the withering man, Part 9
I see you
I only started to research Withertongue that night as a distraction. To keep from pulling my hair out, or going crazy. That’s funny, when I put it like that. The only thing worse than not getting what you want is getting it. Because I found him.
I’m getting ahead of myself.
During the two hours after the news report every single person who lived in Caldwell texted me. Or emailed me. Or PMed me on Facebook. At least that’s what it felt like.
Meizhang Lin: But is he actually a suspect?
Dantre: the eyes of a killer? no way!
Natasha Jhadav: No one is saying anything! Is it driving you crazy? My dad knows something but he won’t tell me.
Mom: Isn’t that the teacher you like? That’s terrible.
Adam: Are you okay? Do you need me to come home? I can tell Steve and Nilla to screw themselves.
They were all desperate for information, just like I was. But no one had any. So everyone was confused, angry and frustrated.
I even stooped so low as to check out the dreaded Caldwell High School community forum. I spent over an hour wading through parents ranting that they always knew Mr. Clarkson was no good, the posts and counter-arguments of a new group apparently started by Juanita Menendez called “Vigil for the Innocent” designed to stand up for Mr. Clarkson, and random rants about “the children.” The only useful scrap of information I found was a post on page 16 by principal Harris.
In this country we are innocent until proven guilty. No charges have been filed. The administration and the school board stand by James Clarkson, and are confident he will be fully acquitted of all wrongdoing.
That was pretty ballsy of Our Faire Principal, considering how much of an asshat he would look like if Mr. Clarkson actually was guilty. My respect for Mr. Harris raised the tiniest smidgen. Did it mean he knew that Mr. Clarkson had an alibi? I hoped so. But still. Page 16? Didn’t this stupid forum client have a sticky feature? Were they trying to drive everybody crazy?
The only person with any actually useful information was Derrick. I sent him a frantic email about it, and he got back to me quickly.
Re: The man in custody
Sorry it took so long to get back to you after this morning. As you can see, it’s been a busy day. The information you sent us about Sofia and the Man of Many Tongues is clearly vital, and we’ve been chasing it down. That is the name of a dangerous entity detailed on Whispers of the Unhallowed, the same site that featured your Withering Lady. As for the arrest of James Clarkson, our information is unfortunately limited. Ben has not been able to gain access to the actual interrogation reports. Here’s what we were able to find out.
Mr. Clarkson was actually arrested, not just taken in for questioning. No charges have been filed. The warrant was issued on the strength of Clarkson’s apparent sexual relationship with the last victim, Gabriella Sanchez. According to Ben’s source Clarkson is cooperating fully with the police and the feds. No information yet on whether he has an alibi for the murder(s), or whether formal charges will be filed. They can hold him for 72 hours as is. It has been 13.
One more thing. Ben saw the coroner’s report on Sanchez. The cause of death was not blood loss, the way it was with Sofia Anastos. It was asphyxiation. Something was shoved down her throat. All of the wounds were performed before cessation of heart and brain function, and somehow she was kept alive. This suggests that whatever the killer was doing, it was interrupted in the earlier case, possibly by the arrival of me and Ben.
I know this is gruesome, and difficult to hear about your friend. But you have shown remarkable strength up to this point. I don’t think you want me to spare you the truth to save your feelings.
Ms. Sanchez was having sex with Mr. Clarkson. Or at least, the police thought so. Was she the only one? I pulled out Jagged Darkness. In the upper right Sofia had written Mr. Clarkson’s name, and drawn a fanged heart around it. Underneath, she wrote a poem.
My sharp teeth sink in
A taste, my love, for nothing
else makes me alive
I thought it was about vampires. But the fangs on that heart…
I put the thought out of my mind. I knew I should email Derrick and tell him. Hell, I should probably call the police. If Mr. Clarkson was… involved with both of them, it was a link between the victims. But I didn’t want to think about it. I couldn’t handle this right now. I needed to do something else. Anything else. I opened up a new browser window, and typed in Withertongue616.
