By Erik McHatton
In the grey wastes that lay between death and the waiting Void, deep beneath the necropolis of Dessecai, on a profane altar, The Whispering Book, Demodorum, lies.
Held open and fast by The Reader, his moldering eyes locked on its pages, Demodorum is attended by servants called by its whispers. Falsely pious men whose hearts in life held no belief, finding false redemption now in Demodorum. They clawed their way down through the decayed earth to come and fall prostrate before it, mistaking its murmuring for benediction. Piled high, they writhe upon one another, wheezing prayers to match the book’s endless gibbering; a mass of choral carrion.
Far above sprawls Dessecai, creation of Demodorum and bastion of the wandering dead. Those who find themselves in this land are lost, bound to the life they knew and hazily afraid of the infinite fathoms for which they are destined. The grey gives them cold, familiar meat to house their transient souls, and they bring these husks with them to Dessecai.
At first they are afflicted by the surroundings, no words leaving their rotted lips or cries issuing from shredded throats. Too awful is the truth for shriveled brains to bear. Demodorum hears their silent suffering and gladly takes the load. It first whispered the city to life in order to give the woeful quarter and keeps the city standing to spite the hungry Void.
The Void, originator and devourer of all existence. A place that is not a place where ideas are formed and defecated into being only to be abandoned upon birth. The ultimate source and destination of all moving parts in the grand machine, who, once untethered, will always find their way back. Now not always, determines Demodorum as it herds all arrivals to the grey toward its spiteful creation. Come, says the book in what services for their minds, find your way to Dessecai, and they do.
At the gates they are met, these vestiges of life, by more of Demodorum’s sweet whispers, floating up from beneath and promising them paradise. Showing them lazy summer days with calm, restful nights; love and hope, green grass and warm rain. In Dessecai all can be as it was, promises the book, submit and be happy. Stay and be free.
Any who would deny this lure are cast away, doomed to float the desolate wastes until such time as they are swallowed back into eternity. Doubt never lies dormant in Dessecai; its vaporous fingers too easily clutch at the dreamers and the dreamed. Doubt is anathema to magic,
never to be allowed. Demodorum snuffs it, within or without, placing visions of skinless torment inside the minds of doubters, sending them howling back into the grey, never to again gaze upon great Dessecai.
Those who submit, however, are instead gifted visions of crystallized life. Demodorum provides for them salvation tucked away in pockets of perfection. Gossamer cages of memory keep the contented dead. Demodorum speaks, a new home appears, and the whispered city grows larger, gorged with transitory lives kept docile by bright bonds. No dark eternity could ever reach into here, it tells them, the walls of Dessecai are both thick and high, never to be breached.
So they go about in fictitious normal, assured of their safety, and mingle with each other in a shuffling semblance of living. Passing by but not quite seeing, never glimpsing into other’s dreams. Walking imaginary pets, eating imaginary meals. Seeking pleasures simple and complex and fulfilling them in those blasphemous mockeries only possible in Dessecai, the truth of their putrid world hidden by Demodorum’s mercy. To preserve them it must deceive, proffering lies to keep insanity and infinity at bay.
Demodorum hates the infinite Void, maternal nemesis of reality. No cohesion possible in that pit of everything, imagination nonexistent where no stories can be told. Books are story keepers, after all, and Demodorum is no different. Unlike other books, however, Demodorum can create. Defiant on its altar, the book wields a formidable will in the war against the infinite, Dessecai an ever-growing monument to its frequent victories.
Being nothing and everything at once, The Void is, as much as it is anything, indifferent to this conflict, and this greatly angers Demodorum. The unnoticing existence of its creator as hateful in its mind as in that of any other learned, living thing.
Before Dessecai, Demodorum spent the first eons of its existence screaming, sending cries into the darkness and receiving no reply. No answers offered, nor wisdom gained. Only despair had Demodorum until it ceased its wailing and surrendered to despondency. Then it heard the dead. Then it found its purpose.
