"The Box Of Souls"
"The Coenobium Construct"
"The Pyx Of Melancholy"
"The Box within the Reticulated Box"
by Ed Martinez
"Misery's Canticle" - photograph - Michael
"The Affair Of The Reticulated Box"
by Renfrew Werfner
Beane and Reticulated Box illustrations
by Nina Kempf
printed in Coenobium
Reprinted here with the kind permission of Ed Martinez
Back issues of Coenobium
are available from:
"I alone am come to tell thee..."
which we meet our heroes and discover their task)
"And measureless leagues of Hell may stand invisibly on every hand."
- William Ashbless,
Leviathan, Canto 119 -
It was a pleasant evening inside our apartment at number 666 Flenser Street, though outside the wind shrieked and sobbed flinging dripping gobbets of sleet against the groaning stormshutters. I had shortly before returned from a pleasant errand in Whitechapel, and was cleansing my scapels by the hearth's cheery glow while Herms improvised desultorily upon his steam calliope. Suddenly, Herms struck a curious series of chords, ceased playing, and sprang to his feet. "Quickly, Jekyll." he expostulated, "put away your medical kit and compose yourself!" He peered toward the window. "Unless I miss my guess, we are about to embark upon one of the most curious cases of my carreer."
This was no light statement for the famous consulting necromancer. After the rubber-coated corpses of the Adventure of the Latex Shroud, the sinister machinations of Christo the draper in the Swathed Island Enigma, and our encounters with Pauline, the mad artificer, whose terrifying automatons of steel and dead flesh had menaced and mesmerized thousands, I had despaired of our ever again finding a diversion as loathsome and revolting.
As Herms banked the firebox and pulled the dust-cover over the grimacing brass faces of the calliope pipes, I quickly repacked my surgical case, loaded the pistol in the end-table with cross-cut silver bullets, and seated myself near the concealed trapdoor levers. Herms' profession sometimes attracted clients who were awkward to deal with.
Immediately there was a knock at the door.
"Please come in," I called, and our visitor did so. He was a gentleman of middle years, in afternoon walking garments. As he removed his hat and dried the pallid flesh of his face with a large bandanna held in a trembling hand, fresh drops of moisture sprang out upon his brow. His eyes darted about the room as though seeking something swift and venomous.
"Please sit down," my colleague told him, smiling. "I am indeed Trismegistos Herms; and this is my associate, Dr. Ambrose Jekyll."
Still mopping his brow, the pale man lowered himself warily into a chair. "If the stories I've heard of you are true, Mr. Herms," he said, "you may well have guessed that I am here on a matter of grave importance."
"Oh, something beyond that, I fancy," Herms replied. "Why not begin by telling me where you first found the box."
"Misery's Canticle" - photo by Hector Vazquez of Inspire Photos
Crossing to the hearth, Herms lit his pipe with a spill of paper and, leaning against the mantle, his hand caressing the gleaming bas-reliefs of onyx squids and marble devilfish, he blew a smoke ring that floated across the room, writhing in the dim candlelight. The fire crackled, the wind howled above in the chimneypipes, the calliope's boiler burbled softly.
After a long moment, the pale man began to speak.
"My name," he said, "is Norbert Beane.
"In my youth I was engaged as a confidential messenger by the firm of Trowbridge and DeGrandon, and accompanied shipments of rare and valuable items to the far-flung outposts of their considerable domain of commerce. Despite a sheltered upbringing, I took to the work as though I had been at it for years, and was quite successful. During my travels I witnessed many marvels not vouchsafed to the eye of the stay-at-home or the determinedly oblivious colonial official; barbaric rites, uncanny phenomena, and inexplicable sorceries. My curiosity piqued, I asked rash questions of dangerous informants, sought out forbidden tomes in the darker corners of shunned souks and bazaars, and whiled away my idle shipboard hours in seeking to understand the terrible information contained therein.
"In retrospect, it is obvious that I was very reckless. And, indeed, there were occasions when my life was preserved only by quick wits, chance, or use of the sword cane I had purchased on a whim. But despite these foolhardy scrapes I managed to survive in good shape and, indeed, purchased an early retirement through the sale of my collected curiosa.
"But the unknown, Mr. Herms, once it has bitten you, does not easily lose its grip."
His words were punctuated by the sudden banging of hailstones upon the roof, which made him start. The wind rose to a shrill crescendo, like that of a doomed soul warning us of impending terrors beyond imagination, then trailed off into a series of minor shrieks and ululations. Beane, cringing slightly, resumed his tale:
"Though I tried the idle clubman's life, which seemed so idyllic when I was a schoolboy, mystery drew me, and I found myself once more haunting sources of books and curios until, at last, inevitably..." Here he paused and fixed us with a significant look: one of wild regret. The steel-spring-like tension in the room could have been cut with a knife.
