(A short story I wrote while doing GCSE English at school, c. 1989. It’s obvious inspiration is ‘At The Mountains of Madness’ by H.P. Lovecraft.)
They tell me my name is professor William Hinds, which may or may not be true, and that I am an palaeontologist and a geologist. I am indifferent as to my name (a name, after all, is just a name, and one will do as well as another) and, as to whether I’m a palaeontologist, or even a geologist (or, indeed, both), it is only relevant as to my reason for being in the Antarctic.
I was, they have told me, part of a dig exploring for samples of ancient fossils which were thought to be found there. Perhaps this is so and perhaps it is not; it is of no consequence. I am the only survivor of the expedition, they have said, and a search for the bodies of the others was given up as futile a month after its start. The Antarctic is a large and fearsome place, after all.
I now reside in a home for the mentally unwell, and, as they have said, I am suffering from amnesia and nervous tension – which I really did not think is surprising, given what I have been through. But I am not mad, I am sure of this.
I shall place before you an account of what I have experienced, which I will relate to you as clearly and as truthfully as I can:
I came to with a strange feeling of calmness. My nose was nearly touching the snow, which was covered with a thin layer of ice from my breath. I climbed slowly to my feet and looked around me.
The sun was in the middle of its arch across the sky, and I knew, without knowing how, that it was the height of the polar summer. It was only later that the irony of the situation dawned on me; that I was trapped in a nightmare that was also an endless day – weeks would pass without the sun setting below the horizon.
As I scanned the rising and falling horizon my eyes came to rest on a high mountain in the distance, which immediately stirred feelings of terror within me, so that a shiver ran up my spine. Apart from this, nothing else seemed wrong; it never occurred to me to ask what I was doing in the barren white landscape, how I had come to be there, or, even, who, exactly, ‘I’ was. I stood, and, perceiving little else to do, began to walk – with my back firmly toward the ominous peak.
Strapped around my shoulders was a heavy back pack, which, when I later stopped after a measureless period of time, I found to contain a tent and a sleeping bag, but little else of help. Like an automaton I erected the tent, entered it, climbed into my sleeping bag and went to sleep.
I awoke feeling confused, disorientated and hungry. I exited my small dwelling and my eyes were drawn again to the mountain which I found so strangely disturbing. As I stared I suddenly noticed something; there were footsteps leading from the loathsome peak up to my tent! I had been visited in the night by someone or something from that evil home of horrors!
I was shocked and profoundly agitated. The footprints themselves were large, deep and misshapen, but were spaced no further apart than that of a normal man.
I packed up as quickly as possible and staggered hurriedly away from that hellish place and hellish scene.
I walked for as long as I could, never looking back. I made my tent and clambered within to sleep, perchance not to dream.
The next day I awoke with a degree of dread which overpowered all other feelings. Out of my tent I crawled, my sense of predestination ever-mounting. I was again encountered by the footprints from that abysmal place, now unseen beneath the horizon. I barely stopped myself from screaming. Again I hurried away but I could feel alien eyes upon my back.
Later, a blizzard sprang up, and I floundered in a sea of milky whiteness. I felt secure within that comforting cloud, hidden from the sinister hunter, but, for my own safety, I had to stop.
I was hungry again when I awoke, for the fourth time in that brilliant, glaring, desert. Outside, all was crisp and clean and deep. I packed away my little camp and wandered on; my back still to where I believed the far-distant mountain to be.
When I was tired I stopped, re-made my sleeping-quarters and slept long and soundly.
My horror, then, was all the more consuming when I discovered that it had found me again. I screamed this time, unable to stop myself. I screamed loudly, and my scream went on and on; and then I fled, as quickly as possible; my tent, and everything save those grotesque footprints, forgotten.
I was later found, they said, for I suffered a second attack of amnesia, by a small team of Frenchmen, and by the time I recovered I was in this same building, this same institute, as I am today.
Often I have started from black slumber to see the thing standing above me, or to see it silhouetted by the window, or catch the whisper of its feet scraping on the floor. By day it is invisible and ethereal; but by night it is very much alive and actual.
The creature itself is a parody of mankind. It is tall and its skin is a dull grey. Its body is thin and angular with long, twisted limbs and wide, flat feet and hands. It is always naked, and shows no signs of sexual organs or orifices. Its head is sharp and bald, and its ears are small and pressed back against its slim skull. Its nose is a thin, flared line, and its mouth is a cruel slash with rows of teeth, gleaming dully yellow, visible when it smiles.
But what it lacks are eyes. Flat, dark pits, infinitely deep, occupy the space where its eyes should be. Emotionless, lifeless, yet those holes of pure darkness seem somehow mocking and expectant.
It is, indeed, a dreadful monster, and I’m sure it will prove to be my nemesis, although perhaps not quite as directly as one would think. Its reason for antagonising me I would hazard are to do with something I may have seen at or near the fear-filled mountain-place; the very something that, I would think, caused my initial amnesia. So now it hunts me, or rather haunts me, but whether to kill I cannot be sure. Of its malignancy I am certain, but the method of its revenge I cannot ascertain. Sometimes I think that death would be a blesséd relief, but, as I cannot know the direction of my posthumous journey, I will wait a while. I fear for my sanity, which so many say I’ve lost; and I find it ironic that, if, or, perhaps more likely, when, I do succumb to madness, I will already be in the place best suited to my condition.