An exercise in over the top gothic horror, in which the last descendant of an ancient family, alone in a vast brooding mansion, decides to root out once and for all the source of the monstrous sound that has driven his servants away and him to brink of madness.
My name is Marcus de la Poer and I am the last of that ancient line. My family name has died with me in cloying darkness, once come from another land where there is sun and fresh air. Heirless I sit at the seat of my ancestors, deep within the confines of Dunkelheit House - a vast fortress, situated in what was once a prosperous town, but which now lies dead, desolate and almost unreachable in its mountain location. The servants left a month ago, and I have that blasphemous sound that echoes through the halls of my home night and day to thank for my solitude. I light the few torches I need myself and prepare my meagre meals with dwindling supplies, for contact with the nearest outpost of humanity was lost some time ago during a severe blizzard. At night, darkness engulfs the spacious rooms and labyrinthine halls with only the echoes of that hellish shuffling and sloshing to be heard, resonating from what abyss of Hell I know not, the shuffling of daemon hooves and sloshing of oily waters on blackened subterranean shores. I write now to preserve history; the history of my family, of my house and finally of me. Madness or death cannot be far off, and before I shrug off my mortal shell I want to resolve the last mystery of Dunkelheit House, for amidst its endless secret passages, hidden chambers and underground dungeons, the final enigma of that ultimate horror is yet left unanswered.
It took me two full days to gather the courage to investigate the depths of the domain that I have inhabited, lonely, from childhood. It was deepest winter, the night was young and the house was in the grip of a vicious storm that racked the crumbling wall. With the piping, howling wind outside and the terrible shuffling and sloshing of that daemon thing inside, I felt action was necessary, and since I knew what lay beyond, I decided to investigate within. Bleak shadow surrounded the once proud halls of my home so I fetched a gilded candelabrum, inlaid with the golden serpents of my heraldry, and lit the candles with the feeble flame of a dusty torch near my bedroom. I tread the lone passages of my home and thought of how in youth, life had once flourished in this place, but eventually had grown old and stagnant, eventually lying comatose, I, the last living cell in a dead body. I remembered my own childhood, and how I had witnessed the rapid decay of the noble dwelling. I recalled, faintly, images of ashen faced servants, brown hangings and maddening rows of antique books. On my shadow-lit procession I came to remember how friends and relatives visited less and less as the climate became fiercer. At last I stopped my dark reminiscing and looked upon the intricately carved wooden door leading into the massive vaults of the dead beneath my home. Dunkelheit House was somewhat unique in this aspect, of keeping its dead within the same confines as its living. The deep sepulchres held no terror for me; in childhood I would visit my ancestors, pay them respect and heed their age old wisdom. I had wandered amongst the tombs and chose for myself a suitable burial place for when my time came. I was told, by a face I can no longer remember, that I had chosen well.
Torch in hand, I opened the creaking door and descended the worn steps into the cold, but not unpleasant air of the catacombs. There were five flickering flames on my candelabra and I had to shield them many times from gusts of necropolis air in order to continue seeing my path. The descent seemed to take an eternity; all the while that dreadful sound of shuffling and sloshing was ever present. My footfalls echoed only very faintly, for the caverns beneath were vaster than I could recall and had grown with each member interred. The voices of my forefathers came to me in my mind, one by one as I passed them, offering assurances. I smiled and thanked them.
After much time spent trudging through thick hanging veils of elder cobwebs, I came to a level I had not reached before, even in my ceaseless childhood wanderings. I began my search of this nethermost crypt in search of a source to my torment. Grand tombs were cut into the walls, all bearing the names of my beautiful forebears. Of special note, however, were the four great statues of finely wrought seraphim, as clear as the day they were carved, with neither wind nor the hand of man to erode their surface, only the gentle scuttle of the spider. These men and women I knew to be the founders of my regal blood, but their graves here were but symbolic, their real resting places lying in some far off church-yard, away from the grim stone and shadow. The only other noticeable feature was a crude rectangular slab, roughly four foot in width, seven in length and three thick upon the cold ground. It bore no name, nor any inscription of any kind. It was seemingly set in place. But its crudeness did belie a certain, somewhat monstrous fact: I could feel, very softly from some of the larger cracks in the ancient façade, a faint rush of humid air. Aghast, I stood up from this thing to meet the faces of the seraphim. Their staring stone eyes bade me pull off the slab and venture within. I dared not forgo their challenge.
