Chapter 1 | Chapter 2Chapter 3 | Chapter 4

"The Affair of The Reticulated Box"

by Renfrew Werfner

Chapter IV

"Out of The Lips of Hell"

(Escape and aftermath)


Photo by Michael Lee Studio

Paintings
by Mike Herndon

Originally to be printed in Coenobium #17
Printed here for the first time with the kind permission of Ed Martinez

Back issues of Coenobium are available from:
edwardamartinez@sbcglobal.net



And there dwelleth Those whose presence hath caused Man to cringe within bodies of grosse matter as doeth a mollusk cringe within its stoney shell.

- Thomas Whaitly, The Boke of Waillinge From Below the Earthe





"In fact," Herms told me, as we maneuvered toward where Beane was raving, "I take that solitary wanderer to be the fabled Cryptic Messenger, and its words to be our promised chance."

"What?," I objected, "Those vapid cliches?  Truly, Herms, any fortune cookie could have done better!"

Herms shook his head.  "Ah, Jekyll, the most profound truths often seem the most trivial, and the best advise the most easily rejected.  Let us keep this mysterious stranger's words in mind." I resolved to do so, though they seemed to contain no more information than Beane's wild shouts.

"So," I said, indicating Beane, "our client's hysteria is all feigned?  He is not mad?"

"No more than you or I," Herms replied with an ironic smile, "certainly his ranting is a mendacious invention, calculated to deceive us as he leads us into the trap."

"He is leading us to Leviathan?"

"We are within Leviathan, and in Leviathan's gaze; for, if we see Leviathan, Leviathan sees us.  This roundabout route is merely our inquisitor's invitation to view the machineries of pain and despair, until we are judged sufficiently prepared.  Then the jaws of Hell will close."

"This," I said, "is not what I expected Hell to be."

Herms nodded.  "It is what Beane expected it to be.  It is his Hell, the compendium of all he dreads; furnished for him by the mind of Leviathan, that makes a prison of itself, and for itself. And others.


Beane's Hell
by Mike Herndon


We were in no hurry, for we knew that Beane would keep us in sight, but gradually we caught up with him in one of the grim corridors, bathed in the dark beams from outside.  "The armies of the grass surround us," he proclaimed.

"Ah," I taunted him, "is that the solution to the problem of life?"  But the voice that answered was not Beane's, nor Herms'.  It was a calm, patient, cultured voice, utterly assured, utterly reasonable.  "Life," it said, "is a problem that solves itself."

The speaker was as terribly pale as Cage had been, but his face had none of the arrogance and disdain that showed Cage's weakness.  A gardener is not arrogant to the plants of his garden, a workman does not disdain his materials.  Nothing remotely human could have ever managed to look so calm, so impersonal, so bewilderingly sane.  I had absolutely no doubt that this was one of the Cenobites, and that I was utterly powerless before it.


Calm Cenobite
by Mike Herndon

Herms leaned on his stick looking unimpressed.  He later told me that he had practiced the pose so often that it had become automatic, even when he felt as if the blood was freezing in he veins.  He looked the Cenobite over carefully, noting the complex garment of leather that it seemed to be sewn into, or - rather - that seemed to be sewn to its skin, leaving openings for the display of ingeniously crafted wounds.  A kit of bladed objects hung at its waist.  They glinted through their crusts of old blood.


Trismegistos Herms
by Mike Herndon


Beane stood like a frightened rabbit, his teeth and the whites of his eyes showing.  He still held the box aloft, as though to move it might bring the Cenobite's unwanted attention.  I was not similarly paralyzed, knowing quite well that I already had that attention, so I stepped closer to Beane.  He wavered between holding still and avoiding me, and chose a bit of both.  I smiled at him.  He glared back as I considered various further ways I might make him uncomfortable.

"Life," said Herms, echoing the Cenobite, "solves itself.  And Death?"

"There is no death here,"  The Cenobite told him, "and no decay.  Only the endless invention of pain, the artistry of flesh.  You will find it quite compelling."

Herms nodded.  "It's very... tidy."

The Cenobite nodded back.  "The floors are licked clean regularly.  Perhaps you will be adapted for that task.  Leviathan will guide us into the most poignant possibilities inherent in your being.  You have such a great potential for suffering, such gifts for agony.  We will go far together.  There is so much to learn."

With a sound of stone sliding on stone, the room began to rearrange itself, opening up.  Metal pillars rotated slowly in niches, a web of hooks and chains spun itself across the ceiling, doorways slid into the floor and vanished.  Windows opened wider, letting in the sweeping darkness of the Leviathan, or part of Leviathan, that hovered over the vast Leviathan maze.





The Cenobite turned towards the dark rays, lifting his arms as though he was bathing in a great warmth.  As the window widened further, the black beam came near me in its full strength, and I was suffused with overwhelming feelings of nausea, self-loathing, and bleak depression.  As it touched Beane, he staggered, apparently hit with the same vertigo and disgust.  At that moment, Herms struck.

