The day has come. The time is here.
Tis the night—the night
Of the grave’s delight,
And the warlocks are at their play;
Ye think that without,
The wild winds shout,
But no, it is they—it is they!
― Arthur Cleveland Coxe, Halloween: A Romaunt
I hope you all have a happy and joyous Halloween. And here is my treat for you: my story, “Nemesis”, from my collection, The Fiddle is the Devil’s Instrument and Other Forbidden Knowledge. Enjoy.
I must write quickly. The candle is dying even now and I can hear them waiting, just beyond the circle of the light.
coming of Nemesis was a cause for celebration. Since men first looked to the
sky and understood it, we had wondered if there was a world beyond the ones we
know. Something to account for the wobble in Neptune’s orbit. An answer to what
titanic love affair had left Uranus to roll forever on its side. A Planet X, a
Niburu, a Yuggoth. Yet in the end, it was not a planet that haunted the edge of
the solar system, but a star. A dark, dead star. Black as the void and almost
as hard to see.
a chance scan by an infrared camera on Voyager III that found it. The experts,
of course, didn’t call it by any of the names the ancients had known. To them,
it was Tyche, not an enemy to be cursed but a friend to be welcomed. And so,
when I taught my 11th grade science class about its coming, I told
them they had nothing to fear.
black dwarf’s orbit took it deep into space, far beyond even tiny Pluto, and
for thousands of years it remained but a myth. But now it was coming. A great,
dark mass in the sky, one that would blot out the stars until, in an event not
seen since the plains of Giza were thick with verdant foliage and echoed with
rushing streams, Tyche would blot out the sun as well…
would celebrate, the world all over. Muslim and Jew, Christian and Atheist,
every race and every people, united by an event so stupendous, so rare, that it
might never come again. Not, at least, while mankind still exercised dominion
over the earth.
couldn’t even say how long this before-unimagined eclipse would last. Only that
it would cover the sun completely for at least a few hours, maybe as long as a
events were planned. Twilight festivals to embrace the coming dark. We walked
into that stygian night with arms wide open. We came to embrace the void. We
did not fear the dark, not this time, not anymore.
madness took hold of us? What fiendish power corrupted our minds? I suppose we
will never know, though I have my suppositions. I will always believe that that
black orb cast down more than darkness on the surface of the earth, even before
there some who dissented? I’m sure there were many. But there was only one in
our town. One man who did not fall under Tyche’s sway. Only one who called what
was coming by its own name.
Bill Atwood for nearly a decade. That he taught astronomy and physics at the
local college belied his immense stature in the world of academia. At least,
the stature he had once maintained. Before he came to our little town in the
shadow of the Rockies, he had been a professor of some renown at a prestigious
school back East. A scandal had led to his fall from grace and departure from
Massachusetts, something about bizarre and controversial views that did not
comport with the standard model of the universe or the accepted story of human
history, views that he was not shy about sharing. I had heard the end came when
his obsession turned to violence and he assaulted the Dean of Sciences at his former
employer. That incident had led to his journey west, led him to a place where a
struggling college was willing to look the other way in order to hire a man of
his expertise. And yet, despite his reputation, I had never personally heard
Professor Atwood express any unorthodox views. Not until the coming of Nemesis.
that is its name, Nemesis. Atwood told me as much. Atwood knew the truth. If
only we had listened. But what difference would it have made? Who can stand in
the face of such darkness?
him that day, the last day I guess anyone saw him. He was coming out of the
grocery store, his cart loaded down with canned food, bottled water, candles.
These weren’t supplies for holding a celebration, but for surviving a siege.
I said, and I was unable to mask the concern in my voice. When he looked up at
me, in his eyes I saw a desperate man. He grasped my arm.
he said. He was agitated. Nervous. Afraid. But more than that. He was
terrified. “You’ve always been kind to me. Now I’m going to return the favor.
Get out while you can. Find a place to hide.”
I said, “I’m afraid I don’t understand. The festival…”
is no time to celebrate!” he almost screamed. I glanced around nervously to see
if others were watching. They were, and without approval. “Don’t you
understand? It’s all been written. It’s all been predicted. They are coming. I tried to warn the
others, but they wouldn’t listen. Not that it matters…” His speech trailed off,
his eyes following. “There’s nothing that can stop them. Not then. And not now.
a storm shelter,” he said, looking back up at me. “It’s not much, but it might
be enough. You can come with me. There is plenty of room.”
you, but that’s alright, Professor,” I said, trying to humor him. Trying to be
kind. He reached into his basket and pulled out a votive candle. “Take it,” he
said. “A guard against the night.”
Professor, I can’t…”
it! In the end it probably won’t matter. But maybe it will buy you enough
time.” He gestured at me with the glass-encased candle, and this time I didn’t
protest. He nodded to me once more, and then he was gone, leaving me standing
at the entrance of the Save ‘n Shop, candle in hand.
by that candle now, though I know not for how much longer it will last. Just as
I do not know for how long the darkness will hold sway. Too long, no doubt.
of the festival was as clear and bright as any I could remember. A perfect blue
sky spread above us, unblemished, but for the dark circle of night that seemed
to grow larger with every second.
rolled through the void toward us, blocking out the sky with its great, dark
mass. I stood at the base of College Hill while many more waited on its crown,
staring up at that coming darkness.
awesome!” a little boy squealed.
it sure is,” a man, his father I assumed, said in answer, cheerfully. And yet,
the smallest doubt had crept into his voice. I felt it, too. For the first
time, I wondered. But still I stood there, gazing up into the circle of night
that slowly devoured the sky.
noon when it reached the sun, which sat upon its throne at the apex of the blue
dome above us, bathing us in its light as it had since when the earth was
devoid of life. We gazed up as the edge of that flat circle of light clashed
with the darkness of another. We watched as that greater darkness covered the
lesser light. Watched as the sun vanished behind an impenetrable shroud.
shadow fell over us all. It crept over the town, fingers of night wrapping
around homes and stores and schools. It marched up the hill, gaining strength
as our star’s power diminished. I stared at the sun, a fading disk that no
doubt seared the edge of my retina. But I could not look away, any more than a
man can look away as the love of his life drives off into the distance, never
to be seen again.
to experience this, even if I didn’t understand. I had to watch, even if I
didn’t see. I had to bear witness as the first chapter of Genesis was undone.
