Guardians of the Earth
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"Guardian, the -- Not a typical matriarchal figure among the first undergods was The Guardian. More powerful than the other first mortals who swam in the primordial soup, it protected the dimi (divine elements) from the greedy whims of his kin. After most undergods had left the many worlds of their making, the Guardian lived on for aeons (I) before inevitably falling to the call beyond the mist. It is writ in some ancient sources (II) that his offspring ate the last remnants of divinity thereunder.
Though it is currently fashionable in our modernist era to philosophize over the nihilistic implications of Godlessness, there are many primeval Turkish scriptures (Appendix IV) which celebrate a contrary conclusion. They say that one day, men will revisit mankind's past, and 'should all the bounds of their earthly promises be broken', lo, they will know the truth behind their making.
No anthropological evidence has been found to support the existence of the Guardian, yet myths persist in popping up via translated volumes of Amazonian South American folklore."
Encyclopedia of the Truer Gods, 1962, Tannibis Bach. Horsbold Press, New York NY.
That day, when James Conrad wandered into the shop, he was guided by nothing more fantastic than a sense of wanderlust. There was nothing remarkable to the shop on the outside that would normally attract any special attention. There were certainly more interesting sales going on throughout the block fair (he had passed a booth where two elderly women in motorcycle jackets offered henna tattoos), but on some level this shop in particular had intrigued Conrad. It was a garage-sale style temporary set-up that snuggled in an alley along a fire escape. Its tables dispensed ceramic trinkets and beanie babies, amidst other eclectic rubbish.
Superficially, it did not stand apart from the other canopies. And yet he found himself investigating the clutter with rabid interest. It was as if an invisible hand guided him all along the thoroughfare, and prodded him further to sort through these secret toys for sale. It was in this vending where James found the ouija board.
At first, it was hard for him to figure what the box was. The outer surface of the thing looked ancient, bound by a worn leather case. The straps that were attached to the sides of this case were not of any modern make, but rather were loose dangling ornaments, lacking the essential string that would bind. The hide on the outside was certainly not of cattle, was far too thick to be so, but rather was bleached and dry. Furthermore, upon opening it, the interior seemed crumbling - a velvet box, hard as stone, but light - and contained a slick wooden board. With utmost reverence, he removed the board, blew off a thin layer of lint and dust, revealed a beautiful surface. Each letter of the alphabet on the wooden burgundy face of the slab was curved like a roman arch; each digit inked in an almost unintelligibly ancient serif font; across the top, the word "Liberosech". James inspected it and was fascinated, if not outright consumed, by the foreign appeal it carried. He wanted it.
He looked up at the dealer. The vendor appeared to be a college student, much like himself. Young, dark skin, black hair, wearing a tie-dyed t-shirt that read "L33T LIEK JEFFK" (an incomprehensible slogan that carried none of the mystique as that on writings of his purchase). The vendor was holding his cellular phone when James had first entered, and when he approached the dealer, that phone was no longer in the vendor's hands. He looked up with a very dull expression.
"Hey scuse me bud, how much's this?" James said.
"Um," the dealer said. He averted eye contact, ran his hands over his pockets. Finally, glanced about, as if he were startled to be there in the first place, and flipped through the registry book on the counter.
After a moment he quoted a price.
"My nana loved that thing," the dealer said. He snapped out of what smelled like a pot-induced reverie. His eyes were red. "She spent her days... last days I mean... in a home. Took too many pills one night, orderly found her the next day... my pap told me she'd found it a few weeks before she died, in Italy... I tell ya, she fuckin loved that thing. Like it was... special, or some shit, y'know what I mean? You know how people are."
James quietly reappraised his purchase. The board appeared old, very old, that was certain. He licked his lips presently, daydreaming about how the thing could be a genuine anthropological discovery. He had read of urban legends that described unbelievably valuable relics changing hands from generation to generation, only to show up on HGTV's "Appraisal Fair". Items like the one in his very hands which was different from others, a board called a Liberosech, might just end up being the find of the decade. (All ouija boards work, of course - particularly well if one is not sober while using one - James knew that from experiencing enough university geek parties.)
Not to mention James's degree had told him that a reputed item of folklore, called the Liberosech, as was crafted by a South Mexican shaman, so the story goes, was constructed especially to be able to reach the spirits of men who 'lived in a purgatory darker than any that the Catholics could ever conceive of'. He was enthralled by the certainty that this was that very board.
James thought to himself dimly, the words barely formed and tagged by his conscious mind, that his roommate, a dungeons-and-dragons enthusiast and self-proclaimed specialist in cult psychology, owned a tome that could trace the authenticity of this object. James's memory was less than photographic, but he recalled a name immediately from the mammothian book: Reynold Walker. Associated with that, a few more bits of trivia jumped in: The Sanuatina Massacre. Julia Simons. And still, he could not recall the name of the book.
