Pillow Talk

Pillow Talk by Bob Freeman

“… it was H.P. Lovecraft’s pillow, the one he slept on every night, the one he dreamed his fantastic dreams on, maybe even the one he died on.”~Stephen King, 2005

            I recall the white-capped waves crashing against the shore and the thunderous roar of surf and distant storm. The light rain that fell could not wash away my sins and I’m not sure that I wanted it to if it could.  I was on a downward spiral, a spiral that led me toward an awakening. Eyes that were once blissfully shut against the gathering dark were being opened by an unbelievable reality. If I did not fully believe then, I surely do now.

            Can you fathom such realization? Can you comprehend a life turned inside out and upside down, stripped bare of all it had known and left with a knew vision of a world gone mad? I fought it. I truly did, but in the end, it could not be denied. All I need do was but look around me and the nightmare was laid out before me like a feast.

            I left the haggard Rhode Island shore and plunged into Providence and the artificial comforts and faux charms of the historic city. They had taken great lengths to maintain the architecture of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century, giving the city an old world feel, but there was no disguising the undercurrent of malediction that inflicted itself upon the city’s inhabitants. Something lurked beneath the surface. You could see it in their eyes, something unnatural, unholy, and inhuman. It crawls inside your mind and caresses your gray matter with flailing tentacles, whispering insidious desires to the depraved and indifferent. It was a city of the damned and I had the odd sense that I had at long last come home.

            I strolled along Orange Street and grabbed a coffee in the Arcade, an indoor mall built under the influence of the Greek revival architectural movement that had swept through New England. It was a blight to my current mental state with its obvious facade of normalcy. I knew better. I could taste the wrong as surely as I could taste the whiskey I’d added to my cup of java. They couldn’t fool me. My eyes had been ripped wide open and the truth was becoming more and more evident the longer I spent in the coastal city.

            Time is a funny thing. Five days ago I was a supervisor overseeing acquisitions for the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. Preparing an exhibit on the life of H. P. Lovecraft, in celebration of the seventieth anniversary of his death, we received a collection of crated items from his hometown. It was to be personal items, those things with which the author would have had contact with on a daily basis. There was one crate however unmarked and with no return address. Little did I realize as we cracked the seal how my life would change. Little did I realize that when the veil was lifted from my eyes that the world would be born anew and white would become black, day would turn to night, and all that was right would suddenly become wrong.

            Five days ago I was a son and a husband. Four days ago I became an orphan and a widower. Was I to blame? Assuredly. It was I, after all, who chose my profession, majoring in History and Literature at Chicago University and following my Master’s Degree into the posh employment of the Field Museum. It was I who gave the order to uncrate the Lovecraft artifacts. It was I who removed the pillow with its dirty and soiled slip cover. It was I who touched the pillow to my head and had the first inkling of the god awful truth. It was I who heard the whispers from within and again I who heeded their call. And, to my shame, it was I who was the instrument of their intent.

            Five days ago I awoke from a night of restless sleep and now that the sleeper has awakened there can be no return to the realm of dreams and nightmare. The nightmares are now real and have slain the dreams of youth. Reality wears a new yet ancient face and it stares at me from behind the facade of everyone I see. Truth is liberating even when it is revealed to be uninhibited evil. The mask is cast aside. The world is bathed no longer in the afterglow of false hope and promise. I have been reborn into the world and it is a world of darkness unfettered.

            I crossed the street and stumbled into a shuffling maniac, grimy and unclean. He of the great unwashed. He mumbled something unintelligible and to my dismay I was forced to retort.

            “Excuse me?” I questioned. It came out half choked. I realized I hadn’t spoken aloud in four days, perhaps because I feared I would be tempted to scream and never stop. Even at the coffee shop I had merely pointed at the menu, paying wordlessly with ne’er a thank you, fuck you, or how do you do.

            “I said,” the man responded, “the sleeper must awaken.”

            “And your inference?”

            “My what?”

            “What do you mean by what you said, the sleeper must awaken?” I was angry and a touch maniacal myself. I mean I was, after all, responsible for three deaths in four days by my reckoning and so was in no mood to banter with a homeless vagabond of limited means. That he should issue forth a message of such a cryptic nature, or one so obviously personal was fitting. There was little doubt that I was in the midst of a preternatural communication from beyond the realm of reason.

