The last candle is nearly burned out now; I don’t have long to finish this letter. I only hope to G— that someone finds it before the thing is too late to stop.
The slithering has begun from the apartment next door again. It’s louder this time; hungry again, no doubt, after the ingestion of the landlord. I can see the wall to my left – the one that abuts the neighbouring room – bulging and heaving with it, and a little more of The Ooze comes through the wall every time, suppurating like a sebaceous cyst with its greased creamy whiteness, sliding down to the floor and writhing there, tendrils reaching with a blind hunger towards me.
But I must not look at the thing, or it will drive me to Bedlam or beyond, seduce me with its awful power until I am unable to resist. It wants me, and I am unable to resist for long. Write on, write on, and only sweep the candle flame to those pseudopods that quiver too close to me.
If I leave nothing else to this world but a memory of me on this parchment, then I had better start at the beginning.
Or as far back as matters, anyway.
My name is not important; nor how I came to be dragged so low as to require such a sordid lodging as this. Enough for me to say: I was important once, called upon by leaders and thinkers; but fortune blew my vessel into a reef and shipwrecked me on an island of misfortune, washing away all I was and all I held dear.
It was all I could do to flee my life and its burdens with a few pennies and a shirt upon my back, and for a while, I stumbled from friend to friend and home to home until my welcome was as worn out as my spirit. I took myself from the last of them…Lor, only two days ago! So long it seems, when one does not dare sleep.
I found myself, after a blank wandering of hours, down at the edge of the detritus of the river, staring at the black abyss that rolled by me, contemplating its cold waters while rats scurried by and other nameless insects crawled over the sorry remains of my boots, seeking the taste of my skin as though I were already a feast for the eaters of the dead.
Would that I had jumped into the seething darkness! So quick it would have been, so painless. Instead, some aboriginal survival instinct recalled me to myself and I stumbled on, following the river downstream, past broken warehouses and slattern houses that stared at me with unseeing eyes, into a heathen wasteland far beyond civilised man.
So I found myself here, the last boarding house on the last street; decrepit, worn down, leaning into the river that was ready to claim it, much as I was. I banged on the miserable excuse for a door until the landlord appeared, his appearance a broken mirror of the building he kept.
His odiferous stench repulsed me, until I realised my own body smelt no better. He held a weak lantern to his face; it was half eaten away by a pox, the cavity of his nose and mouth a gaping hole of black shadow, one eye a sightless storm of albumen. Mangy tufts of white hair, matted and yellowed, spun from the scaly desert of his scalp.
“Waddawant at this ‘our?” He shouted, his breath sickly with weak gin and rotting meat.
“I…I want a room. Any room. For a few nights, at least,” I stammered.
The landlord looked me up and down. “You look like a gent, but can ee pay though, squire? Can ee?”
I held out the limp remains of my coin purse and he snatched it from me with superhuman speed, opening it with rapacious hunger.
“Just one room left. Right over the river.” The landlord turned and showed me his hunched back, taking the circle of light with him as he retreated into the house, his slippered feet slapping the floor with a dull, irregular thwap, thwap, thwap. I followed him with alacrity; he had not returned the coin purse, after all.
Along leaning and twisting corridors of mould and damp we walked, the naked boards beneath my feet warped and twisted with river rot, walls off kilter and bulging like a boiled body with gas gangrene. Multi-legged black and grey shapes on the walls scurried away from the feeble lantern, whispering feet returning after we had passed. I bit my lip as we walked deeper, trying to still the urge to run from this place. Only the thought that I had nowhere else to go kept me from taking to my heels.
Eventually, we came to a feeble threshold, an excuse of a door. A few slats of wood with gaps large enough for my arm to fit through, a frame that had probably never been straight. The landlord waved the lantern at the door and left without another word, the halo of light and weak warmth departing with him. Before the light fled entirely, leaving me in unutterable darkness and the thrall of its insectile minions, I leapt for the door and barged my way through it.
The single room consisted of one bed, one table and three unlit candles with a lone Lucifer match and striker. A high window shone a small square of olinaceous wan moonlight upon the floor, or all would have been nothing but shadows. Prodding the bed, I shifted the larger rats from it before I sat down; they went sulkily enough off to the corners of the room, plotting their revenge on me, no doubt. Then I noticed the yellowing pieces of parchment and the pen and ink beside them; but having no reason to write (at least then) I ignored them and lay on the bed, presently to sleep.
