PseudoPod 722: Teeth – Part 2

Show Notes

Part 2 of 2

Listen to the first part here: https://pseudopod.org/2020/09/11/pseudopod-721-teeth-part-1/

Other Notes:


Teeth

by Matt Cardin


5

The words on that page signaled the end of my journey through the dark corridors of Marco’s obsession. Rather than trying to see what lay past page forty-six and risking another encounter with that awful picture, I closed the notebook and shoved it far back into a drawer, wishing fiercely that it could be equally easy to bury the memory of it. But try as I might, I could not stop my thoughts from returning to it and gnawing on it like a trapped animal might gnaw off its own leg. That was exactly the way it felt: as if  I had become ensnared in some vile trap and grown so desperate to escape that I might willingly do violence to myself. But no matter how many times I examined and reexamined and struggled violently against the notebook’s all-encompassing message of horror and despair, I could find no way to extricate myself from it, no loose spring or faulty trigger in its mechanism that might allow me to slip free. Its internal coherence and emotional power, as well as its universal scope, made it the perfect prison for mind and spirit.

My whole life was overturned in shockingly rapid fashion by this festering spiritual disease. For example, my teaching and class schedules that semester were mercifully light, but even the slight strain of conducting a freshman philosophy class proved almost more than I could handle.  How could I speak of epistemology and metaphysics when I had recently beheld the fanged and fleshy vortex that lies waiting to devour all knowledge? How could I teach about Socrates when I had discovered that to examine one’s life is to invite a nightmarish destruction, or about Descartes when I had been shown that the thinking mind is a mere wisp of smoke blowing over a fetid ocean of entity? More than one student gave me a sidelong look as my lectures were derailed by the uncontrollable quaver that had crept into my voice.  I had always basked in the knowledge of the positive impression I made on others, but now I could tell from people’s reactions that my personal manner had taken a turn for the bizarre and disturbing. And yet I was helpless to rein this in. I felt a trembling all the way to my core and found myself frequently gripped by the irrational notion that people’s altered reactions to me were caused by my new inner eye, which bathed everyone and everything in a beam of cold black light. This dark emanation, as I fancied it (even though I knew the idea was insane), was perceived by others as a certain indefinable aura of disturbance and dread in my personal presence.

I knew I could not go on like this, and several courses of action suggested themselves. The most obvious was to seek psychological help. A less obvious but no less compelling possibility was to seek spiritual counseling. Medical help from a neurologist was not out of the question, nor was self-medication via any number of consciousness-clouding substances. My fundamental problem seemed to be an excess of metaphysical sight. Anything that promised to blind or even temporarily blur that deadly gaze was an attractive prospect.

How, then, I ended up taking the course of action I took is still a mystery. Rather than turning to the most obvious sources of solace, I returned to the man who had done this violence to me. When all options had been considered, I could think of nothing but talking with Marco again. I had to know more about his notebook, about the impetus that had driven him to record it and the power that had led him to create that drawing. I felt that if I could not hear some answers to these and a thousand other questions, I might literally go mad with rage and confusion.

So I made up my mind to see him, and that was when it dawned on me that I had neither seen nor heard from him for ten days—not since our last conversation in his dorm room. Under normal circumstances I would have wondered why he had been so conspicuously absent, since we usually ran into each other on campus almost every day. But I had been preoccupied with his notebook and my growing distress, and now that I needed him, he was missing in action. I silently cursed his ostentatious boycott of cell phones and email, which he regularly railed on as destroyers of personal solitude and public discourse. In the past I had never really felt their lack, since Marco and I had encountered each other in person as we went about our campus business. But now I found I had no way of getting in contact with him short of visiting his dorm again, which I hated to do with the memory of my awful experience there still paining me like an open wound.

But I also had no choice, and so on the eleventh day after this nightmare had begun, I returned to the site of its inception. My stomach turned cold as I rode the elevator up to Marco’s floor. By the time I approached his featureless brown door, my hands were trembling. Predictably—why I should have found it predictable I don’t know, but it seemed entirely appropriate in a poetic sort of way—he did not answer when I knocked.  I stood there in the hallway for a long moment, staring alternately down at the faded gray carpet and then back up at the door as I debated whether to try the knob.  Each time I reached for it, a thrill of panic surged through me. Finally, in a kind of daze at the depth of my own wretchedness, I gave up and admitted that I could not do it. The situation was just too symmetrical, albeit in reverse fashion, to the door scenario in my recent dream.

