You want to know the truth, eh? The truth behind my tattoo? No, no, no, not the one on my forearm. I know the one you’re talking about. The truth — or the full tale, I should say — is far more fearsome than the one I tell to the droves of students at Miskatonic University or the eager folks at the Arkham JCC. And especially not those young ones over at Innsmouth High — they stare at you with that look: glassy eyes like a school of goldfish that hasn’t an inkling of what’s going on. No, the unbridled information is not appropriate for them, for anyone.
I don’t like being forced into speech, but you seem persistent. Your name again? Yes, yes I knew your grandfather well; we worked together at the kosher butcher on Sarnath Street not long after I came to this country. Hymie’s, it was called, best beef tongue this side of Providence.
Ok, ok. The story. Are you sure? What you must know first off is that I have never been an observant man, even back in my hometown. It doesn’t exist anymore so don’t bother asking what it’s called or where it is. Anyway, the word of God, or “The Name” as our people call Him, always seemed a bit silly to me. You know, look at the high priests during their prayer and you’ll go blind from divine holiness — that kind of stuff. At one time in my youth I’d tell you that was a load of drek. And now? I’m getting to it. Don’t worry, boychik. All I’ll say here is a little holy blindness is nothing to worry about in the grand scheme of things.
I was in one of those camps deep in Poland. No, it’s not the one you’re thinking of. Very small and not well-known, even now. Its name? Oy, I cannot utter it aloud without succumbing to a bout of shudders. Ok, if I can tell it those disinterested putzes at Innsmouth High, I can tell it to you. Nauhausen…
Yes, yes, I’m fine, just don’t make me say it again. Where’d the name come from? From Walter Nauhaus, founder of the Thule Society. Whisperings in the camp were that he had acquired an ancient tome, thousands of years old, the information contained within it older still recovered from a nameless city beneath the streets of Jerusalem; filled with knowledge from long before it is said that The Name separated light and dark. I do not know its title, but Nauhaus died shortly after the acquisition and it passed into the hands of his disciples or so the story goes.
The camp was in the countryside, a beautiful place in other circumstances. Green pines, lush furs. Think the untamed nature paintings of what’s-his-name — John Ottis Adams. All gone now, of course. Razed. The Allies? Bah, I wish!
Inside the camp, it could not have been more different. Manmade barracks, manmade bungalows, manmade gas chambers. Everything made of squares and harsh right angles, the well-used Euclidian geometry we’re so comfortable with. The only natural things that could enter were sunlight and grotesque mosquitoes that whined in the nighttime with unearthly crying like that of a waling child at the end of a long dark tunnel.
Oh, it was a heinous place to be sure — death and destruction under the uncaring gaze of anyone (or anything) who happened to be watching from above. A mysterious crimson moon would appear every once in a while when the murdering had reached a fevered hysteria. Never any stars except the ones on our chests. A terrible place, terrible. But of course, dead men are luckier than one would think, free from waking nightmares and those things that lurk just beyond the veil of consciousness. I know you’re confused — more on that later.
Those of us who were fit to work were forced to dig twelve hours every day in a nearby coal mine. Masks? Are you crazy? Only a pickaxe. That is where I usually leave the story for my audiences. I’ll ask one more time because there’s no turning back after this. Are you sure you want to hear the rest? Ok, ok. If you want you should have the night terrors, I will continue.
The only caveat was that we never found any coal: not even one briquette. Because that was no coal mine or it had been at one time and sucked dry for its resources. The man who oversaw our little project — Shmidtt, I think his name was — was always consulting a yellowing piece of parchment that I’d bet my life was a map of some sort. He was an extremely cruel individual, even by Schutzstaffel standards — a tall man with bushy eyebrows and thinning hair he hid under a steel helmet who was said to consume dead flesh in order to increase his own power. So powerful was his horrifying mystique that I believe he even frightened the other guards.
Twelve months of digging and six men dead from smothered lungs before anything was found. It was a humid day in August when we hit something solid in the impenetrable blackness. Taking most of the afternoon, we hauled it out the sunlight with a rudimentary system of pulleys.
I tell you it was like nothing we had ever seen, at least not in waking life; an immaculate statue, six feet tall, hewn from what looked like priceless white marble depicting an unnamable creature of unknown origin. To compare its resemblance to that of a mollusk would be doing some justice to the thing, but nothing as benign as those organisms that propel themselves across the oceans or slither across a garden leaf.
