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[The Runner in the Dark]

[by Gail 'Lovecraft' Simone]


…And so it came to pass that we disembarked from our traincar into a nest of genuine desperation — the squalid and faded assemblage of cheerless wooden buildings could only be called a “town” at all if one were possessed of an excess of Christian charity. For two weary travelers from England, the flat and vaguely green fields which swallowed the horizon in every direction could not have been less inviting — there was a sense of otherness, of elsewhere that was both pervasive and oppressive. We had traveled to that most rural of states, and within moments of our arrival, it was as if the landscape itself were making us unwelcome.

The porter made motion to carry our bags to our previously-arranged transport, but my manservant Ambrose would not, of course, allow such familiarity. Ambrose is more than a servant, in some ways. There is tremendous dignity in his devotion to duty, and he’s been a steadfast aide in my adventures at all costs. There are days I’d almost call him ‘friend,’ in fact, despite his lack of formal education.

I would need to stitch his fortitude with mine, if the letters I had received about the area bore any truth in them. A schoolmate of mine had become chaplain at Arkham University, and had written (he being aware of my keen interest in the unknown) to tell me of the strange goings-on in the small village where a distant relation of his had a third-generation residence. It was to this humble farm we were headed, and it was there we would board while my investigation continued.

And it was here, while still at the ‘station,’ that we encountered the first rumour that the grim circumstances described in my school chum’s letter were indeed of a kind with the truth.

[* * * * *]

It was my friend’s relation, Mr. Machen, come to fetch us to his home…Only, he had brought neither buggy nor team, and the absurdity of the situation had yet to take firm hold. He was both tall and stout, wearing hardy farmer’s clothes and rather a sour expression. He stood as straight and tall as the unripe wheat which surrounded us like solidiers storming a castle, and yet, it was clear that he was tired, as though he carried a burden we could not as yet see.

“Horses won’t come here no more,” explained Machen, by way of introduction. “We’ll have to use the footpath.”

“But surely, our bags…?,” I exclaimed, aghast.

“T’aint far. Your man and I’ll carry them, you don’t want to help.”

And so, that is what we did.

[* * * * *]

Our host was no better company on the blessedly brief journey to his farm. My few attempts at chat had produced stunted and awkward results, and so I fell to my own devices as we walked.

But there was something wrong about the place. The feel of it, without doubt…and the more we walked, the more anxious I became, particularly when we finally met the friendly side of what passes for a hillock in these parts and I lost site of the train station. That good symbol of progress and civilization made an unwelcome departure, I’ll admit, and I was loathe to be rid of the sight of it. My unease grew, and I was unable to say why-was it the strangely colourless fields of wheat, or was it the lack of topographical landmarks in any direction? As dusk grew bolder, I thought I detected a faint green luminosity off in the distance to the North. Or was it to the South? My internal compass had never failed me so utterly.

It was Ambrose who finally pointed out what should have been obvious. Here we were, taking a dire constitutional in the very center of American farmland, and there were no animals to be heard. Not a screech-owl, nor a toad, nor even a beetle at work.

When I asked Machen about it, he shrugged. “S’why you were sent for, I reckon,” was his response. “That, and the Blasted Heath Wood.”

Thankfully, we encountered no passersby, as I was soon in no condition for new acquaintances.

[* * * * *]

My first encounters with the oddities of science and nature were completely second-hand–tales told to me by men far more adventurous and perhaps less biblically-inclined than myself. I studied at libraries and campuses and churches. I corresponded with the great arcane explorers of our time, including a New England author who postulated that Earth had been visited by the “Old Ones”; a race of cold and uncaring beings from beyond the stars and with motives beyond human understanding. But eventually, that was not enough for me, and I chose to strike out and experience these things on my own.

Whether through ill-will or ineptitude, my first efforts all ended in failure. A well-publicized expedition to study an infamous Scottish loch came to nothing but public humiliation, and on a search for various grimoires in Istanbul, I had a copy of the Necronomicon in my HANDS, but failed to recognize it, and it was lost forever.

Yet, I was determined, and my resources are vast, fortunately. So, I was able to see the Cherbourg Globster; a twelve-foot-long featureless blob of plasmic residue that washed ashore across the Channel-no scalpel or chisel could cut it, and yet, it remained warm to the touch for three days out of the water and caused those who touched it to feel nausea and inexplicable anger.

I retraced the steps of that great showman, Harry Houdini, and actually spent a terrifying night inside the same pyramid where he claimed to have seen a death-worshipping heathen cult and the monstrous beast that was their god.

There have been other singularities and synchronicities, but it is usually my curse to arrive too late to witness them; rather am I a reporter of the after-effects. But this time, I came while the dew was still on the lily, in a sense.

[* * * * *]

At the farmhouse that night, Machen pere was far more agreeable to talk to, as long as the subjects were firmly agrarian in nature. He spoke of his fields, and how they grew wildly this past decade, and yet, seemed without the internal vigor of the crops from distant farms, as though their nutritive value had been roughly curtailed. He talked of a winter so fearsome that same ten years past, that he had nearly lost all his livestock. Farmer talk, easily forgotten.

His sturdy and kindly wife cooked us a simple meal of salt pork and potatoes. The food was heavily-infused with the taste of brine, but not altogether inedible. For afters, the family crumbled cornbread into bowls with cow’s milk and honey, and I felt obliged to do likewise, though the flavour was not to my liking. Of course, Ambrose refused to eat at the same table as his employer, and as was only proper, ate his meal on the steps of the porch. Sadly but predictably, there was no tea whatsoever.