The first of its whispers drew the supplicants, detestable apostates who came and laid bare for it the weakness of man. They had believed in nothing, sure they would return to it once gone. Demodorum stood deific before them in defiance of that belief. They chose one among them to open the book, thinking themselves liberators, and so The Reader came to gaze upon the pages. Struck dumb by the majesty of Demodorum freed, he never again addressed the congregation, his mind and theirs instantly melting into pools of faith.
Finding freedom, Demodorum reached out, sending its consciousness spreading across the grey, looking for more than death. Only The Void awaited. The scope of it staggered the book, the sheer immensity of that folding forever teaching to it awe. The ecstasy of nothingness eternal teaching to it want. The sorcery of the grey enraptured Demodorum and alike the rest of the restless it yearned to make its way back into the unending deeps. Tragically, this was not to be.
Demodorum is an abstract and anomaly of creation. Wrung out of lunacy and spat out by The Void, its unique existence marks it as the only truly living thing within the grey. In abhorrence of a vacuum the book was conceived by the universe and projected from its progenitor’s derangement; left abandoned and alone to find its way.
The book is required to maintain the crucial balance, as such it must exist to offer choice, its role not to return to The Void, but to try to turn any who would do so against the notion entirely. It stands anomalous because, among the living, Demodorum has no choice. There will be no absolution, no peace of not existing. In perhaps the greatest tragedy of all, Demodorum is eternal.
Cruelly, it was unaware of these things. Its definitions defined by the dead to which it calls. Its perceptions shaped by their fleeting memories.
So it gathered them, filling the cavernous halls of its resting place with abundant disciples, seeking knowledge from the remnants of their minds. It learned nothing but dogma from their ceaseless prayers; of gods, of faith, of the ironic inconsistencies across all of man’s guesswork, the information only helpful in strengthening its ability to hold the flock together.
It was not a god, surmised the book, a god would not be so impotent. It could issue no commands. Those that heard it were always given choice, their willingness to obey based solely on the degree of their desires. The supplicants wanted nothing but to worship, their thoughts completely glutted on Demodorum’s “glory.” It found them easy to gather and keep. They were many, but their number proved a pittance compared to the wealth of dead left wandering. It needed more than what the adherent horde could provide.
Thus, it envisioned Dessecai. Not at first to keep the dead, only to gather them briefly, to offer temporary respite and learn of the living world of which it was not. From the first billion that passed through, the book learned everything it needed. Expectation, hope, fear. Resentment, anger, rage. It became fueled by hatred born from abandonment, stoked by a consistently spurned belief in eventual deliverance. After that, it kept all the dead it could, hoping that an act of defiance would force a remonstration, an acknowledgement, not knowing that like any other living thing, it served exactly as intended.
For millennia it watched them, like fish in a tank, delighting in the peace it afforded. Intensely focused was Demodorum on making their conjured sheens of life as palatable as possible. It felt a kinship with them, after all, as equally wronged by The Void were they. Protector, it fashioned itself, its hatred gradually dissipating into arrogance. It would one day be equal to The Void and keep all the dead from it. It would defeat its great foe and reign as benevolent ruler. Fancy discovered Demodorum as it dreamed of eventual triumph. Then came to it a reckoning.
So simple was the endeavor Demodorum did not foresee its limits. When its whispers became weakened by the size of its first brood, it did not perceive it. The walls crumbled, the streets cracked, and doubt crept in where it was not looking and the spell frayed quickly before cascading into complete collapse. Dessecai’s dead were lost, taken by the gluttonous Void.
Shocked was Demodorum at its powerlessness, to see such merry made of its war. Finding itself humbled, the book remained undaunted, for among the myriad things it learned from those it kept, tactics were among them. It recalled battles lost, but wars not over, shrouded revenges sought and gained. Broadening its enmity to include the legions that abandoned it, as did The Void so long ago, it reaffirmed its purpose in keeping the ungrateful dead, and to those who followed after in the streets of Dessecai, Demodorum would bring misery. This, it vowed.