Dark designs of all shapes both known and unknown to the human mind were etched over its body as if in ink. At its base were pictograms not unlike those found in ancient Egypt. Yes, but I’m not talking about that right now, save it for Passover. By plain sight, the runes told some kind of unearthly tale of destruction. I believe there were hints to the Great Race of Yith as well. What’s the Great Race of Yith, you ask? I have no time to explain them!
The marble itself did not seem to be tarnished by its earthy grave from which it had been recovered. Moreover, a somewhat fetid odor was coming from the object. No, not the decay of hastily buried bodies or the burning flesh of the deceased — something much more primal that only my hindbrain, rusty from eons of disuse, could discern. I remember asking myself what kind of long dead heathen belief system would worship such a heinous idol. Even without the Ten Commandments, I would not want to regard this thing as a deity.
Shmidtt seemed quite pleased with the find and gave us the rest of the evening off, a rare luxury that was not usually seen in such a place. Even the smokestacks that carried the ashen remains of our fallen brethren had taken a rest from billowing into the atmosphere. The murder had stopped for the first time in the camp’s establishment. Nevertheless, a deep, full crimson moon rose that night and the whining of the mosquitoes reached its worst yet. The barracks, which were not well insulated, made it simple for the blood-sucking vermin to reach their human targets. I was scratching a particularly nasty bite when I heard it: the chanting: a low and grumbling mix of sound as if seeping in spiraling tendrils from beneath the crust of the earth.
Getting up from my bunk, I could see shafts of a curious green light seeping in through the loose boards of the building — light I had never saw before and have not seen since. Like mist, it was. Something solid and forever changing that goes beyond all our limited sciences can explain.
A few of us walked to the door and peered outside. The queer light was shining brightest in the thicket of trees at the far boundary of the camp, which seemed deserted. Even the guard towers were empty of a human presence, their floodlights black and unseeing. While the fear of being shot on sight was heavy on our minds, our curiosity could not be contained and — very cautiously — we crept toward the trees, toward the green light and chanting, both of which were growing more intense all the time.
It had been a humid day, but now the air was like ice and we pulled our ill-fitting uniforms closer to our flesh to keep as warm as we could. As we got closer, we could hear the words of the chant, words I will never forget. What were they? ‘Das ist nicht tot , das ewige Lüge und mit seltsamen Äonen kann sogar Tod sterben kann.’
What does it mean? Of course, I forgot you don’t speak German. It means ‘That is not dead which can eternal lie, And with strange aeons even death may die.’ Oh yes, it does sound like poetry. Who wrote it? Poe? Are you kidding me? Those words were not written, boychik. They were sent! By who, you ask? You don’t want to know. I don’t even know myself, but it was long before the beginning of time; words more ancient and powerful than the 72-letter name of our god. You see, The Name can raise the Golem from the dirt, but those forbidden words, that chant, can destroy worlds, the very fabric of reality, even! Ok, back to the story.
We had walked through the trees to find a clearing. The light was so intense here I had to shield my eyes. After a moment, my eyes adjusted and beheld all the guards of the camp, cloaked in robes of some scaled material, circled around the idol we had recovered earlier that day, chanting those ancient words. It was the source of the glow! Even more disturbing was that the designs on its body were moving, swirling, coming to vivid and horrendous life! I wanted to scream, but only a feeble squeal like that of a baby swine being slaughtered escaped the bowels of my throat.
I could see the tall hooded figure of Schmidtt standing on a small mound of earth, holding a weathered volume (the one Nauhaus had acquired, I presume) in his hands, leading the ceremony. He was shouting in some indecipherable tongue so abominable to the human ear that my mind has forced itself to forget the exact words uttered. The book itself was glowing too, sharing some kind of energy with the statue. And then, quite suddenly, the beam of light shifted from the clearing into a swift arc that shot straight into the center of the crimson moon that hung heavily in the sky.
In a moment, it had become a swirling mass of deepest darkness. If my sanity had not left me in that instant, the next occurrence finished the thing. From that black unknown slithered the creature depicted in the glowing statue. In breathing life, it was infinitely more horrifying than its marble counterpart. Hundreds of feet in length, it could eat a blue whale and still be famished. The designs inked into its flesh were pulsating and expelling pus that reeked of that rotten primeval odor I had detected earlier. Again, I tried to scream and found that certain faculty had left me, if forever I did not know.
