Allison Park, Pennsylvania - 1967
Point Marion, Pennsylvania - 1996
Go ye into ye house by ye maine entrance. Climbe ye staire to ye first balconie. Breake ye locke on ye secont door and enter. Find ye papers lyn'g at ye seventhe corner. If ye wish to preserve ye sanitie of ye Earthe, touche them not, but set ye a fire to them, friende. Let them be consum'd and ye house withe them. A proper ende for a buildn'g which has knownt ye unlearnable, and hear'd ye unspeakable. Might great Cathar rot in ye caverne as I will soon rot in ye grave. BURNE THEM! BURNE THEM all and throw their books onto ye pyre! Ye blackness calls them and stands agape for all who woulde stumb'l unknown'g into ye pit. Ye secrets of ye Megazome muste never be tolde. BURNE THEM and run screamn'g from ye house for ye have stood at ye edge of infinitie and throwne clos'd ye door! Ye rumb'l of ye flame will make my mouldern'g bodie laughe in ye tombe. Play yr digeree, do, Blue. And let ye unholy house burne to ye unholy music. BURNE THEM and don't looke backe! Ye have sav'd ye worlde from madness.
David Howe stood in the doorway of the outlandish room and blinked. A few of the many walls seemed to shift slightly. He blinked again. Other walls shifted. He felt dizzy. He placed his hand on the left wall for support as much as for a reference point in this crazily shifting reality. He began to take short, careful steps. As he walked he remembered the chain of events that had brought him here.
Ammon Cove is an ancient town that sprawls through the depression at the mouth of the mighty Consimcalon River. It consists of two generally accepted halves: the New Town, whose old and dirty warehouses and outdated shops can only be called new at the expense of the other half - the Old Town.
The Old Town is unknown to the outside world. They sometimes see it, wedged between the restless sea and the secretive swamp, but no outsider ever goes near the Old Town. Why is hard to say. At one time, generations ago, one could have used the excuse of the unholsome population, a combination of refugees from the witch trials of the surrounding area and the mongrel dredgings of the waterfronts of half the world who jumped the creaking, rat infested ships which used to throng the harbor.
Ammon Cove never saw a witch trial itself, possibly because those respectable residents who dared suggest the popular pastime where known to occasionally vanish mysteriously from their beds, never to be heard from again.
In other words, Ammon Cove was a haven (or is that the applicable word?) for witches, warlocks and assorted scum and was openly avoided by God-fearing, witch-burning Christians.
Today the remains of that once-feared place, now known as the Old Town, are still avoided and, still, no one can say exactly why. Perhaps it is because no outsider has any reason to go there. There are no new buildings. All are survivors of early New England, old and rotting, alowly falling to ruin. The few inhabitants seem nearly as ancient as their crumbling homes, gnarled and stunted recluses who shut themselves behind bolted doors in the daylight and scuttle quietly about nameless errands only after the sun has fallen and the mist has settled.
David Howe came to the first corner. It was more than ninety degrees, yet he seemed to have to turn sharply in order to keep sliding his hand along the wall. He remembered the next link in the chain.
INSERT MORE BACKGROUND ON AMMON COVE WHICH WILL SIMULTANEOUSLY BE INDIRECT BACKGROUND ON STRAM DROCER'S DIABOLICAL PAST - T.H.
The Drocer Institute stands on the banks of the mighty Consimcalon River on the outskirts of Kingsland, Massachusetts. It was founded in the early nineteen fifties by an unusual, and now rarely mentioned person, by the name of Stram Drocer. Stram Drocer was, at that time, recognized by a select group as a genius, albeit an erratic one, of the highest caliber, though eccentric to the same extent. The institute was built by this group at his request and paid for by a previoulsy unknown bank account which he signed over for its construction.
For six years he came and went about the place as he pleased, suggesting unheard of projects here, helping in difficult research there. His genius blazed a trail through new vistas of science that were so revolutionary as to be wholly unheard of outside the walls of Drocer.
Yet, during this period, the seeds of his downfall were being sewn. Alternating with his periods of genius were spells of apparent madness when he would rave for hours on subjects that should be unheard of in a modern scientific facility. In these moments he might fervently believe he was a master alchemist, an occult spiritual leader or even a human vampire.
It was during one of these spells that he attacked a young employee and inflicted several small wounds about the neck.
