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Splatterhouse - Dark Horizons
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Chapter 5: On The Turn
----------------------

Inevitably, my thoughts turn to James Turner.

I can't help but wish things had turned out differently for him. He did far more for me than he ever had to, and didn't get much in the way of a reward for his efforts.

But I'm getting ahead of myself again.

After Contino's death, I was again put under the care of James Turner, results of the trial notwithstanding. His first action was to cease all drug prescriptions for me, on the basis that he didn't know what I'd taken and would be unable to predict how I might react to it. As a result, the subsequent two or three weeks were nightmarish in a completely new and horrible way. Cold turkey would be bad enough knowing what you were coming off, but when you don't even know you're an addict, it's that much worse.

I screamed my throat raw in the first couple of days. I nearly burst out of my straightjacket, but I was in a reinforced padded cell, so there wasn't a great deal I could have done even if I had freed myself. As the days wore on, so I grew weaker, until after about a week I was little more than a husk, whimpering gently to myself in my cell, skin grey and sweaty, eyes bulging slightly from my skull.

When this condition persisted for another two weeks or so and there were no signs of improvement from me, Turner arranged for me to be incorporated into emergency drug rehabilitation. Extensive blood tests were carried out to determine what mindbending mixture of drugs Contino had placed me on in the name of medicine.

There were also other tests, a whole week of them in fact. They took cardiovascular measurements, examined my diet, put me through exercise routines, and took all sorts of readings along the way. For the first time since I'd been interned in Belmont, I felt as though its staff were trying to help me. By the end of that week they had worked out an extensive diet and exercise program designed to ease my body's transition to a drug-free routine, in the hope that this would ease the psychological transition. Turner even refused to put me back on Valium when I started having nightmares again, claiming that resolving the cause of the dreams would be more effective than merely surpressing them.

I suppose he was right about that. But the Valium would have been so much easier.

Once I seemed to be at least physically on the mend, Turner started scheduling me for regular sessions in the art room. Part of his rationale was to get me used to interacting with other people socially again, after years of Contino's isolationist policy. But he also thought that, as had ocurred the last time I was in his care, I might find catharsis in art and purge myself of the demons in my head.

I wish they were the only demons I had to worry about.

* * *

At first it felt like he was plummeting into a dark pit, an abyss of nightmare blackness whose depth was infinite and whose obscurity was so far beyond his normal perception of colour as to render the term meaningless.

After an indeterminate length of time, the sensation of falling lessened and became more like one of guided flight, though the darkness had still not lifted.

Slowly, this began to change. There was a sense of light slowly filtering into his senses, although its source was unclear. The notion of being airborne persisted, although in an odd way it felt as though some outside force was moving him through some ulterior dimension, a cosmic back door so to speak.

Eventually, after a length of time that might have been seconds or days, since he had no other gauge by which to measure it, there was enough light to seee by, if somewhat dimly. It took him some time to orient himself mentally, since it was with some shock that he found he did not appear to have a body.

Calm down, he told himself. This must be a dream or a vision or something. Given what's been going on in the last few days, it wouldn't be exactly out of place. Maybe I'm just going crazy, but panicking won't help.

Having calmed himself thusly, he looked down and saw he, or rather his vantage point, was some two kilometres or so above what appeared to be a large city, surrounded by marshy swampland. There appeared to be several huge pyramid-like structures in the centre of the city. Infused with curiosity, he willed himself closer, and found his point of view moving rapidly closer to the city.

When he was less than a hundred metres above it, he paused, trying to observe the city's layout and people, wondering where it was meant to be. Its structure was unlike anything he had ever heard about. All sorts of huts and mud structures seemed to be built on mud islands in the swamp - he zoomed down quickly to check for foundations and found that there were sturdy wooden stakes used to fortify the islets. It felt utterly alien to him to be able to look at things from the inside, and after a few seconds he felt claustrophobia setting in, so he retreated back to his airborne vantage point.

Rising once again, he saw that there were large causeways and bridges built between the larger islands and the mainland outside the swamp, with channels dug out and lined with rocks to form crude roads along which he could see carts trundling. Within the city he could see a large area that seemed to serve as a market-place, although people seemed to be departing from it toward the large pyramid-like structures at the city's centre. Intrigued, he moved closer.

The largest pyramid seemed to be a hive of activity. Its top flattened out to a large plain, with a large ornate temple at its centre. Around the entrance to the temple, he saw an enormous and hideous monument - a large rack holding row upon row of human skulls. In front of the skull rack were several large stone constructions, to which people had been tied. Around these there were men, some of them reading from paper-like sheets, others checking the bonds holding down the prisoners. When he saw the other men sharpening what looked like crude knives made of gold and silver, he understood what was going on.