The crowd of guards was cheering and chanting even louder. They were yelling ‘freuen sich für die große Schneckenfresserdes Schicksals ist angekommen.’ Sorry for the German again. It means ‘Rejoice for Cochlugurath, The Great Snail, Eater of Destiny, has arrived.’
Now, you must understand this was near the end of the war. Whether this was a last resort to use ancient and powerful forces to turn the tide of the conflict or something more arcane, one can only guess.
What did I do then? Other than standing frozen in abject right you mean? I did all I could do, I prayed. Like I say, I was never an observant man, but I began to say the Shema, that short and most iconic prayer our people have said in the direst of times. ‘Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.’ Over and over again I said it, sure I would perish at any second at the hands of this unspeakable monstrosity from beyond the light of the dead stars. I did not believe in miracles until then. I did not see the plagues wrought upon the Egyptians; I did not see the Red Sea part or even the Holy of Holies in the sacred Temple. But just then, I was begging for a miracle from a deity I did not believe in.
The thing had settled in the middle of the clearing next to its marble effigy, pulsating wildly much to the mirth of the necromancer on the mound of earth. ‘Jubeln! Jubeln!’ he was shouting. ‘Rejoice! Rejoice!’ It was mad hysteria and the thing seemed to revel with otherworldly glee. The inked designs bulged dangerously and the protuberances around its mouth snaked down toward the chanting men.
What happened next finally drew a scream from me. It began to devour the robed guards one by one. To describe the carnage in detail is more than my tenuous psyche can bear. But these followers of the supposedly ancient Aryan creed had met their match in something truly ancient, something whose sole waking purpose was to destroy the tiny bipedal creatures known as man, as insignificant as a ants are to a child’s magnifier.
Finally, one of us — I think his name was Kravitz — had the sense to run to the guards’ abandoned weaponry, grab an explosive and toss it at the marble statue of the tattooed horror. The idol exploded in a shower of rubble, the monstrosity gave a madness-inducing shriek of agony, contorting in on itself. The designs all over its heinous body ruptured and spread all over the clearing as if they were spores of a deadly fungus. One collided with me and latched itself on my leg with such searing pain I was sure the end had come. Then a flash of brightest light and I fainted.
The next morning I awoke to find the entire area in a state of ruin. The trees were withering husks of their former selves and the camp itself was no more than a pile of rocks. The earth was scorched for a hundred yards in every direction. The thing that had descended from the sky was gone. I attempted to stand up, but my leg was in excruciating pain. The entire pant leg had been burned away and one of the curious designs was etched into my raw flesh. Yes, the very tattoo you see here today. Seventy years later and it’s as dark as it ever was. Even the skin around it hasn’t lost its young determination.
Did anyone else survive? Yes, about two dozen of us survived that place. Those of us who saw what happened that night vowed never to tell anyone what we witnessed for fear of being called mad. They wouldn’t be wrong as the experience did a fine job of destroying our sanity in one swoop. We walked along the countryside until we caught up with the Soviets and said we had escaped our camp.
So there you have it. The full story of events. I promise I won’t be offended if you don’t believe me. I’m the last surviving member of that place and no one can back up what I’ve said here today. I could just be a crazy old man who has lost his marbles…
Do I believe in God? Well, it depends on how you define that word. I do believe that there are things out there that don’t two knishes about us down here. But they need our help to get down here, see? Some people worship these things, these entities (whatever you want to call them) as gods and maybe our God, The Name, is just a positive force who is always fighting against these false idols so-to-speak, lulling them to sleep until we foolishly try and summon them.
Maybe that little devil on our shoulders is them calling out to us from that impossible black void, trying to convince us to commit evil acts — spill innocent blood — that will bring them back. All I know for sure is that if The Name is out there, He sure as hell didn’t create those things. Maybe He’s just as clueless as us. I don’t know and no one does.
Since that fateful night, I have slept (if you can call it sleep) with a lantern by my pillow. The tattoo on my leg aches and pulsates every once in a while. Could be a sign that the stars are right for the Eater of Destiny to return to this plane of existence once more. If that’s the case, I say never again.