Thorn Within

If you have been reading the newspapers lately, or following the news on the television, you have undoubtedly heard of the atrocity committed on the city streets of gentle Arkford three days ago. However, it is not this that I wish to bring to light, for the tabloid press have already saturated your lives with more than sufficient coverage. No, I instead feel that it is my obligation to reveal the reasons why such a thing had to happen.

By now, I am sure that most people will be all too familiar with the name Richard T. Hunt, and will curse him as a daemonic fiend not fit to tread upon God’s green earth. Having known him, though more as a neighbour than as a friend, and a reclusive one at that, for many months, I feel I must start this tale at the beginning, or the closest to the beginning that I can relate.

It was around seven, perhaps six or seven months ago that Hunt moved into the house next to mine, in one of the many rows of terraced houses not far from the main city centre. He was not an Irish native, I could tell, though I could not quite place his strange accent. The quarters into which he had moved had not been inhabited for many years, having been shunned by locals for as long as I can recall. Were it not for its location so close to one of Ireland’s largest cities, I doubt it would ever have been bought by anyone, being instead left to rot and crumble. This was not the case, though, as Hunt seemed almost eager to move into the address – a fact which, although striking me at the time as somewhat odd, does not puzzle me any longer.

Hunt was never a very sociable man, and after the initial hospitalities usually heaped upon a new arrival to the neighbourhood, he withdrew from the community, seeking no company but his own. Most saw him only when he emerged to purchase his shopping, and on these scant occasions he always seemed quite jumpy and jittery, almost afraid of his own shadow. He very seldom spoke, but when he did it became apparent that his abstruse accent had grown thicker and more perplexing, for each I heard it ringing in my ears, I could swear I had heard such an accent before, but, infuriatingly, I could never quite place where it was that I had.

All that time – that is, the first few weeks after his arrival – I thought late at night, when the sun was dead and the moon and stars danced merrily upon its grave, that I could just about make out faint noises coming from his house, through the thick wall separating from mine. This on its own would not even be worth noting were it not for the nature of these sounds – always either a low, bass chanting in a tongue I could not understand; or manic pleading and whimpering, which, if I concentrated hard enough, I could hear to include fragments such as “spare me”, “my King” and “will she be enough?” – all of which greatly baffled me as to their meaning, though the intonation with which they were uttered left me in no doubt that it was Hunt who was begging and beseeching in the small hours of the darkness. Other words struck me as being strange, for it seemed somehow that such words should be, for want of a better word, unpronounceable. I do not even know how to begin transcribing such sounds, though if I was to make an appropriation to spelling, it would be Hastur or Ashtor. All this and more I heard in the heat of the night, coming from the abode of Richard Hunt.

I ignored all this, however, for another few weeks, not so much attributing it to anything logical, but rather pushing it out of mind entirely. It wasn’t until I began to hear another voice amidst the pleading which had as of late grown more audible. This new voice was evidently that of a young woman, and I heard it for only one night, and even then only for a few brief moments. Curious, and somewhat alarmed, I enquired at Hunt’s house the next morning as to what was going on in the early morning that led him to whimper so emphatically to an unseen master. He seemed wild-eyed and haggard, yet invited me into his front room with a cordial, amiable manner, and discussed with me; over a few slices of a rabbit pie he proudly told me was his own cooking; the nature of the sounds I heard at night. He had been writing a play, he claimed, for the past few months, and part of his method for polishing the rough drafts of it were to act it out, and see where any faults lay. He had also, he averred, recently read an old, obscure play which had greatly excited him, and he often found himself repeating monologues and soliloquies from its pages in addition to his own writings. However, despite his jovial demeanour and apparent scholarly leanings, there was something about him which I did not like, though I could not quite place it. I bid him farewell, inventing some excuse regarding an appointment with a friend, and left. However, I was not content with the explanation he had given me, for if he was truly enacting a play he was writing, why leave it until one o’clock in the morning? In addition, if he performed alone, whose was the feminine voice? However, it was not long before these suspicions were forced out of my head when, for some reason, the nightly supplication abruptly stopped. I no longer heard Hunt begging to be shown mercy, nor did I hear the weird mantras chanted in a language long dead. What I did not realise at the time was that this was far from the good luck I had taken it to be.

