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A letter from the Editor:

To the experienced peruser of these esteemed pages, you will already know that I have made detailed studies of the arcane geometries of both London, England and Washington, D.C.; both the seats of power of two nations sharing a common heritage and spiritual fraternity. To those neophytes as yet unversed in my researches, I shall let it suffice that you may fully educate yourselves upon these discourses in archived editions of the Cloven Hoof. I call these past researches to mind as recent events have persuaded me that it might be of interest to undertake such a study of the great commercial metropolis of New York City. Before you send in enquiries of assistance and your own hypothesis to be considered, I implore you to read through this account in its entirety before committing yourself to any future endeavours.

It was a pleasant autumn morning, the chill in the air had been burnt off by the sun, and I easily meandered through Manhattan to finally emerge upon the doorstep of my great-aunt Matilda. I held the dubious distinction of being her escort for the morning’s offerings of her amateur dramatic society, a station which was to provide me the unparalleled opportunity to witness first-hand one of the most bizarre manifestations of the Invisible World.

I let myself in unannounced, the bond of family being such that the usual circumstances incumbent upon me as a visitor had long been forgotten as I spent the better part of my youth as a resident of this deceptively humble dwelling. Making my way down the well-appointed corridor, I wondered at the faint whispering issuing from under the door to the library instead of the withdrawing room where my great-aunt was accustomed to waiting for her familial escorts. Curiosity got the better of me and I opened the door.

“Good Heavens, Reeve! What the devil are you doing here?” My Aunt Matilda almost barked in her surprise, her aged hands trying to clean up some evidence of the work she was engaged in as I interrupted her. I replied that I was there, if she recalled, to escort her to her amateur dramatic society recitals as she composed herself. Seizing the opportunity, I ambled nonchalantly around to the table where she was sitting and glanced down. Upon the surface was a piece of pasteboard that was eighteen inches square with all the letters of the alphabet printed in my aunt’s spidery script neatly in a semi-circle on one side along with the numbers zero through ten along the other side. The words ‘yes’ and ‘no’ were also written, along with ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’. Atop the homemade board sat a silver planchette that must have been made from my great-aunt’s specifications. “Ouija! Aunt Matilda, really. What have I told you about dabbling on your own?”

Guilt stung me as she regarded me somewhat sheepishly, looking at once like a young child and the elderly lady that she was. Beneath the powder on her face, I could see dark circles under her eyes and was genuinely worried for her health.

“I admit to dabbling, Reeve. The past few nights have been a terror of dark dreams that I can make no sense of and I dread that this day shall bring about the culmination of all I have seen. In my desperation, I fear that I have resorted to consulting this childish parlour game.”

I felt a heel, of course, and reached out to comfort the old dear. “There, there, Auntie,” I uttered reassurances as I put my arm around her shoulders. Beneath the fine silk of her dress I could feel her frail frame and steeled myself from indulging in my pity for the old creature, for her mind was still as sharp as a tack within the elderly frame of her body. “You should have prevailed upon me earlier and we could have riddled out these visitations together.” I spoke sincerely to her, if only to keep her from future dabblings with the Ouija; there’s no telling what the old dear could attract with her curiosity, although I seriously suspected, at that moment, that her dread visions were nothing more than the sensible portion of her intellect rebelling at the notion of spending such a fine morning listening to amateur dramatics being inflicted upon the innocent.

Our journey to the social hall was uneventful, my great-aunt falling back into her normal habit of extolling the virtues of Miss So-and-so as well as expounding upon the failings of other who had run afoul of her in Society. To my dismay, we were greeted with the hoary countenance of one of my great-aunt’s cronies at the door who was intent upon cheerfully ushering us into the packed hall. I could not have imagined a greater crowd if I had tried and wondered if the city’s cultural offerings were so paltry this morning to drown this event with such a sea of faces. At my side, my great-aunt scanned the room like a general surveying a field of battle, steering us away from certain contingents whilst greeting others with cool politeness until at last we had reached acceptable social territory. I let my Aunt Matilda engage in the obligatory small talk; ever since crossing the threshold of the building, a strange sort of tension had been rising in me that was wholly alien to the discomfort I felt at the close press of too much humanity. As the morning wore on, I could almost forget my earlier trepidation. The heat made for a soporific atmosphere and I began to earnestly fight Morpheus as the voices of aspiring Thespians droned on and on in recitation of evocative verse or stirring scenes from (at least for this occasion) the greatly abused word-smith, Mr William Shakespeare.

