Life as a graduate student can be tough. Every one of those blasted professors concocts some monumental project he wants to dump on your head, egghead crap that will eat up your free time and stomp on your brains without any real benefit to yourself. It’s all for them, and if you cook up anything worthwhile they will be sure to snatch all the glory. And all I wanted to do was coast through the college credits until I’d piled up enough to clear out with a meal ticket.
Got it? So, the idea was to fasten on the instructor with the fewest or least painful demands, spit out the sort of rubbish that would keep him happy, and abscond before his silly project came to dominate my life. Right, that was the idea. I figured all the angles, and accepted the deal thrown at me by Professor Vorchek.
It sure sounded like a good deal. The posted notice on the bulletin board in the college café made it sound like the task mainly required a bunch of reading. That was already pushing luck with me, but I had to do something this semester, and I picked this one. Looking up the fuller online description added a wad of prof-speak malarkey meaning nothing to normal human beings, but it still emphasized reading. I could handle it, in a pinch. I could do it. I went to look up the source of the posting.
Knew the name, might have seen him from a distance and shrugged him off, but this was my first actual meeting with Professor Anton Vorchek. It wasn’t an edifying occasion. He was the kind of fellow who’s practically impossible to take seriously. For starters, he apparently wasn’t affiliated with any department, possessing something resembling emeritus status despite not being old enough. I didn’t get that. Rumor had it that he dabbled in bizarre subjects, without clarifying what. He kept office in a musty cubbyhole at the back of the campus’ oldest building, the one almost hidden by palm trees, where may have been the only permanent tenant. And he was obviously a ‘character.’
Nattily dressed in a style from before my birth, rather harsh features framed by a short, manicured beard, and a precise vocal manner infused with a slight foreign accent; he reminded me of a movie villain. He asked me to take a seat, which required shifting a pile of old books littering crumbles. Puffing on a chunky pipe (this reminded me of Sherlock Holmes) he said, “Really quite the easy assignment, young man, yet most important. It is only a matter of translating a modest document; in fact, a chapter from a book, nor does the translation involve an exotic language. A certain linguistic obsolescence, perhaps, due to the age of the material, but I shall provide you with the necessary support. A great help to me, you see, yet there ought to be nothing alarming at all to you.”
And so on. With a casual chortle he emphasized the ‘lack of danger’ as he put it, which only clued me that he had once been a graduate student himself, therefore knew the score. I just wanted in, out, and gone, with his certificate of approval to waive in the faces of my committee.
I took the job. He gave me the papers, set a generous deadline, dismissed me. I was on my own. The batch of sheets constituted scanned copies of a chapter out of an old book. The précis he included told me something, if not much. Truth to tell, I rapidly skimmed it and did my level best to forget it.
It was all about this guy Jacob Bleek, and the book he wrote, from which I was translating that single chapter. Bleek was a hotshot scholar in the olden days, meaning a whopping long time ago, the Dark Ages or whenever. History not being my strong point—I mean, really, it was always hard to take the folks back then seriously, like they weren’t real the way people were in the present—I didn’t make much of dates and figures, except his birth was chronologically obscure, and the date of his death even more ambiguous. He seemed to have lived a wildly long span of years, if vague insinuations were correct.
Jacob Bleek, I learned, pretended or was held by contemporaries to be a wizard or sorcerer, a practitioner of powerful magic. He roamed the wide world, as it was known in those days, acquiring and accumulating all the magical lore hidden in the strange places of the earth. He performed marvels, usually of the sort to overawe others and advance his cause; and there came a time, after many years (more than a normal human lifetime, if various tales be collated), when he had garnered all esoteric knowledge to be had. Then, under mysterious circumstances containing suggestions of the dire, he vanished from human ken.
Before he went—wherever that was—Jacob Bleek wrote down the totality of his amassed wisdom. All this he put into a tome, or scrolls, or whatever they used in those days, and the complete document became known in scholarly accounts as the Black Book. Not being the sort of thing stocked in your typical library, the book suffered a checkered history so far as preservation was concerned, with bits and pieces ending up scattered all over the haunts of arcane cults. Laborious efforts of modern times led to the tracking down and restoration of the dispersed text. Maybe all of it had been recovered, all that had been found carefully translated.
Save, apparently, for one single chapter. The chapter existed, copies were available—Vorchek obviously had it—yet it had never been translated. The professor’s info didn’t even state what was supposed to be in it. Goofy that sounded, but for all I knew or cared those things happened. I’d get to do the job, and kudos to me.
