By Daniel Steinberg
In this world it is evident that there is an ultimate force- a power infinitely prevalent, and yet humanity has failed to recognize it. Only philosophers and transcendentalists have come close to perceiving this great truth. They have barely glanced its bottomless depths, but that glimpse drives them into drunken awe.
These men have dubbed the mysterious power many names. God, some have called it, or Nature, as if they could comprehend it. Others have called it the Devil. None of them, though, could ever truly realize the chaos, the insanity, in this power's dark heart.
In primal eons passed, this power reigned supreme over humanity, taking the shape of anarchy. It would seem that in the present, the power is comparatively dormant, even allowing a thin crust of civilization to accumulate upon its visage. However, the power is merely napping. Every human can feel it, its chaotic nature, tugging at his soul. One day, it will rise from beneath us, and anarchy will flood the world. Society in all its fragility will be decimated by the natural force of chaos.
My own encounter with this power began in the autumn of 1907, when I received the tidings of my father's death. This was the first news I'd heard of my father in many years- I only had vague memories of him, left over from a distant childhood.
As I remember, my father had been somewhat of a peculiar fellow. He was terrible at managing numbers and had never been able to maintain a steady income. Despite his economic incapabilities, he had been passionate in other, less practical pursuits. My father had an affinity for the wilderness, and would disappear for hours just to observe the natural cycles. His biggest obsession, though, had to have been in his literary studies.
Much to my mother's dismay, my father spent every penny he earned on all varieties of books. Among his collection were fantastic scriptures of fiction, philosophy, science, alchemy, and of course transcendentalism- there was never a greater enthusiast of Emerson and Thoreau than he. There were, in my father's possession, ancient codexes of incredible rarity, as well as beautiful volumes, bound in burgundy leather and inlaid with gold. However, in spite of all the other masterpieces in his collection, my father's most treasured book was a dusty old tome, contorted by age.
I recall the tome vividly. It was so grotesque, an amnesiac could never forget it. The entirety of the book's putrid leather cover was deteriorating with rot, except for a radius around the title. It was as if, in reverence, Decay itself dared not defile those dark words. The thirteen characters of the title were each scrawled without blemish in scarlet ink. Phytaxu Baalos, it read. Those words were beyond my comprehension; nevertheless, a shiver ran down my spine whenever I heard them.
I was initially repulsed by the foul book, but my father was endearingly attached to it. During the day he would carry it with him to read in the woods. At night he would read it by the furnace, the crackling flames casting patternless shadows across his face. After seeing it held for so long in his hands, I began associating the book with my father. I grew quite fond of it; its grotesquery became a comforting familiarity.
However, the book's content continued to be a mystery to me. When I asked my father, he would only give me an elusive response.
"What this book contains?" he would answer, looking up at me from the volume, "Well, that's a hard question to answer. Some would tell you that this book is packed with the wisdom of God. More people would probably tell you that this book came straight from the forges of Hell." Then he would pause and sigh. "In reality, knowledge is not simply good or evil. The only attribute knowledge has is veracity, and everything this book contains is true. Goodness is in how a man uses his knowledge. One day you'll learn that, too."
That vague answer only deepened my curiosity, yet my father refused to tell me anything more. As a means to quench my inquisitiveness, I would dream up my own extravagant speculations- a common behavior among children. Sometimes I fantasized that my father had obtained the sole possession of powerful alchemical secrets. Other times I imagined he had unearthed an ancient treasure map. These dreams were the mere conjurations of a child's mind. The truth was very different.
I would never have a chance to learn it at this time, though. When I was still eleven, my father vanished from my life.
He left in a hurry, with little warning. I remember him claiming excitedly that he had made an incredible discovery, one that could reshape humanity's perception of the Universe. He would need to travel to continue his research, he explained. However, my mother and I could not come with him, as where he was going would be incredibly hazardous, and my father would not jeopardize our lives. With his briefcase in one hand and his book in the other, my father walked out of the door, and in the same action, out of my life.
