I’ll never go down to the sea again. It used to be that whenever I needed to think or heal, I would go and sit on the stones of the beach and watch the moon reflected on the waters, letting my mind ease to the rhythm of the waves. I introduced Marc to my little ritual and from then on, he and I would frequently sit there all night talking about everything and anything that came to the enquiring minds of two bright teenage musicians. Never again. I first met Marcus Corvakis when we were flung together at school by the singular selection process of him being the new kid in the class and me being the last kid in the class waiting to be chosen as a partner in project pairings. Our contribution to the project was dismal, but we discovered a mutual love of literature, music and Amanda Wilcox. By the end of that week, he had insisted that I call him Marc and I let him call me Ritchie because it sounded so exotic when pronounced with his accent. Amanda Wilcox was a wonder to our thirteen year old sensibilities. I came from the council estate down the road, Marc from the opposite side of the same estate but only recently arrived from the continent. His dad had only just succeeded in getting his family imported, to join him in a poverty so much richer than the poverty offered by his home country. Amanda came from The Gorse, a small enclave of beachside private homes surrounded by open land and the homes of those near enough to pretend they were a part of it. Her father did something complicated in the city and her mother had been an actress. For some reason, she and I got on well. For all the upper class pressures, Mandy was a very down to earth girl with a talent for looking elegant and poised. One day about a month after he and I met, I introduced Marc to her and our fates were sealed. I have never seen two people fall in love so fast.
Marc was inspired by Mandy and by her parent’s unanimous loathing of him. He was a talented guitarist by the time we met, and his encouragement lifted my piano lessons onto full keyboards where a piano was only one of a host of sounds I could conjure. From there it was a simple step to form a teen band, rehearsing and gigging in garages across the county. We became adept at breaking down our kit and retreating in the interval between a neighbour complaining and the police arriving. We gigged as much as possible, only went to school when we couldn’t play and had the usual host of near misses and memories to show for it. By the time we left school we had sufficient recognition and a fan base that allowed us to become professional musicians to the despair of everyone’s parents except mine. We were all freshly turned eighteen when our band ‘Caravelle’ was finally discovered. Marc’s incredible mix of soulful blues with his pyrotechnic guitar playing counterpointed my baroque keyboard style. It was hailed as unique and for a few months, we were in the antechamber of the rock ‘n’ roll dream. Then came the three in the morning trip between venues and the drunken electrician in his company van, trying to make up time to a job in another county after a very late night. We met on the motorway as he came off the slip road with no lights, straight into our camper van. Caravelle died that night. Marc, Mandy and I were the lucky survivors. They had been up front and belted in. It had been my turn to drive. The lamp pole on the centre reservation made a mess of me as it folded the driver’s front side of the van in, while they got crushed by the dashboard; apparently me getting mangled saved them as the industrial thermos flask I always carried in my pack absorbed the rest of the impact and forced a twelve-inch gap to exist where none should have been. The drunken electrician died. To this day I feel not one whit of remorse or pity over his demise. I awoke in hospital with most of me held up or held in place by stitches, rods, cables and pulleys. I had been in an induced coma for a month. Marc was in the adjacent bed. When I progressed from eyes open to lucidity, he told me of the funerals and tributes, the compensation payment, the fact we had been dropped by the formerly eager to please record company and that Mandy’s parents had disowned her when she refused to leave Marc and come back to a nice, safe existence in The Gorse. Over the months of my recovery and rehabilitation, Marc and I let our love of literature run wild, with Mandy acting as library courier until Marc was ambulatory. We plowed through science fantasy into horror, then weird horror and from there into esoteric occult. Marc found some old musical scores in this area and he became fascinated, but he wanted to concentrate on a new band first. His filed them for ‘his future solo career’ as he laughingly put it. We chatted about a new outfit to back our guitar and keyboards, then they told me about the nerve damage. The complete loss of fine motor skills in my right arm and the likelihood of occasional paralysis in either or both legs that would probably get worse as I got older or sooner if I indulged in active pursuits. My left arm was fine except that the muscles would occasionally spasm, giving me a hand palsy that would pass after a few minutes. They weren’t sure of the exact nature of the other problems I could face. They only knew that I was going to have them. My rock ‘n’ roll dream ended there. Even with months of rehabilitation, I had reached a point where no further progress could be made. A few weeks later I left hospital at last with a lifetime prescription for several drugs with unpronounceable names that effectively stopped me drinking. Marc and Mandy stood by me through all of this, despite his new band ‘Corvalline’ beginning to attract attention. In the end, seeing them and hearing tapes of the rehearsals and the early mixes of the first album became too much. We had a tearful farewell with promises of staying in touch, but we all knew that it was the end. The ways we were to follow were going in wildly different directions.
