The Shadow Over Desmoines


(This story is a parody of the work of the well-known horror writer, H.P. Lovecraft. If you are not familiar with his style, you might find it a bit puzzling.)

My hand trembles as I pick up the pen to begin this chronicle. Every fiber of my being recoils from the thought of reliving the events that led to my incarceration in this house of madness. However, my doctors here are convinced that writing about my "delusions", as they call them, will help to purge me of them. I have my doubts. The lights here in the hospital burn day and night, and we are always attended, but this does not dispel the irremediable darkness in my soul, nor assuage my awful loneliness.

Still, I will make an effort.

It began six months ago. I moved to Iowa to make a new start, after my dear wife passed away and I suffered a moderately severe heart attack. I had been a newspaperman in our small New England town, but my cardiologist recommended that I retire from that relatively demanding occupation. After Evelyn's passing, I was troubled by nightmares, distorted melanges of disturbing imagery suffused with a indescribable sense of horror. In coming to Des Moines, I sought peace, a respite from my grief-induced visions. Iowa, I reasoned, would be the essence of normality, sanity, midwestern friendliness and common sense.

How mistaken I was in my sanguine rationalization.

I purchased a pleasant, sunny bungalow on a quiet, maple-lined street near the bus line. Once I had settled in, with my books and my records neatly stored, I looked forward to days of reading and contemplation, interspersed with an occasional fishing trip, and tranquil nights. At first, it seemed that I had achieved my objectives. I slept soundly and dreamlessly. I took long walks, and made a start on the book that I had always planned to write. I became friendly with Horace Farmer, the librarian at the neighborhood branch, who I discovered enjoyed a game of chess, a beer, and a philosophical discussion as much as I did. Though I am nearer fifty than sixty, my heart problems have left me somewhat frail. I welcomed the opportunity to relax and appreciate the deliberate pace of midwestern life.

I met Leonora Gratsky two weeks after I moved in. She appeared at my door with a home-baked blueberry pie and an irresistible smile. Though properly, even primly, dressed, and extremely well-spoken, she radiated some indefinable quality of carnality that made me distinctly uncomfortable. Leonora was petite, with sharp elfin features. I could not refrain from noticing the voluptuous curves of bosom and derriere under her high-necked blouse and calf-length skirt. Her gray-streaked black hair was pulled into a conservative bun, but when I looked into her dark eyes, I saw an untrammeled sensuality that simultaneously attracted and appalled me.

We conversed in a neighborly fashion for several minutes. Apparently, she inhabited the house across the street, a dwelling somewhat larger than mine but equally neat and ordinary. Perhaps the gardens surrounding it grew a bit more wild and rank than was typical on our street, but the place appeared to be in good repair. I told myself that different people have different standards, although somehow the lush vines tumbling over her fence and creeping across the sidewalk engendered an inexplicable uneasiness in my soul.

She lived with her nephew Frederick, she told me, a strapping young man of twenty five year who, unfortunately, had the intellect of a child of seven. He was a comfort, managing the heavier tasks around the house and never causing any trouble. Since her husband passed on two years ago, she was especially glad of Frederick's company.

Leonora encouraged me to drop by and visit anytime, but I doubted that I would take advantage of her offer. Shivers ran down my spine as I watched her swaying hips retreat down my path and across the street to her own dwelling. Nevertheless, I found my body reacted to her as if I were fifteen intead of fifty four. I had to spend a quarter of an hour reading Popular Mechanics before my tumescence subsided.

I tried to forget my curvaceous and disturbing neighbor. Despite my best intentions, I found myself looking over toward her house from my window, both night and day, straining to catch a glimpse of her. I never saw her, though occasionally I discerned a hulking male figure shambling around the place, dragging heavy black bags of trash. I assumed that this must be the feeble-minded nephew. I like to think of myself as compassionate toward those less fortunate than myself, but something about his fleshy form and beetling brow repelled me.

During the second week of my surveillance, I began to notice unusual lights emanating from the cellar windows after midnight and faint bilious rays leaking through the curtains on the first floor. One night, I awoke with my heart thudding madly in my chest, thinking that I had heard an unearthly howl from across the street. Her house was dark, yet that anguished cry still echoed in my mind. I reasoned with myself and eventually was able to return to my slumbers. After that experience, however, my nightmares began to reassert themselves.