What vanity! How arrogant my father must have been to abandon me for his trivial pursuit of knowledge! This moment was a climax in my childhood. Afterwards, everything went rapidly downhill.
Previously, we lived off of a fairly meager living, but now that my father was gone, we had practically nothing. Out of necessity, I was forced to work for food. I labored arduously at different jobs from day to day. Even then, money was excruciatingly tight and there was barely enough to eat.
The combined stress from this economic instability as well as my father's departure grieved my mother. Slowly, she plummeted into depression. One day, when I was out working at a shoe factory, my mother decided to aim an old Colt revolver down her throat and pull the trigger. The blood stains would never wash off the wall.
If only I had been there, I might have saved her! But it wasn't truly my fault, no. It was my father's fault, the instigator of my mother's depression! He forsake his household. He killed my mother.
The contempt I felt for him was immense, so I resolved to live as an antithesis of my father. I rejected his mysticisms, his spirituality. Realism was my only faith.
Surviving on my own was tough, but I was already a young man and I survived. The pennies I made from my laborious jobs kept me alive. Still, I craved more from life. I wanted financial stability, something that my father had never offered. The key to this, I felt, was practical education, so I poured all my effort into learning. Three years later, I received a scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania. It was hard work, but I graduated with full honors and a medical doctorate.
The next few decades of my life were prosperous. With a loan, I opened a thriving clinic in downtown Philadelphia. Everything I desired in childhood- wealth and company- I had. But there was a hole in my heart where my dreams had once been. It was as if when my father left, a piece of my imaginative spirit went with him.
It was then, twenty years later, that I received a fateful letter. Packaged in a stark white envelope, the note was from the mayor of Woodsborough, a small town in western Pennsylvania. It went like this:
I regret to inform you that your father recently passed away.
I understand you hardly knew him, but let me assure you, he was a good man. His death is a terrible loss as well as a personal grief. Your father lived here in Woodsborough for many years, and I am proud to have called him a friend.
This brings me to the issue of inheritance. Your father died abruptly, and left no will. As his sole heir, everything he owned is now yours. You can find all his belongings left untouched in his flat at 398 Park Street, here in Woodsborough. This is what your father would have wanted. He loved you very much.
If you come to collect your inheritance, please feel free to visit me at the Town Hall. There are some final, and I daresay troubling, matters concerning your father's passing that should be attended to.
I look forward to meeting you.
Obadiah Wesley, Mayor of Woodsborough, PA
Perhaps it was curiosity that drove me to heed the letter. It was certainly not a desire for my father's belongings. Most likely they were just rusty trinkets, anyways. And of course, the bitter resentment I held for him had not diminished in the least over the years. Yet, something still drew me to collect the inheritance. There was a side of my father disclosed in this letter, one I had never known, and part of me wanted to learn more.
So, early the next morning, I hopped into my Ford motorcar and set out. Woodsborough was a respectable old town, set in the wooded foothills of the Appalachians. It was one of those towns that, while still dainty, had long passed its prime. When rich coal deposits were discovered in the region, the town, despite its remote location, had boomed into a center of commerce. The newly opened mines attracted thousands. This caused countless extravagant buildings to go up all over, including brightly decorated storefronts and elaborate churches.
But the coal mines had long since been depleted. Where there had once been a lively township, there was now only a creaking hamlet, halfway reclaimed by nature. As most of the populace left, many of the buildings fell into disrepair. A remnant of more prosperous times, the small infrastructure of storekeepers was the only remaining evidence of civilization. Aside from that, Woodsborough was a ghost town, a husk of society.
As I approached the town, I could sense the lack of energy. In the outlying parts of town, I passed an abandoned mine shaft, which, to my surprise, was not boarded up. The dusty streets beyond were absolutely empty. I wouldn't have been amazed to see a tumbleweed blow by. All the buildings I traveled past were faded, crumbling, and lifeless. As I turned onto Park Street, I could've sworn I saw a pair of eyes staring at me through the boarded up window of an abandoned hotel, but I quickly dismissed it as an illusion.
