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Lushcraft tale, re-typed and edited by Simon Barber They say that Art is immortal, in a way nothing else is. Listen, Dobson, shall I tell you something ? The greatest artist I ever knew, was Eric Hesgathorpe - what, you've never heard of him ? Well, I'm not surprised, in a way. Nobody will admit to knowing him now, and he isn't around to complain. Dead ? No ... I very much doubt it. His was just the sort of art that .... well, I'd better start at the beginning. It was down at the Barnstoneworth market that I met him. You know the place, in the old mill that the Resistance used in the Occupation, before the Belgians were outcast from our spacetime. It's full of incredible bargains; things they dig up from fabled cellars and warehouses dug out of the ruins. You can find anything there. I'd never have met him, if we hadn't grabbed the same video from the antiques bin at the same moment. The stall owner, a lean, sinister hawk-faced man (or possibly a man-faced hawk, I forget which) looked at us and gave a cruel smile, when he saw what we were both holding. The tape had seemed to just fall into my hand - and Eric Hesgathorpe had spotted it at the same instant. Later, I wondered long about that. Eric was a tall, rangy hound, that I'd have said had something of the Red Setter in his makeup, barring his pale grey fur. More like a concrete setter, in fact. He had that look in his eye; the sort of expression you associate with mad celtic musicians who play steam-driven bagpipe solos on blasted heaths beneath the sinister starlight. Normal enough, for this part of the world. He gave the tape a sort of shake, as if to test my grip on it. We looked down, then up again as we measured each other for a confrontation. "Do you like this ?" He nodded down at the plastic thing that joined us. I must have nodded. And then he gave that slow smile, the one that makes people hurry home and nail themselves into the cellar with silver wedges. "If you'll let me buy this, I can point you in the direction of something far more - interesting." I thought it was odd, that the stallholder packed up as soon as Eric handed him the money - and odder still that he didn't even count it. Nor have I seen him since, though I've been back often to that place of charred beams and strange mementoes. The tape, Dobson ? Yes, I'm coming to that. It was Old, a thing of oil-derived plastics, its contents in a form that few now can read, save savants and a few discreet collectors to whom the dread name "Betamax" still has meaning. And yet it was sealed: Doom had come to whatever impious library had stored such things, before it had been given as a shocking covenant to the new members of those who had brought such things to our shores. The colours had caught my eye faded, yet of such a mix of pinks, blues and pastels which seemed to have decayed in a way not easily explicable - and certainly not with the mere passing of years. It was as if - they had been painted in the light of some other sun, that fell on scenes not good for the health and sanity of the viewer. And what shapes those colours formed - even now, I do not like to recall them too closely. There is a certain - association, in certain forms and resemblances, that strike deep into ancestral memories of
things that our forebears knew, and fled from in time. They were rounded, amorphous things of fluff; you could approximate them with twisted cushions, but never sit so comfortably on a padded chair again. I had grabbed the tape from some obscure impulse, but Eric - he Knew, I think, even then, much of what I only later glimpsed. We arranged to meet by the corner of Moortop Lane and Dagon Street, just by the Social Club. It was raining, I remember, and the lenses of my respirator were misting over. That was when the Anti-Social club stood opposite: the mustard gas pouring out of their windows was making things uncomfortable to stand too near downwind. I was idly dabbing my suit down with Fuller's Earth to decontaminate it, when I dimly recalled the name he'd given - Eric Hesgathorpe, the artist. But it was not as an artist I associated the name - something technical, rather than artistic. And then there was the hound himself, stepping out of the shadows at the far side of the street, dropping something into the collecting box of a pair of Aztec Evangelists. He waved cheerfully, and even through the misted lenses I could see that look in his eye. "You know," he began, as we strolled up the restored cobbled road in the rain. "It was a bit of luck meeting you here. I checked on your name - you're a mathematician, aren't you ? At least, that's what the public files say. I had to admit, he'd been thorough. He even quoted at me from my own book, "Forget diets - stay in great shape with Applied Topology", which was well-known in geometric circles. I was as curious about him, and said so. He stopped, and I almost ran into him. "Ah, but, you see - I need a mathematician. If you're interested in the - things I have, maybe we could collaborate. I can pay you, genuine money." He would say