Some day, perhaps, I will write of my lifetimes in the Dark Man's maze: how I stumbled upon it, how I was trapped within it, and how, with no more evidence than the mute witness of the hairs on the back of my neck, I became increasingly certain that it was some manner of impossible, unwholesome engine. It had a purpose, this unearthly place. It had a reason. And the more time I spent there–the longer I fled down corridors that intersected themselves without ever bending, over floors tiled in tesselated equilateral pentagons, and through ashy, cursed landscapes that were neither indoors nor out–the more I came to perceive, in the inimical labyrinth, a mentality. It was not what I could call wakeful, in any mortal sense, but neither was it somnolent. It perceived me, but only as a dream, or a toy, or an ant. It slipped its idle musings in among my own thoughts. I would say that this cognitive infestation was purely for the pleasure of perceiving my shudders, but there was nothing so comfortingly human in its motives.
Mortal chronometry argues that I scurried, rat-like, within the Impossible Engine for no more than three days. This is false. I spent months inside it. I spent years. I neither ate nor drank, I felt neither hunger nor thirst, but I saw my fingers become knobbed with age and my hair grow pallid and wispy, I remembered every minute of those decades–only to look down again and see the palms of a child. Oftentimes, I would know myself to be a drowned corpse, my apparent motion only an artifice of tide and current, and it was then that the Engine unveiled its most impressive phantasmagoria. There were spaces like some green-shadowed, cyclopean beehive, measureless walls covered with alcoves (which were not earthly hexagons, but tessellated pentagons or triangles with three perfect right angles), and I would "remember" that I would soon drift into one of them, to be caught in a frozen, eternal scream, pinned inside a single moment like a moth transfixed to a card. Sometimes I was far too immense to fit through the corridors, a bloated beast too confined to do more than twitch; sometimes I was tiny, the ceiling out of sight in a fog of distance. Sometimes I would emerge outside, or so it seemed, and I would experience the leaping wonder of having escaped from such unholiness–I would look across the clean sweep of some unknown, grassy plain, and breathe deeply the scent of the soil–only to look up and see the single bare bulb that stood in place of the sun, and realize that what I had smelled was carrion, and not the rotting corpses of animals, but the decay of the world beneath my feet.
Compared to the horrific depths of the Engine, the Dark Man, with his ineluctable voice and icterine eyes, was so similar to humanity that his cruelties and corruptions almost made me weep with gratitude. And perhaps, someday, I will write of him–of the smile that played across his lips as he spoke, in pleasant and companionable tones, of acts that the human mind should not be capable of contemplating, let alone performing upon its mortal shell–all with the certainty that, if he bent his will upon me, such things would seem, not only reasonable and necessary, but inevitable. But I think I shall save the notation of that tale for another day, when the sun is high and the sky, cloudless. Otherwise, I fear it shall follow me into my sleep, and I already suffer from unwelcome dreams.
However, despite the perverse comfort which my fictions bring me, I do not think I shall ever write, except in the most oblique of fashions, of that which succored me from the Dark Man's grasp.
The boy's hand was shaking, and the barrel of his pistol danced wildly in front of him. But he could see more clearly than he ever had before, he perceived the world as it truly was, and he knew that the thing standing in front of him wasn't a man. It was something wearing a man's skin. The fact that it was also wearing a hideously cheerful sweater was not the slightest bit reassuring. He gripped the gun tighter.
"Professor," the thing's acolyte said, "help him."
It was the eyes that gave it away. The eyes and the mind behind them, the mind that he'd felt, however briefly–calm, dispassionate, and horrifically vast, a cool crystalline world folded up inside the shape of a person. "What," the monster said, "would you propose?"
"Make him put the gun down and fix his brain!"
Grey eyes considered him. "I could . . ."
Which was, by far, the most terrifying phrase the boy had ever heard. He swallowed convulsively, squeezed his eyes shut, and turned the gun so that the barrel rested against the side of his own head.
"But I think Howard has just made his view on that abundantly clear."
"He was trapped in the Master's TARDIS," the acolyte protested. "For days. He's loopy!"
The boy slitted his eyes open in time to see the thing mouth the word loopy in a dismayingly good imitation of human incredulity. "He would, I think, say the same of you. Although perhaps in more extrravagant language. There are times when the gulf between universes is as nothing compared with the chasm between one being's perception and another. You look up at the stars and see endless, intoxicating possibility. Howard Philip . . ."
"What?" the human said when her owner trailed off. "What does he see?"
"It's time we were going."
"We're just going to leave him like this?"
"The alternative," the thing said, "is–not what he's chosen. Come on, Ace."
The boy waited until the door closed behind them to drop the gun and collapse, shuddering, onto the bare hardwood floor.
I will not write of the one that saved me, except to say that some eyeless fish from the pelagic depths would have been closer kin. There are things that walk the worlds as a man might stroll through the forests, and they are not like us. They are nothing like us. The powers that move in the wider universe care nothing of whether one is a good man, an evil man, or an indifferent one. They do unto him what they will do, for good or ill, and nothing we create or imagine can stop them. I do not know why I was spared, but believe me, it was from no human sentiment. The closest I can say–perhaps the closest that any human can comprehend–is that, as climbers say of their mountains, I was ransomed from the Dark Man simply because I was there. The deeper enigma, and the one that chills me most, is why the entity passed me over rather than rewriting me to its will. Sometimes I think it saw some part of me that will serve his unguessable purposes whether I am willing or not. Some seed, something inside me, either left by one of the entities or spawned from the depths of my own psyche . . . perhaps something I am meant to spread through the human race at large, like a rat carrying plague.
When wielded by the terrible and fathomless minds of the Others, after all, thoughts themselves can become flensing knives. And so, while I am immeasurably flattered by your opinion of my work, I think, perhaps, it is best that mine have remained obscure.
Your obedient servant
Howard Philips Lovecraft
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