He remembered it was a boring name, something academic and sterile. And it was a title written in the fifties, that he knew for certain, as he had checked the copyright once before. It was published back when everyone was going crazy over the discovery of the Rosetta Stone and old civilizations. Somehow, this book in particular had been lost in the rush of titles published… and his roommate, lo and behold, probably had one of the only surviving copies. Fuckin A! It didn't surprise him that there were so few copies, since the giant encyclopedia weighed at least fifteen pounds and contained fundamentally worthless trivia. But the name he could remember was there at the forefront of his mind: Reynold Walker.
He wondered how it could be connected.
Could it be possible that this was it, that this was a magic board? A vessel of summoning capabilities, able to draw spirits out from some kind of spiritual oubliette? Could such a thing even exist in the modern world without being instantly celebritized on discovery, much like how the Rosetta Stone had been - a thing with a hell of a lot more power to it...?
James snapped back into reality. He knew that he was committing himself to an impulse buy. Legend or no legend, he was a failing college student, majoring in Mythology, and as such, he was a card-carrying fool with an overactive imagination. He had yet to make any impact on the world, had yet to delve deeply into any studies, and worst of all, had a great deal of research to do before tomorrow's class. To make matters worse, the sun was going down on his exploration of Seattle. But still, the ouija board had a weight to it that was delicate, and the carvings on its surface were downright beautiful. So for whatever reasons, he bought it.
The sky was a dark purple hue by the time he arrived home. Along with some essentials he'd picked up at 7-11, he placed the materials down on the living room table and went hunting through Randy's stuff to find the book. It didn't take long, sorting through the shelves, for him to find the right title: ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE TRUER GODS.
He found the correct passage almost immediately:
LIBEROSECH, THE -- Many scholars have a hard time pinpointing the origins of this particular myth. Many vehemently dispute that it was Reverend Reynold Walker who created the Liberosech, while others claim that it was his associate Jiminez Piedrahita who merely passed an erroneous legend on to him. Some lay claim to a different myth, that its origins are purely ethereal, and it's form shifts according to the needs of the era in which it inhabits. The mystery of this particular "tool" remains unsolved, however, as the fated Liberosech was reputed to have disappeared along with the murder of Walker in 1874.
James adjusted the glasses, which had fallen to the tip of his nose. He then looked up the name "Jiminez Piedrahita". He found the following:
Jiminez Piedrahita -- Piedrahita was a Catholic member of the Guahibo rainforest tribe in South America. He immigrated into the United States with much of his village, led by Reverend Reynold Walker, some time in 1873. He was hung in 1874 in Send, Maine, on charges of murder and blasphemy.
It was in reading this final line that he heard a low, horrible whisper. The hairs on the nape of his neck stood on end.
After a second, something in his mind clicked, and he looked past his shoulder. He grinned stupidly to the entrance to his apartment.
Randy stood in the doorway, mouth dramatically agape, in a pseudo-kung-fu stance.
"Fuck OFF Randy!" James yelled.
His roommate shrugged. "Who's in my room?" he asked.
"You scared the shit outta me!"
"Who's in MY room?"
James sat back and crossed his arms, sighed loudly. "Jump up my butt."
"Right," Randy said. "Later, 'kay champ? Right now - loook, Cynthia's here! Isn't that reason enough for you to get your nose out of a book?"
"Ever heard of midterms?" James countered, not hearing the last part.
"Sorry, Cooch," a low-toned female voice said from the hallway. Then pretended to whisper: "Randy, does he look pissed?"
James lightened up visibly. For a moment he had entertained dreams of doing bad things to his roommate. Perhaps rather violent things. Perhaps things involving a lamp and Randy's face. Yet having a girl around always made the tension lighter, somehow; as if she carried around with her a magic wand that spread good vibes.
And Cynthia - God, how long had it been? At least two years...
"Nah, he's always pissed," Randy answered.
"Cynth, hooray! What are you doing in the hall?" James said.
"I tripped over some retarded cat by the door of the lobby-" Cynthia began, crossing over the threshold of the brilliant corridor light and into the blue apartment. She had shoulder-length black hair, was dressed in a shiny trenchcoat. She held a bottle of Evian out to her side, crouched on one leg, and with a twist of that leg, sent a shoe flying into the living room.
Her eyes lit up when she saw the ouija board. "Oh, holy fucking cool, what's this?"
