I’ve started my search at a young age.
As Arthur Laveau, my father, did, and his mother before him. None of them ended up happy either.
Not that that mattered to them.
Before he passed, he would tell me stories. Stories about wondrous men in far-off lands, capable of teaching the most succulent knowledge to all who were willing to listen. Tales of emaciated beggars being approached at night by shadowy figures, and leaving with a full stomach, a pocket full of gold, and orders written in an unknown script. Captivating as they were, I could never shake the sensation of such things always seeming to happen elsewhere, somewhere beyond my home and beyond the possibility of ever reaching. I could never become part of them.
That bothered me. It had bothered my father as well, and his mother before him. Too many people would, when faced with stories such as these, brush them off as the ramblings of a confused old hag or the rich fantasy of a drunken tavern owner. Others would simply laugh, or bemoan that no matter what, the pursuit of knowledge beyond our world would inevitably result in death, or worse. My family was different. My grandmother spent years attempting to uncover the various secrets of the lands she traveled, leaving behind a massive library full of dusty tomes when she passed. Father browsed these extensively, making sure to take notes wherever he could, anytime he wasn’t improving on it with his own research.
The shelves in my family’s library got bolstered with countless tomes bought from shady vendors, found at yard sales or tracked down through auctions. Most would simply see them as the curios of forgotten madmen, but for reasons I can’t quite explain I kept the tradition alive. Years went by as I scoured local flea markets for those telltale signs: worn, yellowed pages, permanent creases and folds in the cover from years of intense reading.
Now, what would our end goal be? Simple. What’s the number one question that has bothered scientists, mathematicians and philosopher kings since the dawn of humanity?
Why are we here? Who put us here? And does any of it matter in the slightest?
So on a day when the weather was vile and all the usual spots were closed, I contacted a woman. Her name was Lydia, Lydia Waters, to be exact. She put up an ad in the paper asking for people interested in buying a whole load of antique garbage she had no use for, and I decided that was exactly the kind of garbage that I wanted. I called her up, arranged to meet her in a parking lot like some sort of shady opium fiend looking for a fix.
She appeared nervous. I asked her if she had the goods. She said yes. She asked if I had the money. I said maybe. She chuckled. I asked her for the goods. She gave me a bag. I gave her a wad of cash, amounting to about ten bucks. Not the biggest payment I have ever made for old crap by a large stretch, but still rather costly for what basically amounts to a bag full of refuse. She said our business was done. I agreed. She turned around and walked off towards her car. I turned around and walked off towards my car.
We drove away at the exact same point in time, 9:02 on a moist Monday evening in June.
As soon as I arrived home, I opened the bag and dumped the contents on the floor, kneeling and rummaging through it like some sort of demented animal. Half of it was just what I expected: garbage. Old toys, faded photographs, trinkets of dubious sentimental value. All of it kept for years, then thrown away at a moment’s notice.
The rest was more interesting.
A leather-bound journal of sorts, written in an unknown script. A bone amulet with odd glyphs carved into it, attached to a string, clearly meant to be worn as necklace. Herbs and crystals, stuffed in a small cloth sack and remarkably well-preserved. A jar filled with clear liquid, which smelled rather alcoholic when opened.
Seems I’ve stumbled upon the treasures of a demented moonshiner of sorts.
After sampling the liquid and finding it shockingly palatable, I got to work attempting to decipher the journal, without any luck. None of my books contained any sort of glyph that resembled the ones I saw on the amulet or in the journal. This was the first time in my life that our family’s extensive library has failed me, and hopefully the last. My efforts were not completely for naught though, as I discovered among the notes written by my father in the Scholar’s Guide To Runes a scrap of paper containing an address, and more importantly, a name. Or more of a title, really. It’s hard to tell sometimes with my father’s old contacts.
The Lady of the Bog, they called her. Not that she lived in one. She just tells everyone that. She was an… interesting person, judging by the tales my father told me. She talked to ants, drinks only lukewarm tea, and at night would burn all manner of odd herbs and spices in a large fire pit in her garden, in what is either an arcane ritual or a really odd way of getting high.
