Strange Aeons

“That is not dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange aeons even death may die.”
—H.P. Lovecraft

I do not begrudge my students my murder.

The other professors think that I should; they certainly do begrudge them their own, but—after all—they still think they should command some respect for the yellowed papers that mildew behind cracked glass frames in their office, and their regalia that now only makes them look like the very worst sort of priests, the kinds who answered Its dreaming call. I am not sure they understand what has happened. No biologist has stumbled upon R’lyeh, and catalogued its horrors; no man of finance has ever reckoned the dread economics of the Necronomicon, that counts transactions in human madness and inhuman cruelty.

Then again, denial is strong in the human brain. Particularly the human brain that has encountered what we have encountered, and survived to speak of it. “Survived” in the metaphorical sense, of course. The faculty is all very dead now, but death no longer works as it ought—not with Doctor Wester prowling the campus, experimenting, refining, and reanimating. The science is possible now, and madness has become more frightening and universal than death: the world has bent unnaturally before the human eye, in geometries that follow no physical law we know of. Halls that used to run straight outside my office now curve, and the floors tilt imperceptibly. The inner ear revolts against imbalance like this—a building, like infamous Hill House, “not sane”.

My name is Douglas Hart, Doctor Hart to my students, even now that they’ve killed me. I taught literature at M— University while the world ended; ironically I made a study of the very tales that foretold what happened, even taught courses on them. I must remember who I am; it slips my mind sometimes, what I used to be called. No one calls me that anymore. Even the other professors—quiescent and mostly nonviolent, though as mad as the students—no longer call me that. So I have to remind myself in journals like this: Douglas Hart, Douglas Hart, Douglas Hart. I must remember. Mad as I am, I must remember.

We never thought it could happen like this—those of us, at least, who thought it could happen at all, which wasn’t very many, and we never meant it, never seriously. It was hypothetical play: Eden was built on ignorance. We thought It would come from the sea, if It ever came. Why shouldn’t we?

I can see their fires. Always can on nights like these, when the full, reddish moon looks over the campus like some baleful Thing’s eye and paints the campus with its blood-colored glare. There is a fallen bronze statue of the university’s founder off which the light glows a hellish copper-fire. The stench of it burns my nostrils. Now I know what Joyce’s priest taught him of Hell; I’m personally acquainted with his “human fungus” reek, the charnel house of rotted souls—but this isn’t a punishment from a wrathful God, well deserved for sins against his presence. This simply is. Like the sea, the sky, and the storms of both, this simply is. Above us, the traitor stars lie in strange angles, constellations that should not be on this earth or any other platform from which a brave and stupid eye could view these wheels of eternity. The heavens aren’t friendly—we know that now that the stars have come right—and the students shriek up at it, rebelling in their lunatic way against the void’s cold uncaring darkness. Once they thought there was a God there. So did I.

Doctor Wester thinks it is a great opportunity for conservation, with most of humanity’s sprawl slashed away. Trying to find the brighter lining in all of this, I suppose: she always was mad for environmentalism. It’s just more literal now. She believes her reanimation serum is a wonderful tactic for ecological preservation, if she can only survive—cheetahs, birds, all kinds of things brought back from their man-made extinction. I haven’t had the heart to tell her that I, like many of her subjects, have lost much of my nerve function. Or that her precious ecosystems are as doomed as humankind.

Cooke broke before any of the rest of us, and he was the psychologist. Trying too hard to scrutinise what was happening in his own mind, and in ours, dragged him off the edge. This is why, I suppose, so many of the stories advise against knowing, against brushing too closely against the slimy-furred stuff of madness.

Of course I am not angry with them for making me a sacrifice. It was the pain of a moment—death is no permanent now—and my entire profession was to facilitate their search for meaning. Now that meaning is sought with sex and drugs and blood—well, I cannot degrade them for seeking an assertion of value, even if they’re currently finding it in killing. It doesn’t matter anymore. The laws have dissolved, unenforced, into a haze of pure id—Eros and Thanatos, sex and destruction, orgiastic murder rites.

