When I agree to meet with him, I never knew it was going to turn out like it did. My friend, the psychiatric nurse, called me and said one of the patients wanted to see me. You can imagine my reaction: What?! One of her patients was dying and wanted to talk to a writer. There was nothing special about me. I was the only writer anyone working there knew. I can’t tell you where he was because I had to sign a non-disclosure agreement to maintain the privacy of the other patients. All I can tell you is it was a mental health facility. Who am I kidding? It was a creepy asylum.
The man was lying on a couch all alone in the day room. There are few things creepier than hearing the clunk of a door being dead bolted as you are locked in a room with a psychopath. He sat up and immediately began to speak. This is his story.
No one believes me. I don’t blame them one bit. To be honest, I’m not sure I believe me anymore either. My story could have come from the alcohol addled mind of Poe or the frightful fantasies of Lovecraft. As I breathe my last few gasps, my hope is to help others avoid my fate as I share this story with my friend, the writer. I trust him to make sense of it all and share it on my passing.
My name is Joshua. I dare not share my surname out of respect for those I leave behind. There are things in life that go beyond the visible into the invisible world that happens all around us every moment of every day. The world as you think you know it is but a crust, with the depths beneath far more wonderful and terrifying than what little you know. I am not one who claims that all of life is an illusion, hiding the truth lying beneath the surface. Quite the contrary. Life is full of joys and pains, happiness and sorrows, successes and failures. The life given to most of the billions who live is wondrous enough without looking behind the curtain to discover what lies beyond. That is the life I wish I had lived. It is the life that, although it is not always easy, it is one of substance which should be enough to feed the copious desires of most mortals. Sadly, I was not one so easily satiated.
From an early age, I craved knowledge of secrets. It was an obsession. My older sister’s diary was a prize to be claimed as I uncovered her hidden loves and her clandestine crimes against my parents. With the incriminating journal in my possession, everything changed between us. I found myself in a position of power over her for the first time in my life. Having been subjected to her bullying for years, I admit to taking vengeful advantage of the situation.
My father, with his tendency toward dalliances, soon fell under my power as I held concrete evidence of his infidelity courtesy of his camera with its powerful lens. My friends were always in awe of the deference my sister and father showed me on every occasion. I attributed it to my ability to persuade and influence others – true enough without sharing the secrets to my success. A secret is only powerful when few others know it. Keeping my friends in the dark was the only downside to the knowledge I achieved.
Through the years, others fell victim to my quest for hidden knowledge. Friends with weaknesses were soon my puppets and pawns. A teacher caught in a compromising position would guarantee an excellent grade. I even leveraged a security guard who I videoed sleeping on the job. There were many who had nothing to offer me so they were destroyed for my amusement.
My philosophy professor was a beautiful middle aged woman who was easily flattered and seduced creating an imbalance of power in my favor that gave me access to works of the greats in thought and mind manipulation. It was on one of my excursions into the bowels of the library (I hesitate to tell you the name of that university) where I discovered a book written in a language I didn’t recognize. It was reminiscent of Egyptian and Hebrew. It appeared to be a bastardization of the two languages in an attempt to hide some kind of knowledge. Being inquisitive and obsessed with hidden knowledge, I copied a line from halfway down the page with the intention of asking one of the linguists at the university to identify it. I should have listened to the still, quiet voice in my head begging me to stop; however, I had never heeded that voice in the past so it was impossible to pay it any attention. Yet, I was surprised to hear it since it had been dormant for years, possibly even a decade. There was an aura surrounding the book. Nothing glowing or vibrating as you would see in a movie. It was a feeling. A fear-filled feeling.
It was fortunate that I chose an ancient Semitic scholar who instantly recognized the form as Akkadian. Most forms of that dead language had not been spoken for nearly 2000 years and the dialect of the sentence I copied had been out of use for 4000 years. I was able to dodge the questions of the source as I fabricated a story about seeing it in a photo on the Internet. The professor seemed to be relieved by my explanation as he told me the fragment of a sentence spoke of a way to harm others through strange powers. I had chosen an excellent passage. Sadly, I now know that I did not choose it as much as I revealed itself to me.
Over the next two years, I devoted all my spare time to the study of Akkadian. There was no chance that I would allow anyone else to scry into the mysteries that this tome had to offer. Within the first few months of my studies, I began to understand this was something remarkable. It was the story of an Assyrian prince who discovered the secret to seeing beyond what others see. I admit to envisioning myself as a modern day prince gaining knowledge that would allow me to see beyond what other mere mortals perceived. Such arrogance was exactly what this book desired. You may wonder if I am anthropomorphizing this folio with my own imagination creating something that was not there. I assure you, I am not. It called itself The Unknown.