I decided to pay the Lady a visit. I had never met her before, though my father often told about his dealings with her. For all the traits I admired in him, I always thought his penchant for gossip was one of his weak points. From what I’ve heard, she was a decent enough sort, and terrifically gifted in the occult sciences. If anyone can translate this script, it would be her.
She lived in a quiet part of a suburb, which is about the least magical place one can imagine. Her front lawn was overgrown, with weeds snaking up through the cracks in the stone making it unnecessarily difficult to ring the doorbell. A queer scent hung in the air, reminiscent of both the stench of gefilte fish and the subtle aroma of potpourri. I hesitated to knock on the door, afraid that the woman I would meet would be some sort of inscrutable archwizard capable of driving me mad with but a single conversation.
The door opened, and in it stood a woman. A young woman, by the looks of it, though the dark rings around her eyes betrayed many sleepless nights of study. Odd, considering that my father told me even his mother had regular contact with The Lady. Might it be the work of magic, or is the title of Lady of the Bog just hereditary? I felt like it would be rude to ask.
Her raven locks framed her sickly white skin, and flowed over her bright yellow robe with on it a symbol I did not recognize. No matter how much I looked at it, it was as if my mind simply wouldn’t let me remember it, almost as if I could not force myself to care about it. She coughed politely after I had been staring at her chest for a solid twenty seconds.
“Ah, Mark Laveau. To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“Found a journal with an unknown script in it. Can you help transcribe it?”
The Lady scoffed.
“Jeez, none of you Laveau would ever just stop by for a polite chat, would you? What happened to just coming in for a cup of tea?”
“Tea is for the weak.”
“What the hell does that even mean?”
“I’m not sure. Father often said that.”
She rolled her eyes.
“Can I come in?”
“Sure, make yourself comfortable.”
I found myself seated on a rather comfortable, but worn black leather couch. On the armrest was a cup of boiling-hot tea, from which wafted a rather unappetizing scent. Opposite of me was The Lady, seated in a leather recliner. The decor in the room was… oddly regular, if a bit old-fashioned. Cozy enough, I suppose. The Lady tapped the journal I gave her with her fingers.
“Where on earth did you find a journal like this?”
“Fair enough. Here’s the thing, though. It’ll take me some time to transcribe this. I can’t say the runes are entirely unknown to me, but when I try and read this it doesn’t make a lick of sense. The grammar is all off, you see. I’m thinking that it’s gotta be something else. The same goes for the pendant. I can tell you that it’s not made out of human bone, though, so that’s a relief. It’s actually walrus.”
“Okay. And the sachet?”
“You’re drinking it. It’s a bog-standard ward baggie, meant to be brewed into a tea to absorb its healing power. Or something. Oh, don’t look at me like that, I didn’t invent it. Some things are just done for ages for no real reason.”
I grimaced as I took a sip. The tea was extremely bitter and vaguely metallic tasting, and left a dry sensation in my mouth. The worst thing was that it wasn’t even hot anymore.
She took a big swig from it, seeing how the tea had cooled down to her standards by now.
“I should warn you,” she said, wiping her mouth with a bright yellow sleeve.
“The herbs included in this one have some fairly potent hallucinogenic properties. You might want to lie down for a bit.”
I almost choked on my last sip of tea.
“Wait, you’re telling me that NOW?”
“Would you have drank it otherwise?”
“Exactly. What, you think I stayed alive this long by not doing certain rituals simply because they were gross?”
“It’s not that it’s gross, it’s that you drugged me!”
She wagged her finger.
“AM DRUGGING you. Not drugged. You’re not feeling the effects yet, yes? Drink up.”
I reluctantly swallowed the last vile drops of the elixir. This entire plan was going downhill, fast.
“Now, if you start panicking, just remind yourself that it’s all natural. You’re not dying, you’re not stuck in your trip, none of that stuff.”
“That’s easy for you to say! Wouldn’t it have been better to just tell me that before we did this, so I wouldn’t panic at all?”
A sly grin crept over her face, as I felt my grip on reality soften and the world around me becoming less and less clear.
“Don’t worry. I’m an excellent tripsitter.”
The first thing I felt was my body, melting into the couch. The second thing I felt was the couch, melting into me.
