The Dark Rift of Brannock Penhaligon (by Mark R Brandon)
The Association has received the following extraordinary report from one Brannock Penhaligon (Doctor), which the author alleges is a newly discovered plane of existence.
All members are directed to review the content of this report in order to decide upon the appropriate course of action, if any. Usual security protocols apply, with regard to the discussion and dissemination of this account. We must, dear members, keep our confidences while we determine its veracity.
Report to the Association of Ishtar, by Dr Brannock Penhaligon.
Esteemed members of the Association of Ishtar, I humbly submit the following as an account of my travel to what I believe to be a new plane, the precise numerical designation to be determined by the Association, but which I suggest be referred to as Vulcan, for reasons which will become obvious to the reader in due course.
I hope the committee will consider it in support of my application for membership of the Association.
With deepest regards,
Brannock Penhaligon, Doctor
January 23, Year of our Lord, 1874.
Notes on my position and the preamble to my discovery
My tenured position is that of Doctor of Science and Natural Philosophy at the recently established University of Kingston-Upon-Hull, in the East of England. While I have a broad knowledge of all the natural sciences, as one might expect, of late my studies have taken me in the direction of the emerging field of Arcane Phenomenology.
For a number of years, I have been collecting editions of some of the staples of the field: El Fuego del Espìritu, Le Necrologue, J Dexter’s The Lost Volumes of the Sainted Race of the Nephilim, Steinbart’s Tome of Last Resort, and so on. However, it was not until my discovery of an edition of H W Haider’s Record of The Intimate Expedition to the Dark Rift of Ulluleea (published in 1868) in an antiquarian bookshop in the Old Town of my home city, that my interest passed beyond the academic to the practical, temporal realm we inhabit.
It is worth spending a moment on the nameless shop itself. As I have lived in the city for nearly ten years now and know every single place of academic interest, I have to confess that it mystified me I had never happened upon this place before. That the bookshop, its entire contents and the unfortunate owner were incinerated two days later in a mysterious fire vexes me considerably, as I was minded to a fuller perusal of the works on offer. I am not of a superstitious turn of mind, but it is not without a little apprehension that I relate my tale herein. If anything were to happen to me, I trust that the Association of Ishtar will use my account as a basis for a deeper investigation.
Haider’s rambling, unreferenced work details his journey to the frigid terrain of Iceland, some 730 nautical miles from his departure point, the Port of Glasgow, Scotland, and, upon arrival, his solitary expedition into the wilds of that island nation. Thence, ultimately, his discovery of what he refers to as a ‘dark rift’, in a location the locals refer to as ‘Ulluleea’, which translates, according to Haider, as “fire pit of the soul”.
‘Ulluleea’ does not exist on any map I could find. I contacted two professors with expertise in the Nordic regions, one at St Andrew’s University, the other at Edinburgh, but
neither man had ever heard tell of the place. Both cast doubt upon the linguistic origins of its name, with one going so far as to say it was “unthinkable” that such a place might exist in Iceland. The other suggested the language could be Finnish or possibly Inuit but was definitely not Icelandic. Haider’s translation, therefore, cannot be substantiated.
There, my enquiries might have halted were it not for a handwritten note secreted in the book. It contained only two words, in an unruly hand: FIND ME. I could only think it had been the hand of the author himself.
Thus, I travelled to London, set upon my quest to meet with the curious Dr. Haider. I obtained his address via a contact at the Government Records Office at Somerset House and set off to Camberwell, a borough of South London. The house was, unfortunately, in a poor state of repair, its windows and doors boarded up. I was initially disheartened but learned from a neighbour that Haider had been committed to the public insane asylum at the St Mary Bethlem Hospital – known colloquially as Bedlam – some five years ago.
Upon arrival at the Hospital, I learned that the Doctor had been confined for the greater part of this time to a solitary cell on account of his aggression to staff and other inmates alike. His reputation was of a “man possessed”. Alas, I was told, he had died a year before my visit having swallowed his own tongue, apparently in a deliberate act, which I have to confess I find disturbing and difficult to imagine. To my good fortune, he had willed his private diary to the first man of letters to visit him after his demise. I was that man.