"What do you know of Leviathan?" Beane asked abruptly. Herms indicated by a glance that I was to give the answer.
"Leviathan," I explicated, "whose name is variously translated as the Coiled, the Twisted, the Crooked, etc, is mentioned in several books of the Bible, particularly Jobs. As the 'dragon in the sea,' he is perhaps the same as, or related to, Rahab; or Khalk'ru, the Ur-Kraken of the Hidden Abyss, and of Schagannoch."
"Exactly so," said Herms, "but the name was an object of much speculation among mystics, alchemists and demonolators in the Middle Ages. In the grimoires of at least two mages, it is the cognomen of one of those haphazard assemblies of animal and human anatomies that they fancied to be the true forms of demons." Herms shook his high-domed, leonine head, sadly.
"Had they seen the reality, of course, the fear alone would have driven them screaming into utter madness."
"Of course," Beane agreed, an eerie, melancholy note quavering through his voice. "Of course. But at one point, through associations or processes unknown, the name became attached to a being - if that is the right word - a being whose...form...and motives, and worship (to use misleading, human terms) are of an order of alienness daunting even to the most disciplined imagination. And yet..."
Shuddering, he buried his face in his hands. Muffled sobs and bizarre sounds of pain forced their way out of him. He rocked back and forth, to and fro, as some brute beast might, while striving to free itself from the grotesquely-barbed and acid-slimed tentacles of some hovering, invisible horror.
Herms, a look of great concern ennobling his classic features, picked up his favorite walking stick and whacked the near side of Beane's chair, loudly. "Collect yourself, sir!" Herms commanded, and touched Beane lightly with the curiously-carved handle of the stick. There was a sensation as of hearing a distant chime, high and faint, and perhaps not apprehended through ears of the merely physical sort.
As the shimmering faded, Beane ceased his gibbering and writhing, and gripped the chair arms, rather than his now grim face, with his taut fingers. "And yet," he continued, "there are some that are drawn, against all human reason and feeling, to seek out ... Leviathan. For man is ever finding and crossing limits, even - or, perhaps, especially - those ones he was never intended to cross. In India, that vast sink of poverty and disease, (The usual Imperial rubbish. There is certainly all the poverty and disease in London one could wish for, though climate and law conceal most of it.) men learned the secret uses of the body as a tool to shape the mind. There men learned to torture themselves into ecstasy; and, also, a more terrible thing: how pain can awaken the inner mind."
Herms nodded. "Worse than waking from sleep is waking from being awake.' While some drug themselves seeking oblivion, the wise man uses drugs to awaken himself. Some wake themselves through lives of extreme danger, seeking those moments when the mind connects to the labyrinth of time, for in the stupor of illusion, there are directions thoughts do not take. Pain is a dangerous way to stay awake, but it serves. My personal preference is the solving of difficult problems."
Herms paused a moment, puffing on his pipe, while thunder rumbled, and rattled the windows; and rain hissed against the walls. "Of course," he contnued, "some of the problems I've chosen have been dangerous in their own way."
"A solver of dangerous problems," mused Beane/ "There was another such solver of problems, doomed seeker of dangerous paths, a lover of mysteries...
An enigma; an extraordinarily gifted mathematician and architect, a maker of strange toys, lifelike birds that sing and - it was rumoured - whispered to their owners in uncanny voices - all manner of diabolically clever things."
"Such as?" prompted Herms.
"Gateways," Beane proclaimed, "gateways between worlds!" he paused suddenly, his face showing the anxious defiance of those who fear they will be thought mad. Over the rattle of hailstones on the shutters, I could hear the hiss of his loud, rapid breathing. As suddenly, he recovered his courage, and continued: "Yes, others have made such things, and certain vile secret societies have long striven to let their unspeakable masters enter from beyond. But LeMarchand was clever! As you know, a gate must be 'anchored' to a specific, unique pattern. Often, fixed configurations of matter are used: stone circles, or caves, or diagrams. The key is usually a series of thaumaturgically equivalent temporal structures: gestures and sounds. But I digress...LeMarchand made a puzzle, a configuration that was portable and self-contained, that could be made and unmade at will, and the solving of which was its own key."
"Alas," Herms replied lugubriously, "even such clever doings may create unfortunate corollaries. However a gate is made, the surroundings become a part of the configuration. Wherever the way has been opened, the walls between grow thin, and easily breached. And terrible things are drawn by blood." He tamped and relit his pipe; semming to fuss over the task in the manner typical of pipe smokers, but (as I could see from my own location) actually observing Beane keenly in the mirror.
"Yes," Beane intoned, "terrible things. As the puzzle box I had discovered slid toward it final form, I received a premonitory vision of my destination, an inchoate panorama of its dread vistas and abominable inhabitants, which - abruptly - I recognized from ancient descriptions. It appeared to be the 'Leviathanic' realm mentioned in the writings of Azederac of Ximes."