"I've been upstaged by a fuckin board," James said in low confidential tones. He laid back into the futon, picked up his empty beer bottle, pantomimed it being a periscope by raising it over his left eye. Through the brown transparency, he observed Cynthia's awaiting expression beneath that layer of black makeup. She pursed her lips, gave an unfeminine gesture. He replaced the bottle next to a coaster.
"Speaking of piss," Randy said, slightly miffed at suddenly being removed from the center of attention. He swaggered off to the bathroom.
"It's an ouija board," James explained. He pointed to the open tome. "I was just looking it up in this book. It's like special and stuff."
She oohed appreciatively after a brief moment of stoic reflection, rapped the open page of THE TRUER GODS. "Wow, it looks just like the one in the picture. Where'd you get it?"
"Some goof from the market. For pretty cheap too."
"Let's try it," she said, with no hesitation. "Let's see if we can raise the dead."
He had to make a quick decision. James had originally formulated plans to explain in witty detail to Randy the reasons why he was in his room, with a mysterious occult board laid out on his bed, reading one of his rare reference books. Growing up in a family where every action had to be explained in thorough detail (especially the unusual ones) had blessed him with that habit of pre-planning explanations to every action he made. The sudden appearance of his on-and-off girlfriend seemed to annul that priority.
He noticed for a second time that she looked particularly good tonight.
With that, the dialogue ended, and to the ambient noise of Randy's trickling waterfall in the other room, they laid their hands on the finger-piece.
And it began to move.
"Stop it," James laughed.
He got out one jovial wheeze before looking at her eyes - they were wide, staring down at the deep-oaken surface in abject horror. In his mind, everything became red flagged with this. She did not scare easily.
"It's floating," she whispered. There was unmistakable awe there.
"Holy mother of fuck," he agreed, inspecting the shadows for evidence to the contrary. The pale streetlight that drifted in from the window was playing tricks on them both, he decided presently. Though it certainly looked like a complete shadow underneath the piece - a shadow of the entire pointer outlined from an inch above the center of the board - he could feel it sliding across a smooth surface, could feel the pressure exerted upwards against their hands.
But still, it moved without a sound - no scraping against the occasional snag on the surface, no sliding hiss to herald its progression.
Beyond the initial scare, he felt obliged to continue participating, keen to see how this would play out.
"Don't let go," he heard himself say, almost a hiss.
The piece drifted to the letter "W".
A memory from long ago began to surface in him -- the present seemed to distance itself from him --
"Ay," he heard her say.
James quietly thought back to the time that he had had knee surgery in the fifth grade. He recalled being told by the nurse delivering anesthetic to count backwards from one hundred. For some reason, this memory felt similar to his present circumstances.
"-Ell-" Cynthia's voice said.
"--Walker," he heard himself croak out. He instinctively knew exactly what was being spelt out for them. Walker.
James looked up, and saw the walls were growing into translucency, ebbing in what looked like thin veils of smoke or mist; the room was transforming into something immaterial, a sooty yellow fusion of yellow light and hollow brown earth. He looked at Cynthia: he saw her stunning features drowned down to the bone, her expression of accumulated terror replaced by the bleak white grin of her skull. And he saw her eye muscles pulse toward him, and knew the same was happening to his own form by her jaw muscle, which screamed silently.
There was a feeling of running. Running backwards along a path - or being carried.
Both their hands were still on the piece, yet now their fingertips touched. And for a long moment, he was carried into a sensation of being someone else. His identity dissolved into oblivion -- and then he was a man named Reverend Walker.
An injin was across from him, a male for sure, ayuh, good ol trading brute. Notsogood with the tribesman, nah, good fer the wounds an such though, and shore somethin special with his idears and magicks. Catchin good ol Britinnian English good too, yah. Sharp one. Might know somma Lord's work soon, ayuh, blasphem this and that... the white folk could be learned some things about these old ways, but these old folk need somma Lord's work too...
The twentyfirst century was gone to those two figures in the astral mist.
"Who made this?" Walker asked.
"Your people," Piedrahita said, shrugged. "Your god."
The transition had then begun with Piedrahita and Walker, too, and the log cabin began to shimmer in that yellow light, when some thought interrupted it all (the real world get back to the real world) and James and Cynthia were staring at each other again. Their hands flew, repulsed, away from the device, as if they'd previously been touching a corpse.
No log cabin. They were back in a Seattle apartment, and the year they knew was 2001.
The lights were on and the door was open. There was a commotion in the hall. When Cynthia raced outside, she discovered that Randy had barely noticed their disappearance and was chatting up a giggly math student from five doors down.