Thus I returned to the University with this private diary, reading its contents in a matter of days, and decided upon a similar solitary expedition to Iceland, to find, if I could, Ulluleea.
The details of my expedition are not important, not least because my journey was unremarkable. Haider’s personal diary did give details of the precise location of Ulluleea. I have elected to commit these to memory and not tell another soul. The diary itself I have hidden in a highly secret location. I have taken the precaution of revealing this location only in my sealed Last Will and Testament, which resides with my solicitor. In the event of my death I have instructed my solicitor to find a way of transmitting it to the Association.
Needless to say, I found the ‘dark rift’ Haider had described, and passed through it, as I suppose he must have, onto what I can only categorise as another plane of existence.
Haider’s findings, relevance.
The erratic nature of his writings indicates to me that Dr Haider was an individual who was highly susceptible to anxieties precipitated by ‘otherworldliness’.
Haider’s book describes entry into a cavern defined primarily by its Stygian gloom and vague sulphurous emanations. A sound geologist, he quickly identified the substance
under his feet as lapilli or, in layman’s terms, magmatic or volcanic clinker. There was, happily for him, no sign of recent volcanic activity. Once his eyes had adjusted, Haider apparently perceived a pallid light from the other side of the cavern and made his way towards it with little difficulty.
Upon emergence from this cavern, the good Doctor was confronted with what he describes as a “thoroughly alien vista”, although as we shall see, this does scant justice to the awe-inspiring sight which confronts the explorer.
The remainder of the Doctor’s official account is remarkable as much for what it leaves out, as for what it contains. For instance, in the published account the world - which the Doctor presumptuously wished to call ‘Haider’s World’ - is entirely lifeless. For the most part, in fact, aside from luxurious descriptions of the landscape, it consists mainly of speculation about the nature, existence and location of Vulcan, which descend into most unscientific fantasies. It is, in short, a turgid and unreadable document.
In his private diary, however, Haider describes the cavern almost identically but claims that when he left it, he was set upon by a flying beast, possessed of rending talons larger than those of any bird of prey and in proportion to the beast’s exaggerated size. The beast cried “ulluleea” continuously as it attacked, driving the Doctor back into the cavern and, in due course back through the Rift. By Haider’s account, the creature was “mercilessly cruel”, attacking him “without warning or provocation”. Haider called the beast, somewhat predictably, a ‘dragon’, going on to describe it as possessing four limbs, two large ones depending from the rear of its bulbous, scaly body and two smaller ones akin to arms. The creature’s wings were “feathered with knives”, according to the diary, its eyes – three of them – “like burning amber, with an hourglass shaped pupil like that of a toad”.
I, of course, regarded this account with the utmost scepticism. I thought of the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch and came to the preliminary conclusion that the good doctor had most likely imbibed the type of fungus, or perhaps an alkaloid leaf, which precipitates such visions.
Having finally - in the comfort of my own chambers, for I did not dare expose the journal on the train - completed my reading of Haider’s private diary, I made to sleep. That night, I experienced the
most incredible visions of a kind I have never experienced before. I ‘saw’ Haider’s dragon in my dream, precisely as he had described it. I spent the next day in a state of mild nervous agitation and had to take a sedative powder that night before sleep. Again, my dreams were plagued by visions of the beast.
Unable to ignore these repeated visions, I made a return visit to Bethlem Hospital, and prevailed upon the attending surgeon there to relate to me details of Haider’s physical state at his time of death. It should be noted that inmates are not routinely autopsied, although a physician is required to confirm their passing from this Mortal Coil. Bodies are routinely cremated, so I am unable to provide a first-hand account of what I am about to tell.
After the introduction of a fine bottle of Highland Single Malt Whisky to the conversation, the surgeon confided to me that Haider had been in most respects a normal physical specimen, save for three deep scars on his back, ranging in length from seven to nine inches. The surgeon hypothesised that the Doctor had, at some point, been set upon by a tiger or possibly a lion, although he was forced to concede that only the most exceptional – not to say unprecedented – example of such a feline predator could have been large enough to inflict wounds so long and so far apart from one another.