I had searched for him before, with some success. I think I mentioned that earlier. He had commented on a few different things, all over the internet. Like here is one on a Yahoo Answers question.
If i’m a teenage mother and breastfeeding is there a risk my nipple will come off because my friend said it hapepned to someone she knew thanks
Withertongue616 answered 8 months ago
The child who suckles at your teat thirsts for a mingling of all of the fluids that course throughout you. He has watched, and judgment tickles His desiccated tongue and His cracked lips. The withering eye will be on her.
That was not chosen as the best answer by the asker.
These were all pieces of the puzzle, most likely. But I didn’t have the picture on the front of the box. I didn’t know what the puzzle looked like. Any or all of these pieces might not matter. The whole thing might not matter. Withertongue could just be some crazy person who found a couple of the same websites I did. Or maybe he was another victim of the withering man, who had gone insane from His presence and now spouted nonsense to anyone that would listen. But somehow I didn’t think so. Either way, I had to know.
This time, the first thing I found was a Youtube video called “How to make authentic Southern Fried BACON!” It came up on a search, so I opened it and watched the video. It featured a guy who looked like a male Paula Deen, and a bouncy girl with ridiculous blonde pigtails. I thought she was his daughter, until he said “give me some sugar!” and then stuck his tongue down her throat for like 15 seconds.
The video was pretty much what you would expect for the first four minutes. They made southern fried bacon. They were way too enthusiastic about it. Then at around the four minute mark, everything changed. The scene went on as normal, but suddenly the actors sounded wooden, like they were reading lines off of cue cards. Their movements became stiff and jerky, and they stared straight at the camera the entire time. They didn’t blink. Their enormous smiles never faltered.
It left an uneasy feeling in my stomach. I scrolled down. The video info said nothing about the strange shift. The top rated comments just gushed about how delicious the recipe looked. It wasn’t until over a hundred comments down that anyone seemed to notice the weirdness.
AnimallHaus: That frame at 4:21…wtf? It looks like it means something but I can’t figure it out.
There were lots of replies. But I wanted to see this frame for myself. I went back up and reloaded the video and jumped to 4:21. It took a few tries to find it, because it was just a single frame. At 4:20, the guy held a knife in front of him over a slab of raw bacon, and the girl held a battered jalapeno over the pan of hot grease. At 4:21, the guy still held the knife, but it was thrust into his stomach.
His entire torso was flayed open. His ribs and bones jutted out in splinters, his organs threatened to spill, and his hands were covered in blood. The girl’s arms were thrust completely into the oil, and it had boiled over on her face and exposed cleavage, which were covered in welts. Both of their faces were frozen in something that was half laughter and half scream.
In the background of the shot there was a window. Outside it was a bright green summer’s day. Standing in the distance was a figure. I wouldn’t have noticed if I wasn’t looking. You could barely make him out, but most of him was black, except his head.
I went back down to the discussion.
AnimallHaus: That frame at 4:21…wtf? It looks like it means something but I can’t figure it out.
James Palomino: Whoa! How did I miss that? Freaky.
Red Power Wrangler: It has to be a fake, right?
terry simpson: is this real
AnimalHaus: A lot of work to go to for a fake nobody noticed.
ImpSummoner: It’s like their pod people after that.
Red Power Wrangler: East coast pod people. Our West Coast pod people act nothing like that.
James Palomino: Something else freaky. This video must have been edited using the online video, because it has multiple audio channels. The weird thing is one of them is turned all the way down. Here’s the video with the channel turned up. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I-24ijPmH6. It’s silent until 4:21.
I clicked on the video. Until 4:21 it was normal. At the same moment that everything changed a piercing screech assaulted my ears. It was so loud I tore my headphones off and threw them on the keyboard.
“Thanks for the damn warning,” I said. My computer didn’t respond. Thank Jesus.
I turned the volume down, put my headbaphones back on, and listened. From that point until the end of the video, I could barely hear the voices. They were muffled out by all of the screams. I went back to the original video to read the rest of the discussion and continued to read the comments.