The Machen’s only child was a quiet and contemplative young miss who wore her oddly drab hair without adornment, in the custom of girls in such simple and pious communities. She had large, downcast eyes that kept furtively glancing to a box in the adjoining occasional room, and she spoke not a word through the meal. Her father spoke to her, not unkindly, “Get Topper, Agatha. Go on, it’s all right,” and the girl gratefully ran off to retrieve a smallish gray kitten from the box, which she brought to me, perhaps for examination, but would not let go from her chest.

“Topper’s the onliest cat left in the whole town, Mister. The others is all dead, fried and tore up like Topper’s mama,” said the girl.

“Lots o’ othern animals, as well,” added Mrs. Machen, from the wash-basin.

Now, much has been made in good English humour over the level of education in farm areas in the States, but I have found that a farmer, or farm girl, need not know the classics to perform their duties with aplomb. So, I asked, without rancor, if I might examine “Topper” more closely.

And indeed, the kitten was frightened. Its little heart beat rapidly, in terror.

I turned to Machen. “Show me where you found the animals’ corpses.”

[* * * * *]

Ambrose, Machen and myself made out for the Blasted Heath Wood, the area where the first animals had been found mutilated, and where the very trees had been scorched, as though doused with unimaginable heat for a few moments only. Machen carried a shotgun, and that left a lantern for Ambrose and one for myself. The going was tricky, and the way silent. When we entered the woods, the trees were blasted black and without leaves.

“Animal mutilations are quite common, really, Mr. Machen. I’ve read of it many times-seen it once or twice, I daresay. Not usually so many and so varied in species, I’ll grant you…,” I said, more to put myself at ease than Machen–And then we stumbled upon a corpse so fresh that steam still danced from its ruined stomach in the chill evening air.

“That’s Ramsey’s horse, lives a mile from here. He’ll be sorry for the news-he prized that nag,” said Machen, matter-of-factly. The horse had been ripped open as though it were a Christmas package and left to die.

“Perhaps we should go back to the farmhouse, Mr. Machen?” I suggested, quite reasonably. “I’m feeling…er…very fatigued, and I’m certain we’d make a better go of it after a good night’s sleep, and in full daylight, don’t you agree?”

We heard an unearthly growling. It seemed to come from all round us, from beyond the blackened trees in every direction.

“Too late,” said Machen, as we saw the ghostly pale figure of a dog with blazing red eyes moving slowly towards us through the trees, the horse’s blood still on his muzzle.

And then, I believe I ran, but I can’t be sure. Machen might’ve yelled to me, but I didn’t hear what he said. I was screaming too loudly, you see.

[* * * * *]

I ran.

[* * * * *]

But not fast enough. I saw Ambrose bathed in eerie twin red beams of light and then he was gone, utterly gone. I heard something behind me that might have been Machen firing off his shotgun, but no more sound came from behind me.

The sounds were now beside me as I ran. Did I run towards the safety of the farm? Or did I run deeper into the woods? I had no way to be sure. I spotted the dog again, that hellish hound, that Cerberus, running amongst the trees at my left, almost playfully. He wore a cloak of some kind, crimson, with a golden crest and a sigil I could not make out.

Limbs and roots threatened to trip me up as I ran in terror but somehow, I stayed teakettle up and mobile, although I had the distinct feeling that the dog-Canine horriblis? Lupus Celestial?–could have taken me at its leisure.

I became aware of more shapes in the trees…was that a horse? Was that a cat? For the love of our Lord Jesus, was that a monkey? All wearing the same scarlet cloak and moving at unearthly speeds; a Legion of Super-Beasts. And yet, and yet, I’ve spared you the final horror to this point. They made no sound as they trotted, nor did they leave a hoof or paw print.

I prayed as I ran.

And Glory be to God, my prayers were answered, for I emerged from the Blasted Heath Wood alive, the moon’s light an epiphany. I still chose not to dawdle and made great haste towards the path leading to the farmhouse. I wished to be shut of Smallville and all its inhabitants, both indigenous and other-worldly immigrant.

But I was too late, you see. For the Star-Dog had tricked me. He had circled around. He padded towards me, his heavy breath pregnant with menace, from the pathway that should have lead to my safety. He wanted to play. He wanted me to play fetch with him. Fetch, dog. Fetch, dog.

And in his mouth, he had Machen’s severed arm, with the shotgun still held firmly in the farmer’s grip.




YABS MONTH WINNERS!

[Simpsons #50]

In October to help celebrate YABS month at CBR we gave away 5 copies of Simpsons Comics #50 which contained Gail’s first published work. All you had to do was register at CBR! We got a great response and we’re happy to announce the prizes got a bit better.

Four Finalists

One copy of Simpsons Comics #50 signed by Gail Simone and Simpsons creator Matt Groening!

Harvi David

Jay Horne

Daniel Craig Dean

Daniel Conforti

Grand Prize Winner

One copy of Simpsons Comics #50 signed by Gail Simone, Simpsons creator Matt Groening AND practically the entire Bongo Comics team!

Robert Barrick

Congratulations to our winners. And a special thanks to Matt Groening and Terry Delegeane at Bongo Comics for helping CBR with this great prize.

Discuss this column on the You’ll All Be Sorry! Message Board.
All characters are ™ & © their respective owners. All Rights Reserved.

You’ll All Be Sorry! is a satire published by Comic Book Resources, and is not intended maliciously. CBR has invented all names and situations in its stories, except in cases when public figures are being satirized. Any other use of real names is accidental and coincidental, or used as a fictional depiction or personality parody (permitted under Hustler Magazine v. Fallwell, 485 US 46, 108 S.Ct 876, 99 L.Ed.2d 41 (1988)). CBR makes no representation as to the truth or accuracy of the preceeding information.

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