"The Affair Of The Reticulated Box"
by Renfrew Werfner
"Window of the Soul" - Photo by Michael Lee, 2012
"The Serpent's Web"
Labyrinth revealed - and entered)
by Nina Kempf
printed in Coenobium
Reprinted here with the kind permission of Ed Martinez
issues of Coenobium
are available from:
the beginning of creation, a
terrible thing was done. Echoed
and reflected throughout time, it still seeks to accomplish it dire
Beyond the White Void it lies, hideous beyond human comprehension or
This ignorance, though a great mercy, yet leaves our souls exposed to a
fate unspeakable and malign. Were it not for Those across the
Void, that all-devouring barrier that not even the Strong Door passes,
there would be no hope for we who are caught within the couls of the
error. But They, upon Their wise, all-seeing Thrones,
against mere damnation, but only to avert the advent of the Fatal
- While we, in our awful foolishness, still batter at the gates of That which is to Hell as Hell is to Heaven.
- Anonymous, The Urgaak Manuscript, Codex B
we collected weapons and raingear from
hall, piled into Beane's waiting cab, and were off across the nocturnal
city. The storm was spectacular, with vivid bolts of blue and
streaking across the sky at frequent intervals; and bitterly cold rain
fell like a waterfall.
"Are you seriously suggesting," Asked Beane when Herms had given the driver our destination, "that a reputable dealer in antiquities would stoop to common theft?"
"Hardly a common one," Herms told him, "and like most of their sort, their stock in trade is the loot of foreign lands and despised persons. Though I suspect that they need not often resort to dirtying their own hands with such matters."
After much careening through the rain-lashed streets, we arrived at the ornate circular 'moon door' of Burke & Hare's Excellent Antiquities. Herms studied the shopfront for movement, then tapped the doors with his stick: a pattern of nine quick touches. Suddenly, an unseen, verdant light seemed to play around the edges of the doorway, and the doors shot into their slots with a shrill hissing sound.
in darkness, relieved by the wan, flickering illumination of the night
lamps. As we paused in the entranceway, a great clock against
far wall, its seven hands arrayed among the signs of a sinister zodiac,
began to strike the hour of midnight, muffled beneath the incessant
of the downpour.
"Ah, Jekyll," Herms intoned, "do you recognize that chime?"
"Certainly," I answered, "It's one from the old rhyme - 'What evil forebodes?, shriek the bells of St. Tode's' - the same heresy as Azederac!" Herms nodded. "Keep your wits about you, Jekyll, for we are surely in deep waters here!" Shutting the doors behind us, we began to search the shop. The showroom was circular, with smoothly coved ceilings and (oddly enough) identical coving where the walls met the floors, giving a room quite without corners. The entire setup was elaborate and suggestive of their trade: Behind intricate glass showcases full of the most fantastic occultiana, the walls were stencilled with a repeating ornamental monogram in the glyphs called 'pebbles of adamant.' Grates beneath the bizarrely designed bronze window-grilles smelled of garlic, and echoed the sound of running water. The lamp sconces were sculpted as strangely beautiful seven-horned heads.
Eventually we came to the bookshelf, where Herms carefully scanned the titles: Old Mother Oakenbones' Anyhow Stories, The Ship That Sailed to Mars ( a droll conceit, that), With Jonsinger at the Court of the King of Dragons, the insidious Tears of Our Lady...Carefully, he reached out and seized a tattered copy of Grimrek's Encyclopaedia of Marvels, forcing it back into the shelf. With a loud snapping of latches, the shelf detached itself from the wall and swung open, revealing itself to be a cunningly disguised door.
its outwardly ordinary appearance, the door proved to be nearly a foot
in thickness, all but its oaken facade being of burnished,
steel. Concealed beyond was a tiny room, scarcely more than a
the shelves lining its walls crammed with curious, glittering
In the center, upon a pedestal of black granite, bathed in the rays of
a powerful arc lamp, lay something that at first presentment resembled
a gigantic moonstone. Two great, curved bowls of purest
placed lip to lip to form a box and lid, held several gallons of
blue fluid. The crystal was closed, and seamless save at its
equator, yet the fluid within seemed to swirl as though it were being
As I bent to observe this phenomenon more closely, the fluid trembled and wavered, and arrays of thin tendrils extended from the surface, groping toward me. I leapt back abruptly, the blood draining from my face. I remembered only too well our ordeal-filled year in the caverns beneath the Antarctic continent, and what poor damned Danforth had so misleadingly called the 'proto-shoggoths."