My father's flat, 398 Park Street, was not in much better shape than the rest of the town's buildings. The house was an ugly composite of brick and wood, with boarded-up windows and a caved-in chimney. With the turn of a key, I parked the Ford in front of the house.
The heavy front door was unlocked, but it took a strong tug to swing it open. Despite the daylight outside, the hall I stepped into was shrouded in utter blackness. I found a tallow candle lying near the door and lit it up, revealing the room around me.
At one point, I realized, the house must have been quite nice. The hall I had entered was ornately decorated with hardwood floors and dark maroon wallpaper, though it was peeling in places and smelled of mildew. Adjacent to the hall, I discovered two bedrooms, a kitchen, and a dining room, all similarly decorated. In stark contrast to the Victorian surroundings, though, my father's junk was cluttered all over. Along the walls were countless stacks of dusty books, and miscellaneous items were strewn across the floor. Oddly, a couple of packed briefcases lay in one of the bedrooms. For a moment, a childish part of me wanted to rummage through it all to find my father's old tome, but I restrained that impulse. With composure, I sorted through everything systematically, deciding what to keep. Strangely enough, while I did find some familiar things from my childhood, the tome was nowhere to be found.
Just when I thought I had searched the entire place, I noticed the outline of a hatch in the master bedroom's ceiling. Standing on a stool, I pushed it open, and climbed up a pulldown ladder into the loft beyond. Once up, my attention was immediately caught by the box. It was a beautifully ornate chest, skillfully crafted with mahogany wood, and inset with gold and jewels. Compared to the rest of the ratty items I had found so far, it looked very out of place. How my father could have afforded it was a mystery to me.
As I drew closer, I noticed the cast iron padlock that hung from the box's clasp. Clearly, there would be no opening it without a key. I scoured the attic, but the only things I found were a few rags and a rusty hatchet. Much to my frustration, I resolved there was no key present. That didn't kill my curiosity though. I wanted to find out what was in the damned box. If I couldn't open it with a key, I would get it open with brute force.
Using the hatchet, I began hacking at the box, but tried my best not to mutilate it too badly. Prying the thing open was surprisingly difficult. It felt almost as if the box itself didn't want to be opened. Finally, though, the box gave off its last breath of resistance, and its hinges swung wide open. Eagerly, I peered within. To my excitement, there lay my father's old tome, cushioned by the box's red velvet interior.
There was no question that it was the same book, scarlet title and all, but it had gone through an inexplicable transformation. Somehow, it was in much better shape than it had been thirty years before. The leather casing that had been rotting was revived to a pristine state. Despite it's cleanliness, the tome invoked more fear in me than it ever had before, but even more curiosity. I could feel a dark, undying energy emanating from the pages. You might expect an unnatural energy, but it was nothing like that. It felt as if the book had somehow ascended from observing the laws of nature and mortality, and had rather become an enforcer of them. Part of me wished the book would just go back to shriveling up and rotting, but I was far more eager to discover the contents that my father had obsessed over. Abandoned me over, I reminded myself.
Despite my excitement, I was perplexed. Why would my father, somebody who would rarely lock his own front door, go through such a measure just to keep a book locked away? Was he trying to keep some one from getting into the box? But then a chill thought crossed my mind. What if he was trying to keep something from getting out?
I dismissed that notion as irrational, and realizing that it was already well past noon, resolved to visit the mayor who had sent me the letter- some Obadiah Wesley. Slipping the book into my coat pocket, I climbed back down the ladder to the bedroom below.
The afternoon was nice and breezy, and the town hall was fairly close to my father's flat, so I decided to walk there. Unlike during my drive earlier that morning, I spotted several pedestrians walking about. These men- I saw only men- were all of a strange disposition. Many of them had an odd swaying way of walking, and those that did all seemed to wear a hat.