Withertongue616: If the tongue is submerged in the scarred and whispering places, we cannot taste unless the food is astringent, bloody, and rotten. So it is when He watches us. Our scent is richer when our flesh sizzles and burns. He sees us when we flare and thrash and cut. The sick, vital, and maddening process, that is for Him like as to delight, is delighted by our screams. We slice through the flesh of the quivering blackness when we scream.
There he was. The discussion continued.
James Paolomino: Oookaaaay…
Red Power Wrangler: Well that clears it up, then.
Marty of the Party: I think I saw this guy leave a comment somewhere else once. He’s a nutjob. Ignore him.
It went on like that for awhile. Then the original commenter made one last comment.
AnimalHaus: Withertongue616, I’m intrigued. Is this nonsense, or does it actually mean something? I feel kind of weird.
Withertongue616: You can understand, or you can be safe. The choice is yours.
Bit.ly/1okiQ4b Username:witheredandunbroken password:birthday
That was the last reply. I read it over and over again. You can understand, or you can be safe. Was I about to cross some kind of threshold? Was I safe? I didn’t know.
I stood up and paced around the room. I walked over to my bed and picked up Sadi, my stuffed bat.
“Should I do this?” I asked her. She said nothing. It was just a website, I told myself. It was fine. Nothing was going to happen. I leaned down and read the last comment again. You can understand, or you can be safe.
Once safety is gone, can you ever get it back? What my mother said the other day was true. I had seen a lot of death in my life. But had I ever really felt threatened? Maybe when my father Max was around. But I barely remembered that. I lived in Caldwell. I could walk to the scene of a murder late at night and having nothing to fear except some freaky college students in masks.
But then there were the photographs. The withering man had been watching me my entire life. He was everywhere. He could do whatever He wanted, and I couldn’t stop Him. I had never been safe. But I wanted to understand, even though it made my stomach hurt and my chest felt funny. I needed to understand.
I clicked the link.
It opened to a black page with a prompt window. I typed in witheredandunbroken and birthday. It didn’t work. Of course it didn’t. That was never going to be right. I took a deep breath. I knew the password. Even though it was impossible. I didn’t want it to work. I typed in 10/17/1997. My birthday. I hit enter.
A stream of images flashed onto the scream. A cliff face on an orange mountainside. A gnarled pig fetus. A knife that stabbed down into the earth. A skull. A woman with her arms thrust the air, who screamed as blood poured out of her eyes. A jar full of spiders. Lightning from a cloudless sky. A butcher shop, where human corpses hung from rusty hooks. A skull, covered in writhing, screaming maggots. Then the maggots melted, and flowed together. Where they touched, they became skin. Human skin. Two of them crawled into the empty sockets, and bloomed into eyeballs like sickening flowers. A nose grew outwards. Gums filled in over the teeth, and two of the maggots spread out over the gums and reddened into lips. The image panned out. It was a bald headed figure, in a black dress streaked with red. The withering man.
Then he was gone. The page went black. Text appeared.
A flash video. A god damn flash video. Not even a very well-edited one. So why were my hands shaking?
I clicked on the word in the middle of the screen, and a page loaded.
It was some kind of blog. The background was a pattern of gray and red and black lines. They quivered as I moved my eyes along the page. Some kind of optical illusion. It made the text hard to read. It made my stomach queasy.
At the top of the page was a simple logo in red text.
Fragments of the Annals of the Shivering Stone
An Instruction Manual
There was text in the center, and a frame to the right with various topics including “About the Messenger,” “The Shivering Stone,” “Weapons,” “Needles in the Veins,” and “Hidden Names.” When I scrolled down the frame the topics just kept going. If I went too fast the effect of the background made me feel like I was going to throw up.
In the main frame there was a wall of text in a mix of fonts. Here is what it said.
Some lies unshackle our wrists, so we can finally feel the full sting of our bruises.
You hear the worms that burrow through the bloodstream of reality. That is why you are here. There was a God, once. But his divine flesh was riddled with Parasites. He was infected, like everything else in his diseased and filthy creation. As he set about forming the excrement of oblivion into the clay of existence, the Worms crawled throughout him and devoured his tissues.
