After The Fact

A day in the life of a university professor who was witnessed a terrible cosmic secret.

                Arthur cast a fearful glance out of the window. Lightning flashed in the grim, black sky, illuminating the rain-soaked streets of Northbrook. The river was overflowing and flooding parts of the city. Sloshing through it were shapes, leaping, lurching, shuffling – deep sea horrors given human form, moving ever closer to the freezing garret room in which Arthur crouched, clutching a revolver, unsure what to do. Whimpering, Arthur pushed a bookcase against the door, as the thunder had masked their movements and he could hear them scrabbling up the rotten stairway now, their vile stench permeating the air like a cloying fog. Long talons scratched against the door and sightless black eyes peered into the keyholes. Arthur was writing in a journal his last words as the vast collective mass of the greater lumbering horror squeezed its entire being through the halls of the building, knocking the bookcase over and bulging his door inwards like a bubble ready to burst. And it did burst, letting loose a foetid tide of alien things with long thin teeth and grabbing, flabby claws and dull black scales. Arthur put the revolver to his head and squeezed the trigger.

                The breath caught in his throat and he jolted upright, gasping. He was covered in sweat and Lucy was propped up on an elbow, her arm resting lightly on his shoulder. Tenth night in a row, but they had never gotten that far. These dreams were getting bad and the pills weren’t working. Arthur turned and looked Lucy in the eye. She frowned and rose to him, pulled him down and hugged into him. Arthur shuddered as he remembered everything, again, as he always does, everything that led to his sabbatical from his job at Wickburn, night terrors, unfathomable stress and…the knowledge of what he saw and what it meant. That was always the last to come. And it was always the worst. He cried then, as he did every time. He whimpered and Lucy wiped a tear from his cheek as he stared into the darkness of the ceiling.

                That morning, Arthur woke up unsuited to the task of consciousness. The merciful oblivion of dreamless sleep after the visions was his sole comfort now. Arthur felt so bad for Lucy, so sorry. They were great together…were. That expedition out to Iran had turned out to be a pointless endeavour for the university, a waste of funds. Whatever might have been found was blasted back into the earth by Arthur not a minute before he collapsed in the arms of hired labour, screaming and clawing at nothing, vomiting into the sand and unable to eat for two days, severely dehydrated from simply crying, vocal chords nearly ripped from his incessant weeping and screaming. A nervous breakdown from stress at the job, and the added force of the heat – which Arthur never did well in – caused his downfall. A three day coma followed that and then a long talk with the head of the university. He saw a therapist, but as soon as he thought about what he was going to say, he stopped for fear of appearing insane. There was no way he could tell her everything she knew and learned was wrong, that her PhD and years of study and practice were for naught. So, he went a fake route and claimed stress at home and at work. He harboured that secret and knew she knew so. And through all of this, Lucy stayed by him. She helped him to bed after she found him staring into nothing in particular at three in the morning; she cleaned up spilled beverages and vomit. She was great and she deserved to be told. In a way, she and Arthur got closer, but in another way, further apart. She was only human and Arthur’s problem…wasn’t exactly related to that.

                Around midday, Arthur decided to take a walk. He had been inside too damn long. He needed familiar streets with natural, human history, nice normal faces, smiles and frowns and stares from lips and eyes with colour. He needed the sun and blue sky. He needed pavement and brick and car fumes. So, he went out. The first thing he saw was the sky. It was pure blue, a sort of pure, rich blue that was the epitome of summer. Arthur stared for a moment, squinting from the brightness. He was under it all, under the great vast sky. The great vast blue, a reflection, a veil of light and colour from an otherwise vaster void of blackness. Space itself stared back from behind a fake screen of colour, of space, which is always there.

                Head tilted just a little downwards, Arthur picked up a brisk pace and headed into the village. It was built up quite nicely around here, like a tiny version of Northbrook’s big city. Towers reached upwards and squat buildings took up a block or two. Like their low temples, thought Arthur. It was terrifying how reminiscent of their architecture ours was. The towers cast great big shadows. Reflections from behind the blue.

                Arthur walked into a pub, wooden panelled, vaguely smoky and with wafting aromas of beers and ales. All human. All familiar. Right now he needed a bathroom. He did so, by way of a short, cramped corridor which he did his best to compare to the tight chiselled passages in the ancient rock under Iran. Afterwards he went to wash his hands and stopped, staring at the water for a moment. The same water they swim in, he thought. Images of anglerfish and hatchetfish flashed into his mind, cavorting with taloned hands in the murky black. He wiped his hands on a paper towel and rushed out. To justify his entrance, he bought a packet of peanuts.

                Walking down the sunny Northbrook street, Arthur found himself surrounded by comforting human chatter and footsteps. He had already pushed the rest of the packet of peanuts into his pocket because the salty reminded him of the salt water in that vast ocean under Iran, where…Arthur took in a gasp of air and stopped that train of thought. He had two choices: go to the cinema and let something else take his attention, or the library. The cinema was closest, so he took that. Six huge posters were hanging on the walls outside the entrance showing the latest releases. There were young couples, groups of kids, parents with children, friends and solitary folk all picking a film to see. Arthur scanned the available choices and came to a poster depicting a Spanish galleon under attack from an aquatic horror or writhing tendrils and massive jaws.