"Do not be alarmed, Jekyll," Herms admonished me. "It is a living culture of the drug Liao (though to call it a drug demeans such a marvel of pharmacology), and while strongly vivotropic and able to move as a whole (as do the slime molds), its material component cannot pass through the dense matter of these quartz lemnules. Also, should it somehow do so, growth outside its natural host requires a strong ulta-violet light or other such powerful etheric vibratory force. And it must be fed upon the ichor of gods."
Herms stroked the lenticulate crystal, the tendrils within following the slightest movements of his hand, while Beane and I stared, transfixed by the eerie sight.
"Although its life-force extends into higher planes of existence, it is a harmless parasite - a commensual of certain transdimensional beings; analogous to those microbes that infest the blood of humans and termites. Metachemically, it is related to secretions of certain monsters and of various 'dead' or 'undead' folk, even so-called inorganic matter if properly imbued with the astral husks of once-living beings - one of the inmost secrets of black magic... "Come, Jekyll," he requested, interrupting himself, "help me move this ... item aside."
cleared a space among the paraphernalia cluttering the shelves, shoving
aside a gleaming trapezohedral stone clamped in a mirrored nest where
shone translucent, of seemingly infinite depths. Together we
the crystalline mass and its eldritch cargo from the squat pillar onto
the new space, where perched precariously. It was bafflingly
yet awkward, like trying to shift a great gyroscope.
Beneath, etched into the stone, was a square outline whose interior held a complex design, one that I recognized as having been embossed on the spine of a volume that opened the door. Herms slid the top of the cubic pillar to one side, revealing a cavity wherein lay what could only be the mysterious box : black and silver, bearing the efflorant pattern - and others equally strange. He plucked it out and held it aloft in the blue-white glare of the electric arcs.
are familiar with the seven families of transformations of the
Herms asked with a sly smile. "Certainly," I replied,
be teased. "There are four Geometrics: the poly-dimensional
the infinite Trapezohedral Bipyramidal; the Octohedral Bipyramidal,
is both; and the Dodecahedral, which is neither. Next, the
irrationals: the Schema of Interlocking Dissections, the Roses of Thom,
and the cunning Inexplicable Shards."
Herms chuckled, turning the enigmatic device in his hands. "It is said that for such puzzles the number of solutions is always at least one more than is encompassed by the user's present knowledge." He began to twist and turn the box, pressing here and there upon its faces. "It is said," Beane whispered, his face gone pale and bloodless, yet strangely eager of expression, "that the substance of the box is part of the body of Leviathan."
From the unseen interior of the box there emerged a banal, yet sinister, music, somewhat like what might be produced by an inferior student of Mussorgski. Herms frowned.
Beane continued : "As long as part of Leviathan remains in the world, many doors can be opened, and many copies of the key can be made."
Herms nodded abstractedly. "Yes," he said, "the interplanar barrier must be rotted like a sieve! Ah! As I thought : This is indeed the 'Pyx of Melancholy' . A most pernicious device.
"The Box of Souls" - Photo by Michael Lee, 2012
portion of the cube slid upwards, rotated, and reseated
music became more insistent, and the fierce beams of the arc faded to a
barely discernible purple glimmering.
Herms sat the box down quickly, and tapped it with his stick. The arc flared back, and the box unwound and reseated itself momentarily into its original configuration. Then, after scarcely a moment's pause, it began to solve itself! "Take care," admonished Herms, "the box responds less to the actual physical manipulations than to the will of the solver. At this point it is absolutely vital that we avoid mental pictures of the solution, or we are doomed."
The music slowed like a gramophone winding down, but continued inexorably. The arc became a violet ghost of itself.
"No use," Herms cried, "we shall have to risk it. But we may enter by an unsuspected route."
his stick through his belt, he seized the slowly metamorphosing cube,
began to turn it in another direction. I could see the sinews
out at his wrists as he forced it into a strange, parallelogramic
The sides opened, and prisms rose into place. Herms placed
on the corners of the puzzle, as though it was hot to the touch, and
it. Humming like angry bees, small, spinning knives rose out
in the surface, moved to new locations, then retracted.