As a result of the growing public pressure accumulating from this and other criminal offenses, the board of directors he himself had appointed irrevocably banned Stram Drocer from the institution that bore his name. A few of those who knew him best, while agreeing with the ban, were willing to make extreme allowances for his delusions. He occasionally came to them with theories and crude sketches of unimaginable devices which, when properly handled in the laboratories, hept the level of Drocer technology far above that of any other research institution.
It was with just such an idea that Stram Drocer came to Dr. Robert Sparks, Drocer's young associate chemist on a moonless night in November of the year 1959.
It was shortly after midnight and Sparks was locking the door of the chemistry laboratory when a lean, hunched figure in a jet black cape stepped out of the shadows. Sparks immediately recognized the outlandish costume and wolfish profile of Stram Drocer.
"Good evening, my friend." Stram Drocer announced himself in his forced germanic accent. "I was just coming out tonight when I saw the light in your office. This is a very strange coincidence, I thought, because I have a fabulous new invention to show you."
"Good evening, Master." Sparks used the mode of address prefered by the maniacal genius. "I trust this damp spell and the mist are to your liking. Tell me, what sort of invention do you have this fine evening?"
"That is correct. I like the fog very much. It is so close and concealing. But I have a wonderful invention. Oh, it is fabulous, faboulous! I call it a Megazome. You have never seen anything like it."
"Is that right. What does it do?"
"I will tell you what it does. Do you see that bright star shining through the fog. If there were somebody living up there, by using my fabulous Megazome, you could talk to them.
"Do not laugh! I know what you are thinking, that it is just some big radio or something like that. But it is not, my friend. The Megazome waves have no limitations. They can travel that far and much further in less time than it takes you to hear the sound of my voice. And they do not weaken. You can talk as far as you like. You can even send pictures and all that kind of stuff. It is fabulous! Look. Look at these drawings I have made."
He held out a handful of dirty, crumpled pages. Sparks accepted them and glanced over them in the glow of a streetlight.
"But Master, these plans call for an underground tunnel over a mile long! I can't afford anything like that."
"Oh, I have found such a tunnel. If you will build my megazome, I will show you where it is."
"I don't know, Master. This looks like an awful lot of trouble. What can we use it for?"
"No, no. It is really very simple. And just think of it, no more fooling around with radio stuff. This radio business is no good! With my Megazome you will be able to talk to anybody, anyplace. Understand?"
"I'll see what I can do, Master. Are these all the plans you have?"
"Yes, that is all. Except here. Here is where you will find the great underground cavern. If you go to the edge of the swamp down by the cove, you see trees like I have drawn. Right here, where I put this X, there is a great big stone on the ground. You must drag it away and you will find the door to the great cavern. I will come back again, my friend. I'll be seeing you."
With this abrupt parting, Stram Drocer suddenly disappeared around the corner of a building and was gone. Sparks was left standing alone with a half dozen sheets of scrawled pictures and a mounting curiosity about the latest discovery of the outcast genius.
Howe reached the second corner. It was an acute angle, yet he barely had to turn to follow the nest wall. And still he remembered.
The swamp begins at the back stoops of the houses of Ammon Cove and covers several square miles of land farther inland. It is known as The Black Swamp, probably because of its exceptionally dark appearance. Dark minerals from the black ground have been drawn into the vegatation giving it an extremely deep shade of green that contrasts starkly with the surrounding flora.
Not much is known about Black Swamp. People shun it as they do Ammon Cove, but, in this case, with very good reason. The murky depths of the swamp, shadowed by the thick underbrush, are treacherous with quicksand, poisonous animals and thorny plantlife. On occasion the swamp has been known to expel poisonous gas which has taken a heavy toll among domestic animals.
The farms in the area were abandoned a century ago after the unexplained death of farmer Rudolf Brandt and his family of seven whose, oddly decayed and discolored, bodies were found huddled in a corner of the great farmhouse kitchen after an unusually bad attack of the swamp gas in which the entire barnyard stock of several farms was wiped out.
Dr. Sparks and his young assistant David Howe applied the whole of their strength to moving a large slab of stone on the sea side of the Black Swamp. With the aid of pry bars and two-by-fours, they finally succeeded in exposing the hole which it had covered. They saw that the stone had concealed a chimney-like affair which appeared to be the top of a ventilation shaft.