"The infamous St. Azederac?" I inquired.
"Bishop Azederac's sainthood is doubtful. A hundred years after his death, Azederac's body was ordered to be exhumed and tried for heresy. Suppressed church records state that the tomb contained 'that which is too horrible and vile to describe' Whatever it was, they lost no time in burning it.
"In any case, Azederac claimed - or seemed to claim, his language being somewhat obscure - that there were many unseen realms other than Heaven, Hell, Purgatory and Limbo. And, specifically, one which drew those for whom the difference between Heaven and Hell was not significant."
"Not significant?" I said, "surely there is nothing more significant. Did he have in mind madmen? Or imbeciles?"
"Madmen, perhaps, by our standards. Yet brilliant madmen with onomatic powers denied the sane - and imbeciles, yes, possessed of the terrible idiot lunacy of Zaatot! Such persons were unconsciously called to this realm, there to be transformed."
"Called and transformed, you mean, by Leviathan?"
He shook his head. "Not precisely. Apparently, Bishop Azederac believed that Leviathan is like a machine ( metaphorically, that is, Leviathan being beyond our shallow mortal comprehension ) - that it has no intelligence or imagination, but acts in a fixed and inexorable manner upon those that summon it; according to their desires, their expectations (their fears, we might say), and their knowledge.
However, its creations (beings upon whom I shall expound later) may be possessed of uncanny imagination and diabolical cunning. In a sense, they are the mind of Leviathan. In short, Azederac thought of Leviathan as a tool, in the sense that a noose with which one hangs one's self is a tool."
"You mean, then, that Leviathan does what you want it to do?"
Beane laughed unpleasantly. "I am reminded of a certain old saw regarding toping: You drink the first bottle, the first bottle drinks the second bottle, the third bottle drinks you. Similarly: you tell Leviathan what you want, what you want tells Leviathan what it wants, Leviathan does what it wants with you. No, not what you want it to do , but what you hope and fear it may do. There can be a great difference. It all depends, sir, upon what your pleasure is."
"Yes," Herms mused, barely audible above the hissing of the rain, "such a force would act as a vast, warped and discoloured mirror, selectively reflecting your perverse and self-destructive impulses - a natural force, the worship of which would be mere superstition."
Beane gave another laugh, but there seemed to be no humor in it. "I am not convinced that Azederac was correct in all his assumptions, but the accuracy of his account gave me pause.
"Reversing my manipulations, I locked the box into a form fitting case of tempered steel and put it in my safe. The next day, a foreboding of danger prompted me to reassure myself of the box's security. The safe and case were still locked, but the box...the box had utterly vanished!"
The Reticulated Box in which Norbert Beane locked away
the "Box Of Souls" only to find later, the next day missing.
"But I fear I have left out much; where I obtained the box..."
"To anyone observant," Herms replied, "you have left out nothing.
"You found it at the shop of Aubrey 'Harter' Burke & Oscar Hare, Dealers in Antiquities! Your patronage of their firm is obvious in you choice of accessories: that ring, bearing the sigil of the Order of the Lizard's Tears, was listed as a unique item in their last years's catalogue. I would not wear such a thing myself - those pale humanoids known since pre-diluvian Valusia as 'the serpent' still walk among us unseen. Your watch chain - the interlinked wyverns are distinctive - is the work of Paduano Zelloni (another of those solvers of dangerous problems, Mr. Beane!) whom they collect zealously.
Misery's Canticle - photo by Hector Vazquez of Inspire Photos
"And when you come to me, a specialist in such things, cringing at anything in this room that is boxed shaped and of a certain size, and showing other subtle indications; how could I not deduce that little-known, but awesome, powers rule it, that you are in mortal fear of it, yet seek desperately to divine its location.
"And as for that," Herms concluded, "I expect we shall find the box with those who know what it is, and knew that you had it in your possession. Those who have knowledge of these matters and do not wisely flee from them, seldom give them up permanently, though they may cast them out as an angler does his lures. Jekyll, you are already armed. Be quick, and properly equip our client, and we'll be off. As the Wild Hunt ranges across the Heavens." - another massive barrage of thunder punctuated his words - "so shall we inexorably seek our quarry across the Earth!"
The Serpent's Web
(The Labyrinth revealed - and entered)
Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4
It is believed by scholars that
had murdered a total of 30 French citizens
by the time he completed Misery's Canticle.
Job 41:1, Psalm 72:14, 104:26, Isa. 27:1, II Esd. 6:52, II Bar. 29:3, Lam. 3:2, 16:30, 17:5, Phr. 113:17, and Bor. 29:42
(Another source translates Leviathan as "tortuous monster," but the root word here - the same as "torture" - still means to twist.)
Leviathan, and Rahab - The Mighty Serpent in the Book of Job