But I still had to find him, so next  I went and inquired of his professors. They told me that he hadn’t attended classes since Monday of the previous week—the last day I had seen him.  One of them, Dr. Albert Kreeft of the physics department, told me, “Be sure to tell him the entire scientific community is waiting with bated breath for his theory of everything.” The mockery in the white-haired man’s thickly accented voice was blatant, and when I asked him what he meant, he said, “Ask him sometime to show you his preliminary work suggesting a new unified field theory. The finished thesis ought to make for an interesting novel.” The physics department lay outside of my usual academic orbit, and I was unfamiliar with this thoroughly unpleasant little man. When I asked him about his relationship to Marco, he said with a sour edge, “I’m his thesis advisor,” and turned back to his computer screen, refusing even to acknowledge me anymore.

And that was that. I walked out of the physics building realizing that I had already exhausted my useful options. The extent of my ignorance of Marco hit home as I recognized that the only thing left to do was to visit the places where we normally crossed paths—the library, the quad, the student commons—and hope that I would see him. So I went to those places even though I hated to be around crowds in my current condition. And of course he was nowhere to be found. I ended up on the second floor of the library at the same study kiosk where I had run into him while seeking a copy of Plotinus. Standing there beneath that tall window in that silent hall filled with row upon row of stately books, I tried to conjure a spark of my former aesthetic bliss. My unconscious mind responded by throwing up an image of chittering teeth and a mood of stark, staring barrenness.

Maybe my next move was inspired by the fact that I had come full circle to the starting point of my present unhappy state.  From the library I set out for Marco’s dorm again. Last time I had been following the flesh-and-blood man himself; this time I was following the thought of him. Once again, when I reached his room and knocked on the door, there was no answer. Before the memory of my dream could throw me again into that panicked paralysis, I seized the knob and wrenched it violently.

Much to my surprise, it turned easily and the door swung open on silent hinges.  I stepped gingerly inside and found a room where Marco was absent and nothing at all was out of order.  His bed was made, his bookshelves were full, and upon opening his closet I found a rack full of clothes.  I had half expected to find evidence of some sort of disturbance—clothes flung everywhere, a shattered window, who knows what. The other half of me had expected to be overwhelmed  by a nameless horror. So the sight of his empty, tidy, unmolested room threw me into a fit of unfulfilled foreboding. Everything was as silent and still as a cemetery, and in that stillness an approaching culmination trembled in the air.

I sat down on his bed with a hot lump in my throat, and realized with something like humor that I was about to break down and weep.  Nothing made sense. Everything was wrecked and hopeless. How had I come to this in so short a time? Less than two weeks earlier, I had been leading a fairly contented life with a bright future in academia. I had taken pleasure in my work and my modest social life, including the occasional romance. I had possessed a shining intellectual and emotional intensity that brought praise from my professors. And yet all of that had been overturned and undermined in shockingly short order. When I tried now to consider my future, I saw nothing but an endless black tunnel lined with

(Teeth)

painful and meaningless experiences. The future was a dark, empty road winding through a blasted landscape toward the shell of a dead city. The journey was a nightmare and the destination a hell. My former goals and pleasures littered my psyche like the dry corpses of dead loved ones, and I wanted nothing more than to sink into oblivion, whether sleep or death did not matter.

Was all of this really true? Was my life, was existence itself, truly what I now perceived it to be: nothing more than a short interlude in an otherwise unbroken continuum of horror, a sometimes distracting but ultimately vain dream that was destined to end with a terrible awakening to the abiding reality of chaos, of madness, of nightmare, of…

(Teeth)

The floor lurched beneath my feet, and with a silent hiss like the seething of stars, that gaping hole in reality opened up again, not on any page this time but within me. My nostrils were clotted with the stench of rotting, half-digested worlds, and I felt the eternal agony of infinite rows of needle teeth sinking into my soul.