It had a diameter of about two feet and extended directly downward for a distance of about twenty feet where it opened into a much larger horizontal tunnel. While Howe went back to the Jeep for ropes and additional lights, Sparks examined the exposed end of the vertical shaft. It was lined with rough blocks of ancient stone, covered with the thick moss of long disuse.
It was apparent that when the shaft was built, foot and handholds had been provided for climbing. These were now crumbling and smooth enough to be nearly useless. A match held over the opening was promptly extinquished by the strong rush of air that entered the shaft, indicating the existence of other strategically placed ventilation openings.
When the rope was brought, secured to a nearby tree and dropped into the shaft, the scientist began a careful descent as his assistant prepared himself for an extended wait at the surface. Aided by the old footholds, Sparks found the descent easy until the shaft opened into the roof of the transverse tunnel. He slid down the last six feet of rope and studied the strange corridor in which he stood.
It extended as far as his light could reach inland while on the sea side it it sloped downward rapidly until it disappeared into a pool of black, stagnant seepage. Shouting his intention to young Howe, he strode swiftly away from the flooded end. He had traveled over two hundred yards before he came to a stop. The walls of this tunnel were lined with the same green-coated stone as the vertical shaft by which he had entered, alternated with places where the tunnel had been cut through the living rock. This rock bore an oddly worn and polished look.
The passage still seemed endless, fading into dripping darkness far ahead. A few minutes later he stopped to examine another shaft which led downward at a steep angle from the one he had been following. About a hundred yards away he could make out a vaulted archway opening into a dark room.
Cautiouslly noting his directions at the intersection, he started down the side tunnel. While the floor of the other had been oddly worn, this one showed roughly fashioned steps. The moss on the steps made going difficult and a few times he retraced his steps a few yards to make sure he could climb back up the steep slope.
He stifled a sharp cry as he entered the room at the bottom of the stair. There before him, silhouetted against a faint flickering light, was the figure of a hunched old man standing with his back to the door. Before the explorer could move, the figure spun around and lunged at him, seizing his arm in a vise-like grip and thrusting its ugly, primitive face close to his.
Sparks instantly recognized the canine features, bulging eyes and sharp teeth of the mad genius, Stram Drocer.
"Welcome, my friend. Welcome. I knew you would come." Ignoring the shocked appearance of the scientist, and picking up the smoking oil lamp, Stram Drocer dragged him out of the small chamber and back up the slippery incline.
"Come. Come this way. I will show you how I have gotten the control chamber ready for you." Stram Drocer's voice displayed a maniacal enthusiasm that was characteristic of his moments of spectacular insight into the workings of the universe.
Sparks allowed himself to be led, by the shuffling ancient, through the dank passage that seemed to tunnel endlessly beneath the shunned swamp. The strange pair followed the arrow straight tunnel past countless black openings that led to unknown black chambers, possibly like the one in which Stram Drocer had been waiting.
As they passed opening after opening and each faded into the blackness behind them, Sparks began to notice a disquieting change in the rock walls. Instead of the rough hewn appearance, they now appeared to be smoothly polished. Occasionally they passed under yawing apertures in the roof, coated with the foul-smelling moss of centuries, lit by the faint glow of daylight. He guessed these to be ventilating shafts like the one through which he had entered.
In spite of those frequent shafts, or perhaps because of them since they must have opened deep within the foul swamp, the air was heavy with the decay of centuries. This was mixed with many unidentifiable, but equally offensive, odors.
Without warning, Stram Drocer turned into one of the numberless side tunnels. Sparks followed him down another of the strange, slippery ramps. Instead of opening into a chamber, this ramp made several sharp turns as it wound deeper into the earth. At length the two stepped into another long tunnel, like the one above that had taken them so far beneath the swamp.
For another ten minutes they walked in silence past even more side tunnels and under more scattered ventilation shafts that, here, reached upward into blackness. By now Sparks had lost his sense of direction after descennding the twisting ramp between tunnels. He desperately began to hope that Stram Drocer would not take it into his head to suddenly drop out of sight again.
Eventually the pair came to a featureless wall that formed the end of the tunnel. Without hesitation, Stram Drocer stepped through a narrow doorway and swiftly descended another steep and roughly hewn stair. As they picked their way farther into to the frightening depths, Stram drocer began talking, as if to himself.