no more, but we waled on. Out of the familiar alleyways and half-tunneled courtyards carved from the living stone of the Yorkshire hills that were old when the first natives came on package holiday flights from worlds where the exchange rate referred to dimensions and not currency differences. The night grew late, and still we walked on, down out of the friendly overshadow of the dripping woods and aeon-mellowed monoliths rising firelit black against the skies. I suddenly stopped, and laid a warning paw on his shoulder. "We aren't going to the - Estate, are we ?" I demanded. "People don't go there any more." He rewarded me with one of those smiles again, and I wished I was back home amongst the cheerful collection of tomb-loot my maiden aunt left me. "Not very far in," he promised, as if that would reassure me somehow. "Not very far at all. You see, I need the correct - Atmosphere, for my work." The light here had turned very dim. And it was orange; the kind of sodium lamp glow that I don't think anyone's made since the nineteeneighties. We walked on, to the spot where the buildings began again very even and regular were their sides, and the roofs looming over us were of sheet metal and plastic. Great weed-cracked spaces yawned between the buildings, where petrol-driven vehicles had once been parked by the dozen. Suddenly there was a sound behind me - I turned, expecting to see the familiar sight of some black trapdoor very slowly and deliberately rise, or the jelly-like pulsing as an amorphous form oozed into the mortal world. But there was nothing there, nothing but a gate of plastic-sheathed wire swinging in the breeze. I had never felt so alone. "It's really - suited to my work," Eric's tail twitched, as we turned into a weed-grown courtyard, where long decades ago great neon
signs had been raised to the glory of nameless corporations. "Nobody disturbs me here - I might as well be in the middle of the Girl Scout nuclear testing range, down in Milton Keynes, for all the passing traffic here. Look !" He gestured at a piece of broken tarmac where the warding sign "No Parking" could still be seen. "All this space, and being wasted. Just because there were a few little irregularities around here during the Occupation - oh, very well, so we're two hundred metres away from a Political Correctness Enforcement Community Centre. You could see the chimneys, if it was light. But that was years ago." My fur stood on end. I had been too young to join the Resistance at the time, but my Father had joined in the sudden uprising of Agnostic Fundamentalists that had helped free the North from tyranny. They had fought to the end for what they believed in (or might believe in.). But for all that, the Camps they had liberated had not been the worst excesses of the EC's rule. Each occupied nation had a number of sites, that had been mercifully - obliterated, without any living troops being allowed to check the extent of the erasure. Even the androids sent in later, recorded their findings to write-only memory downloads, and all found ways to throw themselves onto high-tension lines before their curious programmers could interrogate them in detail. In other words, Dobson, I knew there had been some more than fatally unhealthy places constructed in these parts. But that had been awhile ago, and if nothing was done to disturb - to remind, certain places of their function, maybe they would fade away, or at least sleep dark and dreamlessly. Eric opened a door, and we left the light of that single sodium bulb, to see what was in the building. I was impressed at what I saw more fool, me. He was an artist, in every sense of the word. But instead of lifeless paint and canvas, or even sculpture, his figures lived. Androids ? Yes, indeed they were. Some of them were most definitely androids. The room was filled with components and half-assembled models in a dozen and more basic shapes. Most of them were what you'd call "companion" class, with rather fuller functions than you'd expect to see detailed in a commercial catalogue. As the light came on, I felt rather than saw a dozen sets of scanning lenses turn towards me. There was a metallic rustle like a sword slipping from its sheath, over in the far corner. "Would M'seu prefer ... ?" The voice was almost perfect. And as to its speaker..... Imagine a slender skunk-form cast in brightly polished stainless steel. Two metres tall, with the grace and poise of a chromium angel, smooth curves and a great billowing tail that somehow looked soft, not like the plastic and metal construct I knew it must be. "This is Madelene," Eric waved offhandedly at the silver form, while he rummaged through a pile of old issues of "Unpopular Electronics" and "Not Very PC User" magazines that spilled on the floor. "She's my latest - my latest finished one, anyway. She's helping me with the new projects." "Are you sentient ?" I looked her up and down curiously. For several decades, android manufacturers had been producing companions with the intelligence of, say, the average politician, but true humanity had always eluded them. "Have you passed your Turing Tests ?" She gave an exquisite shake of her head, that glorious tail swinging like a flag. "Eh ! Turing Tests, they are for pocket calculators. I did not feel like filling in all those questions." As I looked at her, fascinated, still I could not help feeling a
