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THE PRODIGAL

Andy Nunez

As the grunting workmen labored, a thrill of anticipation mixed with no small amount of trepidation surged through my body. I dug myself further into the overstuffed armchair, fingers clawing madly at the antimacassars, while they lifted the heavy piece of artwork to its new home over my mantle. Outside, I could hear the gulls shriek as they wheeled and hunted over Tangier Sound. With studied care, no doubt because of my almost monomanical gaze, the workers looped the heavy, braided wire over the stout hook they had earlier installed in the wall. Satisfied, they removed the white cloth cover, and the painting stood revealed.

The century of neglect endured by the portrait were evident by the grayish smears tracking over the cracked oils and the worm-riddled frame of gilt-painted plaster and wood. Still, the image of a century and a half gone emerged from the grime of five-score years hanging in my empty ancestral home near Providence, Rhode Island. It was the vanguard of the baggage that my brother had sent ahead before his return here, to our family home of nearly a hundred years.

I noted the family resemblance immediately, the high, domed forehead and jutting, inquisitive jaw so characteristic of the Bowens. Enoch Bowen's steely gaze met my own from across the ages, the trappings of his expedition to Egypt littering the background of the work. Dressed severely in black, my great-great grandfather held in one long-fingered hand the crowning find of his search amongst the temples and sepulchres of that spectre-haunted realm. Shining from the center of its strangely worked box of alien symmetry was the Trapezohedron, the many flattened surfaces of stone gleaming blackly. That little four-inch piece of unnattural design was the cause of my residing here in this stone-foundationed mansion of late Victorian architecture, instead of the Colonial house of my forebears. My eyes traced the red striations orbiting the Trapezohedron, now lost forever to the eyes of man since it had been deposited in Narragansett Bay's deepest channel by the mysterious Dr. Dexter in 1935. Of course, Dr. Dexter was gone now. He had been notable in the field of atomic physics following the last world war, but, uncaring of the danger, or, perhaps, strangely, forgetting his mortality, he flew too close to the testing of a hydrogen bomb near Bikini Atoll and his plane was engulfed by the fireball.

The full story of old Enoch Bowen's connection with the cult of Starry Wisdom in Providence, and his exile to this bleak islet on Maryland's Chesapeake Bay, the recovery of the Shining Trapezohedron in the deserted church of Starry Wisdom by the writer Robert Blake, and its subsequent loss to the depths of Narrragansett Bay have been romanticized to an almost scandalous degree by the late Howard Phillips Lovecraft and his crony Bloch, so I will not try to rehash the past further. There are those who will not believe the truth, just as there are those who cannot conceive of the truth.

Three generations of Bowens have lived within these plaster-lathed walls, of which I am of the third, and, unfortunately, the last. That is, of course, my own fault. Were I to have been raised as a normal man, no doubt I would have been married by now to one of the local girls from Deal Island or Crisfield, but I was unable to benefit from the energies of youth due to my virtual self-enslavement in the care of my ailing mother. What of my brother, you ask? Why did he not aid me in my nursing? My brother, being four years my senior, lost no time in prying himself from the doting affections of my mother that followed the sudden death of my father.

Dear brother Jonathan left mysteriously one night, leaving one of our scows abandoned at the Deal Island marina. Subsequent investigation discovered that he had liquidated his account at the Peninsula Bank in Princess Anne. We lost track of Jonathan after that, and it was only last month, three years after my mother's death, that he saw fit to make his presence known again.

His telegram had been brief. Our ancestral home in Rhode Island had been taken by the state much as had Bowen's church of Starry Wisdom some years past. Jonathan had recovered what valuables and papers as he could from the ramshackle Colonial mansion off College Street, and was shipping them to me within the month. His appeal to have the house returned to our ownership had failed, he said, and that he would be coming home before fall.

Ten years had passed since I had last laid eyes upon my brother. He was in his late teens when he ran away, and I recalled his image well. Tall and supple as a willow sapling, he had the careless demeanor of the rakes of old. His callousness acted like a shield against the remoteness and melancholy that shrouded our residence here on Bowen Island, as the natives knew our knob of land projecting resolutely from Tangier Sound. There were secrets, Jonathan had told me one night as the wind howled through the chinks and the lightning arced whitely along the Bay. Secrets that Father had taken to his premature grave. No Bowen had rested easy, he claimed, since they had found and lost the stone which Father had talked with Jonathan about, he being the elder.

Father had died in a boating accident off Little Deal Island while dredging for Indian relics that colonial records from the county seat in Princess Anne had indicated were sunk there, after the marshlands had been reclaimed by the sea. Vague hints had been scrawled by the first English settlers, about a tribe of Indians unrelated to either the Pocomoke or Wicomico tribes, virtually a race apart from the others, whose unusual rites had been investigated by no less a person than the famous Methodist John Wesley sometime in the eighteenth century. Most records had been curiously lost, or suppressed, and Father had been forced to search the Sound systematically, since the exact location of the village was unknown, only hints and unsettling accounts of strange mutterings and voices from the marshy woods.

The captain of the skipjack that Father had hired to do the searching was at a loss to explain Father's death. He had been tending to the wheel while Father examined the ooze-coated contents of the dredge, concerned over a harsh breeze that had suddenly erupted. Thus engaged in handling the sailing vessel, the captain did not turn his attention to Father until he had heard the wet slopping sounds and Father's scream. Rushing to the side, the captain found only the outward growing concentric rings of bubbles to mark Father's falling into the Sound. A powerful odor clung to the spot where Father has been standing, but the captain allowed as how the smell could have come from the tarry ooze that Father had been picking through. Father's body was never recovered, and the marine police report listed his drowning as an accident.

Jonathan blamed his death on the loss of the stone, which Father had only hinted about to my brother. Most of Father's secrets had died with him, and it was this incomplete recounting of our mysterious past that used to send my brother into a frenzy. He howled over the loss of knowledge, knowledge, he claimed, that could only be found in obscure and rotting books, such as the Necronomicon of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred, or the De Vermis Misteriis of Ludvig Prinn.

—But I am rambling here, digressing into matters that have no bearing on the immediate events that I am compelled to set down here. It was Jonathan's actual arrival that set things in motion. The painting of great-great grandfather Enoch Bowen was merely the first of several crates that arrived along with workmen hired from Deal Island by my groundsman, Thomas Crockett, a native of nearby Smith Island. Because of my reclusiveness during the care for my mother, I had earned a reputation among the Deal Islanders as being odd, so I preferred to deal with them through an intermediary whenever possible, especially since no phone lines had been strung to our island.

Save for the painting, which Jonathan had requested be hung before his arrival, I left the rest of the crates alone, stacking them in the basement on pallets lest the dampness that clung to the stones of the cellar damage their contents. I did note, with interest, that one crate was marked: BOOKS*FRAGILE, but did not open it. I had Mr. Crockett air out Jonathan's room on the day of his arrival, and went out on that still-pleasant September afternoon to greet him as soon as Thomas alerted me of sighting my brother's boat.