As I passed one of these pedestrians, one of the swaying ones, I gave him a friendly "Good afternoon." The man simply returned a suspicious stare, the rim of his grey fedora casting a shadow over his gleaming, predatory eyes. That gaze somewhat disturbed me, but I continued on my way.
The town hall was an ordinary, well kept building. After passing through the rest of the strange town, it felt to me like an oasis. A set of double doors opened onto an well-lit lobby.
I found the mayor's secretary sitting at a counter to one side of the atrium, normal and friendly.
"Good day, sir. How can I help you?" he said.
"Hello," I replied, "I've come to meet Mayor Wesley. I believe he expects me."
"You're the old man's son, aren't you?" he said, grinning "The mayor told me to send you straight to him if you came by. You can find him behind that door."
He pointed to a doorway on his left. I nodded, showing my understanding, and pulled it open. With a two-story, high-vaulted ceiling, the room beyond was massive. A series of stained-glass windows depicting biblical scenes lined one of the room's walls, casting dramatic beams of light down onto the study below. Sitting there at a desk was a tall, stiffly dressed man, writing away on some legal papers. He seemed like a powerful man, with a chiseled composition and eyes that radiated wisdom. I immediately liked him.
Obadiah Wesley, I remembered.
Hearing me open the door, Wesley looked up and gave me an acknowledging smile.
"Welcome! I was afraid you might not come," he said, rising from his seat.
"My father and I weren't on the greatest terms," I admitted. I gazed up at one of the stained-glass windows, which I realized depicted the Binding of Isaac. "Your letter intrigued me, though."
"Well, it's good you're here," he said, giving me a firm handshake. "We have some troubling matters to discuss. I take it that you've already been to your father's flat?"
"Yes," said I.
"Then you must have noticed that your father packed bags before he died," Wesley said. "It seems to me like he was preparing to flee from somebody. I fear your father was murdered."
“How so?" I replied with genuine shock. I tried to maintain my apathy, but the thought of my father being killed sparked my emotions.
"Your father isn't the only one who died mysteriously as of late," Wesley said. "Women from the town have been disappearing regularly for years, but oddly, none of the other townsfolk seem to notice or care." He paused. "Something is amiss in Woodsborough, and I don't like the stench of it. I don't know what it is, but I think your father discovered something terrible. He must have paid the price with his life."
My mind flashed back thirty years, to when my father left. He mentioned that he was going somewhere hazardous, but I had always discarded that as a lie, intended to help him abandon his family. Was it possible that he had told the truth all those years ago?
"I'm putting together an investigation to uncover and destroy whatever ugly conspiracy your father stumbled across." continued Wesley. "I invited you here so I could ask you to join in. I thought it might appeal to you to learn more about your father, and put his case to rest."
It was tempting. The thought of a professional investigation was exhilarating, and I was dying to learn more about my father's final days. But, still...
"No," I said. The words came out louder than I intended. "I mean, thank you, but I can't. I'm very busy with my clinic in Philadelphia, actually, and I need to be there tomorrow."
"Oh well," said Mayor Wesley with an inquisitive frown. "I thought you were more like your old man. He would have been jumping at the chance to come. But I understand, you have to fulfill your own obligations to society, just like I have an obligation to protect the people of Woodsborough."
A cloud shrouded the sun, and for a moment the room darkened.
"So then," said Wesley, "when do you plan on leaving?"
"I'm quite tired today," I said. "I plan to sleep in the guest bedroom at my father's house tonight, and then leave early tomorrow morning."
"That's a good choice," said Wesley with a grin. "The nights here are spectacular. With all the filth and pollution in Philadelphia, you can hardly make out the stars in the sky. Here, though, you'll be astonished by the magnificence of the heavens. In place of grayness, the sky is a fluid mass of of indigo, teal, and jet, with such depth you must restrain your soul in order to keep it from being lost in the heavens. And the stars shine with such sharpness and color, like the burning eyes of God themselves. "
"That sounds like quite a sight," I teased, "but I prefer to sleep with a ceiling over my head."
