The man in red

by max kennedy

The man in red

He came to our town, wrapped in red cloth and smelling of lavender. Atop a black horse he rode in, met with suspicious glares and cold shoulders. The man in red entered that, now, empty town which once prospered in the valley, below a steep cliff face, towering over our small homestead. I can see it now with my waking eyes, the man in red and the nightmare he hosted atop the mountain.

He entered the tavern to sit and wait, patient and silent beneath his red hood. Before long the drunken fools who spent their days and nights inside those four walls began to prod and pry at the brooding stranger. Happy to indulge those slurring jesters, the man in red started to speak. Naazhos was his name, a traveller from across the sea. “what brings you to our lonely town” they asked, intrigued. “to spread wisdom” he said. The townsmen scoffed and sniggered, “what wisdom do you have to spread” they teased. And he told them. He told them myths and legends of eastern wisemen who would study the stars, of uncharted mountains and desert plains filled with forbidden knowledge and divine wonders, of heroic adventurers who battled deep sea leviathans and terrible ocean creatures.

All the while I observed from afar in my secluded woodland hovel as the townspeople became captivated by his enchanting telling’s. I watched and listened, studying him in his crimson drapes. As night fell on the first day of his arrival, he left the old drunks to ponder on his tales, saying he would return the next day with more to tell before he wandered into the woods. Dawn came the following day and just as he had before, Naazhos entered the old inn to sit and wait for an audience once more. The drunks returned, exited to hear more from the mans enlightened mind. They laughed and cried as his stories twisted and turned. Their hysterical commotion captured the attention of more passing villagers, curious to see what warranted such a reaction. Tale after tale the townsfolk gathered to listen to his magical stories and brilliant fables as if under a spell. As his tales unravelled his following grew. Men and women abandoned their duties to listen to the man in red. Woodworkers left their axes buried in stumps, farmers neglected their crops and cattle and mothers left their children screaming and wailing.

And day by day he crafted a grand mythology, skilfully and deliberately. As the days past and his following grew the line between fiction and reality became indistinct. I, myself must confess I was not completely free of his influence.

Soon after the man in reds arrival in our small town I was plagued with terrible dreams and fragments of nightmares, one such nightmare has haunted my sleep since. In it I found myself somewhat oblivious to the notion that I was in a slumber, the hard rock my bare feet stood on was cool and damp, the thin liquid seeped into my skin as I wandered. Endless miles of flat stone surrounded me, barren and silent, the heavy cloak of night lay over the empty plateau. Aimlessly I sauntered beneath the pale moon which echoed out through the starless black abyss above. As I progressed through boundless waste, I felt the chilled stone under my feet turn to a nasty black mire. At first I was slightly In wonder at such an unexpected and prodigious transformation of scenery, but soon that wonder fleeted and turned to a disparaging fear as I slowly became stuck in the black mud. I twisted and turned to no avail. Sunken up to my waist I clawed and scraped at the watery sludge which only seemed to prolong my inevitable plunge into what lay under that barren land of nethermost confusion.

And what did lay under that barren land I shiver to recall. Soon after my body sank into the ground, I was spat out again unto a place so distant and dark that not the most adventurous should ever wish to tread. The region I had been placed in was beyond what I had once thought possible to perceive. As if submerged in water I drifted slowly down a black, shapeless chasm as the visage of a thousand faces of horror became surer and the monotonous whine of terrible drums moaned in the distance. Trapped in that unlit chamber beyond time and space it sang, a creature infinitely more potent and horrifying than anything that could be conjured by a mortal mind. There in the depths of that sinister void lay that amorphous blight of flesh and light, covered in a crimson robe. Its unutterable hideousness I could tell was more ancient than that of even the earth itself. I awoke as suddenly as I had fallen under that ever so thin veil of sleep, sweating and panting.

I thought I was not the only one to experience such a hellish dream, as in the following days the other townsfolk seemed shaken and lost, however I could not yet prove this theory. I thought it best to avoid conversation.

In their disparity the villagers once again turned to the man in red for solace. As a beacon of hope in the people’s eyes Naazhos turned the poor men and women into his apostles. Ignorant to his manipulation they obeyed his every word after the man in red promised to see to their salvation.

In the wake of dawn Naazhos emerged from the wood once again, and the people flocked to him. But this time was different. “please, mister. You must share your wisdom once more. Our sleep is still disturbed!” shouted a troubled voice from the crowd. The man smirked under his red hood. “Follow” he demanded. And so they did. Scaling the nearby mountain behind the cloaked man. Little by little the townsfolk gathered at the peak, a flat, stony mound of toppled granite and brown soot. I watched from afar as silence fell upon the crag and the man in red began to speak. In a bellowing voice he announced his preaching’s.

“I know of that which troubles your sleep. I know of that of which you seek in me. You believe my stories to be myth. They are not. In your slumber you saw what only the wise men to the east have seen, Azibar, Bethemoz, Krishhath. what only the seafaring hero’s of the south have seen. Omagu, Delrith, Ishtar. They worshiped, so they said, the great old ones who lived eons before there were any men. Star spawn, who came to the young world out of the sky, the true gods of earth and places far away. And upon this rock I shall build my church, in their worship. The silent shouter on the hill, the spinner in darkness, the sound of the deep waters. Old ones whose dead bodies foretold their secrets through dreams to the first men who formed a cult which has never died. I am that cult, an ancient priest of a faith which has exited and always would exist, until all becomes him again, the dread emperor himself, whose poisoned crown lays seething in the throne room beyond infinity. The great dreamer, the king in yellow and the blackness from the stars. Those old ones are gone now, inside the earth and under the sea, their last remnants hidden in distant wastes and lost places all over the earth, until the time when the great daemon sultan should awake from his chamber at the centre of eternity and bring the universe again beneath his sway.”

As the last of his words echoed through the darkening sky the man in the red thrust his hands upwards to the heavens. Above the mountain a nebulous halo of pure light began to form. The townsfolk were stunned, transfixed on the golden glow over their witless heads. And within it, an everchanging amalgamation of indescribable vapours, the colours of which I cannot describe. And before I could conceive what was taking place before me, I noticed the villagers begin to ascend into that amorphous cloud. Without struggle they floated upwards as puddles of black slime drippled from out the deepening hole. It morphed and twisted, edgeless shapes formed and reformed from unending spirals of madness to undreamt pyramids built from stars.

As the last of the townsfolk were pulled into the seething, chaotic chasm, screams erupted from the sky. Hundreds of anguished voices wailed from above as I turned and sprinted through the wood, leaving the man atop the mountain, to wander into the wild, in search of a new town to torment.

fiction
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Maximillian Kennedy
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