Every community has a dark side, a sordid past - and Harbinger Island has the darkest shades of all. Professor Bartleby Prouse is obsessed with the secrets and occult conspiracies surrounding the island's myriad unsolved murders and mysteries. He'll need all his magic and cunning if he is to protect his students after they unwittingly draw the attention of one of the island's most insidious cults.
The floor creaked noisily beneath his feet with each step he made, causing his heart to shudder, fearful of being caught. Two rows of soggy wooden pews atop a moth-eaten and moldy carpet lined each side of the narrow building. There was a small stage with an altar and pulpit with every inch covered in a decade's worth of candle-wax. Similarly melted candles lined the sills of a disturbing panorama of stained glass windows, each depicting impossible creatures overlooking mounds of corpses built into the walls of factories and incomprehensible machinery. The largest window standing at the back was of a great humanoid figure. Its face was obscured in shadow. The rest of its body was covered in scales and gills, and far too many eyes lined its bulging stomach. This figure alone had a name emblazoned across a scroll pane at the bottom: SA'LOTHE.READ MORE
For a moment, it appeared like a light had passed over the scarlet lettering. Bartleby left the heavy book on the edge of one of the pews and crept cautiously closer to the pulpit. Just beneath the window sill was an open trap door containing a flickering light gradually lowering into a cascading darkness. He kept quiet for several minutes, watching until the light vanished from view.
Bartleby took a deep breath, and waited for his desperate need for answers to overcome all the senses screaming for him to flee. These moments of clarity passed and he was able to descend the ladder without hesitation. Each rung down he thought would be the last, only to find the floor still swallowed up by the void beneath him. That dark descent allowed him plenty of time to conjure wild imaginings of an endless ladder where he'd simply be climbing down forever.
After what felt like an eternity, he finally reached the bottom. He could barely see in the pitch darkness, only the cavernous walls around him. He stumbled his way towards one of the walls and attempted to place his hand against it, only to find it falling through. He held his breath to keep from crying out as his bare shin scraped against the rocky ground, cutting it.
Standing, he felt his way around the crevice. There appeared to be something thin and bumpy lying inside of it. He blinked several times and peered closer. His eyes were still adjusting to the overwhelming blackness but he was almost certain he could perceive – he quickly removed his hand from what was most definitely a human skeleton. One of the bones crumbled to dust in his hand. He clamped his clean hand over his mouth to keep from letting out a startled yelp. This place was a tomb.
Footsteps echoing from a turn in the corridor to the right alerted him to his real purpose down below. He followed as quietly as he could, keeping one hand flat along the sides of the walls, though obviously taking care not to disturb any more of the skeletal remains buried within.
The man travelling ahead was walking slowly, with an old cigarette lighter held high over his head in one hand and a pistol aimed in front of him with the other. He had all the looks of some grizzled 30's noir detective stereotype, complete with fedora and trench coat, but with none of the confident gait or swagger. His hands were shaking and covered with sweat, and he looked like he hadn't shaved in weeks.
As Bartleby drew closer, he noticed that the man's clothes were wrinkled and dirty, as if he had been sleeping in them for the past several days. He had to wonder if the man had slept at all, considering the thick dark circles beneath his bloodshot eyes.
All the while Bartleby followed him, keeping to the shadows and out of the light. He found he would have to duck into a corner at random times, for the man would swing around, darting his eyes from side to side, like a frightened rat scanning the room for predators. The man would repeatedly mutter quietly to himself in a quivering voice.
At the far back were two statues of strange humanoid creatures with gills and fins; a lone pedestal stood between them. At the center of the room was another pedestal and a silver basin. He took a step back, letting out a muttered swear word in shock and horror as he lifted the lighter over a gruesome, blood-splattered sight.
The light danced across the fully-nude corpse of a man strung up on wires, his rib-cage exposed, his skull crushed inward like a tin can after being kicked and stepped on. The body was positioned so that its blood would drip into the basin in ritualistic fashion. Bartleby stumbled back, clasping a hand over his mouth too late to stifle a horrified cry.
In a startled movement, the man turned his gun on Bartleby. He froze and almost started crying then and there. They both stared, regarding each other, unsure of how to act.
The man didn't even think about lowering his gun. "Kid. Did anyone else come with you?"
Bartleby shook his head.
The man marched forwards, pushing Bartleby to the side to veer around the corner. He checked, and then double-checked again. He made a sigh that sounded like a quiet sob and retreated back into the room of horror, where he didn't so much lean against the wall as he collapsed against it.
"What are you doing here?" Bartleby asked.
"Could ask the same of you." The man kept making nervous glances just over Bartleby's shoulder.
"I've been staying with my grandfather, but he died today. I'm Bartleby," Bartleby whispered. He couldn't take his eyes off the corpse dangling from the ceiling.
The man stared for a few more seconds before muttering, "Tombs, Harold Tombs. Listen, kid. You gotta get out of here. These people … there's something not right with them."
"And what were you here for, Mr. Tombs?" Bartleby's voice shook.
Harold glanced towards the corpse and made an involuntary shudder. "Grocery clerk went missing three weeks ago. Had plans to marry old man Marsh's daughter, and was going to invite his family down here for the wedding. Wedding never happened so they called me to investigate. Think I found my man."
"Fuck," Bartleby whispered.
Harold did a double-take. Maybe it was exhaustion overriding the paranoia but he found himself laughing a little. "You got a filthy mouth kid, ya know that?"
They were interrupted by the sounds of footsteps echoing through the caverns. They were heavy and many and coming closer. Voices droned, blubbering and scarcely passable as human. Harold stiffened and quickly moved between Bartleby and the open hallway, gun aimed down the corridor.
"I don't think they'll want to catch you down here," he whispered. "Hide, and don't come out until it’s safe."
Bartleby looked at him and his eyes widened in worry. "Don't do this. You'll die."
Harold gave a gruff chuckle. "Probably, kid. Be good. Do something cool with your life, I guess."
Bartleby said nothing. His eyes were itching and red. He turned and ran into the large room where he hid behind one of the sinister-looking statues. He sat there with tears streaming endlessly down his cheeks as the sounds of gunshots and screams echoed through the halls. He wondered if his ears would ever stop ringing.COLLAPSE
Rainbow Awards 2017
- Honourable Mention
- 2nd in Best LGBT Anthology/Collection
- 5th in Best LGBT Book
Length: 84,500 words/322 pages