The prisoners were going to be sacrificed.

Around the base of the pyramid and part of the way up its height, people had gathered and were waiting with a sense of expectation, as if a large event of public importance were about to happen. A hushed sigh rippled through the crowd, and he saw that a large, muscled warrior was climbing the pyramid at an appreciable pace. As his ascent continued, a chant grew from a whisper to a roar.

When the warrior reached the pinnacle of the pyramid, he was greeted by several of the men (priests?) reading from the paper-like sheets and some of those bearing weapons.

He decided to move in closer, mind filled with wonder at the events unfolding before him. As he moved to a point only a couple of metres above the gathered priests, he looked down toward the city and was shocked to realise that the structure was over several hundred feet high. The warrior must have been running extremely fast to climb it in the time he did.

While he was wondering about this, a babble of words broke out, and a strange sensation filled him. It was as if knowledge was pouring into him from some outside source, in such a way that while he did not understand the language he was able to catch the meaning imbued in the words, communicating without needing words.

The main speaker appeared to be someone of importance - the emperor, perhaps? - and he seemed to be talking to the people (loudly, he noticed, although his voice carried surprisingly well considering the height of the pyramid) about some sort of legend that was to come true soon. The return of one of their gods seemed to be looming, and in thanks they were preparing to make sacrifices to him, somehow.

He missed the next part, about the impending glorious war to spread the rule of the Aztec empire, because he had turned to watch one of the priests who was preparing the sacrifices, and he had seen what he held in his hands.

It was a white mask, curiously designed from some bone-like substance, with crude and yet defined features, wide eyes and a ragged mouth. He had seen that mask before, but only in nightmares.

* * *

The three of them stared at the screen, a grim silence descending on them and signalling the end, for now, of the argument between Manthey and Dempsey.

When they had watched through the entire tape twice, Matthews spoke.

"Given what we've just seen, I think we should reclaim the previous tapes from storage. My predecessor may not have thought them worthy of comment, but there might be something on there we can use. One way or the other, we need to know how long this has been going on."

Dempsey whistled, a long low sound.

"What the hell do you reckon they're doing?"

It was Manthey who answered, his voice edged with steel.

"I don't know. But nobody has a legitimate reason to be wandering around the woods here carrying bodybags around the place. Especially not when they're all wearing cowled robes, like monks or something."

"Maybe....maybe we're dealing with a cult here. That would explain the way they dressed. And, well, it's not exactly unheard of for cults to have crazy beliefs, is it?"

"What about the other tapes? We should check those before we get too worked up about whatever's going on here. There might be more footage of these freaks. What's more, we have to find a link between these guys and something in the lake before we can move on this officially," interjected Matthews.

"That depends on who you refer to when you say 'officially'", replied Dempsey. Matthews shot him a questioning look, then spoke again.

"Well, I don't know how things work in the FBI, but I'll need a lot more than just tapes with weirdos and bodybags on them to get my superiors to mobilize any significant operation down here, especially with the heat we're getting from the press and the people in Belmont."

Dempsey and Manthey shared a glance, and then Manthey spoke.

"You don't know what happened around here, do you, Dan? Why the FBI was so eager and willing to offer assistance to an agency it doesn't normally have strong ties to?"

"Not exactly, no. I didn't really want to ask given what Carl said about his previous experience of the place. But it's obviously important if you're bringing it up, so fill me in."

Dempsey glanced sidelong at Manthey uneasily.

"Uh, Carl, if you don't feel up to it, I can-"

"That won't be necessary, Edgar."

And he settled down to explaining the history of West Mansion and Richard Taylor to Matthews.

* * *

In a darkness of its own devising, a dimension not familiar to those of the mortal realm, it waited. The time was near, and it had waited long.

Circumstances had been difficult, and the last time had almost ended in tragedy, but as with most things, it was a simple matter of time.

Over enough time, the probability of any single event occuring rises to one. And the event it was concerned with in particular would not be long delayed.

Thinking thusly, it prepared to feed, for there are some hungers which must be sated regularly no matter what.

* * *

I can't help but wonder what's going on in that man's head.

I remember treating him after the first incident, when the girl had vanished from West Mansion and the professor was missing, believed dead. That time there was an energy to him, a sense of a spark somehow still alive inside, undefeated by whatever he had been through.

Not so this time.

It's as if that fool Contino's drug diet has killed off his sense of self, leaving only an animal, able to respond to stimulus and so on, but in essence not much different from an intelligent pet.