"As do most," Wesley chuckled, but with a despondent undertone. "It looks like it's getting dark," he said, noting the diminished amount of light coming through the stained glass. "You best go soon. It's true that night is home to many beauties, but there are also many horrors that come out in the dark."
With a curt nod, we said our farewells and I turned to leave. My foot got caught on a step, and I stumbled. My father's tome slipped halfway out of my pocket, giving Mayor Wesley a glimpse of it.
"You found that old book?" smiled Wesley, with a glint in his eye. "Your father used to carry it with him everywhere. Phytaxu Baalos, is it called? I think he also used it as a journal. I never understood his fascination with it, but now that I think about it, the book might have some important clues in it to do with his death. If you give it a read, tell me about anything interesting."
I complied and departed. The secretary gave a courteous farewell as I passed him by, but when I turned to face him, I thought I saw a peculiar gleam in his eyes. It was now fully dark outside, but, strangely, the streets were crowded with more people than before. There were at least a hundred of them, more people than I knew lived in Woodsborough. None of them seemed to have a destination in mind, though, and were all simply swaying around in small circuits. As I brushed past them, none of them paid me any mind, but the scene left me very disturbed.
When I got back to my father's flat, I shut the door and locked it behind me. I was exhausted, but I could not fall asleep, so I decided to read from my father's book.
Sitting on the mattress in the guest bedroom, I rubbed my fingers for a moment over the resurrected leather, feeling the depression of the title. I paused, wondering if it was wise to continue. I laughed at myself for hesitating and opened the book, its spine creaking. Inside lay hundreds of yellowed but pristine pages, all packed to the brim with forbidden knowledge. On the first page, Phytaxu Baalos was printed a second time, but underneath it was an english subtitle: The Awakening of Baal. Turning to the second page, I found a poem:
Spirit of Nature, where art thou?
Why dost Thou sleep?
In ancient days, Thy power reigned,
Now we the pious only weep.
The Avatar of Anarchy,
Lord of Freedom,
Thy hidden powers are unmatched,
Bringing joy to those who seek them.
Hail to Ba'al, God of Chaos,
Rise from Thy pit!
Bring agony to the heathen,
From Thy inferno of forfeit.
The final verses made me shiver, but I couldn't make any real sense of them. I recalled from my schooling that Ba'al was an ancient Philistine deity, but it was common knowledge that his worshippers had gone extinct millennia ago. Could that be wrong? This passage seemed to suggest that there was a sect that still worshipped the demonic god.
I skimmed through the rest of the book, looking for confirmation. I stopped when I saw the familiar handwriting. Propped between the thirtieth and thirty-first pages, my father had inserted an annotated newspaper clipping, titled "Hundreds Die in Mining Accident." The article was old, dating all the way back to the 1850's. At that time, Woodsborough had still been a thriving metropolis, although the coal deposits were already beginning to give out. In an act of desperation to maintain their community, the mining companies at that time began digging deeper and deeper in search of more coal.
The accident described in the article was caused by one of these Woodsborough-based expeditions. According to the article, the miners had overextended and struck a fault line deep below the surface, causing a tremor of incredible magnitude. The resulting earthquake killed several people above ground, as well as all but one of the miners involved in the operation. The surviving miner, a Mr. Joseph Baker, was institutionalized after being diagnosed with some insanity caused by the trauma. My father seemed to have taken particular interest in Baker's delusions, though, underlining a whole block of his quotations:
"I struck the rock, and then I heard it- the rising call of a demon. I could not understand the tongue, but, at the utterance, my veins ran with fear. A chanting began, a hideous repetition of an inhuman phrase: 'Phytaxu Baalos.' Then, there was a boom, and the stone around me crumbled and contorted. Crevices gaped open, and I saw my fellow miners eaten alive by the rocks. The end of the tunnel burst open with a blast of shrapnel, revealing the hell beyond it. There, among obsidian colonnades and seas of lava, stood the demon himself. He was a horned being, fifty times the size of a man, with flaming eyes. His gaze did not fall upon me, but if it had, it would have meant certain death. No, I did not die in those mines, but I have not wholly escaped the demon's wrath, for he will emerge from below. Woe to the civilized world! Through our exploitation, we have dug a tunnel to Hell and awakened the Devil from his slumber."
