The Shadow in the Blue
by D. D. Heckman
Alone—quintessentially, unutterably alone was I in that unknown city of tomb-like silence and profoundest primal mystery, and in my tortured brain there strove, like mad galloping stallions, two obsessions contrariwise: that I might find in this nighted grave-palace the solace of another living thing, and stark shuddering terror at what such a thing might be. For no being sane or healthy could be born and live among the titan accolades of that delirious, azure-tinged phantasy, yet the gnawing fear of being so alone—alone in the absolutest of silence amongst the crazily-angled structures whose crumbling outlines were so monstrously suggestive of an ordered school of architecture beyond any human conception—drove me to nearly crave the soul-shriveling presence of some being unnamed and unnameable.
I know not how I came to the nightmare blue ruins, whether in dream or some forgotten misguided quest in the waking world, nor did I know why I was compelled to wander its fear-shrouded boulevards, save that somewhere in my subconscious mind there lurked some daemoniacally insistent question, something that I had expunged from my sober, conscious reckoning, yet now tried desperately but unsuccessfully to recall. That perverse impulse drove my quivering steps, my footfalls queerly silent as though the ruins sought to actively defend their aeon-spanning quietude. Shiveringly I crept down the broad, rough expanse that could be nothing if not a massive street, on either side flanked by those blighted structures that defied all rational categorization.
They were of no school of architecture practiced or even theorized anywhere on Earth, nor did they resemble even the fantastical whimsies of futurists and poets. They were not random, but had an unmistakable cohesion, such that they belonged to a definite and organized schema wholly alien to the run of humanity. The arch, and arch-shaped windows, were of prime importance, piercing the bizarrely-angled walls of the edifices and varying from small to unsettlingly large. I did not wish to ponder the vague suggestion of what beings might have looked or passed through such gargantuan arches. Of doors or shutters there were none, each portal staring nakedly like the eyes of a strangled corpse. The buildings were roughly rectangular, formed of sheer undifferentiated slabs of white stone—nowhere was a suggestion of mortar or bricks or even the marks of any sort of tool. God! By what inconceivable hand were these singular cyclopean monoliths carved and placed? Strangely, what remained of them in nearly every instance was a high front wall of thick white stone, facing the broad avenue, propped up behind by a lower wall perpendicular to the corner of the facade. It was as though a large rectangular tower had partially crumbled, leaving one wall at its original stupendous height but the other wall abutting it greatly diminished—yet there was no sign of collapse or degradation, and the pattern was too constant to suggest random ruination. Were these ungodly constructions untouched by the ages? Was this incomprehensible blue-tinged necropolis not a thing of loathsome antiquity after all, but a place where unknown entities built and maintained their insane structures until very recently?
Between these slab-like towers, each with a huge arched doorway yawning at ground level, high off the ground there were thin flat planes of stone connecting the sides of the structures like bridges, yet when these narrow bridge-like connections reached the sides of the slabs there was no doorway or ingress of any sort. Although the rectilinear slabs were askance at mad angles the thin bridges held them fast. In places these bridge-like protrusions seemed cut short, such that they reached into the void between the rectangles. I again thought of decay, but these abortive bridges were as pristine as all the rest of the abominable structures, gleaming white in the outré sapphire radiance of the haunted night. For what schizophrenic purpose were they constructed so?
I staggered past these mind-wracking colossi, the desolate silence oppressing me and the inexplicable tint of blue forming its own maddening diversion. The sky was a deep rich cobalt that almost, but imperfectly, suggested the depth of night, but of an unnatural vividness. The ground below me was a light powder-blue, and the white stone reflected bluely as the beams of a white blank crescent moon struck them. Here and there I saw the only motes of a color not drenched in blue—small shriveled stalks with irregular five-pointed flowers of a dull pink color. It gave me small satisfaction to see life—or something presumably living—here in this soundless citadel of nameless fear and mystery.
