Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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Issue 55
Stories
Collecting Jessup
by Allison Mulder
The Sea of Ghosts
by Anna Zumbro
The Five Stages of Grief
by Michelle Ann King
A Century of Princes
by H.L. Fullerton
IGMS Audio
InterGalactic Medicine Show Interviews
Vintage Fiction
Inferno
by Laura Anne Gilman
Bonus Material
The Cold Eye
by Laura Anne Gilman

A Mundane Encounter with a Civilized God
    by Samuel Marzioli

A Mundane Encounter with a Civilized God
Artwork by Michael Wolmarans

Arkham Sanitarium lay in the backwoods of Arkham City, a somber mansion that housed the most deranged and chaotic patients the State of Massachusetts had to offer. A hundred inmates wandered its darkened halls and many narrow cells, forgotten by the world, no longer truly men but broken, hollow shells. And out of all of them I was the least insane.

While others were prone to gesticulating with their privates or arguing the finer points of nonsense with things that weren't, I retained a semblance of reason that allowed me to function throughout the day. Enough to dress myself as needed, wipe myself where necessary and introduce food into the correct orifice for eating. In other words, I was an exemplary patient, a rare jewel, the only star shining in a void of endless night.

Then Bernard Jones arrived and everything changed for good.

Under the direction of Chief Psychiatrist Zadok Green, a small group of inmates gathered Friday evenings in the western common room. There we recounted horrors, those incidences where our past and a supernatural maleficence had collided, resulting in our tenuous grip on reality. It was usually followed by a round of affirmations and then refreshments.

I can still remember the day Bernard first joined us. Through the paned windows, clouds riled up in violent shades of red and gray. Rain pattered the rooftop like the footsteps of phantom children. The wind whispered doom through the cracks of the building's decaying façade, and the light bulbs overhead buzzed and winked, casting jaundiced light over our motley group.

Epson Young began with a long tale of a black beast with tentacles that arose from some dark abyss. He ended with the same words that completed all our stories: "And I was driven to madness."

Henry Volanger continued along the same lines, only his beast was amorphous and his darkness found in the cramped space between the walls of tombs. He too finished with, "And I was driven to madness."

The rest of us took our time, sharing the sources of our own insanity one after the other, before it was the new man's turn to speak.

"Hello everyone. My story begins in a church," said Bernard.

"A church of darkness," said Epson.

"No, it was a small town Methodist church about thirty miles north of here. A charming place, painted white, with stained-glass windows along the walls and a working bell within the steeple."

"With unholy beasts etched into the glass, supplanting the images of saints," said Henry.

"And a bell that tolls only for the dead," I said.

"No, just a regular church."

"Please, no more interruptions," said Dr. Green. "You've all already had your chance to speak and now it's Bernard's turn."

Bernard cleared his throat. "There, on the front-most pew, I was caught in heavy prayer--"

"In some indecipherable language," said Epson.

"Reciting the same foul words first uttered by the Mad Arab, Abdul Alhazred," said Henry.

"No, just a simple prayer. You know the like. Keep me safe from those who persecute me, bless my family, et cetera. An hour passed before a presence descended into the sanctuary, catching me by surprise."

"A shadowed presence?" asked Epson.

"In fact, it was a beam of light, and it seemed to enter me--"

"Rotting your soul, damning you to--"

"Oh, for heaven's sake!" Bernard exclaimed, crossing his arms.

Those of us capable of coherent speech apologized and Bernard continued.

"For a moment, I felt warm inside. At once, my worries fled me and an extraordinary sensation of being loved filled me to overflowing. To this day, I can feel it still."

We waited for him to say the words that signified his story's end. We waited, but they didn't come. He only looked around, returning our stares, a self-satisfied smile upon his face.

"And then you were driven to madness," I prompted.

"No, as a matter of fact, I wasn't."

The doom-whispering wind ceased blowing and the rain patter abruptly stopped, as if it were naptime for the phantom children. An awkward silence lingered then. We were so stunned by his words we quite forgot to voice our affirmations. We still had refreshments, but this time nobody enjoyed them.

Early the following day, we ate breakfast in the dining hall--and the less said about that the better. Suffice to say, the dishwashers earned their keep that morning. Later, those of us who had joined the Arkham Sanitarium Choir met in the second-floor choir room, overlooking the withered gardens and the fountain of broken angels. We sang for an hour to a frustrated director who shouted endlessly over the group's lack of focus and meager skills.

As usual, I was the only one who realized that few songs, if any, started with, "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh," or ended with, "Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn." Such is life in Arkham. This, like the success of breakfast, pleased me to no end, so much so that I almost forgot Bernard and his mundane encounter with a civilized god. At least until our group met again that next Friday.

Dr. Green opened the discussion in a new manner. Instead of recounting our descent into madness, he wished to know if we'd experienced anything new in the interim. Anything at all, provided it was affecting.

Epson recounted how on the previous night shadow creatures danced within his cell, threatening to eat his heart. Henry spoke of how a splotch of black had appeared on his forehead and through it he heard voices encouraging him to do harm to himself and other inmates. I related how a dark force had spun my cell making me quite dizzy. This again proved to be the sanest response, until that upstart Bernard's turn came.

"I slept eight hours last night, without a single interruption," he said. "All my dreams--"

"Were nightmares of stygian worlds where the souls of humans screamed in torment," said Epson.

"No. They were pleasant, even the one about my poor, departed wife. She appeared to me and--"

"Threatened to drag you down, down, under the Earth to rot beside her," said Henry.

"No, she told me that she loved me and missed me, and we quietly embraced."

"And then malevolent--," I began.

"No," said Bernard.