It was about this time that I began to notice a horrible smell emanating from the upper rooms of Hunt’s house, which I soon traced to be the attic. It stank of rot, and I figured that a stray cat or some other animal had managed to enter through an open window, and lay dead in one of the far corners of the room. I mentioned this to Hunt when he arrived at my door one day bearing another of his pies as a gift, but he seemed not to care, and only nodded vaguely when I mentioned it to him. It was not long before he was frequently coming round with another meat pie, and though he claimed the ranged from rabbit to pheasant to grouse, they all had a similar taste that was too like red meat to be game. I did not enquire as to what it was, however, as I did not want to seem ungrateful, and I already felt rather guilty about accepting his numerous gifts so readily. All the while, the horrid stench of decay coming from his attic grew worse, so much so that I began regularly burning incense to drown out the smell.

Then, after perhaps six weeks after the cessation of the odd nocturnal sounds, just when I had thought that Hunt would begin to show himself more about the community, he, almost instantly, became his old introverted, reticent self again. Although the bizarre midnight chanting and the grovelling that followed it did not resume, I was still being awoken in the dead of night by Hunt’s actions, though now it was the sounds of his car, as he had taken to driving around after dark, a fact that I chalked up to an interest he may have had in the eerie beauty of the Irish countryside at night. On the few occasions that I caught a glimpse of the ascetic hermit, he appeared very gaunt and pallid, and his wild, darting eyes were always very badly bloodshot, creating a stark contrast with his ashen complexion. His manner now was no longer that of the kindly academic he had once come across as being, but was very restless and uneasy, and he often looked over his shoulder before looking at his hands, examining them closely for some reason, and always muttering to himself. I was always stirred to pity when I saw the wretch he had become, and, though many in the neighbourhood whispered of a drug addiction, I was not overly sure what had caused his devolution into such a ghastly state. To tell the truth, I did not really care what had brought about his degeneration, although I was far from indifferent to his plight. All that concerned me regarding Hunt was the hope that he improved, and finding the root of the problem was not one of my priorities. However, what moved me most about Hunt was not the unfortunate condition he had fallen to, but that he still came round two or three times a week with a freshly baked pie, made from spare cuts of meat his brother, a butcher in Newry, regularly sent him.

It was on a Tuesday morning that I decided to pay Hunt a visit, to see if I could help him regain his former dignity in any way. When I arrived, however, his front door was lying open, although he was not at home. Thinking he may have been out on an errand, I closed his door and returned home, to wait for his return. A nagging sense of worry was gnawing hungrily at the back of my mind, but, as I did not know why it had come about, I tried to ignore it, and put on the television to watch the news. Only then did I find out what had caused my apprehension, and I knew that I had been horribly wrong in pitying Hunt.

I probably do not need to go into much detail over the recently publicised incident, but for the sake of making this account as complete as I can, I shall. On that Tuesday morning, February 15th, Richard Hunt had left his house, and gone via bus to Arkford city centre, taking with him, concealed under his jacket, a brace of archaic, outmoded duelling pistols that were one of his prized possessions. Upon heading to the eternally bustling Patton Street, he stood in the doorway of a dark, dingy, and somewhat disreputable book shop, drew the loaded pistols, and opened fire upon the heaving throng of people. Despite the antiquity of the pistols, and their slow rate of fire, Hunt was able to fell eight bystanders before the crowds dispersed. At this point, a lone eye witness, cowering behind the monument to James Joyce that forever looks heartlessly down the cobbled street, heard Hunt scream aloud in a tongue that she could not comprehend, before hearing a single gunshot, amplified by the anomalous emptiness of the city at this time. Daring to peer around Joyce’s leg, she saw that the madman had apparently shot himself, as he lay dead on the street, bleeding from a gaping wound between his eyes. Surrounding him were the bodies of those he had shot – a mother of three; her children; a young couple still holding hands; a businessman en route to the office; and an elderly man slumped over a bench beside the statue. Within minutes, the police and ambulances arrived, but it was too late.

Of course, after such an unusual bloodbath, the police began an investigation into Hunt’s past, and found that the final massacre was only the tip of the iceberg. They noticed the abysmal stench before even entering the house, and, inspired by tales of John Wayne Gacy’s arrest, decided to check for the source. I told them I had guessed it to be coming from his attic, as it seemed to be stronger in the upper rooms of my own house. Hearing this, the decided to search the attic, and discovered a scene of the most grotesque, macabre horror the like of which has never been seen in this country. Bones and fragments thereof littered the floor, while bodies in varying stages of putrefaction were propped up against the walls, tied to the rafters, or left draped over each other in hideous piles of rotting flesh and scuttling carrions feeders. The floor was slick with a horrendous black sludge, and the whole scene was so repugnant and malodorous that several of us were violently sick before even laying eyes upon the mausoleum.

