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WATCHERS AT THE PORTAL, Part Three

Short story By: Philip Roberts
Horror



A Lovecraftean Science-horror story set in the Australian outback.


Submitted:Sep 18, 2011    Reads: 6    Comments: 0    Likes: 0   


PART THREE:

Fascinated, even perplexed by the photos, I flipped back and forth through the dozen or more pages of pictures, rereading my uncle's words until late in the evening.

Finally I stood to stretch my back, which had started to cramp from the hours of sitting upon my uncle's bed. And was almost hit by the crackling static snake which materialised only centimetres in front of my face. As I jumped back out of the way, the "snake" coiled toward me as though it were a living thing which had seen (or sensed) my movement and followed me.

For a few seconds as I continued to back away, it slowly coiled around my body like some kind of phosphorescent boa constrictor. Then, getting a grip on my nerves, I forced myself to stand rigidly still and after a moment or two fluttering round me, the snake lost interest and unwound to slither across to Lindsay Stafford's bed, which it hovered above for seemingly five minutes or more before finally vanishing....

To be quickly followed by the thud upon the corrugated-iron roof, followed by the clatter-crash of the still unknown animal racing helter-skelter across the iron roof.

It was only as the clatter-crashing finally settled down for the night that I heard the distant sound of chanting from the opposite side of the mount. Although it had probably started much earlier and had been concealed by the crashing. Listening to the buzzing hum from my uncle's bed, where I had finally gone to lie down, I decided to get to the bottom of things one way or the other the next day. Which would mean another day spent in Glen Hartwell.

* * *

My first thought, however, after breakfast the next morning, was to take a short walk round to the opposite side of the mountain for another quick look at the "black forest" on the other side of Mount Peterson, where, according to the Hilliards, Matthews and Strange had detonated a "controlled" nuclear blast. One quick look at the charcoal forest was enough to convince me that whatever had caused the burnt patch, it had been no ordinary fire. But recalling Lawrie Grimes' talk of a meteorite blast, I decided that was a more likely explanation, than a two-man nuclear explosion. Just as last time, I left the black forest after one quick look, then hurried back to my own side of the mount where (I hoped) it was safe.

As I started my Mitsubishi on the slow, tedious drive down the mount, the question was where to start my new day's investigations? It was possible that old Lawrie Grimes knew more than he had told me the previous day, and might be more forthcoming without the presence of his replacement Bear Ross listening in. On the other hand, if I could track down the Hilliards (whose home address could be located from the local electoral roles in the Glen Hartwell City Library of course), it might be worth another chat with the elderly couple.

Throughout the drive to the Glen my mind wavered between Lawrie Grimes and the Hilliards, before finally settling upon the elderly couple. Reaching Glen Hartwell I drove up Blackland Street and had almost reached the library on the corner of Dirk Hartog Place, when my eye was caught by the fluttering of paper. Looking to my right I saw an ad. for the Glen Hartwell Herald Daily Mail in a metal holder, and thought, 'Of course, the newspapers!' If eleven people had been butchered in the area in 1982, the newspapers would have had a field day revelling in all the gory details at the time, and would have back-copies or clippings stored in their records section.

Moments later I pulled up outside the Herald Daily Mail, situated opposite the railway station in Theobald Street. The Mail was housed in a small-fronted, three-level building, with the printing presses on the top level, the reporters and business offices at ground level, and the records department in the basement. After paying the $25.00 finders' fee, I explained to the small, balding, bespectacled records clerk, Mendell Watts, that I was interested in finding details of the eleven unsolved murders committed in the area in mid 1982...

"Oh yes, yes," said Watts, hitching his glasses a fraction up the bridge of his nose with one finger, licking his lips, eyes shining from interest, "yes I remember the case very well. As luck would have it, I only started working in the basement a few days before the first murder was committed...otherwise I might have missed some of the more sensational details!"

'How lucky can you get!' I thought, careful not to voice the thought aloud, for fear of offending Watts. It turned out to be fortunate for me that he had picked up the gory details, since apart from being able to locate clippings almost immediately, he was also able to supply me with many details off the top of his head, details which confirmed Lawrie Grimes' story.