I should be cynically glad that his case came my way when it did. Because of it, I became an authority on violent crimes involving delusional patients, being intimately involved in the psychological treatment for the few men who survived the FBI expedition into the mansion. Even if we didn't save them, we learned a lot from them. About the human capacity to convince itself of an artificial reality, given the right stimulus.

Or so I thought until recently. Until this morning's session, in fact.

I'd been gloomily resigning myself that, even after the drug rehab course, the best we could do for him would be to anaesthesise his brain to numb the pain. Repair would be nigh-on impossible.

But then I saw that he's further along the road to recovery than I should have expected. His work in the art room has suddenly changed. For weeks it was just crazed doodles of a pair of eyes, glowing malevolently from the page in a way that made them seem disconcertingly animated.

This morning he seems to have had some sort of a breakthrough.

Or perhaps a breakdown.

Whichever it was, I noticed it by the change in his output.

The last time, there were several sketches, which I disposed of. The eeriest of all was the sketch of the mask that seems to be so central to his version of reality, the central pillar sustaining his alternate reality. It may be a fractured and distorted reality, but with that pillar there, it can stand all the blows that rationality can throw at it.

This time he seems to have really let go. There were about ten sketches and he said in the session afterwards that he was going to do more of them because it made him feel better.

The first one was, unsurprisingly, the Terror Mask, as he calls it. Its appearance was as unsettlingly chilling as it was the first time I saw it all those years ago, and I'm still not sure I'd like to know what it's doing to him in his head.

The rest seemed to be vivid depictions of the sort of things you would expect in a B-movie. Some skeletal horror with its flesh hanging from its bones, maggots crawling and feeding on its tissues. Many-clawed creatures not unlike old depictions of demons, all fangs and dagger-like fingers.

If I've said that the sketches might be taken from a horror film, don't let this suggest that the images were any less horrific or unsettling to look at. There were a few more that I found difficult to look at for more than a couple of seconds.

A large man, with a gunny sack tied around his head by a noose and all the skin torn from his flesh. To top it off, he has chainsaws for hands. He wears shorts and a strange waistcoat. And for some reason, he's familiar.

There's some sort of lake monster, a large monstrosity whose details are vague, aside from a protuberance of spikes and a single malevolent eye, as if some dark god is watching me from under the surface of the water.

When I'd looked through them all, I realised the weird thing about them. They didn't look like sketches one might draw from imagination, trying to produce some horrific creature. These were more like an attempt to capture on paper some hauntingly vivid memory.

And the more I think about this, the more I start to wonder. Obviously there's some mental instability present; I'm perfectly aware that Rick is a tormented and traumatised individual.

But I'm starting to wonder whether the demons he's tormented by are real or imaginary. Normally, in these sort of cases, there's some sort of evidence on some level or another that the patient is aware that their delusion is just that - a delusion. There's some sort of acceptance, somewhere. After the length of time Rick Taylor's been in treatment, there's some sort of gradual realisation that there's something wrong with them.

Rick isn't doing that. His mind seems to be repairing itself commendably fast from the damage inflicted during Contino's treatment, but he hasn't deviated from his original story about the Terror Mask and its role in the West Mansion carnage. There's a degree of detail and honesty to his story that is far removed from anything I've ever encountered. In all these years there hasn't been one mistake, one error, one out-of-place detail. It makes you wonder.

This is by far the most elaborate delusion I've ever come across. In terms of treatment of post-traumatic stress victims, it could be revolutionary. If Rick can be cured, then anybody who has suffered traumatic events in their life can conceivably be cured.

But curing him will mean appearing to believe him. So I need to start learning about the background his Terror Mask comes from.

* * *

That mask, that bone-white mask with the sparse features. It seemed that others besides David were afraid of it, for a reverent and fearful hush spread through the crowd as the priest held it aloft, sunlight gleaming on its spartan surface. It seemed to be staring straight at him.

Watching in incomprehension, he saw as the warrior had the mask affixed to his head in a rather elaborate ceremony. A large ornamental necklace with a huge ornamental crystal, red like ruby but darker, was placed around the warrior's neck. Once there, the crystal seemed to pulsate malignantly, as if possessed of a life of its own. The warrior prostrated himself on hands and knees before one of the scroll-bearing priests, who began chanting from the scroll in his hands. There was an urgent energy to the words, a sense of pressure and tempo building up.

After some ten minutes, the chant had taken on a breathless and somehow dangerous aspect. David watched as the warrior rose to his knees, hands outstretched before him, as the priest continued to speak his chant, the pace seeming ever-faster.

