by Faolan Devyn Baldwin
From the journal of Ralph M. Stenson:
The desert night was lone and dreadful – it was one unlike any other. The wind that had raged the badlands had begun the settle and the dust fell to the ground in a most unnatural, heavy fashion. The cool night air of the Kaibab Cliffs was still and I could not get out of my head the sounds of the night that passed through and cut the seemingly endless silence that stretched across this barren desert. This was an ancient land where madness and sanity were forever in collision – a place where the light of reality overlaps the umbrance of the unknown. And it was in this place near that desolate road leading towards Flagstaff where my expedition would lead me – a place which on that night could not have been more isolated from the reason and safety of civilization.
It was here where many years of research had sent me: a barren and hidden city of the ancient Ananasi. It was a most sacred place, yet it forebode anyone for entering the stone structures embedded on the high cliffs. A former trail which long ago had eroded away led the way. Now there were only shrubs and boulders which stood in place, blocking what was now a gully which torrents flowed during the seldom rains. However, that did not deter my determination to set up camp in the most forgotten place. And it was here, near a large stone temple where I was to camp for the night, but as the night progressed and the land darkened I found myself unable to sleep.
It was not because I had believed the rubbish fables of this once holy city becoming an accursed place where only dæmons roam, nor was it because of the tales of others who had supposedly happened upon this site. Still, one could not get the feeling some sort of great and terrible abomination was peering into one’s very soul. There were even times when my good senses seemed to play tricks, for there were times when the ever watching guardians would make themselves known on the walls as shadowy figures without any distinguished form. The would follow and retreat – flicker like a candle’s flame in a drafty old room. It was as if at every moment I was being surveilled by the eyes of crazed
wraiths. This place was resonating with a terror which struck at the chords of my very soul. Something was telling me to keep away, but my explorer’s will was driving me to steed forth and stay the course. In fact, it was begging me into the ruins.
At that moment I had realized I had to overcome this paranoia which had me in its grasp. I stood up and and with my lantern I began to walk about, looking around seeing the ghosts of a once great citadel on these Arizonan cliffs. Several minutes had passed by and I walked deeper into the ruins finding myself in the center of the back wall where standing stones guarded a massive temple entrance. As I entered I felt a presence behind me. It was as if someone grabbed my shirt and then whispered something inaudible in my ear. But lo, I turned around to find only empty air and the shadows of my lantern dancing against the walls.
That is when I looked out to the horizon to see lights dancing and hovering over the distant sands. A common, yet unknown phenomena in these parts that only made this expedition ever more unbecoming. Suddenly a light emitted out of one of the crafts where were now hovering close, some almost overhead. At that point I ran towards the stone temple against the high cliff and hid in what appeared to be a crevasse as the lights scanned over the ruins as if they were ominous eyes searching over the rubble for unwelcome visitors. Eyes that knew someone had violated this most occult site. The beam scanned the ruins as I hid amongst the rubble slowly. Silently I entered into the chambers, hoping that my trespass would go unnoticed – that the eyes that had been watching would be blind to my passing, but I was all too soon about to realize how wrong I was: for here in this most dreadful place there was no nook left unto privy.
The entrance into the temple was small, but inside there was a large colonnade which at the back had entrances into several deep catacombs. The entire complex was much larger than I thought and not typical of either the modern Nations nor of the Pueblo culture of old. This was much larger, and in many ways had a more Old World feeling, but the scale was overbearing and the primitive nature of this chambers made the air feel as if it was sinking into my lungs.
It was here where I realized I was not alone. I could not see them. I could not here them. But they made their presence known all the same. The light which I sought to escape, I could see penetrating into the temple as if it knew where I hid. As if it were waiting for me come out. There was no turning back, and the night was still in its infancy. I moved on deeper into the catacombs hurrying along in a quiet manner. As I did the shadows on the wall seem dance on the walls in a wild fashion even though the lamp emitted a bright, constant light. They leaped out from the walls as if the grab me. It was as if the darkness itself was trying to consume in the most literal of fashions.
Just what were these things? Figures of men without bodies. Did I happen upon some portal which led directly to the bowels of the nether-realms? Had I stumbled upon the threshold of Hell?
I could not avoid them and I rushed through this long hallway with haste as they reached for me, grabbing at coat. Several had entangled me in their horrific grasp as I reached near the end, knocking me down. Their arms were like tentacles of pure darkness that wrapped around my ankles and arms. They dragged me closer to the walls. Or rather they dragged me towards what looked to be a portal that must have opened up to a literal non-existence. My heart raced as I stared into abyss, the eyes of the shadow men staring back at me with their glowing red eyes.
And somehow, through what I thought must have been some miracle I felt myself flung from their grasp and launched into a huge inner chamber. I could see them retreating to the walls, keeping their distance as the continued to observe me.
This room was spacious containing a colonnade which lead to what could only be described as an alter statue. This room had the look of being once sealed, as something during very ancient times had been sealed away. And what it was was staring me in the face of that statue: an unkind abomination whose image was enough to install fear into my heart. It looked as though it had been sleeping and I stood in silence lest I were to wake it -- even though I knew this was not possible. But this night had been full of impossibilities. I could rule nothing out of the realm of possibilities.
My spine shivered as I gazed up it. Its elliptical cranium. Its long, pointed fingers that seemed as claws. Its fanged mouth from which hung terrible tentacles. Its wings which seemed flexed ready for flight. This was an image straight out of Hell itself. It seemed as if it were deep in slumber.
Panic filled my soul and I feel a chill run up my spine. Someone -- or something -- had entered the room. The shadow-men had ceased their dance and the light from outside had somehow entered into the room. The light saturated everything it touched, but did not sanctify it. The light hit the walls and seemed to vaporize the shadow-men and I could feel behind me a presence of stoic evil.
My mind told me to run, but my body was compelled to paralysis. It was like I was being bound by an invisible force. The more I tried to escape the more frozen I became. It was like my body had become encased in a metal cast. And worse, I was suddenly being forced to move! Yes, forced to turn around and face whatever dreadful object of fear that was to plague me. My body turned in an instant that seemed like eternity. In an unsightly flash I looked upon them and they were gone in the instant that I saw them. Their images remained in my mind to their slender bodies, their dark bulbous eyes that were like empty voids, their pale skin against the bright light.
I do not know what happened after that only that I must have made it outside to a stone-floored grotto which overhung the ruins. Day had broke and the desert sun swiftly began to bear down upon the land. Had I gone mad in what were empty chambers? I wandered the premises but found no trace of the things that I had seen the night before. The chambers leading into the alter were sealed. Their weight could not be moved. Assuredly, it must have all been just a nightmare, but it seemed all to real.