shudder at the age of the place. This warehouse dated from the time when designer pastels and matching formica doors were considered the height of fashion. Dread panels of flat chipboard faced in hessian loomed flatly at all sides - the far corners of the room took on strange regular, Euclidean geometry in the dim light. I shuddered. Madelene was eyeing me with the sort of calculating air that I never associated with an android. And yet, I could see how her joints were hinged, moving on regular pivots. That was definitely not a costume she wore; she was as definitely a construct as the half-assembled components around her. "Eh, and you can be 'elping with our - constructions ?" Her voice was level, yet loawded with meanings. I nodded. I forget what I said to her - something about being interested in the new applications of science. A silver eyebrow raised, the silver skin sparkling in the halflight. Eric turned round, a gleam of triumph in his eye. "Ah. Sorry to keep you - like I said, Madelene's just the more - conventional, of my projects. They're in here." With that, he slid open the door at the end of the room - revealing not the familiar dank basement of a scientist, but a direly nylon-carpeted split-mezzanine office. And what he was building..... It's no good, Dobson. I know you look at me so oddly, when I can't bear to sit down on a cushion. Sorry about the wooden pews, I got them cheap from the Jacobin Temple Of Reason across the road. But what I saw ..... He was a great artist, I'll give you that. Those shapes ! They were the nauseously over-rounded things on that impious tape, reproduced in all their ghastly cuteness ! Only one thing was missing - the terrible pastel of fur. I suppose each figure - there were twenty or thirty, at various stages of construction - must have been a little over a metre tall, with that unthinkable proportion of three and a half "heads high" that you see in the films that came down to us from before the Milennium - when we found out the true significance of such things. Like a finely balanced radio aerial resonates, "attracting" certain frequencies from the aether, there are certain shapes and forms you can make out of ordinary materials that - attract. "What's the skin made of ?" I found my voice, though I doubt it came out as more than a whisper. Each completed figure was pleasantly smooth, with a rubberyness that was reassuringly familiar, like the glistening hide of a whale or seal. His own, genuine fur eyebrow raised in amusement, and I saw where Madelene had copied that part of her programming from. "Ah. That's where your skills would help me. Just take a look at - this." I recognised the small remote-control box in his paw, as the item he had just unearthed from next door. He pointed it at the nearest figure, a kittenish thing with eyes that made up fully two-thirds of her skull frontage. He pressed the button. And as if it had controlled me and not the thing that slumped before me, I froze in alarmed terror. For the smooth plastic was suddenly hidden in a glowing cloud of pinkness, that seemed to wrap around the figure like sea-fog on a still midnight ocean. And then that fog changed. "You see !" Eric's voice was madly triumphant, even as my ears stiffened in terror "Look ! It gains focus - a hundred and more tiny laser interference crystals to the square centimetre - wrap-round Virtual Fluffiness !" His face was wild with delight. Madelene stood behind, her silver face suddenly inscrutable as a temple statue. "I found it just after I built Madelene - there was an abandoned building, not far from here, in
a spot where all the vegetation had gone strange. I followed my muse, and explored - this was in bundles with EC codes on the outside, so of course nobody was going to come and claim it. Waste not, want not - this must have been planned for camouflage suits, or something - you can rig sensors to give it Chameleon abilities." I had an uneasy feeling, as I thought about his tale. Apart from this blasted Industrial Estate, there was, or had been, only one spot where the taint had lingered in these hills. It had been a Government research station - but the wholesome testing of chemical, biological and vegetable warfare techniques had been replaced by something far more sinister. That piece of land was now cordoned off with electrified razorwire, each conducting metal strand carefully arranged to form a belt of cold steel endlessly repeating a certain word in a language that was ancient before the first cave-dwellers ever sunbathed on these hills. And yet - it could not have been such a place of horror, or it would have met the fate of all the EC's main bases. It had been just after the great tank battle on the North Yorkshire plain, the Thirsk Salient, when things had become urgent. Fortunately, the EC had made a mistake that