The Master of the Ninefold Countenance

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic

A man struggles to maintain a grip on reality while haunted by worsening recurring nightmares that intrude in his everyday life... or is he really becoming possessed by something otherworldly and
entirely evil? Told in first-person present tense for an intriguing reading experience.

Submitted: October 28, 2017

A A A | A A A

Submitted: October 28, 2017



The light is creeping over the edge of the sill and I cannot sew fast enough. The velvet sags and crumples and I can’t keep kinks from marring the seam, the little kinks like tiny tears in the purple fabric of dimensions, like cracks in the flatness of being, like lesions in the body of the sensible. I know this is not craftsmanship but my hands feed my thrumming sewing machine faster than my eyes can see the velvet coming, hands working with minds of their own, psychic ganglia flexing and drawing my knuckles before the light reflecting from the sputtering machine can travel the half-meter to my eyes and induce electric impulses from my retina through my optic nerves and into my visual cortex, in numbers of microseconds so small I don’t know if I have counted that low before, and even if I could sense these automatic digits pulling velvet through the machine-gun needle I know I could not stop them, for the Master has need of me and I have a Labor to perform for Him.

The spool clatters with sudden emptiness and the needle pierces the velvet with the virility of a eunuch, and I waste precious seconds pulling the seam back to where I foolishly let the thread die out. I’m slow, so slow, so slow and careless, and the Master will make me pay for this, though I will beg for mercy and explain that it was not I who moved my hands but Him, and He will laugh, and call me a child, and tell me I should not speak to Him as if I had a voice of my own, and His laughter will hurt my ears, and He will threaten me with The Deep, and if it is His whim, he may show me some glimpse of That-Which-Is-Neither, and I may feel the joyful pain of Knowing something True if even for just a moment.

My hands are pulling velvet fruitfully-sloppily once again and I mourn the two Truths I once Knew, those several times I failed the Master and in His caprice punished me with reward, rewarded me with the ache of Seeing, and Knowing, and even though I know what I Knew I do not Know it anymore, and I remembered those two accursed blessings unwillingly.

I Saw the Dawn of the Eighth Day while the world slept, Saw the Sun rise black to eat the Moon, Saw the stars shift to new forms my eyes could not hold focused. In the periphery of my vision I Saw grinning teeth, gnashing maws of ivory razors chattering with hunger, tongues licking dry lips which could only be moistened with blood, or sweat, or urine, gums plump with corruption oozing purple. My eyes darted to see them, but the mouths raced away faster than I could turn my head toward them, and I could not fix the creatures that I knew must be there. I heard a low growl, and a sudden word I could not understand but Knew meant “FEAST!!!” and I felt a thousand cuts and knew this was inevitable, or at least Knew that this was one facet of Inevitability’s nine-sided crystal.

I Saw myself helping a starving girl to her feet. I Saw her cower when I lowered my hand, Saw her try to pull back inside herself until she were a mere speck on the canvas of the universe, and when I touched her shoulder she was nonetheless real, and I Saw my hand lift her unwilling to her feet, and cooing softly I was able to raise her eyes to mine. I offered her a heel of bread and she took it hesitantly, then eagerly, and before I had taken her hand and led her away from the concrete stoop she called a home she had devoured it, her mouth distending to consume it in a single gulp like a snake seizing an unguarded pup in its jaws. When I led her into the orphanage the nun looked at me crossly and shouted “take that beast away from here, for she is from neither here nor there” and when I turned I Saw the girl’s eyes were wide, irises shrunken to blue halos around dilated pupils, and she smiled, and the bread crumbs on her lips and chin and between her teeth had melted to paste, deep purple and frothy, and she said “kind men do not become The Deep,” and her mouth opened as wide as the heavens, and the purple froth filled her jaws except where pinpricks of light shone like stars, and it was beautiful, and terrifying, and I Knew no Kindness awaits he who proffers the same.

The orb of the Sun finally crests the sill and the oaken door opposite me explodes in splinters, and the Countenance-Ward steps through the threshold and raises his arms above his head and roars, the folds of his velvet robe falling back to expose veined sinew clenched with malice. The bells on the fringes of his sleeves jingle sweetly, reminding me of singing holiday songs in church, of the chirp of the first bird in spring, of the honeyed almonds I would buy at the bazaar with the jingling quarters my grandfather would give me with a stern warning to “spend these on something that makes you happy, but not too much so,” and I remember how much I liked those almonds, and how much I hid them, so much so I would hide in the alley behind the butcher’s stall so no one knew how much I liked them, and I would eat them by the handful and smile to myself while I worried that the butcher might know, and I worried and worried until I schemed and schemed, and the butcher happened to be there and he looked at me, and I loved those honeyed almonds so much I needed to keep my secret...