I wanted to disregard these rants as madness, but I could not do so. It was far too unlikely that the man could have come up with that demonic phrase by chance, difficult to pronounce as it was. Surely, this tale of horror had some veracity to it.
My father had left a three-word annotation at the foot of the underlined passage: "Ba'al beneath mines?" So, my father was searching for the deity. What became of it, I wondered. Had this led to his demise?
I had a sudden urge to explore the mines too, in order to see what my father had discovered there, but I quelled the impulse. Cleaning up after my father was not my responsibility, I told myself.
Putting the book down, I snuffed out the candles and fell asleep. I dreamt of Hell.
In my dream, I found myself standing on a precipice above an endless lava lake. I was in some sort of cavern, I realized, but the stones around me were unearthly. The rocks, which would otherwise have been discernible as granite, contorted and twisted, as if they were organic. The obsidian stalagmites that emerged from the lake writhed like massive leeches, wanting something to cling onto.
Then, there was a drum beat. Slow and remote at first, but the beat drew closer and grew faster each moment. As the tempo quickened, the lava lake became increasingly violent, thrashing out and swirling. A hundred terrible voices joined in with the drum beat, chanting the dreaded call of Ba'al.
A tremor ran through the cavern, rattling the organic stalactites menacingly.
A second, stronger tremor swept through, this time dislodging a couple boulders. A stalactite above me teetered precariously.
As a third tremor sent a downpour of stalactites into the lava lake, I snapped out of my dream. The world shook around me. An earthquake, I realized. Sweating, I pulled the blanket over my face, to shield myself from debris.
I lay there for what felt like hours, terrified, as the earthquake raged on. Eventually, the vicious tremors diminished to a low buzz. When I felt it was safe, I sat up and fumbled to light a match.
The flame's light granted me some comfort. The only damage the earthquake had done was dislodge a few books from their shelves. Yet I feared the nightmare had left its mark. As I recalled the fleshy rocks and lava lakes, I felt my sanity slipping from me.
"Ouch!" While I had been thinking, the match flame burned low and scorched my finger. I dropped the stick in pain, extinguishing the fire. With no more light to hold it at bay, a sea of darkness engulfed the room. For several moments, silence ensued.
My heart skipped a beat. Had I imagined it?
There it was again, that pulsating verse. I waited in quiet anticipation…
It can't be! Shaking with fear, I noticed a dim green light glowing from my bedside table. I made out my father's old tome, but it was emitting a ghastly luminescence. What was going on?
Was I mad? I prayed so, for certainly madness would be a better alternative to facing the horrors I had witnessed in my dream. But no, the chant was real, and I feared the dream was as well.
I tried to go to sleep, with the hope that everything would return to normality come morning, but the continuous chanting kept me awake. Finally, I could stand it no longer. I wished I was back at my warm apartment in Philadelphia. But then a thought occurred to me: why couldn't I be? My Ford was parked out front. Yes, I thought happily, I would leave right now.
The chant scared me less now that I had an escape route planned. I stood up, slipped on my trench coat, and, by some instinct, fastened the glowing tome into a pocket. Abandoning whatever safety the house had provided, I stepped out into the night.
It had to have been at least three in the morning as I got into my Ford, and the dusty streets I drove down were comfortably empty. Above my head loomed an inky void, the deepest sky I had ever seen. I recalled what Wesley had told me about the nighttime sky, and I had to admit he was right. Dark shades of blue, black, and purple whirled about in the viscous heavens. Set upon this ebony canvas were fiery stars, gleaming like the celestial eyes of God. Yet those blazing eyes were not compassionate. In its immaculacy, the heavenly countenance gazed down upon the Earth with disgust, repulsed by the unnatural blemishes that covered her face.