Deciding it would be a crime to "waste Watts' phenomenal knowledge, I took the plunge and asked him about the Cult of Cthulhu and the Ordo Templi Australis. He professed to have never heard of the C.O.C. (and I have no reason to doubt his word), however, he chuckled at the mention of the OTA. "So you've heard of that, have you?" he asked. Then seeing my blank look, "The law suit."

"I'm sorry?" I said.

Realising that I had not heard the juicy details before, he quickly looked around to make certain none of his superiors were lurking in the basement, then, at a whisper, he explained, "Like most small country newspapers, the Mail has the tendency to rush in where even fools fear to tread. When Sergeant Grimes investigated the first murders, he suspected the Ordo Templi Australis of being responsible."

Reaching behind him he had started to leaf through the large leather-bound cutting books, while talking and extracted a volume which he laid open before me on the rickety old wooden reading desk: "DEVIL WORSHIPPERS PERFORM EVIL BLOOD SACRIFICES IN GLEN HARTWELL!" the page one headlines announced.

"Somehow the Mail found out about the OTA," explained Watts, "and promptly declared them guilty till proven innocent."

"Police Chief Grimes suspects local devil worshippers, the Ordo Templi Australis, the Order of the Australian Knights, of complicity in the local ritual murders committed recently..." declared the Mail, going on to give an almost unbelievably inaccurate account of the OTA and the murders.

"Unfortunately," explained Mendell Watts, fingering his glasses up along his nose again, "the OTA quickly were proven innocent. After a month or so Lawrie Grimes officially cleared the OTA of any involvement in the killings, then on the advice of lawyers, the Ordo Templi Australis successfully sued the Mail, who had to cough up $50,000, a huge amount for a small country paper in those days, and had to print a formal retraction."

He quickly leafed through the clipping book until locating a small cutting saying, "The Herald Daily Mail hereby wishes to apologise for an earlier article in which we unintentionally slandered a local fertility cult, the Order of the Southern Saints, by implying that they might be associated with the recent series of ritual-style killings, committed in the Glen Hartwell and Daley area."

"They still didn't get the OTA's name right," I pointed out.

Watts chuckled, then said, "No, the Mail never has been very big on accuracy."

He happily pulled further volumes out of the racks, showing me the clippings on all the eleven murders. But they told me little of importance about the OTA, and not a word about Matthews, Strange, or the mysterious Cult of Cthulhu.

Still hoping to get my $25's worth out of Mendell Watts, I asked him about the "meteorite" explosion in August 1980.

"Unfortunately that was a little before my time," admitted the records clerk. But after a few moments' search, he managed to unearth a couple of small cuttings about the blast. But unlike the unsolved murders, which had warranted front page headlines for a month and inside headlines for another three or four months, the two clippings were both from deep inside the paper. I remembered Lawrie Grimes saying he had searched for the "meteorite" for a month without ever locating it, and realised that without a "body" the meteorite obviously was not as newsworthy as the eleven gory murders.

I stayed in the basement for another half hour or so, without learning anything new, before finally leaving. After checking my wallet I decided I could afford the cost of one more $25.00 finders' fee, so I stopped in next door at the premises of the Glen Hartwell Daily Record.

The Daily Record charged only $10.00 finders' fee, however, without a record clerk of the order of Mendell Watts, they told me nothing new about the murders or the "meteorite".

So, since it was still early in the day, I decided to call on the Hilliards at their home. But first I called into the Glen Hartwell City Library where the head librarian, Glenda Pettyjohn, quickly checked the electoral roles to locate the Hilliards' home address: 114 Jedasa Road at the southern end of Glen Hartwell. But my rapping went answered and I waited at the front door of the Hilliards' small redbrick house for nearly five minutes before deciding to leave.

I considered calling on Lawrie Grimes, but decided instead to return to Mount Peterson. Which turned out to be a fortunate choice, since I found the Hilliards waiting on the front porch for me.

"Hello," greeted Eleanor tentatively, obviously anxious about what my reaction to them would be, aware of my negative reaction to them two days earlier.

Opening the front door I invited the elderly couple inside. To my surprise they each took a small silver talisman on a chain from around their necks. Holding both hands around the talismans they chanted a few words which I couldn't make out but thought might be in Latin, then walked through the doorway and into the hall...without walking on their hands as I had done while entering the house.