This was about the time that the disappearances started. The first person to go missing was Ed Murphy, who owned the convenience store on the next block. One Tuesday, the store remained closed. No one thought much of it for a day or two. We all assumed that Ed had a touch of the summer flu or something. Eventually, though, someone got alarmed and called the police.

They were very close-mouthed about it. There were no details in the paper, just a brief article indicating that he was missing. Ed was a bachelor, and his sister Louise offered a reward for any information about him. Mrs. Sweeney, my neighbor next door, whispered over the fence that the police had found a dirty magazine in his bedroom, floating in a pool of malodorous slime. Knowing her penchant for gossip and her tendency to embroider on the facts, I paid her little heed. Still, I could not shake off the nameless dread which hung over my well-ordered Iowa life like some inchoate shadow of evil.

Jimmy Alvarez was next. He was seventeen-year-old motorcycle enthusiast with a wild reputation. The neighborhood assumed that he must have run away to California to become a rock and roll star, just as he always had threatened. But his girlfriend tearfully swore that he would never have left without telling her. She claimed that something awful had befallen him.

Mostly likely, nobody noticed the third victim but me. Old Joe was a kindly hobo who appeared at my backdoor every Monday, like clockwork, looking for a handout. I had written a series of stories for the paper on the hobo life, years ago. I had even tried riding the rails. So I had a soft spot in my heart for old Joe, though his clothes were stained tatters and he reeked of cheap wine. I always had some food and a castoff shirt or wornout pair of bluejeans ready for him.

The Monday after Ed was missed, though, Joe did not show up. The next Monday was the same. I knew that if I consulted the police, they would simply shrug. It was a tramp's nature to roam. I knew, though, with an eldritch knowledge, that he had suffered some unspeakable fate.

The mysterious absences, the virid lights from the dwelling opposite, and the intensifying horror of my dreams finally convinced me to seek some assistance. I invited Horace over for an evening and confessed to him my suspicions and my dread. I feared that he would find my concerns laughable, but he took me quite seriously.

"I've been thinking myself that there's something queer and wrong about that place across the street. It was vacant for years, you know. Let me do a bit of research, and see what I can dig up about your Mrs. Gratsky and her curious house."

I felt some relief after unburdening myself to him, and slept more soundly that night than I had in some time.

Horace phoned me the next day, and urged me to come down to the library. He seemed uneasy, as if he did not want to discuss his findings on the telephone. When I arrived at the weathered brick building, he met me at the door, ushered me into his office, and closed the door behind us.

"Sit down," he said, "I've got to talk to you."

"I gather that you have found something out."

He grimaced. "More than I ever wanted to know."

"First off, there's no record of Mrs. Gratsky ever purchasing that house. The last owner, a Mr. Jaynes, died twenty three years ago in suspicious circumstances. The property was willed to a sister in Los Angeles, and as far as I can tell, she is still the owner of record."

"Maybe Mrs. Gratsky is that sister?"

"Not a chance. The sister would be in her eighties now. You told me that your neighbor looked to be about forty five."

I nodded, trying to puzzle things out.

"Before Jaynes, there were several owners dating back to 1903 when the place was built. Every single one either disappeared, or perished in some awful way. One man was found hanging upside down in the cellar with a ivory handled dagger embedded in his throat. Another drowned in his bath, a bath filled not with water but with some kind of glutinous slime rather like thin green jello."

I remembered Mrs. Sweeney's tale, and swallowed hard.

"Even before the house was constructed, though, that spot had an evil reputation. I found an article in the Des Moines Register from 1860, claiming that some local Indian laborers refused to cut down trees or hack away the brush on the property. It was a forbidden spot, they claimed, a haven of the Old Ones. Chinese wouldn't work on the place, either. They called it Verdant Emptiness."

"Hmm. But what does Mrs. Gratsky have to do with all this?"

"I don't know, Mike. But I think we need to find out. Who knows, maybe she kidnapped Ed and Jimmy, and is holding them hostage in that place. Didn't you say that you'd heard some screams?"

I did not want to remember those unnatural sounds, full of indescribable pain. "So what are you proposing, Horace?"