"Until black--,"

"No," said Bernard.

"But then eviscerated--,"

"No!" Bernard shouted.

Another long silence, and then something peculiar occurred outside, something that in my ten years living in the asylum I had never seen before. A bright light poured through the cracks of clouds, illuminating the grounds in such a way that it glowed with newness and with life. Even the dead flora and fauna left scattered about the cobblestone paths appeared less decayed and moldering. Later, I was reminded that this mysterious phenomenon was called sunshine.

For weeks, many more changes occurred within the asylum, manifesting as order and civility. Self-harm abated, tableware found only mouths and the murder and torture of staff had been reduced to nothing. But the most striking transformation of all was that no one urinated, defecated or masturbated in the public areas--the latter of which was no less than a bona fide miracle, if a hundred years of asylum history were any indication.

The staff credited their dedication and perseverance. Dr. Green credited his wisdom and insight. But I knew the truth. It was Bernard's doing. Somehow, through his presence, sanity had leaked into Arkham Sanitarium and it was spreading through the patients like a benevolent cure.

No one else seemed to sense the wrong of it. Only I, the sanest of the madmen, realized its far-reaching consequences. I knew something had to be done before it was too late.

I hid a fork I'd taken from the dining hall out of reach from probing fingers--and the less said about that the better. Suffice to say, I wouldn't sit comfortably for weeks. Then I coaxed a member of staff to open my cell after lights out with the promise of a monetary reward upon my ultimate release. An unusual quiet prevailed, as of a hundred men resting comfortably and at peace within their cell bunks--which was precisely what they did. Darkness refused to gather, or stir, or behave in any way foreboding throughout the corridor. Instead, it settled like the meat and vegetables of a healthy, hearty stew.

Nevertheless, I did my part to uphold the status quo. I slinked from doorway to doorway, muttering any curse and babble I'd learned that seemed to fit the occasion. When I found Bernard's cell, I removed the fork from its cavernous hiding place. Once the bleeding and pain slackened, I seized the doorknob with unholy strength, intending to wrench it loose.

To my surprise, it turned without much fuss and the door opened with a careless ease. Inside, Bernard lay upon his bunk, a lit candle on his tabletop. He was reading a book with a title that brought to mind happy families whose only concerns were polite clashes with neighbors over perfectly ordinary things. Nothing like the Necronomicon, or a grimoire of dark sorcery, as would befit a proper inmate.

He crimped the corner of a page to mark his place before acknowledging my presence. That was the straw that broke me. But instead of the rage I would have expected from these aberrant signs of normalcy, I felt empty, hopeless, smaller than I'd ever been before. The star of the asylum had been snuffed and replaced by a brighter light.

"Why are you even here?" I said, fighting against the pull of tears.

"It was a voluntary commitment," said Bernard.

"But why?"

"Before my experience at the church, I believed myself to be a rational man and a dedicated naturalist. So when that being of light appeared and overwhelmed me, it shook me up and made me question my sanity."

"That's all?" I said.

"That's all."

Memories of my own experience resurfaced in grisly detail: how the citizens of my hometown had been captured by giant crustaceans, dipped in butter and consumed piece by piece. For the first time, I realized that bearing only a modicum of madness wasn't a badge of honor to be touted like an accomplishment. I was to be pitied as much as any other. What we'd suffered had been cruel, nothing less than mental and emotional abuse. And evil was our abuser.

"So . . . What brings you here?" said Bernard.

Though I knew he only meant in his room, at this time of night, I answered, "Bad things hurt me."

I dropped the fork and stumbled forward. He caught me and I wept into his arms. We stayed that way for some time: him speaking encouragement into my ear and me giving in to the comfort of his words. We weren't inmates then, or even victims of a cruel and indifferent cosmos. We were just two men, sharing a platonic, and totally sane, embrace.

A month later, Bernard left the asylum and was promptly crushed at its gates by a passing shoggoth. Such is life in Arkham. By the following year, many of us had been released as well, having reclaimed the fit and form of sanity.

Before I departed, I had the fortune of meeting the new man that was meant to take over my cell. He stared at me with wild eyes, the veins of his sclera red and engorged. As we passed each other in the halls, I leaned over and whispered into his ear, "It gets better, friend. It does get better."

He responded by vomiting all over my sack coat and homburg hat, a vulgar act that I chose to interpret as, "Thank you, sir, you give me hope." As if in confirmation, after I told him to spread the word, he proceeded to vomit upon the orderlies as well. My good work finished, I left that place behind and never looked back.

Throughout the years, I never bothered contacting my old friends and acquaintances from the asylum. Some things are best left to the past. But bits and pieces had made their way to me through rumors and gossip, enough that I had a decent picture of how a few of them had ended up.

Dr. Green, flush with excitement from having cured so many all at once, declared himself a god and was committed to the asylum as a patient.

Epson hunted the shoggoth that had slain Bernard, and then founded a business selling pickled shoggoth parts. The business failed when it was discovered their meat was poisonous. That and all his customers had died.

Henry met a tall and swarthy man named Nyarlathotep--and the less said about that the better. Suffice to say he, too, is now thoroughly dead.

As for me, I moved to a small town along the coast of Maine. There I learned the trade of crabbing--a token act of vengeance against the slayers of my friends and kin.

Some days I sit upon the veranda of the guesthouse I now call home, smoking my pipe and thinking about Bernard. If not for him, I would still be trapped within the dark, cold and melancholy walls of Arkham Sanitarium. Instead, I live a life of warmth and sunlight, of peace and utter harmony.

Yes, I met a man named Bernard Jones. A simple man. A man of humdrum experiences with the vaguely fantastic. And in the end, it drove me to sanity.


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