The Unknown was exactly what it claimed. Something no other living being knew. By the time I knew the truth, it was too late to stop. Every living thing has two main purposes: to grow and to survive. That was the first truth it shared with me. It was something I had heard in classes ranging from philosophy to biology. That was a basic fact of life from the smallest ameba to the blue whales of the deepest seas. Man was not immune to this basic truth leading each to grow to the best of their ability and drive, and also the desire to reproduce. The sexual drive of people from every tribe and race throughout time seeks some of that immortality by producing a new generation to carry on after forefathers are long gone. What I didn’t realize it this truth exists beyond what we see. Even The Unknown sought to reproduce… through me.
It was on a fateful day ten years later, when my life changed into something from a tale from the darkest pits of Tartarus. It was one passage, halfway through The Unknown, which had troubled me for some time. Even though I had learned Akkadian, I was still an amateur scholar. The passage stated that a simple phrase of eight words would open my eyes to the world beyond the one of physical sight. The eight words had to be spoken perfectly, with passion and intention of meaning. If a person could speak that one time, their view of the world would be changed forever. The Unknown failed to warn the reader of the one-way trip. Once the vision was active, it could never stilled. The rest of ones days would be spent seeing and knowing all that was happening above and below the world that we know. Even if it had warned me, I know in my heart I would not have stopped my quest. The problem arose when one tried to speak a long-dead language. No one really knows exactly how it sounded. Therefore saying it perfectly was difficult at best. I spent so much of the time that could have be used to see the beauty of the world around me, searching instead for the proper way to say a phrase in an ancient language that had no proof of results. It was only by accident that I stumbled upon the correct tone and inflexion. And then everything changed.
I have been the subject of ridicule and hatred over the years. Others have mocked me and laughed at my obscure obsessions. The worst of these detractors in their coldest and cruelest moments, would not warrant my wishing The Unknown vision beyond sight upon them. I could still see the world as any other would. The skyscrapers and mountains still stood high over all other things created by man or nature. The microscopic creatures and nanobots still worked their miniscule magics beyond what the naked eye could see. But there are other things – more ghastly and ghostly things – that are all around, building and tearing down the things we see.
It didn’t all appear at once. If it had all hit me at the same time, I would have gone instantly insane as I fell to the ground in a fetal position. At first, all I saw was the slow decay of various things around me. The ancient chair across from me had invisible energies dripping from it, a slow decay seeping away. Leaving the building, the librarian who looked to be a centenarian, appeared to me as decomposing bits of flesh dissolving into nothingness, even though I could see they were still there. I walked around in a daze staring at the walls of buildings, the bodies of individuals, even the water in a fountain. All were in some form of decay. All but the infant. Energy was being poured into it, causing it to strengthen, to grow. I would not see where all the power was flowing, only that it was leaving most items.
The next morning I woke with a scream. There was someone in my room. My small apartment was all I ever needed. Rarely was anyone interested in stopping by and even more infrequently was anyone interested in a romantic interlude. Last night had been a night where I wandered around in awe of my new vision until I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I had fallen asleep fully clothed. Someone in my room was a fright. Once I saw what it was, fear exploded into terror. There was not one, but dozens of beings all around my room. They were ghostly white, transparent in their bodies. Appendages of every size came off their torsos with tiny mouths at the end of each. Their wraith-like appearance did little to ease my mind. They seemed intent on devouring everything in the room with maws that were filled with row upon row of sharpened teeth. The energy I had seen seeping away from all the objects around was taken into the beings, ingested and consumed, but not adding to their mass nor making them solidify. They ate for the sake of eating, destroying, decomposing.
I screamed again when one passed through my body, jaws chomping at the energy bleeding off my arm from an injury I had sustained two days before. It neither noticed my reaction nor cared that I moved away. It continued on, devouring the rot from a slice of pizza that had long passed its prime. I moved from bedroom to bathroom, still amazed and horrified at the beings all around that were constantly consuming the decay around. As I relieved my bladder, I was almost amused at the tentacle that enjoyed the taste of the decomposition of urine. It was funny until the passed up the stream and into parts of my body that I did not want decaying any time soon. It feasted on energy from my body as I tried to move away, only to run into another. They were everywhere.
Those words turned out to be truer than I knew. When I left my apartment, I could see swarms of the wraiths chomping on the railing, the building, the people. One man was difficult to see thanks to the swirling scores of these parasites eating away at him. Some people had only one or two creatures around them, while others had far too many to count. It didn’t take much deduction to determine that those who were closer to death had their energy consumed as it flowed out of them more readily than those who were strong and healthy. Only the very young were safe from the appetite of the eaters, and not even all of them. As I walked around, learning to contain my horror and disgust, I saw a small child covered in the beasts. I could not stand to look at the spectacle once I saw the bald head undoubtable from chemotherapy. Even the young were not spared when death approached.