"I think we need to take the bull by the horns, go in there, and investigate."

It was the last thing that I wanted to do. Then I remembered poor Joe, and realized that I had a moral obligation to discover the truth.

How I wish, now, that I had silenced my conscience and stayed far away from that cursed place.

We agreed to attempt an entry in the early evening. Frederick, the nephew, only appeared in the yard during the day, and the eldritch glow had never shone forth before midnight. An hour after dusk, the next day, Horace arrived at my door, holding a flashlight in one hand and a baseball bat in the other. I raised my eyebrows at my usually peaceable friend.

"You never know," he said grimly.

Mrs. Gratsky's gate swung silently open, as if well-lubricated. Soon we were making our way through the rank vegetation that grew so lushly around the house. I imagined that I felt tendrils of that verdure clutching at my ankles as we crept around the side to the basement door. Surprisingly, it was unlocked, and as well-oiled as the gate. With enormous trepidation, we made our way down the stairs and into the the cellar. I had a fleeting notion that we were descending into the maw of hell.

The cellar was dark. Horace switched on his flashlight and played it around the space. At first, it appeared to be reassuringly normal: slightly damp concrete floor, water heater, furnace, sturdy wooden stairs leading up to the first floor. There was a foul odor, though, a foetid miasma of decay that hung heavy in the air. I fought down the nausea that threatened to overwhelm me.

Then Horace's beam illumined the far corner, and we both gasped. Here, the walls were wet and beslimed, coated with some type of algae or mold. On the glistening, damp floor stood something that I can only describe as an altar, a granite block of disturbing proportions. It must have weighed half a ton, and I wondered briefly how it had been conveyed into the cellar. Then I caught sight of the loathesome figure upon the altar, and my gorge rose once again.

The idol was only about a foot high, hewn of some greenish stone. It had some humanoid aspects. That made it all the more blasphemous. I had a brief, confused impression of massed tentacles and staring, empty eye sockets. I squeezed my own eyes shut, unable to look upon such an abomination.

Then there was a sound behind us. We whirled away from the unholy shrine to see Leonora Gratsky slowly descending the stairs. Even in my terrified state, I felt her awful allure. She moved gracefully, seductively, her brilliant eyes fixed unblinking on the two of us.

She was completely naked. At first I thought that she had twined her body in some of the verdant liannas that overran her garden, for her limbs seemed wreathed in traceries of green. Then I realized, with a shock, that her entire body was tatooed with curlicues and fronds that covered her from her neck to her knees. No wonder she wore high-collared blouses and long skirts. It was simultaneously exquisite and terrible.

I wanted to run, but I was transfixed as if this were one of my nightmares. Her luscious breasts, embroidered with malachite veins and tendrils, bounced with each step. Her belly was rounded and full. Her pubis was shaved bare and tatooed with verdure like the rest of her body. I knew deep in my soul that this woman was unspeakably evil, yet my traitorous body roused itself in her presence.

The stench filling the cellar intensified, but suddenly I found it appealing. It heightened my arousal to an unbearable pitch. She reached out her hand, and my member sprang up in answer, literally tearing through the fabric of my trousers. With her other hand, she parted the flesh between her thighs, and began a rhythmic massage. She moistened her lips with her tongue, and I saw the wetness gleaming, on her mouth and on her fingers. My groin hardened to granite, watching, and I knew I was lost.

An anguished moan rent the air. I turned toward its source. My friend Horace was affected as acutely as I, but rather than fighting her obscene attraction, I could see that he had already surrendered. His penis jutted toward the ceiling, weeping moisture onto the concrete. He stroked it in time with Leonora's fingering of her sex. Slowly, he circled the woman's body until he was positioned behind her.

She smiled an evil smile and bent over, arching her back and presenting her tattooed buttocks to him. "Take me, Horace," she hissed, in an inhuman voice that was nothing like her cultured tones. "Take my dark hole, fill me with your slime, mingle your essence with my excrement." No, I wanted to cry out to him, but he was far beyond my influence. His eyes glittered with an unnatural light akin to hers as he grasped her swelling hips and thrust himself into her unhallowed anus.

