ELDRITCH HORRORS: DARK TALES
One Thousand and One Word
by Paul S. Kemp
(Excerpt pp. 22-24, Eldritch Horrors: Dark Tales)
The moon leered through an opening in a smear of black clouds, its face alien, ominous. The talking heads on the radio said Luna was no longer in tidal lock, that its dark side was slowly turning to face the earth. No one seemed to know why. Scientists had their theories; believers had theirs.
Me, I tried not to think about it, but I could not deny that the air felt strange, charged the way it did moments before shells started to fall.
Rain fell and the wipers’ rhythm was a heartbeat across the wind-shield. Veins of lightning set the sky aglow. I yawned (it was after ten), hummed Como’s Some Enchanted Evening, and drove.
I recited the series of questions I would ask Doyle, an incantation of the mundane. What’s a day like in the life of Howard Doyle? Why’d you settle in Boston? Why so reclusive? How did you earn your fortune? And most importantly—may I take a picture of you, sir?
Cheap stuff. Filler. It was not going to win a Pulitzer but the Chronicle’s readers would eat it up. Take their minds off the strangeness in the air, too. Doyle’s estate lurked in the darkness of the hills and mounds to the west of the city. When I arrived, I found the wrought iron gates thrown open and the guardhouse empty and dark.
Twisted, leafless maples stood sentinel along a serpentine drive that led to the front of the mansion. The structure was as odd as I remembered.
The vaguely pyramidal, asymmetrical structure of gray metal and dark glass rose out of the hillside like a tumor. Protuberances jutted from its sides at odd angles; trapezoidal and ovate windows lurked in odd corners. A dome capped it, which I presumed it to be an observatory. I’d once tried to track down the name of the architect who’d designed the monstrosity, but the building records had been destroyed in a fire.
Light shone behind several of the first story windows but I could tell from the flickering, dim glow that it was candlelight. Power was out in the mansion, too.
I took a moment to confirm I had everything that I would need: my camera, two notebooks, several pens, the invitation from Doyle. Shielding it all under my coat, I jumped out of my Chevy and dashed for the porch. I would have taken a photograph of the mansion’s exterior, but the rain made that impossible.
A stylized Egyptian ankh served as the knocker. I rattled it off the enormous wooden door and waited. In moments I heard locks twist and the door opened inward.
I found myself staring into the chest of one of the largest men I had ever seen. He was an Arab, wore a blue turban that could have covered a pumpkin, and a white caftan that reminded me of a pavilion tent. He wore open sandals on his feet and his hairy toes looked like bratwursts. The man’s sheer size made me uneasy. I’d had one too many beatings at the hands of Doyle’s goons not to be nervous.
He held a candlestick with three burning candles. The wind set the flames to dancing. I held out the invitation from Doyle, as if it were a shield.
“Mister Doyle is expecting me. I’m Cole. Jack Cole.”
The man looked over the top of my head at the rain, or perhaps at the moon. He grinned a mouthful of blackened teeth through his short beard, nodded. Ignoring the invitation I proffered, he swung his girth to the side and gestured me in.
“Uh, thank you,” I said, and walked past him into the marble-floored foyer. As I passed I saw that his eyes were the color of milk. He was blind.
I took off my hat as he pulled the door close and silenced the rain.
“Heck of a storm, eh?” I said as he turned.
He lost his smile, stepped forward and placed his ham hands on my shoulders. I did not think to resist until he had me good. I’d learned hand-to-hand in the army and could handle myself in a fight, but I might as well have been in a vice.
“What the Hell? If he called me up here just to make a point of—”
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