That should have been the end. I should have known nothing else for all eternity. But then, impossibly, it was over. The room blinked back into view. The floor rushed back into place. And I was sitting on a plain institutional bed in an ordinary dorm room on a bright spring day. The horror had claimed me and then spat me out.

I was still reeling in a daze as I stood and exited Marco’s room. I could hardly walk, but a sudden impulse had taken hold of me: I wanted to finish reading Marco’s notebook. I was, in fact, desperate to do so. Caution be damned, I was going to learn what he had written beyond the page with the picture. I was going to find out everything there was to know about the thought process, emotional pattern, and dark epiphany that had flowed out of and led up to this catastrophe that had engulfed not only me but, as I strongly suspected, him as well.

Riding the elevator down to the ground floor, I experienced repeated waves of joy at finding that I could still feel a sense of purpose.


6

The walk back to my house was a preview of hell itself.  Although the afternoon sun hung bright and warm in a brilliant sky, and college students lounged everywhere in the refreshing air, chatting at tables and lolling on fresh green patches of landscaped lawn, I saw it all as if through a dark-tinted pane of glass.  The light appeared shaded and muted, like night scenes in a movie that were obviously shot in broad daylight with a filter on the lens.  I kept noticing movements in the periphery of my vision wherever shadows and dark spots lay: beneath a bench, at the foot of a hickory tree, under the granite lip of a merrily splashing fountain.  In each shadow I saw what looked like living forms crouched and waiting, but when I looked directly at them they disappeared.  It gradually became apparent to me that I was seeing shadows more clearly than the objects that cast them, and that my inner eye was revealing a lurking presence in them that I had never suspected.

Traumatized and terrified, I finally arrived at my lonely house north of campus and collapsed on the couch. After listening to my own shaking breath for a few moments, I dragged myself to my feet and went to fetch the notebook.  It remained where I had left it, at the back of my desk drawer, and I felt vaguely surprised since I had half expected the thing to have disappeared like its author.  Its dull red cover seemed to mock me, as if its very muteness represented its defiance of my understanding.  I sat at the desk and flipped through to page forty-seven, feeling not nearly as foolish as I had expected when I actually squeezed my eyes shut as I turned past the mandala.

I opened them to see that, sure enough, there was more writing in the notebook’s latter pages.  Text that normally would have filled only half a page in Marco’s virtually microscopic hand now sprawled across three pages.  Reading it, I began to shiver even more violently as I understood the cause of this atypical sloppiness: Marco had scribbled these notes immediately after his own first experience with the mandala, which, as it turned out, he had not drawn of his own free will. His notes insinuated far more than they stated, and glanced upon several unfamiliar items, but I recognized their guiding emotion of horrified hysteria all too well. Ironically, they also underscored yet again just how greatly his awesome intellect and fearsome self-control exceeded mine, since it was a marvel that he was able to marshal any coherent thoughts and write any words at all in such a state.

This is what he wrote:

Almost sucked in.  It almost pushed completely through.  God, how?  The perfect sequence of shapes, the perfect placement and size on the infinite continuum of distance between points.  Their precise purpose in guiding my hand.  Would it open the gate for anyone, render all preparation unnecessary? Chance. . . purpose. . . meaning. . . what damned idiocy!  Our insane desire for “truth” when illusion is the need— fantasy, dreams, divine delusions.  What price the true vision?  What must we become?  Lovecraft correct not only about our frightful position in the universe but about the vast conceit of those who babble of the malignant Ancient Ones.  Not hostile to consciousness, indifferent to it.  “Consciousness is a disease”—if only you knew, Miguel!  Final horror reserved for mind, not body.  Azathoth not conscious, pure Being.  Consciousness, intelligence, mind the ultimate tragedy.  To be somehow self-aware yet wholly incidental to the “purpose” of the universe: chaos and psychosis in human terms.  Ultimate irony of human predicament: perfection of specifically human quality results in self-negation. Conscious only to become aware of the utter horror of consciousness.

The ideas encoded in these words flamed inside me as I read and reread them. Much of what he had written was obscure, but I understood enough.  Somehow Marco had been offered a glimpse into the chaos at the center of Being.  For reasons known only to Itself, some power had chosen him as a conduit for the revelation of “our frightful position in the universe,” and then Marco, for reasons known only to himself, had shared his affliction with me.