A strange, sweet scent filled the air as an over-eager brace of children took to the stage in their recreation of the infamous opening of Act IV of the accursed Scottish play. To clarify, I say infamous here, not to cast doubt upon previous productions of the scene, but because the scene shall forever more be wed with the events to follow in my memory. I found my eyes growing heavier and my mind flung into a disoriented synaesthetic delirium of strange and fanciful lands within the room of my mind, but more distant than the furthest stars. Beneath a low, heavy sky were black seas, blasted deserts, and festering, steaming jungles from which rose ugly, stark spires that dwarfed anything I could imagine. Before me was a great stone temple inscribed on every exposed surface with countless thousands of words in every tongue known and imagined. Such was the immensity of this place that the words were as tall as myself, and yet I could understand them as if I was reading a novel in the comfort of my library. I could not marvel at this feat, for the earlier underlying dread filled me once more; these words told the story of the birth of the universe and of how it came to be populated by alien and strange beasts who claimed dominion over the realms visible and invisible. The words were both compelling and repulsive, and I fought myself terribly as I resisted setting foot inside the temple to read more of the recorded story. I knew as sure as I drew breath that to step inside that temple was to consign myself to an eternity of infernal reading. And yet, there was such power in the words that the world has not known for aeons…

Then the voices began. They were singing and chanting in a harsh, guttural primitive tongue that raised the hackles on the back of my neck. They were reading the words from the temple to the accompaniment of bells that sounded nothing like bells but more the clash of metal upon metal. The children on stage seemed to be writhing in a ritualistic frenzy of ecstasy, the ungodly rhapsody of their chant continuing but the sinuous twisting limbs moving under the folds of their robes have never been a part of the human form. I was repulsed and nearly fell under their malevolent influence.

“Wake up!” I felt something jostle me and opened my eyes back to this world. A woman with a beauty that would only be made vulgar by words stood before me. “Wake up!” she repeated once more before moving around the room to knock over the brazier by the edge of the stage. The sweet, soporific scent was gone and the air smelled of putridity and corpses left too long above ground. My next coherent sight was the image of a small boy chanting over the cheap metal cauldron on the stage, and how there seemed to be above it a strange shimmering in which the very air seemed to fold around itself inward, wrinkling before bulging out alarmingly. The chanting and writhing, for such it was I saw with horrified eyes, continued despite the disruption caused by the woman knocking over the brazier. As it began to increase to a fevered pitch, I knew what was required of me.

“Peace be to thee, Spirits of the Sky, and remember our covenant!” I cried out as I took up the sword discarded by ‘Banquo’. Moving around the circle of the possessed, I continued to counter the force trying to rip through the veil into our realm. “Boil! Boil! Burn! Burn! Utuk Xul Ta Ardata! Who art thou, whose son? Who are thou, whose daughter? What sorcery, what spells, has brought thee here?” As I spoke, the horror continued its assault upon our realm. At first, there were only black shiny barbs poking holes in the fabric of reality, but enough of them appeared to open a slit into nothing where even fouler odours spilt forth in an acrid cloud. Following them came oddly jointed limbs aligned as if to pry apart the harsh edges of the non-aperture before me. “May Enki, the Master of Magicians, empower me! May Marduk, son of Enki, defeat thee! I chain you! I bind you!”

I continued my counter-incantation against these unearthly forces, funnelling the force of my will through the prop sword I had appropriated. I began to fear that is was not enough as the the wound in the fabric of the world began to vomit forth the full nightmarish creature. I had no choice but to begin once more. “Spirits of the Sky, remember! Spirits of the Earth, remember!”

“By the power of the green and growing things, I deny you. By the power of Twilight, Midnight, and Dawn, I deny you, By the starry crown of heaven girdled round my brow, I deny you!” The words came from across the circle of the writhing children, spoken by the woman who pulled me free of this malevolence. In her hand, she brandished a simple wand composed of three orchids and yet the power of the earth flowed forcefully through them into the unholy monstrosity struggling to be born into this world.

Our combined assault was enough to knock the wind from the chanting of the child-puppet that had been reciting the dread spell to rend the barriers between the worlds. In this light I saw that it was not a child, but a homunculus sent to the hall for this very purpose; and I was chilled by what my eyes showed me. Once more the woman thrust out her wand and denied the thing entrance to our world. I joined her, calling upon the ancient powers sworn to watch and guard our world from such terrors. As our will hit the homunculus, it heaved the obscene puppet into the foul orifice its words had opened. There was a pause as the opening pulsed once before tightening and pursing itself out of existence.

All at once the room erupted into a cacophony of sound as the hypnotised sleepers awoke to the smell of burning. The coals from the brazier had caught the bottom of one of the heavy draperies hung to keep out winter’s chill. Mothers rushed forward to scoop their children to safety as the ushers quickly moved to douse the small flames before they could become a threat. My great-Aunt Matilda blinked slowly and fixed me with a penetrating stare. I could only nod in affirmation as I took her hands in mine. “Auntie, promise me that you will never consult the Ouija board again without first letting me know of your misgivings.”

She nodded and we quickly made our way to evacuate the premises. Outside, it would be easy to dismiss the events as a product of a sleepy and dull mind, save for the presence of three orchids bound together with strands of jet-black hair. It remains the only evidence of these events and is being safely curated by myself. Upon occasion, for want of anything better to do, I have found myself standing before the hall considering the mysterious woman who aided me in this strange affair. I might never discover who she was, but I do know that without her assistance, villainy may have triumphed.

Reeve Forester