Monday, March 5, 2012

Wish You Were Here (1.2)

lusus naturae

I can understand the need for evidence beyond the anecdotal.  That's why we do what we do – we track down proof.  We're bankrolling efforts to find Scotland's Nessie.  We've got teams tracking Bigfoot through the Canadian Rockies.  Crews hunting ghosts in New Orleans.  Members chasing vampires across Europe.  Werewolves in the Pacific Northwest.  The Chupacabra in Mexico.  Haitian zombies.  Chinese dragons.
Lumped into a group marked 'other', this is my so-called reward for years of service.  I'm charged with tracking down creatures classified as one-offs.  The Pope Lick Monster, a purported human-goat hybrid with a knack for hypnosis and mimicry.  The Scape Ore Swamp Lizard Man, a massive bipedal lizard with glowing red eyes.  The Mothman, the Jersey Devil, the Flatwoods Monster.
It was a couple years ago that the seeds of my current assignment were planted after coming into possession of a book, a truly bedevilled thing, in the dusty collection of tomes purchased at an estate sale in Massachusetts.
Barely anybody had clapped eyes on an authentic copy of Dr Hirschkovitsch's Encyclopædia  of Monstrosities and Miscreations in the nearly two centuries since the destruction of its scanty first and only printing.  Until my eyes fell upon this tome, my fingers caressing its cursed covers, there were only rumours and cheap imitations.  And by the time I unhooked the last of its hasps, I knew my world was forever changed.
Dr Itzhak Hirschkovitsch, renowned explorer and acclaimed cryptozoologist, a true pioneer in our field, had begun writing the manuscript at the start of the nineteenth century after nearly two decades of extensive travel and documenting.  The things he had encountered abroad had changed him, his wife was noted as saying, and once back home, Dr Hirschkovitsch flatly refused to discuss the things he had seen, and the “vast network of monstrosities” he had discovered.
All would be laid out in his book, he said, and the world would at last see what it was never meant to see.  Borders would fall away, and religions would crumble with a new, greater one rising up to replace the myriad old.  The earth's population would assume its rightful place as a people of slaves, he said, and it would be happy to do so at the mercy of the “other thing” which he repeatedly declined to elaborate on in his few interviews.
By summer of 1826, the manuscript was ready for printing, and a title was chosen, with the words Encyclopædia  of Monstrosities and Miscreations emblazoned in gold-leaf on the book's great leather cover.  Three brass hasps requiring three different keys secured the tome, and the book's pages were the sturdiest of paper, its accursed words printed with the finest of inks – all details which made the book one of the most expensive produced up to that time.
Dr Itzhak Hirschkovitsch inexplicably chose for the book's printing one of the smallest, most ill-equipped printing houses in all of England: Kohlson's.  It was only Samuel Kohlson's second year in business when Dr Hirschkovitsch made the exhaustive request of him, and he would've declined the work if it weren't for the handsome payment the weird doctor offered.
It's been said that not even two dozen copies of the book were printed by the time Dr Hirschkovitsch abruptly ordered the book's printing stopped, an order was followed closely by another: the immediate destruction of all twenty-three then-printed copies.  Kohlson's apprentice, a boy by the name of Johann Bruhner, was charged with their destruction, however, Bruhner had seen something important in the tome, and managed to squirrel away a copy of the book before burning the rest.   The rest, however, would not go down without a fight, and the fire raged out of control, burning to the ground the printing house with Samuel Kohlson still inside, unable to escape. 
Three days later, the body of Dr Itzhak Hirschkovitsch was found hanging in his home.  He did not leave a note, but did tie a really good noose.  So nicely was the noose tied, that details of its craftsmanship worked their way into every newspaper article on the doctor's suicide.  A new length of the finest hemp rope with twenty-three coils making up the knot, one for each copy of the Encyclopædia  of Monstrosities and Miscreations printed.  In life, Dr Hirschkovitsch enjoyed twenty foot ceilings – in death, these same ceilings made for an awfully long drop over a second floor balustrade.
The printer's apprentice, Johann Bruhner, was never the same after the fiery destruction of his workplace, and it wasn't long before his bloodied body was discovered in the basement of his parent's home.  Police reports from the time mention how Bruhner committed an act now known as seppuku, seemingly ripping open his own abdomen with a long knife.  He was cut almost through, from side to side, they wrote, his body laying nearly separated into two pieces with the knife still in his hand.  A book, indeed the book, lay open by his side.
Police Inspector William Johnson is said to have collected a few things as evidence, including the knife and the unnamed book.  The knife went where evidence is supposed to go.  The book found its way to Inspector Johnson's home.
I've a theory Inspector Johnson never bothered looking through the book, and may have unthinkingly, but luckily, locked the three hasps without having the keys to open them again.  I think this only because Inspector Johnson enjoyed a long life, a life free of curse save for the curse of mundanity.
By the time Chandler Montgomery III, noted philanthropist and bibliophile, found the book in Johnson's attic, it was still locked and under five decade's worth of dust.  The book, considered little more than an oddity by Montgomery's family, found itself being passed down through a few generations until it wound up at the bottom of a cardboard box on an auctioneer's stage.  Mine, for the low, low price of one hundred twenty dollars – and, possibly, my life.
It was a small, seemingly innocuous, article on page 161 of the tome which inexplicably caught my attention, and changed everything:


A fearsome creature rumoured to stalk city streets in plain sight, Q'lagan'yulgz was most recently encountered by a young physician in London, England, one Dr Alston James Toulson, who documented in his journal being “hounded incessantly by a demon” in the months leading up to his untimely suicide. 
The creature's activities are said to include, but are not necessarily limited to, toying with, taunting, and terrorizing his victims.  Its abilities include, but again are certainly not limited to, pyrotechnical conjuration, spontaneous materialisation, manipulation, seduction, and any combination thereof.
While the well-documented incident in London's Roehampton remains the creature's most infamous piece of work, creatures matching the description of Q'lagan'yulgz have been reported in major urban centres as far away as New York City.

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