My hands are frantically pulling the velvet through the machine, pulling it too much and stretching the stitch, but not so much that the seam won’t hold, and I must sew faster, faster, I must finish before–

The Countenance-Ward’s roar rattles to an end when his lungs empty of air and it echoes off the stone walls of my cell, and he lowers his gaze to my erratic smile and charges, and he draws his wicked cudgel back and swings at my skull, and my hands give one final automatic yank to finish the Ninth Fold of the Cowl and cease, just as I see the black wood of the cudgel near my temple, and my smile turns to a wail, and I feel my hands for the first time since I can remember, and the cracking thud turns all to black.


My eyes peel open and there is a display of some sort in front of me, dozens of numbers authoritatively declaring something as if it were True. Numbers are True and Numbers can be used to Know things but numbers are not Knowing in and of themselves, and I mourn the minds that see numbers and love them and believe them and do not know that they have been blinded to a world of greys, and I mourn the minds that see numbers and hate them and scoff at them and lie to themselves about deeper truths that they do not know cannot be for they have no relationship to Numbers.

I am not sure why I am staring at this screen of numbers or where I am, and I feel the softness of velvet fading from my fingertips, and suddenly I am aware of a pair of eyes set upon me, and someone or something is seeing me seeing this screen full of numbers.

“Liam, hello?” There is a voice coming from the direction of the eyes, and it is not a voice from an entity which says anything of consequence, except that I dimly recall it is a voice that somehow helps me secure the material sustenance and shelter this form needs, and I remember it is important I respond to this voice in patterns of sound that placate its concerns and make it keep giving this form material sustenance and shelter, and make it find some other entity to focus its words on. “When are you going to have the firing sequences ready?” The voice needs a response, demands something of me, represents some pitiful entity that must demand resolution of trivial problems externally because of its own uselessness.

“Any moment now sir. I’m just trying to optimize the orbital decay to minimize fuel consumption.” Entities which generate voices like the one demanding these things of me are baffling and simple and random and manipulable, for certain combinations of routine phrasings and pseudo-specific jargon and colloquial mannerisms can cause these entities to shout and wave their arms, or smile and slap congratulations to each other, or simply go away, all without them actually Knowing or even knowing anything about what is truly happening around them. A curious existence, to neither know nor Know anything about one’s existence and yet be convinced to the core that one Knows everything, and that knowing something is Something, and that knowing something is the same as Knowing something, and that knowing something is the end of all that can be Known.

The entity that wants something better than itself to determine something called “firing sequences” seems placated by the pattern of sounds I provided and turns away, sees another entity trying to duck out of sight and immediately targets it, ignoring other entities that seem more practiced at confidently hiding all the things they do not Know or even know.

I am in the screens-of-numbers place, but this is not where I am from, and I know there is another place I have been, and that is the last place I was but I do not know why I am no longer there, or my purpose in that place, but now that I think about it I can feel myself inside that place and that place inside me, and it is where I am supposed to be, where I am needed. I look at my hands and I can feel them, I can move any finger I wish so I move the index finger of my left hand and then the thumb of my right, and I wiggle both of the smallest fingers at the same time, and I make a fist of both hands, and I punch them together, and I feel a burning in my knuckles that feels more real than the deep breath I draw to convince myself there is a reality I can perceive here, but I know there is something else I can feel that is more real, and that it is made of rock, and oak, and toil, and my job there is important, perhaps even Important, and my life is held in the balance, but it could not, must not, be any other way.

While I’ve been thinking these things I notice the numbers on my screen have moved around, and perhaps it is because my hands moved them, or perhaps it is because I thought about them moving around, or perhaps it is because they were supposed to move around, or perhaps they moved because I noticed them, but in any case the numbers moved, and the other entities in the vicinity seem pleased, and there is a whoop, and several whistles, and then “Liam, you did it!!! We landed the probe!!!” as if the numbers on their screens hadn’t said that would happen for years, and then I am alone. I am alone, and the numbers on my screen are less important, and the entities around me lose their focus on me, and it is good because they tire me and tax me and I no longer wish to remain here, and so I close my eyes.