Twenty years went by with the speed that only a life of routine can grant. I became a contract computer programmer. It was not a rock star lifestyle but I was earning sufficient money to afford some very good treatment for my problems remaining from the accident. I became more functional and had the spectres of debilitation in old age removed, but the deft touch for musical skills was beyond retrieval. I married, divorced, married again and lost her in a car crash just before we would have separated. Meanwhile, Corvalline went from strength to strength. Marcus Corvakis had become the virtuoso ‘Marc K’ and he led a shifting group of musicians that comprised the band through rock to jazz rock and then to blues. Sometime in the second decade I visited Marc and Mandy at their new place on a tributary of the Thames and spent a wonderful evening reminiscing. Apart from that, we did not see each other at all, although I did pick up on the fact that Marc had started contributing some very perceptive articles to various occult publications under his proper name. Then came the headlines regarding Marc disbanding the group, saying he had put off solo work for too long and it was time for him to focus on those projects. I remember when because it was a couple of weeks before my fortieth. Marc caused a sensation when he appeared at the surprise party that my parents had arranged. We chatted a bit and he mentioned the old music manuscripts and some place in Europe where he’d been able to get more. The prices he casually mentioned made my head spin. Then he presented me with a beautifully bound volume titled ‘The Book of the Sea’ by some chap called Fitcham. He said I would like it because of our time spent chatting on beaches under the moon. I made polite noises, having no clue of the staggering value of what he had given me. That was it apart from me being unable to take my eyes off Mandy for the rest of the evening. Our conversation drifted and petered out because we had nothing in common any more.
The next five years passed with less emotional turbulence than the previous twenty. I had had enough of failed relationships and finally admitted my undying fascination and probable love for Mandy. With that acknowledged, I could move on. I started my own software company and after five years, found myself in the enviable position of being able to retire as my company was bought out by a global software giant for an incredible sum. I travelled a bit but eventually came back to Sussex, purchasing a nice place on the downs. After moving in, I idled for a few months and in that time I got around to reading ‘The Book of the Sea’. It reminded me of Frazer’s ‘Golden Bough’ in places, yet in others it seemed to be the ravings of an old sailor who had drunk cheap booze in every sinkhole port on the planet. Through the prose ran hints of ancient religions that worshipped gods that resided much closer than the lofty heavens. That was despite the fact that these divinities were totally uncaring of the wishes or even the survival of their worshippers. Overall, the book disturbed me to the point where my dreams became roiling nightmares for a couple of weeks afterwards. There were two reasons that I kept the book: The acknowledged one being that it was a gift from Marc that had cost him thousands. The other, unsaid reason was that I was reluctant to let it out into the world where some lunatic could draw inspiration from it. I never confronted that second baseless but unshakeable belief, just put the book high on my shelves, sealed in a protective bag. It was in the very late evening about a week later that my mobile rang. I was torn between annoyance and curiosity until I recognised Mandy’s voice. “Ritchie? I need your help. Can you come to the house?” Her voice was strained, pleading. I was on the road within five minutes. Their house was still a lovely place, now with the grounds carefully tended to appear as a miniature woodland wound with pathways and clearings. As Marc was not one for running a boat, he had had the integral boat-house converted into a studio with great sliding glass doors that looked out onto the private mooring. He used to love watching the fish in the shadows under the great willow. It was one of the main reasons he bought the place, he had admitted to me on that night years before. When I arrived, Mandy was on the doorstep, eyes red from crying and with what I realised were bloodstains on her robe. She hugged me like I had always dreamt of her hugging me before leading me into the house without a word. I looked about. It seemed tidy enough but there was something off about the place. Then again, it was a decade or so since I had visited. She looked at me and smiled. “You look well. Better even.” I grinned despite the implicit urgency I felt radiating from her. “Keyboards always were my strong point.” She smiled a weak smile and turned her head toward the opening to the corridor that led down to the studio. “He’s down there. Hasn’t come out for three days. Hasn’t eaten for a two of them. He got really angry when I disturbed his playing. It’s horrible, Ritchie. Please stop him.” With that I headed to the studio, my pace firm and my resolve crystal. As I approached the door, the sounds from