Haider’s diary also contained precise instructions on how to reach the Dark Rift and how to enter it without harm.
I must confess, though, that it was the description of this creature which decided me upon my expedition. I was drawn by the creature. What what was it? How had it originated? Was it a monster or, like us, did it possess intelligence? I had to find out.
Vulcan, a proper account of a short expedition into the undiscovered plane
Following Haider’s descriptions, I attained and passed through the Dark Rift and found myself in a cavern which matched the Doctor’s description. Although I am not a man capable of being moved by fears of the imagination, I had with me my high calibre Webley revolver, complete with hollow-point bullets, a technique of arms used by the Texians in their recent war with the French-backed Mexican Army. These bullets are said to inflict much greater damage than a regular round. I moved warily through the cavern, using my bullseye lantern to navigate, and emerged into a world which was entirely alien to me.
I was heartened to see that Haider’s description of Vulcan was accurate, leading me to put faith in the remainder of his account.
The first thing that strikes one about Vulcan is the sky. Not only is it a striking shade of orange, somewhat like that of a tangerine, but is in constant motion as if covered with a gigantic film of oil. What, at first glance, look like intensely dark rainclouds are, on closer inspection, gigantic floating rocks. These move steadily and serenely across the sky from one horizon to another in a linear fashion. While there are a few smaller rocks, there is not the rubble one might expect from continual collisions. Rather, each enormous stone seems to have been set upon its course - and height - with precision, as if by some cosmic clockmaker. If this is a natural phenomenon, it is, by many magnitudes, the most extraordinary thing I have ever seen. I had to conclude that it was not, therefore, natural. Was it Haider’s dragon which had set these floating mountains on their courses?
Beyond the oily orange film of the sky, Vulcan possesses two moons (or at least I was able to perceive two moons during my visit). One is shaped like a kidney or borlotti bean and is nearly three times the size of our own Moon (or possibly its orbit takes it closer to the planet); the other is smaller, around the size of our own satellite but highly irregular in shape, with what appear to be enormous holes, as if the object is made of Swiss cheese. The other curiosity is that during my entire time on Vulcan, I saw no sun. It may be that the filmy sky prevents the sun from being seen, but why then would one be able to see two moons? I confess I have no answers for this, but perhaps an astronomer might.
In comparison to the sky, the ground below was very regular, not to say a little banal; a treeless volcanic waste, similar to some of the less favoured sites around Sicily’s Mount Etna, or indeed the trackless Icelandic fields I had navigated to reach Ulluleea.
As I exited the cavern, I could see ahead of a range of low hills which seemed to take in the greater part of the horizon. With no sun to guide me, I took out my compass, but it simply spun continuously, another indication - if such were needed - that I was not on Earth. I set out determined to keep to a straight line, staking out a spare white shirt I had brought with me above the lip of the cavern entrance, and was heartened to note that, when I looked back, I was able to see it from some distance against the dark backdrop of the hills containing the cavern itself.
The Observation Post and Lost City
I walked towards the soft hills I have described for less than an hour before I realised that they were nothing more than an undulating ridge. Proceeding up the shallow face of the ridge, I quickly attained its crest.
The other side of the ridge descended more steeply into a wide bowl, perhaps half a mile in diameter. It was only upon gazing at this for a minute or so that I realised I was at the lip of a volcanic caldera, also known as a volcanic depression or, to the untutored, a sinkhole. This, in itself, was fairly unremarkable. It was only what I saw on the other side of the caldera which intrigued me beyond mere geological curiosity.
A deep cleft had formed, or perhaps been cut into the other lip of the caldera and into this cleft, some creature - or god perhaps - had wedged a perfect black sphere of stupendous dimensions. I stood, stock-still, for perhaps two minutes simply staring at the artefact for it was of a size and perfection beyond the wildest imaginings of any human engineer. At this point I must confess that I was close to weeping. This was the first proof I had ever experienced of the existence of an intelligence not simply akin to our own but manifestly more advanced.
