The House of Mystery: The Thing in the Cellar, Chapter 1: Within the Woods

by Frank G. Murdock

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Dark skies rumbled as storm clouds moved in over a cemetery that spread out for several acres. A large broad house rested upon a hill at one end of the cemetery. Two dim lights from the upper windows eerily animated the aged mansion with dead cataracted eyes that cast a baleful gaze out over the landscape.

Five small figures approached the house with hesitation. All was dark except for a flickering light resonating dimly by the door.

“You knock on the door,” said a little witch wearing a pointed purple hat.

“No way,” retorted the other, clad in a sheet with several holes, his hands firmly grasping a white garbage bag.

“Ladies first,” said another small ghost holding a white pillowcase tightly in his hands.

The witch standing next to him with a black hat rolled her eyes. “Whatever, you guys. What a bunch of blockheads.”

A third ghost, who wore a dirty sheet and stood next to a beagle wearing a pilot’s goggles and red scarf, said nothing. The beagle, on the other hand, looked at the front door and let out a low whine.

Moving slowly up the stairs onto the porch with a pumpkin-shaped pail in hand, the small witch with the black hat reached for the door knocker and rapped three times.

A few minutes passed without an answer.

“Well,” said the ghost. “I guess they went to bed. Let’s get out of here.”

“You’re probably right,” said the little witch. “Let’s go try that last house on the other end of the cemetery.”

“No way!” cried the boy in the multi-holed sheet. “Let’s go get your brother from the pumpkin patch and go home.”

“Whatever,” said the little witch as she turned and began to head down the stairs.

But before she could make it to the first step, the sound of a deadbolt disengaging could be heard by the children. The small witch stopped in her tracks and quickly turned as the door slowly opened. All five children gasped at the sight of the man who opened the door.

He was a thin, long-limbed man whose brown hair drew up to points above his ears and covered his angular chin with a tuft of beard. He looked at them with small, beady eyes that narrowed through the pair of wire-framed spectacles that rested upon his thin nose.

“Hello?” said the man in the tone of one of those narrators of old black and white movies of late night television. “May I help you?”

The little witch swallowed hard and spoke. “Tri… trick or treat?”

The man seemed surprised by what the girl had said. “Is it that time already? Oh, I do apologize, my dear children. It appears that I have lost track of time this year. Halloween completely slipped my mind.”

The small ghost, feeling quite terrified, said, “Th-that’s all right. We — we’ll just go. N-never mind.”

Thunder cracked, and rain began to fall. Like buckets, the skies emptied down over the five small costumed children.

“Hmmm. I tell you what, my little goblins and ghouls, have a seat on my porch until the rain lets up. While you wait, I can read you a story. No need you all get sick or leave without a treat of some kind, eh?”

The five children looked at one another, unsure what to do, when the thunder cracked again.

As the rain fell a few moments later, the five children sat huddled together on the porch of the old house. Each drank from cups of hot chocolate as the old man took a seat in a rocking chair in front of them. In his hands he held a large book. The cover had strange markings upon it, and its pages looked old and yellowed.

“I do not tend to keep candy around my home. But since this is a grand holiday, and you are here until the storm subsides, perhaps Uncle Cain can entertain you with a story to fit the occasion.” He smiled at the children with a wicked grin. “You do like spooky stories, do you not?”

The little witch with the pink hat nodded her head slowly. “I love spooky stories! Is it a ghost story?

The man shook his head. “No. This is no ghost story, my little friends. No vampires or werewolves in this story at all; although you may hear the mention of a demon or dark magics in the telling.”

“What’s the story about?” asked the ghost with the dirty sheet.

The man merely smiled before he opened the book and turned the first page.

“It’s an untold tale in the history of the Necronomicon, popularized by the tales of Howard Phillips Lovecraft,” began the old man.


Do not think from my succumbence to alcohol that I am writing this under an appreciable mental strain, since by tonight I shall be no more. Hopeless, and at the end of my supply of the intoxicant which alone makes my situation endurable, I can bear the torture no longer; and, with the shotgun at my side, shall extinguish myself from this hellish nightmare into the darkness of oblivion. Do not think from my inebriation that I am a weakling or a degenerate. When you have read these hastily scrawled pages you may guess, though never fully realize, why it is that I must expediently leave these words of warning and escape the horrors I have unleashed by means of death.