I tried for an hour to remove that thick block from the stone floor and with a final supreme burst of strength; I pushed that graven rock up as it was set right into the ground, inside a slightly larger groove, like a lid almost and threw it aside. There was a resounding crash, and a great crack was split into the middle of the stone barrier, breaking it in two. Almost deafened by the almighty collision, I steeled myself to look down. I saw nothing in the dark portal, and shining my candelabra provided no new sights save for an indeterminable drop downwards into eldritch darkness and terrifyingly, a substantial increase in the volume of the hideous shuffling and sloshing. Disheartened and frightened, but not defeated, I resolved to quickly fetch a length of rope to aid in my expedition into this new, monstrous territory.
After a mad dash up the worn steps and into my desolate house, I created from many lengths of rope and wire a vast length suitable for my descent. I searched many rooms, cannibalized many worm-eaten decorations and crouched before the wooden doorway constructing my rope, all about me the shuffling and sloshing and slithering, a constant reminder of my isolation. A sense of grim determination overcame me when I had finished and with newfound vigour, rushed into the necropolis again and to my destination. Once back down in the depths, I pushed up a fraction of the broken slab and placed a length of rope beneath to hold it while I climbed down. With enough rope to reach even back up to the house again, I let the cord fall into the pitch darkness. Once a confident grip on the rope was secured, I slid slowly into the darkness, candelabra awkwardly in hand. My plunge into the abyss seemed infinite. I saw about me a roughly and increasingly cylindrical shaft, carven by unskilled or primitive hands. I had to stop many times to rest, for I had never once put myself under such strain, and I was glad for the natural footholds afforded by the rough hewn passage. I knew I was on the path to discovery, for the shuffling and sloshing became louder and louder as I descended. I would soon uncover the final mystery of Dunkelheit House, and I could then die content that all was finished.
It took some time, but I eventually hit solid ground. The air was stagnant and uncomfortable, a primal sense of heaviness about it like a jungle, and a stench I could never begin to describe accurately, something between sickly sweet and rotten. It was all pervasive, and so I resorted to breathing through an age-old handkerchief. My light barely illuminated but a foot around me. I could hear that hideous shuffling and sloshing very clearly now, and I was surprised to find it didn’t echo. It came seemingly from everywhere, but sometimes was confined to one direction. I went to take what was left of my rope in my hand as a guide to the portal above, but found there was none left. Terrified I would lose my way in the vast underground, I tread carefully and mentally noted down which direction would lead me back to the rope for my agonizing climb back up.
I was fearful then, in the featureless black, but a certain mad resolution set me forward. I tried to look about me but my torch was feeble and the candles were far lower than they were a few hours earlier. Soon, I would be alone in darkness. I was determined not to be caught in the inky shadows. I turned back and made my way to the rope while I still had energy. I trod loudly now, my footfalls never coming back to me, fading off into the vastness. But something else did come back, an answer to my rushing steps. A sound I was horrified of now, a sound I had come to call ‘blasphemous’ and ‘daemonic’. It answered a barely hushed gasp of mine by somehow turning in my direction. I panicked and fled. A madman, I dashed to the rope I hoped I could find. But alas, without any visual landmarks and only a fading mind to work with I found myself nowhere near my passage to freedom. Instead, horror surrounded me on all sides as I imagined innumerable sightless eyes cast in my direction and shuddered in terror at the coming of the colossus which no doubt was the owner of that unspeakable clamour of what I could only assume was of disgustingly organic origin.
Nameless fear gripped my very soul and dread squeezed itself blackly around my mind as I awaited the coming of the great horror. My rapid breath did not help the matter. I tried to be silent, but absolute terror of a kind unfelt for aeons by men engrossed me and I could hear even my own heart now. I was deathly afeared of this shadow-laden infinity of unhallowed epochs. I desperately did not want to be alone down here, and more so wanted not the line of de la Poer to end in such a gruesome and obscure fashion, but I knew deep within that it must be. The sound was like a thousand charging beasts and a perilous ocean. I drew my last candle close to my chest, seeking comfort and sanity in the frail orange glow. I shut my eyes then, and hoped for a quick death. Monstrous images and ideas floated through my mind; gorgons, hydras, chimaeras, tentacled things and polypous things, burning sightless eyes and lipped, fanged maws unlike that of any wholesome beast known to men or gods. The sound was quickly homing in like a hound with the scent of blood. I discerned no breathing apart from my own shaking breath and as the noise came ever closer one final, insane thought leapt to my mind – I would meet my aggressor, face to face before the end. In my madness I jumped up and shouted a challenge at the oncoming thing. I thrust forward my lone, dying candle. Incomprehensible terror flooded my soul at that moment as the pallid, ashen light cleared the mist of shadows before me for a single second, revealing a thousand leviathan shapes I could not hope to ever correlate were I to survive. Stark madness shattered my mind in an instant and I gave out one gasping shriek before I fell prostrate into numbing oblivion as the candle died in a rush of foetid air, waiting for whatever fate the colossus in the darkness had for me.