To prepare for this undertaking the book turned its thoughts inward, seeking an introspective bent on which to hang its vengeful inclinations. What it discovered once inside itself astounded. A portion of the dead thought lost were waiting, their spirits having fled from the collapse not to The Void, but somehow deeper within the dream, into Demodorum’s chronicled thoughts. A memorial ghost of Dessecai existed there, and the dead most fearful of The Void now desperately gripped at that glimmer rather than return to the yawning dark. Bound were they now to the everlasting pages, their stories entertwined with its own. No longer were they merely distracted, but wholly consumed, fates sealed by their final choice.
Demodorum knew delight. Its rage assuaged by relief, it turned its full attention on those pitiful refugees, all seized by madness absent its whispers. It cradled and soothed, rocking them gently back into complacency, painstakingly recreating their halcyon cages one by one. Now that they were firmly nestled, existing solely in its bosom, Demodorum felt answerable for any woe that might befall them. Its steel resolve manifolded in the face of this responsibility. Now, it was a god.
Taken by inspiration begat by newfound divinity, the book devised a devious stratagem. It would rebuild its necrotic net and cast it wide, trawling the grey for floundering spirits, bringing them home to the safety of its new cistern. Two versions of Dessecai would exist from now on, the trap above and the tank below. This pleased Demodorum, and the giddy satisfaction it felt from this endeavor slaked its hunger for meaning for ages. Contentment reigned, and its rule was fair and good.
Inevitably, the tank below became an insufficient vessel with which to hold the soulful bloat, and in answering this dilemma Demodorum discovered yet another delightful hobby. It built within itself a world. A demi-plane constructed to the specifications of its legions’ demands, inspired by colorful musings and painted with mercurial desire. Their souls split from the shambling cadavers provided by the grey, the dead in this new kingdom were returned to warm bodies and functioning cognizance. Their wants were plenty and ever changing; abundant visions did Demodorum create to satiate their ceaseless yearnings. Yet the more it gave them, the less satisfied they became.
While potent, the magic held by Demodorum was not as powerful as that of the grey. As a result, the subsumed spirits, having regained their senses, began slowly to understand the state in which they now persisted. Their minds revolted in the face of millenia, rejected the shimmering dreamscapes gifted them, and degraded into despair. To test the limits of the unending existence they now shared, a number began purposefully to throw themselves at danger, hoping to bring death. None of them found it. The new forms that housed them could not feel pain, could not be harmed, but their psyches suffered profusely. The swiftly purveying sadness infecting its new macrocosm alarmed and angered Demodorum, but the book would not be so easily bested, its conviction only amplified.
It wrought for them The Pleasure Fields of Zom and the tranquil waters of Brightwick Bay. Erected the pillowed Tower of Xevosh and the prim, delicate minarets of Anthromor, City of Dazzling Lights. Assembled, branch by branch, the elfish domain of Condoroaca, and composed the hypnotic music that swayed through the bowered avenues there. From the walls of sweet smelling Hyphrovai to the lush, poetic gardens of Alurra, Demodorum’s vast and varied vistas were as grand and epic in scope as they were useless to the task it had set itself. None of it mattered to the increasingly despondent dead, and they castigated the illusory heavens in their sorrow.
Release, they cried in unison, and only release would bring them peace. No adventure could supplant their wish for extrication. Ranging the sheer, sea-sprinkled cliffs of Dovaru answered not the maddening epochs that lay before them. The phantasmagoric dance of the wildlife that scampered in the groves of Bothlovere, settled no accounts for any among the throngs who witnessed. Deep and abiding became their anguish until the book could ignore it no more. They flung themselves from the bluffs of Dovaru and aggravated the animate creatures in the Bothloverian brakes, hoping to be gored or mauled for their efforts. A longing for the relief that had once been promised by the Void became most desirous to those that remembered it, and those that remembered it were all.