"Never again," Cynthia said to James, closing the door behind her. James agreed, wordlessly donning oven mitts (not wanting to touch the offensive item again, it made him shudder just thinking of it), and escorted it onto the balcony. He came back inside and laughed, tried to calm himself.
"Don't even think about forgetting," she just said. Her arms were crossed. She was crying.
They would lay awake for a long time.
The weather for the next day was not unusual for Seattle. The city was fogged over, and errant drizzle spat down from the heavens. The buildings, most notably the space needle, poked up from a veil of parchment white haze. The humidity was palpable.
James spent the early morning in his apartment trying to distract himself from memories of the previous night's experience. Cynthia had written her hotel phone number to him when he'd eventually faded into sleep, and he dreaded the idea of repeating the things they had seen aloud, so did not dare call... should the topic inevitably arise.
When he arrived home, she was waiting for him.
His first thought was - he admitted this much to himself - that it was a relief seeing her in his life again.
"Cynthia," he said, unlocking the lobby door, "Hi."
She didn't say a word; had on that pensive, waiting expression, where her eyebrows marked high lines above her mascaraless brown irises. He caught himself staring, nakedly, and discovered a nip of self-contempt nested with this realization. He had always been distant from her when they'd been involved, always suspected, with some insane stubbornness, that she was trying to change him. To mold him, his imagination suggested, into a dreamless freak.
He caught himself, his mind whirling. He thought: could this be it? Could these stupid visions... hallucinations... be a psychological manifestation of some kind? Of his resistance to conformity? A fear of what his mom, a small-town psychologist, vocalized with big pronounced italic letters as "affluent alienation" or some such crap? Did his rational mind really think that Cynthia, this sweet, beautiful woman, this good friend, would ever betray him? Worse, on the heels of that thought: would she tell anyone about the crazy things he'd seen, what he had told her? Would they lock him in a mental ward and throw away the key? Maybe send in Doctor Mom with a needle full of thorazene every so often, so that she could list off dumb new scientific ways of describing things that people had always known in their hearts?
He decided then, in one of the last moments of pragmatism that he would ever have, to address the issue in the open... he decided to be completely honest.
"Cynth, I-I caught myself signing my name weird, for that Northeastern Viking test I told you about," he said. "I almost signed it Reynold Walker. I wasn't even thinking. It's, it was, impossible to concentrate..."
He told her all about every event of that morning, in specific detail - and in particular, he spoke of the fog, how it seemed to be everywhere now, and how all the weather channels were baffled by it's onset (though not overly concerned, he added).
Cynthia shared his concerns, and debriefed him about an incident she'd had at the theatre.
She said, she had gone to see that new Tom Hanks movie with some tech friends. She had barely gotten through the opening credits before everyone in the theatre had, to her horror, peeled back into skeletal form. Collections of bones, movements swift and frightening, gazing at the thin layer of plastic screen, like cross-section illustrations in a medical textbook. Above them, she said, there was an incomprehensibly bright light displayed where previously there had been a high-angle shot of a tropical island. Again, she emphasized that sensation of going backwards through time which accompanied it... the dizziness, the yellow fog, the earth and slime... she claimed that she had begun to think in a completely different language, and would occasionally interrupt conversations with lapses of pure babble.
"This," James said, fishing the copy of THE TRUER GODS from his backpack, "is totally fucking useless. It doesn't say anything about becoming anyone else, or travelling back in time, or whatever the fuck is happening to us. It just says some bullshit warnings about hell, and purgatory, and old gods, dead men, and how to farm."
After respective analyses, they agreed that the passages contained in the book were nothing but excessive bits of historical improvisation and fallacy. This lack of confidence in their only mystical source seemed to impoverish whatever clues into their situation they may have had at the time. They shared a trepidation, fear of this portal they had discovered; but understood then and there that they were complete slaves to this greater power, and their lives would not continue on as normal until they resolved the matter of the board. Inevitably the idea was raised, by James, that they be rid of the thing, to throw it from the highest rooftop, in even better, into the western seas.
"Yeah, right," she replied. "Great idea. Remember the ending to that Robin Williams flick, 'Jumanji'? These things keep coming back. Eventually. I have that feeling it isn't so easy."
"But that was just a movie," he'd said, trying to sound poignant, controlled, but coming off as only he felt: weak. "This is... real. Really real."
Cynthia asked if she could sleep over. He agreed.
They spent the remaining hours of daylight poring over every page of the textbook in the hopes of finding clues - anything they, perhaps, had neglected to notice, or maybe had forgotten. Randy did not show up to interrupt, which usually meant he was out at his step-brothers's flat on the west end. They enjoyed the quiet.
"Promise me not to touch it," she'd said before going to bed. He had agreed.