"No way to make money. No way to make money. But I won't need money soon. Oh no. I won't ever need money again. The Megazome will see to that!"
They abrubtly found themselves in a large chamber, perhaps twenty feet on a side and ten feet high. A modern concrete floor contrasted sharply with the rough hewn walls and support columns. Racks of electronic equipment lined the back wall, gleamimg under brilliant flouescent lights. At the center of the right wall a foot-square door of heavy steel hung open beside a similarly sized hole cut deep into the rock. At the center of the left wall a man-high sliding door bore the inscription Otis. Heavy cables snaked across the floor from the racks into small holes in each of the side walls.
Without his realizing it, Spark's mouth hung open as he walked along the racked equipment studying it. He recognized audio and radio frequency oscillators, wideband power amplifiers, instrumentation amplifiers and the occasional green screen of an oscillograph. At the end of the row of racks, a piece of plywood was bolted to the rock wall. On this wood, held crudely with bent, rusty nails, were several large tubes, coils and condensers. Wires dangled from this conglomeration to carbouys on the floor filled with a bubbling, brownish liquid, the vapor from which tickled his nose. Several of the heavy cables terminated there.
From the entrance where he still stood, Stram Drocer said, "Do you like it my friend?" Then, in a flash, as Sparks had feared, he disappeared up the slippery stair.
Rubbing his smarting eyes, for the flash had blinded him even in the brightly lit room, Sparks nearly rushed after the, now vanished, figure. But, gathering his wits, he opened the sliding door and stepped through. Re-closing the door, he crossed his fingers and pushed a conspicuous button labeled UP.
Less than a minute later he stepped out of a rough, tar-papered shack near the road into the swamp. He was just in time to flag down his own Jeep as, the long since panicked, Howe shot past toward the main highway to summon help for his missing superior.
He passed the third corner. he tried not to think about the angle formed by the two walls. Instead he thought of the next link in the chain.
For the next week Sparks and Howe spent all their waking hours and slept many fitful nights in the secret underground chamber. Stram Drocer was conspicous by his absence. But, gradually, the two traced out the maze of wiring. With difficulty they filled in the gaps in their knowledge from the crumpled pages Sparks had been handed by Stram Drocer.
A seemingly endless supply of power was available from the cables that entered near the elevator shaft. Only a tiny percentage of what was available was needed by the elevator itself, the lights and the racks of electronics. judging from the relative size of the cables, the vast bulk of power would be consumed by the, still little understood, apparatus on the plywood.
Despite their curiosity, the two never learned from where the power came. The heavy wires exited the small hole in the rock face. No amount of searching, both above and below ground, ever disclosed where they entered.
During the laborious course of their investigations, they had powered up the electronics one piece at a time, carefully noting the settings of each. The day finally came when only the apparatus on the plywood remained untested. The 440 volt, three phase power was routed through a giant, two handed knife switch. They knew what entered the strange conglomeration from the racks. But the circuitry made no sense and the function of the carbouys of liquid was totally unknown to them.
Finally one day, as they sat in lawnchairs in the middle of the chamber amid the discarded remains of sandwiches and soda pop, Sparks said, "What the hell. You stand by the racks and I'll close the big switch. That's the only way we're ever going to figure out the rest of it!"
Okay, let's do it!" replied Howe.
"Not quite yet, my friend." They both spun around to see Stram Drocer standing at the inner door. "I will let you know when it is safe."
"Master, what does it do?" yelled Sparks, too late, for the caped figure had already sped up the stairs. He slumped down in his chair once more and glared at the glowing pilot lights. "Now what?" he asked the empty air.
Howe, who had walked over to stare up the dark stairway, stooped to pick up a piece of paper where Stram Drocer had so briefly stood. He noted that it was crumpled rather than folded and, without knowing why, he slipped it quickly into his pocket before returning to sit glumly next to Sparks.
By the time he reached the fourth corner, he was sweating in spite of the cool midnight air. He slid his hand around a sharp angle and walked nearly straight along the next wall. His thoughts turned to:
David Howe had researched the name Logar Jones, first at the Drocer library, then the Kingsland public library and finally in the mouldering records at the Ammon Cove Town Hall.