The breeze was very light that day, whipping up little blue wavelets capped with iridescent tufts all along the Sound. I remember being in shirtsleeves and batting away the still annoying black marsh flies that bred in the saw-edged grasses on the west end of the island. From the lush hummock of earth on which the mansion was situated, I descended down to the dock, crossing the treated planks of the wide ditch that separated the dock and boathouses from the main part of the island. Here the sand was warm beneath the soles of my deck shoes, and I could hear the gurgle of the surf as it rolled against the pilings of the dock.

I found a folding chair in the boathouse and positioned it on the creosoted dock to await my brother. Thomas I had left behind, to prepare some iced tea for refreshment. I pulled the wide brim of my hat low against the still-high afternoon sun and watched the little workboat chug its way toward my dock. Soon, the low, white hull was alongside the pilings and its rustic winding a coil of rope against one of the black-smeared poles. I took little note of the man, however, other than to dismiss him mentally as typical of the local breed who depended on the Bay for their livelihood.

Rather, I focused my attention on his passenger, who was energetically engaged in transferring his bags onto the dock. Jonathan had changed but little in the ten years he had been absent, still rapier thin and possessed with an almost demonic animation. His face was still as spare as ever beneath the waving fringe of blonde hair, his features long and tight as he squinted his blue eyes against the lowering sun. As he gained the dock with an easy motion, I saw he was dressed in a khaki shirt and whipcord breeches, his narrow feet encased in expensive-looking boots. Hatless as ever, he looked tan and healthy, making me feel very self-conscious as I glanced nervously at my blemished forearms.

He helped the waterman shove off from the dock, and with a wave to the fellow, turned to me, a brisk smile making his large teeth gleam wolfishly. He stuck out a brown hand, locking on to me with his cerulean gaze.

"Well, Edward," he began as I took his hand, feeling a strength in his grip that was unsettling.

"You look well, Jonathan," I managed.

"Thanks, er—uh, so do you."

"Yes, well, the weather has been kind to me. Let's go on up to the house. I've had Thomas prepare some tea."

We walked back up the little hill to the house. A chill had crept into the wind, and I rolled down my sleeves as the gooseflesh had erupted along my arms. Jonathan loped along effortlessly, his long legs propelling him forward so handily, that I had to almost jog to keep up with him. He was eagerly sizing up the house, peering to and fro at the small clumps of trees and brush that grew along the west side behind the house, masking the grass-tufted marsh.

"Hasn't changed a bit!" he exclaimed. "By gods, you've done a splendid job of keeping it up, Edward. It's even better than I hoped. Have you disturbed Father's things?"

"Of course not!" I answered hotly. "Father was as dear to me as he was to you. Everything is just like it was before he died."

"Not everything. We have both grown up, brother. Still, you are my little brother, and maturity can only strengthen our bonds."

"I do not doubt it," I agreed, ignoring the possible jab at my shorter stature. Jonathan had become a robust talker in the last decade, smiling with his slab-like teeth in a carnivorous manner that was very disturbing. Within the slaty shadow of the porch stood Thomas, guarding a tray of iced tea that resided on a round table by the settees. Jonathan set his bags down by the door and immediately dived into the beechwood swing, languishing felinely on the green- painted slats. I sat down slowly on the sheet metal glider, grasping one of the glasses Thomas had poured. The big Smith Islander stood by silently, his red hands clutched before him. I could see that the knuckles stood out whitely, but his florid face gave no hint of any trouble, so I bade him take the bags to Jonathan's room. With a slight bending to pick up the baggage, he was gone.

"As you can see," I began, as Jonathan took up one of the glasses and began to sip at the brown liquid, "little has changed here. I had to give up any thoughts of college and hire a man to help me care for things after Mother's health deteriorated. She never fully recovered from Father's death, and your escape finished her. Oh, she hung on these ten years, hoping that you would return, but, eventually, she gave up. I have tried to keep things going, seeing to the family fortunes and the upkeep of the property, but it hasn't been easy. The mainland folk have been increasingly aloof in their dealings with me, ever since Father's mysterious death. It's as if a curse hangs over us."

"It may very well," Jonathan murmured.

"Well, what of yourself?" I demanded, seeing that my oratory had brought no emotion to the tanned surface of his face. "What have you been doing these past ten years?"

His blue eyes flickered at me over the rim of the glass as he drank, but again, he showed nothing on his longish face.

"I have traveled the world, literally," he related, lowering the tea. "There is no corner of the known world that has not been revealed to me. I worked my way across the Atlantic from Baltimore the week I escaped this house, loading freight with a bunch of half-breeds—me a Bowen, from a long line of explorers and landed gentry. You should have seen me, Edward, lounging in the hold with them, half naked as their savage predecessors, sweat gleaming off their arms as we struggled to breathe in the stall air of that rusty steamer. I drank cheap rum from the same bottle that had passed their full lips, and I smoked their heady concoctions, can you imagine it? Can you?"

"Don't give me those stares! You look so comical, with those little green eyes of yours in that pasty-white face. I bloodied my hands to the bone on that voyage, broke my damn back unloading those crates at the dock at Beirut. I took the cash money they paid me and turned it into Arab djellabah and burnoose, roaming the age-worn hills of the Middle East, burning into the Arabian desert. I sought things, Edward, things Father only hinted at. Our ancestor Enoch Bowen discovered things in the deserts that have been lost to us for over a hundred years. I followed his trail, to Irem, the city of pillars, that hidden maze of sand-blasted stones where Abdul Alhazred staggered madly twelve centuries before, blasted by the things he had written in his book, the Necronomicon. I traveled into Israel, teaching English at a kibbutz in the Sinai for over a year as I wandered the ruins of Egypt, retracing old Enoch's steps as he poked about the Nile for the Fane of the Black Pharoah. In the fastness of the Sahara, I peered though the cutting curtains of blowing sand at the aymmetrical pyramid of Nephren-Ka."

"A fantastic trip!" I commented, my heart beating wildly. The faded sheet metal glider trembled in its tubular frame as I thrilled to his amazing tale. Such adventures I had but dreamed of, being confined here on this tiny isle. To have actually lived them—

"A herculean effort," Jonathan continued, his blue eyes taking on a hard and feverish look. He drank deep of the tea and plunged on. "I was nearly killed by the acolytes of Nephren-ka's temple, just as Bloch wrote. I knew better than to stare mindlessly at the images those vile priests revealed on their prophetic walls."

Here, he unbuttoned his khaki shirt and revealed a ten-inch scar winding from his sternum to his right rib cage. I stared fixedly at the livid line of puckered flesh, until Jonathan covered it again.

