the visible artifacts seemed to have been once-living creatures, preserved specimens perhaps. Peter wondered if there were organic components to some of the devices he saw, or if perhaps what appeared to be a biological specimen could possibly be another tool for storing data. What was the human brain if not that? It was not inconceivable (not at this point, in this place) that what seemed to Peter to be a worm in a jar might have been someone's phonograph.

He had not yet seen anything quite like a living specimen, however – the closest he had come to that had been twenty minutes before, when he and the Librarian had passed by a lower level shelf apartment which had apparently been filled with a giant aquarium. All that remained was jagged sections of glass, as tall as Peter, jutting up from a metal and plastic frame that had been set into the compartment itself. Inside, there looked like there was still about a foot of greenish water standing. In their path, away from the shelf (which Peter had little interest in exploring further), lay a brown, segmented, flatworm-like creature. After a moment of thought, Peter identified it to his satisfaction as some kind of finless, armoured fish. He did not have much time to inspect the throwback – he had heard of the body impressions of such creatures found in the cliffs of Dover – before it disappeared under the Librarian's cloak. There was a brief sucking sound, an expansion and deflation as before, and nothing left of the fish but a trail of pungent smelling moisture in the Librarian's wake. What the aquarium had demonstrated was that there were both living things held captive here, and that there were, perhaps, forces or beings here with the will, possibly the need, to devour them.

There were other creatures, Peter knew, though he had not seen them. There had been the squeaking noises which he had first detected at his entrance to the gallery, and which periodically resurfaced in sudden waves of chatter that quickly faded into a few stray squeaks and then silence. There had been other noises, too, from somewhere in the orange glow above, long, solitary whistles. He had thought he had heard the flapping of wings as well.

But, yes, the question could be asked – and what else would Peter do as he followed his loathsome guide at distance – were these things living? Surely they moved, uttered foul noises, and at least one of them ate or performed some function analogous to it, but were they alive as animals and plants?

The spaces between shelves were on the scale of highway intersections. Burdened by the certainty that he and his guide were not alone in this arcade of relics, Peter found passing through these intersections a dreadful experience: he felt terribly exposed.

The Librarian had come to a stop, right in the middle of some hundredth intersection like this. It abruptly leaned leftward, into the space between two of the edifices. There was a smacking sound from somewhere underneath the cloak and, as if following a scent, it set off in that direction with no hesitation.

Encouraged by the prospect of coming to the end of his journey, Peter followed.

The Librarian was moving more quickly than usual, and Peter began to jog to keep up. "Is it this way?" he called ahead, halfway to the canyon wall. His shout was thrown back at him, "This way!"

The ground rumbled. Peter felt and heard a long-wave humming. Ahead of him the Librarian seemed shorter for a moment – no, it was descending – there was an opening in the floor, a square, man-sized portal, cut right from the floor with no embellishments. His guide disappeared down the shaft.

(Peter failed a sanity check for the progressive strain of being in the arcade: -1 sanity.)

Sunday, March 29, 2009


The thing picked up its pace and coursed ahead. Peter was compelled to take swifter strides to stay with the librarian, whose lack of caution in this place was unnerving.

Berlin! He could remember his first experience in the city. It was not entirely different from London – especially in light of his experiences in the cities of Asia. But the novelty of the city upon his first visit to it – its architecture, the streets, the sorts of things that one would see in German windows and hanging from German balconies – had been sufficient to pull Peter's attention in so many directions that, on his first afternoon out, he had failed to take note of any significant landmarks and gotten lost. It had been only a little problem to find his way once again, such was the helpfulness of its citizens in those days before a weakening mark had begun to drag on the soul of the common Berliner. Yet, it had been frightening for a moment – exhilaratingly so. For a moment it was suddenly Peter against the city, a huge living thing in whose innards he was then lodged.

Strange thoughts were becoming less strange with every minute. The objects on display, the objects hidden in corners – what bizarre information could they hold? There was no use pondering the question, for the librarian was moving much too quickly to allow Peter to stop and inspect anything – and so, his mind numbed itself with other images – of Berlin, of London, of San Francisco. Essentially beneficent giants, all.

A new beast, this. A new stretch of innards. Would such a repository be its heart? Its brain? Its colon? Peter understood that even still, the arcade was creeping into his memories of happier places. London, city of the moon, excreting into the Thames. San Francisco, a great missionary entombed in a foreign land. Berlin, letting the hours dwindle in lewd clubs while the teeth grind away from the gears of the city.

He got the sensation that the place was a maze, but if this was true, then its dimensions were, like the curvature of the earth, too large to be noticeable. The librarian seemed to be leading straight ahead at any rate.