The chant seemed to be growing louder, but I was determined to escape. I turned past the abandoned hotel and sped down another barren boulevard. Just a couple more blocks and I would be free!
When I finally approached the outskirts of town, I saw a ruddy glow on the horizon. As I drew closer, I realized that it was coming from the same mineshaft I had seen that morning. Was that where the chanting was coming from?
I could see the forest straight ahead of me now, a ticket to sure freedom. But my attention shifted to the glowing mine shaft, coming up on the left. The mouth of the tunnel was belching out warm light, emitting intrigue into the night. I could sense that there was something terrible lurking in those mines, but those mines also contained evidence, my only chance to learn the truth about my father. I slowed down the car. What harm was there in getting a peek inside? If I left now, I would never know what was really going on down there. I would go in, I decided, just for a second, in order to confirm or disprove the visions in my dream.
I halted to a stop and disembarked from the Ford. I'll be back in a minute, I thought as I approached the mineshaft. The interior of the mine was rocky and twisted into a curve, so as I stood at the tunnel's threshold, my vision was blocked by a stony wall. It was clear that the chant, now incredibly loud and accompanied by drums, was emanating from somewhere down there, though.
With a moment's hesitation, I passed through the entrance of the mine. Just a little bit closer now and I would be able to see where the chant was coming from.
I was now at the point where the tunnel curved. Leaning up stealthily against the wall, I peeked around the corner. There before me was the cavern from my dreams, writhing stone and all. The only addition was a chanting ring of cultists standing on the closest precipice above the lava lake. Each man was cloaked in black, with gleaming eyes and intense facial expressions. There was another factor, aside from their facial expressions, that was strange about their faces, but I could not discern it for a second. Those white points…. They had horns! Not all of them, but a good portion, and those that did looked the most ravenous.
In the center of the ring stood a tall man, cloaked in a black hood that complimented his cloak, and brandishing a knife. On an alter before him, there was a woman tied up, who, despite her bonds, showed no apparent resistance. Suddenly, the beat was speeding up. A wave of panic hit me as I realized the ceremony was drawing to a close.
With a final verse, the chant died into silent anticipation. I looked away. Accompanied by a muffled squeal, I heard the dull thud that had to have been the ringleader's knife plunging into the woman's body. Damn them!
I realized I had to get out of there. Now that they had finished their revelries, the cultists might leave at any moment. As I turned to run, though, the tome, as if drawn by some dark force, slipped loose of my pocket and tumbled around the corner into the cavern. After a moment that felt like an eternity, the cultists broke into excited commotion.
"Behold," declared the cult ringleader, "Ba'al's great book has been delivered to us! And now let His courier be revealed."
With panic, I realized the cultist was talking about me. It wouldn't matter if I ran, they knew I was here, and they would chase me. I turned around the corner, revealing myself to the occult gathering, still circled around the grisly body of the sacrificed woman.
The ringleader chuckled. "I knew you were like your father," he said. Pulling back his hood, the cultist revealed the chiseled face beneath. Before me stood Mayor Obadiah Wesley, the leader of this dark cult. "What did I tell you about the horrors in the night?"
"You sadistic bastard!" I shouted with rage. "Were you the son of a bitch who killed my father?"
Wesley only laughed. "I suppose some might call me as a bastard, but, no, I didn't kill your father myself. You know, I didn't lie to you when I said he was my friend… In fact, he was my mentor."
A wave of horrible understanding hit me.
Wesley continued, "This cult, Ba'al- they are your father's discoveries, as much as I wish they were my own. He was a genius, that man. He enlightened us all with the power of Ba'al-"
"PRAISED BE HIS NAME!" chanted the cultists.
"You see, order is weak and impermanent," Wesley went on. "In Woodsborough we relied on society once, but it failed us! Our great town fell to barren shambles. But we have a new power now, greater and stronger than any other. A natural power, older than time. The name of this power is Ba'al, and He will lead us to prosperity!"