With no anticipatory movements, Herms leaped forward, swinging his stick with great force.  There was a flash at it stuck squarely against the side of the box that Beane still held up, and the box flew towards the window, unfolding and refolding as it went.  It had returned to its original cube shape by the time it vanished into the bottomless abyss.  The aerial Leviathan transformed with it, becoming a floating cube, stationary, and without the dark beams.  It was very quiet.


"There was a flash"
Photo by 
Mike Montuori

"You shut the gate!," Beane yelled at Herms, his hysteria seeming now quite unfeigned.  "We're all trapped here!"

"Instead of just Jekyll and myself, you mean?," Herms asked him.  "How sad."  He held the stick at the ready, as Beane seemed about to charge us, his face fantastically distorted by his utter rage.

"You'll suffer for this!," Beane insisted, quite as if we wouldn't have been introduced, in any case, to what the Cenobites seemed to regard as wonderful educational opportunities.  He continued to threaten until the web of hooks and chains reached down and took him into its intimately lacerating embrace.

"Dear Beane," the Cenobite said, still totally calm, "many will be denied pain they might have otherwise achieved, because of your carelessness; but we will not spitefully deny it to you.  We will make you suited to looking for what you have lost, down in the uttermost depths.  And if you should ever find it, you shall be suitably rewarded.  Leviathan has spoken."

"Many have heard the voice of Leviathan,"  Herms said, "but have they heard the same voice?"  The Cenobite ignored us, however, as it began to instruct Beane, with various sharp and serrated things, in the glorious reward he could expect.  We, the Cenobite's attitude said, would receive our own instruction in due time, and we were not going anywhere he could not find us.



The Instruction of Norbert Beane
by Mike Herndon



I looked around for any remaining doors.  "There seems to be no way out in any direction,"  I said to Herms, who was staring at me in a peculiar manner.

"Keep looking,"  he told me; and so I continued, but to no useful result.

To my surprise, he appeared quite elated.  "Yes," he said, "there it is!"

I looked around, seeing nothing helpful.  "Where?,"  I queried, my brain set into total confusion by his inexplicable enthusiasm.

"It took me a while,"  he said, "even when I saw where you weren't looking, I couldn't see it.  It's quite astonishing, really.  I suspect it's been there all along."

"What?,"  I asked.  I was beginning to doubt his sanity.

With great care he clamped his hand on the back of my neck and directed my head at one of the walls behind me, holding his index finger in front of my face.  "Look in the direction of my finger.  The exact direction, but beyond it.  Keep looking.  Keep looking.  Keep..."  And then I saw it.  Or, rather, I saw where it was.

Even with Herms holding my head turned toward it, I found it difficult to look at.  It seemed to repel sight as a magnet does its similar pole, shimmering like oil upon water with the colors one sees when one closes ones eyes.  A curtain of nothing.  A void.  Where one does not look, one does not find, I told myself, but never had I seen anything so unlookable.  I felt drained of will.  My feet would not move, and my eyes made a continual effort to slide away in one direction or another and not return.  It took my full effort to keep from losing sight of the shimmering veil that, presumably, was our only hope of exit from this place.

But Herms took hold of my shoulder and shoved, and together we stepped through the curtain, the oily folds swallowing us up in its nothingness.


The Curtain
by Mike Herndon

Beyond was a great, circular room of white marble, doorless and windowless, a faint light coming up through alabaster floor tiles.  The silver-masked Messenger was there, and around it the air swarmed with silvery, eel-like forms.  They were featureless, but triple halos of green flame flowed from front to rear of their bodies, as they swam through the air.  In the center of the room, looming twice the height of a man, was an egg formed of unrelieved blackness with oddly blurred edges, which seemed to somehow vibrate - a deep bass note, almost below audibility, but felt upon the skin.  At irregular intervals, one of the silvery shapes would start circling the egg, drawing closer in and becoming longer and thinner, until it was wrapped threadlike many times around the black core.  Eventually it became too thin to see, and merged with the blackness.  About as often, the process was reversed, a wrapped thread becoming visible, moving outward, shortening and thickening into the eel-form.


The Egg
by Mike Herndon

Herms stared, fascinated.  "So that is how it's done!,"  He exclaimed.  "I knew there was a way.  Ah, to take the path, Jekyll - to visit Tanelome, Edena, Shambalia, Elysia, Yesod, Khoire, P'eng-Lai, Arcadia, Avalon...  'Va Khoseth Yaga!'"

The murmuring voices of our guide answered.  "There are no destinations, only journeys; no endings, only the great journey.  Sometimes the gods' love of us is fatal."

