I brought the dread stone with me to the downtown library, that edifice of stone and books that harkened back to an earlier era where learning was king and intelligence a virtue. Now it mostly served as a day center for the homeless, although at least they were learning something instead of shooting themselves full of poison.
I suppose I could have found what I needed on the internet. Everything is on the internet. But this stone called for a certain kind of reverence for the timeless art of research. Methodical, thoughtful research. I had to focus my mind. Really focus it. Because if I let my thoughts about the artifact become disorganized, chaotic, then I would surely be lost.
I found what I was looking for – what I hoped not to find – what I dreaded being right about – in the old journal of a man named Hopley, who’d explored obscure towns and villages in New England at the turn of the 20th century. Why the Portland Public Library had a copy of Hopley’s journal was not a mystery relevant to the current situation.
Hopley had been following the trail of a man named Gafney, who’d left behind his own journal and a mystery – a chaotic screed ranting about arcane monsters and impossible architectures, about fish people and for some reason, cats. Gafney, it turned out, had also found some obscure papers in an attic, and had been using them to piece together a mystery of his own. In fact, the papers that Gafney mentioned in his journal also mentioned following the trail of an obscure journal found in an attic. Gafney, for his part, had apparently died, or committed suicide, during his quest, as had the author of the mysterious papers he found.
I was following the trail of a journal, following the trail of a journal, following the trail of some papers found in an attic, following the trail of a journal.
But I was definitely on the right track.
The engravings on the stone matched an etching on a page of Hopley’s journal, with the inscription: “Do not ever read this aloud” scrawled underneath it. I heeded that warning. I knew what it said and what it portended. What I didn’t know was what it was doing in Portland.
To this day, I wish that Mike hadn’t handed me that stone. I really do. I can’t ever undo what happened. I’m so sorry. I’m so, so sorry for what was unleashed. We are such tiny things. Such tiny, fragile things, and there are so many horrible dimensions just waiting to snuff us out. I stare out of this impossible stone parapet at the ruined city beneath me, and I weep. Or I would weep. I would weep.