The Wyrd Tale of Mad John

Old man John cut a bedraggled figure scurrying with his days acquisitions through a fine drizzle, through dilapidated alleys, ignoring the taunts of the ill-educated youths that clung to the streets like so many shades of lichen.

7 months ago

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Old man John cut a bedraggled figure scurrying with his days acquisitions through a fine drizzle, through dilapidated alleys, ignoring the taunts of the ill-educated youths that clung to the streets like so many shades of lichen.

Almost forgotten now, almost invisible. The normal folk thought themselves virtuous in their pity of the wyrd Eldritch old man who rummaged through their junk.  

Easier to not see the failures of their society than to admit their disdain for those who refused to gamble in their immaterial world, or those who lost their wager.

John had had enough of the people who now populated his town. Though many had their uses to him, he knew their character had changed. He no longer received aid from those with genuine compassion.

Compassion had given way to inducement. He had never taken the bait, knowing that honesty and truth were estranged brothers, he had determined to plough his own furrow long ago. He still felt a genuine compassion for the lost souls around him, his compassions own logic had led him down a path to an ultimate solution, the culmination of his life's secret work, an alchemical wedding of nature and man.

John had never been a vengeful man.

When the state had taken his ancestral home in lieu of unpaid taxes, rather than being a bitter loss, he'd collected up the olde documents he felt were pertinent, buried them securely as he dreamt his pirate forefathers would have done, and then felt set free.

He started his new life as an aesthete, consumed with the beauty of creation. He strove to create, he penned wyrd tales, and failed to catch his mind's eye in oil or watercolour.

The herd briefly patronised him, but as fashion dictates a transitory beauty, his work was soon laughed at as a hack attempt at occult edginess. Rather than dismay, John had learnt a valuable lesson. There is an illusion to creation, one that pre-supposes destruction, all things are made of pieces of other things.

A purer creation alone in the mind. His magickal art turned in on itself, an armchair wizard with no chair.  

Like an Aghori, he celebrated his own hardship from the damp, cold hedgerow. He arose every day to share in libation the fruits of his friend, the suns endeavours to create the juice of the barley, and all light bleaching creation of order gone too far.

Those days had felt good.

As always, the world turned, and it turned until it swallowed John.

As the streets grew more littered with cars, the pedestrian seemed stranger until the council forced him into accommodation. A solitary confinement to cure one of wishing to be free.

In those early days of isolation, John turned to the darkness as a friend. No stars could be seen through the ether, polluted by man's sickly yellow light.

So John concluded only darkness could free the people from the rigid, unforgiving pact with the gods of order, light, false creation. John determined to understand Chaos. To marry the dark to the light. Then bring forth true creation.

This day the culmination of his six-month privations paid in service of his spell. The great cocooning to set his people free.

John had always had arcane interests.

He'd first been drawn in by the occult imagery of Osman Spare and Rosa Norton. He found solace in De Quincey and Blake. The creation myths of the world hinted at unknown truths. Yogic breath control through medieval litany of plainsong. A systematic destruction of the senses to put them back together again, anew.

'Solve et coagula'.

Each day, barring a seventh, John had taken himself like a pilgrim to his church. A simple procession from bedsit to off-license to park bench, to decant alcohol into flask.

This first act of purification essential to be allowed into the temple of arcane knowledge; the crumbling public research library.

At first, John had contented himself with immersion in the lives of the people on whose tombs he had been sleeping.

The more he read and the more he drank, the deeper into the catacombs of the library he found himself. He consumed all knowledge he could of the dark arts found in bestial grimoires until the darkness became his guiding light. On a seventh day, his day of rest from the library, he dug up his family's treasure.

Though no multi-linguist, with dedication he deciphered a key. Out of date, archaic, comparative dictionaries allowed him the tools to learn.  

His newfound knowledge would allow him to create.

After many months of petitioning, John had gained access to an ancient tome. Reputedly bound in human flesh. Impervious to fire or water. Alberts' Grand Grimoire contained deeper secrets than the inverted Roman Catholicism would suggest.

Tracing between the lines of lore, John saw the web. He became conscious that if he knew the right spell, he could reach out with his mind to grasp the loose threads of fate he was now being shown.

From Sumerian necromancy and lullabies through to the modern technical languages of Leary and Wilson, John learnt the language of Enoch. A dream reality of somnambulant imagery replaced the mundane world of light around him.

There is only a half-truth in the light. It tries to consume its other side by blasting the shadows until they become questions never answered, or never even asked.

John was scurrying home with the last ingredient for his diabolic overture to home.

Over the preceding months, John had lived a chaste life, half-starved, with only the occasional word to others when demanded by trade. Starved of conversation, though, John was not.

He had built an accursed womb of a chapel within his apartment. His first attempts led to failure, though within a month, John was becoming acquainted with diverse demonic entities.

