Saturday, October 2, 2010

John S. Renfield: Day One, Continued

Journal of John S. Renfield, Esq.
First Entry

A/N: And this, dear reader, is where the tl;dr really gets nasty.

    I've never seen much point in keeping one of these things, nor had much success in my previous attempts. However, I find I need somewhere to put this down, to organize my own thoughts. I will try to recount this in as plain detail as I can, with the same feelings I had as the event unfolded... perhaps then I can make sense of this strange thing...

    As to my physical condition, I have checked my stores and all my observable symptoms, but I'm certain that I only took one Adderall shortly after beginning the investigation -- 11 AM, I think -- and that my bottle of water remained closed and in my sidebag or right in my hand for the entire day. My prescription is far from expired. I may have to run a few chemical tests on the remainder of the water just to be certain, but for now I am eliminating the possibility of chemical influence. I have not slept soundly the past few nights, but I am also eliminating sleep-deprivation effects. Therefore I am forced to conclude that I have either had a most fantastical experience, or gone quite mad. I'm not sure which would make me happier.

    I tracked the missing cat via sightings to a block about a mile from the original home. The residents there either did not answer their doors or were hostile and unhelpful, so I turned my attention to an abandoned property. Besides the boarded windows and the unusually large lot, it did not stand out on the block, neither in construction nor in its condition. That's not to say that the rest of the residences were unduly shabby, though certainly not in the best repair, but that this building was in quite good shape for showing no signs of life.

    I intended to search the outbuilding first -- a small ramshackle shed that seemed at twice the age and half the repair, standing behind and to the south of the house -- but no sooner had I rounded to the backyard than I heard mewing from the house. It was very loud, much louder than I'd expect a housecat to be capable of. I reasoned that the house must have some odd sonic-resonance qualities. The back door was unlocked, much to my surprise, and upon opening it I was greeted by a breeze of warm air. Despite the warmth, I found myself shivering.

    It was dark inside, damp and somehow too close. I gripped my flashlight tightly. The inner hall boasted several closed doors and stairways at the end that lead upward and downward. The target being a cat and lacking opposable thumbs, I disregarded the doors for the moment and headed for the stairways.

    I was at the top of the stairs when the sounds began again, but this time it was no simple mewling. I don't even know how to describe them, but that they seemed like the soundtrack to a haunted-house theme park: Growls, groans, shrieks, a pleased murmur undercut by the yowl of a tormented cat.

    That should have been my first cue to turn tail and run, really, but for some reason I didn't. The thought of leaving didn't even occur to me. Instead I felt the need to go down there, like I needed to help whoever was there, somehow, I don't even know. It was like I was in a daze, like I'd smoked way too much pot or shot up heroin, and I was halfway down the stairs before I even realized I was moving.

    The stairs were flanked on both sides by a wall, so that I couldn't see the rest of the floor until I was only five steps away. At the bend there I got a glance: a concrete basement, approximately 20-by-20, empty but for an antique cast iron boiler in the corner and a great amount of ash around it. The boiler was open and burned too bright, far too bright, and whispered and called and coaxed and screamed and...

    There was something too, too terribly wrong about just that moments' glimpse, and in that second I broke free and stumbled back up the stairs and away from the sight. The voices from the boiler rose to a shrieking clamor, cursing in languages I'd never heard before, hating that I was now free and that they wouldn't taste my blood like they had the cat's -- and that is no mere conjecture or dramatization. I knew that was why they were screaming, I don't know how or why but I knew.

    I finally recovered enough wits to flee, but the door at the top of the stairs slammed shut and locked. The temperature began to rise exponentially -- this time it was only common sense that informed that if I didn't escape in a few minutes I would be broiled alive in this concrete oven.

    The boiler, or the thing (things?) in it called out to me then, speaking with hundreds of voices both human and not. I was too frightened to memorize its words, but I paraphrase: "Come to us", it cried, "become one with the glorious fire, the giver of life!"

    The basement level itself was concrete, but the top of the stairs where I was forced to tarry was lined in old, bare wood. No cobwebs, spiderweb patterns singed into the walls, but it was old and dry enough to burn on its own. I took my lighter from my pocket and brandished it at the wall, and I called down the stairs: "Release me now or I'll burn this place down with me! No more house to lure more 'flesh' in!"

    "You hold our brother captive?!" The voices swelled and shrieked. "You dare attempt to use our brethren against us? HOW DARE YOU! YOU WILL DIE AND WE WILL NOT LET YOU JOIN THE MANY!" The heat intensified again, almost blistering my skin where I stood.

    "Well, I'll make damn sure to take him with me!" I returned, far more confidently than I really felt. "You willing to lose your... 'brother', for some kid?" I might have thought it strange that the fiery being considered a house its 'brother', but then, the entire situation was extraordinary and I was in no position to be considering the logic or illogic of something so strange. I was rather more focused on whether or not I'd have to stuff my tobacco into the cracks of the wall to get a proper blaze started.

