Wyrdtails: A Landon Connors Supernatural Thriller
I was dressed, after a fashion, as how I thought the deceased would best recognize me — black t-shirt and blue jeans, scruffy jogging shoes, and a red bandana sticking out of my back pocket. I hadn’t really planned it, though it made sense to me after the fact. I just couldn’t be bothered with climbing into a suit. It felt unnatural and pretentious. The day was difficult enough without putting on the accepted uniform of grief. I was confident most of the people in the chapel considered my attire disrespectful, but I was pretty damn sure the deceased didn’t mind.
There was that word again. I mulled it over and rolled it on my tongue. Deceased. As in no longer with us. It had an improper finality to it, I thought. An improper word for an improper occurrence. An improper, and improbable occurrence of a finality. As these and other thoughts collided during my short walk up the aisle of my discontent, I was bemused by the certainty, as certain as any finality, that I was well on my bloody way to cracking up.
That too made perfect sense, as perfect as the imperfection of my working class affectation. It was, after all, madness that put my oldest and dearest friend within the confines of the coffin before me. Our shared experience surely guaranteed a similar reaction to the events preceding the deceased’s demise. I was unsure of a lot of things. This was most assuredly not one of them. In fact, I was so sure that madness, the very same that had taken root within the cranium of my now departed compatriot, was tilling the fertile soil of my most inner being, that I had resolved to take matters into my own hands, if not in the same manner as the deceased, then in a more proactive, and perhaps, more satisfying fashion.
Staring down at the corpse-in-a-box, I knew it not. Lying there, in state, was an unknown and unwelcome shell, a lifeless doppelganger wearing a poorly constructed mask of the man I had loved in life and loved more now with his passing. We had been all but inseparable for nearly forty years. We met on a playground in grade school, bonding over our mutual affections for Marvel Comics, The Six Million Dollar Man, and the hottest band in the world — KISS. As we grew older, we discovered girls together and double dated. We experimented with drugs and fell into arcane literatures and tumbled down the rabbit hole of esoterica. We dropped out of college together, shared apartments, and worked in the same meaningless and menial jobs that fed our addictions to alcohol, psychedelics, and books.
It was always about the books, more than anything else, and the strange and exotic knowledge that lie hidden within these abstruse treasures. The last place we’d shared, some eight years back, was little more than a hovel. Three rooms, little heat, with a single sink, toilet, what passed as a shower (but was little more than a garden hose in a plastic tub with a drain that was clogged more often than not), and a mini-fridge. No stove. No TV. No beds. We had pallets made up on the floor of the backroom. In the largest room the only furniture was two desks that sat facing each other, with uncomfortable wooden chairs we’d bought for pennies when they were about the business of tearing down the old schoolhouse where we’d first met. We each had a typewriter, of course, because we were, first and foremost, writers — he of strange fictions and me of metaphysics. It was a symbiotic relationship, each of us feeding the other, critiquing one another’s work. We were hard on each other, and that made us, I believe, the notables in our respective fields that we became. I can’t help but remember that ramshackle with a combination of fondness and deep regret.
Every conceivable bit of wall space was covered in sagging shelves filled with all manner of things, but mostly of dusty old tomes bound in worn and cracked leather, wherein shadowy words spoke of shadowy figures and shadowy spells to either draw them near or drive them back to their shadowy realms.
Together, we were lost souls and, much to my shame and disappointment, it became unbearable in the end. We had become dark mirrors of one another. Our moods were often bitter in those last days, our writings becoming increasingly dark and cynical, his even more so than my own. We were spiraling into only the gods know what. Madness? Yes, there’s that word again. I had no choice but to escape, hurtling into the arms of an infrequent paramour. I packed my things, eight years back, put a ring on the poor girl’s finger, and she and I built some semblance of a normal life apart from the swirling eccentricities that had been part and parcel of my former existence. Where he and I had been lost, under the guidance of my new bride, I had been found.
We stayed in touch, he and I, meeting over drinks, at first monthly, then less so, until we were reduced to the exchange of infrequent missives via email. My last contact with him had been a little more than a year ago, on the occasion of my wife’s untimely demise. It came in the form of a typed note on a small index card slid haphazardly into the gladioli floral arrangement someone else had sent. How it came to be there, I haven’t a clue, but there it was, just the same.
