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The Great Old Ones

Garth Brown |

With apologies to H.P. Lovecraft and to any readers who find what follows idiotically abstruse.

I have written in the past about mental strain of a limited diet, and lately this has become more acute. The weather has finally begun to warm, and some seed have started, but the food supplies continue to diminish. So it was with a mounting dread that I read the loose folio of pages I found tucked into a dusty old book on pasture grasses I got via interlibrary loan. I’ve transcribed them as best I can.

Octavian Buford

Professor of Botany

Miskatonic University 1928

I had traveled past Albany and out onto that strange plateau of land that lies girded by the Adirondacks to the north and the Catskills to the south at the behest of Dr. Crutherford Hayneswallow, a former colleague at Miskatonic University. It had been two years since he had left, and even before he departed in a cloud of ignominy we had not been friends; as a botanist, I had little intercourse with the Department of Archaeology, and the particular disdain those men, with the dirt-caked hand and perpetual swarthiness of day laborers, seemed to hold for anyone who shewed interest in a subject other than the excavation of fragmentary tablets was, if it is possible, most pronounced on his countenance.

And yet I felt compelled by his brief letter, with its references to common garden vegetables grown profligate and debauched, to immediately leave for the farm which, the letter said, he had purchased upon leaving his post. If I had been asked at the time I would have said that it was mere professional curiosity that drew me with such immediacy from the safe confines of my office and classroom to the deepest wilds of the greater Cooperstown area, but now I view this event, and, indeed, every pale event that has since befallen me, with suspicion. The innate inquisitiveness of a human mind always has a countervailing apathy, and it is this balance between the urge to break from all routine in search of novelty and to repose in the comfort of a staid routine that allows society to progress while remaining bounded by good sense. I have always been a man of routine, with my greenhouse full of eggplants, and as I think on it now the impulsiveness that led me to his doorstep on that wet and freezing day in April strikes me as belonging to a different man entirely. But I will leave it there, for of all the strange and terrible things I was soon to see this was the least.

The changes time had wrought in Dr. Hayneswallow were all too apparent, even in the dim orange light of low fire; what had been mere lines across his cheeks and forehead had deepened to canyons and fissures, and his eye had the moist, fevered gleam of a man possessed, or who, as I soon found to be the case, had been recently chopping onions. When he spoke it was with a harsh, raspy voice, the sound not unlike that of a motorcar engine that had by some incomprehensible method been shrunk to a size suitable to be placed inside a human throat and tuned such that its firing growls would take the form of words.

“They questioned my methods and my suppositions, though they had not been here for the excavation, had not seen the discoveries I had made. As with all limited men, their minds recoiled at what I told them I had found. Your mind, I do not doubt, would do the same, but I now have proof that a person with your particular background will not be able to deny.”

I expressed confusion at these vague and troubling words, and I asked him where I might find the bathroom, for my bladder was heavily distended within me, and the need to pee was urgent. When I returned I found he had resumed his discourse in my absence, as if he had another audience before him.

“What do we know of the earth beneath us? Even those of us who spend our lives scratching away at it are mere ants, our work confined to the stones of a forgotten foundation or a patch of earth where once the capital of a long-dead civilization stood. Of the deeper matters no one knows, save perhaps miners too hidebound and worn to recognize the denizens, if that be the word for them, who snake deep through rock and soil. Legends, both human and inhuman, speak of them, and in the past they came forth, a scourge upon the land. It is only in this late age that we have forgotten those who are truly our masters.”

I inquired anxiously to his meaning, for such abstruse and convoluted speech, while suitably atmospheric, begins to drag after a very short time, but Hayneswallow demurred, insisting that the dinner hour was upon us. The french onion soup was laid upon the table, and while it is a dish of which my opinion had previously been decidedly mixed, as the cheese atop is often of such molten heat as to burn the roof of one’s mouth, while the toast beneath tends to quickly absorb such a quantity of broth that it becomes soggy and thus gross, this offering met with my approval, for the cheesy toast was on the side. I would not go so far as to say it was a postmodern or deconstructed dish, but I found the results to my liking. If ever I fashion a tureen of this soup in my own kitchen, whether for myself alone or for the purposes of a date, I will use this method, though the cheeses that are best suited to balancing the strong flavor of onions that have been so deeply caramelized are often quite pungent, and thus perhaps not well suited to a romantic endeavor.

When Hayneswallow subsequently led me to a bedroom and bade me sleep, with assurances that on the morrow I would understand all, I doubted I would be able to comply, and yet the day’s hard travel and the tummy full of warm soup conspired to quickly pull me into a fitful slumber, my shirt still upon my back, the trousers still upon my legs. I slept I know not how long, and I woke I know not why. The storm outside had worsened, true, and lightning now rent the sky with a regularity that was alarming, but soup is the most soporific of all the foods, and my tummy remained mostly full, though the processes of digestion had begun their secret work.

But something drew me from the warmth of bed and down the stairs. The front door hung open on its hinges, and rain washed in across floorboards that would soon warp if remedial actions were not undertaken, and yet I ignored this and continued out. In the stark light afforded to me I saw Hayneswallow rooting in his garden, more beast than man, digging and prying with his spatulate hands. In another flash of light our eyes met, and in the darkness that followed I heard his voice.

“They’re biennials, and I left them in. Last fall I did not dig them.”

“Only carrots, surely,” I replied, an unknown terror mounting in my chest. “Surely only carrots.”

“No. Not carrots.” It was as if the wind howled the words.

Lightning flashed again, and Hayneswallow was not there. But something loomed in his place, something of impossible immensity, rising and writhing as lightning flashed faster and faster. A parsnip, yes, but a god as well, with endless, vermiculate roots clawing skyward as it erupted into the windswept night. I felt a gibbering scream rise within my chest, and I turned and ran.

Of what followed that night I have only the most fragmentary memories, and I know not how I came to be beside a road whereon drove a passing milk truck, whose driver was kind enough to give me a ride. His conversation was boring, but I was tired and succeeded in dozing throughout his digressions on the market price of hogs.

I write this now, but hide it, for I fear the repercussions if I were to attach my name to such a missive while I still am active in my field. I pray that when this narrative is brought to light it will only serve to convince the living that I suffered from some delusion. For the alternative, that others might encounter things such as I have, could mean only that our rhizal masters have returned.


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