As I grew accustomed to the grotesqueness of the demented architecture I felt more and more keenly the crushing weight of my solitude. I would have cried out or laughed maniacally, simply to try and hear a familiar sound, but some indescribable and unconquerable dread prevented me from attempting to break the sepulchral stillness of that infernal place. And still the half-remembered, fragmentary, unknown question impelled me forward, mocking and beckoning from the dim edges of my memory.
I must have been in some kind of reverie or fugue, stumbling forward and gazing without seeing. The horror did not come upon me as I rounded some blind corner and peered down a nighted alleyway, nor did it lurk within the menacing and obscenely proportioned arched entrances to those nonsensical buildings. It stood bluntly unconcealed in the center of that oddly wide boulevard, such that I could not possibly have been unable to see it until I was somehow, mercilessly, snapped out of the daze that I must have been in. Like a bolt of lightning at once I saw it: the long-awaited and unguessed-at monstrosity that I somehow longed and loathed to encounter.
That it was an animate creature there could be no doubt. In outline it was quite anthropoid, but in spite of its familiar construction its features repelled me with inexpressible disgust. To the basic humanoid outline was admixed several avian features, principally the covering of its body in pitch-black feathers or down. The torso was a sort of gently tapering cone topped by a ridge of gossamer feathers. The unnaturally slender legs ended in bird-like three-toed feet, but the arms, as grotesquely attenuated as the legs, ended in what were unmistakably human-like hands, though covered in more of its awful black plumage. Its long narrow neck supported a round head with long, parrot-like beak, but even this, devoid of feathers, was utterly black. Of its facial features I hesitate to even speak, for there were none: Only a sardonic blackness born of the nethermost shadows. Indeed, like a shadow, it seemed this tenebrous bird-ape eidolon was at least partially insubstantial, and the pale azure light from the wavering febrile moon seemed to pass through the creature. It was like an ink drawing hastily rendered with a semi-dry brush, with haphazard gaps in its very substance.
At its presence I was paralyzed with primordial, all-consuming fright. Was it a lone survivor of the nameless race that had built this city of crazily-angled, idiotic, stupefying buildings? Was it some carrion scavenger come to feast upon a dead world, deriving some kind of ghoulish sustenance from the cryptic emptiness of the city...or from bewildered and half-hypnotized travelers like myself? Or was it a shadow given life by the sheer diabolical eldritch menace of these blue-haunted ruins—a shadow cast by that slim and unnaturally blank white mocking moon?
It and I had been motionless for a brief second’s worth of agonizing eternity. I dared not twitch, but merely awaited its action, cringing as if in expectation of a blow. Then, to my ultimate horror, it moved; and produced a gesture, a sign, that shocked me afresh and to my very core in spite of all the psychical outrage—the unnatural angles, the enigmatic buildings, the deathly silence, the omnipresent and sinister cerulean lambency, and the unholy appearance of the thing itself—that had inundated me.
For its sign was no mystical gesture, not the Elder Sign nor the Supplication of Rhog-Maggoar nor the blasphemous hand-language of the tongueless subhuman priests of Cknaat. It was simply a slow and measured raising of its right hand, palm forward, with a slight motion away from the trunk of its body—a human gesture of greeting or acknowledgement.
And with that final shuddering brutalization of my tortured mind, my rational being failed utterly and I was hurled backward into the unthinking, unreasoning blackness of the protean subconscious mind, roiling with inchoate terror and formless associations and nightmarish chains of logic heretofore unthinkable. And in my ancient pandemoniac fear at last there burst forth thunderously the brooding and insidious question that I could not consciously articulate, that I dared not consciously seek, but which had guided my every move through this hellish nightmare realm until at last I had come upon that shadow in the blue.
And the question was this:
With much appreciation to
and the fair use laws of
the United States of America
Stay tuned for “THE SHADOW IN THE BLUE II: THE CALL OF JIBBOOHLU”.