Another of the priests darted forward, an ornate gold-handled knife held in both hands. Bowing deeply, he handed over the knife to the warrior, who took it solemnly. After holding it in both hands above his head, such that the sun glinted off its silver blade for a few seconds, he grasped its elaborate handle with his right hand and dragged the blade across his left palm. Blood welled from the wound, and he clasped his hand to the mouth of the mask, seemingly drinking of his own blood.

The crowd gasped and watched in rapt silence as the mask seemed to ripple and change, as though viewed through a distant heat haze. With a sudden violent surge, the straps fixing it to the warrior's head came undone, rose up like skeletal snakes and plunged themselves into the warrior's scalp, tunneling into the flesh to get a firm hold.

The warrior screamed, both fists now clenched above his head, blood streaming from his left hand, the blade held high in his right glinting with streaks of blood.

Meanwhile, from the mask more strange tendrils seemed to have grown, and they plunged into the warrior's body, across his shoulders and upper back, some of them venturing into his pectoral muscles. All affixed themselves firmly into his flesh, small rivulets of blood trailing down his skin, mingling with sweat. And all the while that roar of pain and anger continued, echoing strangely around the pyramid, much louder than it should have been.

The priests had by this stage retreated from the summit of the pyramid, having joined the spectators. The warrior eventually ceased his roar, and turned to face the steps leading up the pyramid. The mask had changed, molded itself to the warrior's skull, so that the eye sockets seemed stretched and the mouth a ragged hole in the man's head. It was fearsome to behold.

The crowd remained silent a few seconds longer, then burst into loud cheers.

With this noise echoing in his ears, the warrior strode purposefully to where the prisoner - slave, came the unbidden thought in David's mind - was chained to the stone altar.

The knife was raised high, and then plunged repeatedly, snake-fast, into the helpless slave's throat. Blood spurted up, splashing the warrior, as the slave's screams rang out. Greedily, the warrior clambered onto the altar, seeming to drink the blood spraying around him, using his hands to rip open the jagged wound in the slave's neck. As the screams became choking gurgles, the warrior seemed to remember himself, and dropped gracefully from the altar. Blood had run in trails across his chest, dulling the glinting of the jewel around his neck, which seemed to pulsate even more now it was bathed with sticky warm blood.

The knife rose once more in the air, and plummeted again - this time into the slave's ribcage, the blade sliding expertly between the ribs. Dragging it viciously through the prisoner's chest, the masked warrior opened up a cruel looking tear in the whimpering slave. Once again reaching in fearlessly with both hands, the warrior broke open the now-dying slave's ribcage, a series of snaps punctuating the pain. Having done this, the warrior tore out the slave's beating heart, holding it above him for the crowd to see, then biting hungrily into it, blood dribbling down the mask's jagged mouth.

The crowd's cheers rose to deafening proportions. From his aerial perspective, David watched, sickened and scared. This didn't seem to be a dream he had any control over, and it was a lot more bloodthirsty than anything else he had ever experienced.

Below him on the pyramid's peak the warrior had moved on to the second of the six prisoners. A fleeting rush of knowledge arrived in David's head and told him that these six prisoners were the symbolic sacrifices, carried out in public for the populace to see. Once they had returned to their daily tasks, the priests would carry out the ritual sacrifice of many more slaves, that their blood might fortify the mighty god of war, Huitzilopotchli.

In horror, he watched as the masked warrior devoured the hearts torn from still-living bodies, feasting on them with cannibalistic glee, while in his mind the culture he was observing began to take shape, knowdlege pouring into his head from somewhere beyond.

He became aware that they were late Aztecs. The Emperor - named Montezuma - was enforcing even more sacrifices than the already-devout populace usually expected, for it was foretold that this was the year of the return of their god Quetzalcoatl. The worship to the war god would ensure his continued strength so that he might lead their army, under the guidance of the returned Quetzalcoatl, to spread the Aztec empire to the entire world.

The warrior wearing the mask represented the earthly form of the war god Huitzilopochtli, who was also their sun god. David marvelled as the myth of creation unfolded in his mind, while down below the warrior feasted in tribute to the bloodthirsty god.

In the beginning, there was the goddess of the earth. She gave birth to the moon and the stars, and later became pregnant again with Huitzilpochtli, the physical incarnation of the sun. But his brothers were jealous of Huitzilopochtli and no sooner was he born than they attacked him. He fought back using his natural gift - the light of the sun - and defeated the moon and stars, but becoming mortally wounded himself in the battle.

Seeing Huitzilopotchli in dire need of sustenance, the goddess Cihuacaotyl - the herald of Huitzilopotchli's arrival and signalling war - sacrificed herself to give the war god her heart, a crystal known by many names, among them the Dark Stone, the Bloodstone, or most appropriately of all, the Stone of Souls.