"One of those slimy dogs thought to make me a sacrifice," he explained. "How Enoch avoided them I shall never know. I killed three, and would not have escaped then, if not for the cover of that raging sandstorm. With the very knife that made this wound I killed one, opening his throat like you would peel an apple. I was found by a Gnostic healer who bound my side and whispered mad things in the crushing heat of the desert night, about the old gods—Set, and Sebek, and Bast—and the Older Gods, the Faceless One, the Mighty Messenger, the Doombringer—Nyarlathotep! I listened feverishly, the pain and festering in my wound torturing me cruelly, as that insane old lump of dirt sang and gibbered about beings beyond the space we know, beings that lie between the spaces."

"And the stone," I interjected, recalling the multi-faceted gem in the painting over the mantle. "What of the stone?"

"The Shining Trapezohedron!" Jonathan named it with a harsh cry. "Lost to us in the depths of Narragansett Bay. I found no help about that. Once I was well, I moved on, across the Levant, and into Persia. For awhile, I served Kurdish rebels in Iran, leading them against their Shiite oppressors, until I heard of connections between the Faceless One and a hidden plateau in Mongolia. Eluding the Soviet patrols, I wended my way into the vast hinterlands of Mongolia. For a year I lived among the descendants of the Golden Horde, searching for the feared plateau of Leng. I still consider it a miracle that I escaped that monstrous place with my life."

"Finally, I came to rest at the family wellspring, in Providence, and stood before our termite-ridden home off College Street. The old Bowen mansion was gray as an old woman, paint long flaked away into the ocean. I walked the street where that barbarian gang of fools pushed and shoved our ancestor Enoch out of town. Ignoramuses! Scared of the dark, they were. Enoch did not even have time to return to the church and get the stone. Fifty-three years it lay in that crumbling steeple, then that fool Blake had to poke his nose into the matter."

"The story says that the stone had magical properties," I added.

"It was not of this earth," Jonathan explained. "It was a gateway, a path between the spaces. The worlds Enoch saw which have been closed to us. Shaggai, and Yuggoth. That blasted Blake almost regained what we had lost when he peered into the stone. He released the avatar."

"The avatar?" I demanded, confused.

"Yes, but you cannot hope to comprehend it all. I had to circle the globe to get the smallest inkling. What knowledge our family must have had. And to lose it all through the stupidity of those medieval muttonheads who drove Enoch hence. Well, no matter, we shall retrieve it all, and more. That is why I have returned."

"I was beginning to wonder," I admitted. "You intend to take up where Father left off."

"Indeed, I shall do more. While escaping Mongolia, I traveled the Pacific Islands, to Ponape, and beyond. Did you know that Father was murdered?"

"You cannot mean that. Was it the crew of the skipjack?"

"Don't be dense, Edward. He tampered with guarded things. He blundered into realms unknown, and did so unannounced. He trespassed into territories guarded by those who wait. I traveled Massachusetts, to Arkham, and near-emptied Innsmouth. Father did not call upon those who could help, because our family did not suspect such help could exist. Father studied Indian cults here, poking into the long-overwashed villages of mongrel tribesmen. Did you ever wonder what became of that ooze-coated mound of sea-bottom that was dredged up before Father fell—or was dragged—over the side?"

"To be honest, I had not given it much thought."

"No doubt. Forget the pain, that was normal. I spoke with the captain of the skipjack. Did you know that his hair was snow white, and yet he was not yet thirty? He never revealed what was in his dredge, but he was quick to dump it back over the side. He hinted uneasily at an image, green beneath that black slime which oozed polychromatic emissions, that it was obscene, anthropomorphic, winged and clawed, the head lost in a riot of squirming tentacles. He dunked his dredge again and again, until the ooze was gone from it."

"I took a lesson from that. At Innsmouth, I rented a motorboat from its batrachian owner and voyaged out to that serpentine line called Devil's Reef. What mad things I encountered. What secrets were passed between me, the man, and that which was never wholly man, but had once walked the earth. From Y'ha-nthlei I gained alliance with those who dwelt beneath the seas. We shall regain what is ours by right, brother. From Yuggoth, through the void, the stone came, and in the blackest depths of Narragansett Bay it lies, but we shall regain it."

"You speak madly, Jonathan. How were you able to do all these things, go all these places? What promises have you made? What has this to do with me, with our house?"

"Do not fear little brother, those rubbery-limbed monsters will not rise from the depths to claim this house as their temple. You have been reading too much Lovecraft. I shall use the relationship I have built with them to get back the stone, the Trapezohedron. Much preparation must be made when it is reclaimed to us. I have brought Enoch's books from our house in Providence. Curse those dolts who burnt the books in the church. Well, enough rambling here in the sun—the damned flies are as much as nuisance as ever. Do the lights work in the basement?"

"They do, but I don't know why you must rush into this strange work of yours. Why don't you rest, and I'll have Thomas bring up what materials you require. The basement is as damp as it always was. The floor is at sea level, and it seeps terribly. I had to put all the crates you sent on pallets to keep them dry."

"Father's worktable is still down there?"

"It is."

"Does the electricity still work there?"

"It does."

"Then, that is all I require. The relative quiet and seclusion down there will aid me in my studies."

"You'll catch your death down there in that bacterial breeding ground."

"Do not worry about me. I'll be fine. I've been caring for myself for ten years in the most hostile climes in the world. I have seen things which would damn me a million times over did I believe in Hell. I shall come up twice a day for meals. If I require it, will you assist me?"

"Well, I suppose. I have little to do these days since our financial holdings are managed by the bank in Princess Anne. After Mother's death, I was planning to take a trip around the world, see what I have been missing."

"Help me, Edward, and the entire world will be ours. We shall circumnavigate it at our leisure. No barrier can stand in our way. No place in the galaxy. Yaddith, Yuggoth, Shaggai, the throne of Azathoth. We shall travel through the curves of existence. Think of it."

His eyes had taken on that queer intensity again, so I fell silent, waiting until his energy had spent itself. I hesitated to call Jonathan sad, but I felt him to be possessed of a rampant energy, a concentrated power that was focused on the Trapezohedron. Without further word, he vaulted from the swing to leave it rocking idly and disappeared into the house. I shook my head slowly. Jonathan had changed, but his singlemindedness had not. I finished my drink calmly, watching the ice in Jonathan's abandoned glass turn the tea from its dark brown to a watery ochre color. The sun was on the horizon when I went in search of Thomas, to explain our new situation. As I passed the staircase to the basement, I noted a yellow glow at the bottom of the doorsill, and I could hear Jonathan moving things about.

He did not come up for supper that night, but I had Thomas leave him some leftovers in the refrigerator. For the next five nights he kept up his irregular schedule, and there were nights when I would pass that door to the basement when I thought I could hear vague mutterings, and even chanting. Jonathan would say little, only that he was close to a key, and that he was preparing an experiment that he would perform out in Tangier Sound.