within became clearer. It was a twelve-string guitar and the intricacy of the playing took my breath away. But what was being played was awful. All minors and dissonances. It sounded like some of the strings were strangely muffled and tuned slightly high or low. I stopped by the door, gathered myself and stepped into hell. The studio had been an open area with movable screens to make booths as required, instrument racks along the far wall with the console to the left of the door. What I walked into was an octagonal space framed by the screens, every surface bar the ceiling covered in manuscript pages held in place with tape. In places the antique pages gave way to the smooth cream of vellum sheets covered in Marc’s distinctive musical notation. At the centre of this space Marc sat, cross legged. He was rocking as he played, reminding me of a badly hurt child holding the pain while waiting for aid. He was playing left handed, and I could see the blood pooled under the neck of the guitar, staining the manuscript and vellum patchwork carpet that littered the floor. Looking round him, my sudden suspicion was confirmed. The pool of dried blood on the other side meant he had played right handed until his lacerated left hand could fret no more. I took one look at his face and understood why Mandy had received such short thrift from him when she tried to interrupt him. I searched frantically for a way to break the repulsive trance that reduced my old friend’s features to a ghastly parody of the intent, eyes-closed look musicians can get when playing their very hearts out. Eventually, I found a half empty bottle of some luxury spirit, one whiff being enough to assure me of its largely distilled alcohol content. Without hesitating, I poured the remaining contents over Marc’s lacerated right hand as it moved over the fretboard leaving tracks of blood. Marc screamed and fell backwards, unconscious even as I caught him. I had turned the amps off and was disentangling him from his precious twelve-string when Mandy rushed in, her face pale with concern. I looked up. “His hands will need proper attention and I don’t like the look of him at all. Call whoever you have who comes out at times like this and never says a word.” The doctor arrived with a nurse and both worked on Marc with a calm aplomb that indicated a sad familiarity with retrieving the wealthy from the consequences of their lifestyles. A couple of hours later Marc was in bed, sedated and bandaged with an intravenous feed of something that would restore him within a few days. The nurse would be in daily and the doctor would return in a week. With that, they departed as swiftly as they had arrived. Mandy and I sat in the lounge with cups of coffee going cold in our hands as we endured an awkward silence that had never happened between us before. For an interminable time Mandy stared at her coffee. Then with a shrug of her shoulders and without looking up, she started to speak in a low tone. “He started when Corvalline did their first major tour. Back-street bookshops all over Europe. When it took off, he made sure the gigs were scheduled to give him a day or two to hunt around the cities and towns we visited. Just after he disbanded Corvalline, he started week or fortnight long trips to Europe, then all over the world. First he said they were holidays for us, but after a while I just stopped going. The people he was meeting and playing music with were different. Uncomfortable to be around. They also seemed almost offended that I was with Marc. So I just stayed here. About two years ago he told me that he didn’t need to travel anymore as he’d found a chap in Prague who could search out the old music he needed. The cost was horrendous but Marc funded it by letting his record company have access to Corvalline’s unreleased sessions. Plus he was in negotiations to gather all those articles he had published in occult magazines into a book. They gave him a huge advance for that.” She looked up and met my gaze. As usual, I had been staring at her. I looked down and she continued. “He changed. We had always been together in most things. While I can’t play a note, I could understand what he meant when he described the visions behind his arrangements and albums. But this new album, it was only going to have one track. Marc was going to play all the instruments and it was going to be distributed by some obscure American label as his record company agreed with him that it was nothing that they wanted their name associated with.” After that, she lapsed into silence. When she went to check on Marc, I got up and wandered the downstairs of their home. I was admiring the subtle elegance of everything when I opened a door and discovered that Marc had a library. It was done in the classic style, all polished hardwood, low-lights and a pair of big leather armchairs with their own side tables and reading lamps. They were set facing away from a huge mahogany desk that had been carved in the most unusual manner. At first I thought that the carvings depicted vines, but on closer examination the vines had sucker pads on one side, beautifully and disturbingly rendered in minute detail. I was still on my knees examining the desk when Mandy found me. She smiled sadly