Of course this only intensified my need to find him, since I now feared that he had suffered some cosmically awful fate, and that if I continued on my current course, I would join him in it.

In my anguish. I unthinkingly reached down and turned one more page of the notebook, and what I saw on the following page initiated the final phase of my descent into horror.  I froze and read the item three times while its significance sank in.  Then I sprang from the chair and lurched for the door, where I fumbled with the knob for a miniature eternity before finally turning it.  Then I was outside and racing across campus, not caring that my front door was still banging open and the notebook was still lying open on the living room floor where I had dropped it.

What I had seen was a brief news notice that Marco had clipped from the Terence Sun-Gazette, the local daily newspaper, and had pasted carefully onto the page following his feverish final notes. It stared up at my empty living room as I ran to avert an inconceivable catastrophe, its words saying far more than the journalist who wrote them had intended.

WORLD-RENOWNED SCIENTIST TO LECTURE AT TERENCE UNIVERSITY

British physicist and astronomer Nigel Williamson will deliver a lecture entitled “Chance, Meaning, and the Hidden Variable in the Quantum Universe” at the Terence University campus.  Williamson, a Cambridge professor who is visiting Terence as the first stop on a worldwide lecture tour, is known for his tendency to ruffle the feathers of his colleagues with his unorthodox theories.  His claim to have arrived at an explanation for “the seemingly causeless actions of subatomic particles” has aroused worldwide interest and a great deal of skepticism in the scientific community.  He is scheduled to speak on Thursday, May 2 at 7 p.m. in the lecture hall of the Stockwell Science Building on the Terence University campus.  The lecture is free and open to the public.


7

I reached the Stockwell Science Building in a matter of minutes. The run of barely a single mile had exhausted my soft scholar’s body, and I fell gasping and heaving against the double door entrance. Peering inside, I saw a digital clock on the far wall of the foyer that read 7:24. This encouraged me a little.  The lecture would have already started by now and there was no obvious commotion going on, so perhaps my awful hunch had been mistaken.

Still gasping, I glanced up for a moment at the twilight sky and saw a yellowish half moon shining through the branches of a scraggly tree.  The once familiar disc was now the dead, decaying fetal carcass of some unimaginably monstrous creature, and while I watched in awe with my dark inner light burning like a beacon, the creature began to stir and wake.  Dread washed back over me like an icy wave, and I flung myself through the door of the science building as much to escape the awakening gaze of the moon as to stop the tragedy I feared might be occurring within.

I burst into the lecture hall to find a small group of middle-aged men and women checking their watches, tapping their feet, and exchanging glances filled with annoyance and unease.  No lecture was in progress, and I gathered that I had entered as the impatience of the tiny crowd had reached a snapping point. Most were seated but a few had gathered around the lectern down front, where a small, nervous, balding man was blinking through thick-lensed eyeglasses and trying to placate them.  Several people looked up when I entered, and I saw their faces tighten into angry-worried lines at the sight of me.

Ignoring them as best I could, I made my way down to the bespectacled man.  He stammered and finally stopped in his nervous explanations when I approached, and the cluster of people turned to stare at me.

I asked, “Where is Professor Williamson?” and my voice emerged as a harsh demand. It also seemed to reach me from a distance, and I noticed that I didn’t feel a part of the situation at all, but rather like a spectator watching a theatrical presentation in which I and the others were performing.

The jittery little man played his part admirably. “I was just explaining—” he began, and then tripped over his own jitteriness.  His role was obviously that of the Flustered Mousy Man, whereas mine was at least partly that of The One Who Flusters.  He finally gave up and gestured miserably toward a door behind him that appeared to lead into a conference room.  “He’s in there.”

“Is he alone?”

Mousy Man was growing more unhappy with each passing second.  “Well, no.  There’s somebody in there with him.  Like I’ve been telling these people, a very agitated young man showed up a few minutes before seven and demanded to see the professor.  I told him we were busy, but then Nigel came out and chatted with him for a minute, and seemed quite interested in what the young man had to say.  Fascinated, actually. They went into the conference room half an hour ago and haven’t come out.”

