A learned man once stated that if you looked into the abyss for too long, it might stare back at you. I'm paraphrasing of course, yet the idea of two eyes popping out of a well and staring up at you sends chills down my spine. For reasons I'm hesitant to look into.
I considered this as I stood on the railing overlooking the garden beneath my friend William’s estate. Total darkness fell a couple of feet over the balcony. For all I knew the stone-cobbled pathway I took to get here might as well have not existed. The estate, a massive brick thing overgrown with moss and spattered with old dew, was a lonesome giant. The damned thing was so decrepit and curving from old age, it actually hid the stars and moon directly above my head with its spiked shingles. The numerous five foot tall windows arched up and ended in unapologetic marble spikes.
“Enjoying the view?” a voice suddenly chimed next to me. I jumped and turned towards Will who was standing there smirking in amusement.
“Jesus Christ, I keep asking you not to do that. And not really, I can’t see shit.”
William crossed his arms and looked over the railing. “I kind of like it. It reminds me how much more exploring there is to get done.” He didn’t look cold at all despite only wearing a vest, and here I was freezing my ass off in a bomber and hat. Chicago’s capricious chill could never prepare me for this place.
He gestured back inside, where a few chairs and a comforting glow beckoned nicely. “I’ve got some tea ready! This time I even found some sugar in the cupboards downstairs.” I remembered actually passing the kitchen and noticing a long stringy cobweb dripping down from the center of the ceiling.
“Sure, I’m game," I lied, trying not to imagine the web dipping into my drink. My philosophy dictates I can’t deny food at a host's house, mostly because the idea of offending them brings me far more terror than the idea of getting food poisoned.
Inside we sank into the seats and the outside ceased to be, purple tendrils of chill gently rolling against the windows. Shadows beamed down from the tops of the many bookshelves pressed hastily against the walls. Underneath us, reddish brown floorboards groaned under the slightest pressure, giving the impression there was nothing but air underneath. I don’t think William even knows who originally owned the estate, and I never asked him: he just sort of settled down in it right after we first met -so he tells me- and has stayed here ever since. It was rare that I saw him outside the mansion, so this first visit was a bit of a shock to my sensibilities. Every couple of minutes something would clatter, scitter, or creak somewhere in the ancient walls and Will would freeze at attention and listen for it. Something told me he wasn’t concerned as much as curious. I sure as hell didn't feel the same. I had been absent-mindedly pushing my teaspoon around and watching the pulpy bits spin around.
“I can tell you’re uncomfortable here. Sorry about that. I’m really trying to make a good first impression,” he spoke earnestly. There was something mildly annoying about Will’s voice. I always got the impression he had something important to say but never got around to saying it. Really, it's kind of surprising we’re friends at all, but I guess even the most steadfast relationships come from shaky beginnings.
We met on my campus months ago during December, after I had just gotten over a staggeringly difficult period in my life. I tried to keep away the heaviness I felt by digging my nose into anatomy books and art history catalogs. In the library, I saw William watching me when he thought I wasn’t looking. At some point I walked over and demanded he cut it out, and the little shit stuck his hand out, smiled and offered his name. He was interested in obscure history, philosophy and the like. Could’ve been about my age, or older. Or younger. It was hard to tell. I couldn’t even figure out his ethnicity; what the hell kind of a last name is See?
“It’s a little late for first impressions,” I chortled. “But for what it’s worth I kinda like this whole spooky shtick you got going on.”
He smiled widely. “Of course! I love it, I feel so cozy.” Will's eyes narrowed at me for a second, observing me closely. We were seated quite a little distance from each other, just beyond where I couldn't see his pupils clearly. I chuckled nervously as he finally broke contact and glanced at the bookshelf where hundreds of untouched volumes silently sat. "Do you like scary things, Jake?" he asked.
"Yeah, I do. I think fear is pretty healthy when you get down to it," I responded. "That little jolt in your ticker or your gut can do you some good when something really bad comes along." That's another thing that sort of connected us: a love of horror literature. We spent many a sleepless night swapping obscure horror stories before I passed out mid conversation. Often I would wake in the morning and message him, only to have him continue the conversation as if neither of us had slept. On that note, I don't think I've ever seen him on a PC either. Will never struck me as a 'modern' guy.
“You know, we always ask why things are scary, but we never ask how things are scary," he said abruptly. I immediately thought of the meme and tried not to laugh. Knowing him, he was being totally sincere with that remark. See? Totally different personalities. How we ended up as friends was beyond me.
Will nodded. As we sank deeper into our mushy chairs, he put down the teacup and splayed his fingers, long and untouched by the sun. He sank back into the darkness of the chair, obscuring his face, and said “that wasn’t a philosophical question, Jake. There is a very real, very physical process behind the horror of things.”
“You mean like, how a cannibal stabs and eats someone? Or how the sight of a bunch of holes makes you think of bugs ‘n stuff. And your brain says ‘ew, I don’t like that thought, I’m gonna suppress that’?”