It was this that made Huitzilopotchli such a fearsome war god. For the power of the Heart of Cihuacaotyl was to trap within it the souls of all whose blood were spilt over the crystal. Their souls would then provide the life-force that gave the god of war his might.

* * *

"Master," came a voice. Its tones were respectful and yet tinted with urgency.

"Speak," returned another voice, imbued with authority; a voice used to this relationship of command.

"There is important news, master. Men have been sighted near the lake."

"Men? How many?"

"Three, master."

Silence, for a time, in the dusty half-darkness where all was vague and draped in shadows. Then, once more, the voice of order and control.

"What were they doing?"

"The scout doesn't- is not sure, master. They appeared to be searching the trees and undergrowth for something. They have departed now, but the scout thinks they will return."

A long slow exhalation, not of frustration, but of one examining new information, analysing it, turning it over to see if it may fit in with current information in a harmonious manner.

"Increase the number of scouts maintaining the vigil. Our time draws close, but we will not have another opportunity for many years if we do not seize this chance. Nothing must be left to chance. Three men ought to pose no threat, but I want them captured, that they may safely be eliminated from consideration."

"As you command, master," came the hurried response from the first voice, its tone modulated with sickly-sweet obsequiousness. There was a shuffling sound, and the voice of command was once again alone in the inner sanctum, left to prepare for the coming moment of reckoning.

Above him, the tinted glass windows of the chapel allowed faint light to enter, its faint shafts highlighting the motes of dust in the air.

"Soon all will be changed," whispered the voice of command, as if reassuring itself, the voice sounding dry and papery in its hushed tones, yet echoing strangely through the room.

* * *

"Holy shit," murmured Matthews once he had been filled in on the history of the FBI in West Mansion. "You lost a lot of men in there."

Manthey nodded, grimly.

"A lot is right. And we never really knew what happened exactly. We know that Richard Taylor was involved, that he undoubtedly attacked some of the men who were injured or killed in the same manner as he attacked me. Personally I'm convinced that he drugged Loker in order to force him to testify as he did after the second episode, but there's nothing I can do to prove it."

"But...the house...what the hell is the story with the house? It was supposed to burn down, and then it was there again, unmarked, then it was meant to be demolished, and all the while it's still here. What's the story? I mean why in the world is West Mansion still standing?"

Manthey opened his mouth to speak, then paused. Dempsey spoke, carefully.

"Richard Taylor has spoken to us about the same issue."

"What?!" exclaimed Matthews.

"We were contacted by Taylor shortly prior to the third episode. He raised the issue of West Mansion's continued existence, but we, uh, didn't deem it worthy of investigation at the time," Dempsey replied.

Matthews looked at him oddly for a couple of seconds, then shrugged.

"I guess procedures are different in the FBI than for us. But I think that we should start looking into some history of this house beyond the more recent events, see if they shed any light on what's going on."

"How'd you mean?" asked Manthey, eyes narrowing. He didn't like the tone in Matthews' voice - it was too much like the voice of someone taking charge.

"Well...I want to know a bit more about the guy who last owned the house, how he came to own it, who he got it from, what he was doing there and so on. I mean, if all this weird stuff was going on while he was there he must have known *something*, right?"

"Mueller has been missing presumed dead since August 1988. Taylor claims he had in fact been dead since May of that year, but nonetheless also claims to have fought and killed the doctor's reanimated corpse during the August '88 episode. But then again if we were going to take Taylor's word seriously, we'd all be out hunting a flying talking mask with magic powers," replied Manthey. Resentment towards Matthews was already building.

"On the other hand, Carl, a little investigation into Mueller's background and perhaps how he came to be the owner of West Mansion wouldn't hurt. And there's a chance it might throw some new light on the investigation. Besides, if we are mobilising a strike force, it'll take time to clear with the top brass and assemble the teams and get them debriefed. If we're going to do this, we should do it right," countered Dempsey, once again finding himself in the role of peacekeeper between Carl Manthey and the rest of the world.

Manthey went quiet for a few seconds, seemingly deep in thought. Then he nodded.

"Ok, we'll do it your way. Richard Taylor's interned now, so whatever's going on in West Mansion now shouldn't be much of a problem to handle. But better safe than sorry."

* * *

David awoke with a start, but shades of darkness filled the room he was in. A wave of fatigue swept over him and he wondered how long he had been unconscious for this time.

Peering into the gloom around him, he realised after a few seconds that he wasn't in the hospital any more. He appeared to be in his own bed. He could feel bandages on various parts of his body, but the main factor was that he was home.

He was trying to make sense of the dream he'd had, but he couldn't think about it for more than a few seconds at a time before the end of the dream and its message replayed itself in his head. It didn't matter, though.