Signed with his first initial, as he was wont to do, in black ink, followed by his customary three dots sigil, a form of Freemasonic ellipse he’d been using since we were college freshmen. In the corner, the smudge of a thumbprint. It smelled of whisky and cigar smoke.
I sought him out after, of course, to thank him for the note and the sentiment. They were wondrous words that encapsulated the best moments of him that I clung to in my heart of hearts. I wanted to tell him what they meant to me, what he meant to me. That I missed him and loved him like the brother I’d never had. That I had so very much loved my wife and that I was dying inside without her and I desperately needed to talk with him, the only other person on this damnable planet he had cared for, truly cared for, in his entire life… but Thaddeus Sexton, roguish raconteur and psychonaut, wouldn’t answer his door, emails, standard post, and he didn’t own a phone.
And now he too was autumn.
I took the card out of my wallet and stared at it long and hard. I laid it upon his chest and whispered, “Godspeed, my friend.” I reached out and let my fingers brush the deceased’s lifeless hand. I allowed them to linger there, to reassure myself that he was truly gone, then turned toward the sea of blank faces in the choir of false remorse. I smiled crookedly and wished all sorts of horrible things upon this murder of crows. But I shouldn’t have bothered. Eventually Death takes us all into his embrace, some with more fervor than others.
It was three nights before Hallowe’en, two weeks and a day since my friend’s funeral, when I received a knock at the door. I rose from my reading chair, depositing my work (I was producing a new translation of Arbatel De Magia veterum for publication) and reading glasses on the Jacobean end table. It wasn’t exactly late, but I was unaccustomed to visitors at any hour. I had never cultivated many true friendships, and my wife’s friends had dissolved into twilight before the crypt doors had slammed shut. I adjusted the belt on my smoking jacket, and with pipe in hand, I answered the gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“Mr. Murdock, I presume,” the gentleman said as the portal gave way. “Mr. Nicholas Murdock?” He was dressed against the evening chill in a long trenchcoat, with a well-worn fedora riding upon a cascade of dirty blond hair. His face, pleasant to the eye, sported a devilish beard, like a young Robert Plant fresh from Bron-Yr-Aur.
“The last I looked myself in the mirror, that appeared to be the case,” I replied, wary as this young man, whose weight was supported by a cane I had more than a passing familiarity with, reached out his free hand in introduction. I accepted it and the hearty shake that accompanied it.
“My name is Landon Connors,” he said, a glint in his eye to rival fell Lucifer himself. “I believe you knew my father,” he added and this was quite true. “We need to talk.”
The last bit, that need to talk business, well, it seldom comes wanted or attached to pleasant news, and that was certainly the case as I allowed the young Connors my ear. And, I should add, that I have resolved that should Landon Connors’ path cross with mine e’er again, my first course of action will be to excuse myself from his presence at once for no good can come of such a meeting.
That I knew this young man’s father, when I, in turn, too wore a younger man’s clothes, was more true than I cared to admit, but admit it I did. More’s the pity. Landon was curious as to the nature of our friendship, which I played off as two learned men who had merely crossed paths over similar interests in the ephemera of one Aleister Crowley, notorious magician, author, and scoundrel. The young detective was not buying my ruse, I’m sure, but he did not call me on it. He had, it seems, bigger fish to fry. Addressing my deceit would have delayed the discourse that led him to my door. Landon Connors, Doctor of Mycology and opprobrious psychonaut, was many things, but most assuredly he was, above all else, to the point. Some might choose the word driven. I prefer obsessed.
It was in this that he most resembled his father, Ashton Connors. Landon may have taken his mother’s looks, but his mind was most certainly paternally imprinted. The elder Connors was devious in his pursuits, the weight, I fear, of being born into a family whose legacy was so intertwined with the Hart Cult.
Oh, they’d deny it with their dying breath, but the truth of it is plain to see. The Order of the Sacred Hart, as all hermetic secret societies do, thrive on their corruption of the truth, of replacing said truth with a puzzle box that only they hold the key to. That the Connors had embraced this legacy of manufactured heresies for five generations was a sad testament to the power of such lies.