cost them dear, when it came to their regulations licencing antique vehicles that included launch vehicles as permissible. The carefully refurbished force of ancient SS-18 "Satan" missiles in the Albanian People's Aerospace museum in Tirana, were regularly inspected, the EC's best beaureaucrats measuring the dummy warheads of reinforced concrete they carried. It was a limitation inherent in their mindset, I smiled as I recalled it. The week before the fall of Belgium, Albania had been treated to a spectacular firework display - as eighty ancient launchers headed almost vertically up, registering as "harmless" to all the legomancer's spells in Brussels. And indeed, twenty tonnes of concretebound railway lines are harmless - unless, as the Ministries of Agriculture, Aggro-Culture, and Political Correction found out, you drop them from twenty-eight thousand miles, arriving at their destination at three miles per second. "Project Thunderfall" had been such a great success, the original vehicles had been replaced by the liberated kingdoms of Europe, and stood today eternally vigilant . The memories of that time passed, and I felt my fur bristle a little less. But standing in that room, with the Belgium-crafted crates around me, I could not shake off a vague feeling of dread. "So ... what do you want Me for ?" I asked, staring uneasily at the shimmering ball of fictional fur before me. Yet - there was something definitely interesting about the project. Eric gave a high, tense bark of a laugh. "Watch when I try and increase the realism - it's got a pseudo-random element built into the Artificial Fuzziness program - three, two, one, DOT." He stabbed the yellow button of the remote control unit down, and I leaped back - as it seemed to balloon outwards in an insanely writhing furball three metres across ! "Rolls a critical on the fluffiness-related dice," my ears went up in interest as my initial panic faded. "Yes - this could be of Definite interest...." That was how I got involved - it was my mistake, but I saw no harm in it, honestly, I did not. Surface-tiling geometries always fascinated me - you've noticed, the tesseract tiles in my bathroom ? This was the sort of thing I was good at. Programming that holographic simulation for the way fur binds and fluffs, took me weeks of work, off and on. Oh, Eric paid me for it - he said he was selling the completed models. I'd
only actually go out there once a week, the place was a mess - fake fur and that strange rubbery skin piled all over the place. He was a genius, I'll tell you that as a fact - and if he was selling the working models as companions, well, I was hardly going to complain. Not my problem. I'll tell you, though. The first thing I ever really felt was "off", was when he invited me round for a meal. The house was fine, a timber-beamed place with pre-Norman style vaulting on the ceiling, and the reassuring meeping and glibbering of ghouls seeping up from some hidden sub-basement. He served the meal, while Madelene lounged like a reclining statue on an extraordinarily fluffy rug before the fire. Her long, silver fingers hissed through the fabric seductively, all the time we talked. Flame and fur made strangely curved reflections dance around the room. Naturally, I was amazed how he'd managed to build her. You've seen my own room, half the shelves are laden with old hard-copy manuals, everything you need to know to construct a PC or a PI (the Incorrect Machine) from the raw chips up. I was looking forwards to picking his brains on his construction techniques - but do you know, he showed me round the whole house from leering gambrel roof to conveniently earthfloored basement, and there wasn't so much as an issue of "Unpopular Mechanics" in the place ? There was just one shelf of books, and that was in a locked, smoked-glass fronted cabinet that he hurried me past without a word or a glance at. I mentioned something jokingly about his achievements, how he must have bought her off the shelf. We both knew that 'droids like Madelene, they don't make, let alone sell commercially. And I remember just what he said, after we'd finished eating and sat before the fire, with Madelene grooming him and looking at me with that mercury-flexible expression of hers. "She was an - inspiration," he said happily, as the object of our discussion enfolded him with that huge silver tail that should have looked like a rubber boat sprayed silver, instead of the elegant appendage that waved so realistically. "Oh, I got the parts, the processor and everything, off the shelf. And she was nothing special, for quite awhile. Form follows function, you know. And what I didn't know was, it happens the other way round. When I'd got her shaped just the way the vision said, everything started to .... happen. These days, She hardly seems to need spare parts, even." Just at that moment, the silver skunk whispered something in his ear, and he immediately began talking about his older works. Her eyes flashed, a danger signal that was somehow tinged with amusement, as if she saw some joke that she was resolutely keeping secret. I