THE NOCTURNE CHAMBER
by Samuel Canerday
I entered the bar late, late enough that the crowds had thinned out and only the stragglers remained. The speakers were droning some barely intelligible music, which was just loud enough to drown out the murmurs of the patrons there. Taking a seat at the bar next to a grizzled old man nursing a drink, I ordered a shot of whiskey and gulped it down, surveying the bar as my eyes watered from the sting. There were two other groups of people, two men at a table in the corner, and a man and woman in a booth on the side. Then there was the man next to me. He was the man I had come for, though he did not know it. I ordered another drink, and ordered another round for the man as well. He looked at me with surprise, and I raised my shot in a toast.
He asked if I knew him from somewhere, and I said no. Just feeling in a generous mood tonight. He looked me up and down slowly, then nodded. He toasted back to me, and I asked as he lowered his glass what he did. He said he was a miner, worked for some big corporation. Regular work doing excavations and such. I expressed interest, and asked what the most amazing thing he had ever dug up was. He chuckled, said that he’d found handfuls of gold, gems, riches beyond your dreams. I shook my head, expressing my dismay. I claimed that these were not great things, as they did not stick with you. Something great sticks with you to the day you die, it can’t be spent and gone in a week.
His expression darkened a bit here, and he seemed to be recalling something with a slight measure of panic in his demeanor. I eyed him carefully, cleared my throat, and asked if he had thought of something. He took a nervous sip of his drink, then nodded and stared me dead in the eyes. There was this one dig they did, he said. The land had once been lived on by natives, and it was expected they would find a few mementos of that. But one day, as they dug down, deeper than fifty feet, they found a cavern, long since caved in. Searched around, got some debris out. He stopped again here, and swallowed.
Then, he said, they found the stone. It was dark, the deepest black he had ever seen. It didn’t have the luster of obsidian, or the hardness of onyx. It was almost like a liquid, dense and deep. When they found it, they all gathered round, touched it, marveled at it. Then, the lights went out. He said he felt that he was suddenly weightless, floating, his mind wandering off into some sort of dream. He could feel something now, that he had arrived somewhere, and he knew he was meant to see what would be there. His voice was slightly frantic now, and his eyes were wet.
He told me that, in this supposed dream, he was scrambling around in the dark. The stone ground and gravel he tread on was cold, but the air was somewhat warm. He could feel the temperature rising, as well as a sort of dim light that slowly revealed his surroundings. In that grey twilight, he saw shapes. They were tall, very tall, and slender. He said they looked like people on stilts, almost. Long, ponderous limbs that waddled forward, pure black and hazy, like smoke. As the atmosphere continued to illuminate slowly, he said he saw more of the creatures, tens, hundreds, more, wandering across derelict plains of cruel stone that stretched on interminably to horizons unseen.
He paused his story there, and swallowed nervously. He turned away for a few moments, and gulped down his glass of beer. Since his silence seemed as if it would continue if left alone, I pressed him for more, asking if he saw anything else in the dream. He breathed in deep and closed his eyes, muttering the rest of the tale quickly, as if trying to get it out and away from him as soon as he could.
The light was even bright, he said, and he wondered at its source. So he turned around, and saw he was at the edge of a great cliff, one that yawned into such a cavernous abyss as to suck in all light, dense as a black liquid settled down below. But out of that blackness arose a horrible shape, glowing within itself with an arcane light stained red by the flesh that contained it.
His words were coming out even quicker now, and they seemed to cause him greater pain. His face kept twitching with every breath, as if wincing away from something.
It was beating. I realized my mouth was agape, and closed it quickly. He said the shape was an enormous heart, covered in giant, awful eyes, which peered in every direction with their horrifying gaze. He knew they were eyes. But they had such black centers, all pupil with no iris to speak of, deep and inky like the abyss that spanned below them. He had a thought then, but he said he could not explain it. I asked him to try, and he shrugged, pausing for a moment to think.
The thought was like a realization, a slight one that he noticed in that
dim, oppressive place under the abyssal heart. The darkness was watching. That chasm was alive, it was sentient, and it mocked life with this form it took in order to watch, and to judge, the awkward shuffling of the shades damned to wander this plane beyond the span of eons. He knew all of this, he said, in that single moment, for there was no lie in that place. Then the light hit his eyes, and he woke up in the barracks the dig team was staying at. Everyone else was there too. Not a single one mentioned the stone, or if they had also had the dream.
He finished the rest of his beer and placed some cash on the counter of the bar. As he stood up and pulled on his jacket, I asked him if it was still watching, that thing. He faltered for a moment at the door, before pushing it open and stepping out. He didn’t look back at me, but he said that he didn’t know what such darkness could hope to see. I smiled at this, and decided to stay at the bar for a while longer.
From what I could tell, this was a similar phenomenon from what I had come to expect. The content of the dream was different, but it still involved some sort of dream-like quality, as well as interaction with some sort of object. It was as if that mysterious object, in the man’s story, a stone, or the crimson door I had heard so many rumors about, were links to that plane. A physical gateway to teleport a person beyond the physical, a link anchored in this reality. That it appeared, I knew, but where, as well as when, were beyond my current knowledge.
But it was my only hope to find them.