After much supplication to lesser demons, John had summoned Baël. Although now used to the strange appearances and odd timings of the ether folk, as John called them, it did not prepare him for Baël. Having finished his evening ritual, John was slumped in the armchair he used as a throne, half asleep. A sulphurous smell filled the makeshift diabolical chapel.

Waking with a start, John sat upright to witness what could only be described as a tear in the web of reality.

Two monstrous spider legs working their way into the dimension. As the other legs brought themselves through, John saw the face of a black cat with flaming red eyes, purring maliciously and licking with a tongue of flames the immaterial matter from the hairs of his spider legs.

The crude walls of space and time vanished. John's encircled pentacle of protection hovering tantalisingly out of reach between man and entity. Other astrological symbols rotating as the stars in a time only relevant to itself.

And colours! What colours! No man could have a word for the new shades the darkness poured into this new realm. Baël's head turned unnaturally, and the head of a grotesque toad briefly showed (though it could have been an eternity unto itself) before turning a third time to become a handsome man bearing a crown.

John stammered a protective incantation but was silenced by the world-weary voice of Baël.

“I have summoned you, magician. Do not delude yourself otherwise. Your protections are meaningless here.”

John fell to his knees before his Dark Lord, offering his eternal soul for the knowledge to free his people from the light. Baël wearily accepted this as though a trinket, a bauble for a few seconds of enjoyment.

“A pact then, magician. We will seal in blood.”

John learned more spells in one encounter than he had ever gleaned in many hours of study.  

Perceiving the enormity of Wyrds' web, an intricate net containing every path of human life, he was aware of the loose threads Baël now entreated him to pull.

He knew now his Will. His Will to invert Prometheus and bring his fellow man the colours of darkness. Baël had sent him a charm, a talisman, to make him invisible. Not so much invisible as unseen. A list of ingredients burnt into the magician's mind's eye;

The wings of a light emerald moth, to allow knowledge of the moon.

The whiskers of a black cat given freely, to hear the whispers of all worlds.

The wings of a magpie, to fly between realms.

Oak gall, for the wasp that builds a spherical world for its children.

A dusty old spider's web, to learn the secrets of letting go.

A fresh web, so that when John's blood was mixed, he would know which strands to pull.

The work consumed John, collecting all these things whilst never halting in his ritual devotions to the dark. Cursed by sixty-six legions of hell, he had created an inky potion, the key to his plan.

Not being skilled in the art but by a strange thread of synchronicity, John walked into the tattooist he had chosen at precisely the right time for a cancellation.

Not a complicated piece of work, John required a spider's web to be inked onto his body. With a sleight of hand unnoticed, John swapped Indian ink for diabolical. At first, the pain consumed him until he felt a release in it. The line between pleasure and pain sewn together with the needle.

After what had seemed a far more magickal experience than expected, John scurried home, clutching his left elbow. Left hand being accepted of blood oaths.

Having performed his preliminary rituals, Baël returned. His cat face mocking and aloof.

John, underwhelmed by the lack of verbal communication, supposed he had made a simple error of grammar in his requests. Self deprecating in his apparent failure, John was on the verge of giving up on his dream to share the darkness.

He fell into a despondent dream. A dream in which he clung to the shadows, of love so fierce it didn't know whether to consume or cocoon. A dream of catching the unsuspecting that wander into the nooks of the world.

John became restless, somnambulantly scratching at his elbow.

Coming to, he realised his room was filled with millions of busying spiders.

His arm crawled, and he saw a small inky spider dragging a thread from his arm. Rather than shock or pain, John felt his very essence being drawn into the mass of spiders, whom now were coalescing into one colossal spider, the sum of its parts.

The demonic spider god whispered to John. It told him of the comfort of being alone whilst feeling your threads pulled and spoke of how the darkness feeds. It spoke of its healing abilities and the fear of its venom, and asked John what he wanted from his unholy union with their kind.

A little scared, a little untrusting, John expressed his desire to save the town from the light, playing threads of web like a lute to further convey his communion with his arachnid saviour.

When the sun pulled itself angrily into the gossamer sky it looked as frustrated as the townsfolk.  

They had risen to find every window, every doorway shrouded in thick web. It was easily enough removed, but the town's only work that day was to try to clean up.

The traffic had all but stopped as spiders had built their nests in all the exhausts, and the following day was worse. The web so thick most people were housebound.

Each night, the legions of spiders weaved their infernal webs over the town. John had beseeched the spiders not to harm the people as they had him. So the spiders complied, putting their venom to use only to paralyse.

By the ninth night, their work was done.

No more could these people cause harm or be harmed. As John eased the load on his back, a thousand paralysed eyes saw him for the first time in years. Saw their mistake in trying to tame him, and saw the silvering thread weaving new webs from his elbow.

John only briefly cast his eyes back, back to the undying, unliving, cocooned town he had called for, knowing now which loose ends to pull, and which to darn.

Be wary, when pulling a loose thread, for Old Mad John will feel it. He may just gift you the dark.

R. Attwood

Published 7 months ago


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