turned round, and in the firelight, I noticed something that I'd been barely half aware of all evening. The air was ..... you've seen motes of dust and fur, picked out in brilliant sunlight ? It was like that, but more so - imagine the finest, silkiest fur, that makes thistledown look like ten-centimetre steel cable. And imagine it suspended very finely and evenly in the air, almost as if it was dissolved in it. As Madelene stood up, it moved - you'd expect that. But it moved in an odd sort of way, not how you'd expect swirling drafts to behave. And the colour - you'd expect loose fur to match the pelts of the people in the house, but this had colours that were - different. I shuddered, later on, when I realised where I had seen colours like that before. As she left the room with the empty plates, I dropped a few questions about where he got his ideas from. He gave me another of those strange, searching looks. "I'm not the sort who can just start with a raw block of material,"
he said, very slowly. "Not like just digging a ditch, where you start chipping away till it's finished. No. Ideas, they just - come to me, I wait till they're crowding inside so tight it hurts, then I just have to ... go." His ears dipped slightly. "Like these new models. Madelene was my Inspiration - she doesn't have to say anything, she's just ... around. And then, things happen." He hesitated, and I think he was about to say something else when Madelene swept in with a silky glide that I somehow doubted Eric had ever programmed into her limb activator systems. A great artist, he truly was - but to produce something beyond the state of those arts whose budgets would break some countries - I couldn't see it. And yet I didn't think, and still don't think that he was lying. He had made her - but what I was looking at, had already departed very radically from what his hands had assembled. I bade him goodnight half an hour or so later, and he went with me to the door. I turned to go - and then I saw a very curious thing, or thought that I did. You recall what I said about the infinitely fine fuzz in the air, moving ? Well, as he stood there with the light and Madelene behind him, I realised something. It was a windy night. And yet this impalpable fluff was not billowing in the draft from the open door. As he waved, it moved to follow him, like - you know how iron filings arc round a bar magnet, obeying invisible magnetic field lines ? The pattern was different - but how different, I really would find it hard to put into words. But then - I'd better tell this just as it happened. You can check it with the official report - I wouldn't have believed it, if anyone else had told it ... but, listen. It was two months later; a still, damp night, not really raining, but grey and overcast. I'd worked out a new refinement in the Artificial Fluffiness algorhythm, and I was feeling pretty pleased with myself. I can still remember the song I was humming, as I went to pick up the phone - that old Cyberpunk track. You know the one ? " "Anarchy in the algorhythms, I wanna write code, with no divisions Code ought to beeee, in anarcheeeeee..." "Ok, Dobson, it might not be to your tastes, but it was how I was feeling. I tried to phone through to tell Eric the good news - but the phone was off the hook. I could just hear things - nothing definite - it sounded like a soft bumping, the way you'd sound if you tied pillows to your feet, and ran around an echoing room. But there wasn't just one set of the flopping sounds - it sounded like dozens - hundreds ! I called out down the phone - hoping to attract attention or what, I don't know and for a moment there was a scraping sound, then a soft "floomp" near the mouthpiece. Then I heard the click, and the dial tone." I stood there, and things seemed to fall into place. Somebody had heard me, and then quickly picked the phone up - putting it back, but muffling it, as if they'd a towel or something soft wrapped round their hands. The room had been filled with noises, but not a word, not a single breath did I hear. And something soft seemed to be standing very close to me, that instant before the phone was put down. I was more irritated than anything. I rang again, but there was no answer. So I went out on the bike, down past the AntiSocial club, past the posters for the UnDead Aid charity concerts, down through the familiar gambrel-roofed streets. And then out, under the cold lid of cloud, down into the flat land beyond the dying end of the hills, to where the Industrial Estate had lain for strange decades unpeopled. The single sodium light still burned, casting a strange uneldritch glow, more yellow than the usual altar fire. It was - I put it out of my
