I suppose it all started when I first dreamed of the Spider-Titan.
It was gargantuan, towering over the little buildings of Southport like some kind of storm cloud. On a dozen long legs it walked, legs that it held under itself like crab-jointed stilts, legs that it moved slowly, carefully, individually. Its body was multi-jointed and bloated, and tendrils of rotten-looking flesh hung down from it and swayed back and forth as it walked. The body looked tiny as it came walking up out of the ocean, walking with the smooth, quiet movement that only very big things can, almost like it was melting up there on all those legs. But then it came to me, stepping over the town as though over a child’s scattered toys, bending itself down, down to stare through the window of my bedroom in the House on the Hill, and I realized just how big it truly was. To say that the face filled my window would be an understatement. Let me say rather that the window disappeared into that titan face, into those little still tentacles that hung in place of a mouth, into that single, titanic eye. God, that eye…It wasn’t any kind of eye that anything on Earth should ever have. It was just a black pit, shining with reflections in horrible wetness deep inside, and little dots glowing pale green scattered around its edge, all of it half-buried in the rotting mass of flesh that served it for a face. It wasn’t an eye, but I could feel it watching me. It didn’t say anything, yet. It just watched me stare at it, standing there in my pajamas and looking at it and becoming very aware of the odd shape of my own body compared with its.
And then I woke up.
I lay there for a moment, the memory surging through my head, before I worked up the courage to actually go to the window, draw the curtain and look out. Below me was Southport, quaint and tranquil as always. A quiet little town, nestled up to the black, still ocean, and laying over the uneven landscape like a blanket tucked in amongst the oaks and maples and pines. There was no sign of the monster from my nightmares. I knew I wouldn’t get back to sleep, but I was thinking of going downstairs and making myself some breakfast. Then I noticed that, despite the earliness of the hour, every window in town was lit up. And there were bobbing flashlights emerging from the houses and flowing towards the wharf.
I threw on some clothes and grabbed a light of my own, curious as to what was going on. I eased open the door, fearful of waking my brother, who owned the house, but I need not have worried. I found him down in the sitting room, lights on, mug of coffee in hand.
“Arthur!” he said, looking up at me as I descended the stairs. “What on earth are you doing up at this hour?”
“I had a dream…” I stopped, realizing how stupid I sounded, but his eyes narrowed as I spoke.
“About a spider?”
I swallowed. The image of that eye was still floating there in my mind. “Wait – you, too?”
“I don’t know. But it felt…wrong. Arthur, I haven’t had a nightmare in more than twenty years.”
I felt the hair rise up along my arms.
He shook his head, took a sip of coffee. “Doesn’t matter. Where are you going with that flashlight?”
“Everyone in town’s got them. They’re going down to the wharf.”
“Yeah. I don’t know why. But it’s not like I’m getting any more sleep tonight, so…” I stepped off the stairs and went for the door.
“Wait,” he said, pulling himself to his feet. “I’m coming, too.”
Down we drove in the old Chevrolet, the first pale lights of dawn starting to feel their way over the horizon as we went. The houses were empty, now, but we weren’t looking at that. Nor were we looking at the crowd of people on the little crescent of gravel beach, nestled between Lighthouse Point to the north and the wharf to the south. We were looking at the gargantuan object they were shining those flashlights on, the object that dawn was starting to throw into blurred silhouette.
It was a ship.
It was a wooden immensity, twenty feet high, tattered sails hanging from masts that rose eighty more and centuries of barnacles dripping down its sides, all laying on the shore at an angle like a beached whale. We pulled up behind the crowd to stare with them in awe, and read the faded words that it displayed to the brightening sky: HMS Victoria Rose.
Even then, we were transfixed by that ship. If pressed for an explanation, I don’t think I could give anything but excuses. It wasn’t the thing’s size, or its ancient, waterlogged beauty. It wasn’t the idea that it had floated on the Atlantic for hundreds of years before somehow finding its way into Southport Bay. It takes much more than that to keep two hundred people in one place for three hours, silent and unmoving. But none of us thought about that then. We didn’t think about much of anything at all, until the seagulls that had landed on the rotting masts scattered with a chorus of mewling cries.
