A Simple Idea

“What is the most resilient parasite? Bacteria? A virus? An intestinal worm? An idea. Resilient… highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold of the brain it’s almost impossible to eradicate. An idea that is fully formed – fully understood – that sticks; right in there somewhere.” – Inception, 2010

Even now I cannot say with any confidence or conviction just where the idea came from.  That damnably simple suggestion, which led to so much horror and fear for myself and my friends, could have come from any one of us.  Was it from Ellington, whose grisly fate has never been fully explained and who could be considered to have been the luckiest of us? Or was it from poor Maithers, imprisoned in Arkham Asylum, who spends his days screaming incomprehensibly and tearing at his own hair and flesh?  One thing I can say for certain, the idea did not come from me.

It was in the early spring of 1924.  The three of us were fellow students at the prestigious Miskatonic University of Arkham, Massachusetts.  We were on break between semesters and had embarked on a tour of the Eastern seaboard, travelling from Boston down to New York in search of new sights and experiences.  Our journey had on the whole proved to be disappointing.  Having sampled various pleasures – both legal and illegal – during our time in Arkham, we wanted something entirely novel.  To our dismay, the speakeasies and nightlife of Arkham were very similar to that of other cities and we despaired of finding something to satisfy our desires.

By chance, we discovered a small bookshop in a backstreet alley in one of the many streets of Manhattan.  The shop was old and dark, the windows covered with dust and cobwebs.  The atmosphere of mystery and menace radiating from every inch drew us in and, like moths drawn to a black flame, we opened the ancient door, the hinges creaking from rust and age, and crossed the threshold.  The interior of the shop was as foreboding as its exterior, with rotting shelves and tables piled high with large tomes bound with dark leather.  In contrast to the rest of the city, whose light was provided by electricity, here candles burned, their flickering flames giving dim illumination.  The hairs on the back of my head began to rise and I almost suggested that we leave this place, but I stopped at the realisation that this was indeed a new experience. Was this not what we had been seeking these past weeks?

Ellington reached out and ran his hand along the worn spines of a shelf of books.  One in particular attracted his attention, although from where I was standing I could see no difference between that particular volume and the ones around it.  Ellington pulled it free from the shelf and was about to open it when we heard a voice behind us.

“Hi there! I am so sorry, I did not hear you come in! Ha ha ha!”

I turned around quickly.  A man stood there, seemingly having appeared from nowhere, and from his statement I deduced that he was the proprietor of this shop.  I looked him up and down for a brief moment.  In contrast to the ancient shop, this man looked very modern.  His suit was pressed and immaculately tailored, and his demeanour was jovial.  The shadows cast by the flickering candlelight caused his facial features to appear strange for a moment.  It was as though his smile seemed to stretch too far and his eyes appeared jet black, as if they were windows to the depths of the universe.  I blinked involuntarily and the strange images disappeared.  The man spoke again.

“Welcome to my Antique Bookshop!  What can I do for you?” he said, the bright lilt of his voice at odds with the dismal surroundings.  He noticed the book Ellington was holding.  “Ah, yes!  An excellent choice sir!  Ancient Cults of the Far East! One of my personal favourites!”

Ellington looked at the tome in his hands.  It certainly sounded interesting and would make a unique souvenir of our trip.  “How much is it?” Ellington asked.  By this time Maithers had joined us and was also looking with curiosity at the book.

“Why sir! Such a rare work is priceless! However I can see that you are fine upright folks, so I would be happy to sell it to you for two hundred dollars!” If anything, the owner’s smile grew wider.

We looked at each other.  Such a sum was well within our means, however it would signal the end of our vacation.  Still, we had come this far, so why not?  We each contributed to the requested price and soon walked back out into the sunlight, the book wrapped up in a heavy package under Ellington’s arm.