Remember: pinned down on bronze rubble, incongruously warm in the seasonless night. Students keening at each other in lieu of music while joining hands for their wild, ritualistic yet formless dances. Their scrabbling and scrambling around each other to get to the center, to me, to carve me up and roll themselves in blood and viscera, still driven to celebrate the last supper no matter how cruel the heavens prove to be—

Douglas, my name is Douglas Hart, I must remember. I caught myself there, losing it again—

The sea, we thought it would be the sea. All of the stories imply it: Innsmouth did It honor, and “drowned R’lyeh” is suggestive, and the ocean holds more in its writhing, heaving darkness than man could ever reckon. Why not from the sea—? And we weren’t entirely wrong, but it started in the sky. With the planes, actually. Malaysian, first—it disappeared entirely, and no one could determine anything but the possibility of terrorism. Only the possibility, mind you.

There is shrieking in the halls, distorted as always by the peculiar angles that have warped the decades-old building: the students are gathering closer. No fear, though. Death is not what it once was. I wonder why they turned to violence in their madness, and the faculty did not—perhaps we are too old, perhaps they were too close to the void already. Students rarely come to the college with fully developed identities. Through those cracks in their minds, any malign influence could have slipped—and now it drives them to hunt, to kill and dance in bloody ecstasy and howl at the star-ridden heavens like wild things.

I asked Harris, the mathematics professor, why he still scrabbled with the numbers when they only work out wrongly. He answered that he was trying to find something objective to cling to, some sort of mathematical absolute, and would I please leave and take my subjective truth with me as it only made things worse.

The next was the German plane. This one was less and more mysterious: we had the wreckage, but the co-pilot had done it, locking the pilot out of the cockpit and refusing to let him in. They talked about terrorist sympathies, about illness, but if there were any terrorist sympathies they were to no Islamic sect—certainly no sect the politicians would have recognised—and they only kindled into bright and hissing life at the very end.

Illness? Perhaps. No illness that could be treated, however: his cataracts were of a green and sticky kind, or his lapse of judgment was a symptom of sleeplessness due to dreams—oh, God, the dreams! the citadels of horror, the vast gulfs between the stars heaving with wondrous and  unnatural entities, the bloody and burning vision of Earth loosed from the restraint of morals and sanity under Its horrible reign—that seduced the artistic types, that drove them to early madness drowned in ink and paint and—

My name is Douglas Hart, Douglas, Douglas, and I am a professor, I am a doctor of literature at M— University, I mustn’t forget.

Fhtagn, fhtagn.

The students are gibbering, and it echoes around the halls louder than it would have before. Alien geometry creates strange acoustical effects, and all our architecture bent to a terrifying will when the stars came right: were any of the faculty still in their right mind, no doubt they’d be warring to publish first. They are not, however. There are no more journals to publish us, nor any point to it.

I had tenure, before. I was well published. Douglas Hart was a meaningful name. Now it falls from my grasp as easily as slick fish-skin, as entrails.

“Fhtagn no more,” I murmur. The words slur together in my mouth, “f’tan n’murr”: Wester’s reanimation is not perfect, and my lips and tongue are rubbery, nerveless. There is no more waiting to be done, and no more dreaming.  Dreams serve as cameras, now, rather than abstractions. Sleep holds no relief, not when it brings down the scant barriers the waking mind is able to draw about itself.

I am setting all this down much better than I had expected. I don’t know why I am compelled to write it at all. There is no one on Earth unaware of the events—even the students yowling under the moon, madder than us all, comprehend it, as much as it can be comprehended. But something strums at my poor abused mind, imploring, insisting, a child tearing at the sleeve and begging for a bedtime story. Though I would never willingly tell this story to a child. It’s a terrible thing to hear before bed, or ever. Perhaps the pen will keep me sane—keep Douglas Hart sane, keep the memory of myself in my head. Is it better to remember?

Harris is shrieking; clearly the students are taking him tonight as the lamb for their moonstruck frenzy. They don’t seem to care whether their victim has already died; they’re still just as happy to torture us and silence us again. Luckily Wester will be around to revive him. She always is when the students’ saturnalias begin and they take a victim, except when it was the other biologist. A rivalry there, I suspect—a difference in pay, an old insult? It hardly matters now; the other one is dead. Their furor is like ragged glass scraped across a chalkboard: I’ve done that before to demonstrate—

Was Cooke’s breaking our fault? We unloaded on him as things got worse in the world, knowing he had been a therapist before he was a teacher and hoping he could make things better. This was before we realised that there was no hope—that we were hurtling towards the end. Was that why he snapped before us? Are we to blame as much as It for the shell of a man whimpering in his old office, clawing signs and nonsense words into the desks and walls with his nails and nesting in the eviscerated guts of his own books? Our fault, our fault, my fault—mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

The fault of Douglas Hart, Douglas Hart—my name, that is my name, Douglas.


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