            “Beyond the Wall of Sleep, a shadow grows and its shape is not unlike the shadow you cast,” the beggar man said through his crumb filled beard and crooked little mouth filled with broken, blackened teeth.

            “What does that mean?” I pleaded, dropping my travel bag and grasping Aqualung by the shoulders of his thread bare coat. We were standing in the near lane of Orange Street and a taxi honked and swerved to avoid us, but I was oblivious to the danger. This man was somehow connected to the wraith like tendrils that was stroking my fracturing psyche and I would not be denied.

            I called out to the taxi, begging for it to stop and I forced the man inside. The homeless man muttered something but a quick elbow to the ribs quieted him down. He doubled over, head into his lap, gasping for breath in a raspy fashion. The cabby was unperturbed.

            “Swan Point Cemetery,” I said calmly.

            Swan Point was located on the northeast side of Providence, on an estate of some two hundred acres, extending from Blackstone Boulevard easterly to the shore of the Seekonk River. The grounds were comprised of an odd combination of lawns and drives, with sporadic copses of forest, and an undergrowth of laurel, rhododendrons, azaleas and other shrubs that attempted to flower within this city of the dead. Steep banks and deep ravines populated the river side, and in the open places were deceptive vistas of the river and the surrounding country… deceptive in that I could see the true face of Providence and its unholy and unnatural surroundings. This was a land neck deep in filth and evil and the vileness seeped from the very ground itself, so pervasive was its malignancy.

            With the shambling one and my package in tow, we exited the taxi and marched across the soggy lawn and toward He Who Waits. The package weighed heavy, like Marley’s chains I suppose. It was all I had brought from my Evanston townhouse. The only thing to which I could not bear to part, not since I had uncrated the prize five nights before and had put it to good use but a night of restless sleep later. It whispered to me from within its wrapping, encouraging me in my quest for truth.

            After ten minutes we arrived at our destination, nestled in perpetual shadow. The icy rain fell harder here, was colder by far than any rain I’d felt before. The ominous storm to which I had viewed from the coast a few hours earlier had decided to take root over Swan Point. A vortex of tumultuous energy swirled overhead, black clouds pulsating with eldritch dynamism, lightning dancing back and forth across the darkening sky.

            “Alright,” I called out above the wind and rain, “here we are. Now you will tell me what you know.”

            “Unhappy is he to whom the memories of childhood bring only fear and sadness,” the vagabond replied, his eyes gone feral like a caged animal.

            “You speak in the same riddles as that which I hold in my hands. Are you a conduit of the Ancient Voices that once ruled this place?” I was tearing at the package and let the scraps of brown parcel float away on the savage wind. I held the pillow tightly. Spittle stained and yellowed with age, dark brown stains had been added to the slip cover’s menagerie of filth. I released it and it fell heavily like lead, coming to rest at the base of the headstone we stood before, the monument to an artist passed.

            I am Providence it read.

            I am Providence.

            Was it a cryptic clue revealing the location of the Ancient Gods that once called this world their realm? The raging storm overhead thought so.

            I struck the vagabond hard in the face and he fell to the ground like a tree felled in the forest. I fell upon him, straddling his chest and I could see in his eyes that the truth was his. He was a follower of the denizens of the deep and must be quieted. I hefted the heavy pillow from its place of rest and forced it down upon the dark pilgrims face. He struggled beneath me, much more than my parents had, but oddly, not as violently as my wife had struggled.

            I released the pillow from my grasp and it was lifted up by the dark winds and carried away, now as light as the feathers that filled it. It sailed up and away from my sight, becoming but a speck to my enfeebled vision. Tears had chosen to join the rainwater that cascaded down my face. I was still straddling the vagabond when they came and drug me away from Lovecraft’s grave.

            For months now I have languished within this cell, its walls padded against my attempts at self destruction. I have written my tale in my own blood and inscribed it upon these walls, hoping that it would reach ears that would find the truth within the words I’ve scrawled. Such is the nature of the damned and forgotten.

            Somewhere, out there, an ill wind blows and carries with it Lovecraft’s pillow. Somewhere, out there, someone will find it and if they should perchance lie upon it to dream, then they too will know what I have come to know. They will have the veil lifted and their eyes will be ripped open and then they will see what I have seen and what I continue to see each night when sleep overtakes me. Such is the nature of the damned and forgotten. Such is the nature of restless sleep.

FIN

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