Herms sighed.  "I greatly fear that if we tried to take that route, the forces involved would tear us atom from atom.  Only these semi-material creatures are able to survive the transition."

"Then how do we get out of here?,"  I asked.  "The only other way out... - of course!"

"Exactly, Jekyll,"  Said Herms.  He bowed to the Messenger.  "Thank you,"  he told the shining mask, "and farewell."  That personage bowed in return and, stepping back, watched us as we turned away.  It was slightly easier this time.

We walked through the shimmering curtain.  And all light vanished.

With a sickening squelch, I sank to my knees in a clinging, viscous substance that lapped clammily at my legs.  For one moment of stark horror, in the pitch darkness and hideous stench, I believed that we had returned to Leviathan's kingdom.  Then the light returned.

Among the sights that shall remain inscribed eternally in my memory is that of the gibbous moon, alternately devoured and disgorged by the rolling, sepulchral clouds; spewing its glaucous glare over the rotting, viscid vista of nightmarish putrescence that sprawled before me.  It was that most un-Leviathanic of places, a swamp.


The Swamp
by Mike Herndon

There was nothing to do but wait for sufficient light to navigate by.  To pass the time we discussed the divinatory properties of hexagons and pink quartz pyramids, recalled various jests and conundrums (one was:  Why are the Doels like the Dholes?  They both seek their prey across the planes.), and finally I asked Herms what all the fuss with Leviathan had been about.

"When she who is remembered as Lillith taught me the Saaamaaa Ritual (Herms replied), she told me that nothing about the world is fixed, not even its origin, before its final moment, because, in a very true sense, no event has occurred until its consequences are discovered.*1  And so, everything we do creates not only the future, but also the past.  Subtile as serpents, patient as spiders, great unseen armies clash, seeking to shape the genesis and the destinies of worlds." *2

"Monsters battle against those who have achieved monstrousness.  Those who drink from the anti-grail in Castle Perilous snarl behind their earthly faces..."

"And to what end?,"  I asked, "To what end?"

"Though the idea has become a commonplace, a cliche, even, the purpose of the universe may be to see itself.  Put another way, the world is God's mirror."

"And Hell is Leviathan's?"

"Hell - and Leviathan - are part of the world."  He paused a moment, thinking.  "And yet... perhaps."  And he stood a long while, gazing into the wind-whirled darkness.

As we had talked, the clouds had shriveled to a sickly thinness and corpse like hue; and, slowly and inexorably, Dawn's gray talons raked livid flesh from the rotting carcass of night, splattering great clots of illumination across the twitching trees - or were they trees? - that loomed ominously above us, whip like and tentacular.



"Dawn's gray talons raked livid flesh from the rotting carcass of night"
by Mike Herndon



"Well,"  Herms said at last, "Let's be off.  We have much to do, and Moris has promised me an albino ferret from the new litter."

He moved forward, carefully testing the ground with his stick before each step, and admonishing me to follow his steps exactly.

"Herms,"  I protested, "are we not setting forth unguided into unknown, and perhaps unearthly, lands?"

"Not at all, Jekyll,"  Herms said, plainly amused.  "These are perfectly ordinary Holling's willows, and that straight row of pollard elms in the distance likely marks the local post road.  So, this being a moderately brackish tidal swamp on the sunrise coast, overlaying this particular red clay with gray granite outcrops; and with those three groups of parallel, low hills to the northeast, we should be an easy ten-mile walk from the train station at Falfoot Cross."

And, indeed, well before noon we were in a snug compartment on the Lichton Flyer, heading for home and one of Mrs. Lovett's excellent meat pies.  Though not before what seemed a chance encounter at the time, but which later proved to be a clue in a contretemps that threatened the very existence of civilization.

That, however, is another story. *3



*1  This teaching proved useful in the baffling case I have titled The Cabinet of Dr. Schrodinger.

*2  See Herms' excellent monograph on the theme; Python, Typhon, Tiamat, Leviathan, Hydra, Kraken, Oroboros: An Interlace of Dragons (Golden Goblin Press)

*3  It is available from our regular publisher as The Riddle of the Martian Cylinders.


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The Universe is a shadow cast upon Eternity.  If the Light is One, Who casts the Shadow?
-  Maskull, Reflections

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- The End -

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Any resemblance to the "official" Hellraiser universe is wholly fortuitous
"Awake, awake, o sleeper of the land of shadows."

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The author wishes to express his indebtedness to Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Sax Rohmer, Abraham Merritt and other such extraordinary exemplars, whose purple prose he has here attempted to transmute into the ultra-violet, to those far, far too many writers of pulp fiction about occult detectives in the tradition of Sherlock Holmes, who's plot devices he has endeavored to magnify out of all proportion; and to those great entertainers and innovators of literary horror whose themes he has shamelessly borrowed.  It's all just a lark, folks.

- Renfrew Werfner

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