Apparently this Jones was a relatively modern figure who had disappeared less that twenty years before. He had been one of the many sailors to leave their ships and take up residence in Ammon Cove. Howe saw no way out of telling the hobbling but curious old town clerk what he was looking for.
"Old Jonesy?" croaked the bent old man. "I knew Jonesy. That wasn't his real name, you know. Nobody knew or cared what it was. Lots of hunkies with unpronoucable names took up new ones when they jumped ship. He was just 'Jonesy'.
"He kept to himself, he did. Not exactly unfriendly, more like unapproachable. He never hurt nobody, so nobody ever bothered him. Or maybe it was because when he looked at you, his eyes seemed to feel sorry for you. It was like he knew something about you that you didn't know yourself, and this something made him very sad or even scared for you. I know it sounds crazy. But you talk to anyone who knew him. They'll tell you the same thing.
How old was he? I don't rightly know. I don't think anybody knew. Sometimes he looked like a young man with an old face, and sometimes like an old man - heh, like me - with a face like you see in them pictures of 'Gyptain mummies. But he knew things. One time I asked him how old he was, he told me... he said, "Bob," he said, "Age ain't always measured in years. Sometimes it's measured in knowledge." And that's one o' them times he seemed as old as them mummies for a few seconds, and looked like he had learn't a new sorrow for every year o' that age. Now what do you think of that? Sometimes I find myself talking like him after all these years.
"Why thankee, young sir. A few extra dollars are hard to come by at my age and sometimes it takes a nip or two after work to stop me rememberin' old Jonesy."
The fifth corner was bad. He was shaking uncontrolably as his hand momentarily slid off the wall at an angle that seemed to be acute but acted as if it were obtuse. He flailed about for long seconds until he found the wall again and continued in the same direction. And the chain had continued.
"Jonesy? Don't like to think about Jonesy." The withered ancient grabbed the wine bottle offered by Howe and shivvered. "No, there weren't nothin' wrong with 'im. 'E were quiet, but decent in 'is way. But 'e 'ad a look about 'im." He shivvered again as he fumbled with the bottle. Howe took it back and unscrewed the cap.
"It were that look," mumbled the wino, "That and the one 'e roomed with. Now there was a bad 'un for ye."
Howe's head shot up. "And who would that be?" he asked, keeping the bottle away from the outstretched hand.
"I dunno. Dunno. Sam I think. Sam something." The claw of his hand waggled in the glow of the sooty streetlight. "It's forty yeers gone. Gimme a break... Sam... Sam Drucker I thinks. Gimme that."
Howe's eyes narrowed as he continued to withold the bottle. "Would that be Stram? Maybe Stram Drocer?
"Yeah, yeah. That was it. Now why did ya have t' go an remin' me for." He snatched the bottle and drained nearly half of it before lowering it to his lap.
Howe looked at the old man with pity. "Where did they room?" he asked quietly.
"Island Street. The last house 'n Island Street, next t' the swamp." There were tears in the rheumy old eyes as his head slumped against his breast. "God, why did y' have t' go 'n' remin' me?"
In the late morning light, Island street was a deserted, rutted dirt track. It was a short street that petered out at the edge of the swamp. The weed grown lots looked like salvage yards with their heaps of rubble that had once been stately, if not fancy, houses. All but one. The last house was still standing. Leaning askew toward the swamp a bit, but still standing. A lonely remnant of a bygone era, long past it usefulness but without the good sense to fall down like its brothers.
Howe stood in the broken gate and stared up at the shuttered windows. The mysterious Logar Jones was in the past, probably dead before Howe was born. But this was now! This made the mystery real! He shuddered as though from cold. And Stram Drocer had lived here in his youth! Howe could not imagine a youthful Stram Drocer. Somehow it seemed right to believe that the evil genius had always been old.
Was there some connection between Jones and Stram Drocer. If there was, it was in front of him now, in the form of this unnaturally preserved house. Howe pulled the crumpled paper from his pocket, smoothed it and read it for the hundredth time. Could this be the house refered to in the cryptic message. How could a room have a seventhe corner? Who or what was Great Cathar? And why the repeated exortation to BURNE THEM... BURNE THEM... BURNE THEM...?
Howe's heart nearly stopped at the sound of the broken, ancient voice behind him. It took him several seconds to calm himself enough to turn around. It was the old wino who held out a small book in his trembling hand.