The message had been clear enough, and try as he might, he couldn't ignore it. There was no objective reason to trust it - he certainly would've questioned the judgements of someone else who told him they were following the instructions of a talking mask - but he felt compelled to. It wasn't just the dire warning it had issued; there was a strange feeling of reality to the mask, a sense that this was not a dream, rather a state of wakefulness that had nothing to do with his normal reality.

Every few minutes, he saw again the end of the dream-vision, the image of what would come if he were to ignore the warning and summons. He saw himself trapped, forever wandering the rooms of that nightmare castle from his dreams, chased by creatures straight out of a late night horror movie. And to add to the horror, his parents - his *real* parents, he corrected himself - would also be trapped in the castle, but their paths so tangled that they would never cross.

David had seen the Escherian confusion and seeming illogic of that building, that construction outside of normal space and time, where even the devil might find something to fear, to know that he should heed any warning relating to it. How he knew was something he did not understand, but that did not seem important. He would know soon enough.

The talking mask had promised him that much, and a great deal more.

He resigned himself to his decision, knowing that it had been made before he even awoke, and set about gathering the few possessions he would need to bring with him in as quiet a way as possible, so as not to wake the people in whose house he was currently standing. It had only been minutes since his awakening from the dream where he had found out about his adoption, but the idea was not at all surprising or repellent to him. Deep down, he felt he had known it all along, and wondered idly if it might have been part of the reason for his unhappiness until recently.

After a few minutes, he had everything he needed packed into a rucksack, and started the slow silent descent of the stairs, heading for the dining room where the man who was no longer his father kept his credit card. They would notice it gone in the morning, but by then he intended to be out of the country.

* * *

He didn't believe me at first, but like everyone else, he came to believe by the end. I don't know how he squared it with himself - after all, for such a logical and scientific mind, what he was seeing was the antithesis of not just everything that he had been taught, but everything that underpinned the way he had been taught about how to think.

They all came to believe, in the end. But it didn't help much, really.

I think the turning point was when we started talking about Dr. West, the last member of the West family to live in West Mansion. Turner seemed to think that it might help me recover my mental balance, as it were, by discussing topics from before the incidents at West Mansion. He was curious as to what had led Jennifer and I to the house that night.

I don't think he anticipated the anger that such a discussion liberated, even though it wasn't directed at him. But with my history, no-one can blame me for occasionally wishing I'd never heard about that damn course in UM. Can they?

But we were going back to the very beginning of the whole sorry mess, which felt somehow appropriate later, as if we were clearing up old issues, getting them out of the way. It took me a while to get into the story, but after a few minutes of trying to figure out where to start, I got going and by the time I'd finished, a couple of hours had passed.

I suppose realistically, it started when I was a teenager. The very beginning, I suppose, was when one of my English teachers suggested I read a story by Edgar Allen Poe, "The Pit And The Pendulum". After reading that, I read everything I could find by him, and then moved on to Lovecraft. By the time I was 18 I was a fully-fledged horror fan. I read anything I could get my hands on that might satisfy me, from M R James's ghost stories through to Stephen King's novels. I had a strange taste for horror - there was an odd excitement that tingled through me whenever I read anything good, but I craved new material constantly.

While I was in final year of high school I was trying to figure out what to do at college. I didn't want to end up some sort of corporate whore like everyone else was desperate to do, what with the whole 80's me-generation thing going on, but it didn't look like I'd have a choice. At the last minute I found out that UM offered the course in Parapsychology and Paranormal Phenomena, with the head of the course being none other than Jack Gordon, one of the few reasonably famous and yet respected investigators in the field of paranormal phenomena. This respect was mainly due to his contributions to physics - he'd studied sub-atomic physics up to PhD level, before surprising everyone and changing his focus of subject entirely.

The reason I knew about Jack Gordon is because of my interest in Lovecraft. Gordon was one of the investigators involved in one of the oddest cases of the twentieth century, which I had heard about because its protagonist shared a name with a character in an H P Lovecraft story.

His name was Herbert West.

Herbert West, one-time archaelogist specialising in early Meso-American civilisations, former resident of West Mansion, eventual eccentric recluse, and the key figure in a bizarre incident. There had been reports from the citizens of Belmont that strange creatures were loose in the woods near the mansion, towards the end. Rumours abounded that West had gone mad as a recluse and had begun conducting bizarre gene-splicing experiments, but these were merely the same half-baked rumours that any famous person with a scientific background has to endure if they live in a relatively rural environment. Comparisons to Baron Frankenstein were common although unfair. But before I tell the story of what went on in West Mansion, you should hear a bit about the man himself.