The sphere sat upon a broad and deep platform which was attained by two intertwined corkscrewing walkways, as if the exterior walls and supporting central column had been stripped from a pair of spiral staircases. Needless to say, this technique is also far beyond our current engineering capabilities. Into the sphere where it touched the platform, whoever created it had cut a huge doorway.
Beside my scientific curiosity, a nameless fear burgeoned in me. Whoever, or whatever, had built this sphere was possessed of a power many times greater than our own.
It should go without saying that I was drawn to the structure, and was determined to explore it. I started to descend into the depression, keeping one eye on the sky for Haider’s dragon, although I fully doubted its existence. I saw nothing, and thus my caution readily gave way to a deeper curiosity.
As I approached the structure, my amazement overtook me. The sphere was perhaps four hundred feet or more in diameter. The twin paths were smooth as polished granite, without supports or guardrails. Soon, I was standing on the platform, perhaps one hundred and fifty feet above the floor of the depression.
The doorway into the sphere was thirty feet wide, and even taller than that, precisely mitred as if by the finest stonemason in existence. I felt like a child’s doll, entering the cool, cavernous space. I made to pull a lantern from my pack, but soon realised I did not need it, for orange-gold striations in the glassy black walls cast a faint glow over the corridor. Accordingly, I proceeded inside. The wide corridor turned once and then back again, and at the end of this new length I could see a patch of orange sky, at the other side of a spherical room. Luckily for me, whoever had designed this room had elected to install a floor in the lower sixth of the chamber.
At the rear of the chamber was an immense window, revealing the orange sky and a view across a vast plane, dotted with calderas.
In front of this window was a long, low desk which seemed to have been extruded from the floor. At the very centre of the desk, and hence the window, the designing intelligence had installed yet another sphere, some ten feet in diameter. On the surface of the sphere were three conjoined white circles, each punctuated at its centre by a dark circle, rather like the iris on the eyeball.
Otherwise, the room was featureless apart from a series of curving benches, also extruded from the floor, arranged in concentric patterns, giving the effect of the room being a kind of amphitheatre with the desk-sphere as its focal point.
I was unable to investigate any further, for as I hesitated at the threshold to the room, I heard a fearful cry echoing through the corridor behind me. Haider’s description was correct once again. “Ulluleea!” it came.
Gripped by fear, I ran headlong into the room and threw myself behind the first bench I came to, hoping that its generous height would hide me completely.
“Ulluleea!!” came the cry again, louder this time.
Something entered the room. It had two feet, of that I was sure, for there came a rhythmic repetitive sound of walking. I knew right away that these feet were bare and that the creature was of a great size, for the sound was as if two huge sides of meat were being slapped on a marble slab by the world’s largest and strongest butcher. The sound filled me with horror, but as it lessened in volume, and my curiosity drove me to look over the top of the bench at whatever had come in, I realised that the horror I felt at its passing was a mere suggestion of the breath-stifling, freezing terror which gripped me at the sight of the monster.
Haider’s dragon was twice as tall as a man, a foul combination of lizard, amphibian and bat which rendered the pitiful imaginings of our most hysterical churchmen entirely impotent. It went upon two legs as we do, and had two arms, but those arms and legs were of an astonishingly superannuated nature, thick and gnarled as logs, each ending in a three-toed fleshy claw. From its equally immense shoulders grew two wings like those of a bat, similar to the dragons of lore. These it held folded, their rubbery tips nearly skimming the floor. Its skin was shiny but dry, like leather, and engrained with astonishing designs, rolls and whorls and curlicues that would amaze the most talented Rococo or Baroque artist. I know not whether these are a natural phenomenon, or whether they were akin to the tattoos one sees at any circus, but as I stared, I could see that they were in gentle motion, as if mimicking the sky, giving the creature a most repellent countenance.
As I watched, frozen, fearing my lungs or my bowels would betray me at any moment, the creature moved to the desk-sphere and placed its claws upon the thing, which I will call the Eye.
As the creature’s hands moved over the Eye, the view ahead of it, what I had imagined to be a window onto the vast volcanic plain, blurred and then clarified into the most extraordinary image – an alien city, or at least a vision of it.