    The heat returned suddenly to bearable. The boiler asked in something approaching calm for my terms. I'd thought I'd made them clear, but I said: "I propose that you open that door there and let me leave -- all the way out the front! -- And in return, I don't burn this place down, so you guys can keep... doing... what you do with that glorious life-giving fire and all."

    "But then you still hold our brother captive! We cannot allow this!" The heat surged again as the voices screamed in fury. I confess that I panicked.

    "No I don't! No I don't! Soon as I'm out that door I'm gone! You'll never see me again, your brother'll be fine, no harm done!"

    "You hold our brother there! In your hand! How could you lie to us like that? When the proof is right there, so plain!"

    I also admit that it took me a good thirty seconds to fully process this turn. They weren't protecting the house, they wanted my lighter? It seemed a small pittance to pay for not being burnt to a crisp. I offered to leave it, and the heat dissipated once more, the voice again calm.

    "You will hand him to us, then you will be free to go."

    Well, the last thing I wanted was to step down those stairs again, but it seemed I had no choice. Out of the frying pan and into the fire, as it were. I descended the stairs.

    What I saw this time was not merely a glimpse of glowing boiler. I expected to see something frightening, having been negotiating with a hundred-voiced being with environmental control. What I found, however...

    Words fail me. It was beautiful. It was absolutely breathtaking. I could run the length of the Thesaurus and back and it would never capture the sheer magnificence of what I saw there. The fire had spilled outward from the boiler, and it moved, but more than that, it swirled and rippled and danced in patterns logical and deliberate; controlled chaos if ever there was any. In that instant I may as well have looked into the face of God. I could believe that this being was, somehow, formed from the very essence of life itself, the beginning and the end and the beginning again. I felt that I knew it, a hundred times over, that it was an old friend rather than (as I have to remind myself even now) a creature that had shown no qualms whatsoever about manipulating my mind and killing me.

    It coalesced into a vaguely humanoid form, bright veins of liquid fire pulsating through it, and extended its hand towards me. I was nearly too mesmerized to hear when it spoke. "Hand over my brother, creature of flesh," it/they whispered. It took the lighter and absorbed it, circulating it back and to its very core. "Thank you, creature of flesh," it said, and looked at me without eyes. "I will give you one last chance. Do you want to feast of the glory of the flame?"

    Oh, did I want to. I was under its spell again, and I wanted to be part of that beauty. But I'm rather adverse to the idea of dying, especially by fire. "No," I said. "Not now." Then I added, "But maybe. Someday."

    It began to answer, then suddenly stiffened. I could swear that it seemed... confused. And then it screamed as its insides exploded. It cried out in pain and betrayal and confusion, "How could you betray me, brother?", and then the words were gone, but dear god, the sound, the cry that slowly trailed away into a haunting nothing... I leapt back from pure reflex as the being collapsed into a pool of burning butane, in seconds becoming nothing more than unremarkable flame. The beauty and life and order was gone, destroyed by my lighter overloading under the heat and pressure, and I already felt a heavy weight settle into my gut.

    In the center of the pool, something shone, so I sat back upon the steps and waited while the fluid burned impotently against the concrete. At my back, I could feel the dry, chill air from the outside -- it seemed, without the effect of the being to maintain it, the rest of the house had returned to a natural temperature. Nature was waiting with me for the fire to be gone, and in the meantime stirred up some of the ashes, revealing the partially-consued bones of several creatures. The most complete one I recognized as feline.

    It was a good twenty minutes before the fire finally burnt itself out and I was able to pick up the object with a handful of scarf. Ash rubbed away to reveal a stone of opaque blood-red color, smoothly shaped into a five-pointed star. A crack ran halfway down one of the points. I slipped it into my pocket, thinking incoherent thoughts of reliquaries and repair and beautiful ordered flame.

    On the way through the house, I remember seeing that the extra doors had each opened a crack, and that the house itself seemed to have aged decades from when I had stepped in. I had the thought that I should investigate the other rooms, but it looked stable, and I had already quite enough on my mind.

    I returned home, made my last entry in my casebook and then collapsed into bed, suddenly wiped out beyond belief. When I awoke it was 12 midnight, and I almost believed it had been nothing but a bad dream. I even packed my pipe and went for a light, only to have my hand close not on a Bic but a jewel -- the strange star-shaped jewel that even now sits on my desk, hardly two inches from my typing hands.

    This hasn't helped. I still don't know what in the hell happened out there, or what I should do about it.

    I'm going to raid my roommate's vodka stash and then go back to bed. Mayhaps a full night's sleep will help to clear my head...

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