Brother, how to start on this stuff? I spread the sheets out on the coffee table in front of the TV, which stole half of my attention while I casually tried to grasp the business before me. A stack of reference books, note paper and pencil, a laptop and a beer completed my tools. While staring stupidly at this mess my current girl, Betty, waltzed in and made a face at the litter. She asked, “You’re actually doing schoolwork? Are you sick?”
I replied, “It’s a big deal, and easy breezy, and this junk will get me off the hook for the semester. Don’t worry, it won’t get in the way of anything.” She shrugged. I believe she was flunking out about then, so partying was supposed to loom large for us both. I sure wouldn’t argue the point.
Except I had to perform a bare minimum in order to get by. No more stalling; here’s the nitty-gritty of my literary adventure. The strange clumps of bizarrely old-fashioned letters rose up, made a fist, and punched me in the face. Words, lettering style, the spidery scrawl, everything weird. To be expected, so no point in complaining. The modern dictionary gave me the gist of words, though there were archaisms to puzzle out, plenty of them. Still, the language hadn’t changed as much as English had over the years. I shuddered to recall that class on Chaucer, which just about killed me.
Once into the groove, I didn’t suffer too badly. As the work proceeded, I had the odd sensation that this wasn’t really a matter of translation, or that such was an insignificant part of the whole. Rather, at times it felt as if I were dealing with code. At first I thought that due to my clumsy efforts, but as I got the hang of the task this aspect intensified. Peculiar word combinations indicated alternative meanings underlying the text. Phrases were jammed together in a fashion inconsistent with normal writing. One roadblock I stumbled over for an hour, before realizing I wrestled with a conglomeration of fractured syllables.
What did it all mean? It took me a while to notice a pattern. I detected a cadence to the writing, if that means anything, configurations that could be voiced rising and falling in what struck me as intelligent design. Eventually it hit me, and I was staggered at my own cleverness for figuring it out. Beneath the surface lay a kind of chant, a mantra conveying information beyond what the bare words provided. I couldn’t imagine how an author could compose such, while at the same time maintaining a readable document.
And what I read was wild enough. Piecing together a narrative proved difficult, much of it was less tale than tables, and straining to fill in connecting words gave me endless aggravation, but here and there a choice bit would leap out to startle me with its creepiness or ominous portent. This Jacob Bleek must have been quite the eccentric boy, and not in a wholesome way. I read mention of spells to perpetrate atrocities against foes, and boasts of dire results gained. There were descriptions of foul materials utilized in repellent potions, and bland statements as to the horrid locales where such had been collected or purloined. Craziest of all were the quasi-scientific expositories outlining knowledge of dread realms of existence and vile life beyond the awareness of normal human beings.
Bleek claimed the ability to unlock unseen doors opening onto far places of the universe or even more alien regions impossible to locate on maps or charts of the cosmos. As he told it, he freely traveled into these zones, engaging in intercourse or confronting the monstrously weird entities he found there. Some he cajoled or forced to serve his dark purposes; others he shunned as dangerous; others still he so greatly feared as to design magical barriers to ward off their innate aggressiveness. Warped as all this was, his coldly clinical descriptions of these beasties especially got under my skin. They were all incredibly repulsive and evil, creatures that only a master sorcerer dared face, and that with agonizing care.
The sections dealing with those monstrosities were most prone to the literary cadence I alluded to, and the mere reading of these passages, once I had them clear, created in me an icy sensation of extreme disquiet. I spoke to Professor Vorchek about this, some time the following week. He treated the matter with genial disinterest.
“Son, it sounds to me that you worry about nothing. You are making plain a challenging series of translations, which pleases me mightily. Continue with my full regard.”
“But sir, I’m trying to explain the quirks of the text. There’s something more I need to clarify.” Only I couldn’t, see. What was I attempting to tell him? The way he so kindly humored me, I figured I sounded like an idiot.
Come to think of it, I did feel the fool for bringing it up. Away from those papers, my concern (about what?) shriveled and faded to nothing. I guessed school biz was weighing me down. Best just to keep plugging by the numbers, finish the task, and not make ridiculous waves guaranteed to annoy the professor.
I meant to leave it at that, and if that had been all I would have, but a couple of nights later something else came up to plague me. Continuing to make headway on the translation, I was trying to push the job forward to get it out of my hair. Betty flounced in while I was deep into a particularly disgusting passage, I didn’t respond as she wished to her nonsense, she stormed out, and I was left unsettled, angry, generally feeling morbid and ‘off.’ All this, I assumed at the time—possibly correctly, as far as it went—led to the next disturbing occurrence.