I remember that Saturday in October well. The month had newly begun, and the leaves on the few elms that a former Bowen had planted on this coniferous-dominated knot of land had begun to turn to their brighter, happier colors. I was dealing handily with my eggs when Jonathan strode in briskly, cheeks pink beneath his diluting tan. The long hours buried in the basement were beginning to tell, and a haggardness had previously been noted to enwrap him. Now, however, his color was obvious, and he attacked the plate of food Thomas slipped before him with vigor, gobbling morsels loudly as he talked.

"Little brother, today we shall take a boat ride," he informed me between chunks of bacon.

"To the mainland?" I inquired.

"No, out in the Sound," he continued, inhaling his eggs noisily. "To the deepest spot in the channel, that dropoff near Smith Island they call the Puppy Hole. Wrap well, I do not know how long it will take to get the results I wish."

"Very well," I assented with some trepidation. "You should not undertake such an expedition alone, since you want to go a couple of hours from here. I'll have Thomas fill up the gas tanks and check the oil. We should be ready to go in an hour or so."

I put on a jacket and cap, knowing that the wind could be very chilling on the Sound, especially in the fall. Jonathan was already at the boathouse when I arrived, and was stowing some unusual items in the compartment under the rear seat. I grabbed a set of foul weather gear from its hanger in the boathouse and went aboard with it. You never knew when a storm might come up the Bay, either. Thomas was busily cranking up the door to let our scow make open water, while Jonathan cast off the stern line. With a turn, he bent to the big Mercury outboard motor and set the choke. Grasping the black rubber handle, he yanked on the starter line until the black-enamelled engine roared into life. I cast off the bow line, and poled us along the side of the boathouse with an oar as Jonathan slowly propelled us out the opening maw, past the taciturn Thomas, who waved weakly as we broke into the uneven sunlight of that cloud-dotted Saturday morning.

Turning the throttle in the engine, Jonathan accelerated our scow and veered us south around the back of the island and toward the point where the Sound narrowed between the jut at Crisfield and Smith Island. We were nearly two hours until Jonathan judged that we were over the Puppy Hole, the deepest spot in the Sound, and known for good fishing by the watermen who made their living farming the Bay for crabs and oysters. When Jonathan stopped the engine, we drifted idly, the swells rocking us rather gently. Jonathan got up and removed the objects he had brought from beneath his seat. The breeze was light, but I felt a chill vibrate through me, and zipped up my jacket to the throat.

Jonathan produced a leaden-appearing object of curious manufacture, tethered to a long length of cord. There was something anthropomorphic in the object's cast, but I saw it only for an instant as my brother began to lower it over the side, long, bony fingers playing out the slim yellow nylon cord. When the line dropped to a sufficient level, he produced some papers on which I noticed line after line of scribbled undecipherable text in my brother's hand. I watched in fascination as he threw back his arms and gestured strangely, referring occasionally to the text he had prepared. I see no reason to attempt to duplicate his horrid mouthings, even if I thought I could. They were wild and monstrous, and the wind shrieked its reply to his violent chantings.

"Ia! Ia!" Jonathan roared into the teeth of the gale-like blast that whistled through the gaps of the Mercury engine. "Cthulhu fthagn!"

Ugly leaden clouds with purplish mottlings began to slide sinuously from the south. The once-benign wavelets had been whipped up into a washboard of water, vibrating against the all-too-thin wooden hull of our scow. The sky dimmed and lost its color, alternately mixing the colors of mercury and aluminum, losing the distinction between sky and conifer-toothed edge of Jane's Island State Park by Crisfield standing out against the achromatic boiling of the elements.

"Jonathan!" I gasped, holding on to the gunwale as the boat rocked against the crashing waves. "Cease this madness. You are enraging the elements themselves. Cease, before we are lost."

Jonathan threw back his head and howled, looking at me as if I were a raving lunatic. Satisfied, apparently, with his work, he withdrew the cord from the depths of the Sound, hand over hand as it shed droplets of water that made dark spots on the unpainted wood of the boat's bottom. For what seemed like an eternity he hauled in the cord, until at last the obscene little lead object on the end bumped against the gunwale and made a dull thud as it hit the bottom of the boat.

My eyes were riveted to the little metal thing. Its features were unrecognizable, because it was coated with an odorous and viscous gellid ooze! I have no clear recollection to write down about the return trip from that damned channel, no matter what entreatments you may make. I know that we hugged the coast, daring the open water only when we left Hazard Point to angle northwestward to Bowen Island. Jonathan was clearly elated, but he gave me no hint as to the meaning of his ritual, nor as to why nature reacted so violently to it.

I would have very little else of interest to add to this statement I am forced to make if not for the incident on the fifteenth of October. Jonathan had returned to his marathon studies in the basement, and the steadily declining weather only caused me further concern for his health. He waved off my pleas to shorten his work with an almost haughty contempt.

"What is dampness to me, who has dined on raw fish in the ocean depths of Y'ha-nthlei, or dwelt in the maze-mirrored streets of Irem, City of Pillars?" he demanded over dinner one night. "Your constitution should not be used as a yardstick for mine, little brother. While your skin has remained thin and colorless, mine has been hardened by the wind and browned by the sun. Your hands are still soft and well-preserved, while mine are scarred, the edges hard as horn. Soon, I will complete my work, when I have received that which we lost, the stone that Enoch let slip from him so many decades ago. When it is here, the avatar of Nyarlathotep will again be in the world."

"You speak again of this avatar, this reincarnation, if you will, as if it is assured."

"It is, have no fear. The writer, Robert Blake, released the avatar that Enoch had locked in the tower of the church of Starry Wisdom in Providence, the avatar that should have taken human form, to wear the waxen mask, and the robe that hides. It destroyed Blake, but found good lodging in the Doctor who pronounced Blake dead, Doctor Dexter. Dexter became the avatar, and now Dexter is dead."

"Dead?" I demanded. "Slowly, Jonathan, this trail grows dim and confusing. How did Dexter gain the avatar when Enoch did not?"

"Enoch had no concept of what he was dealing with. He called up Nyarlathotep, the mighty messenger, he of the thousand masks, but was unable to merge with him, to become the avatar. Perhaps Nyarlathotep was not ready. The black Pharoah resided in the steeple of Enoch's church, and many people disappeared from the streets of Providence to sate that powerful being. All were found wanting, and none were seen again. Then Robert Blake stumbled onto the Trapezohedron. He gazed into it, bridging the gap between worlds, and again Nyarlathotep sprang forth into the darkness of the steeple. In his called form, light was unbearable. Only as the avatar could he stand luminescence. So, he dwelt in the dark, waiting for sufficient dimness to move about Providence. During an electrical blackout, he broke from the church, sought out Blake, and blasted him for his foolishness. Blake's last words were incoherent, thrilling. He speaks of the avatar as having taken human form in ancient Khem, and ruling. He writes of black wings, an odor, and the three-lobed, burning eye."