The Lady’s face appeared in a haze of purple smoke, spoke of nothing, and left just as suddenly as it appeared. Odd, I thought. Normally, faces don’t do that. The logical explanation to this was that she was not there. The illogical explanation was that I was not there, either.
The Lady sighed as she sat back in her chair. Man, this dude was having it rough. She’d already given him some orange juice and a few crackers to help with the nausea, but the past hour he’d been running back and forth between babbling on the couch and vomiting in the sink. Perhaps this wasn’t such a good idea after all, but hey. His father took well to it, as did his mother before him. No reason to doubt that this guy would be able to handle a minor hallucinogenic.
To pass the time, she took to turning on the TV. It worked, for a while. Some mind numbing entertainment would definitely be the ticket to surviving the next four hours with this dumpster fire of a person. A reality show was on, about a bunch of vapid men with strange haircuts. They appeared to be holding some sort of celebration, dancing around a large flame as they attempted to intoxicate their female companions.
She couldn’t watch for long though, as her “patient” started ranting about how he was stronger than all of them and at one point attempted to punch her TV, so she started channelsurfing. Documentary about clowns. Yeah, that’s a no. There’s no telling what that that’ll do to the poor man’s paranoia.
Cartoons. Fine, but these are the kind that gets scary and surreal halfway through and has rotoscoped walruses singing about heroin addiction. Also a no. The Lady decided, rather than distracting herself, she would try to make the best of this situation after all.
I was stuck in a gray wasteland of meat. Flesh rolled from the hills, chasing after me with gaping mouths. I ran, but got stuck on a snare of fleshy fibers, wrapping around my ankles. I screamed, but nothing came out. I was dragged off into a cave of bone. The tendrils were gone, and I was free to stand up, wading through the thick serum that seeped into my shoes and stained my slacks. After several hours, I happened upon a staircase, flooded by thick, not-quite-congealed blood. There was no choice. I had to swim.
Okay, finally. The guy was asleep. She had been enduring his screaming and babbling for the past three hours, only for him to collapse on the carpet and fall fast asleep. Something about fields of bone. To most people, that would be a sure sign of bad news, but the Lady knew what it meant, what it represented.
The Peanut Fields.
Only those with a true attunement to the occult could ever hope to reach this place, in their meditation-induced stupors. According to certain great teachers of her field, they were a place that was stuck deep within anyone’s mind, hidden away behind the folds of childhood trauma, phobias, embarrassing moments you had in grade school, and disgust.
They said that this place beyond time and space was also THE place to go to for answers to all your questions about the self. Why are you afraid of spiders? Ask the peanut fields. Why has that damned speech you had to give at your grade school where you farted loudly on stage and everybody laughed impacted you so much? Okay, maybe you don’t need the fields for that. There’s simpler methods for discovering the why and how of most questions, and certainly safer methods.
As any self-respecting occultist can tell you, tapping into any kind of arcane resource has its price.
The Lady smiled, having carried Mark to the guest bed in the attic. It always helps to be prepared. It’d have been nice to have given Rosaleen a bed to wake up from instead of a cold bathroom floor. Okay, maybe the Laveaus had a bit of a history with reacting heavily to even the simplest of concoctions. At first the Lady thought it was due to an affinity for the occult sciences, but after having Arthur insufflate a line of ibuprofen and testing some minor pain stimulus reaction times (involving a hammer), she concluded that the Laveaus simply had a massive medication tolerance problem.
The Lady went back downstairs, leaving the heavily snoring Laveau behind her as she went to her cartoons. God, she loved cartoons.
Gasping, I emerged from the lake of bodily fluids. I could stand here, but the disgusting liquid was still waist-high. I waded through, taking in the “scenery”, for lack of a better term. I was known for being a bit of a germaphobe, and this place was NOT helping. The thick rivulets of god-knows-what dripping from stalactites made sure of that. In the distance, I could see a part that was solid bone. Any excuse to get away from the foul mess I was standing in was welcome to me, so I sped up.