He first came to be famous after a dig somewhere in Mexico in the mid-sixties, near one of the big temples where the Aztecs used to be. His pet projects tended to be either the Aztecs or the Toltecs - he seemed to be absolutely fascinated with them. He was one of the more respected experts on the rituals and religious beliefs of the various civilizations he was so intrigued by, and even the few surviving Aztec descendants respected him, counting him as almost one of their own.

There was this temple where the Aztecs worshipped, where the Toltecs had previously worshipped. It was supposed to be pretty huge, and there were all sorts of rituals carried out up there. And the biggest mystery of the Toltec civilisation was centred around this temple, although calling it a pyramid would be more accurate.

Apparently, at the zenith of their culture, the whole civilisation just vanished. Into thin air. Left behind some buildings and the temple, but not a lot else.

There was a controversial theory put forward which suggested that the Toltecs had, through meditation and communion with their gods, discovered the secret of matter transmission. The suggestion was that they somehow managed to find or open a gateway into some other realm atop this temple, and that doing so somehow turned them from corporeal beings into pure energy. This theory was based on a crude interpretation of certain engravings atop this pyramid, although no rigorous translation was made.

Now of course, the National Institute of Physics nipped that one in the bud almost instantly. No way, they said. They could go along with the notion of the Mayans having developed certain advanced branches of maths hundreds of years before the Europeans had even thought of them, but no way were the archaeologists getting away with the notion that the Toltecs had discovered and implemented some sort of relativistic physics almost a thousand years before Einstein was on the scene.

The argument went on, though, and after a few weeks the dispute became big enough to be mentioned in the national news. The archaeologists had found some old engravings made by the Toltecs which were mentioned in the Aztec's history. The Aztec's interpretation of the engravings was well-documented; after all, this was the same set of engravings that had turned the Aztecs onto blood sacrifice to honour their gods. But there was no record of what the Toltecs had interpreted them as.

Until West stepped in, that is.

He was well-versed in the languages spoken by his pet civilisations, and it didn't take him long when examining the engravings to construct a crude yet functional translation. And it transpired that the translation was a ritual of sorts, amazing in its complexity, and yet at the heart of it beat a strange simplicity. They seemed to believe that carrying out this ritual - complete with chants and special potions - they could open a doorway to the realm of their gods. This, of course, was the original postulate which the NIP had rebuffed. But this time around, there was a reliable translation by a recognized expert in the field. It had been established what the Toltecs had thought they were doing. And the NIP was welcome to dispute what they had done, but it would have to provide an answer that explained how exactly an entire civilisation vanished into thin air, leaving nothing but engravings atop a temple.

The question still harangues them occasionally today, although now it's assumed by many that West's translation was incorrect, either deliberately or in error. This assumption is supported by nothing other than their faith in a science which seeks to reduce everything in the world to simple mathematical models. I'd like to see their reactions to what I encountered in that house.

But back to Herbert West. After the acclaim and fame that came with his succesful rebuttal of the NIP's statement regarding the Toltec mystery, he had come to focus instead on the Aztecs and their rituals. Being who he was, he had no trouble finding funding for further digs and expeditions, especially if they were in a field that he was already an expert in. They were even more eager when they heard that he wanted to centre his attentions around the same temple where his previous breakthrough had been made.

West wanted to investigate the finer details of the sacrificial rituals of the Aztecs, who had somehow twisted the teachings of the Toltecs - who were on the whole a harmlessly benevolent civilisation - into something which taught them that human sacrifice was what their gods commanded, and that they needed human blood to maintain their strength.

It was not long into this dig that events took on an ominous tint that would later deepen, leading to an infamy far more pervasive than the small fame which he had earned himself with his translation of the Toltec engravings.

There was an actual excavation set up at the site of the pyramid - it was believed to have originally been on marshland, and as such a significant amount of it might have sunk below ground level, taking with it all sorts of artifacts that might have shed new light on the rituals and beliefs West was trying to decipher.

Now, I've said before that West was very respected by the remaining followers of the Aztec way. This respect was strong enough that he was able to request a viewing of the remains of the Aztec Migration Scrolls - some valuable old document detailing their history, beliefs, and some of their religious rituals. A large part of the Migration Scrolls was lost when Cortez and his men stormed the city and laid it to waste, but not all.

It was the survival of this document as much as its contents, then, which drove West to his obsessive dig and search of the lands around the main temple, down near the original city of Tenochtichlan. His co-workers noticed an almost fanatic devotion to his work in him, and what was initially put down to excitement later came to be considered either sunstroke or the onset of dementia.