In an instant, I saw towers and terraces and bridges and galleries, all seemingly hewn from the volcanic rock, their glass-like surfaces pulling colour from the roiling sky above. The level of detail in this conjured image was almost painful to behold, so overwhelming was it.
The creature moved its tri-fingered claw upon the Eye and with dizzying speed the view focused upon a single terrace of the city. I saw windows, doorways, other paraphernalia of life and – here and there – statuary. These curving, cavorting figures were entirely inhuman and might well have been alive, were it not for the obvious fact that this the city was dead and had been so for centuries.
The creature seemed to pinch two of its claws together on the iris of the Eye and then drew them apart. Now, we could see one of the statues in terrifying clarity. It had a distinctly human face though was of a race never seen on Earth, sharp of features with mere slits for eyes and mouth and a single, curving nostril in its flat nose. Its ears were much larger than ours yet affixed over their whole length to the side of the graceful, ovoid head, tapering to a point and finally those points joining at the crown, giving the impression the figure was wearing a lace headband. The entire figure was more angular than a human and both arms and legs had not one but two intervening joints along their length.
Haider’s dragon tipped its head to one side as if examining the scene more carefully, then righted its head and let out its chilling cry: “Ulluleea!”
As a scientist, I am fully aware that we humans are inclined to apply human terms to qualities of creatures in the animal world. We see a cat as curious, a dog as happy to see us
by its ‘smiling’ expression. We imagine birdsong to carry human emotion: the mournful loon, the excited finch, the aggressive yet cautious crow. Of course, this
‘anthropomorphism’ is an illusion. One of my colleagues calls it a “dangerous form of romantic fancy”.
Notwithstanding this, the call of the ‘dragon’ seemed to me mournful, perhaps even regretful. I have no idea. Perhaps its call was an expression of anger, a warning, a symptom
of tyranny over the dead city. Perhaps its people had left the city for dead, and this was an exultation.
Whatever it was, I am sure that this creature was expressing emotion. Its manipulation of the device indicated it was intelligent and – if indeed its people had
constructed this incredible observatory rather than inherited it from its builders – perhaps
orders of magnitude more so than humans.
The notion caused panic to race through me. At that point, I fell back from my crouch into a seated position, and my hand encountered something hard and sharp, which dug at first into my palm. When I withdrew my hand, the object skittered away. I cried out, a natural reaction which I stilled almost instantly, but I heard the creature, outside my vision
In the orange glow, I could see the object which had lacerated my skin. It was a bullet cartridge. Nothing designed by this creature, I knew, but one of ours. My eye immediately picked out two more. I marvelled that I had not seen them before.
The conclusion was obvious. Haider had lied.
He had not run from the cave upon encountering this creature. He had come here, perhaps followed it, perhaps coming into the sphere room ahead of it as I had. He had secreted himself behind this very bench. And he was possessed of a gun, which he had discharged at least three times. I could hear the creature pacing quickly towards my pale shelter. There was only one thing for it. I stood up, my hands out to show open palms.
As I did so, the creature stopped, and we locked gazes, my two eyes fixed by the creature’s three, a fact which momentarily paralysed me due to an overwhelming disorientation.
The eyes were ovoid, pale green with hints of considerable veining. They seemed to be ‘all iris’, like those of a cat are perceived to be when the animal looks directly towards the observer. It was the pupils, however, which transfixed me. These were not circular, like ours, or slits as those of a cat or lizard might become in bright light but were hourglass shaped. As they bored into me, I felt as though I was falling into them, entirely paralysed, entirely at the mercy of the creature.
I heard an ominous clicking as the creature tightened its gelatinous claws, and made my peace with my temporal existence, praying – for the first time in my life in genuine supplication – that there was an afterlife of some kind, that my next moment would not deliver me into cold oblivion.
Then came a most curious sensation. I felt myself gripped all over, as if a spirit had me in its clutches. It felt like every single inch of my body was being examined by invisible fingertips, as a mortuary surgeon might examine a cadaver for cysts or other subcutaneous deformities. I felt my nostrils flare, my mouth widened involuntarily. The invisible force pushed, gently, into my head. Finally, I felt my whole brain cradled, as our friend the mortuary surgeon might cradle a disembodied brain so as to transfer it to weighing scales. I was helpless. Abruptly, all this sensation disappeared, and I came back to myself. To speak plainly, I felt violated, there is no other word for it.