"Take it!" he croaked. "Take it. And may it curse ye for reminding me of those years when it cursed me!" His voice was weak and his eyes were closed.
Howe automatically took the book from the pitiful wreck. As it left his fingers, the wino crumpled into the mud. Slipping the book into his pocket, Howe knelt down crying, "Are you all right?"
The wino wasn't all right. He was dead.
The sixth corner was the worst. He seemed to be trapped in a dead end. He fell to his knees and pressed his forehead against the wall... and fell forward, barely catching himself on his hands. He struggled to his feet, placed his hand back on the wall and struggled on. The memories flooded back.
David Howe stood once again in Island Street and looked about him. It was shortly after midnight and, as he had hoped, no moving figure was to be seen. He moved cautiously through the weed ridden yard toward the looming bulk before him.
He thought how strange it was that the ancient house, which had looked so innocent when he first saw it in the daylight, could seem so sinister after dark. He decided it must be the result of the mist making everything hazy and indistinct.
And he thought about the little book, thrust upon him by the dying wino, the book that was now safely locked in his laboratory desk. He remembered the clean, airy and brightly lit laboratory had seemed to grow smaller, sinister and oppressive as he read. He finally had to close the windows, turn off all but a small desk lamp, and even drape his coat over his shoulders as he sat hunched over the terrible volume.
His head was swimming. So much to learn! So much to know! So much to hide!
Taking a small wrecking bar from his coat, he gently applied it to the door. To his surprise, it was not locked. He went inside closing it quietly behind him. Only then did he turn on his flashlight and shine it over the walls. He was standing in a narrow hall from which several doors opened into unseen rooms and an even narrower staircase led upwards, turned at a landing and continued on into darkeness. Everything was sooty with years of dirt.
They wouldn't understand. The world wasn't ready. But he could bring them into new knowledge and new wonders, kicking and screaming if need be! What was he thinking? It was all too terrible to bear! It was all to wonderful to bear!
David didn't stop to examine the hall. He knew he was trespassing and, though he didn't think the bald, slouching police officer of Ammon Cove ever came through this part of town, or indeed ever left his dismal, yellowing office, he didn't want to take any chances. He headed straight for the stair.
He cautiously climbed to the second landing, stopping at the second door to examine it by the subdued glow of his flashlight. It was secured by an ancient, rusted padlock. he applied his wrecking bar to the hasp and gave a sharp jerk. He pulled it free of the door which swung slowly open.
Howe stood motionless for a full five minutes, staring at the room revealed by the glow of his flashlight. He had been puzzled by Logar Jones' reference to a "seventhe corner". Now he began to understand.
He guessed the longest dimension of the room to be fifteen feet, the shortest twelve. No two walls were parallel, or at least he didn't think so. It was difficult to tell where many of the walls began or ended, or even how many walls there were. It was a funhouse, a bare room, a hall of mirrors, an empty space, a maze, all this and more.
And in the seventh corner were THE PAPERS!
INSERT FAR MORE BACKGROUND ON THE MEGAZOME AND STRAM DROCER'S PLANS FOR IT AS DERIVED FROM THE BOOK. THE BOOK WAS STRAM DROCER'S NOTES, STOLEN BY LOGAR JONES TO FOIL STRAM'S DIABOLICAL PLOT TO USE THE MEGAZOME TO SUMMON GREAT CATHAR TO THE EARTH. THIS FORCED STRAM TO REPEAT DEACADES OF RESEARCH TO BUILD THE MEGAZOME. THE TUNNELS WERE PREPARED BY STRAM FIFTY YEARS AGO FOR THE ORIGINAL MEGAZOME - T.H.
He realized he was crawling, afraid of missing the seventh corner through some trick of this crazily angled space and time. Then his hand fell on something! Papers! A pile of papers! Still tied with the crumbling remains of a string. The papers in the seventh corner! They actually exist! A wild parody of a smile distorted his normally handsome features as he clutched the papers to his chest.
The papers! The terrible papers! He was falling. He was floating. He was in mortal fear of dropping the unspeakable papers! He fished with his free hand for one of the matches he had brought.
What was he thinking! Here was knowledge. And knowledge was POWER! Here was priceless knowledge! Here was limitless power!
Here was fear and madness!
He looked at the papers.
He looked at the match.