Suffice to say, the police cordoned off as much of the street as they could, and spent the better part of the day helping their pathology department carry the corpses to the morgue. Only when the attic was cleared of its sepulchral contents did the investigation there resume, and it was found that the walls were elaborately carved with curious arcane sigils and symbols, the meaning of which none present could discern. Several words were also thus engraved, in a runic lettering which, for the most part, closely resembled our alphabet, or that of the Russians. Several characters could not be distinguished, and none of the words seemed to make sense, consisting of gibberish phrases like “Ashtor Dei” or “Croseus Rex”.

The autopsy reports on the less perished cadavers revealed that all of them had died of suffocation, and that their hearts had been removed – whilst they were still alive, judging by the evidence of bleeding around the severed vessels. Some of the carcasses were missing limbs, which had been amputated after they had died. Indeed, one of the bodies encountered in that funereal attic had been hung upside down from the roof beams, decapitated and spilt into two halves lengthways. In addition, the varying levels of decomposition in the bodies told us that the earliest – a near skeletal monstrosity with several disconnected ribs – had been there for six months; while the latest, which had barely begun to show signs of decay, was barely dead for four days.

An examination of the rest of the house turned up a set of bloodied surgeon’s tools – forceps, scalpels and a small, electric bone saw – as well as several archaic and mystic tomes bound in some dubious tanned leather and illustrated with questionable icons, some resembling those found embossed in the walls of the foul sombre attic. Among the volumes uncovered were the odious Liber Eibon; the Book of Magnus; and several manuscripts in Hunt’s own penmanship I could not read, for they were obviously written in that unintelligible tongue I had heard chanted so often in the early hours of the morning. What caught my eye the most among these rotting books was an old leather-bound play, obviously the one by which Hunt had been so impressed. Its name was what caught me off guard, for I had long thought it fictitious, invented casually by those hack horror writers decades ago – “The King in Yellow”. A diary was also turned up, but in spite of careful poring over the contents and any hidden meanings the seemingly cryptic entries may have, we could deduce nothing. Several references were made of trying to appease “the King”, and on a day coinciding with the date one of the identified victims had gone missing, the entry simply stated “My King seemed satisfied with the girl’s heart. She screamed too much, though.” Reading this, I told the officers present about the night I had heard a woman’s voice coming from his house, pleading indecipherably with him. What aroused the most interest, however, was the entry written the morning of the butchery on Patton Street, which read “We have royalty coming… King in Yellow is coming. Magnum Innominate. Must prepare for him. Prepare a way with blood.”

The police took from this that Hunt had been suffering some sort of mental problem, possibly having audio-visual hallucinations, and had sought to appease the demons of his delirium by doing as they asked – I was told that most delusions seem to seek blood and murder. This had tragically led to him repeatedly killing and butchering anyone who he could get his hands on, and rose to a final crescendo on the morning of the 15th, when Hunt decided to step up killing spree. The final ruling is that the man was a paranoiac, who heard voices in his head, presumably the ‘King’ his journal mentions, and ended up obeying their urges to kill. Only one thing prevents me from believing this explanation fully – when the police attempted to look into Hunt’s family, they found that he had been orphaned at a young age, with no brothers or sisters. If he was an only child, what was in those pies he claimed were made from cuts of meat his brother sent him?

6 Responses to “Thorn Within”

  1. Eric Norton Wrote:

    A fairly decent continuation of the King in Yellow insanity theme. However, one thing that sort of leapt out at me was the statement that the victims had died of suffocation but had had their hearts cut out while still alive. It seems that if one’s heart was cut out, dying of suffocation would be rather unlikely. Was this an intentional discrepency? If so, I’m not aware of the reason for it.

  2. Jesus Prime Wrote:

    Eric, sorry for the delay, but I didn’t notice the comment until now. Basically, I was aware of the anomaly, but wanted to have things seem a little unnatural – we’re talking about a man who was attempting to summon Hastur, so I figure that there would be some divine(?) intervention allowing the victims to live on after evisceration.

  3. Nickolaus A. Pacione Wrote:

    Very story story here — needing to pick up the King in Yellow book because this is a damn good story. I agree with Norton here, you got some skills with this short story. Have you thought of making this into a novella?

  4. Nickolaus A. Pacione Wrote:

    story story — sorry about the typo.

  5. Nickolaus A. Pacione Wrote:

    strong — fuck can’t type today. It took a lot of me writing The Drive By Ghost.

  6. Jesus Prime (Stefano) Wrote:

    I actually thought of doing a parellel text called “Thorn Without” which would compile newspaper articles and news stories about missing women with one of the gardaí piecing together the puzzle. Haven’t gotten round to it yet, though.

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