He ignored my quips and jumped up to grab a book, swiping it down and landing without a sound. Swiftly he dropped the booklet into my lap and asked me to read. As I turned the pages, I read what appeared to be a strange story about a hurricane tearing through the United States.
This is a severe weather alert being broadcasted at the request of the national weather service. At approximately 0700 hours CST an unusual tropical storm was located 900 miles off the east coast of the United States. The storm is unusual in that it appears to be made of canine appendages and tissue and is rapidly approaching inland with significant turbulence...
I looked up after I was done, left with a vague sense of unease. I was no stranger to horror, but the short entry had me feeling...off. As if I had been witness to a confession of sorts. “Uh. What is this?” I asked. He took the book back and put it back on a shelf.
“Did this story happen?” he asked.
I looked at him and scoffed. “Dude, there’s a reason these things are called ‘stories’. Geez man, I took you for an intellectual, not a moron.”
“And a madman?” He retorted. That one shut me up. William was definitely out of his gourd, but not in a way you could see. It was a dangerous sort of unknown, like a...I don’t know, an unplanned variable. An inconsistency.
“Jacob,” he said slowly. “This story actually happened.” I might have spit out the tea, laughed and just left then and there, and I should have. I should’ve forgot he even existed and went on with my life. But things don’t always go the way we want, and due to my tendency to entertain eccentric individuals, I stayed. “...Care to explain?”
And so he did.
“All of reality is tied together by concepts that are not totally real. We simply agree upon what they mean and tie words to them. Love, life, death, atoms even. Some of them are fairly easy to explain with science and logic, but they don’t get down to the fundamental truth of things, not one hundred percent.”
Will walked over to the window and pulled back the curtain. The orange warmth of inside and purple chill of outside pushed against each other, and for one stomach-bubbling moment the outside seemed to win. “Everything is tied down to this same blackness. Every world, every story, every idea comes from this place. The Abyss. A place of pure potential.” Those last words he spoke quietly.
“We invented words, my man. Words and concepts and monsters,” I responded. “Movies like The Thing didn’t happen, there is no Swamp-thing, and there is no Bigfoot. There's no spirits.” I paused, then added, “Amityville 2005 didn’t happen either, I’d like to think.”
“Words have power, friend. Words have power. Much like the Abyss they can be used to shape reality to whatever you desire. For example, did you know this mansion exists in an isolated state from the rest of the world?” he stated. “Come see for yourself.” I snorted. Was that supposed to be a philosophical statement? I couldn't get behind his nonsense logic, and yet I found myself entranced by the way he spoke that I felt obliged to follow.
As I got up to look out the window, I felt the smug pull of cognizance wash over me. I realized, as I gazed over the black expanse now pushing against the window, that there had never been a balcony to begin with. Even the cold I thought I remembered from earlier seemed to disappear. Instead there was just a vague static cling to my skin. “Where’s the balcony? And where the fuck are the stars?” There were no celestial bodies visible either. No moon.
Something in my head clicked and I realized there never were. In fact...there never was a grass and stone path leading up to this mansion. I could only remember William giving me an address and time, and that was it. Just a few blank memories after. As I rushed to the opposite side of the room, I numbly recognized the estate was floating in a black void. And I was trapped inside. I turned towards William slowly, who was observing me through slit eyes. I got the impression he wasn’t amused by my sudden suffering, again, more so inquisitive. It confused and angered me.
“Since you clearly spiked my tea with something. What stupid philosophical point are you trying to make” was all I could muster between gritted teeth. Fight or flight was kicking in and I briefly considered if he’d fight back if I tried punching him: he certainly didn’t seem like a combative type, but then again, he also didn’t seem like someone you could easily intimidate.
There was a pause before he continued. “As I said before, all horror narratives are tied together. I can see these narratives laid out like pages in a book. It comes from the law of the Universe, the inky strings that hold together all worlds considers fiction and non-fiction one and the same. The deeper into these stories you go, the more tenebrous the differences between our world and the world of horror become. The more horror writers become seers as opposed to fiction-makers".
“How do you know, huh? What book could give you this knowledge?” I fished. I wanted to see him crack a little, to suddenly start laughing it off as a joke. There was no way he was selling me this shit, not while I’m high. I didn’t want to end up brainwashed and hungover on the side of the road back home. Possibly touched inappropriately. I wanted this to be a massive prank.
Will smiled and gestured at the bookcases behind him. “All of them, Jake. I’ve been to all of these worlds and I saw. My name is William See for a reason.”
And as I watched, he held out his arms in a self-aggrandized genuflection. Another insight wave hit me as I noticed that I never quite knew what Will’s face looked like: in my mind, when we first met on that cold winter day on my campus, he had simply appeared to be another student, eager to learn and interested in the same general crap I was into.