"You still have neglected Dexter," I reminded him.

"This Dr. Dexter was a shrewd and crafty man. He took in the import of Blake's scribblings almost at a glance. He realized that the avatar in its embryonic form could exist only in darkness. He sailed out in Narragansett Bay and dropped the Trapezohedron into the Stygian depths, thereby freeing the avatar to roam unmolested in the dark deeps. Roam it did, finding and mating with Dexter, fusing their forms until Dexter had become one with Nyarlathotep, the Crawling Chaos. Years later, a friend of Blake's, Edmund Fiske, attempted to run down Dexter and unmask him. Dexter, at that time, had been involved with bringing the atomic secrets to the world. It is of old prophecy that Nyarlathotep will cause the destruction of civilization, as a first step to bringing back the rule of the Great Old Ones to earth. Giving us the weapons of mass annihilation was the perfect way to do so. Dexter almost succeeded. He was testing an even more frightening weapon in the Pacific when the plane he piloted flew directly into the atomic cloud. Nyarlathotep's earthly form was obliterated, and now his spirit roams again through the void, traveling the worlds of space, spreading the marvels of Azathoth, demon sultan of the Old Ones, preparing for the time when he will return to lead us."

"And you propose to bring him back to earth?" I queried.

"Yes!" His cry was whispered, almost reverent.

"And who will be the receptacle of his spirit, his avatar?"

"Myself."

I consigned Jonathan to madness at that point. His tremendous ego had devoured his good sense, and he was deluding himself into candidacy for godhood.

"I am going to the mainland," he announced suddenly, "in the morning. I need to study some of the records in the courthouse at Princess Anne. Do me a favor and don't go knocking about in the basement. I've got some delicate things there that might be broken."

"Like the Shining Trapezohedron?" I demanded.

"Would to Azathoth I had that alien jewel. What sights might I see when I gaze into its multi-faceted surface! Perhaps the true form of Nyarlathotep, Great Messenger, bringer of strange joy to Yuggoth through the void, Father of the Million Favored ones."

"How would you know it to be the true form of Nyarlathotep?" I challenged, growing tired of his pedantic lecturing. His lust for power was appalling, and I was beginning to resent my newly returned brother. Were my feelings loathing, or, perhaps, jealousy? That is for those who have asked me to make this statement to decide.

"A good question, brother," he acknowledged. "His form has been described by many beings in many ways. Closest, I believe, is his most monstrous form, that vast, anthropomorphic body from whose mouth projects a single, blood red tentacle that uncoils when Nyarlathotep howls at the moon. What a wondrous creature to serve! I shall call him, and we shall rule as one. And you, little brother, a position of power shall be found for you, I am certain."

I went to bed that night uneasy over my brother's pronouncements, and his offering of morsels from his Olympian table. I had strange dreams as I lay tossing in my four poster bed, dreams that slashed and tore at my psyche. Vague, obscene shapes stalked through my slumbering mind, and those minions of Hypnos dragged dripping red claws across my being. I saw alien worlds, vast basalt monoliths, and weed-choked citadels populated by fish-men whose round lidless eyes bored into my soul as they flitted in and out of their huge structures, made with a geometry undreamed of by men. I gazed into labyrinthine corridors tiled with octagonal stone, viewing monstrous alien beings shaped like truncated cones with an array of tentacles. I wandered amongst basalt cities hidden away beneath the ice of Antarctica, where barrel-shaped beings with starfish-shaped heads battled creatures that appeared to be vast congeries of foamy jelly, alive with eyes.

I awoke from this cacophony of slobbering sounds and flashing visions sweating and shaking, my mind wrenching in its trough from the blasphemous views I had witnessed. Behind all these scenes dwelt a lumbering, profane shape, mercifully undefined, save for a scarlet thrashing near the head. I stayed awake the rest of the night, staring into the blackness in search of the unnameable. When dawn had sent gray bars of light through my gauzy curtains, I stirred from my bed and dressed, my fingers still trembling as I buttoned my shirt. This was the morning of the fifteenth.

I went downstairs and brewed my own coffee, the clock telling me that Thomas would not be awake for another hour. I heard noises emanating from the door to the basement, and I fancied that I could hear what sounded like gurgling drifting up from below. I attributed it to my rough night, and took no further notice as I poured the steaming coffee and sat at the kitchen table until Thomas appeared. Surprised at seeing me up this early, he was immediately concerned.

"You ain't been sleepin' too well, eh?" he observed.

"I had some nightmares, that's all," I replied. "How about some breakfast? I hear Jonathan down in the basement. He's probably going to want something to eat before he goes over to the mainland."

"Yessir." Thomas began to hunch over the stove, breaking eggs into a skillet. His taciturn manner broke abruptly with those eggs, and his voice curled around his broad back as he worked.

"I hadn't oughter mix inta family business," he said, slow and drawn out, the way most people from Smith Island talk, "but there just ain't no cause for you to be so wrought up, like you are. If I was you, I'd clear that weirdo brother of your'n right on out of here. He ain't done nothing but get you tighter'n a drum, stayin' up all night and hollerin' and screamin'. I'd do it, yessir, damn me if I wouldn't."

"I'm alright, Thomas," I averred, running a hand through my hair as I sipped at my cooling coffee. "Jonathan's peculiarities are foreign to us because he has been to strange and exotic places. If he is, as you say, weird, then it is for us to keep an eye on him. It is the compassionate thing to do."

"I ain't so sure. If a dog goes mad, back on the island, then we shoot it, you know."

"That's a terrible idea, Thomas!" How can you apply such an action to the human condition? Now, I'm going to take a walk along the beach. I'll be back in an hour or so. Don't mention any of our conversation to Jonathan, please. Things will work themselves out, I'm sure."

As I reached for my jacket, I heard the basement door bang. Jonathan appeared in the kitchen, and I gave Thomas a stern look.

"Good morning, Jonathan," I greeted.

"Hello, Edward, stepping out?" he returned.

"Thought I'd get some fresh air. I didn't sleep well."

"You don't say." A look of apparent genuine concern flashed over his longish face, blue eyes studying me closely. "Anything in particular the matter?"

"Nightmares, that's all."

"What sort?" His curiosity was evidently aroused.

"Vague stuff. Chased by monsters, that sort of thing."

"Sit down and have a bite with me, tell me about it.'

At that moment I remembered having commanded Thomas to prepare food for the two of us, but my mind was still too unsettled to think about eating. I had to get out of this house, this nest of mad visions and equally mad occurrences. I pulled on my jacket.

"By the way," Jonathan stated abruptly, "remember what I said about the basement. I shouldn't be more than three hours at the most."

