Widdershins
By: TG Browning

On my third trip to New Orleans I took the time to rent a car to drive completely around Lake Ponchartrain, the brackish lake that sits north of the city. There are parks along the shore and numerous sail boats, but they all seem to avoid one particular area on the Northeast part of the lake. There, the state road veers away from the lake for ten miles or so and it's only by guess and good luck that one can find the old road that still exists, near the lake. In the pine woods there, one finds a dark fog in early mornings in autumn that creeps away from the shore to invest those homes too close to the lake.

Many are for sale.

I had considered moving to New Orleans before entering the Café of the Yellow Court but after that, I knew I could never be relaxed and safe in the city itself. I considered Algiers across the Mississippi but the prices were too high and it was only after the night clerk at my hotel, the Prince Conti, that I began to consider something around Lake Ponchartrain.

She told me a number of places were available after Hurricane Katrina and it sounded like a shrewd way to save money and achieve my goal—a home where I could pursue my studies well away from Innsmouth and Arkham. Too many in Massachusetts knew of them and that was dangerous now. Too many suspected the truths I have discovered.

I saw house after house as I drove Widdershins around the lake, all shaded and encircled by tall pines and low shrubs that I didn't recognize. I soon realized that realtors had given up on selling many of the places because the vast majority of signs were "For Sale, by Owner". In point of fact, I only saw two signs for Century 21 and ReMax.

It was about 2 o'clock when I rambled up to strange house with three out building that made no sense to me. The house itself was a modified A–Frame with the roof ending perhaps three feet above the ground. There was a small building away from the front door, adjoining the driveway, that could only have been used as a shelter for someone who was stationed there, a watchman perhaps, or as a shelter for children waiting for a school bus.

I disabused myself of that notion almost immediately.

There was a miasma about the entire place that reeked of terrible secrets and frustrated purpose. No, no children had ever used that small building for anything. No parent would have been so irresponsible, dense and uncaring as to subject children to what I could plainly feel.

The second outbuilding was, of all things, a small mill, with the old, old fashion–type sails one only sees in Greece or the Balkans. Tattered they were, plainly from the damage done to the region by Hurricane Katrina. One could sense that no living man had been in that mill since then. The damned thing about it was that it was built for small people. A miller would have to have been no taller than four feet to feel comfortable and do proper work in that mill.

I parked my car and checked the third outbuilding. This had been a tool shop/barn sort of building and again, it was three–quarter scale. Windows were broken on the front and I glanced inside, unable to see much. I had my smart phone with me so I turned on the flashlight setting and began to examine the interior.

"Interested in buying, are you?" The voice had the curious lilt and softness of Louisiana and the bayou. I confess I jumped at the unexpected words and whirled around, shaken.

The man was elderly, perhaps in his late 70s, with only a wisp here and there of white hair over his ears. Black, black eyes and a cruel, sardonic mouth dominated the face and I took a deep breath.

Would that I had not. The stench around the man was offensive to a degree impossible to relate—unless one had been subjected to it before.

I had. In the Café of the Yellow Court. I knew what it meant. And my life dangled from a thread as I well knew. If this man knew who I was, knew of my research, I would never return my rental car, or checkout of my hotel.

Carefully, my voice tightly controlled, I answered, "Perhaps. You the owner?"

"No. I do keep a watch on the place, especially in autumn when strangers come here, Widdershins."

I nearly fainted. He laughed. He plainly knew about me and had dark knowledge I had never dared to delve. "I see. I know what you think, but you're wrong." He pushed up the sleeve on his left arm, baring a tattoo of the King in Yellow. "I watch. I warn. I keep those that can be saved away."

I must have shuddered for he cackled, almost in glee. "Aye, you wish to know why? I'll tell you. Them that come Widdershins around the lake in autumn, invite disaster for all of us. Those who worship the elder gods and those of the Yellow Court. Of course, also the locals who have no knowledge, no senses and are but cattle to be herded and perhaps butchered for a feast for my masters.

"This is their farm, you see. Your Yankee knowledge from Massachusetts means nothing here. And if you were to stay too long or encroach upon our fief and prey, you would be taken as well."

Shakily I replied. "I've been to the court, once. I'll never go there again."

"No willingly, no, I reckon."

"But if this is not the King's, whose is it."

"Now your Massachusetts knowledge should tell you that. Look in the window," he commanded.

Fearfully, I did so. Not sure whether I was more in danger from the man behind me or the sight before me.

It was the latter that threatened my sanity more.

I had thought it long behind me, but once again, I saw the fetid, misshapen shapes only one from Innsmouth could attain. Those that failed the transition. Which meant … I shuddered anew. Behind me the man cackled. "Aye, you know what you know and what you see. Come, I've more to show you."

From behind, he grabbed my right elbow and pulled me away.

He led me around the house to a place hidden by the pines from casual view. There, I saw an altar of a type that I had hoped never to see again. The other that I had seen was up in Maine, in Wiscassett and a more foul, threatening relic I can hardly describe.

It was a granite slab, about eight feet by four, with grooves and glyphs and hieratic symbols carved on the surface. They showed wear, far more than I cared to imagine. Not one was of the heathy, clean scripts of the Greeks, Romans, or Celts. There were no runes.

Around the periphery, there was a eroded, deep grove that emptied into a hole drilled in the slab at the Northeast corner. Underneath, there was a brass ring set in the granite that must have been used to catch whatever drained free.

I had no illusions what that might be.

The man no longer smiled, or cackled. Indeed, he looked disgusted and after some thought I understood why. The elder gods wanted blood. The King in Yellow wanted sanity and spirit and obscene glee in human degradation. But not blood. The former were primitives. The latter were debauched but not insane.

I finally turned to him. "I'm leaving. You've warned me, so I may go, may I not?"

He regarded me, his eyes sharp but now, not hostile. He'd succeeded in his task and he knew it. "As you will though …"

"Turn around and go back and never drive Widdershins anywhere near the lake, anywhere in Louisiana, east of the Mississippi," he replied.

I walked slowly back to the car, got in and backed out. The car faced along the road, Widdershins and there was very little room to turn around.

It took me four tries to turn around and I drove off, my eyes half on the road and half in the rear–view mirror. He stood there in the road and as I watched, he slowly faded away in a golden mist that I knew only too well.

New Orleans had captured my soul though, and I could not leave. Perhaps it was the King In Yellow who had captured me, but I think not. The people live blissfully in their ignorance and their hearts are great. I still love the French Quarter, but I live in Algiers. And I never go Widdershins in the city.


THE END

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