Ashton Connors was in his early twenties when we’d met. I was on holiday, visiting the Egyptian Museum of Cairo and having a look at Lot A 9422, the infamous Stele of Ankh-ef-en-Khonsu, better known as the Stele of Revealing. The Stele had formerly been kept in the Bulaq Museum, under the auspicious inventory number 666. Little wonder that the Crowleys were drawn to it. As I looked upon the Stele, behind its glass enclose, a man’s voice echoed throughout the vaulted chamber.
“It’s a fake,” he’d said. “The imp Crowley made off with the original.”
“Is that so,” I had responded, doubting this young man’s statement.
“Quite, and I can prove it.” He took a business card from his jacket and handed it to me.
Intrigued, I agreed to look him up once I returned to the States, which I, with Thaddeus in tow, did some months later. And he did in fact prove to beyond a shadow of doubt that the Stele housed in Cairo was indeed a forgery. He did this by allowing me to examine the original in his home in rural Indiana. I, of course, demanded to know how he came to possess such an important artifact. He replied by trying to recruit Thaddeus and myself into his fraternity.
I will admit, it was a tempting offer, but there was something not right about any of this. Though it took great effort on my part to dissuade Thaddeus, we collectively declined, after a week of drug-fueled initiation. We swore upon ancient gods not to divulge the secrets we’d learned in those seven days of recruitment and we took those oaths very seriously.
I break said oaths only now because Thaddeus and Ashton are both gone and I am on my own deathbed. Let the ancients do their worst. I have served the son. Surely that will give them pause when Death accepts me into his embrace.
“Are you familiar with the concept of wyrd?” Connors asked, his youthful face a duality of compassion and cold determination. His pupils were gaping windows into alien planes of existence, where madness and creation birthed unimaginable monstrosities of mental constructs.
“Of course,” I replied. “At its heart, wyrd is the culmination of cause and effect.”
“Yes,” the occult detective hissed. “Exactly…” His voiced trailed off as he fumbled for a cigarette. He lit it with purpose, with a agèd bronze Zippo lighter emblazoned with a Hindu god on the side. He took a long drag from it then asked, “Mind if I smoke?”
He was, as they say, out of sorts. Sweating profusely, eyes darting here and there, especially into the shadowed corners of the room.
“Cause and effect,” he continued. “Cause and effect.” He was pacing nervously and I was becoming increasingly uncomfortable. “Did you know what Sexton was playing at? Were you in… collusion with him?”
“I’m sorry?” And I was, not the least of which being that I’d ever opened the door to the man, but my inference was a matter of disbelief. What was Connors implying?
“The Liber Consecratus...” he bellowed. “Sexton couldn’t have come by it without your hand in it.”
“Consecratus? You mean the bloody Honorius Grimoire?” I’d had quite enough by this point and though I was quite a few years older than my unwanted guest, I began to bodily usher him toward the door. “That’s what this is about?” I was disconsolate, assured that this poor wretch had descended into madness, most likely at the hands of his deranged progenitor. “The Honorius is a fiction, boy. Nothing more.”
Connors allowed himself to be removed. He never really put up a struggle as I deposited him onto the front stoop. But he turned, straightening his coat and hat as he did so, his weight upon the skull-topped cane, and he said, “I take time when I come prowlin’, wipe my tracks out with my tail. That’s in order that no one discover, Whoa Lord, he can’t cross my trail.”
I asked him what he meant, but he mumbled something unintelligible. As he limped away from my humble residence, I hoped wrongly that he’d not darken my door again. As the occult detective was swallowed by the darkness, I heard him speak to someone unseen, “You had the right of it, Greg,” he spoke to no one there, no one I could see anyway, “If Murdock set Sexton on that path, he didn’t know it.” I saw him pause to light a cigarette off its near spent predecessor, my ears perking up as he continued. “I guess that leaves but one more ear to chew on..”
“Taliesyn House, then?” a spectral voice intoned.
“Absolutely, Mr. Mitchell… and with fervor,” Connors replied, to who or what, I still cannot fathom, but of Taliesyn House I was well aware and so made a point of grabbing my hat and coat and I trailed Landon Connors into the smothering gloom.