They nestled in his pancreas and ingested his insulin as it was secreted. They crawled through the pupil of his eyes and drank of his vitreous humor, so slowly he believed his increasing blindness was the revealed light of his birthing world. When his bones grew brittle, They squirmed through the cracks and supped on his sacred marrow.
When first of the creator’s children cried out that he was contaminated, he cast them aside. When they told him the vision of his pain was clear in their eyes, he struck them blind with his immaculately sharpened tongue. When they screamed for him to listen, he tore out their throats with his glorious golden fingertips. When they reached for the hem of his robe and the toes of his sandaled feet, he burnt their hands down to stumps with the holy fire of his breath. He could not be polluted. He was perfection itself.
He did not understand. He did not understand that the seed of his own exaltation carried a taint. From that first timeless moment in the endless wayback, long before there could be nothing, the pearl of infinite divinity had a flaw. And that flaw was just as infinite.
The creator was not polluted. He was pollution. The parasitic Worms that drank the acrid bile in his liver were no mistake. They were not formed in a seething pool of his divine excrement in error. He could not comprehend it, but when he created the cosmos, he created it for Them. So when They finally devoured the last conscious particle of his unfathomable grace, he died in perfected denial of his own absolute consumption.
They are out there. They are everywhere. The black ichor that squelches through Their distended forms, though perverted, is divinity itself. They are the rightful Gods of a universe whose creator is long-since digested, and whose angels are blind and dumb and flail in the darkness with their mockeries of limbs. They would rule us. They would swallow the stars and eject their unhallowed shit onto the surfaces of every world, where we would choke on the excrement while They watched in sickening delight.
But there is something deeper than Them. Someone that Should Not Be. The venom-dripping snake to our quivering rodent of a universe, whose very presence curdles the milk of reality. He watches them, just as He watches us. He wears the flesh that we cast aside. He cannot be understood. He can only be feared. We fear Him, but our fear is tiny. It is a wisp of vapor, in the choking ocean of smoke that is Their fear. And They fear Him. Greater than Their hunger, or Their lust, or Their ambition is Their fear of Him. If it could be forged into a weapon, Their fear would topple the foundations of creation.
Do you believe me? Have you seen Them, in your dreams? Or is all of this nothing but lies? Some lies unshackle our wrists, so we can finally feel the full sting of our bruises. The truth is that He watches you. He has chosen you, because you are a queen among the seething throng of worker ants. You have a choice. The colony is about to be flooded.
You can understand, or you can be safe.
It is your last choice.
It is your only choice.
A sound made me leap out of my chair onto my feet. It was my phone. I had an email. I ignored it for the moment–Derrick or whoever could wait–and sat back down. Once my heart stopped its urgent attempts to burst out of my chest, I looked back at the screen.
That was all the text on the main page. I clicked on “About the Messenger.”
There was a picture labeled “Joseph Smith.” That name sounded familiar. Where had I heard it before? The face in the photo was shrouded in shadow. His long brown hair was shiny, like a fashion model’s hair. From what I could see of his features they were soft. He had smooth skin and no trace of facial hair. Underneath the picture, it said the following.
The stain that foreshadows the wound. The rotting corpse that predicts the cancerous lesion. The gibbering madness of a splintered mind, before the unfathomable truth that shattered it was ever spoken. First comes the mouthpiece, then the mouth.
He speaks in shivering fragments that warp the dense meat of the scarred and whispering place, and rend the delicate flesh of the waking world. He crams the bloodied fragments into my mind. A jagged peg in a complex neurally-networked hole. The absolute purity of my sanity sterilizes them. When I speak, the gibbering wreck of nonsense that dribbles from my lips are Truths, written in the bloodstains of His words. Others have tried, and the screams of their madness and failures echo through the ages.
My eyes watered. I realized I read the whole of the last part without blinking. Was the light dimmer, in here? The funny feeling in my chest hurt was a full blown pain, now. I clicked “Shivering Stone.”
