THE RAGE OF CTHULHU
“Hey, Christine, I think I can see a way in.”
George and his wife had walked from Whitby on the Cleveland Way, a public footpath leading along England’s northeast coastline. After passing the town’s famous abbey and a holiday park located on the lip of a splendid bay, they’d spotted two buildings: a towering lighthouse and, about a hundred yards farther on, a property whose roof bore a giant foghorn at least five yards long.
As the lighthouse appeared to be private, and manned by staff, they’d moved on to the second building, which looked anything but operational. It was one-storey high and bore off-colour walls. Weeds grew in wild profusion around its sealed doorway and all the windows were boarded up…except for one. This was what George had just identified.
“Be careful,” Christine said, the way she’d done lately, as if he was some sort of cripple. “If you fall, we won’t get help out here quickly.”
If she meant an ambulance, why didn’t she say so? George experienced a flare of temper but decided not to be difficult. This, the first leg of their holiday around the world, was supposed to be pleasant. They’d visited the area as youngsters – just after marrying, forty years ago, before they’d had any money – and had always vowed to return. George wished it was in better circumstances but that was how life went; no use being maudlin about it.
After all, there was still fun to be had. Huddling low against the chill – it was a blustery February weekday, dampness heavy in the air, as if rain or worse was due – he moved closer to that one unboarded window, eliciting another comment from his wife.
“Don’t go in there, George,” she said, anxiety from recent events etched into her voice. “It’s private property. The men from the lighthouse might come over.”
And do what? George wanted to know, as if needing to take on the world and all its infuriating rules. In his current situation, what were the consequences of misbehaving?
“I want to look inside, Christine,” he replied, puffing as he shuffled forwards, limbs aching with the effort. For a moment, he went dizzy, but closing his eyes and eliminating the world for several seconds helped to stabilise him. Finally he was ready to enter.
By the time his wife approached, holding the new iPhone with which she’d filmed the remarkable landscape these last few days, he’d swung a leg over the sill and levered himself inside the building. Refusing to offer Christine another opportunity to cause a fuss, he cut through the room ahead. This resembled some sort of sleeping quarters, possibly once occupied by whoever had maintained the foghorn when the place had been in service.
The board-free window failed to let in much afternoon daylight. All the same, George soon chanced upon a door with a big brass handle at hip-height. He turned it, releasing the door with a sticky sound of gunge separating around its frame, and then paced forwards.
A more insistent source of light lay up ahead. He figured out that he stood in a corridor leading to other rooms. The building had appeared to be just yards from the cliff’s edge, a considerable drop to a rocky beach and the unforgiving sea. But as he moved on, the ground here felt solid, even though some of his dizziness had returned.
The light at the end of the passageway appeared to come from a room whose door was missing. The front of the property must have suffered structural damage, with stone broken in inaccessible places. This was probably why the authorities hadn’t sealed off those parts.
He entered the room, marvelling at its contents. Was this where the foghorn had been operated and maintained? A bulky engine was attached to the wall, clearly having not been used for years. Alongside it stood a beguiling arrangement of valves, cocks and pressure dials, each rusted or draped with cobwebs.
George loved places like this. They reminded him of his childhood back in Leeds, of visiting railway stations with his parents, exploring great steam carriages. Perhaps this was why he’d broken into such an out-of-the-way property. He’d heard that during traumatic periods people tended to revisit the past, an attempt to contextualise life from a distant perspective. Hadn’t a famous philosopher once said similar, someone he’d studied as an undergraduate before his career in academia?
Maybe that was true, but it wasn’t important now. This was George’s new attitude. It wasn’t that his medical diagnosis had led him to abandon insights into the human condition, rather that he had fresh experiences to enjoy, away from the ivory tower comfort of textbooks. With only limited time left, he wanted to throw himself into as much of life as possible.
He advanced into the next room, through a doorway at the rear of the foghorn’s control centre. Wondering what sound the foghorn on top of the building had once made, he examined the new area, given over to water tanks and batteries, which had surely once compressed air to provide the noise. It was here that an exterior wall covered in a thick skin of plaster had collapsed, letting in light from outside.
George heard a wind thumping against the property’s exterior, the sea smashing against the cliff-side below. What with the building’s unusual acoustics – the walls were thick stone, the floors bereft of carpet or furniture – these sounds had impact on him, rendering him unsteady as he moved. His vision also felt challenged, especially when he reached a lengthy room at the front of the property, beyond which had once sailed the ships that the whole place had sought to safeguard.
It was now that he observed what he ought to have previously: none of the other rooms had windows. But that wasn’t true of this one, whose longest side bore four square glassless peepholes. Each was three feet tall and wide, and none had been boarded up. That might be because it would be difficult for anyone to move safely along the coastal lip and seal them. Whatever the truth was, George could now see way across a choppy North Sea.
But this wasn’t all that caught his interest.
In addition to how noises here – the restless howl of wind, an unfailing susurration of the sea – continued to unsettle him, he detected a curious scent, which was how he imagined magma expelled from an active volcano might smell, a pungently sulphurous aroma. More distortions in his visual field left his perspective strained, as if the room was a photograph that someone was tugging out of shape in every direction. After several seconds, he began to feel nauseated and was forced to look away.
Was he suffering another attack, like the ones that had first alerted him to his illness? That might be the case, but as he stabilised his vision by focusing beyond the wavering room, his attention went no farther than the windows, which had surely been damaged by some seismic event.
Sections of wall around the openings had buckled inwards, great stones tilted towards the interior, the inch-deep plaster torn from the sinew beneath. It looked as if something had rammed into the building from the outside, but what could be so large and powerful, let alone possess the height such an assault required? The building had to be two-hundred feet from the seabed; such a manoeuvre was impossible even for the most monstrous creature.
More sensory distortions sweeping over him, George turned to look for a way out, returning to his wife and her well-meaning support. Just then he spotted more damage affecting the rear wall, which faced those mangled windows. In four spots, corresponding with each of the glassless openings, more plaster had been smashed away, revealing the property’s flesh beneath.
Had something – no, at least four things – been thrust through the windows and struck this wall?
None of it made sense. George felt troubled and bewildered. He moved off, back along another stretch of corridor, seeking the room through which he’d entered, quite against Christine’s sensible advice. She was simply concerned, as the spouse of anyone diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour would be. For this reason, he’d try not to reveal what was happening in his head right now. Indeed, by the time he exited, he hoped it would have all settled down.
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