It must have been three or four hours later, in the deadest hours of the night, when the chanting woke me.
At first, it slid into my dreams of the better life I had left behind as a low moaning. As H— and I sat on the riverbank again (in my dream) and picnicked, the singing began from nowhere; I was not alarmed at first, but then the stridency and immediacy increased until I awoke in a cold sweat.
That was when I heard the first woman scream.
I rolled instantly out of bed, my impulse to rush to the high window and see if I could raise the alarm. Then another scream, rising from the room beside mine. I had taken a step towards my own door, intending to offer my aid, when another scream stopped me. A different timbre, I realised; a different woman.
And something else I realised as well, with a start that made me colour. The women had not cried in terror, but in the extreme pleasures of a sensuous release; and as the screams reverberated around me once more, I felt myself stir from their intensity. Drawn against my nature and my will, I placed my ear to the parboiled flesh of the wall, feeling its slippery fecundity intimate against my cheek.
The cabalistic chanting began again, a low sound, getting louder and faster, pulsing in a fevered heartbeat, and then the screams came again and again. My eyelids fluttered and my brain submerged in a miasma, drowning in the primal sounds. I felt myself tugged and pulled towards the carnal noises, seeing the vile street-women who must be screaming with such abandon; certainly, no lady would permit herself such pleasures!
I saw them ravaged and writhing beneath their brutish men, submissive to every whim; and suddenly I could see myself standing over them, engorged as never before, eager to pleasure them and myself, my essence splattering their bodies, eyes, lips, tongues, hungry and longing. I shuddered and shook with an ague, a hunger to be among them more intense than any I had ever known.
Disgusted with my base instincts, I ripped myself away from the wall and lay down again, seeking a solace in slumber. But the chanting and screams of pleasure did not cease, and as I lay on my bed, only the thin wall between us, my body conspired against me, my sanity fighting against the primal throbbing, pulsing, lure of the song. I bit my knuckles until they bled, until the pain shouted down my tumescent loins, and I covered my ears with my hands until the muscles locked and they ached for surcease.
Suddenly, without realising I had moved, I found myself outside my neighbours apartment, my fist raising to demand entry; but the instant I knocked, the noises ceased and silence crashed around me and swept over me. Only a low hooting of some riverboat passing on the river outside broke it as I stood there, irresolute.
My body slowly returned to my cold control, and I began to imagine I had dreamt the whole incident. So, feeling emboldened and now willing to complain, I raised my hand to knock again at the rude door, but it swung open as if pulled before I could touch the rotting wood.
The room was larger than mine, stripped bare of all furniture and fittings, nothing more than a box of mildewed walls and low ceiling. I recoiled, my eyes wide, when I saw that on the floor in the centre was a large chalk circle and heathen star of some kind, surrounded by extinguished black candles.
Some pagan mass, I thought, stepping across the threshold. Ungodly thing that the circle was, I felt my eyes and my body drawn to it again as I studied the room. I managed to look away long enough to study the floor and walls, but the weak moonlight conspired against me; it was several minutes before I saw the bodies.
Three women and a man, all bereft of clothing, huddled in the corner. The women were of the low sort my imagination had thought them, their nakedness shocking, their pale white skin torpid and flaccid with the look of death. The man was slumped over them, a rough brute of a creature, obscene, with body hair as thick as a hound.
Despite my revulsion I went to them, but as I suspected, all three were dead by some means unknown. I backed away from them for a step, but then came back, puzzled. I pushed my fingers against the arm of the man. I was able to squeeze it completely flat; there was no resistance, as though the bones and flesh had been sucked out of him, leaving only a bag of skin; but there were no other injuries I could detect.
While I pondered this, there was a movement at my feet. Suspecting one of the women to be still alive, I tugged the man out of the way. Sliding over the skin of the woman was a turgid off-white cream, about a pint, that slithered and roiled over her breasts and pudenda. Naturally, my mind associated it with a masculine discharge and my expression twisted in disgust.