and pointed to the desk. “That monstrosity came from Ponape. I hated it but Marc said it was a relic that told a story. Turn the lamp on and take a look at the top.” I did so. The top was covered in a thick sheet of glass to protect it. Under that glass I saw that the whole surface was covered in miniscule writing. I stared closer and realised that while it looked like writing, the patterns and groupings indicated that it was more likely to be a strange musical notation. I was wondering at this when I saw that in moving Marc’s laptop I had brought it out of hibernation. On the screen was the fantastic rendering of an eighteenth century book of days. I appreciated the work that had been involved in creating that and then was even more impressed when I saw that it was functional software, acting as a diary. I hesitated after reading the date on the entry. Nine days ago. I pointed at the screen and looked at Mandy. She nodded permission. What I read made me realise that the Marcus Corvakis I had known was only a small part of the well-read and deeply intelligent man that he had become:
Tonight I finished my translation of the few fragments of the Angforas Malacea that I found in amongst last November’s shipment of music scores from Pavane Muzicka. From what I have before me, it seems that this legendary book of supposedly forbidden lore is probably one of the earliest treatises on the arts of manipulating a crowd or the populace of a small settlement. I guess in those times it was seen as a form of magic, as the Church would not have wanted its techniques copied and improved upon by those with no scruples whatsoever. But what intrigues me are the vague hints as to the use of ritualized musical gatherings to invoke the mass mind of the mob to some triumphant end. Instead of music to enhance religion, music that bestows the benefits of religion without the dogma? I shall contact Andreas tomorrow and see if he has any other fragments amongst the batch of manuscripts he found these in.
It was the final entry in the journal. I looked up to see Mandy draped along the side and across the back of one of the armchairs in a pose that took my breath away. I smiled at my distraction and asked, “Can I take a look around this?” She smiled. “I knew you would want to. Midnight snack?” I nodded and then looked back at Marc’s laptop. I wiggled my fingers and then got down to being nosey in ways that only another computer specialist would appreciate. Unfortunately Marc had remembered my early lessons in computer security, so everything cleared up after itself, leaving no history or metadata to play with. I was touched to find that he had installed all of my old companies’ software, even if it was of no real use to him. I also found the rest of his journal and decided after a quick browse that the sections covering the Corvalline years were a motherlode that any publisher would pay handsomely to obtain the rights to. I copied those sections from the journal into another file and saved it on the desktop so I could mention it to Marc. My snooping was disturbed by Mandy returning with a huge tray of food and juice. “I guessed you still didn’t drink.” “Good guess. Now let me at the nibbles.” We shared the meal and idly chatted about twenty-five years of very different lives. While we talked, dawn crept up on us. I was not looking forward to the drive home when Mandy surprised me with a simple statement. “You can use the guest room.” I started and spilled my drink. “Sure?” “Marc would want you here. I want you here.” The second sentence removed any hesitance. I accepted and Mandy showed me to the palatial guest suite. She bid me good morning and kissed me lightly on the cheek before closing the door as she left. I had brought the laptop, so I settled in the huge bed and trawled the files on it to find the translation Marc had mentioned. It took a while but I found a file named Angforas_Malacea.sxw and I soon lost myself in its archaic language. A while later I finished the document with an increased respect for my old friend’s abilities and the feeling that the intimations in this fragmentary treatise matched those in The Book of the Sea. This realization caused me a nebulous concern, but fatigue won out and I shut the laptop down before falling into a deep sleep. I woke to the late afternoon sun lancing into my eyes. I rolled over with a groan and Marc was sitting in the chair opposite the bed. The bright sunlight cut a dark shadow across the room. Only his legs from the knee down were in the light. I sat up as he spoke, his voice strained. “Hello mate. Sorry to be abrupt but I need you to leave. Take Mandy away for a couple of weeks. I have to get myself together and it will only upset her more if I snap at her again. Things have been difficult for us and I’ve been a bit of a bastard for the last couple of years. Make up any excuse you like. I’ll be playing the invalid until then.” Before I could reply, he stood up and stepped into the light, raising his hand and turning his head but failing to prevent me seeing the deep lines that creased his face, shown stark in patterns of shadow and bright sunlight. I tried to disagree but Marc was adamant that the break would be good for both of them. This was confirmed