It was Parker Jones that first noticed her. “Look,” he said, and though he barely did more than whisper it we all heard him, even over the breath of the waves. “There’s someone up there.”
“On the deck.”
“It’s a kid.”
“Someone from town?”
“Not in that getup. Looks like Alice in Wonderland.”
“What’s with her eyes?”
“I’m sure it’s a trick of the light.”
“No, they’re definitely glowing…”
“She’s a ghost, isn’t she? A ghost ship, filled with the restless spirits of its passengers and crew…”
And then, standing up there on that ship like a bizarre prophet, she spoke.
“We must build the Beacon.”
And she collapsed.
We were thankful, then, that she was only unconscious, apparently from lack of food and water. The Wilkinses volunteered to take charge of her until she woke up. It was about then that word of the Spider-Titan began to spread. It wasn’t just Arthur and me. Everyone in Southport had dreamed of the thing, walking slowly from the ocean and peering down into their specific window. Everyone in Southport had felt the gaze of that nightmarish eye in the final moments before they woke. None of them had even thought of going back to sleep, and when one saw the great dark shape of the Victoria Rose lying on the beach, the others had been quick to follow.
No one felt right that day. We all felt as though we were being watched, and judged, by something mammoth and alien. Normally, the citizens of Southport kept to themselves, but today we gathered in hushed groups, outside the general store or the barbershop, on porches and streets. We didn’t talk, unless we absolutely had to. We just huddled, like minnows in the corners of a pond.
The girl from the boat woke up that evening. Her name was Eleanor Mayweather, and after a substantial meal half the town gathered in the Wilkins’ living room to listen to her story. I’ll take the liberty of repeating it here verbatim – God knows I’m not likely to forget it.
“You said your name was Eleanor, sweetheart?”
“How did you come to be on the Victoria Rose, Eleanor?”
She glanced at Mrs. Wilkins, looking slightly confused. “Daddy said we were going to America. Is this America?”
“Canada, but yes. Why?”
“They said it would be a long trip, but I didn’t know it would be this long.”
She paused, and after a moment Gavin Jones, the postmaster, broke in. “Where are your parents, kiddo?”
She looked at him. I think it was then that I realized that her eyes weren’t glowing anymore. “They’re dead.”
“What? How did they…”
“Mr. Pierce’s followers sacrificed them.”
“They had to. To feed the Naescus, you understand.”
“No, I don’t understand.” Mrs. Wilkins was talking again, now, but the entire room was murmuring to itself. “Your parents were sacrificed by a cult?”
“No, of course not. That would be silly. They were sacrificed by the sailors. There wasn’t a cult, whatever that is.”
I leaned in towards her. “Eleanor…What’s this Naescus thing?”
She looked at me, and I saw that her eyes may not have been glowing, but they were black. Black all the way through, like a horse’s eyes. “It fell from the sky. It was a ball, maybe this big.” She held her hands eighteen inches or so apart. “It was made of machinery, quite tiny and intricate machinery. And it ticked, and buzzed, and it made this sort of squelching noise, and all the little pieces of it moved around like ants on an ant-hill.”
“And what did it do?”
“At first, it ate people. The sailors had a big fight with the captain about it, and they killed him and sacrificed him to it, and it ate him. Then they killed anyone who said they were doing bad things, and it ate them too. Then one day, it stopped eating people, and it started talking to the people who weren’t dead. It told us…all sorts of things.” Very suddenly, she stopped talking.
“Things like what?”
“…Things like how to build the Beacon.”
We tried to try and coax out of her what the Beacon was, but she refused to say anything else. Eventually, we decided it would be better to leave her be, and so, one by one, we all went home and to bed.
I dreamed of the Spider-Titan again that night. The dream was almost the same – it walked up out of the ocean, it came to my window, it bent down to stare inside. But the creature itself was…different. More like an actual spider. It had eight legs, now, and eight eyes to replace that rotting pit. And though it still held its legs under itself, it walked with all of them, in a slow parody of a spider’s scuttle. But the real difference came at the end of the dream.
