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June 20 , 2008

Inside Darkness: a short story


A metaphysical tale of Lovecraftian horror, the short story "Inside Darkness" (about 7,000 words) guides the reader through an hallucinatory descent into a time-forgotten city where nothing is what it seems.

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Lost in the seas which divide the western most shores of the lands of Uqbar from the Asian continent, lies the island once known as Malcuria by the cartographers of the King of Avis, and referred to as al-Malak-ran by the Muslim historians of the late ninth century. From its northern side stretches a peninsula formed by the prolongation of the Maal Mountains into the waters, ending in the majestic wall of stone known as the Daere Links – the twin guardians – , which hide the city of Toremel from the world.

All that can be seen by a traveler approaching from the north is a dark spot on the horizon. Small, almost unnoticeable, at first, it grows in width and height with every mile, not unlike the sun rising from the eastern waters, although it casts over the skies a thick, unnatural shadow, rather than the healthy warmth of sunlight. Once a ship comes close enough to the rocky shores, even in midsummer, it is swallowed by the darkness, as the maddening height of the stone conceals the sun, leaving only a dim reminiscent light high in the skies, which is, in turn, completely blocked by the smoke emanating from the sulfurous lava running through remote valleys never named by men.

Casting their light on the water, however, the stars of the northern hemisphere can still, for a while, be seen by the unfortunate crew of the ship, as if God, in his mercy, had left a beacon to guide the lost seamen back to their homes, away from the austral mysteries. Not few brave captains, despite their firm resolution to reach the City of Shadows, have lost their courage before the dark stone, and not few have decided too late to flee the danger, thus crashing their ships into the cliffs and perishing in the cold depths.

There is, nevertheless, a way through the walls and into Toremel, though the test of the Daere Links is not one of courage or determination. No man, no matter how brave he may be, would throw away his life by sailing straight into the rocks. Neither is it a test of faith, for nothing in the Holy Scriptures or in the scholarly works of men of science hints at the location of the passage to the City, as she is only known to mankind outside through the fantastically colored, horror-driven recounts passed on by the few distempered survivors of the raids the Toremelians often carry out on Christian lands. One could say that it is a test of imagination, for it is impossible to discern the thin passage and lead a ship through it, taking as a guide only the common bodily senses.

Though a few daring adventurers from the outer world have successfully followed their intuition into the secret port of Toremel, most newcomers enter the city – as I myself once entered it – as prisoners taken against their will by the Toremelian warriors, captives brought home by the visionary captains of the shadowy people. From the deck of the ship, the hostage can watch the grotesque pilot hold the rudder, his eyes covered by a thick strip of cloth, his movements following the savage, oscillating, trance-induced rhythm of the drums, as the ship inexorably approach the deathly rocks.

When all the world around is drowned in uncanny darkness, when even the faint light of the Ursa Major has disappeared amidst the volcanic smoke, when the last thin figment of hope has left the soul of the terrified prisoner, his eyes may begin to discern subtle differences in the shades of darkness before him. If those are the impressions caused by actual objects, or the insane creations of a despaired mind one will never know, but they become increasingly clear as the vessel approaches the wall of stone, finally forming a distinct image. (...)

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