Climbing up, I slumped against the walls, hugging my knees. After gathering my bearings and wiping myself as dry as possible, I continued onwards. This part of the cave was more well-lit, owing to the bioluminescent plants growing out of the ceiling, brushing against me as I walked past. A voice rang out behind me, begging me for its attention. It was a male voice. Wasn’t it? I mean, I think it was.
I turned back, and what I saw that moment has been permanently burned into my mind. A warped mockery of a human being called out to me, pleading with me to listen to what it had to say. If you have ever had the misfortune of reading my father’s medical encyclopedias, and happened upon the page that described Harlequin-type Ichthyosis, the being would remind you of the pictures included.
I stuck up my hand in a (hopefully) non threatening gesture, and answered its call.
“Good… good day.”
I had trouble not recoiling at its visage, especially once it laid its hand on my shoulder, leaned up to my ear, and parted its malformed lips to whisper to me. I couldn’t understand the language it spoke… and yet, its message felt perfectly clear.
My field of vision appeared to zoom backwards at breakneck speeds, and the bone hallway stretched out before me until it looped back in on itself, creating a disturbing void in whatever this place’s idea of reality was. I do not know what caused me to reach out and touch it, but for some reason I felt no fear at all. After what I had seen and heard, nothing would be too weird.
I felt a soft, female hand grasp mine, and gently pull me in. I allowed it to.
I slowly opened my eyes, and found myself looking towards a dusty ceiling. Cobwebs hung from the corners, with various critters seemingly mocking my disturbing nightmare. I sat upright, and patted my hair. Dry. Of course. I did not smell anything disgusting anymore, apart from the now-familiar aroma of The Lady’s home. A deep sigh of relief escaped from my lips, as I held my head in my hands.
I had the headache god would have the next aeon after drinking all the vodka in existence, past, present and future, and then some. I startled upon realizing that I basically fell asleep in a strange lady’s house. Had The Lady not been a family acquaintance, there was no telling what could have happened in my sleep, or what others would think of me.
I crept downstairs, intent on thanking her for taking care of me. Alas, she was nowhere to be seen. A post-it on my jacket informed me that she went out to get some, and I quote, “Witch shit for my witch needs”, which amused me greatly. As an admittedly half-assed way of thanking her, I left fifty bucks on the coffee table. A swamp hag wouldn’t have any use for money, but maybe it’ll help pay off the electricity bill, seeing how her cartoons were still running.
Shutting the front door behind me, I chuckled to myself. Finally, I KNEW what my purpose was.
I have to admit, I was glad to leave the overwhelming scent of potpourri behind me. I was never fond of it, but man. I decided to head to the nearest diner, to catch some breakfast. My watch informed me it was, after all, ten in the morning, and it had not even been evening when I entered her home.
“Two slices of toast, hash browns, sausage and scrambled eggs. That right, hon?”
“Be with you in a sec.”
Early in the morning, a man knocks on a woman’s door. She opens, and invites him in for tea. He brusquely scoffs at the offer. She invites him in anyways.
One hour later, a man and a woman are on their way to the more rural areas of their state, with as only motivation finding a reason for the man’s visions.
Miss Waters wasn’t the most talkative companion, to be sure. Not to say she was impolite, of course. She simply didn’t seem to be very interested in conversation. That is, until we pulled up to our destination.
“Hey, isn’t this Mensbury Hills? I used to come here a lot as a kid.”
“It might be. Rest assured, what we’ll be doing here today is nothing a kid should witness.”
“That… does not reassure me.”
“It wasn’t meant to.”
“Why would you even sa- Forget it. I assume this is where you tell me about your vision, and more importantly, about my grandfather’s diary?”
“No. Up the hill.”
To be entirely honest, part of me was liking this whole ‘Mysterious Person With More Knowledge Than You’ thing. I suppose this is why The Lady kept doing it. That, or she just appreciated any chance to screw with people she got.
We climbed the grassy hills, walking until we arrived at the right spot. A large patch of grass had been scorched ages ago by unknown means, and nothing had been able to grow ever since. Locals would often mutter about druids or mormons or whoever the cult of the day was at the moment you’d ask them, but I knew better by this point.