The first time, it had only stared at me until I woke up. This time, it watched me for a moment, its eyes somehow glowing black and casting shadows of their own accord, and then it began to speak. It didn’t move the clicking mandibles that had appeared on its armored face. It just…made noises. A high, repetitive beeping sound, and then a rising hum, and then a distorted wail. They weren’t sounds I recognized, at least not consciously. But they…did things to my brain. It was as though the Spider-Titan was playing my mind like a musical instrument. The noises themselves weren’t frightening or exiting, but they made me feel deep, uncontrollable fear and rushing, maddening exhilaration. I hadn’t even imagined that it was possible to manipulate a brain like that, but it could. And it only created emotions for a little while. Then it was creating images. The lighthouse. The ball of machinery Eleanor had described. A hot, fiery ball of light. Then it was creating ideas. There was a thing that must be built. A Beacon. It must be completed. There was no hurry, but it was the only thing that was important, that meant anything. Family, friends, lives – none of that mattered. Only the Beacon did. That was my life’s purpose.
And I woke up.
There was no checking the window, no wondering about what to do. Despite the similarity of my subsequent actions – throwing on clothes, grabbing a flashlight, meeting Arthur similarly equipped on the way downstairs – it didn’t feel similar. I knew what was going on, now. I knew that he did, too. We had to go to the boat, find out what was inside. It was foolish of us not to have done it yesterday. And then…we had to build the Beacon.
The rest of the town was there, and unlike my brother and me, they had thought through the task they were attempting. They had brought rope, grappling hooks, spare flashlights. By the time the Chevrolet had roared its way to the beach, they were already scaling the boat, and they welcomed our helping hands. Up onto the rotted, stinking deck we climbed, and saw things we couldn’t have yesterday.
Amid the hatches and masts and moldering wood, things had been built. Things built of rope and spare planks and rotted bits of corpses, all strung together between the masts. Things with intricate devices, built out of wood that must have taken unbelievable effort to shave down into such delicate shapes. None of it moved, or looked like it could move. It looked like a crude attempt at building something that the people of the ship simply could not. But at the time, we thought little more of it than an irritation as we ducked through it and made our way to a hatch.
We found things, in the depths of that ship…I can’t bring myself to repeat them here. It was partly the things themselves, for they were horrible. But it was partly my own reactions to the things, and the reactions of the others, that sicken me. What kind of person doesn’t so much as shudder to see human bodies, warped and malformed and fused to the flesh on the walls, still breathing? What kind of mind ignores that stench, the mutilated skeletons that littered the floors, the faint sensation of something huge and alive sequestered away in the hold? What kind of human being walks up to that thing, that insane mass of technology that a child’s description could never hope to convey, that pulsing, throbbing, stinking mass of reddish flesh behind it, with the eye of the Spider-Titan staring at us from among the tentacles and digested faces, and instead of fleeing or going mad, bows down in supplication before it? What kind of creature…accepts its gift?
I cannot bear to remember such things for much longer. I must continue.
After we left that boat, we knew what we had to do. The Spider-Titan had told us in dreams what our purpose was, and the Naescus had told us how to accomplish it. Every man, woman, and child in the town of Southport took any kind of technology they had – the flashlights we had used so much, computers and cell phones and appliances, mechanical things ripped from outlets and the walls of houses – and loaded it into the cars which would soon suffer the same fate. And then we drove to Lighthouse Point. And we built the Beacon.
I don’t know how long we spent at it. Weeks? Months? Years, perhaps? Hunger never seemed to be more than a trifling issue, thirst an irritation at best. Sleep we needed, and sleep we took. And each night, the Spider-Titan came up from the sea. Each time, it was in a form more familiar, more believable. Each time, it spoke. And it told us things.
It told us what the C’zathari do every seven thousand years beneath the moons of Tyrnach. It told us for what purpose the Tlimarch and the Shorol undertake their bizarre rituals, and why they need human beings to use in them. It told us what had brought the great Empire of Tsu Llin to ruin, and why the mind-devices still survive in its catacombs. It told us what had truly brought the Kallith Entity to Earth. It told us many truths about the dark places between the stars, and the places which many would rather not see those stars shed light upon. We came to both fear and love these dreams, this knowledge. And gradually, it blended together with those days, working the block and tackle to bring up some new device or appliance, tearing it to pieces with the unfeeling precision of hunting ants, creating things that none of us had the expertise to create. It was good that the lighthouse was maintained primarily for sentimental reasons, because it soon ceased to shed any light that a ship’s crew in their right mind would want to look at.