by the minimal resistance that Mandy put up to the suggestion. Within three days, Mandy and I were exploring castles on the Rhine. Within a week of our arrival, we only needed one bed at night. For a few days the troubles of the world did not matter. Then a pair of German police officers arrived with a message from the British Embassy. Something had happened to Herr Corvakis and Frau Corvakis needed to return home as soon as possible. We got flights back and Mandy said that she would call as soon as she knew what was going on. I was surprised when she called me barely four hours later, her voice quiet and strained. “Ritchie? Come up as soon as you can.” The house was besieged with press vans and camera crews, held at bay by a mix of harassed looking police and taciturn private security. It took me ten minutes to get into the house and Mandy met me at the door, then followed me into the guest room and grabbed me in a rib-straining hug. She released it fractionally to look up at me. “Marc’s gone.” “Gone? Gone where? Didn’t he leave a note?” “He did. It’s addressed to you.” That was unexpected. We exited the guest room and were soon seated in front of two serious looking men in suits too good to be had on a detective's wage. The one who identified himself as David handed me an envelope while his colleague Roderick just stood by the door. On the pale cream surface of the envelope were three words, written in Marc’s unmistakable calligraphy: ‘Ritchie Sandrow – Private’. I opened it and pulled out two sheets of the same vellum that I had seen in the studio. I glanced round at the three of them. “Give me a moment please.” Mandy nodded and the two gentlemen consulted with a glance before consenting. I scanned both sheets quickly before reading them in depth. The second was the précis of an immediately effective power of attorney granted to Mandy in perpetuity over Marc’s estate and unreleased material. The full document was held by Marc’s attorney. The contents of the first sheet made the room swim before my eyes.
Ritchie. For reasons I sincerely hope you never understand, I must see this through to the bitter end. As you are reading this, I deduce that I have either disappeared or been found dead in unusual circumstances. I would also guess that you are reading this with Mandy nearby and in the presence of some people from a nameless government agency. From what I know at this point, I ask you to do the following without question: There is a big file full of bits of paper and stuff in the bottom of the desk in the library. Along with the desk and a hundred or so of the rarer books from my top shelves it should keep the agency types very happy and get them off your back. I suggest using the ‘too paranoid to trust computers’ argument if they ask about digital material. When things have calmed down but as soon as you can, salvage the mundane stuff from my computers and backups. Transfer these to a new system using new media. Then delete, erase and utterly destroy every piece of computer kit and writeable media in my house. After that, do what you want with what you work out. I was wrong, mate. The music and rituals were not about giving anything to the audience, they were about using the audience as an amplifier. What you interrupted me at was the show. It's time for me to do the encore. Goodbye and thanks. Marcus.
I just stared at the paper in my hands before passing the second sheet to Mandy. Then I folded the first and put it in my pocket before looking at David and Roderick. “Marc says you should look in the bottom of his desk in the library, at the desk itself and at some of the books on the top shelves. Apparently you will know what to do.” They looked at each other and then nearly ran from the room. Mandy moved next to me. I just took the letter from my pocket and let her read it. She started crying almost as soon as she started it and at the end, folded it neatly and put it back in my pocket. Then she grabbed my head and kissed me so hard we had bruised lips the next day. She then returned to the chair where she had been in when the agents left the room. She looked at me with eyes filled with dread and tears. “You need to see the studio. Go.” As I moved the plastic sheet across the entrance to the corridor to the studio, the smell hit me. As I approached the studio, the smell escalated to an almost physical thing. It was as if the essence of a million harbour sinks had been distilled into this place. At the doorway, I stopped dead. The huge reinforced windows and virtually the entire outside wall had been crushed inwards as if by an extreme weight. Every surface shone with a glossy mucus. Down by the splintered remains of the jetty, the fish Marcus had been so enamoured of floated belly up. There was nothing left in the room. Screens, equipment, instruments and the reams of written music were gone. I studied the scene for as long as possible before the smell drove me back. In that time, the agency types had conjured up a large panel van and had made off with the desk and several crates of books from the library. By nightfall, the house was empty except for the two of us. By unspoken agreement, we left the property in the hands of the private security teams and retreated to my house.