My journey here wasn’t one of self discovery, of coming of age, or any other such nonsense. I was here out of a desire to see what would happen next. The being in my visions had whispered instructions to me that were etched in the soft, malleable tissues of my mind. Were I to fulfill them…
No idea what would happen, to be honest. I was getting excited just thinking about it, and my fellow pilgrim noticed.
“You’re awfully giddy for a mysterious keepsake collector. Could you at least tell me where we are going?”
“Wh- Huh. Alright.”
We came to a stop at the patch I had mentioned. If you were to run your fingers through the soil, you would find that it was mixed with still-smoldering ashes. Now what starts a fire that simply can’t be put out? My head felt like it was bursting with ideas as to what this all meant.
“Huh. Hey, weird guy. Look at that.”
She pointed towards a stone slab, marked by rough scratches on the surface that seemed to indicate it being man-made in terms of shape. Someone out there wanted a slab, and so they made one. Unlike before though, I didn’t have to theorize about a possible purpose. It was clear to me, ever since that afternoon in The Lady’s home.
“I’m gonna go lie down.”
The stone was remarkably cold to the touch, seeing how the sun had been beating down on it ever since it rose. The ground around it had been marred by small chips of rock, and as my eyes ventured upwards and stared into the clear blue sky, I felt at peace for the first time in my short, meaningless life.
“Your grandfather was… an interesting fellow. He kept a ledger of sorts, of all the people he had met during his travels.”
“What kind of travels were they?”
I waved my hands in the air, not looking away from the endless blue void.
“Big ones. He went places.”
“Thanks. What did he say about the folks that visited him?”
“They were scared. Neighbouring countries weren’t doing too hot. Anytime you’d look around you, you’d see nothing but negativity. They were attempting to find their luck elsewhere, and he would wish them well on their journeys. Then, he’d meticulously note down every single detail about their appearance, right down to the greasiness of their pores or the smell of their breath.”
“Your grandfather was a very interesting man.”
Lydia took a seat on the edge of the slab, looking slightly annoyed.
“So it meant nothing?”
“No. There’s more to it than that.”
“What would that be?”
“I could explain it to you, if you desired.”
“That’s what I am asking you to do, you faux-eloquent dipshit.”
“Very soon, all shall become clear. One only has to gaze towards the sky, a-”
“Look, bud. If you don’t start telling me what the fuck is going on real goddamn soon, we are going to have a problem.”
Miss Waters stood up, her face betraying a hint of mild anger.
“It shall be so. What I am about to tell you is a most dreadful myth.”
“The folk your grandfather met were all terrified of the same thing, only they did not know it themselves. They whispered to your grandfather, Lydia. They whispered about a presence in their towns.”
Miss Waters sat on the slab once more, listening intently.
“They spoke of roads that led to nowhere, boarded up houses, schools closing. They spoke of something they couldn’t possibly begin to comprehend. People from neighbouring villages would suddenly hurry through, not bothering to stay or browse local merchants out of fear of whatever it was that took hold of their village being brought along with them if they lingered too long. Now, isn’t it interesting to note that the same story was being told by different folks from different backgrounds? Dockworker, lawyer, merchant… It didn’t matter.”
“Yes, very interesting. Keep going.”
“Now you see.”
“That will be for you to decide.”
Miss Waters stood up, her face the picture of serenity, which stood in strong contrast against her strong hands finding their way to my throat.
“You’re going to give me some answers, and you’re going to give them NOW, you sick fuck.”
I coughed out my reply, using the last bit of strength I had in my lungs.
“I’ve given you the answers.”
Her fingers squeezed even stronger.
“It’s up to you to interpret them.”
On a sunny thursday afternoon in June, a woman arrives at the home of a reclusive local woman, known to most as The Lady of the Bog, despite not even living anywhere near a bog. After coming over the initial potpourri-scented shock of her remarkably clean surroundings, she knocks on the door, hoping to find any information that might be of value.
She had, after all, been busy. Scouring newspapers and secondhand marketplace websites was no easy task for the chronically impatient, but she managed to find someone selling a box of old detritus. She remembers laughing at the foolishness of just selling your old keepsakes to the first bidder, simply because you couldn’t understand their meaning.
After all, who knows what kind of information a keen eye could find amidst the newspaper clippings and diary entries.