Two hours, perhaps. In the center of the path was a dome. It was as wide as a king sized bed, about as tall at its zenith as Peter's waist, and made from . . . resin? Amber? . . . some shining, glassy substance. The librarian moved past it before Peter, accompanied by a reflective doubled on the dome's surface. Peter's guide brushed against the dome, or perhaps only its cloak did. There was a wet sound, like pulling a fruit apart, or twisting a moist stick, and an aperture opened in the amber dome.

Surprised, Peter halted and shifted back a step.

A finger – no, a thin, black limb – protruded from the aperture, which was now large enough for Peter to crawl into. It was not quite segmented, but long and whip-like, like an insect's antennae. It snatched at the air, no more than a foot or two, but fruitlessly.

For its part, the librarian seemed to have no sense of what was occurring in his wake. This was confirmed when the antennae – such alacrity, like a frog's tongue – shot forth a distance of yards and hooked itself to the mimic's cloak.

Yet, the librarian kept moving –

The antennae afforded Peter's guide only a second of slack, and in another the cloak would drop to the floor and be drawn into the shining dome –

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Little Faith

Irises widened.

The sun was spread across the entire sky; there was no sun.

Light came from everywhere. It neither poured from a source, nor shone from a point, it radiated: even from oneself.

Gradually depth was born. Contours emerged, shapes pushed from the matte.

Hands. They looked as if they were covered in sindur, soaking up all light but orange. Fingernails, knuckles, a papercut or an old scar – the sensation of breathing, heat – no shadows.

Here, before Henri, was a tower. A building with an open front, composed of square cells, each filled with like objects. Several were filled with scrolls and loose sheets of paper. In one compartment metal file cabinets, each three drawers tall, were stacked at least ten wide and ten high. Yet by far the majority of the cells in the structure contained objects whose purpose escaped understanding. It was becoming clearer now - how tall it was! – the building, itself composed of smooth volcanic stone, reached into the orange blur and the faint black wisps that hung above, mocking the shadows of clouds. Who could have assembled such a collection? Who could have used these things? – these dully shining metal boxes with surfaces so rough they might have been pulled like crystals from the stone – these blossoms of pipes and fins – these sheets of liquid energy pulled like cloth on the looms of wooden antennae – these painted, scaled hides stretched over strange lump-ridden shapes . . .

To the right, another skyscraper of compartments rose upwards. Indeed, there was, ahead, an entire gallery of them, arranged in pairs that extended beyond Henri’s ability to focus

Confronted with the baffling environment, Henri could feel his grip on his sense of self, his notion of a reality in which his existence had purpose, being thwarted. But, by some stroke of luck, his very inability to get past the surreality of the giant shelves worked to his advantage and he was spared the impact of . . . things making sense. This was not clearly a real place, and so Henri’s psyche was relieved of the burden of taking emergency measures to protect itself; for now.

He could feel his own weight now: first on his hands, then on his knees, and finally on his feet. There was a stone block to his right; resting on it, a book of some kind, some papers, and a lantern. Standing beside it, there were two human figures.

No. One was clearly human, a man. The other was just as tall as the man, and cloaked in a sheet like a child masquerading as a ghost. The sheet glimmered silkily in the radiation. Beneath, there was a shape like a head, and perhaps a pair of slight shoulders. Though he could not see it, Henri felt sure that on the cloaked head, there was an eye – a great black fish’s eye – and that eye was upon him.

That unseen gaze! Terrible and unreturnable, it was! Yet – even worse! – that man, that other human in this place, had been speaking with it! The significance of the man’s engagement with the gossamer spectre fell all too heavily on Henri’s mind. If another man were here, carrying on with a . . . a . . . carrying on like this, then it was that much less likely that anything could be explained as intoxication. In a desperate bid to protect the spools of truth around which his habits, his social face, and his values were all wrapped, Henri’s mind contorted around the new, threatening world before him.

(For each other’s benefit, please incorporate descriptions of your characters in your comments.

Lots of rules pertain to this situation. Here’s a summary: Henri loses a total of -9 sanity (in addition to the sanity lost from casting the spell in the hospital). He has gone temporarily insane, so for the next few minutes, he should act in a way that reflects an effort to deny the reality of the situation. He has gained +5 points in a new skill, Cthulhu Mythos, which represents knowledge that has been reawakened from somewhere deep inside Henri. His maximum possible sanity, in connection with this skill, has dropped to 94%. Finally, he has spontaneously developed long-term issues. Deborah, you might think of some ideas about what you think would be an appropriate affliction for Henri or what might be fun for you. Let me know - it should be something persistant and bothersome, but not crippling.)