Over the next few weeks after our return to Arkham we met regularly to pore over the book and its contents.  It had been written in an archaic form of language which, thanks to our academic studies, we were well able to understand.  We read of various ancient cults and their beliefs and practices.  There was scant information on the objects of worship of the cults – some of the pages of the book were delicate and more than one had decayed beyond legibility.  As we delved further and further into the book’s secrets the thought began to take root in each of our minds that perhaps we could re-enact one of the ancient rituals.

As I have already said, I do not know who first gave voice to the idea, however once out in the open it seemed like the natural and logical conclusion to our researches.  We scoured the book looking for a ritual that seemed the simplest to perform involving components that were the most readily available and soon found the best candidate.  Over the next few weeks we gathered materials, some sourced locally, others from further afield, and rehearsed portions of the ancient formula.  Our sense of expectation grew until we were obsessed with it.  Every time we met all we discussed was our upcoming performance of the ritual, until finally the time stipulated in the text was upon us.

I will admit that I do not recall all that happened during that fateful night.  Ellington, Maithers and myself had gathered in Ellington’s room.  We had cleared away most of the furniture and painstakingly inscribed the sigils on the wooden floor.  As the clock struck midnight, we began.  Upon completion of the ritual we waited expectantly, however for a moment nothing happened.  Then suddenly there was a bright burst of light and that was the last I can remember of the event.  Over the next few days however the effects became apparent.

Poor Maithers was the first to succumb.  He had been closest to the unexplained burst of light and whatever he had seen had done irreparable damage to his mind.  All he could say was one word – “Noo-ren” – over and over again.  His condition worsened over the following days until finally we had no choice but to commit him for psychiatric evaluation and treatment.  Before long he was kicking and screaming in his cell and clawing at his flesh, drawing blood and painting the walls of his cell with the same symbols we had seen in that abominable book.  The only intelligible word that issued from his lips was “Noo-ren”.

Ellington and myself seemed to be unaffected.  It was a grief to us to see Maithers deteriorate, and we ultimately agreed never to speak of the occurrence again.  We burned the book and scattered its ashes over the Miskatonic.  We then devoted ourselves to our academic studies as best we could.

Ellington eventually found another mechanism for coping with what happened.  He confided in me that he had met a young lady of chinese descent.  He described her as fascinating and shy, indeed she spent the majority of the time with her face hidden behind a black fan.  Still, they became acquainted and Ellington found a kindred spirit who held the same fascination with the occult and ancient rites and practices.

A couple of months later Ellington told me that his intention was to request the young lady’s hand in marriage, and had asked her to visit him in his room that very evening.  I was happy for my friend and wished him the very best of luck.  Those were my last words to him.  The next day his body was discovered and I was asked to identify him.  The official verdict was suicide – the door to his room had been locked and no other person was present, not even the chinese lady.  What I saw though was not the result of someone taking his own life.  The body that lay on the slab before me had been crushed almost flat.  His entire ribcage had been broken as if a tremendous weight had pressed down on it and his face had been contorted into a mask of absolute terror.  Investigation of Ellington’s room had uncovered a single word, hastily written in blood, near to where his body had been found.  “Noo-ren”.  No trace of the young chinese lady was ever found. 

All of this happened years ago and even now some part of me wonders if it had actually occurred, if the significance I attributed to these events was real or just the product of a fevered mind pushed to breaking point by what it had experienced.  Recently I have come to the conclusion that there is only one way to be certain.  One course of action that will uncover the truth of the matter.  I must perform the ritual again.

I have perfect recall of the formula of the ritual and have gathered the required materials over the past few weeks.  Tonight I will find out once and for all whether my friends were the victims of unhappy coincidence, or whether something fouler was at work.  For the past few nights the ritual has been all I can think about and now finally tonight is the night. Finally I will discover the truth behind this “Noo-ren”.  But still, one small thought tugs at my mind.  One small shred of my remaining sanity shining through like a light soon to be extinguished by the darkness.

This is not my idea.

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