I nodded curtly and reached for the kitchen door. Going down the back steps I descended the hill on which the house stood and walked west to the knot of conifers that marked the beginning of the marsh that comprised nearly a quarter of the main part of the island. I tried to find some signs of clean, normal life—birds, perhaps, or the rabbits that a former Bowen had brought here to breed, but the serried rows of grass stalks beyond the pines were silent, save for the sibilant rustling of the tan blades of the marsh grass. The tide was high, and the rising water in the marsh served to unleash an unpleasant odor from the black ooze that the grasses were rooted in. I turned away from the marsh, hearing, as I did, the coughing of the Mercury's outboard. Jonathan was undoubtedly leaving for the mainland, so I knew that I would not have to encounter him if I walked over to the beach near the boathouse.

This I did, skirting the sepulchral marsh and making for the clean whitish sand that segregated the cold, dead-seeming water from the brown hibernating grass. I stood for a moment and stared out across the irregular surface of the Sound, searching for, and finding, the small bobbing image of the scow, making for the blue- hazed mainland to the east. As I watched, an incongruous movement caught my eye. A wiggling black line drew my attention about fifty yards from the beach. As I watched, a flat, diamond-shaped head undulated to the fore of the squirming bod, questing occasionally, for what I had no idea. It was obviously a water snake of some sort, but I thought I had seen the last of them before the weather turned. It appeared to fix its gaze on me for an instant, then dived until I lost it completely.

Giving the ophidian apparition no further thought, I turned away and walked along to the little gut that severed the main island from the smaller one. The boathouse had been situated on this smaller piece of land because the coast favored it, having a deep natural indentation that made a good place for the dock and boathouse. I turned inland again, until I came to the little plank bridge that connected the two islands. I glanced into the gray-tinted brown water of the gut, mulling over the possibility of crossing over, when a sudden squirming near the shadow of the bridge made me look there.

Again, to my surprise, I made out the coiling form of a water snake, its sinuous body gleaming sleekly as it huddled against the black-shot sand of the island. This time, it was not alone, as I picked out the yard-long silhouette of another, the dirty-white scales of its body flashing as it tumbled along in the stream. I shuddered at this, never having seen so many snakes about the island, even in hot weather. No birds, no animals, but these slimy monstrosities seemed to be in abundance.

It was then I heard Thomas' screams.

His hoarse bawl broke the nervous sluggishness that I had been falling into, and I turned from the bridge and raced up the low hill to the looming house. I banged open the front door, calling Thomas' name. Receiving no answer, I rushed into the kitchen. He was not there. I looked where I prayed he would not be. My heart pulsed ice instead of blood when I saw that the basement door was wide open. What had Thomas encountered down there to make him holler so? I thought about seeking out the shotgun in the closet, but why? We were alone on the island.

The light was on down there, and I stood in the doorway and looked down. My vantage point was not a good one, but I could see one wall completely. Thomas was plastered against it, his hands clawing frantically at the rough gray concrete, red face stretched in soundless terror, colorless eyes wide and staring at something out of my sight. Slowly, cautiously, I descended the stairs.

Thomas directed his apoplectic gaze at me the instant he heard my tread upon the steps. His thick lips tried to form words, but they trembled and shook, and no sound came from them. I continued downward, and he constantly alternated his face from me to whatever was frightening him at my right. When I had traveled about halfway down, I leaned below the frame of the staircase to bring my gaze below the level of the floor above. The jumble of palleted crates had been moved, and in the raw luminescence of the unshaded bulb near my head, I saw that which to this day I am unable to describe adequately, even though you wring the details from me.

Was this the culmination of my brother's mysterious work down here in this damp, stifling world? It was man-sized, hunched and gnarled as it groped almost blindly amongst the crates. Piscine scales the size of my hand coated its rubbery body, gleaming iridescently in the naked light. The head was long and repulsive, with an icthyic mouth agape and lined with ridgy teeth. The lidless eyes swivelled in the circular sockets, and the slit-like gills beneath its jaws pulsated abhorrently. Flabby webbed claws flailed palsiedly at the ends of anthropoid arms, and the thing stood upon splayed feet, scimitar-like nails scratching against the damp concrete floor. Behind it, I saw with horror how this unclean thing had gained egress, for in the floor of the basement was an irregular gap in the cement, a mud-rimmed hole from which I could hear the sucking gurgle of the sea!

The blasphemous thing directed its remorseless eyes at me and mewled obscenely. I became aware of a miasmal odor permeating the room, far exceeding the musty smell normally associated with damp basements. I stared at this Neptunic horror, wondering if it had been bidden by Jonathan, or had come of its own accord. It appeared confused rather than belligerent, the sudden activating of the light by Thomas probably startling it into inaction.

Apparently, it was unaccustomed to bright lights, but I could tell that it was focusing its attention on me now. Its hissing tongue was unlike anything human, but it was evidently attempting to convey some concept to me. Perhaps its assaulted senses took me for Jonathan, I cannot be sure.

Finding my voice, I shouted: "What do you wish here? What is your business?"

It cried on in its steam-engine voice, gesturing with one malformed paw at the worktable ahead of me. There upon the varnished pine planks of the table lay an object I had never seen before. It was a small, asymmetrical box, made of some yellowish metal. The object was encrusted with barnacles and lay in a lucid pool of water, appearing as if it had lain for some time at the bottom of the sea. I returned my attention to the inhuman creature that had burrowed into the cellar using an undreamed of accuracy, exhibiting amazing strength. I pointed to the jagged hole in the concrete that the thing had split asunder like rotten cloth.

"Back to your hole, wretch!" I commanded. "Return to the abyss that spawned you. Go!"

The thing turned, again flapping its disfigured hands, and began to descend into the burrow that called gurglingly as water sloshed in and out of its convoluted tunnel. As soon as the repugnant head dipped below the crumbling perimeter of cement, I clambered down the stairs and rushed to that awful cavity into insanity. Only brown water met my vision, layered iridescently with some bubbling, oily material.

With an oath, I dragged the nearest pallet to conceal that odorous hole, then began to drag crates over it, my muscles performing wonders as I stacked crate upon crate. This whirl of activity brought Thomas from his stupor, and he moved forward unsteadily to assist me until we had formed a wooden pyramid over that ghastly sinus. Exhausted, we staggered backward, and I turned to the slime- coated object that had been left by that unspeakable profanity.

"Why did you disobey Jonathan?" I demanded as we approached the worktable.

"I didn't like what was a'goin' on here, the way he was treatin' you," breathed Thomas hoarsely. "I was bound'n determined to come down here and see what he was a'doin' down here. I seen you through too many hard times to let that batty little sucker a'drive you crazy, damn me if I did."

I fought back an urge to hug him for his noble loyalty, and bent to the encrusted case on the table. As I said, it was metal, and I noted odd bas-reliefs on its surface beneath its coating of barnacles. At first I thought it to be a solid object, but examination revealed a thin line and hinges on one side. A knife from the worktable enabled me to pry the lid off, and it sprang back easily to reveal the amazing contents of its interior.

