The Shadow Out of Austin, Chapter 2 (by Jay Michael)

Roy here. Right now the Hideout’s Saturday Mainstage show is The Black Vault, Improvised Horror in the style of H.P. Lovecraft. As part of the cast’s preparation, we’re writing a collaborative Lovecraftian story. 

In case you missed it, here’s a link to the first chapter.

The second chapter is by Jay Michael, and continues the narrative of Ezra Sandstone.

An Occult Reference (Jay Michael)

It is unfortunate, I see now, that I still had about me my alumni pass, that allowed full and unfettered access to the deepest, dankest corners of the Perry-Castañeda Library at the University of Texas, that bastion of science and learning, brimming with such potential yet brazenly unaware of even the slightest horror that lay beneath its primrose walls. Originally a branch of the Miskatonic University in Maine, it was bought out by the state and transformed into what it is now. But there are certain buildings and underground spaces that still echo the occult knowledge that Miskatonic research had unearthed. One of those spaces was in a dank basement alcove of the PCL, hardly even seeming like the same library. In fact, I had often noted how difficult it was to navigate these subterranean passages, winding one’s way through a maze of tall filing cabinets and shelves overflowing with musty old tomes that never seemed to be arranged in quite the same way upon each visit.

It was a Wednesday evening on the 25th of July, I had made arrangements to forage the bounty of the library with my two fellow classmates. The first, Roy “Danger”, as he liked to style himself, was a foppish fellow with a Cthulhu-like mop of unruly hair, almost tentacle-like in their chaotic display. He was quite interested, almost unreasonably so, in the possible fruits of our upcoming labours. The other, one Jay Michael, was hardly taking the trip seriously at all. For an older fellow, he seemed quite youthful and spry, and prone to not take anything too seriously. In fact, he saw this outing as a lark, a mere way to while away the hours between the end of an unproductive workday and the beginning of an unfortunately late rehearsal. He muttered something about having been compelled to write down a story that had been occupying his brain for a few days, but that has little bearing on the events that were to follow.

We were consolidated into one vehicle, as the available places for resting such upon the noble campus were few, or expensive, or both. I was more than happy to provide transportation, as it allowed me to show off my prized possession, a fully restored 1930’s Studebaker Royale, gleaming black in the bright afternoon sun. We made the trip without difficulty, and soon we were plunging into the depths of the lower floors of the library. As usual, there was some difficulty in finding the exact place I had fixed in my memory, and after many false turns, dead-ends, and reversals that had our merry party completely discombobulated, I espied that to which our goals intended. A small alcove, on ancient shelving, supporting even more ancient and decrepit tomes, down a narrow, musty hall.

Imagine our great surprise to find our director, Marc Majcher, already there. I inquired as to how he found the place without my assistance, but he just grinned and pointed to a pile of huge works, stacked like Cyclopean blocks upon a massive oaken table, already selected and laid out for our perusal. I shuddered at his unseemly genteelness, but was too drawn to the material at hand to give much pause. We each selected a volume, and slowly perused their mysteries.

If only we had known the peril we were in! Heedless of consequences, we sampled and read, the time flowing by without notice. Most of what I saw, in an untitled volume, was unintelligible to me, despite my years of research in ancient languages. I could only verify that it was written in a script unknown to any modern scholars. My fellow castmate, Jay, was content to look at the elaborate etchings scrawled on the vellum pages before him, and amuse himself ironically on their horrific depictions. But one image caught his eye more than the others, and he spent long minutes or hours seemingly transfixed, occasionally mouthing some of the mysterious writings therein. Though, surely only in a phonetic sense, as he was no scholar of ancient texts.

It was with a sudden and unexpected movement that he slammed the tome shut. His hair, previously a salt and pepper grey, had gone stark white in an instant. I glanced at the writing engraved on the binding, I just caught the words “De Vermis Mysteriis” before being distracted by a guttural utterance by my friend.