My name is Raymond Knowby. I am a professor of ancient Egyptian mythology in Gotham University’s ancient history department. These final entries I write from a small cabin in the southern mountains of Tennessee. Here I had come with my wife, Henrietta, for a few weeks so that I could continue my research undisturbed. By all that is holy, how was I to know that my retreat from distraction would come to serve as an exile into hell?

It had all started in May, when a group of associate professors and myself had been excavating the ruins of a desolate region of the Arabian Desert — the Roba el Khaliyeh or “Empty Space” of the ancients — and “Dahna” or “Crimson” desert of the modern Arabs, where the mad Arab, Abdul Alhazred, was according to legend to have spent ten years in seclusion uncovering the dread secrets which he, in the insanity that it took upon his already fragile psyche, would document in a manner which I can only refer to as abhorrent.

But I get ahead of myself. Abdul Alhazred, a poet of Sanaá in Yemen, who is said to have flourished during the period of the Ommiade caliphs, circa 700 A.D., visited the ruins of Babylon and the subterranean secrets of Memphis, which had been held to be inhabited by protective evil spirits and monsters of death. Of his madness many things are told. He was only an indifferent Moslem, worshipping unknown entities known as M’nagalah and Cthulhu. He claimed to have seen fabulous Irem, or the City of Pillars, and to have found beneath the ruins of a certain nameless desert town the shocking annals and secrets of a race older than mankind.

It was these secrets — secrets that were never intended for the minds of men to realize, that we had sought to uncover in our exploration of the ancient ruins, that should have stayed buried beneath those sands which had so long ago sought to protect the world from the evil — that we had made our most misfortunate findings; the long-lost text known as the Al Azif — the original tome that would later be known as the Necronomicon!

I shudder as I think of the excitement I had felt at the time upon discovering this forbidden blasphemy before me. May God forgive me for whatever insidiousness that must have compelled me to remove these damnable writings from their cryptic entombment; forgive me for the evil I have unleashed. Oh, Henrietta… please forgive me.

In our research of his last years, we came to uncover that Alhazred had dwelt in Damascus, where it is said he wrote of what he had discovered beneath the sands of that loathsome and most vilest of places, the Al Azif, and of his final death or disappearance (738 A.D.) of which many terrible and conflicting things are told.

The discovery of the text had been a mix of historical and academic intrigue. The carbon-dating analysis of the text for age and authenticity had revealed the atrocities connected with the book’s earliest origins — the bindings having been made of human flesh and inked with the blood of the deceased. And while none can be sure to posit the accuracy of my and my colleagues’ suppositions, the macabre possibility that the biology might be that of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred himself — the ultimate price he might have paid for the forbidden knowledge he had come to discover, a hypothesis which coincides with one of the horrific and unfathomable conflicting tales of his demise — is something I am now, in my final hours, in no doubt of being the most likely of realities.

This should have been a warning to us to burn the text, to destroy the pages of the unmentionable evil stained across its very pages, but let us all be damned for being that which we are who call ourselves “learned” — damn us all scholars and scientists alike!

And so it was here, in the cabin far away from the disturbances of day-to-day life, far away in a remote place of wilderness, far away from the modern luxuries of a telephone or help from others, that I began to translate the pages within the Al Azif.

It has only been a few days since I translated and spoke aloud the first of the passages from the ancient tome. The particular chapter in which I speak was that which dealt with demons and demon resurrection. These are of the earthen variety, meaning those forces believed to inhabit the caves and woods of man’s domain. The first few pages that I had translated warn that these demons are dangerous, ever present, and exist primarily through this vile tome.

As legend has it, only the sacred high priests of the Cult of the Elder Ones could possess these books, for they alone could properly control the resurrected demons. It is only through the act of reciting the resurrection passage that these demons would be able to possess the living. For many years it was thought that this legend was nothing more than the practices and beliefs of a superstitious and primitive culture, but I now know otherwise, for after I spoke aloud the phrases of the demon resurrection passages, I came to understand that my wife had become host to an earthen demon of the Berith family. May God forgive me for what I have unleashed onto this world, and may my beloved wife forgive me for the torments I have brought upon her eternally damned soul.

I have returned to writing after opening a third bottle of wine. I find it calms me and enables me to tell what you will soon come to find is the most horrific part of my experience.

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