She sighed, as if in ecstasy, and closed her eyes for a moment. In that instant, I was free and I thought to run, but then she fixed me again with that gaze, and I was helpless. Her form shuddered each time my friend thrust into her bowels. Still she smiled. With both hands she opened her sex and showed me the slick folds. The odor of decay grew stronger than ever. I had to have her, had to sink myself deep into that cavern of shadow.

"Come, Michael. I am yours." Was she speaking aloud, or somehow projecting her thoughts into my mind? I fought against her desperately, even as my whole body ached to submerge itself in her.

"You cannot escape. You are mine. You are His, the Ancient One who is before and after all. Come to me." She reached out toward me, and then, horror of horrors, so did her sex. Green, foul-smelling tentacles emerged from her vagina, twining toward me, seeking my flesh. Writhing and dripping, they inched toward my rampant cock. Indescribable terror seized me, and yet I could not move. Some part of me yearned for it, craved this sickening, alien caress.

A piercing wail filled the cellar suddenly, keening higher and higher until it seemed no earthly voice. I looked at Horace, still plowing Leonora's back passage. He was wreathed in slimy tentacles which appeared to emanate from the orifice in which he was embedded. They swayed softly around him, undulating, emitting a greenish luminescence like putrefying flesh. One had wrapped itself around his neck and was gradually drawing tighter. He wrenched himself from the fiend's flesh and I saw that others had wound themself around his engorged penis, milking him even as he was strangled.

My own erection swelled suddenly, bringing me to brink. Looking down, I saw in horror a slimy tendril of flesh waving just above my organ. It brushed against my taut skin, and I was simultaneously flooded with horror and overcome by lust.

"No!" I screamed, even as I pumped my seed onto the cement. I wrenched myself away from her, and then, with some kind of mad intuition, I turned to the corner and seized the idol. The stone was cold as a vacuum, burning my flesh. My whole being crawled with revulsion at the touch of the thing. Still, I held it above my head and turned to face the creature that had been Leonora.

Her smile had fled. Her expression was baleful, distorted by anger and fear. "No," she hissed. "You must not..."

"Release him!" I cried. "Release him, and return to the abyss from which you come." I threw the idol at her, aiming for her sex, thinking to dislodge the tentacles. She howled as if wounded, and lunged at me, curved claws emerging from her fingertips. Greenish ichor leaked from her, and several severed tentacles writhed upon the floor.

I do not understand what happened next. There was a roaring in my ears that grew in volume until I was deafened. Huge cracks appeared in the basement floor. Unearthly light streamed upwards from the bowels of the earth, and a cloud of reeking vapor filled the cellar, interfering with my vision. Leonora's body crumpled and shrivelled, becoming less human by the moment. The stench was unbearable.

There was a heavy tread upon the stair. Frederick's hulking form appeared, disgustingly naked and horribly decorated like that of his aunt. When he saw her, he opened his mouth in what must have been an awful cry. I could not hear, but I could read the words on his lips: "Mother..."

The floor continued to fracture and crumble. I looked for Horace, thinking to drag him to safety. Even as I caught sight of him through the thickening miasma, a crevasse opened beneath him and he was swallowed by the earth.

I made my way up the stairs and out to the yard, deaf, blinded, suffocating. The burgeoning vines flailed wildly, snaking around my ankles as I ran, but I had a strength born of desperation. I sprinted through the gate and across the street. As I reached my front steps, I heard a thunderous noise that penetrated even through my deafness. I turned just in time to see Leonora Gratsky's house disintegrate and tumble into the void that had opened beneath it.

My heart pounds painfully in my chest as I remember. The sweat pours from my brow. The foetor of evil seems to linger faintly in my nostrils. The sweet blonde nurse heard me cry out; she has brought me a sedative. She watches, encouraging me, as I obediently swallow the pill.

They tell me that there never was a house across from mine. They say that particular lot in that comfortable neighborhood in that friendly city of Des Moines has been vacant for more than a century. They tell me that Horace Farmer moved to Indiana to live with his brother. They insist that my breakdown was triggered by the loss of my wife and the physical strain of my heart condition. I will be on the road to recovery, they say, when I admit that all this horror has its seat within my own mind.

I sit watching the moon rise over the flat landscape and think about the little nurse. My penis grows and thickens. I close my eyes, and I feel the slimy dance of otherworldy appendages across my flesh. 



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