Immediately, a purplish glow sprang from the box, pulsing iridescence that seemed to have a life of its own. Within was the stone depicted in my great-great grandfather's portrait, gleaming blackly along the angles of its polished uneven sides. Seven struts connected the inner walls of the box to a metal band encompassing the stone. Red striations arced here and there through the irregular polyhedron, and I thought that the thing was translucent. Here it was, laying nonchalantly on my father's worktable, the cause of our being driven to this lonely island. This was the thing my brother had made unspeakable alliances to gain. By pure chance, I became the first Bowen in over a century to behold the Shining Trapezohedron.

As I stood there gazing at its alien beauty, I sensed movement within its crystalline sides. Where this stone had been brought from, and how it was that Enoch Bowen had found it in Egypt, I knew not, but it was clearly possessed of a power beyond anything on this earth. I drew nearer and tried to make out the Trapezohedron's interior. Like peering through sunglasses, what I glimpsed within that object were tinted darkly. I thought I saw worlds, vast and uncharted by any astronomer, swirling orbs that drifted through the void, dotted with monumental cities. Were these the cities my brother alluded to, Shaggai, Yaddith, Yuggoth? Malignant, anomalous shapes writhed and pulsated in the ether between these planets, the most repulsive of which was the most Profane. Gigantic and distorted, this being was both amazing and shuddersome. Long, ropy arms extended on either side, and the prodigious head that surmounted the outlandish ophidian body was dreadful and stupefying. Issuing from its voluminous mouth was a seemingly endless scarlet tentacle, writhing and vibrating in the soundlessness of that alien jewel.

With an effort, I drew myself away from that terrible vision and turned to Thomas' ashen face. I feared him to be near a stroke, and even now I feel him to have been unbalanced by this affair, especially in the light of his subsequent testimony.

"What is that thing?" he demanded, lips still trembling equinely.

"It's what my brother has been looking for," I replied.

"And—that—that fish man—or whatever the hell it was—it brought that box here. Oh my gawd, Mr. Bowen, what was it? I ain't never seen nothin' like that in these waters, and I'll be sixty next year. It weren't like no creature on earth. Where did your brother a'call it from?"

"From the darkest abysses of the ocean. It's part of a monstrous scheme, that at first I thought ridiculous. Now, I am beginning to believe that the Bowen's are a family endowed with power, linked inextricably to the beings of the outer cosmos. We must do something about Jonathan. He goes too far. I want you to accompany me to the mainland. We are going to get some concrete and fill this accursed pit. Get the work boat ready."

"You want me to fetch the shotgun?"

"Mad though he is, I refuse to shoot my own brother, and I don't think lead shot will be much good against something that can split concrete like tin foil."

I stopped in the house only long enough to scrape together what cash lay about the house. I was agitated then, and not thinking too clearly. I wanted to stop Jonathan's work, but I was unsure how. I only knew that Jonathan's madness threatened to engulf me, Thomas, and perhaps the entire world.

As I hurried to the boathouse, I could not help but scan the metallic water of the gut when I clomped over the plank bridge. The two snakes were still there, strangely quiescent, exhibiting tendencies more in line with the cool temperature. In the boathouse, Thomas had started the inboard gasoline engine on the twenty-foot work boat that was used for heavy loads. Taking up the waterproof gear once more, I boarded the larger vessel, shuddering at the empty space usually occupied by the scow.

Thomas took the steering wheel and shoved forward on the throttle, ejecting us rather abruptly from the boathouse and out onto the achromatic surface of the Sound, the day dominated by a weak and pallid sun that peered through the gauzy curtains of cloud blurring the sky. We were off. III The day ended all too soon, and twilight had thrown its mantle over Tangier Sound as Thomas and I motored back from Deal Island. Our mission had been successful, our draft lowered several inches by the dozen or so bags of concrete distributed about the work boat. I had also managed to find a few panels of sheet steel, with the idea that I would reinforce the cement as best I could.

I reflected back on my quiet, if sheltered, life before Jonathan's tumultuous arrival. Without electricity, my life had been one of studious reading, illuminated by gaslights unchanged since the house had been built in Victorian times. Television and its popular- culture mirroring had never really interested me, being too shallow for one of my intelligence. I wanted to see the real world, not some diluted image flickering within the confines of its electronic prison. Now, an unreality had intruded upon my ordered existence, a cosmic awfulness whose ties to my family I had never fully appreciated.

The boathouse door was still open, and the rear of the scow glowed whitely from its depths. Thomas cut the motor and we slid in beside it. He secured the lines and I gained the dock. Thomas moved quickly to join me, and I am not sure whether it was out of concern for me, or merely a fear of being alone.

A sallow, full moon hung over the rising landscape as I exited the boathouse and approached the mansion through the muddying gloom. Even before I was within a hundred yards of the bridge between the islands I could hear the sibilant rustling and sloshing in the gut.

Undeterred, but with rising fear, I put one foot on the planks of the bridge and leaned over the rail. Only a yard below me was a squirming boiling mass that writhed in the scanty light. Never had I seen such a chaotic scene, flat triangular heads bobbing and darting in the dark waters. Snakes! Yes, anomalous as it may seem, even more of the reptilian menaces had arrived, their prodigious numbers animating the turbulent liquid until it seethed. I felt as if there presence was more than a freak of nature, almost as if they were guarding the approach to the mansion.

Behind me, I could hear Thomas start loudly. "Oh my gawd," he gasped as he viewed the infested gut. "How are we gonna get to the house through them?"

"Certainly they are but common water snakes," I reasoned. "They have no intelligence, and are not poisonous, at any rate."

"I wouldn't want ta stake my life on that statement. I think we oughta get some things from the boathouse."

"What things?" I demanded. "Tonight is no time to unload the boat. We can take care of things in the morning."

"We got to get by them black sons o'Satan 'fore we do anything."

He turned back to the boathouse and I followed him curiously. He unlocked the door to the adjacent storage shed from his ring of keys and flipped on the light. He rummaged around inside for a few minutes and came out with a machete that sported a three foot blade. Then, he ducked into the boathouse and returned with one of the red- painted gas cans that we use to fill the tanks of the boats.

"This may not even be necessary," I told him as we marched back to the bridge.

The frenzied writhing was unabated as I prepared to cross the bridge. I trod the boards unsteadily, expecting a vile rush from below. Suddenly, the appendaged mass stilled, the viperous bodies floating supinely in the gleaming water of the gut. When I had crossed completely, I rotated to watch Thomas' progress.

"Come on," I urged. "They've calmed down."

His longish face was dubious, but he advanced resolutely, still clutching the machete and gas can. Before he was two steps onto the planking, the serpentine thrashing renewed, water splashing up over the edge of the bridge. A dropped-bomb whistling erupted from the gut, and the golf-club silhouettes of water snake heads popped up on the shoreline at either end of the bridge.