I am unashamed to admit that I am a coward at heart. I’ve never been one for confrontations of any sort, nor have I ever been particularly emboldened to take a stand for, well, pretty much anything, truth be told. And in the end, that is what this chronicle is — a true account, as best as I can wrangle, of the events that transpired the night of Tuesday, the 28th of October 2014. And my cowardice, I’m afraid, takes center stage in the telling.
Following Connors across town proved more difficult than I’d imagined. Tailing a vehicle through the narrow streets of any college town is sure to be a challenge, and Miskatonic was doubly so, with students out in force, many garishly attired. One thing students can always be counted for is to wholly and fervently accept any excuse to imbibe spirits and they treat the week of All Hallow’s as sacrosanct. Their hedonism knew no bounds, and their judgement was left aslumber in their dormitories and off-campus housing.
It was all I could do to keep from killing them by the dozens, these drunken catechumen, let alone keep pace with Connors and his unseen companion. His sports car, a black 1966 Lotus Elan, made short work of these streets, weaving effortlessly through the throng and the attenuated byways, while my own vehicle, an Oldsmobile of questionable provenance, clunked and clattered along, threatening life and limb of pedestrian and occupant alike. In that, I guess, there was some modicum of bravery on my part.
Thankfully I was well aware of Connors’ destination and though he arrived long before I, I did, in fact, arrive just the same, though as I rolled to a stop, three car lengths back from the occult detective’s conveyance, I was made aware that my tardiness was not without recompense.
I stepped from my Olds and stared up at Taliesyn House, sitting atop Cemet’ry Hill in all its faded glory. Once, in the early days of the university, this house attracted the crème de la crème of fringe academia, those wayward, occult-obsessed intelligentsia who entangled themselves in various hermetic, masonic, and other more nefarious sects. Here there were dragons of every imaginable stripe. It was Miskatonic‘s very own Order of the Friars of St. Francis of Wycombe. Hellfire? The place still bore the stench of sulfur and brimstone all these decades later.
Thaddeus and I had lived less than five minutes from this place and we both had been enamored with it. It had been the subject of many an essay and academic paper, in those moments when my scholarly pursuits outweighed more hedonistic ones, and my former roommate had penned numerous fictions with Taliesyn House at their center.
I had never truly believed in magick prior to the night of October 28th. Perhaps you are surprised to hear this considering my vocation as an esoteric scholar and professor of the same? I had witnessed many remarkable things in my years, but true magick? No, I had discounted all such occurrences as drug-enhanced fantasies and prestidigitation at the hands of highly skilled and manipulative charlatans. I found value in the psychologies and philosophies and cultural absurdities attached to the writings of these various movements, and of the personalities that such proclivities attracted to them.
But as I stood there, engulfed by the shadow of fell Taliesyn, amidst the soul-shuddering moans and the pyrotechnics that swelled from within its agèd confines, I knew without a doubt that I was in the presence of something altogether unnatural.
I stood mere yards from an eclectic and chaotic energy that could only be described as true and unbridled magick. Flashes of blue light exploded from the windows of Taliesyn, crackling with kineticism, shriven and unfettered. I was inflamed with its preternatural discharge, my body alive with the resonating pulse of pure, unadulterated and miraculous power. I could scarcely imagine what it would have been like to have stood in the heart of that conflagration.
I found I could not approach the house even as the wild magick subsided and grew dark. I had dropped to my knees, having soiled myself in embarrassing fashion. A malefic figure broke free from Taliesyn’s hold —a shadowy form that stank of something dark and infernal. It passed right by me and I felt my soul wither on the vine. I was paralyzed to act.
I was still on my knees when Connors approached me, looking even more disheveled than when we’d earlier met.
I failed to look him in the eye when he spoke, but I felt the weight of his words and they twisted like daggers where it mattered most.
“This is your doing, old man. And you’re going to bloody help fix it.”