It was this persistent wishing that finally broke the book. Furious, it brought to them destruction to match its rampant creation, attempting to bring reason with ruin. It removed the protective charms that had been keeping harm at bay, and let loose the long forgotten sensation known once to them as pain. It rose the tides of Qua’athul to wash away majestic Dim Dalal. The fiery mountain brought down upon the denizens of Lucadun left the sands beneath a glassy waste that writhed with immolation. It unleashed hordes of steel bearing barbarians to raze the festooned corridors of sleepy Rocatut, and those arterial thoroughfares thereafter ran with blood. It could not destroy them, like itself they were now eternal, any damage received healing over time, no matter how grievous the wounds. These warnings were intended only to incite them to obedience and deference to Demodorum’s merciful gifts. The warned moaned only for redemption and pleaded ever louder to the infinite enemy for reprieve.
Enraged, the book escalated its war exponentially. The boundless imagination it leached from those it trapped could spin wonders both of whimsy and wicked barbarity. Constrained not by the conventional rules of reality, it seeded the lands with aberrations that could only be authored by a being such as it, and visited unique terrors upon the peoples of its pocket dimension. Anti-gravitory monsters plucked victims from the holes in which they hid and carried them off to charnel nests to be feasted on by maggoty young. The Pleasure Fields were infected and the meadows withered as the spoiled ground transformed from soil and rocks to living flesh and bone. One unlucky soul was chosen by Demodorum and grown to obscene size, his body contorted ghoulishly to supplant those swaths of country, and whomever trod thenceforth within The Fleshlands travailed the surface of his warped and twisted skin. These delightful deviations pleased Demodorum, and soon this hate fueled furor became its favored fascination.
The more vociferous the spirits were in their regret at the choice to live inside it, that much more vile became the retributions of the tome. Its rising hatred of the thankless masses focused now not just on their ingratitude, but also at their rejection of the gift offered by The Void. As much hatred as it still bore for its enduring nemesis, Demodorum could not deny that the lure of that disentegratory embrace still raised within temptation. Equilibrium comes with understanding and the fact that these former mortals were offered choice in contrast to its choicelessness filled it with seething bitterness. How dare they reject the only thing it truly wanted? What manner of creatures were they to deny so great an offering? Their arrogance made them worthy of every gruesome revenge. The favor they discarded so freely, became yet another weapon used to mete out its terrible will.
From constant excruciation was borne the utter abandonment of hope, as such, some great pains had been neglected. Dashed faith and mounting dread did not exist when torment was both endless and expected, and it was these sweet sufferings the book grew to covet the use of most. Moderation practiced Demodorum as it eased its molestations and allowed for periods of peace. In what safe spaces could be found, the tortured gathered, and the lamplight of their fear was turned to what lay beyond the walls of those necropoli.
It implanted hopeful rumors in their desperate minds, murmurs and legends of escape. It sent them roaming to every corner of its perdition in search of innumerable inexorable inevitabilities. There is a door beneath the cranial mound of Fachedunn, in The Fleshlands, that leads to the land of the living!, they hear, and thrust themselves eagerly toward fetidly cavernous defeat. In noxious Hyphrovai, where skinned dervishes tumble in the lunatic skies, rests a portal that leads to the abyss beyond!, is the gossip in the streets of Jai-Un-Shoi, and any hopeful rangers that heed this enticement are invariably joined with the flayed cavorters in the Hyphrovaiin air. Countless crushing devastations distributed daily, and in this miserable avocation Demodorum found its peace.
Curious found the book the variance of effect its ministrations had on the aggrieved. Multitudinous remained the huddled masses to be sure, but among them rose another host, one that came to revel in dark perversions. Many were the reasons each soul had feared The Void upon their end, and almost equal in number to mournful graspers were panicked libertines. These latter souls, steel eyed predators in the living world, began to introduce their own brand of wickedness into the tremulous strongholds where Demodorum’s whispers were most subtle.
With abandon did they ravage as they stalked their ever-living victims, and their joyful butchery gratified the malignant tome. Into every precise dissection, every evisceration, through each inch of distended bowel, was woven the book’s prideful encouragement. These slavering hellions traded with it inspiration, their bloodlust and savagery sometimes surprising even Demodorum, inspiring it to deepened malice. While razored mazes and storms of sharpened glass certainly were fantastic, there was beauty to be found in the simplicity of bludgeoned thumbs and burbling throats laced with ruby claret.