There were incidents, of course. Sometimes, someone would come to their senses, realize how insane this was. Poor Parker Jones was first. He asked us why we were doing this, why we were working ourselves to the bone to build some contraption for a dream spider and a mass of flesh in the hold of a boat. He refused to work, made to descend the ladder to the ground.
We caught him, hauled him back up, and threw him over the railing and down into the sea. We didn’t feel anger, or righteous justice. We didn’t kill him for revenge, or to make an example of him. Nor did we apologize for our actions that were out of our control. He was simply not going to assist the work anymore, and so the most efficient course of action was the most permanent one.
It would be so easy, now, to say that I participated only because of peer pressure, or at gunpoint. But I didn’t. I threw myself as wholeheartedly into the project as everyone else. I connected car engines to generators. I created electrical devices that I should have had no ability to even understand, and wrote computer programs to modulate the flows of horrific things. I stood there in the middle of the long nights and watched as the sickening light of the Beacon poured from cracks and impromptu lamps, light of such a color that it seemed to bypass the eyes and shed itself directly onto the soul. Again, I have no idea how long it took. But finally, finally, it was done.
It seemed only fitting to let little Eleanor activate it. She had brought us this enlightenment, after all. We stood there, watching, feeling the quadruple-heartbeat of the Naescus through our feet, watching those lights spin and boil and burn. And then…she pressed the button.
There was a roar of unimaginable volume and pitch and tone, a gargantuan vomiting of howling, maddening light and fire. Those near to the blast were wholly burned away, disintegrating before they knew what was happening. I nearly was, but enough of me stayed intact that I could watch what happened next.
Up rose the Naescus, in a twisted mass of pale fire and shed human flesh. For an instant, there was the Spider-Titan, there in its original form, with that horrific eye staring, staring. Then the Naescus was opening, expanding into a spidery network of flesh, but not the human flesh it had used before. Flesh that nothing should have, nothing could have, unfolding into an almost skeletal, million-jointed mass, a mass that pulsed and throbbed with light. Brighter and brighter it grew, and the sound that accompanied it grew as well, until my eardrums suddenly gave out with an excruciating pop. And yet, deafened as I was, I still watched it as it rose, its form completely obscured now by the light. And as the light burned my retinas to the point of never being usable again, as it disappeared and the light and heat suddenly died, the damage that I had taken took its toll. I fell, unconscious and never to wake again.
She pressed the button. There was a roar of light for an instant, and then it fizzled out. Something had gone wrong. No. Something was missing.
Everything. Everything was still there. Except…the reaching tendrils of the horrific mass of flesh didn’t connect to anything. A ring in the superstructure, eighteen inches wide, was empty. The Naescus was gone.
There was an overwhelming sense of emptiness, of failure. Some of us ran to the railing and threw ourselves into the sea. Poor Arthur was one of them. Others collapsed into the fetal position, screaming and sobbing. I was one of them.
It took us a long time to come to terms with it. The meaning of our lives was gone. We had literally put everything we had into this machine. What could we do now? What good would anything we could do be?
Gradually, one by one, we dispersed. We had used our cars in the creation of the Beacon, and we didn’t have the knowledge anymore to remove them, so we walked. We walked to the nearest town, took trains, looked for jobs. We tried to return to our normal lives. But I see things, in the newspapers. Suicides, with names I recognize. And I don’t think they’ve got the wrong idea.
See, I’ve discovered something. The Naescus’s gift stayed with me. I barely need to eat or drink. I don’t age at all. And the idea that I’m going to have to live forever with the things I’ve seen, the knowledge of what’s still up there in that lighthouse…
I hope no one ever reads this. I wrote it more for my own peace of mind than anything else. I had to tell someone, even if it was no one. Especially if it was no one.
And please, don’t pity me. This is a relief. No longer will I have to dream echoes of the Spider-Titan.
Written by StalkerShrike