Tell A Tale — Gothic Fiction

Her By Russell Welch

I descend the rough stone steps of the passage, torch in hand. The time has come to meet Her at last. My subconscious compels me to move forward, step by step. To salvation. To bliss.

The locals call this a smuggler’s passage, but it’s far more ancient than they realise. I’ve pored over maps and newspaper reports and historical accounts, but the book I found in my father’s desk delves much deeper. It speaks of a cult that worshipped Her before the fishing town of Dunmouth even existed.

I tried to ask my father about the book, of course, but Hubert Ashby no longer recognises his son. He hasn’t disowned me – no! I mean that he no longer remembers who I am. His mind is broken. He raves about nightmares and shadows, and the nurses no longer allow visitors in to see him.

I feel for the book – still safe in the breast pocket of my jacket. It has a cover of tooled leather, and inside are the most wonderful handwritten notes and diagrams. She has visited me in my dreams since the very night I forced open the drawer and found the slim, black volume inside.

The passage turns to the left as I continue my descent. My hands shake. I thrust one of them in my pocket, but the other holds the torch. Better a cold hand than to tumble down the steps in the dark.

I hear the reverberation of the sea below. A salt taste is in the air, and along with it, something foul. Some fish or bird has died down here, I think.

To take my mind off of the smell, I think of the dreams once more. The details flee as I grasp for them, but I remember the breathless feeling after Her visits with perfect clarity. There is a scent that lingers in my rented room after I wake - a scent I breathe in eagerly, before it fades.

I continue down the steps and notice an orange light ahead. The staircase opens into a cave, with the sea entering at one end, where it crashes against the rocks. There is a great stone statue at the opposite end, flanked by a pair of burning braziers.

The cavern is not empty. A group of people murmur strange incantations and stare at the unsettled sea. They have their backs to me. My heart thuds dully in my chest.

My gaze rests once more upon the statue. An insane stonemason has carved feelers and tentacles in place of limbs. The face has dead-fish eyes and slit-like nostrils without a nose. The neck is slashed by mucous-covered gills.

All at once, I remember the depraved dreams and dark desires of my sleeping mind. I retch. Remnants of supper splatter onto the stony ground. I wipe a hand across my mouth.

A man sees me: “Look there! The outsider!”

Before I turn and run, I glimpse a mass of translucent flesh rising from the sea.

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