“We must leave. Now!” It was barely a whisper, but the way he said it made my spine shiver. We made to leave at once, leaving the books upon the table. Oddly, there was no sign of our director, Marc, who had disappeared as suddenly and mysteriously as he had arrived. A quick search did not locate him, and Jay’s rantings had become more urgent and frantic, such that we were compelled to leave at once. Adding to the urgency, the lights in our basement den began to extinguish themselves, accompanied by the loud snap of a switch. These, I believed to have been automated due to the closing of the library. If we were not to move quickly, we would soon be plunged into total darkness. The thought terrified me; as having recently been exposed to a hint of what nightmares lurk in that ebon void, I did not want to join them.

We reached the base of the stairs as the last of the lights went out. Jay had become weakened by his ordeal, such that I held him up braced over my shoulder. Somehow we managed to get him up to the next floor, despite his protestations about the stairs. It was an obsession with him, to avoid the stairs at all costs, but it was the only egress from our location available. He was visibly relieved when we made the next elevation without incident, though what horror he thought we might encounter I could not guess. From there, an exit was at hand and we burst out into the open air as if having been underwater.

The air, fresh and cool feeling after the close dankness of that horrid cellar, refreshed and invigorated us. We managed to return to my Studebaker, and I saw some color returning to Jay’s cheeks as we drove off. He was muttering incoherently, but I did catch a few words and phrases. One seemed to me to be a name of some sort – “Esquiloth” or some such, though its origin and meaning were unknown. The other phrases more obvious in their intent, though garbled, I will summarize them here. He insisted that we return to the Hideout immediately. Underneath the stage within the second floor theatre, there had been place a ward of sorts, I believe he mentioned an “Elder Sign” to ward and protect those that would perform. We would be safe there, as long as the sign still existed, unmolested.

I hardly remember the journey there, but the events aftward have seared into my brain, such that I have been compelled against my very will to write them down. Roy ran ahead to the upstairs to verify that our safety would be ensured. Jay was hale enough to walk on his own, though he lagged behind my progress. I had reached the top of the steps, distracted momentarily by a strange sound coming from the theatre. Was that Roy? I would have investigated immediately, but what was happening down the stairs drew my eye like a siren pulls sailors to their watery deaths. My friend Jay was laboring up the stairs as best he could, frantically even. Though he took them two, three at a time, his distance to me never grew shorter. It appeared as if, impossibly, the stairway grew longer with each passing second, with more and more steps appearing betwixt us. The landing, now impossibly far below, wavered and shimmered, as if losing its foothold in reality. Vertigo overcame me, and I clenched with all my strength on the top of the bannister, beads of sweat dripping off my brow. I watched helplessly as the figure below me shrank into the distance, screaming and reaching out to me. The stairs and landing beneath him melted away into an inky blackness, accelerating in its appearance much faster than Jay was able to ascend. In moments, he was floating in the void. The staircase, such as it had originally appeared, now shrank and coiled into a gigantic tentacle, lashing out and wrapping around the limbs of the unfortunate soul below. My vision collapsed as into a tunnel, and with the greatest of efforts I turned my gaze away from the horror below.

Staggering, I fell into the theatre. The last thing I can remember is Marc, pushing one of the stage blocks back into place before coming to my aid. As for Roy, there was no sign of him.

I awoke to find that the rest of the company had arrived for rehearsal. They did not think that anything was amiss, and a quick reconnaissance of the stairwell and neighboring areas shewed that everything was exactly as it always had been. Though, strangely, there was no sign of Roy and Jay, and rehearsal, at least for me, was an uneasy one.

Was it a mere imagining or fantasm on my part? Had I gone to the library alone, and in my overly fanciful imagination produced such imagery, such imagery that overwhelmed me to the point of collapse? Uncertain, I decided not to tell my fellows, but to write these thoughts down in a private journal. If only I had let them know then, if only I had, the doleful tragedy as was yet to come may have been averted.

The Black Vault runs Saturdays at 8PM in September & October. Tickets available here.

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