Chuckling at my astonishment, Eleanor explained, "We told you that witches are worshippers of the Earth's natural forces. Although the forces that grip the Gables are hardly of this world, after experiencing the upside-down effect a few times while calling upon Lindsay Stafford, we managed to devise a mantra to hold off the 'demon at the doorway' as we call the invisible entity."

I shuddered at what the expression suggested, however, since the Hilliards claimed their magic worked with elemental forces, I assumed (hoped!) she had been speaking figuratively. But I had to admit to myself that it certainly felt like a powerful clawed hand holding my ankles each time I did a handstand while entering the house.

I invited the Hilliards into the downstairs living room which along with the bathroom, my uncle's upstairs bedroom, and the kitchen, were the only rooms in the three-storey mansion that I had taken the trouble to make liveable.

As we seated ourselves around the room, I related my researches to the elderly couple, although still a little uncertain whether I could really trust them.

"Good, good," said Sebastian, obviously impressed by my endeavours. "We realise our story must have been almost impossible to believe, thrown up at you out of the blue as it was. I'm glad to see you had enough sense to do your own researches, rather than merely reject our story out of hand."

"Do you still think we are kooks?" asked his wife.

"Eleanor?" said Sebastian, shocked by his wife's forthrightness.

Chuckling at her husband's reaction, she added, "Or are you now prepared to believe us?"

"Your story seems a lot less crazy now than it did two days ago," I admitted, drawing another chuckle from the old lady. "But there's still one thing that puzzles me: You said that Matthews and Strange opened a portal between our world and Yuggoth with a nuclear explosion in August 1980, yet according to my Uncle Lindsay's diaries, the "inversed physics' on Haunted Mountain goes right back to early 1935...?"

I paused, expecting a reply, but then realising the Hilliards didn't understand my point, I added, "How could an explosion in 1980 be responsible for something which started thirty-five years earlier?"

"Oh no, no," assured Eleanor, "you've obviously drawn the wrong conclusion from what we told you and what you have discovered. The inversed physics, as you call it on Haunted Mountain was not caused by the nuclear blast...No, it was the other way around."

This time it was my turn not to understand. "I'm sorry?" I said.

"Frankly we have no explanation for how the physics on Mount Peterson became reversed. Somehow a tiny portal between Earth and Yuggoth opened in 1935, 'poisoning', the physics of the mountain...We have no way of discovering how it occurred. After Matthews founded the Cult of Cthulhu in 1962, he spent more than a decade trying to open a portal between the two worlds, without any success. It was only bad luck that in 1973 he discovered Mount Peterson and immediately realised that a tiny portal already joined the two worlds on the mount. He and Strange spent seven years before finally detonating a nuclear blast thereby widening the portal between the worlds...

"At Woomera they had the combined might of the Australian and English military behind them and only managed to achieve a very temporary portal. Strange and Matthews working with only a few dozen followers and limited funds would never have had any hope at all of even minor success, if they had not had the fortune to stumble across the existence of a tiny portal already on Mount Peterson."

"So you see," added Sebastian, "the nuclear blast opening the portal did not cause the weird physics of the mount, rather the inversed physics of Mount Peterson allowed the portal to be widened."

More thinking aloud than speaking to me, Eleanor said, "It must have been quite a shock to Matthews and Strange to find your Uncle Lindsay living upon the otherwise deserted mountain."

"That's why they spent twenty years trying to buy him out?"

"Yes."

"But if they were ruthless enough to murder eleven people in 1982, in the vain hope of calling Cthulhu to appear before them, why didn't they simply slaughter Lindsay Stafford when he refused to sell up and move away?"

"Because after the death of his wife Gwendolen in 1920, your uncle became a recluse," explained Sebastian. "He never went outside at night, and rarely even in the daytime. So they had little hope of trapping him. Of course they visited him at the Gables but after the first few times, from what he told us, your uncle was very suspicious of the pair and only spoke to them through the door."

"Besides, if they had openly entered the Gables by day, then murdered him, there was a good chance they would have been seen, or would have left fingerprints or other clues to lead to their capture..."