"You're insane," I interjected. "Society may be imperfect, but this madness is no solution. You can't harvest the power of a demon! The damned thing will destroy you!"
"But we already have harnessed His power! See these horned men?" Wesley said, gesturing to some of the horned cultists. "They are his offspring: half-demon and half-man, with incredible strength and endurance. There are thousands more of them, living beneath the earth. We raised an army, and led by Ba'al Himself, this futile planet will revel once again in undying anarchy! Thanks to you, we are ready to invade. The book you so kindly delivered, The Awakening of Ba'al, was the last link we needed. It contains the spells required to make Ba'al rise from his sleeping place, beneath this lake of lava."
"Hasn't he risen before?" I asked resentfully.
"Yes, and we had the book before as well. It was through the book that your father discovered Ba'al's resting place. But… Right as our army was reaching its maturation, your father, as venerable has he was, disgraced himself. He always had too much of a conscious. On some second thought, he fled from us, and tried to keep the book away."
Relief flooded through me. In a way, my father had redeemed himself. "So you killed him?"
"It wasn't I but… Yes, we sent an assassin to finish him, with as much respect as possible. However, it was too late, and he had already locked the book away in a chest enchanted to keep any worshipper of Ba'al from opening it. Everybody in Woodsborough is a member of the cult, so we had to call an outsider, and what better person than you? Your curiosity drove you to retrieve the book without even being prompted!"
"If all you needed was the book, then why didn't you take it from me when you saw me earlier?"
"I could have taken it from you at the town hall," agreed Wesley, "but I had a feeling you would show up here tonight. You're the incarnation of your father, you know. We needed you to retrieve the book for us, but we wanted you for more that. We want you to join us! Join us in our crusade against civilization!"
"JOIN US!" chanted the cultists. "JOIN US! JOIN US!"
Wesley was smiling at me inquisitively, holding the book tightly in his right hand. It was then that I knew what I had to do.
"Alright," I said. "I can't hold back Ba'al. He will consume civilization even if I choose to oppose you… So I might as well join you."
The cultists cheered.
"I knew you would come to your senses, boy," grinned Wesley. "Now we shall summon the Lord! Why don't you read the incantations for us?" He offered me the book.
Accepting it graciously, I ascended to a podium set before the alter, which was still blanketed with the woman's corpse. Taking a deep breath, I chucked the demonic book into the lake of lava. It sunk, letting out a hiss.
The cultists screamed in agony.
"WHAT HAVE YOU DONE!" roared Wesley. "KILL THE TRAITOR!"
Soon, they were upon me, but the thing was done. Like my father before me, I had played my part in protecting the world from utter evil. Ba'al was locked in his slumber.
Of course, the power of chaos was not truly destroyed that day, only one of its faces. The anarchic impulse is immortal, inseparable from humanity. Unlike civilization, it has always existed and will always exist.
Some would go so far as to call the power equivalent to nature, but that is not the true case. While the dark power triumphs over civilization in terms of personal freedom and longevity, it lacks any regard for the human soul. No, it is certainly not nature, but rather a grand perversion of physical vanity, the ability to fulfill one's own darkest impulses without the shackles of conscious.
I believe there is a parallel force, one where freedom and morality are valued one and the same, where a man can follow his soul while helping his brother. This is the Utopia envisioned by the great thinkers, and the Utopia my father realized possible, though too late for his own good. We need not work towards this paradise, though, but rather work back, unraveling our artificial notions of society.
The days of civilization as we know it are numbered. The culture of cutthroat conformity simply cannot sustain itself. There is hope, though. I have faith that one day, humanity will set aside their walls and secularism, and, spitting out that forsaken apple, return to Eden. As our fragile society crumbles, Humanity will initiate a new age of the soul.
© Copyright 2016 Max Steinberg. All rights reserved.
Short Story / Literary Fiction
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