A mound of purple velvet is piled randomly before me, piled high to the rafters of my stone cell, above the top of the leaded glass window and stoic oaken door conspicuously padlocked across from it.

The velvet is disordered and I must order it, I must take its protean form and develop it into a coherent mass, an object of order amidst the absurdity of chaos which yearns to devour it, opens its mouth to consume and devour and love it until it is no more, to unmake the softness the velvet held and eliminate the resistance the velvet embodied against its entropy. I realize and Know these things after my hands Know them, for my hands have already grasped the folds of velvet to find their edges and are already joining them together through a clattering sewing machine with eager tugs, tut-tut-tut-tut-tut-tut-tut-tut-tut.

I watch my hands move but only as a director watches actors express his vision, and I hope my mind’s last command emitted a signal strong enough to compel them unto completion, and I know the Master has a vision for the fruits of their labor, thick velvet robes with a Ninefold Cowl to conceal each of His Nine Countenances: one for each day, and one for the day that was not, and one for the day that could not be. I will my hands to unfeel the doubt and hope and fear my mind feels, for I know I do not believe enough for them to succeed if they Know what I feel, and yet I know they must succeed for I Know the pain their failing can wreak, and if they do not succeed I Know we will all the three of us die, or perhaps merely wish to die if we are unlucky, and I feel His presence passing through my mind into my hands like an operator connecting a long-distance call through a switchboard, and my hands are moving recklessly, swiftly, mechanically without my bidding, hurry hurry faster faster.

The night is long but my work is significant, and I know I have not the will to complete it on my own. I pray to the Fourth Countenance, cast down my left eye weeping at my disgustingness, my worthlessness, my pitifulness, and peer into the dead sky with my right eye, knowing there is no solace for me there, no benevolence seeking to deign my existence with relief, and yet knowing I must be allowed to exist because I am providing a foothold in the world for something Greater.

The light is creeping over the edge of the sill and I cannot sew fast enough. The velvet sags and crumples and I can’t keep kinks from marring the seam...


My eyes peel open and see another pair of eyes not a foot away, eyes that are emerald green, eyes scrunched with concern, eyes that I know I know from somewhere. The face around the eyes is tired and worried, and lined with worry and exhaustion, and fear, and I know I know the face and the look the face is giving me very well, and I know this has happened before.

“Liam... Liam, wake up... you’re screaming again.” The face is looking at me with its eyes and using its mouth to make words that try to make me to do something, and part of me knows what it wants me to do, but part of me doesn’t want to do it, and part of me wishes I could do it, but part of me knows none of this matters anyway because the part of me that is important has a great deal of work to do somewhere else.

“Liam! Wake up!” The words are loud now, insistent now, no longer asking me to do something but demanding it, and so I should acknowledge them so they stop and I can get back to that more real place, for I have work there, I have a burden that chose me to bear its weight and I love it and hate it and love that I hate it, and sometimes I feel it loves and hates and love-hates me in return. But first I must placate the entity behind the face so its words do not disturb me further, pull me away from where I am supposed to be, where I need to be, but first I must remember the patterns of sounds that make this face relax and roll over, and sigh as it closes its eyes and rests, and how strange it must be to rest and have no purpose, no tasks or burdens to occupy one’s time, such a worthless existence that must be, yet an existence nonetheless capable of interacting with me, interfering with me as though disturbing me did not matter, as if the entity behind that face did not know what it did, and did not Know what it did.

Emily. That is the pattern of sounds to use with this face.

“Emily, sweetie, sorry, one of those dreams again.” Yes, those are the sounds to which that face relaxes, the sounds I learned at some point in time would soothe the concern of the entity behind the face, the sounds that man told me a normal person might say while I lay on his couch telling him nothing, that man who was so smart and educated and thoughtful it made him stupid, made him vomit words from his mouth as if he could make patterns of sounds that could change the world around him and make things be some other way or mean something useful or even mean something real.

The face relaxes, but not as much as it should, as much as it usually would, as much as I need it to, and the mouth forms new words with the breath passing through it softly, soft as a feather, soft as a lamb laying on a bed of feathers, soft as a lamb laying on a bed of feathers wearing a noose of velvet. “Liam, it happens every night now. I don’t sleep anymore. I can’t take it. I don’t know what is going on in your head, but I think you need to talk to someone again.”