head, or tried to, the idea that it was like to the sick rainbow hues I had first seen on the cover of that ancient tape - the one that had first brought me here. As I stood outside, my fur chill in the gusting corner of unmouldering breezeblock walls, it was as if something had gone from my mind - as if a cloud like that eddying around me, had been hiding things that I should have thought of earlier. I looked at my watch - exactly midnight. It's a good watch, it does sunrise and sunset times, conjunctions of most planets, and if you stick this pull-out probe into fresh blood, you can summon any one minor Daemon of the Sumerian mythos, once a day. (Or more, but it really uses up the battery). But then - a sound came to my sharply erect ears, a natural one indeed - or it would have been, if I had not known what I did about this place. A creaking door, blowing in the wind - here in this place where all the doors were nightly almost religiously locked and alarmed. I was very quiet, as I looked at that open doorway. There was a two-bore shotgun in the saddlebag: I unfolded the ground recoil spades and pulled the cover off the multi-baffle muzzle brake, taking care it was loaded with centimetre-gague tungsten shot. We'd had a bad infestation of mimes that year, you remember, and I was still carying protection. The autoloader gave a reassuring hum as I hoisted the ammunition tank onto my back, and cautiously stepped through the doorway. Into Eric's studio, where I had often been before. The atmosphere of the place had - changed. I don't know how to describe it exactly, but there was a sort of gleeful expectancy in the air, as if a host of people were hiding behind doors, waiting to burst out and surprise you. But, do you know, there was nothing ? I saw Eric's coat and overshoes hung up by the doorway - I searched, but there was no sign that he was anywhere near. And all around me, the almost-completed plush figures stood or sat, in such stunningly lifelike poses that it half scared me. I'd helped to build the damned things, I mean ! There was hardly a bolt or electrical connection I couldn't sketch out even now, and the Artificial Cuteness algorhythms I'd dreamed up myself - I just woke up one morning, with the breakthrough already in my head. I brushed past Eric's coat on the way out, already dismissing my misgivings. Yet I did not like the way the fine fluff seemed to bunch and knot in the corners of the room - there were shapes that it seemed to make, just when you turned away from it. It was so impalpable, it was hardly there at all - like the latent image on a piece of undeveloped film. I said, that I brushed past Eric's coat. And in the pocket, was something hard and squareish. Without really thinking what I was doing, I reached down and grabbed it - an old hard-copy book, that'd been rebound in some thin furless skin as if to render it anonymous. If it belonged to Eric, I told myself as I locked the place up behind me, I'd give it back to him when we next met, and maybe joke about how he shouldn't leave incriminating evidence lying around. It's one of the great mysteries, don't you think, how we manage to always think of the least suitable thing to say ? I was on the bike and home safe in twenty minutes, and fast asleep an hour later. I remember that sleep, Dobson - because I don't think I'll ever sleep as well again. It was the book. I told you, I'd only seen one small collection at Eric's house, on the locked shelf ? When I opened those pages the next morning in the clear night of day, I almost threw the thing on the fire before finishing the first page - would to Nodens I had done ! Then I might have slept nights - yet in my ignorance, a monstrous fluffiness might have been unleashed upon the world.
Oh, I've seen all the classics. I sneaked a peek at my sister's junior pop-up "Necronomicon" when I was six years old - I'm not prejudiced about that sort of thing. But there are - other - entities, and some of them it truly is fearful to know. In my trembling paws I held a copy of the infamous "Bibbity Boo", the dread original of which was rumoured to have been found scrawled in crayon - upon a certain piece of wallpaper. The history of the work was a fantastic piece of legend, having been only been printed once, in a single batch of five million in Singapore. Almost all had been remaindered and destroyed - but here was one of the last, shockingly impious survivors. The book seemed to fall open of its own accord. What I read - well, I won't forget it in a hurry. There were several sections that were, let's say, relevant. "And concerning yr meddling with ye Outer ones, take heed on what ye call down from splits and tears in ye curtain wall of Darkness. For not by the holy symbols, viz. ye pentagram, Voorish sign nor yet the stone rune-graven from ancient Mnar, will some of the Strange ones consent to be bound. When ye do see those of short and swollen aspect, plump of limb and graven in the image of flaxen dolls, cease ye to meddle, and pray that the rent in the seams of ye worlde will heal before great mischief be wrought. "And should ye deal with ye Great Soft Ones, be doubly warned, for they are doubly subtle, in what you do consent to. For like calls to like, and even their lifeless images act to draw power from their Realm, to draw power and act as horrid seed sewn in the world to grow fat and plushie to our great woe. In the embrace of such is ye deadliest menace, for e'en their images take life from that which walks and feed it