This sight was not the blessing I had hoped in my avaricious dreams, but a curse. The Unknown had to have the counter-spell, the cure for my condition. I ignored all greetings from associates as I entered the library. The librarian was not visible under all the creatures that were feasting on her failing form. Trying to catch glimpses of her beneath the unholy banquet she had become, I did not watch where I was going and found myself tumbling over a bench, landing on my back as pain shot through my body. The creatures were all over me in a flash. Every spot that ached, they were there to suck up the energy lost due to my injury. I tried to wiggle and squirm away from them, but there was no hope of escape. Other patrons of the library tried to come near, but all I could see were the white things gobbling down my pain-drenched power. Even when I closed my eyes to regain what little sanity I had left, I could still sense them. Not only could I sense the ones on me, but all of them all around. There were over a million in the library alone. I could also tell that some of them disappeared while others materialized. That was strange. I had presumed they were always all around.
Making my excuses and apologies, assuring all who were concerned about my fall that I was fine, I made my way to the basement room which was more home than the place I slept. The ancient chair was still bleeding power, but now I could see one of the apparitions was enjoying the flavor of the slowed failing seat. It was time for an experiment. Taking the chair, I hit it against the cinderblock wall, causing it to break into a dozen pieces. Before they had all hit the floor, many more beings had joined the original in the destruction and release of energy. They could sense disease, sickness, pain and even destruction. I imagined the feeding frenzy at the demolition of a building. I also made a mental note to stay away from hospitals. I was certain the creatures there would make me sick as they feasted on the famine.
I looked at The Unknown, its pages beckoning me to read. I was powerless to resist, not that I tried. Since it had caused all my troubles, it would be my salvation, or so I thought. I read the passages before and after the incantation that had given me the vision. As I read, I noticed something. All the creatures disappeared. Once I stopped reading, they were back. I read again, noticing that nothing was losing energy while I read. I stopped. Energy and creatures were back. It took several attempts before I realized the creatures did not leave, I merely couldn’t see them while I was reading. Reading The Unknown was my salvation from the nightmare my life had become. It allowed me to be free as long I read. I spent the day and well into the night reading and translating. I found myself copying the book without noticing what I was doing. It wasn’t a translation, the words were the Akkadian I had so painstakingly learned. Had I thought about that? I didn’t remember deciding to write it out, but it made sense. If I had a copy of my own, I could read it when I needed a break from the visions. Additionally, it would give me more opportunities to study and find a cure for my condition.
Days passed and more passages were copied. Before long, I was spending more nights in the library basement than in my apartment. It was a week into my self-imposed hermitage when I came up with the brilliant idea of scanning the pages into my laptop. Once in the device, I could put them on web so they could be read any time I wanted. In the dead of night with only a smattering of other night-owls working in the forest of books, I used the scanner to copy all five-hundred pages. It was now in my computer. All I had to do was make a blog and post it up.
Something was wrong. I didn’t need to post it. I had it on my computer. Transferring it to my tablet would be easy. Why was I wanting to post it? A few days earlier, I noticed the creatures did not come near the book. The Unknown was not appetizing to the beings. It also didn’t appear to be losing any energy unlike every other book in the building. Now my computer was being avoided by the beings. They didn’t like the book. I pondered putting it on the Internet to drive them away from that as well. Could writing the words on my body have the same effect? I really felt a need to post all five hundred pages. It would protect it from decay. It would keep the Internet safe. It would…
Reproduce. The Unknown wanted me to put it out there. That is what happens. Someone comes along, discovers it, finds its secrets, and copies it. The version I was reading wasn’t nearly 4000 years old. At least I didn’t think so. Maybe it was. It wasn’t decaying like everything else around. I had always presumed it was a copy of a copy of a copy… What if this is the original document? It called out to me. It convinced me to read it, to learn it, to copy it.
I slammed my computer closed. Running out of the library and into the being-filled night. They discovered me wandering along the streets, yelling at things they couldn’t see. My father took great joy in signing the papers that committed me to a mental institution. No one sees them but me. No one watches everything falling into decay like I do. I’ve been here for a year now, my sanity slipping away. Ironic, isn’t it? The one place where they put me to help me is the only place I can’t look at The Unknown which is the only thing that will help me.
Do you ever have those moments when you can’t remember what you did? I don’t remember what I did right before I closed the lid on my computer. I remember wanting to post those pages. I think I even made a website. I just don’t know if I posted it or not. If you see something written in Akkadian on a site that’s called The Unknown, do yourself a favor, forget you ever saw it.
Joshua smiled at me and laid back down on the couch. I looked down at my notes to make sure I had everything. There couldn’t have been more than five seconds I looked away. When I looked up to ask a question, he was gone. We alone were in a room that was locked from the outside. I could swear I saw a wisp of something white right where he had been.