BY JEFFREY BLAIR LATTA
All was darkness within, a vast swallowing oblivion into which I directed my flashlight in vain. For a moment, I paused in the open doorway. Gradually, I discerned an odd rhythmic throbbing coming from somewhere high above.
Stepping forward, I allowed the door to close, wincing as the clatter awoke haunting echoes as if in a spacious concert hall. Again, I sought to pierce the darkness, directing my flashlight this way and that, up and down...
There have been many times in the days since, I have wished I had had sense enough to obey my uncle's warning not to enter that ancient structure. Or, at the very least, I wish I might take back that brief moment when, at last, my flashlight revealed what loomed in the dark. Sometimes, it is better not to know.
For just a moment, a solid surface bulked in the light, weirdly scaly, glistening as if oozing some noxious oil. Wide-eyed, I played the light higher, then higher still, revealing bizarrely irrelevant contours, juts and curves, some seeming to pulse with a grotesquely organic animation. Higher still the flashlight climbed, revealing more and still more, revealing details which even now I cannot bring myself to recount for fear I should lose what little credibility yet remains to my narrative.
Even then I confess I still did not understand the significance of what I was seeing. But suddenly my questing light played upon one final detail, and seeing that, I understood at last.
In a flash, I lost all sense of decorum. I turned and groped wildly for the doorway, only to find I had become lost in the dark. Panic blossoming, I stumbled about, my light thrashing the shadowed depths. Abruptly, there was a dry crash as rotted boards collapsed and I plunged down, down, dashing myself senseless on cold stone.
I was no calmer on waking than before my plunge. Knowing only that I had to get as far away as possible, I found myself stumbling down a tunnel with walls of limestone blocks, black puddles exploding underfoot. Worse still, everywhere I looked, loathsome earwigs scurried, dozens together, their tail-pinchers opening and closing in response to my light.
Dimly, I realized I was following some ancient underground tunnel system. Periodically I passed side tunnels, branching off to places unknown, but these I ignored, continuing on and on. Then again, occasionally I passed stone doors beyond which voices murmured, human voices, placidly unaware of this sinister ingress to their homes.
As the hours passed, my mind must have wandered for, quite suddenly, I found myself stopped by a wooden door, locked. To go back was unimaginable, and so, with savage kicks, I broke it open and stumbled through.
Still in darkness, I stopped in surprise as my light revealed a child's antique wooden horse pulling a two-wheeled cart. There as a door to my right and, staggering through, I saw light at the top of a flight of stairs. Climbing, I reached a large circular room with limestone walls which curved to form a central pillar against which muskets were lined.
Thinking only to reach the exit, I barely noticed the display cases, the black cannon, the woman in a bonnet who whirled wide-eyed to gasp, "Er, wait a minute --" And then I found myself standing out on the drawbridge in front of historic Murney Tower Museum, gulping air like a drowning man.
Barely had I caught my breath than, hauntingly, out of the Halloween night, there came the mournful wail of a bagpipe.
Half dazed, I stumbled to the roadway, following the dirge, down King Street, into Breakwater Park. Only dimly did I recall the invitation to "the Festivities at Breakwater Park" at midnight.
Near the "Time" sculpture, I discovered a lone bagpiper poised against the moon-lit sea. Even as I stopped, his playing ceased and, for a moment, there was only the slow whisper of waves against shore.
Then, at a sound, I turned to find figures materializing out of the darkness, groups of them, down King Street from the east and west, from St. Lawrence Street, Lower Albert, Collingwood.
Then, more and more appeared, until there were literally hundreds, all pouring like a living flood into Breakwater Park. Many of them carried sacks which kicked and bulged with too-significant animation, while others, in groups, bore long crates, from which appallingly sentient noises of distress were audible. And, with a gathering wave of numbing horror, I recalled those two seemingly quotidian words appended to the invitation.
From one such passing crate, came a muffled sound which, with little effort, evoked too-well the memory of the missing reporter, Howard Noel.
At last, the crowd having gathered, the crates and sacks were set down. A silence settled. Then, with startling suddenness, as if removing scarves, every man or woman in that crowd ripped off his or her face, or at least the mask which had hitherto served as a face.
I will not strain the reader's tolerance further by too vividly describing the horror revealed. Suffice it to say that, seeing that ocean of loathsomely uncoiling antennae, that field of goggled glittering orbs, that repulsive throng of rustling, chitinous, insectile travesties, it was a wonder I did not faint.
But then, suddenly, I turned at a new sound.
The water just off shore was curdling as from some titanic disturbance beneath. The foaming geyser spread in a line to the shore, and then the shore itself began to heave, a bulge extending directly to the "Time" sculpture.
All at once, the hideous crowd produced cameras, hundreds, with which they began excitedly snapping pictures, like some grotesque parody of parentage. The blue-white bursts from electric flashes were uncannily brilliant, turning the scene into strobing nightmare.
Over the whining of advancing film, the "Time" sculpture suddenly screamed, metal straining, then bursting apart -- revealing at last the monstrous horror beneath, a horror concealed for all these thirty years, a horror grown too large for its "nursery".
Finally I knew what that sculpture's shape had reminded me of: Gigantic insectile pinchers were revealed.
I turned and fled but, for my sanity, it was already too late. Even as I ran from the park, I recalled my uncle's anguished scream in the hospital, "Dear Lord, our baby is crying!"
For now I too heard his baby crying -- it was a sound I will take to my grave.
If my story has a purpose, it is to convince the soldiers presently fighting that titanic thing in Kingston to turn their attentions to the destruction of a still greater threat, a peril to be found in the hanging tower. For, what I had seen in that tower, in my flashlight's beam, were runes in the style found on the ancient Kingston Stone, but printed high up on that pulsing squamous surface. And all at once I had understood what my uncle had been trying to tell me.
They must go home to bring the rest. And, in the tower, is the means -- the vehicle -- by which they will soon do so.
Here my story ends, save for one detail of a personal note. Earlier, I mentioned that my wife, Denise, was ill. Shortly after returning home, we learned she is pregnant.
After all I had unearthed concerning my own questionable heritage, I confess my reaction was something other than expected. Denise hasn't spoken to me since. The reader, I trust, will be more forgiving, having insight into the problematic nature of her condition. Given the apparent sexual specificity of the trait in question, I trust too that I may be forgiven for saying that I am truly hoping for a boy...
In the Dark of Kingston is copyright 1998, by Jeffrey Blair Latta. It may
not be copied or used for any commercial purpose except for short excerpts
used for reviews. (Obviously, you can copy it or print it out if you want
to read it!)