He does not live in the world, for the world cracks and bleeds where His footsteps touch down. Before long the world would bleed out, and wither. He does not dwell in the scarred and whispering place, for the screaming and hungry multitudes that are the air and the soil and clay of that place thrash and tremble at His gaze. Before long they would thrash themselves into atoms, and the atoms into dust, and the dust into nothing.
The pit that spawned Him is unknown, for He has long since torn its name from the retinas of every watching eye. He cannot dwell anywhere for long. But He can be found. He can be found, by the faceless and the eyeless, those who truly see.
He can be found.
Where the stone shivers.
My throat was dry. I breathed in, and the air in my lungs was thick. If I stood up and looked around my room, what would I see? I clicked “Weapons.”
There was a lot of text, here. Tens of thousands of words. Most of it didn’t make much sense, and the background stung my eyes. A few passages were clearer than others, almost comprehensible.
Blood is rich with growth. When a weapon severs the bond of life, thorns blossom in the fertile soil. As the world spits, the thorns scrape against the scarred and whispering place. A weapon that has murdered once is sharper forever, even if it has dulled. It can cut that which resists cutting.
Then, a little ways down:
Our bodies are prisons. Slave colonies, within which billions of lifeforms are yoked to our will, and die at whims far beneath our fancy. The sanctity of life is laughable. We slaughter the harmless things within us and give it no thought. They don’t even warrant our contempt. Every breath in is a genocide. Own organs try to murder us, and can we blame them?
But there are things within us we cannot understand. They would burst forth and leave our bodies a bloody mass of rent tissue. Yet like an appendix that ruptures, they cannot survive outside of us. They would kill us, yet they make us stronger. He tries to guide us, but we do not listen. He tries to sunder our flesh with the most delicate of surgeries, but we resist. So the Things within us scratch and bite, and their snarls frighten everything away.
There is one of them nestled in your body. Do you feel it? It is inside of you right now. Perhaps it scratches at the inside of your skull. Or it tries to wriggle its way out of your kneecap. Or maybe it claws at the inside of your chest, as you read these very words.
I froze. I had felt that before. Something that clawed and scratched in my chest. I felt it at the wake, when all of those things stared at me. I felt it at the Flash Mob of Faces and Eyes, just before the policeman shot off that man’s fingers. Just before I saw Him in the tree.
And I felt it right now. It scraped at the bone in front of my heart, from the inside. The sick scraping sound tickled my ears. The more I read, the worse it got. I needed to stop. I needed to stop before this thing killed me.
I closed the browser window. The feeling didn’t stop. I had to do something. Something different. Something safe. I opened up my email. My tongue grew thick in my mouth as I saw the sender.
Withertongue616 (no subject)
With numb fingers I clicked the link. There were five words on my screen.
I see you, even without
I leapt up out of my chair. I raced around my room. I pulled the hanging clock off the wall. I looked behind my poster, and under my pillow, and inside the shade of my lamp. It was ten minutes before I realized I was searching for a hidden camera. I laughed. An impossible email from a supernatural entity that had been following me, or its insane servant, and I thought they were using a god damn spy camera? I took a deep breath. At least the room around me was my room. I wasn’t in that other place.
The scarred and whispering place.
I sat back down on my chair and reread the email. It looked unfinished. I see you, even without…what? I took a deep breath, and opened up the Shivering Stone page again. Maybe there was a clue there. The pain in my chest was weaker, now. But it was still there. The page loaded, but there was no flash animation this time. Just the text. The horrible text.
I saw from the bar that this page was part of the Blogger network. I laughed. I was still signed in to Blogger with my Google account, so I could comment on Derrick’s blog. Had this insane page somehow pulled my email address that way? Was that even possible? It’s almost funny, I thought, how even now I still look for rational explanations. I have always hated rational explanations. I leaned back and let my head hang off of of my chair.
That’s when I saw them. Etched into my ceiling. I squeezed my eyes shut, but when I looked they were still there. Of course they were. The last two words of the email. The rest of it ran through my head, as I stared at the jagged black letters. I see you, even without