The creature’s mouth opened. I perceived a huge, muscular tongue and a set of thick, rending teeth. It bellowed: “ULLLLLLLUUUUUUUUULLEEEEEEAAAAAAA!!!!!!”
I moved then, like some animated puppet whose strings are cut and who might finally escape from its puppet master. My heart occupied the whole of my torso, firing blood into my legs. I leaped onto the bench behind which I had been hiding, jumped into the doorway, fully expecting I would feel three claws tear into me, as had obviously happened to Haider. Unlike him, I would not escape them, I knew. Unlike that fortunate liar, the claws would cut me into strips, expunge my spirit, leave my body in neat steaks upon the alien floor.
Imagine my amazement, then, when I exited onto the platform over the caldera, still alive. I ran bodily down the double-helix pathway, now imagining my pursuer had let me flee for sport, and would unfurl its huge, leathery wings to take me as a bird of prey might, a terrified rabbit, juicy with adrenaline.
There was nothing left for me but to run. When, finally, I fell into the cave whence I had come, my hands and knees were in ribbons, indicating that I had fallen not once but many, many times, all on occasions I cannot recall.
Thus, I returned through the cave and back to ‘Ulluleea’ – alive. As soon as I breathed in the air of our world, I fell to crying like an infant. I cried until I fell asleep. When I awoke the sun was high in the sky and all trace of the Dark Rift was gone. In my hand was a fragment of rock I must have grasped during my flight, during one of my innumerable falls in fact, a piece roughly three inches by one inch which would provide numerous samples, I was
Upon my return to my lodgings in the village of Keflavik, I was able to calculate that my entry into the Rift took place at true Midsummer, the point when our world is at maximum inclination towards our Sun. It is not clear to me whether the Rift appears at any other time, but I suspect if it was open more frequently than one or two days per year, it would surely have been discovered before the despicable Haider happened upon it.
When I returned to the University, I took the rock fragment to our laboratory for examination and consulted a geologist friend of mine, telling him only that I had found this fragment in Iceland. He was most excited, for the rock bore no resemblance to anything he had seen before. It was, he said, clearly volcanic in nature but all of the chemical and physical tests he undertook revealed unique data.
He now prevails upon me on an almost daily basis to reveal to him the exact location of my find, and, furthermore, wishes to mount a personal expedition in order to collect more samples, thinking that these might advance knowledge in his field beyond the dreams of any reasonable scientist.
For the moment, I am politely ignoring his clamour. I thought it better that a wider expedition might be mounted, next Midsummer, to rediscover Vulcan under the discreet and coolly scientific aegis of the Association of Ishtar.
The observant reader may recall from my account that I took a Webley revolver with me into the Dark Rift and on to Vulcan itself. They may wonder why I do not mention the pistol during my encounter with the creature. This is for one very simple reason: I had entirely forgotten I had it with me. Even finding Haider’s discarded shell casings did not remind me of its presence. I have thought a considerable amount about this in the months since. Perhaps I was simply too frightened. Perhaps I was too greatly entranced by the creature.
I thought back many times to the sensation of my brain being held in a hand, or perhaps better a talon. Did the creature assess me during that time, finding that I was not a threat? Or did it suppress any thought of violent action in my head? Such thoughts intrigue and trouble me to this day.
It is my considered belief that if I had drawn the weapon and discharged it at the creature, it would most likely have resulted in my death. That this did not happen to Haider is something of a mystery, although he clearly paid a terrible price for his encounter. That I escaped with both my life and sanity intact is, I believe, an indication that the creature is fundamentally unthreatening, perhaps even possessed of a morality akin to that of our own. If it did, indeed, suppress any inclination towards violence on my part, that also would be a sign that this individual was committed to peace.
In either event, I would urge the Association to pursue this, that we might identify other moral beings within our universe.
This story was written by Mark Brandon. Check out his work on websites like Goodreads, or buy him a coffee.
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