“Have you knocked?”  By this point I was all but yelling, and the other performers’ eyes were widening as they subtly drew away and left me alone to dominate the stage and my unfortunate foil.

“Well, no,” he said, and began shifting from foot to foot. “I didn’t feel comfortable interrupting them. And the young man, he was quite. . . passionate.  His eyes were wild, like—.”  He cut himself short and looked to someone, anyone, for help, but I could read the unspoken words in his anxious and forlorn expression:  like your eyes.

I opened my mouth to speak another line, but a sudden loud thump from the conference room silenced us all.  It sounded like a heavy chair or table falling over.  Then: a wild, incoherent shouting that froze my blood. For even through the thick oaken door and the hysterical tone, I recognized the voice and accent of my friend Marco.

I bolted past the stunned group of spectators and grabbed the door handle, only to find it locked.  Now another voice, panicked and British and sharp with terror, answered Marco’s, and the rest of the scene played out offstage, behind the locked door.

 

WILLIAMSON

(Terrified)

What are you doing?

 

MARCO

(Frantically yelling)

You must not!  Those who know it fully would perish!  The Gate is in the great and the small! You cannot let the madness become sanity!

 

(There is a tremendous sound of shattering glass.)

 

WILLIAMSON

Stop it! What are you doing?

(Shouting and pounding on the door)

Roger!  Open the door! Roger!

(Rising to a shriek)

NO!  STOP!

 

(There is a sound like a knife stabbing into a side of beef. WILLIAMSON’s words shatter into an incoherent screech, followed by a liquid choking. A second sound emerges: a wet tearing like the shredding of damp cloth. WILLIAMSON’s voice falls silent.)

 

MARCO

(Screaming as if in mortal agony)

The Gate above and below!  The One in the many!  Oh God, the teeth!  The TEEEEETH!

 

(Silence, textured by the sly, slick tinkling of some heavy object being dragged through shards of glass.)

 

(BLACKOUT)

 

(END OF SCENE)

 

The play was over. The spectator feeling dissolved and I stepped off the stage into reality. Everything was completely, horribly present and actual.  A woman in the crowd was weeping.  A man had run halfway up the stairs toward the rear exit and then stopped, and now stood there blinking in befuddlement as if he had lost his way.  The rest of the group stood and sat in various states of paralyzed shock.

Then the spell broke all at once and panic set in.  Some sprang for the exits while others rushed toward me.  Everyone screamed and shouted something different to do, until finally someone ran out to the hallway, blundered into an unlocked maintenance closet, and returned with an enormous claw hammer.  I snatched it from him and set to work on the door handle while somebody else phoned the police.

The handle separated and crashed to the carpet after six stout blows.  Clutching the hammer like a talisman, I pushed the door open and took a faltering step forward while the others clustered behind me in a sudden, awed silence..

The room I had entered was a standard conference room stocked with a long, narrow table and eight plastic chairs.  One of these was sprawled on its back amidst the wreckage of an overturned barrister’s bookcase, whose windows had exploded on impact with the edge of the table and then the face of the floor. The resulting spray of glass was soaked with what looked like gallons of blood.  The net effect was a floor carpeted with crimson diamonds and jagged, bloody eggshells.

My eyes followed a distinctly differentiated blood trail through the carnage, tracing it to the point where it disappeared behind the table.  As if caught in a nightmare, I crunched unhesitatingly across the crimson carpet to gaze upon what it was that I had gone there to prevent.

Nigel Williamson—physicist, astronomer, Cambridge professor, brilliant iconoclast—would never have the chance to reveal to the world his grand theory concerning the inner purpose of the universe as embodied in the chaotic irrationalities of the quantum realm.  His intellectual brilliance had not been enough to save him, for now he lay on his back behind the table where Marco had dragged him, the nine-inch piece of glass Marco had used to eviscerate him still protruding from his side.  His frozen expression of horror must have matched the one that slowly began to twist my own face, but if so, I was unaware of it. My eyes, my mind, my awareness, my very being, were all filled to bursting by a sight that blazed with a too-real intensity and became an instant symbol of everything I had realized and endured: the blood-spattered, empty-eyed face of my friend Marco as he crouched over the professor’s body and mechanically devoured his innards.