"Then why didn't they simply burn down the mansion at night with my Uncle Lindsay inside? Since he lived on the third storey, there would have been little chance of my uncle getting out alive."

The Hilliards exchanged a shocked look and I wondered if I had offended them by talking so off-handedly about ways my uncle could have been murdered. After awhile Eleanor said, "You don't seem to understand Mr. Richmond. The tiny portal, which the nuclear blast widened, is directly above the Gables. That's why gravity reversed on the mountain in the first place: The portal acts like a magnet of sorts, trying to suck the mount and everything on it through into Yuggoth...."

"Which is why the mansion crept up the mount in the first place," interrupted Sebastian, "it was too large to resist the pull of the portal. But once at the top of the mount, the portal was not strong enough to pull it through into the next world, so the Gables has remained where it is for the last twenty-three years since reaching the top of the mount."

'Which would also explain the Mitsubishi racing backwards up the mount!' I thought, half fearing that the portal might be strong enough to pull me and the car through into Yuggoth the next time I drove the Mitsubishi, whereas it was not strong enough to pull a three-storey mansion through.

"Matthews and Strange have no way of knowing to what extent the existence of the portal is now linked to the Gables since they have been 'connected' for so long," explained Eleanor. "Possibly burning down or blowing up the mansion might have no effect at all upon the portal. But equally possibly it might have the effect of closing the portal forever. Making it impossible for the Cult of Cthulhu to bring any of the Great Old Ones through to our world."

"So as long as they could not lure your Uncle Lindsay out onto the mountainside at night, all they could do was try to buy him out," explained Sebastian.

We talked for a few minutes longer, then I asked about the photos of Morton Matthews in Lindsay Stafford's diaries. The Hilliards admitted to having provided my uncle with the photos, as they had provided him with newspaper cuttings about Woomera and about leLande Strange.

"How did you get the information about Strange?" I asked. "There was very little about the closure of Woomera in the newspapers at the time, and no hint of Great Cthulhu materialising there."

"That's one of the advantages of being witches," answered Eleanor.

"You mean you can discover things by magical means?" I asked in awe.

Both the Hilliards chuckled at my expense at this, then Eleanor explained, "No, I meant we have contact with other witch covens around the world. The Ordo Templi Australis has a branch in Adelaide and our High Priestess there, Helen Fogarty, tracked down Strange's background history for us, after we had traced him back to South Australia. It was Helen who discovered he had worked at Woomera and who unearthed the real reason for the rocket range's mysterious shutdown."

We talked until almost supper time, then, despite my invitation to dine with me, the Hilliards insisted that they had to leave.

I had seen them back to the front door, before thinking to say, "There is one last think that puzzled me about my late uncle's conduct."

"What was that?" asked Eleanor.

"I'm puzzled that after shutting up most of the rooms of the mansion, he chose to live on the third storey. Allowing for the fact that he was unable to take care of such a big house by himself, I can understand the fact that he only kept a few rooms in liveable condition...But surely, particularly in his later years when the two flights of stairs must have required a near-Herculean task to climb up and down, it would have made more sense for him to have lived on the ground floor?"

The Hilliards exchanged a guarded look for a moment, as though uncertain whether or not it was in my best interests to know the answer to the question, before finally Eleanor replied, "There were two reasons why Lindsay chose to live on the third storey. Firstly because he feared that despite their reasons for not daring to break into the Gables, eventually Matthews and Strange might become desperate enough in their quest to acquire the mansion to throw all caution to the wind...."

"And naturally living on the first storey would have made him a much easier target," explained Sebastian.

"But the main reason was that he was more than a little terrified of the 'demon at the doorway'. Although our nature-magic allowed us to combat the phenomenon, your uncle became increasingly obsessed with the notion that it really was an invisible monster, rather than an effect of the mount's topsy-turvy gravity."

After seeing the elderly couple out, I started toward the kitchen to prepare myself a meal of steak and eggs. But before I had time to reach the kitchen there came a loud rapping at the front door. Thinking the Hilliards had returned for some reason, I raced back to open the door....

Only to be confronted by the unsmiling visages of Morton Matthews and leLande Strange.

