May 22nd, 1929-
This morning I awoke to the sound of water sloshing against wood. For a brief, calming second I thought I was in the hull of a ship, that the atrocities I had witnessed and participated in were mere fantasy. The feel of sharp stones beneath me and the flapping of tent canvas dispelled this notion though. As my eyes opened and beheld another grey dawn, visions of things beyond description melted, replaced instead with a bleak reality.
Before I could languish too long in apathy, though, the tenacity of the splashing water began again. Had I made some mistake in tying up the barrels? It sounded as if someone was pouring it out. Who could be mere feet from my tent? All the crew were dead weren’t they? Twenty-two gone yesterday, five before then, and two before that, making… twenty-nine out of thirty-one. I cursed. My logic had been clouded yesterday by grief, and I had failed at simple arithmetic. Not knowing full well what I intended to do, I grasped my pistol and exited my tent to confront whatever was in the water.
With his head buried deep into a cask I found him. His skin was scorched dead and blistered with heat, his clothes burnt away. I knew immediately that I was looking at the arsonist who doomed us yesterday. As if this was not enough to enrage me, I saw that of the three remaining water barrels, he had already emptied one over himself and was well on his way to finishing the second. Something broke within me at the sight of this waste, and I transferred all the rage and guilt I felt for myself into him, unleashing a cry of inhuman rage and a kick to match.
I felt ribs crack beneath my foot and released another into the soft flesh of his stomach. I kept going, dropping the gun in order to better savour this violence. He withdrew his head from the barrel and, as he lay there under a hail of my blows, he turned his not-quite-sightless eyes towards me. In them I saw as much pitiful remorse and guilt as I myself suffered. I paused for just a second.
The burned man did not wait to seize his advantage. With his remaining teeth he tore a slice of raw skin from my calf. I screamed and tried to leap back, but his grip on me was strong. He pulled me off-balance and, despite his injuries, scrambled on top of me. His hands clenched around my neck, and the stench of oil and singed flesh filled my senses. I tried to push against his chest, desperate for some release. When they found purchase on a blackened area, though, I watched as, to my dismay, the burnt flesh sloughed off, fresh muscle and welling blood exposed beneath. In my horror I realised that this creature was talking at me.
“Don’t fight, don’t struggle, you’re making it worse, you’re angering Him!” I remember him saying, his voice rasping with zealous emotion. He continued his sermon, inclining his head towards the pile of corpses as he spoke, saying “You’ve had the dreams, we all have, they’re dreaming still! This place, this mountain, is more important than all of us! For a hundred million years it has slumbered dead, and who are we to think that our species should pry at such things? Such things at the edge of reality? Do not curse that we were given the gift of such a place to end ourselves, to dash ourselves upon the rocks, for it is an honour that such lowly beings as us might be welcomed here, at this chthonic Olympus, at the seat of the Thelog-As’hai.”
The phrase awoke dim recollection in me, and at his mention of the name a deep rumble sounded from beneath us. The scientist in me reasoned that the sound must have been an earthquake, the earth shifting miles beneath. Given what I have seen in my dreams and know in my heart, though, there were other thoughts racing through my head, as through the Burned Man.
Whatever the sound was, though, it distracted the man and he relaxed his grip upon me. I stretched towards the gun that still lay beside me, but before I could grab it he noticed. He too tried to scramble for it, reaching across the stone. It was enough of a distance for the center of balance to be shifted, and I rolled over on top of him. He shrieked as my knees pinned his arms against the coal-black stone. I hit him, punching again and again and again. As his face became unrecognizable, I grabbed what was left of his scorched hair and started smashing his head against the stones with repeated, methodic, and careful anger. Blood started to spread in a puddle around him as I felt his skull split apart, yet I kept attacking him, not letting go even as the screams stopped. At last I heard a distinct gunshot crack and his head lolled freely atop his burnt shoulders. Panting, I rolled off of him and lay there a moment, collecting my thoughts. His stench still fills me.
Eventually, I stood and dragged the Burned Man to the heap which his arson had caused. I spent a moment trying to identify him before giving up. His burnt visage was unidentifiable before, and now most of his remaining features had damn near broken off beneath my violence. I felt sick to the tooth, and had to spend most of the day convincing myself to choke down even the apple I had managed. I kept glancing at the bodies or glancing at the ship, each time losing any appetite I could build up. What I managed to consume was bitter with charred blood that crusted my hands. I have too little water to wash them with. I needed to be certain now, though, so this evening I got up and counted every single body lying there, laying them in a rectangle even as the seagulls began to eat their softer parts. Twenty three lying there, along with the corpses of August and Edmunds, and six other dead around this island. Thirty men dead, I am truly alone now.
This evening I was close to pulling the trigger, before I was interrupted. I don’t know why I don’t end it now. I am the last of my crew, the only one to know what horrors have happened here, and there is no rescue. The nearest shipping lane is eight times further than the horizon, and I have water for only one more day. The barrel was already in my mouth when I noticed that the steam has stopped. A quick scramble to the pool confirmed it, and that once boiling water is now still and cool, and there are secrets in its depths, secrets that I must know before I am gone.
No doubt I shall investigate further tomorrow, and no doubt I will find answers, whether I want them or not. Tonight, though, I shall dream again, and there will be no escape from what I have done.