"Thomas!" I called, fear making my heart surge. "They mean to cut you off!"

Thomas uncapped the gas can swiftly, its lid twinkling like a flipped coin as it disappeared into the shadows. With wide swinging motions, he poured its contents in glittering arcs on either side of the wooden bridge. The hissing accelerated to a vile shrieking, and wriggling forms could be seen coiling about the railing of the bridge. Flame sprouted in Thomas' hands and it sailed comet-like onto the surface of the gut.

Fire flashed and bulged in white and yellow blossoms as the gasoline ignited and burst in bluey tongues along the length of the water. In its lurid glow I could see twisting forms, hundreds of snakes writhing in their death-throes. The cascading flames threatened to engulf Thomas, but he pulled his coat over his head and rushed headlong across the bridge, pausing only to strike out with the machete and bisect one of the snakes that was blocking his path.

With one more leap, he was beside me, and the radiance of the flames made me sweat as I watched he timbers of the bridge begin to catch and blacken. Thomas' soot-swept face was set and grim, the fear evaporating in the energy of the moment.

"Ain't there some sayin' about burnin' yer bridges?" he asked me as we resumed our advance on the house.

"I don't know if it was meant to be literal," I replied.

Up the low hill we went, the mansion squatting evilly before us, a rugose shape against the bilious, protuberant moon. My mind was churning, visions of the myriad blasphemous things I had experienced in the last few weeks lashing me mercilessly. I had to deal with Jonathan, to detrack his scheme to become one with that gnawing chaos, Nyarlathotep, that outer being who wielded so much power. In the radiance of the burning bridge, I could see his spare form on the porch—waiting.

As we drew near him, I noticed that he was dressed in a long, black robe, like a priest or sorcerer might don. It clung to him like a negative thing, leaving his long, bony arms protruding palely from the voluminous sleeves. Red spots seemed to dance like living things upon his face as his eyes reflected the fire. I could still feel its heat upon my back, seeming to push me forward with waves of hot air.

Jonathan's arms were spread, and his face was set in an almost mad caricature, large teeth twinkling as his lips uncurled in a leer that made me shudder. I stopped at the bottom step and looked up at him, trying to appear resolute.

"So, Edward, you did not flee as I had supposed from viewing your handiwork in the basement," he greeted, his voice strained.

"No, Jonathan, I was casting about for a way to put an end to your insane dealings before you destroy us all," I replied.

"Insane! It is you who are insane, brother. The Bowen family has been given the opportunity to become leaders in a new order. The Mighty Messenger from the throne of Azathoth will come to Earth, and we shall begin the task of eradicating the human fungus that has overgrown this planet until the time is right for the return of the Great Old Ones. From Aldebaran will Hastur the Unspeakable filter, and from the depths of the sea will rise R'lyeh the tomb-city of Cthulhu. Beyond time and space, Yog-Sothoth dwells, awaiting the day when the stars will align and Earth will shine as the jewel of the cosmos. Join me brother, chant the chant of the ages! Together, we shall call up the Black Pharaoh."

As he spoke, again, a hell-spawned wind whipped up from the Sound, plastering the ebon robe against Jonathan and outlining his spare form in its billowing folds. Witch-fire danced along the lightning rods on the roof, and unknown sounds gibbered and shrieked in the wind. Power crackled all about me, and I could feel a sensation like white fire coursing through my body, yet I did not flee. Was I not also a Bowen?

"Seven and nine, down the onyx steps," howled my brother, "on the wings of night out beyond space, to that whereof Yuggoth is the youngest child, rolling alone in black aether at the rim..."

"Wait, brother, is now the time?" I called. "What of the Shining Trapezohedron?"

"Into it have I stared!" he mouthed, voice high and breaking. "I have seen the gulf of space, the planets like jewels. He is coming, I have glimpsed his shape, and we shall be one."

I could feel the opening of the way, the yawning of the abyss of lightless space. Above the bleating wind, I could hear the flap of titanic wings, and a billowing foulness crept over the face of the moon. Only the reddish pulse of the fire lit the scene now, and I fancied that I could see that terrible, three-lobed burning eye. Everything on the island was changing. Subtly, even the basest items seemed different, askew. I felt my consciousness swimming, but I remembered the words of Robert Blake: "What am I afraid of? Is it not an avatar of Nyarlathotep who in antique and shadowy Khem even took the form of man?"

"Death to the human slugs!" Jonathan cried out. "The avatar of Nyarlathotep is here! The reptile minions of Yig and the Deep Ones of Cthulhu have done his bidding. The stone has brought him. Ia! Ia!"

"The snakes do not obey you," I retorted. "They fell silent at my approach."

"They knew you to be a Bowen," he returned. "Do not interrupt my thoughts. I must be open to the entrance of Nyarlathotep. I open my arms. 'And He shall put on the semblance of men, the waxen mask and the robe that hides...'"

"'...and come down from the world of Seven Suns to mock...'" I finished the quotation. "The snakes are stupid. They could not know I was a Bowen. Only Yig, father of serpents, could order them not to bite a human. They bow down only to the Great Old Ones."

"No!" Jonathan screamed. "I am the vessel of the avatar! I, and only I, have looked into the depths of the Shining Trapezohedron!! My thoughts, trapped in its crystalline sides, have enabled the avatar to cross the black universe beyond the light. Dark is light and light is dark. Come into me, Nyarlathotep!"

"What," I asked him, "if you were but a pawn of Nyarlathotep? What if you were just a tool, a means of getting the stone back to where the receptacle and the avatar could be mated? Why would Nyarlathotep wish one as mad as you to cloud his thoughts as he dwelt in your body?"

"You're wrong! You're a fool, blind jealous fool! You wish the power for yourself! It is mine alone. Bow down, the moment is at hand. The Crawling Chaos is unleashed upon humanity. Ia! Ia! Nyarlathotep, Great Messenger, bringer of strange joy to Yuggoth through the void, Father of the Million Favored Ones, Stalker among..."

That is when Jonathan collapsed from a stroke and broke his neck on the steps at my very feet.

EPILOGUE

This concludes the deposition you have asked me to draw up. In addition, I wish to add that I feel I have been very co-operative with the various authorities, notwithstanding the way I have been treated by the minions of the law. I felt I was very hospitable to the marine policeman that Thomas frantically summoned on the short-wave. I put down some new planks to replace the ones consumed in the fire so that he could come across and examine my brother. Certainly there is no cause to have me reside in that damp cell any longer. Obviously, Jonathan died of a broken neck, I was there. I don't see why I must be held here any longer because of Thomas' ravings. I told you before that these distressing events unbalanced him.

There is absolutely no truth to his statement that, as I stood before Jonathan, my face split wide and a single, blood-red tentacle lashed out and strangled my brother.

THE END