But the next day, they tried it for a second time.
This time, the transition between realities was less gradual, and a bit less frightening. The world slipped away, along with their memories and distinctions and individuality, through spans of time and space, reinhabiting the strange bodies, becoming those old people.
"I wanno know how you found about these gypsy cud," the Reverend said. It was a different setting this time - not a cabin, circled by a trail of salt, but some burnt-down, low, abandoned crypt.
"There are many ways of communing with spirits," Piedrahita said in monotone. "We are on a journey. Began long ago."
Walker began to talk again, but tensed. He felt elated... noticed, for the first time, he was completely erect and didn't feel the usual shame that came with it... was hypnotized by the slow dance of the pointer as it spoke old stories... and it spelled out the beginning of a story that read: "That day, when James Conrad wandered into the shop..."
Walker felt a sense of vertigo. He couldn't breathe and began to take in deep breaths of air, gasping for life. His hands were about to fly again from the board, and one of them did, swatting away his collar and the crucifix around his neck and anything that could have been strangling him.
Piedrahita removed his hands from the pointer and reached out. "Remove your hands, it is a curse!" Piedrahita said, in astonished earnestness. As he did so, he began to dissapear along with the world. His monotone trebled and echoed and faded. "--I c-nn-t -rot-ct y-u if -ou do not let me"
Walker found that he could not answer or bring himself to break his resolve. He wanted something very different from the lust he'd been feeling for his new protege (who seemed like a woman? how could that be?). A voice called him in his mind, spoke in an old, borderless language. It was the language of the dead, something he knew instinctively, and that idea made him even more hard. It was calling him.
"--- a-e g-ving in" a more Earthly voice repeated... "-No"
James was gone.
Cynthia looked around. Her hands were palsied, her entire body shot up with pins and needles. She had almost stopped breathing.
"James?" she asked the empty room.
Madness. It was all insanity. She had felt righteous just then, for some reason or another, and something had happened in some world of nonexistence. And now he was gone. She whirled around, kicked a phone book aside, and screamed his name.
She looked back to the table - the board was gone.
Along with him.
"This isn't fucking funny! James!"
And yet, he was not gone.
The thing that had been James, the thing that had been Walker, returned backwards through the ages. Before any of them were made, before modern genealogies had been crafted, before armored men had chipped boards that resembled the Liberosech from european oaks, they regressed. They became living, tormented creatures on a hulk of rock in infinite space.
Individual consciousness passed backwards, skipping from one man to another. First among the later beings was a stalwart, then came a whore; backwards, a writer, a child impoverished; further still, caught in the clutches of some menace which ceased to give up it's mortality, before the times of the Egyptians and the Babylonians and the Samarians and the Bonians, these souls subtracted themselves from the human equation.
Still, further down, the world grew hotter and hotter: the sun burned triplefold in the sky, the days seemed longer; the oceans merged into one great expanse from which none of these eyes would see, and within which the first primitive continent sat humbly, like some horrible eye staring out to the blackest of voids; the glaciers fell back, jungles flew across the terrain, volcanoes scorched the wakening beast. There was a greater light in the sky, and fire rained from the heavens into the primitive acidic oven.
And even before that, there was no land at all: only a shallow sea of muck and mire in which no vegetation grew, underneath a sinister green sky. It was in the infinite swamp where the first living organisms - loathsome abhorrent worms that measured themselves in spans of miles - ate each other and battled for survival.
Amidst it all was the first of the spawn. The Guardian, the thing that had been, or would be Walker, the thing that would be Conrad. It held with it the secrets of eternity, the true face of the ones who oversaw thousands upon thousands of worlds, the ones who had existed before there was nothing.
On the eve of the Guardian's dying, it wrestled from its crevice, having to fight away the smaller worms that divided it from the ancient, faceless night sky, under different constellations. It breathed life into the token it prized, a last bit of magic that its fathers had left for it, before being devoured. It made a portal, a doorway, from which, one day, ages later, an old woman in Italy would find the greatest comfort for the briefest flicker of time.
Of what happened to James Conrad, a co-tenant of the Seattle apartment, police can only speculate. Cynthia Bukowski, an acquaintance of his, was quoted in the paper as believing that he had played a cruel joke on her and would eventually surface, laughing. Upon her suicide eight months later, local police declined to re-open Conrad's unsolved casefile, citing a lack of evidence.
Both were forgotten.
(Dedicated to Clark Ashton Smith and HP Lovecraft)
"'You think you understand me," said Kerouac to Mark. 'You don't understand me at all. You want to fight about it?' Mark said nothing, not knowing who Kerouac was or what he was so mad about." -- from Palm Sunday by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.