I was well past my breaking point. The creeping madness I’d felt since Thaddeus’ funeral was, at long last, the victor. I surrendered to it, melting into a puddle of rage and tears, towered over by youthful arrogance personified. I reached out and grasped his cane and conjured up the courage to stare up into those contemptuous eyes, shadowed beneath his magical fedora of pretentiousness. Landon Connors blamed me and I felt the truth of it. I felt the weight of guilt upon my soul. This was my sin… my failure… somehow, but what had I done to bring these horrors to life? My beloved’s death? Thaddeus’? This shadow demon from some unknown Hell?
“What have I done?” I blathered.
“Honorius,” he said. “The well and true one.” Connors lit a cigarette and exhaled slowly, the imperious prick. His smug demeanor was grating, to say the least. “It leads back to that one, no?”
“I don’t understand,” I replied, working my way up off the ground. “I’ve owned several copies of various stripes over the years, but there is no true one. And I certainly never possessed one with a thirteenth century provenance.”
“Ah, but therein lies the rub, Murdock. You didn’t, but my father did.”
“Your father? But the last time I spoke to him was…”
“Yeah, I know,” Connors spat, cutting me off, “… it’s been donkey’s ears.” He sauntered over to his Elan and leaned against it, lighting a fresh smoke off the death of the other. I am not a prescient, but I’d wager good odds on how the young Dr. Connors will shuffle off this mortal coil, presuming something preternatural doesn’t do the snuffing.
Age does funny things to a man’s mind. We remember what we choose to remember, often filtered, censored, and reimagined. It’s a coping mechanism, but then every so often, something comes along and slaps us with true remembrance, and seeing Connors, leaning there so cock-sure of himself… it was something in the eyes, a glimmer of entitlement and superiority, the same glint that had shone in his father’s eyes, it ripped my mind awake and I had a moment of lucid recall, violent and inciting.
I was no longer standing beneath the shadow of Taleisyn, but instead within the confines of another house… one that could have very easily been its dark sibling.
Thaddeus and I were at Ashton Connors’ Second Empire on West Hill Street. He had been trying to recruit us into the Sacred Hart. He was called away on some pressing business by… a woman. She was a cypher to me, but the conversation between Thaddeus and myself was vivid. We mocked Connors. We mocked his Order. We… my god… I tore a page from an ancient text, the Sworn Book itself, and rolled a joint with it. Thaddeus and I smoked it. How could I have forgotten that? How we’d laughed and then, when Connors returned, his grim visage… and the woman, she was there, down the hall, by the door. She looked so sad. She… she…
And then I had collapsed again.
I was staring up into the black sky, a sea of stars above me, and Ashton’s son…
“My wife,” I muttered. “My beloved…”
“…was a Sworn Sister of the Order of the Sacred Hart and she was my aunt,” Connors said.
“But…” I stammered, shell-shocked and broken, “… she never… in the name of all that’s holy, why?”
“Because your childish prank woke a dragon,” Connors said, leaning down to me. “My aunt was the shield, my father the sword. Once they’d both passed, it was only a matter of time before the demon was loosed.” He offered me his hand, and we rose together.
“In which of you it would manifest was always a mystery, but they’d gambled, wrongly, that it would be you, given your proclivities,” he continued. “It was obvious to me, once I stumbled upon all this in my father’s journals, that Sexton was the one, however. It was all over his fiction, like a bloody calling card.”
“This is all… insane,” I said. “We were not much more than children. How could we have known?”
“How could you not? You were… you are… more than a student of esoterica. To be so flippant, so arrogant, so damned irresponsible… One immature act, and look what you’ve wrought!” He limped away from me and began addressing something unseen, this mysterious Mitchell.
“How do I make this right?” I pleaded.
“Well, I was all set to thrash you within inches of your life, but Greg has a better idea.”
“Don’t sweat it, professor,” Connors said, walking toward my car and opening the passenger door, “you’ll be seeing him soon enough.”
“Are we going somewhere?” I asked, joining him at my decrepit Oldsmobile.
“We sure are,” he replied, climbing in. I opened the driver’s door and sat down beside him. “You do know the way to Arkham Cemetery, no?”
“Why?” I pleaded. “Why, in the name of all that’s holy, are we doing this?”
The occult detective stared up at me from the freshly dug grave and returned a spiteful look.