For a few seconds none of us said anything, then finally leLande Strange blurted out with his usual candour, "So you're plotting with them against us!"

"Plotting with whom?" I asked, astonished by the outburst.

"With the Hilliards, of course!"

"I haven't been plotting with anyone!" I insisted, angry at this treatment in my own house.

"We've been watching you!" admitted Strange before Matthews could stop him. "And we know they've visited you at least twice!"

"Yes, to introduce themselves as my neighbours," I lied. "Apparently they were both very good friends of my late Uncle Lindsay."

"Then you aren't planning to sell the Gables to them?" asked Matthews.

"Of course not! They haven't even made an offer for it."

"Then perhaps you have had time to consider our offer?"

"I've considered it," I admitted, "and have decided not to sell the Gables."

"But you must sell...!" insisted Strange.

"Actually I've been thinking of tearing down the Gables to build a new house on the site," I said on the spur of the moment, to test their reactions. Matthews looked sick, and Strange looked as though he were about to pass out at the idea.

"But you can't do that!" protested Strange.

"Why not? It's my property."

"But you might close..." began Strange, stopping as he received a withering look from Matthews. "But we might never be able to open," he began, only to stop again, making me convinced at last that the Hilliards were the ones I could trust.

"Is that definite?" asked Morton Matthews in a rather ominous tone. "Your plans to tear down the mansion and rebuild on the site?"

Realising that if Lawrie Grimes and the Hilliards were right about Matthews and Strange, I could be putting my life at peril by angering the two men, I said, "No...it's not definite. But I certainly have no plans to sell the Gables at this stage...Either to the Hilliards, or to you."

Obviously deciding that they could jeopardise their plans by being too aggressive, Matthews now apologised for their earlier rudeness. "The Hilliards and we have long been vying for the opportunity to purchase the Gables. Which is why we were upset about them calling on you. At the time of his death, Lindsay Stafford had as good as promised to sell us the mansion, but of course the Hilliards are very unscrupulous people and would not feel honour bound to tell you that," he explained, although, of course, I knew from his diaries that my uncle had not trusted Matthews and Strange and doubted that he would ever have sold the mansion to them for any price.

"Well, as I said before, they have not even mentioned the subject to me," I assured them truthfully. Then, not wanting to stay talking to the pair any longer, I pointed out that I had been on the way to make my tea when they had called. To my surprise they left without further argument.

After supper I returned to my uncle's roam to lie in bed and read through his diaries, which added very little to what I had already heard from the Hilliards and from Lawrie Grimes. I had been reading for hours when I almost dropped the diary from terror as the static hiss started across the air again, a thick yellow-white cord of energy slithering along the air like some bizarre electric sea snake, swimming through the atmosphere, less than a metre away from where I lay upon my late uncle's bed.

I attempted to ignore the static snake to return to the diary. But almost immediately the snake vanished as a loud thump resounded upon the corrugated iron roof; followed again by the sound of some large animal scuttling around the rooftop.

"Not again!" I said getting up to go downstairs to investigate, taking with me a powerful flashlight to beam up toward the roof.

Shining the torch toward the roof, I finally saw the creature: It was like an obscene caricature of a gargoyle: Jet black, basically human in shape, but more than five metres in height, with large, membraned bat-wings extending from each of its six pairs of arms. Beneath and around the arms writhed dozens of long snaking tentacles, attached to the ends of which were lethal, crab-like pincers that click-clicked continuously like bored castanet players.

As the torch light shone upon it, the creature turned round quickly and glared toward me with its snake-like slitted eyes. Hissing more like a cat than a snake, the "gargoyle" extended itself to its full height, waved its arms above its head menacingly, flapping its heavy membranous wings wildly.

It suddenly let out a hellish shriek like nothing I had ever heard before, then leapt off the roof toward me!

Screaming from terror I turned and raced across the mount toward my car, only hoping that I still had the keys to my Mitsubishi in my cardigan pocket.

As I climbed into the car I looked back toward the Gables for an instant and saw the monster hovering in the air, flapping its wings furiously yet unable to fly more than a few metres away from the house. As I located my car keys and placed them in the ignition I saw a small rectangle of blinding yellow light open in the sky above the mansion. In seconds the rectangle expanded out above the monster and it began to shriek hellishly, flapping its evil wings ever more wildly in a desperate attempt to break free from the rectangle of light, which I realised was the portal that my uncle's diaries mentioned.