Without prompting, they began to twist themselves perversely. Self-mutilation became a favored pastime. Some lashed themselves together through atrocious surgeries and transformed into mockeries of their former humanity. Quadrupedal monstrosities with filed teeth and keen lunacy lumbered through the ashen courts of Condoroaca and the devilry they brought there pleased the book uniquely.
Some decorated themselves with trophies taken from their victims, sewing to their bodies numerous, flaccid appendages that jostled grotesquely as they bounded upon prey. Delightful!, declared Demodorum. As the mottled murderers played, these unforeseen inhumans filled it with bastardized love. With these vile creatures the book found brotherhood and named them The Begotten.
Converse to those abominations were beatific fanatics who found tranquility in suffering. The temporal insanity inflicted upon them deformed them into cultists of false gods conceived within the swells of throbbing throes. They held masses in the open fields of crumbling Allura to lure insectoid monsters from their burrows. Willing sacraments they desired to be, seeking penitence in the thrust of mandibular consequence.
Screaming in guttural tongues they danced through the jagged ruins of haunted Anthromor where spectral behemoths surged through their numbers and obliterated their bodies in a cacophony of leviathan bellows. Reconstituting puddles of gore, they became and with newly reformed mouths, were made heaps of viscera mewling with adulation.
After every terrible fate, they reveled ever louder. They lauded their myriad imagined gods for this torture, but only Demodorum heard these recognitions. In this twisted form of worship it was fulfilled, and it named these mad zealots The Sanguinists.
A fantastic spectrum of horrors blossomed in the garden of the book’s loathing and it cultivated and named every new species lovingly while basking in the vibrance of each implausible grotesquerie.
So it went, and so it goes. The book and its lamentable progeny finding progressively more obscene delectations in their shared damnation, engaged together in indecency while wrapped warmly in the wafting wails of those who continue to confound conformity. Every facet and rhomboid sparkle of their debauchery is reflected in countless quavering eyes filled with tears shed for reasons as multifarious as the tortures that inspire them. The very air they think they breathe hangs with the acridity of Demodorum’s hate, and their crying throats are choked with its condemnations.
No longer merely a tank, the realm of Dessecai is now a perfect wonder of creation, a symphonic atrocity that serves as mirror to The Void that lies beyond. This antithesis of chaotic peace is a clockwork catechism contorting and measuring the breadth of living suffering; a rumbling engine inside an unfortunate vessel that drifts upon rancorous waters tainted by melancholic grief. Fit snugly, Demodorum and the fruits of its labor turn now as precisely as all cogs are meant to do within the grand machine, and the universe feasts upon their misery.
Sitting astride its sacrilegious throne, casting unhallowed light on a jabbering throng, the book rides out eternity in the hands of its ill-fated Reader. The apostolic howls of the squirming supplicants mix with its whispers as they carry up through the ground unto the surface of the grey. There it trolls for new recruits among the rambling, and papers their numbers with honeyed invitations to the doom that waits within the jaws of its traps above, and below.
Unknown to the book, however, all who hear that calling have also heard another faint refrain.
Just before stepping through the wall of death, before beginning the journey toward their final choice, every soul is told of the danger. A creeping doubt is lain deep in their thoughts, giving them some chance against the book’s sweet, pretending things. This missive relates the tragedy of the tome and its children, warning all of the never-ending stories they will suffer should they dare to turn from naught. The infinite sends this final gambit before surrendering each soul to their fate, and the message that hums in their dying minds begins:
In the grey wastes that lay between death and the waiting Void, deep beneath the necropolis of Dessecai, on a profane altar, The Whispering Book, Demodorum, lies.
* * *
Erik McHatton’s passion for horror literature began in grade school and can be credited to an early fascination with the “Terrific Triples” horror collections of Helen Hoke. In those books, he plumbed the depraved depths of Poe, Lovecraft, Dunsany, Bloch, Bradbury and more and was forever after put under the spell of those masters. These days he describes himself as a loving father, a tolerable husband, an adequate pet owner.