But I now knew. He wasn’t human. As I looked, his face ‘slid’ off, leaving only a black pool in the center. The pool reoriented into a crude facsimile of a face, with two perfectly circular wells of ink dripping onto the floor and a thin, Cheshire smile stretching across a vaguely humanoid, pale head. The eyes - round and almost planar - had a dazzling static quality about them, as if they were rotating so fast you couldn’t tell. This is definitely at least partially my fault, I thought, considering how many horror flicks I watched before bed the day prior. I sat down quickly, not realizing I had kicked over my teacup. It was empty.
“I apologize for the zealous display,” he said brusquely as he walked behind the seat, placing a hand on either side from behind. “I forget your kind aren’t used to what feels natural for me.”
“...What the fuck are you, why are you doing this to me?” I mouthed breathlessly. I was panicking and he could tell because he quickly walked over back to his own chair and sat down as if to put me at ease. In my mind, this thing essentially just kidnapped me, drugged me and started preaching about nonsense. About scary stories being real. And I was in one.
“I’m not human, Jake. Never have been. Though, I might’ve felt human things at some points, but I’m still trying to work it all out. How to talk normally and behave normally. I sort of have the face thing down when I try”. He smiled slightly and for a moment I expected the seams at his lips to once again split open like a miniature fault line.
I eyed him warily.
“I wasn’t trying to frighten you, dear friend. And I am not lying. I needed a companion, someone I can confide in. I’ve been watching you for some time now, to get to understand your kind better. It gets so lonely out here and I worry sometimes that I’ll never be able to share this wealth of knowledge with anyone. And you proved to me all those weeks ago that you are thirsty for knowledge, the same as I am. Is that not true?”
I stopped my violently bouncing knee and stared where the black pool had fallen from William’s eyes. The puddle was gone now. “I can take you to the edges of the universe and beyond. Show you the tiniest details and grandest schemes created by gods. And have you back for dinner, if we’ve taken our fill of knowledge.”
Before me was an opportunity to try something totally new. I had no choice but to agree, I DID want to see the universe in its totality. It was something I’ve dreamed about since I could interpret my own dreams at all. He was dead serious. Despite the fact that the horrid black pools had once again been replaced with his inconspicuous male face, the outside remained submerged in total blackness and deep in my heart, I knew this was my new reality. He had manipulated it simply by speaking. It was all real.
“What else can you show me,” I spoke at length.
“Here,” he said. “Come try this one out”.
Another book was dropped into my lap, this time fairly thin. As I read the first couple of lines, it dawned on me with further unease that this book had been detailing my entire time spent here, up from when I first met William to right now, as he handed me the book. I looked up at him and he urged me to continue reading, nodding slightly. The words had bled into ink on the page, falling down halfway into a thin puddle.
No, not a puddle. It was a hole. As I looked deeper and deeper in, I saw with inexplicable telescopic vision the mansion I was in, brick and moss and all, floating in the infinite Abyss. And in the windows of the first floor I saw myself, holding a book. A book with a hole, with a mansion inside, with another me holding another book with another hole, and another and another and-
I slammed it shut and put it down. I dared not look up and out the window for fear of what I’d see. William quietly put the book down and stood by me as I put my face into my hands.
“The truth can be scary, friend. But that doesn’t mean we have to embrace it alone.”
“Y-yeah, don’t mind me, uh, just uh...had my world view shattered is all. No biggie…” I mumbled through my fingers.
“Every single bit of fiction you’ve watched or read was once a normal place filled with normal humans like you. But something changed these narratives, made them into something abhorrent. And I don’t know what the cause is. Will you help me discover the cause?” He stuck his hand out. I don’t know if it was an attempt to apologize or if he meant me to take it as a yes. But either way, after a little deliberation, I took it. His fingers were as cold as ice. I considered the bookcase behind us filled to the brim with stories and history. How much of it was thought to be fiction? How much of it actually happened? Did this mean that I was just a story too? It made my head shudder uncontrollably to think about.
“Not many people get this chance. Explore the universe. Ehh…multiverse? I’d be an idiot not to take it,” I finally conceded.
William nodded, betraying some grimness in his expression. “Then that’s as good an answer as any. I’ll try to make the journey as safe and...educational as possible. There’s a lot to be wary of in this place, do not treat this like a school field trip.” As we both looked down at the paperback he handed me previously, I flipped back to the page with the hole. It was still there, but with text to match the most recent events. I swallowed the hairy knot growing in my throat.
Over the last few months we took the precautions needed to enter this new reality William spoke of, this supposed ‘Abyss of Ideas’. I can’t speak of all the rules and dangers of the Abyss and how it shapes the world, my world: it's simply too much to recollect right now. My life is now being dictated by paper and pen instead of schoolwork. Not that I’m necessarily complaining. The things Will has shown me as a prelude of what’s to come are so mind-bendingly terrible and vast, I sometimes imagine only madmen and scientists with equally unshakable resolve would be able to take it all at face value without devolving into a sobbing mess. Can’t say I’m faring any better though. Life just isn’t the same as it used to be since I met him.
I get the feeling that no matter how hard I try to run. No matter how much of the truth I try to redact or joke about or draw to cope, the hole will be there in that flimsy paperback until it dots the end of my story.
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As recorded within The Estate