These are new words, words that face has never said before, at least not all together, and the entity behind that face wants to be placated with new words from me, but I do not know the words that should follow those words because I have never heard them before, at least not all together, and I do not know the sequence of phonemes to sculpt with my larynx and my tongue and my lips to make the face relax and roll over, to lay its head on its pillow and close its eyes and drift off into the nowhere its mind goes to when it relaxes idly for hours and hours and burns away the candle of its life in useless torpor. I dimly recall some patterns of sound that have placated the entity behind that face before when I did not know what it wanted to hear, words that make the entity behind the face feel safe and protected, and hopeful and loved, and strong and relaxed, and the face seems as if it will not be placated until I give it the sequence of phonemes that make it feel those things, a sequence of phonemes so delicately correct like the peaks and valleys of the only key to a nine-tumbler lock, peaks and valleys that raise and lower the pins just so, in the one and only one way that permits the barrel to rotate because each of the nine pins is placed just so, for any one of the pins could seize up the whole of the lock were it not placed just so by the peaks and valleys of the key, the one key that can placate the lock’s nine tumblers.

I try the words as best as I can remember how they are used, like a sorcerer trying to speak in a tongue he does not know, but one that he does Know, with words he does not know the meaning to, but he does Know their meaning, and so he can speak the words but his grammar may be off, his cadence may be off, his intonation may be off, but as long as he is not off by too much it does not matter that he does not know what he says as long as he Knows what he says, and so if he is not off in too many ways at once he can speak the Spell he wishes to speak.

“Emily, sweetie, I’m so sorry. You’re right, and I doesn’t know why it was so hard for, me to see. We’re do what you want in the morning.” Such a long pattern of sounds, and I have to think hard to make them because I don’t feel like I’m here, and I think very hard about how I make these sounds come out just so, and I feel the carbon dioxide diffusing into of my alveoli and mixing with the oxygen-depleted air there, and I feel the air squeezed out through my bronchioles and into my bronchi and into my trachea, and I feel the air rolled and modulated and shaped by my larynx, and I feel the air whipped and pricked and staccatoed by my tongue, and I feel it bitten and split and chewed by my teeth, and hear the pattern of sounds floating through the air where it can strike that face so that face can feel them ripple across its surface in just such a pattern that I hope will placate the entity inside it at long last if only I was not off in too many ways at once.

The brow of the face relaxes at last, the eyes close for several moments and water falls out of them in three streams, two from the right which is lower and one from the left which is higher, and the two from the right drip off the right cheek and the one from the left drips off the nose, and after they have dripped off the eyes open and they are red, and light shimmers off them, and the lines around the eyes and the mouth release, and the face is smoother than it was before I made the pattern of sounds I hoped would placate the entity behind the face, and the face looks just like it does when the entity behind it is placated. “Oh, God, Liam... I just wish I could help you, could know what was going on in your head so I could help somehow... I just... OK. I love you.”

The face rolls over and lays itself down on the pillow, and a whooshing sighing sound comes from its direction, and I make the pattern of sound I have to make in response to the pattern the mouth just made, always always always the response, or the face will not be placated for several nights, “I love you too,” and I let the entity behind the face relax until it doesn’t move anymore, doesn’t interrupt me anymore while it burns more of the candle of its life without even knowing it or seeing it happen or Knowing it, and what a waste must that entity be without even knowing it or Knowing it, and how sad and pitiful and miserable it would be if it Knew it, and how much more water would leak out of those red eyes with the regret of serving no purpose but interfering with mine and letting the rest of the candle of its life burn in emptiness.


No mound of purple velvet is piled randomly before me, nothing piled high to the rafters of my stone cell, nothing above the top of the leaded glass window or stoic oaken door conspicuously unlocked across from it.

“Master?!?” I cry, for the Master must not know I am here, must not know I need work, must not know I am ready again to serve as I have served all these many years, and I hope He has only forgotten to fill my cell but I know that is not possible and I fear He has forsaken me for some reason, for some trespass I did not know I committed, for some sin so subtle and so great I am left in silence, in isolation, in the desert of my own existence bereft of any other worth.

“Master!!! I serve!!!” I shout, but my words ring off the granite walls with a tinny deadness, and I realize I have no conception of how to form patterns of sound that might placate the Master, I cannot fathom the depths of His mind and I do not know what phonemes might placate the Master or even draw His notice, and I do not know or Know what patterns of sound might turn the unfathomable tumblers of His unfathomable mind, but I must try somehow to unlock that mystery for I must work, I must serve, I need to sew and make the robes for the Master and His servants, I must...