"The springs set by manipulating the box can produce more than music," observed Herms. He shifted his grip just as long needles sprung upward for a moment. Than a great silence fell. Not just the music, but the ever-present sound of rain had ceased. We looked at each other for long seconds, then stepped back into the main room. We were not prepared for what we found.
parts of the room seemed to have opened up, like one of those
diagrams one sees in so many of the magazines these days.
revealed in the interstices of reality was not the world we had left
but one apparently beyond it in another sense or direction. - A greater
place, within which our own world was embedded like a raisin in a
"A most unlooked-for result," mused Herms, "Thomas would call it a low, negative vibration of the psychic spectrum, Morris would refer to it as a manifestation of sub-etheric forms; but I suspect - tentatively - that it is an intrusive aspect of the metatropic semi-material planes.
"Well, we had best be quick."
He motioned us through one of the gaps, and we stepped into a new reality. Corridors hewn from some dark substance ran in all directions, limned in a joyless light of no discernible source, and inset occasionally with doors and windows. There were periodic darkenings to that grim luminance that I thought might be reflections of the weather in the 'real' world. "Where is this?" I asked, of no-one in particular, "where are we?"
"We are in Hell," answered Beane, his voice a paradigm of agony.
"What?" I asked, "is Leviathan's realm Hell? The Hell?"
Herms guided us toward a window. "Alas, Jekyll," He said, "It's not so simple as that."
the window was a phantasmagoria of walls and ramps rising steeply from
a bottomless pit. Herms looked downward. "The City
perchance of Death, but certainly of Night...' Is it not like the final
horrific image of Smith's poem, The
Hashish Eater - the abyss
that which gazes back) - the face within - the lips of flame ... My
Thomas saw something like it once, dealing with that hideous thing that
lurks beyond the ionosphere. Perhaps we have before us the
of that great nightmare vision."
"Hell!" It was Beane's voice, from further down one corridor. He was looking out another window. Darkness streamed in and across his face like the inky spew of a squid. He drew the revolver I had given him and fired a wild shot toward the window.
There was an indescribable sound, rather like a large sack of grain hitting a wooden floor. After an interminable moment the silver bullet emerged from the muzzle and, trailing a faint line of blue fire, slowly spiralled away into the surrounding darkness. Outside the window, hanging in the sky, a gigantic version of the box was spinning, radiating beams of impenetrable shadow.
intoned Beane, "is at once the place, the door, the key, the ruler, and
the cheif inhabitant. The box is a reflection of Leviathan,
controls and is controlled thereby. Leviathan is indivisible,
so dwells where any of its parts are. The box is an image of
because our vision of Leviathan is made of the path we take to reach
We stand in the body of Leviathan and gaze at the body of Leviathan,
- here he pulled from his pocket the terrible box - "we hold Leviathan
in our hands!" He waved the gun in one hand and the box in
"Behold Leviathan, Lord of Pain, Master of Despair, Architect of Hell!"
I turned to Herms. "Can this be true?," I asked.
"What we see of Leviathan is but an infinitely thin cross-section of the whole." Herms told me. "A polydimensional solid forms Leviathan's body; and what passes for space here is highly 'curved' in certain of those dimensions, and does not obey the laws of our own world; though - as in that world - things here do not appear the same to any two persons' eyes. I expect that our perception depends on how we got here. We do not know the native illusions of this place, so we must use the illusions we brought with us.
"Do we stand in the body of Leviathan? Look closely at the walls!"
I looked out at the towering walls running to the horizon, and saw that they formed a pattern which was all too familiar : We stood within one of the faces of the puzzle-box, a box whose dimensions were measured in miles. We were indeed at the mercy of a force beyond comprehension.
I beseeched, "what can we do? We are lost!"
"Remain calm," Herms ordered, "You knew the job was dangerous when you took it Jekyll."
Misery's Canticle - Photo by Michael Lee, 2012
To be continued in
The Hairless Gates
of the Brazen Key"
(Within the Labyrinth)
Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4