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The Darkling Plain
(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)

Page 1

We all called him, among ourselves, the Madman. Not to his face; there the Madman was always the Professor, or if one of us was in the mood to be facile, the Doctor Professor. He never realised it was sarcasm.

The Madman wasn’t really mad; he just lived in a kind of world of his own, incredibly disconnected from the rest of us. He hadn’t the faintest idea – or interest – in such things as food or politics or sports. It wasn’t as if he was totally immersed in some esoteric branch of science, like one of those absent-minded professors of history; he had strange and intense interest in subjects like pharmacology and neurology, but also in demonology and mythology. Sometime I felt the worlds of chemicals and demons were much more immediate and real to him than the food he ate and the clothes he wore. But he was unmarried and apparently without all interest in the opposite or even his own sex; he lived alone and worked as it suited him to work.

He was tall, thin, dark and bushy-haired, with buck teeth and thick spectacles. Nobody quite knew how he earned his livelihood. He always seemed to have enough to live well, in his old house with the floor-to-ceiling bookcases and the laboratory where he performed strange experiments which none of us quite understood, despite our own varying academic backgrounds.

Once or twice a month, summer and winter, he would summon a few of us for a Kaffeeklatsch at his house, and because the food was good and the drinks (including coffee) excellent, we’d go and sit there while he held forth. Some of us actually even listened to him, and it was these few that would get return invites, which proved that he actually noticed whether people were paying any attention.

Then one evening, while we were leaving, he said something that stopped us in our tracks. “I won’t be holding these parties for a while,” he said, peering at us through the thick spectacles like the bottoms of bottles. “I’m working on something...anyway, you’ll know when I’m ready to tell you.”

It was many weeks before the Madman called again. “Come without fail,” he said on the phone, and he sounded strange. “I have something to say that you ought to hear.”

There were only three of us that night with him – all three had been re-invited for every session, right from the beginning. It was the smallest party he had ever invited. “Sit down,” he said, pointing. He looked thinner than ever, and tired. “Coffee’s on the table. No alcohol tonight. You’ll need your concentration.”

 He sat down opposite us, locked his hands round one knee, and began.

You know (the Madman said) all about my interest in the lore of demonology. You might even say it’s not so much an interest as an obsession. I think you – all three of you – think of demons as imaginary, even more so than gods and angels, all of which none of you believe in. And by your reckoning you should be right.

I knew different though. I knew, and the more I read and researched the more certain I grew, that the world of demons lies right beside ours, so close indeed that we do not see it only because we choose not to, or because our senses are crippled in such a way that we can’t notice it even when it’s there. The ancient books that spoke of summoning up demons with rituals, I grew convinced, were only a thinly disguised prescription for enabling our senses to see what was already there...for a time.

I grew, as you may imagine, determined to try.

I experimented. I tried to find the essences of the chemicals that would release the consciousness and let us see what there was to see, for of course I knew that the rituals were all window dressing. What really mattered were the chemicals, whether inhaled or injected or applied as an unguent to the genital mucous membrane. And of the chemicals, most were undoubtedly unnecessary and even harmful. So I set out to find the chemicals and the doses that actually worked.

It wasn’t easy. I had setback after setback, and made blunder after blunder. Twice chemical mixtures I thought would work failed unexpectedly, but i never gave up, because I knew, was completely certain, that I was on the right track.

[ Continue to page 2 ]

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Genre:General Horror
Type:Short story
Rating:6.66 / 10
Rated By:40 users
Comments: 3 users
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