I’m talking about a dream, a wild and crazy nightmare that crashed down on a guy who never had a remembered dream in his life. Well, let me testify that this one got remembered, not to be forgotten. The details came straight out of Bleek’s chapter. Yes, I had read this part the evening before, but the items described hadn’t impressed more than the rest, not in a way I thought would linger. The chant-like quality of the passages affected me more, but where was the significance in that?
Regardless, Jacob Bleek wrote, as from certain knowledge, of a barrier erected by ancient wizards to bung up a specifically located weakness in the fabric of the universe, beyond which lay a dimension of what he styled “dead space,” a vast parallel cosmos almost entirely devoid of life or, I gathered, coherent matter at all. Those magicians lost to conventional history, known as the Rhexellites, were masters of a high civilization that, at the height of its glory, was rocked by an intrusion from that other dimension, the breaking through of a fiendish menace that could only be repelled by the most powerful of occult arts.
The menace consisted of the freakish sentient beings inhabiting that other universe, loathsome parasitic creatures that had exterminated virtually all other life within their domain. Largely reduced to feeding on one another, they conspired to penetrate other dimensions seeking dominion and food. This intended invasion, in the case of our universe, the Rhexellites had stopped, perhaps forever. Unfortunately, later, less wise mages tampered with spells allowing them to peek into that dread sphere. Those spells, foolishly employed, knocked cracks in the Rhexellite barrier, through which hardy alien forms could slip, enough to terrorize anyone unlucky enough to meet up with them.
A weird, squalid story, made worse by Bleek’s smug assertion that he possessed the incantation of “two way viewing”—my clumsy attempt at translating his term, but obscurely implying movement in space as well—by which he had entered that hideous realm numerous times and safely returned, only sometimes with unwanted company. Bleek bragged that he knew the magical methods of chasing away his unpleasant visitors and sealing the fissures in the otherwise solid Rhexellite wall.
All that Bleek told; this I experienced. After my troubled evening I dropped off, not into blank slumber, but into a thick, oppressive darkness echoing with sound. It sounded a throbbing, wordless vocalization, utterly meaningless yet imbued with definite regularities. I say meaningless, except that I sensed subliminal import, a message pounding at me or past me.
On that thought I gained an awareness of place, the blackness drawing back sufficiently to reveal slight features. Awareness of self came to me as well. My heart pounded in my chest as I drifted down an ethereal tunnel. I saw stars, or twinkling motes of distant light, through the walls, ceiling, and floor. Then what looked like dark gray mist obscured this slender vision. Of a sudden I entered a new zone.
Still aware of self, I wish I hadn’t been, for the area into which I came was wholly unexpected, unlike anything in former experience, and downright sickening. It wasn’t land, sea, or air; all matter seemed a kind of translucent, oily, grayish-black gelatine. It felt unclean, clammy, and faintly warm to the touch. To that I could testify, for I continued into the stuff, half crawling, half dog paddling. I breathed it, and impossibly lived. It clogged nostrils, filled gagging mouth. It stank worse than leftover death, and there’s no need to go into the taste. I came to understand, not from smarts I’ll admit, but from reading. An ocean of filthy gel? A planet of nauseous gel? No, this was as Jacob Bleek had foretold, an entire dimension or universe made up of this putrid substance. Nothing else . . . save for the inhabitants.
Half seen at first in the distance, they slowly squirmed toward me through the goop. They writhed through that rancid jelly, advancing with an undulating, swimming motion. There was no question that they were attracted to me, for in every direction I saw them, getting closer. Picture objects about the size of big puppies, only these were in the shape of tadpoles; no, call them slugs, pitch black, bulbous in front, the suggestion of a head with hints of dull red eyes, several more of them than necessary. A moment of unwilling study showed me their mouths below the spidery orbs, round and full of needle teeth as in a lamprey. They were as horrible to look upon as any living thing could be, especially when I felt myself their certain target. I sensed eagerness, acceleration from desire, from hunger. They had almost picked clean their gobby cosmos, and here I dropped in, fresh meat.
I tried to scream, a hopeless enterprise in that slimy world. Sound carried, but not far with a mouthful of choking slop. I breathed by the way, painfully, somehow the ooze filling lungs providing them with oxygen or what passed for same according to the rules of that universe. The scream of stark terror came out a pathetic gasp. I did hear other sounds, did I ever, mainly the noises of slippery horrors surging after prey. I turned, maneuvering clumsily, flailing at random to no avail. The things were all around. The eerie throbbing swelled, intensified. That strange aural emanation mingled with a mushy muttering bursting unbidden from my own throat.