For just a moment, as the portal opened wider and wider, I caught a glimpse of an evil, nameless world on the other side. A world whose monstrous structures defied all known laws of physics and seemed designed to send any Earth architect into fits of screaming insanity.

Then slowly the "gargoyle" was sucked up into the portal of light, still shrieking its protest and struggling vainly. Until it was pulled back into its own world.

As I started the car and headed down the mountain (with great difficulty), I remembered the words of Sebastian Hilliard a few days earlier, "Heaven help the world if anything does get through the portal between Earth and far off Yuggoth!" and my thoughts returned to the "bite" mark taken out of the mountainside a few days earlier, and to the question of what had caused the bite? Obviously not the gargoyle. For one thing it had not been powerful enough to escape the pull of the portal to come further into our world than the roof of the mansion. But then on Earth there are billions of life forms, ranging from single-cell amoebae right up to giant whales; no doubt the same variety in shape and size applied to the life forms on Yuggoth also. As terrifying as the gargoyle had been, I realised that it was tiny compared to whatever behemoth had taken the bite out of the mount, presumably scooping up and devouring the dead seagulls leaving the mountain covered in its teeth marks (which I had taken to be the grooves of a hoe or shovel). The fact that the bite and teeth marks were so far from the mansion showed that unlike the gargoyle, the unknown behemoth could (at least temporarily) escape the pull of the portal to enter much further into our world than the mansion, although possibly still not beyond the base of Mount Peterson, and I knew I had to escape before the unknown colossus returned.

Despite my panic, I forced myself to drive into Glen Hartwell, where despite the late hour I managed to get a room at Bateman's Hotel in Lawson Street.

Early the next morning I somehow summoned up the courage to return to Mount Peterson, after stopping at the nearest service station to buy two twenty-gallon jerry cans of gasoline.

I spent half an hour dousing the Gables inside and out, expecting at any moment to be stopped by Matthews and Strange. As it was, there was no sign of them, until I had finished and was about to toss a flaming rag onto the mansion.

"No!" shrieked Matthews as they started across the mount toward me. "You don't know what you're doing!" But too late, I had already tossed the rag onto the three-storey building.

Doused in gasoline, the 160-year-old house went up like a bomb. It burnt furiously for fifteen minutes before the sky above the house began to crash with lightning and thunder. The static hiss, which I had seen many times inside the house, now appeared outside, above the mansion. But not a single snake, rather dozens, then hundreds of static snakes whiplashing above the mansion as thunder and lightning continued to rage. After twenty minutes or so, there came a deafening roar, high above the Gables, like a great atomic blast in the sky throwing the three of us to the ground, clutching our ears in agony.

When I dared look up again I saw the rectangular portal of yellow light had opened wide above the mansion again, revealing the visages of myriads of indescribable tentacled, winged monstrosities, ranging in size from the gargoyle I had already seen, to great leviathans, many times larger than any whale.

Seeing the great, gaping portal, Matthews and Strange began to laugh from near hysterical joy; obviously thinking my plans to seal shut the portal had backfired. But their laughter ended abruptly when there came another great explosion and the portal slammed tightly shut.

Instantly the roaring thunder, lightning and whiplashing static snakes above the mansion all vanished. Leaving the mountain strangely silent. For only a few seconds, before the mansion began to creak and groan alarmingly.

"Noooooooo!" shrieked Morton Matthews, realising before I did what was about to happen.

"What...?" I started to ask, my words cut off as the three-storey building started to slip down the side of the mountain. At first slowly, then quickly picking up speed, until it was racing down the slope like a roaring express train.

The three of us stood together watching in amazement as the mansion raced down the mount, only stopping as it reached the bottom....

Where it crashed into the level ground with a sound like a dynamite explosion, collapsing into a great mound of firewood, unable to survive atop the mount away from its foundations, after gravity returned to normal, when the portal to the far off planet Yuggoth had slammed shut forever.

THE END

© Copyright 2011

Philip Roberts, Melbourne, Australia





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