But as I watched, The Ooze thickened and groped blindly towards me, somehow aware of my presence. I felt my brain slipping; I should have been repulsed, but felt myself pulled to it, feeling myself stir and thicken as I had when I heard the women scream in pleasure.
I longed for its touch on my bare skin, for its silky creaminess to possess me and devour me. Observing The Ooze slide around the body of the naked dead woman aroused me as much as the carnal chanting. I longed to shed my inhibitions and cavort with it and her as I would with a Bohemian lover, to pleasure myself with them both in a total moral abandon. I shuddered, and not from revulsion.
A tendril reached my hand and I turned it over so it could fill my palm with its smoothness. Entranced, I watched it slide along my wrist, titillating the nerves along my fingers with a lovers touch, stimulating every nerve ending with intense pleasure.
For luck, some part of me broke then; some part of me recalled my failing sanity. I gagged and flicked The Ooze from my hand with a violent gesture, and it splattered against the wall. It rose towards me, hungry blind fingers seeking my skin. I turned and fled from it in a terror of madness, noting as I did that more of The Ooze rose from the centre of the chalk circle from wherever these foul people had called it, writhing and pulsing, seducing and repelling.
I found the landlord asleep at his desk, his feet raised and his head back, the gaping maw of his mouth and nose a black hole in his face. I shook him awake without preamble and recounted the events of the evening in a hurried remembrance.
He was unimpressed. “Bloody gent, knew I shouldna let you ‘ave a room.” He leaned back in his chair, his arms folded, obviously unwilling to move as he studied me with his eye.
“For the love of G— man, come and look! If nothing else, for the poor souls who died tonight,” I implored.
He rolled his eyes towards the heavens and hauled himself slowly from his chair, taking up his lantern with a sullen slowness, lighting it from the spluttering gas, grumbling to himself under his voice. I bade him hurry only once, and he gave me the short side of his tongue, threatening to sit down and sleep again if I said another word. I bit my lips shut and said nothing more.
I followed the feeble halo of light as we walked with sulky slowness towards my room. I pointed mutely along the corridor, the door down there now shut again.
“Bloody gents,” he ejaculated, stumbling the last few steps with me behind him. He raised the lantern and knocked once. Receiving no reply, and about to give up, I pushed the door open for him; it was not locked and swung open easily. The landlord took a step into the room and then stopped, swearing once. My body locked up behind him, cold terror unmanning my legs and arms.
He waved the lantern outwards to each corner of the room and then spun back to me. “Don’t think much of yourn sense of fun, mister. Good mind ta arsk you to leave.”
“What…what do you mean?”
“This rums empty as your ‘ead.”
I pushed past him and stared at the corner where the bodies and The Ooze had been a few minutes earlier. “No…they…they were-”
The landlord had stopped listening to my rantings, and was studying the chalk markings on the floor behind me. “That’s bloody queer. What’s…wazzat stuff in the middle?”
Cold water poured down the back of my neck and circled my waist, my legs turning to ice. “Don’t look at it. For G— sakes man, look away.”
“Nowt to be ‘fraid of is there…it looks…looks-” His voice trailed off, his eye growing wide. A leer grew and stretched his cheeks upwards. “Oooaye, nowee, ‘ow about that. Mmm, thar’s nice.” His free hand stretched slowly down to the creamy albumen at the centre of the circle and he cackled with a low lascivious need. “Oooh, thar’s…thar’s…lovely, lovely darncing stuff.”
I turned towards the circle myself, and then felt the pulse in the back of my head start to rise, and my body start to rise with it. Smashing myself on the nose with a fist, I broke the spell of the thing before it had me, turning away from it, trying to drag the old man away.
He fought me every step, the lantern cavorting wild shadows on the walls. “Lemme go, lemme go to it, it won’t hurt ee,” he moaned, his eye glued to The Ooze as it writhed towards his feet.
In desperation, I snatched the lantern from him and hurled it at the circle; a ball of yellow flame rose to the ceiling and was gone, and I had to hold my sanity with both hands when I realised it was contained within the circle and nowhere else.