A creaking sound screeches from somewhere, and I realize my mind was rambling, and my fear and sadness and desire freeze in place, and my eyes lock onto the door as it opens and the Countenance-Ward is there, his arms crossed over his chest and hands each inside the sleeve of the other arm, and the nine folds of his cowl are low, and he gazes at the floor, and he does not roar or charge but takes one step into the threshold of the room. A Voice that does not come from inside the room, does not come from a mortal throat, does not come from this reality speaks silently, wordlessly in my mind, and I know it is the Voice of the Master, for I feel in It the same Will that drives my hands at their sewing, the Voice sparking the nerves that bend fingers to His will as they work harder and faster, and try to finish their work before the Sun rises, and His Voice is in my cerebrum, in my temporal lobe, in my auditory cortex plucking the strings of my nerves as if sound were in my ears, and yet there is no sound anywhere to be heard anywhere at all.

For Nine years of nights have you sewn Ninefold Cowls, each night Nine Ninefold Cowls for each of the Nine Days, Nine-times-Nine Ninefold Cowls each night, and your Labor is ended, your Faith proved, your Responsibility elevated, and so I Bless you, and Curse you, and charge you with a new Burden, and you shall ensure My Will be done and My Burdens be carried, for you shall choose the next Cowl-Wright and it will be for you to Govern them.”

Suddenly my mind is filled with void, and where once had paused the brilliant darkness of the Master there is no more, and I mourn the echoing remains of His last Words to me with a wail, and I wish above all else I could have Him return to my mind, for I would sacrifice anything to feel close to Him again, and I feel water leaking from my eyes, and I feel pitiful and small and weak and unworthy yet I want Him to return nonetheless.

The Countenance-Ward withdraws hands from sleeves and interrupts my misery, the bells on the fringe of his sleeves jingle sweetly, and I taste honey and almond, and the hands are empty save a wicked black cudgel, and he reaches up and pulls back the folds of his cowl, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, and he reveals a face that looks familiar, a face I know I must have known before, and I realize it is a face I Know, for it is my face, and I look down at my hands and see them empty save a black cudgel, long sleeves with bells jingling softly on their fringe, and I look up and I am standing in the threshold of a doorway looking into a room, and I see a formless humanoid shape at the sewing machine where I had thought to be, and the shape is no one, but that cannot be right because the velvet is mounded randomly before me, piled high to the rafters of that creature’s stone cell, above the top of the leaded glass window and stoic oaken doorway I stand in, and that cannot be because there must be someone to Labor, to bear the Burden of sewing the robes, and it is my charge to ensure that Labor be done.

In a different corner of my mind stirs a recollection of a face, a face I know I know, a face I have seen many times before. I remember a face with green eyes set in it, with its mouth often moving to make patterns of sounds it thinks are in and of themselves meaningful, and one of the patterns of sounds claims it wants to know what was going on in my head and help me, or perhaps the pattern meant it wanted to Know what was going on in my head and Help me, but it matters not because it is sufficient for the Master that the body of the entity behind the face be capable of work, and a different corner of my mind remembers how well that body could work, how often that body worked so well with my body, and I know the Master will accept this body.

I see the shape at the machine has been sculpted to a familiar form, and the face of that form and is looking around, emerald eyes confused and scared and leaking, and the face looks at me and the mouth moves, and the patterns of sound are something like “Liam, where are we? Is this a dream?” and I Know she does not understand, she does not Know of the Master or her duty or what she must do, or what I must do, and she Knows nothing for she has never had to Know anything, and it infuriates me, lights a fire in my stomach that burns white-hot with acetylene, turns my blood to molten metal, atomizes the air in my lungs to plasma, and I raise my arms to the ceiling, and my sleeves fall back, little bells jingling sweetly, and I roar the roar of a lion, of a dragon, of a demon, and I roar until there is no air left in my lungs and it echoes off the stone walls, and I charge the useless beast at the machine, for it must learn, and it must Labor, and it must love the Master, and it must hate the Master, and I raise my cudgel high, so high, higher than I knew I could reach, and I Know the Master is smiling and crying and roaring too.

© Copyright 2020 S.T. Sullivan. All rights reserved.

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