8

That gruesome image with its oversaturated quality of ontological vividness remained with me forever, even after the passing of years had begun to blunt some of the other memories. Some of the first of those to go were the ones concerning the immediate aftermath of that final event. I remember there was quite a furor on campus and in the town, and even in the national news media. I know I was asked many questions by people acting in official capacities. But the specifics of it all, just like the specifics of the actions that I and the others took right after we found Marco in there with the professor, have been swallowed up by the image of that bloody face with its blank eyes and mechanical masticating motion.

What I do remember with clarity are my broad reactions to the uproar, since they changed the course of my life and brought me to my present circumstance. At the height of it all, when I feared I might literally go insane from everything, I quit my beloved studies and relocated to another town where nobody knew me and I could live in relative anonymity. I still live there today, and hold down the most trivial job I could find that will still provide me with enough income to afford a shoddy apartment where I hide from the world and hope for a merciful end to my existence.  In general, I apply myself diligently to ignoring and forgetting the world outside the bubble of boredom that I have created. But from time to time I buy a newspaper or switch on my little television to see if the direction of world events might have changed a little. And of course it has not, nor will it ever.

For everything is still disintegrating inexorably into madness, and I, unlike most people, know precisely why. Before Marco dragged me into his living nightmare, I was worried like everyone else about the mass cultural insanity that had gripped the 20th and early 21st centuries. Like everyone else, I noticed that things seemed to be roaring toward an apocalyptic climax, and I had my pet theories to explain it all. But now I see how absurd they all were.

Because what is happening is in fact a profound and far-reaching reordering of reality itself—societal, cultural, personal, and even physical. In essence, the prophecies of Lovecraft and Nietzsche are coming true right before our eyes, with effects that are not only personal and cultural but ontological. Our excess of vast scientific knowledge and technological prowess has proceeded in lockstep with a collective descent into species-level insanity. You only have to watch two minutes of television, glance at a headline, or eavesdrop on a random conversation to learn of it. Ignorance and idiocy. Riots and revolutions. These and a thousand other signposts like them are only the most pointed and obvious manifestations of the all-pervasive malaise that has come to define us. And since, as Sankara observed, we are nothing but particularized manifestations of the Ground of Being itself, we are not only witnesses to this breakdown but participants in it, enablers of the transformation of the world into a vale of horror through the metaphysical potency of our very witnessing. God looks out through each of our eyes, an abyss of insatiable hunger and infinite teeth, and the dark light of His consciousness makes each of us a lamp that illuminates a new and terrible truth.

I find it ironic that the man who cursed me with this vision of the world will not even be aware of it when everything comes to fruition. Marco spends his days and nights screaming out his madness in a prison for the criminally insane. I visited him only once, when the police were still trying to discover where he had hidden himself during his ten-day absence (a question they never answered, nor did I).  I almost couldn’t bear to look at him, and when I finally did meet his gaze, I knew at once that my friend was dead.  His eyes had gone permanently dark in the manner I had briefly glimpsed so long ago in his dorm room, and I recognized his condition as an advanced case of the same state that would sooner or later manifest in every person on the planet. Something had compelled me to bring the notebook, which I had retrieved from my living room floor and then carefully preserved for no reason I could articulate. When I showed it to Marco, he sprang at me without warning and knocked me to the floor, snarling and shrieking in a feral frenzy. The savagery of his attack stunned me, and before I could recover, he had seized the notebook with his teeth and shaken it to shreds like a dog with a rat.  Then he turned on me again, and it was only the intervention of the hospital staff that saved me from having my throat torn out. His doctors said it would be best if I stayed away after that.  Later, I heard that he managed to break his restraints after I left, and that in the absence of another object he turned on himself.  Before the orderlies could reach him, he chewed off and swallowed two of his own fingers.

What scares me the most is knowing that the transcendent insanity gnawing at the shell of Marco is the same insanity that waits to welcome me in death. All too well do I understand the wisdom of the ancient Greeks, which held that the best thing is never to have been born. To exist at all is to know the horror of no escape. Nietzsche said the thought of suicide can comfort a man through many a dark night, but it is no comfort to someone like me who knows all too well what awaits.