The effect of the flame upon The Ooze was instant; it recoiled and retracted on itself, hissing with a sound of pain that penetrated to the back of my brain. But the effect was only temporary. It gathered itself and spat a tendril to the landlord’s hand and wrist, encasing them in a foetid grip. The old man’s eye rolled back and he groaned in what I took to be pain; but as the ooze spread along his arm, I could clearly see the pleasure etched in his crude face.
I tugged against him, pulling him away from the growing ooze, but the struggle was an uneven one; not only was I fighting The Ooze, but the old man’s twisted intentions. The old man hauled me backwards, and when he bit me viciously, I had to release him. I made it to the door and hung on to the frame with a death grip, turning at last at the scene in the room.
The Ooze had the old man up to the shoulder now, and with his free hand, he was divesting himself of the last of his clothing, tearing at his skin in his eagerness, his excitement obvious. As I watched in a mute, fascinated horror, compelled to watch, The Ooze fastened itself upon his member and began to slowly pulse. The old man shuddered with intense pleasure and his eyes rolled up and closed.
Then around his arm, the grey goo grew red, a red flecked with white; it seemed to squeeze his body in a lethal embrace; as it did, it grew and swelled, pulsing as it sucked the very blood and shattered bones from his body through his very skin. Now I understood the injuries of the hirsute heathen whose body I had examined earlier; and thence it must have devoured the remains of the bodies while I had sought out the landlord, as a spider will devour its prey from the inside out.
When the old man screamed for the last time, a high note that shook the rafters of the old building, my nerve snapped and I ran for my life back to my room without thinking. I flung myself upon the floor and berated my weak nerves; thrashing my fists and head against the floor until I fell into a welcome stupor.
It must have been an hour before I came to myself again; when I did, the eternal damned night had at last ended and feeble daylight shone upon me. My first impulse was to flee, and I staggered to my feet and to the door.
I had taken but one step when I saw The Ooze, coiled at the base of my weak threshold of a door, quiescent for now, throbbing with a slow torpid life. I felt myself begin to slip into its foul erotic mesmer, and tore my eyes away while I could.
Hastily I looked around the room, retreating to the high window. I forced open the frame and shouted across the dank river, my voice lost in the vastness of the empty vista it revealed. I shoved my shoulders against the lathe, but came not even close to being able to squeeze myself through the tiny gap.
Trapped! I realised. It must only be the daylight that had saved me so far; I reasoned as The Ooze reacted so strongly to fire, that perhaps it must sleep during the day.
Fire! I groped for my three candles and the Lucifer match, my hands shaking with palsy so badly I had to strike the match four or five times before it caught. My fingers danced to the first candle, and I wafted it to the door, waving away the turgid grey pseudopods; but alas the flame wasn’t sufficient to ward them off completely; and I could not look at them for more than an instant without feeling myself fascinated by them, entranced by their wretched beauty.
I retreated again to my bed, husbanding the candle; too late, I realised that when darkness came again, the candles would be the only protection against it. I contemplated setting fire to the room, but the dampness of the wood around me divested me of the notion. In this rot, nothing would burn.
I had been on my bed but an instant when the wall beside me bulged with a foul life and tendrils slid through the growing cracks; I realised The Ooze must be filling the room next door, straining to escape its confines. I retreated to the desk, holding the candle out as a benediction, waving away the pseudopods that reached for me.
And having nothing else to do but wait for death or salvation, I took the pen and started to write.
The light has faded again, and the last candle is at the smoking end of its wick. Around my feet, The Ooze has covered the floor, sliding tendrils across my ankles and up my calves, questing upwards. Oh, the sensation of it, the longing I have to feel its light touch against my skin! I shall not be able to write much more without succumbing to it; I grow tumescent again, aching and aching for it. Already it curls around my fingers, tugging my pen away.
Anon, I shall blow out the candle – and with it my life – but I must resist for as long as possible; I thought I heard voices on the river an instant ago, an alarm raised, but I do not have the strength or desire to rise to the window and find out.
I look back upon the last few months, at the ruin of my life, and The Ooze offers me a peaceful solution to all my problems if I go quietly. I can almost hear it, whispering to me with a lover’s voice, promising me peace. Is it too much to ask for a last kiss in the dark, even if the kiss means certain death?
The Ooze promises me something I had never thought I would feel again, a sensation I thought I would never experience.
I can only hope.