As the second darkness fell upon the surface of the earth. As God said, “Let
there be night.” But not God. Something else. Something else entirely.
began with a sound. Though that’s not really the right word. It was more like a
buzzing, something that was felt more than heard. A low, inaudible murmur, just
beyond the range of man’s hearing.
then there was something that we did hear. A cry, a wail, a piteous howling,
more desperate than any I’d ever heard before. It was the dogs, you see. It was
as if every dog in town was suddenly struck by such pain or sorrow that they
could not bear it but by calling out to the world in the only way they knew
sound unsettled the children. It unsettled the adults, too, but they tried to
keep a brave face. Reassurances were given. Soothing words spoken that, to my
ears at least, lacked conviction.
after the howl of the dogs had ceased that we first saw it. The night was dark,
and Nemesis was darker. And yet as that black mass hung in the sky, I began to
believe that I could make out something curling off of the dead star’s surface.
Smoke-like tendrils seemed to reach toward us. Tentacles of swirling mist
drifted down from the beyond and spread across the sky. The noonday stars that
had seemingly winked into existence as the sun’s rays faded were extinguished.
And then something even stranger happened. The lights of the city— the street
lamps, the storefronts, even the white Christmas bulbs that decorated the stage
on College Hill—began to flicker and fade until, one by one, they all went out.
The darkness that had covered the sky now covered the earth.
was in the air. The voice of the crowd gibbered and murmured as fear spread
through us all. And yet still we clung to the belief that this was nothing
unusual, and that even if it was, it too would pass in good time. That belief
was broken when we heard the first scream.
seemed to fall down from the summit above to those of us who could get no
closer than the base of College Hill. It was on that summit that the breath of
Nemesis now alighted, where, as impossible as it seemed, the shimmering
tendrils of darkness that drifted down from it now touched. I suppose when we
heard the first cry that it should have snapped nerves already on edge, should
have sent us screaming into the night. Instead it froze us in place and caused
all of us to glance toward our neighbors for assurances, even as they were
hidden from our view.
a scream like a whistle on a freight train passing through a town at rush hour.
It never really stopped, only took a breath to reload. It seemed to grow
closer, and as my eyes adjusted to the darkness I saw a man running toward us. He
was the one screaming. The sound of it curved along the Doppler Effect as he
ran to me and past me, his wail carrying into the night. Then there was
movement. You could sense it as much as see it. The crowd at the top of the
hill was frothing, bulging and contracting, pushing against itself, spilling
down the slope.
was one scream became a thousand.
people around me began to run, picking up their children and going. But in the
darkness they could not see. Many fell, never to rise again, crushed beneath
the boots and heels and tennis shoes of their neighbors. I could not move,
paralyzed by fear and wonder and even curiosity. I stood there as the wave of
terrified men and women and children broke around me, surging down the hill and
into town, fleeing without direction or thought, knowing, like a herd of hunted
prey, that they must escape, must get away. I don’t know why I stayed. Perhaps
because I sensed that something was coming, something I needed to see.
it I did, though I can’t say even now exactly what it was. At first I saw only
the carnage it wrought, as one might look upon a tree snapped by the wind.
Bodies were ripped asunder before me, torn or sliced or twisted apart as if by
impossibly powerful and unseen hands. I staggered back, until finally I was
sprinting full speed after those who’d gone before.
only when I chanced a glance over a shoulder that I saw one, and only then in
the corner of my eye (I wonder now if we can see them otherwise, if perhaps to
look upon them fully would break something in the mind). It was madness made
reality, shadow given form, something made of nothing.
that walked when it should have crawled.
describe what shouldn’t exist in a sane world? Even to try is to struggle
against our rational boundaries. It was a creature made of sharp and impossible
angles, a being of form unknown to man even in the worst nightmares of the
insane. I watched as its scythe-like arms sliced through body and bone, as its
titanic empty maw devoured the living and the dead. And it was not just one. It
on, but there was no escaping the things that came from the sky, no escaping
Nemesis as it poured out its hate.
as my friends and neighbors were consumed by a dark fire that covered all.
Somehow I found my way, stumbling through empty alleys and naked corridors,
back here, to my home, to my study, to what may be the final source of light in
all the world. The flickering flame of a candle, all that’s left to hold back
my time is short. As I’ve written this, the shrieks and screams and pleas for
help and mercy that filled the streets beyond my door have fallen silent. And
now they have come for me. They wait, just beyond the circle of the light,
swirling, snarling, hating. Thirsting for my blood, my pain, my death. They
creep forward as the light retreats, and my candle is all but gone. I will
write until I can write no more. I hope that others survived this. I pray that
someone will live to see a new day, that they will find this testament of one
who did not believe.
not, then if some other creature should come upon it and decipher the meaning
of it, they will know that not all stars give life, and that not all life is
meant to walk within the light.
candle flutters. I can sense them now. Hear them. I can feel their claws upon
my back, taste the hate upon their breath, hear their frenzy for my doom.
light is fai