                Finding himself hastily drawn to a quiet section of the big library in Northbrook, Arthur took to looking through the anthropology books – he might find his book here, a fact which always amused him. He read the names on each spine; he read most of these and even recognized a few names as teachers and colleagues from times passed. Getting to the end of the row, he found himself at a back wall, staring down the length of space between shelves and wall. It was down here, in the bottom, back-end of a library in another town he first found the aged manuscript that hinted at hidden and monstrous survivals in the most ancient parts of the world…there really was no escape from this, not even outside.

                Tonight, Arthur would eat out. Lucy was away at a night class and didn’t have time to cook. Arthur chuckled at the thought of sea-food, a very rare chuckle nowadays. There was an Italian place not too far from the library. Italy was far away enough from Iran. During his modest meal he watched the people outside the window pass by. Old, young, happy, sad, in haste and at leisure. He saw a young family pass by and saw how happy their daughter was just to be in the city, eyes wide and smiling, full of life and innocence. And there was Arthur, who could never knowingly supply a link so hideous as the one he became a part of, carrying knowledge around terrible enough to destroy the innocence of that little girl and the weigh upon the shoulders of every human being a secret so unfathomably terrible wit would be better to cast all life back into the mindless days of primal survival as apes so that we might not be able to know what Arthur knew, and maybe never find out. He had considered suicide before, not because of any personal feelings, but because it would spare the world the thing things he carried with him day after day, the very conscious awareness of what was even now slithering and loping in vast hollow caverns under the rubble and dust untouched ever by wholesome sunlight and the things pushing and bleeding down from the stars to meet them. He could spare the world – and himself the horror. But the only thing stopping him was the fact that even though he might depart his mortal coil, what’s to stop the things he knew still somehow leaking out into the universe? What if…

                After a quarter of the meal cold and paying his bill, Arthur left the little restaurant. It was a little darker now, the sky. This troubled him. The light of a pay-phone drew his attention and he pushed the thoughts of an anglerfish away as he stepped into the booth. Arthur had no phone of his own; he had lost it during…and didn’t have the funds to pay for a new one. This was one the last payphones he knew of anywhere and was glad it was in operation. He would call Lucy very quickly and tell her he would do the grocery shopping. A mundane activity was bliss for him. He dialled her number and was almost about to leave it when she picked up. When Arthur said it was him, Lucy’s voice instinctually filled with worry, but it fled with a sigh and chuckle of relief – a sound Arthur hadn’t heard in a long time, and felt all the better for hearing, when he told he was going to do the shopping. After hanging up and clinging to this good feeling he made a bee-line right for the supermarket, grabbed a basket and went in.

                Arthur didn’t have half of the groceries before he came to the sea-food. On display and being carved up for paying customers was, bizarrely, inexplicably, a Japanese spider crab, an admirably horrible specimen that must have measures at least 7 foot long. Arthur’s hand shot to his mouth to stifle a scream. Preservative ice also held a few other exotic specimens of crustacean and fish which were hand picked and bagged by a smiling butcher. The butcher held the chitinous sea-dweller up for a patron with two curious children to examine. It’s mass of feelers and mandibles pointed towards Arthur bade him gasp inwards. Oh God it was just like them…he dropped his basket and was barely outside the shop and around its side before he threw up the ravioli. His walk home was miserable, a barely contained mess of tearing-up eyes and fearful gasps. He cracked his knuckled till they were sore. He shakily let himself in the door to the house and collapsed to the floor of the hall and screamed.

                Arthur had spent many years learning his craft. He had studied palaeontology, archaeology, anthropology – he was obsessed with human and pre-human history. It had been his dream to correlate evidence and findings of a wide variety and link them, make a breakthrough in the fields he had loved since childhood. His enthusiasm was infectious and it was through it het Lucy (although she studied none of these subjects, she wan art student). He clawed his way to the position of professor and after numerous rejections, he was awarded funding to go to Iran and dig. He had assured the university it was well worth the money. Technically he did make the biggest breakthrough in human history, but not only did it destroy his career, it destroyed him and everything he knew and believed in. In the earlier days he had written it all down because that’s what they always did in books and movies, his therapist got him to do it and was amazed his creativity. Since then everything related to those writing had been burnt. This was when he became solitary and insular, when the most he could do was force himself to open up to Lucy as much as he would allow it. They had talked for a long time on evening on a speculative topic about what would one do when all they knew turned out to be a lie. He had barely hinted at the truth and already Lucy was terrified. These are things Arthur thought of as he sat on the sofa, in the dark, whispering to himself. He needed sound, because the darkness and silence was all that was left after he blasted the cavern entrance closed back in Iran.

                He must have nodded off because when he woke up, there was a figure leaned into him on the sofa illuminated by the orange streetlights. Her hair was over her face and she twitched in her sleep. Arthur brushed it from her face and laid his head next to hers and looked out of the window a long time before falling asleep again. He’d have to do this again tomorrow. He hoped not to wake her with his nightmares.

The End

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