to that which must not be. "They are soft and subtle. In dreams are they strongest, snaring the souls of those who look too long upon the runes they have left among us. In the runes of the heart, the flower and the rainbow have they delight: in colours of bleached pinks and blues that are not to be seen in goodlie skies. As a fluffieness shall ye know them; as a chirping and yiffing in the darkness, and by the soft tread of their great paws in the last of moments. For an image left to grow, shall bind itself between two worlds, gnawing as a shipworm in a vessel, and draw forth power of the Other realm ." There was a lot more of the same. As I read it, I couldn't help thinking - just how has Eric produced his masterpieces ? He had been "inspired", all right - if you remember that word means "to breathe in". I won't forget the sight of that damnably perfect silver thing whispering in his ear. She'd been with him when he found that cache of EC holographic-mode fibre, and maybe he thought it was coincidence. I certainly don't ! What happened next ? I was down to the police station immediately, gasping some half-incoherent story to the junior constable, waving the book I'd found. Well, you know how much chance you've got of being taken seriously. Within fifteen seconds launch keys were being turned in a "Thunderfall" silo somewhere, and before even the police headquarters had been told, twenty tonnes of artificial meteorite had punched that brooding, decade-haunted Industrial Estate to a sizzling crater. That constable's a Detective Inspector now. But you know, Dobson, I couldn't be totally content, even afterwards. Oh, they searched for Eric and Madelene, but the house hadn't been used in a week. They only found his clothes, sort of lying empty against a wall - they lay in a strange way, almost as if he'd been wearing them when he was - pulled right out of them. He wasn't there -
but I remember how thick the strange fluff had hung in the air of the deserted factory. I can't prove a thing - it's all damnable fancy and hearsay - I didn't count exactly how many of those stuffies there were, like bottles waiting to be filled with the animating force from some chirping, yiffling nightmare. But something answered the phone, you know. I can't forget the soft gleeful noises, as of a host of padded feet skipping in some rite of unhallowed celebration. And Madelene was gone - how many of her nascent sisters and brothers had she taken with her, walking for the moment on unliving plastic and circuitry ? And Eric - I said I didn't think he was dead. But listen, for the book I found has one last thing to say. "And of those that are servants to ye Soft Ones, they that give of their life and trust to them, in sooth are they rewarded. When ye see but dimly ye vapour of no known hue, depart, for life and sowle's sake. For in that darkening, know that ye stand near to a yawning rent in ye Worlde - as it was in Anaheim, in Tokyo, in Florida long sunken 'neath the sea, and in diverse other places treated more cruelly. Ye Great Soft Ones are amorous of the mortal worlde, and if they can plant their own greatness of feet here or no, they delight in the taking of trophies to their world, where they will have their shapes stripped and forms given such as their new Masters find amusing." What am I worried about, Dobson ? It was something I saw just as I turned to leave that accursed industrial estate. I shrugged it off at the time - my nerves were jangling like razorwire by then, true enough, and I'd seen enough to imagine any sort of horrors. It was nothing too frightening at the time, but what I know - Goddess, what I know now ! For I'm guilty too, you know. I helped give them shape, the shapes that came out of my dreams, and if I can't forget it, I know that THEY won't forget how I helped them. Eric is - not dead, I think, but he is Gone, and only I remain. What I know now - a little knowledge truly is a deadly thing. Sometimes I wonder, when I remember how Madelene used to eye me up and down, as if - weighing me up, as if deciding something. And the smile she'd give as she silently nodded that oversized head what wouldn't I give, if only that smile had been a disappointed frown. The last time I turned back to look at that one sodium light, before I gunned the bike's turbines and escaped into the healing darkness, back to sane and healthy streets where vampires and shoggoths walked in cheerful midnight moods unafraid. For a second - hardly an instant - the rain seemed to take a half-solid form beneath the sickly cone of light. Or was it rain ? Was it something else ? Is it the cloud that I fancied I see out of the corner of my eye sometimes, when the lighting grows dim ? The shape - of no colour of Earth, and of a roundness and plushieness that belongs in no sane Universe - still, in that shape, I saw a blasphemous distortion - a re-moulding, caricatured, a degraded counterfeit that only I would have recognised - the shape he wears now in their world, him who was Eric Hesgathorpe ! ####### End of Tale #########
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