There was some nervousness among the workers at first about digging in the surroundings of a temple, and I suppose it wasn't entirely unjustified. After all, the early twentieth century had featured the explorations of the Egyptian pyramids and there had been more than one dig that appeared cursed, whose participants all died within a short time of completing the work.

Such worries held little water with West, who cheerfully would have climbed into Tutankhamun's coffin along with the mummy itself to prove his belief that the pyramid itself was no more cursed than he was an astronaut. And it most likely would have reassured the people he was working with.

When the first worker fell ill, it was put down to sunstroke. He had complained of some sort of headache one day, and was sent home early to sleep it off. The rest of the team were urged to wear hats and stay out of the sun as much as possible. Next morning, the sunstroke victim didn't turn up to work, and it was assumed he was still feeling ill. When he hadn't been seen by lunchtime, someone went to call on him.

He was found in his bed, having gouged his own eyes out and then died of the subsequent shock and blood loss. Foul play was ruled out, as the door had been locked from the inside and had to be broken down before the death was discovered. The only window in the room was shut with a catch that could only be sealed from the inside, and was in any case too small for a fully- grown person to climb through.

Although shocking, the death did not end the dig, although it did set it back a couple of days as the crew attended the hastily-arranged funeral.

Within a week, two or three more people complained of headaches, insomnia and, when they could sleep, nightmares. West was by this stage looking somewhat unhealthy, according to his colleagues. He didn't seem to be sleeping, his eyes had huge bags under them, and he had taken to muttering under his breath. By the time the third person was complaining of headaches, people began leaving, concerned that there might be a health risk. West dismissed these claims and carried on his work, although each day there were fewer people working with him.

Eventually the sponsors, worried about the strange stories circulating about the goings-on at West's dig, started to talk about withdrawing the funding. Three weeks after that first death, a further four people had died; two from heat exhaustion coupled with dehydration, another had suffered a brain haemorrhage, and the fourth had been found dead, sitting at his desk, cup of coffee in front of him and open book on the table. No cause had been found for the last death, which had been tentatively registered as been due to "heart problems".

They were on the verge of cancelling everything and then taking West to court about his seeming preference to carry on a thus-far fruitless dig rather than pay any attention to the health concerns of his staff, when an announcement reached them from West.

An artifact had been found, which almost single-handedly made the dig a success, deaths notwithstanding.

He intended to conclude the excavation post haste, given the strange effects it seemed to have had on the staff, and then return with the artifact and the only member of staff still on-site - a Dr. Edward Mueller. Details on the nature of the artifact were non-existent, as West wished to carry out a full examination of it before making any announcements.

No announcement ever came, however. Shortly after West's return to the family mansion, reports began to appear that claimed there were strange creatures in the forests near West Mansion. The archaelogical community - as well as the sponsors - were waiting with bated breath for the revelation about the Aztec's rituals that was perpetually on the way.

Six weeks after West's return to his mansion, a huge and unexpected storm seemed to form out of nowhere and drop, raging and furious, onto Belmont, seemingly laying siege to the whole region. Power was cut off to the entire area, and the emergency services were so tied up that it was a full week after the storm hit before news of the tragedy emerged.

West had been out in the forest when the storm came. He had not returned, and Mueller feared for his life. Search teams were sent out, and divers were sent in to search the lake. Although the divers commented that there seemed to be weird creatures in the lake, no body was ever found. Any hope of salvaging West's work thus far vanished when Mueller was taken into hospital with suspected concussion, having collapsed from exhaustion after having explored the woods with the search parties for some 14 hours a day.

When he awoke in hospital, he had no recollection of the previous weeks' of work with West. It was Professor Jack Gordon who had taken charge of the investigation, including the questioning of Dr. Mueller, in a vain effort to rescue the last works of a gifted man.

This far is what I told Turner during our session. A lot of it was stuff I hadn't thought of in years, but it seemed to come back to me as if I'd just read the articles yesterday. Probably because once I started thinking about it, an alternative - and much more horrible - explanation for West's disappearance and presumed death had suggested itself to me. I have no proof for it, so for the time being my suspicions will remain my own. But I can feel in my bones that events are building again towards some sort of event.

As if to confirm it, the characteristic weather has gone, replaced by the muggy heat that precedes a big storm.

* * *

Yawning and blinking, David stepped onto the train to London, hoping that nobody would ask him any questions about his travelling alone. The mask had told him that it could sort out the more obvious problems with the plan, but it was far away and its powers were diminished. Once he got closer, it would be easier.

Feeling once more for the comforting shape of his once-father's credit card in his pocket, David took a seat on the train and waited to be taken closer to what he had come to think of as his fate.