There is only one hope for my salvation.  Over the years I have become an assiduous student of Lovecraft, not just his stories but his essays and letters. And I have marveled at the man’s uncanny ability to see so deeply into the truth and yet remain so composed and kindhearted.  Perhaps this gentle New Englander knew something that I do not, something he tried to convey when he wrote of the “vast conceit of those who had babbled of the malignant Ancient Ones.”  Perhaps the horror exists only in me, not in reality. Perhaps Marco was wrong, and there is no need to fear the truth.  After all, It knows only Itself, and maybe I will not perceive It as horrific after I die. Perhaps I will be so thoroughly consumed by and identified with it that “I” will not even exist at all, and my sense of horror will prove to be as fleeting and finite as the self that sensed it. If this is true, then may it come quickly.

But this hope, however appealing, can never sustain me for long. For it is clear that I am already identified with that horrible truth, and yet I still find it a horror. The clear evidence of this identification manifests in my own body, in the fundamental physical drive that compels me to take nourishment and the anatomical structures that have been evolved to accomplish this purpose: lips and tongue, teeth and gums, throat and stomach. Life, as Joseph Campbell once observed, is a horrific thing that sustains itself by feeding on other life. I have gained a new and awful awareness of this fact in the form of a certain nagging sensitivity in my mouth. All day and night I am plagued by an unpleasant awareness of those protruding bits of bone whose function is to grind plant and animal flesh to a pulp in order to sustain this bodily life. Sometimes when this awareness has tortured me for hours on end, I will go to the mirror and draw back my lips to gaze at the truth. This mockery of the facial expression that conventionally expresses pleasure reminds me a bit of the bliss I once hoped to find in philosophies of ultimate beauty. But even that is gone now, swallowed down the bottomless throat of the cosmic mystery that forever feeds on all things.

Do I seem mad?  Do I sound like a man who has become lost in his own private delusion of hell?  Then let me remind you that you, too, exhibit the same stigmata in your own body.  Show me your smile and I will show you your fate.

About the Author

Matt Cardin

Matt Cardin is a writer, editor, musician, and college professor and administrator living in North Texas. With a Ph.D. in leadership and a master’s degree in religious studies, he focuses frequently on the intersection of religion, horror, art, and creativity. His books include the weird and cosmic horror fiction collections To Rouse Leviathan (2019), described by Thomas Ligotti as “a breviary of gruesome mysteries” that is “a worthy descendant of a distinguished line of supernatural horror”; Dark Awakenings (2010), which Publishers Weekly praised as a “thinking-man’s book of the macabre” with “unusual philosophic depth”; and Divinations of the Deep (2002), which launched the New Century Macabre fiction imprint for Ash-Tree Press. He also wrote the free ebook A Course in Demonic Creativity (2011).  His editorial projects include Horror Literature through History: An Encyclopedia of the Stories That Speak to Our Deepest Fears (2017), Ghosts, Spirits, and Psychics: The Paranormal from Alchemy to Zombies (2015), and Mummies around the World: An Encyclopedia of Mummies in Religion, History, and Popular Culture (2014). In 2015 he received a World Fantasy Award nomination for editing Born to Fear: Interviews with Thomas Ligotti. He is also co-editor of the literary horror journal Vastarien. (more…)

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About the Narrator

Jon Padgett

Jon Padgett is a professional–though lapsed–ventriloquist who lives in New Orleans with his spouse, their daughter, and a rescue dog and cat. He is the Editor-In-Chief of Vastarien: A Literary Journal, a source of critical study and creative response to the work of Thomas Ligotti as well as associated authors and ideas. Padgett’s first short story collection, The Secret of Ventriloquism, was named the Best Fiction Book of 2016 by Rue Morgue Magazine.

He has work out or forthcoming in Weird Fiction ReviewPseudoPodLovecraft eZineXnoybis, and the anthologies A Walk on the Weird SideWound of WoundsPhantasm/ChimeraFor Mortal Things Unsung, and Ashes and Entropy. His latest chapbook, The Broker of Nightmares, will be published this October by Nightscape Press.

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