And I thrashed amidst rumpled sheets and blankets on the bed in my dark room. Soaked with perspiration, I sat up spitting, imagining an abhorrent taste soiling my tongue. A stench tormented my nose, while an oily wetness clung to my skin. So I thought, but fevered examination disclosed nothing of the kind. Those sensations stemmed from dream hold-overs, obviously. Of course that was the case: no taste, no odor, no dampness. In the dimness of the unlighted room, with weak sunlight filtering through blinds, I beheld the typical junky normality of my littered life. Sure, that was the end of the grotesque vision, except I cried out when I spotted a small black thing writhing on the carpet by the door. I fumbled, floundered, groped madly for the bed lamp on the night stand, snapped it on, aimed. It relieved me to spy nothing there. Oh, such joy! A moment’s reflection, however, told me I should have been happier if I could now see something, like slippers or an old bag, that I might have misinterpreted.
I had a rotten day. A math class no longer avoidable dominated the morning. I should have paid attention, given the way my grade was sinking, but whatever the commutative property was, I missed out on that intellectual treat. By noon, with intense mental effort, I embarked on the final round of translation, with a sigh and a curse finishing with that abominable Jacob Bleek. Right to the end that chapter antagonized me. Its concluding flourish continued with the toxic business that had infected my sleep, harping on what the perverse author described as “hauntings” from the shunned dimension. The notion gave me the creeps. While collating the completed typed papers Betty popped in again, hoping for an improved attitude on my part. It didn’t happen. “You don’t look good,” she observed. I didn’t participate fully in the conversation she instigated, and then she left in a huff.
I took the file to Professor Vorchek. Getting to him involved a more roundabout path than usual. Upon arriving on campus a buddy accosted me. It should have been a simple matter to listen to his noise for a minute and then scoot across the college green past the palm trees to the old building where Vorchek kept his office. It didn’t happen like that. Over Wally’s shoulder, as he droned on about his feats of this last night, I spotted twin patches of movement in the landscaped shrubs on the green. Two small creatures were sneaking about under the vegetation, generally heading our way. I made comment, Wally turned casually, said he saw nothing and resumed standard chatter. I didn’t know how he missed them. The things emerged from cover; dachshunds, big rats? No, not that black, nor undulating like that, nor with so many eyes and wicked teeth. I yelped in a squeaky voice impossible to recognize as my own and raced away. Wally called after me, but in the best of times I didn’t care about that.
Unhappiness didn’t stop there. As I ran, heedless of what others thought of my behavior, I thought—not rational thought, but a kind of subliminal realization—those parasitical pan-dimensional entities were attracted to me, had tasted of me as it were, craved more, and managed to slip through the barrier to reach me. Pretty thoughts indeed, made worse when the world began collapsing around me. Not paying attention to details at the moment, I didn’t notice at first the spreading darkness. Brilliant day gave way to cloud shadow, then to overcast gloom. I picked up on that when the darkness seemed to physically close around me; pure black, walls of ebony—like gelatine—from which detestable things crawled. Charging madly toward Vorchek’s building, it was as if I already raced down an unlighted corridor.
The professor was in. So warped was my world that I approached and viewed him as from the wrong end of a telescope. I still, incredibly, carried the folder containing the translation of Bleek. Across a million miles Vorchek extended his hand, took the papers. I said, “Professor, you’ve got to help me. There’s a curse buried in that chapter. I read it, I fell through the cracks, and the monsters slipped through after me. They’re here with us now!”
Vorchek nodded contentedly. “Quite right, son. Only you can see them, but what you say confirms previous evidence. I suspected something of the sort permeating those writings. After all, every recorded attempt at reading Bleek’s forbidden chapter led to indescribably horrific death. It stood to reason that such would occur in your case as well. Fear not, however; the paranormal menace will pass . . . with your passing.”
I believed him. “Why, Professor? You can’t use my translations, without suffering my fate. Jacob Bleek saw to that. What’s the point?”
As the lamprey mouths fastened on my flesh he fumbled for his pipe, replying, “I am sure you did good work, young man, in the process performing a sterling service for science. My next graduate student will analyze this data. The student after him may be honored to co-write a paper with me. Whatever it takes, my boy, whatever the cost, knowledge shall advance.”
BIO: Jeffery Scott Sims is an author devoted to fantastic literature, living in Arizona, which forms the background for many of his stories. His recent publications include a volume of weird tales, _Science and Sorcery III_; the republication of _The Journey of Jacob Bleek_; and the short stories “The Search for Doctor Vane,” “Comes the New World,” “The Revenge of the Weird,” “The Master of Kirgusk,” “The Mystery of the Egyptian Biscuit,” and “The Watcher Within.” He maintains a literary website at http://jefferyscottsims.webs.com/index.html