The next two weeks passed in a haze of grief. After the police completed their investigations, Mandy had the studio cleaned by some laboratory sanitisation company before arranging for repairs. I carried out Marc’s requests regarding the destruction of his computer equipment and we both dodged the press as much as possible. The police report revealed that the fish by the jetty had been poisoned by swimming in salt water. In a tributary fifty miles from the sea? A month after Marc’s disappearance, Mandy put the place on the market and brought everything she wanted to keep with her to live with me. Again private security kept the press at bay and we managed to effectively disappear into the depths of Sussex. Over the next few weeks we sorted out our new life together before turning to the mysteries bequeathed us by Marc. We investigated his purchases and managed to contact a few of the esoteric book and music shops he had bought stuff from. They all agreed that the writings he had been buying were weird, but considered them only to be occult related curios. Pavane Muzicka was the only place that refused to talk to us, repeatedly hanging up the phone and ignoring emails. Mandy and I spent a week deciding if we were going to drop the subject and move on. She read The Book of the Sea in three days and after that told me whatever was being hinted at could not occur if the knowledge was lost. Then she stared at me and said the words that showed her decision. “Marc would not be gone if this stuff had been lost. We need to do that.” So we started buying the stuff up and having burnings in the fire pit at the foot of my garden. I was proved correct in my guess that Marc’s journal of the Corvalline years was a goldmine. We were paid a huge sum for it that we put into acquiring further fuel for the fire pit after using part of it to repay the company that had wanted to gather Marc’s occult writings into a single book. We quietly took further measures to ensure his writings on the subject were only ever available to those fortunate enough to have copies of the magazines they had appeared in. Wealth has its uses. All this intense investigative work made us realise that whatever Marc had discovered was more frightening than we liked to admit. A desperate, fanatical edge crept into our endeavours over the following two years. Several occult websites suffered grievous data corruption virus attacks. Pavane Muzicka burned to the ground one summer evening the day after its proprietor started a holiday in Peru that he had won in some email lottery. Several book suppliers, antique warehouses and museums suffered similar conflagrations that summer. I dread to think where our increasing zealotry would have taken us had not David appeared on our doorstep just before Christmas of that second year. We invited him in for a coffee and he savoured the Peruvian blend before placing his cup down very slowly and closing his eyes. “Time to stop.” Mandy and I exchanged a glance and waited. He opened his eyes and looked at each of us in turn before standing and making his way to the front door. Pausing with the door open, he turned back to us. “You know enough to answer Marc’s disappearance. Leave it there.” With that he left, closing the door quietly. Mandy and I talked afterwards, both realising that something had changed in us. The need to pursue this was done. In the quiet moments between Christmas and New Year while Mandy was occupied elsewhere, I thought over what David had said and what I knew of Marc’s disappearance. When I added the few fragments glimpsed in some of the documents we had fed into the fire, it drew a terrifying picture. A thing driving itself upstream, wrapped in an envelope of protective seawater, maintained by a science that obeyed a physics alien to man. A thing sent to collect the player of a blasphemous hymn unheard for many centuries. What of that singer, when the thing's masters found him to be naught but a career musician, not a gifted worshipper brought before his gods at last?
Last week I found a concealed file within the journal from his laptop. I had been tinkering with the software because it really was an elegant product. As it came from a defunct company, I was toying with the idea of relaunching it. While searching for anything to indicate author or ownership, I discovered that the product allowed you to hide notes that would only be revealed when you clicked on a single word on a page. I investigated further and found only one, linked to the word forbidden in Marc’s last entry. The timestamp indicated he had probably written it between completing the letter to me and going down to the studio that last time.
How vast the deeps that lie unplumbed, untouched by the light that we instinctively rely on for protection. For in that watery immensity, devoid of light from time immemorial, who are we to say that nothing truly inimical to man may yet exist?
I wrote this couple of years ago, starting from a short, proto-Mythos, fireside horror tale I had been telling for several years. This story marked the proper start of my Mythos anthology, which, indeed, may take strange aeons for me to complete.