“Because you fucked up, Professor Murdock,” he spat. “It may have been when you wore a younger man’s clothes, but they were your clothes just the same.”
“Wyrd,” I heard a disembodied voice add. My skin crawled at the thought.
“Not that,” I replied. “I full well understand my culpability in this matter. What I don’t understand is why we’re digging up the grave of Thaddeus Sexton? If this devil is loosed upon the world, released from my departed friend’s vessel, then what possible reason could you have for desecrating his final resting place.”
“Because,” Connors said, clearing away the last bit of earth from the vault lid, “this was the sub-prince’s last known address. He spent a helluva long time trapped in the Honorius, but he got soft and fleshy for a bit in your pal, and it’s recent enough that there’s still a bond there. When I’m through calling, he’ll come running.”
“And then what?”
“Well, Professor,” he replied, grunting through the work of lifting the vault lid and revealing Thaddeus’ coffin, “then we use this.”
Connors had drawn from his trenchcoat a dogeared trade paperback. It had been well read, with a dark patch along the fore edge that had discolored by the reader’s oily touch. I knew the book well. It was one of Thaddeus’, a collection of cosmic horror tales that conjured up images of dark and forbidden knowledge and esoterically veiled menaces from otherworldly realms.
Connors returned to the business at hand, exposing the body of Thaddeus Sexton to the elements. A cold, nasty rain began to fall, as if the gods mourned and cried for our defiling of his remains. I longed to weep alongside them, but I was bereft of tears.
I marveled as Connors was helped up from the earthen tomb by his disembodied compatriot. They whispered together and then Connors became a force of nature.
He began by tracing a circle around the grave site, using a vial of some argentate liquid. Then, he meticulously carved runic symbols in the earth, filling each one with a red phosphorous powder. He opened Thaddeus’ collection up to page 93, the beginning of the short story “A Devil by the Tail”, and laid it upon the dirt mound, propped open like some perverse heathen relic atop a pagan altar.
Then, adjusting a silver ring he wore on the middle finger of his left hand, he called down the thunder and the lightning.
“In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Take heed! Come, Amaymon! By the virtue and power of your King, by the seven crowns and chains of your Kings, all Spirits of the Hells are forced to appear in my Presence before this Circle of Honorius, whensoever I shall call them. Come, then, Amaymon, at my orders, to take up residence in these consecrated pages, as commanded. Come, therefore, from whatever hole you’re hiding under! I conjure and command you, by the virtue and Power of Him Who is three, eternal, equal, Who is God invisible, consubstantial, in a word, Who has created the heavens, the sea and all which is under fucking heaven!”
For a brief moment, as lightning flashed overhead, I saw a man standing beside the detective, a sad pale reflection, but pious and resolute. Mitchell’s face was racked with anguish as Connors fed off his spiritual energy to enforce this magical act.
Then, the demon came, a swirling black shadowy mass of pure, unadulterated evil. I dropped to my knees, hid my eyes, and covered my ears. I couldn’t bear any more. The eldritch energies at Connors command battled the infernal might of the compelled demon and all I could do was cower before this awesome spectacle, incapable of witnessing the final act, because I was already consumed by madness.
Then, it was over. The rain and thunder and lightning ceased and the world grew calm. I opened my eyes, looking up at the disheveled detective.
“Now what?” I muttered.
He picked up Thaddeus’ book and threw it into my chest. I caught it there and hugged it as I wished I done with Thaddeus before his unnatural demise.
“Now you eat,” Connors spat, exhausted and near-spent. He leaned even heavier on his cane now. “Page 93. Chew it good. Choke every last bite of it down. Then,” he continued, ” on Midwinter’s Eve I’ll come for you. I’ll cut out your heart and burn it, sending Amaymon back to Hell and your debt will be paid.”
He took no joy in his commandment. It was a matter of fact. This was my Wyrd. And now I’ve come to the tail end of my misadventure. I have written this final testament as a way, I suppose, to prepare myself for what is coming.
There’s a demon inside of me, but not for much longer. Soon it will be sent back to Hell and I will join those I loved in life in whatever waits beyond. At long last, I too shall become Autumn.
©2014 Bob Freeman