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The Long Summoning

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My father waited until I was seven years old before he sacrificed my mother to Nyarlathotep. Later, he would tell me he had wanted to make sure I was old enough to remember.

On that he succeeded, although some things are missing from my memory, while others are strangely clear. I imagine my mother screamed before he cut her throat, but I don't remember any noise coming from her open mouth. I do remember distinctly wondering how I could possibly see them, as the slab in the middle of our basement was at that moment light years away from the chair where my father had told me to sit.

I don't remember what sound or gesture I made, if any. The only sound I remember is a faint, omnipresent tune coming from a flute even farther away than my parents. The tune never repeated, and in my memories I'm certain it will outlast the stars without ever playing a recognizable bar.

I also don't know what my father did between killing my mother and burying her under the basement floor. If I was looking I forgot.

* * *

I never doubted my father loved me. He just didn't love me, or my mother, nearly as much as he loved his own father, the proud man, so strikingly similar to his son, scowling at the universe from a painting in the study. He would always tell me stories about his father's adventures, how he had traveled the world looking for things so old they hadn't been made, written, or prayed to by humans.

The story my father would tell me most often and with the greatest pain was the one about my grandfather's death. He had been betrayed by cowardly and ignorant people when he was questioning some monks about a certain carved stone they had hidden in a place so secret they had removed its name from their maps and stopped teaching it to their children more than a thousand years ago.

My grandfather had learned from an old parchment that words could be remembered not only through the memory of things heard or read, but also through the blood, which was why people shuddered when hearing names of places, things, and gods nobody had heard or read in centuries. He had the theory that if you applied enough pain the brain would not only recognize those words but also remember their meaning. His previous experiments had failed, but my father was certain my grandfather would have succeeded with the monks if the mercenaries he had hired hadn't rebelled and killed him.

My father never talked about my grandfather in the past sense, even when we were using languages of people ignorant enough to think it makes sense.

* * *

One day, not long after killing my mother, my father asked me if I didn't find it unusual that there could be books older than people.

"No," I said. "Not everybody is people."

He smiled at me. Not proud. Satisfied.

That night, after he tucked me into bed, he read to me for the first time a story from the book. I had never seen that book before in the sprawling antiquarian treasure that was our library, but from that night it would become the most important object in my life.

Every night he would read to me a different story, and as time passed I think I assumed to book was infinite, with more pages in it than space to put pages into. It was the kind of thought that has always come naturally to me.

I will not write down the stories here, but I should say at least something about them. The first ones took place in the desert, and in the old and dead (but not uninhabited) cities it hides. The author's style was very different from that in my grandfather's journals, but I could feel some brotherhood between them, as if they could have been, not friends — if my grandfather ever had any friend he never mentioned them in his journals — but brothers who hated each other. The names of lost cities and sunken temples, so often mentioned by my father as he described my grandfather's travels, were the recurrent settings of those stories. I learned their geography and architecture, their languages and almost-forgotten rituals, until they were more real to me than the gardens I sometimes saw through the windows.

I don't remember ever leaving the house. I think I would.

Later stories would have probably seemed even stranger to most people. For me, by the time my father was reading to me tales of migrations from places so far distance wasn't a number and the great war of the shapeless demons, it all sounded perfectly reasonable. Having neither servants nor playmates, there was nobody to tell me it wasn't, and they'd have been wrong anyway.

* * *

Sometimes I had nightmares. My father would ask me to describe them; he would look disappointed if I could, but when I couldn't, when the thing and the image and the everything had been too much to fit in my mind or get out through my words, he would smile and tell me that I was having those dreams because I was a very special girl.

One night, after reading to me a story about dead people praying to something that was both dead and alive, both waiting for the sky to be right and somehow making it happen, instead of taking the book with himself as usual my father gave it to me.

"I want you to sleep with the book tonight," he said. "But don't open it" (I was twelve then, and I could read the language of the clay tablets just as easily as the older ones).

I nodded, very happy. "Will it keep the nightmares away?"

"Only the bad ones," he said.

He was right about that. He wouldn't always leave the book with me at night, but every time he did I would hug it and fall asleep quickly, something inside me just happy whenever I touched the book. And I would have, unfailingly, nightmares I wouldn't be able to describe.

* * *

My father taught me to read and write very early, although we only started with the important languages when I was able to handle the manuscripts without damaging them.

Languages came easy to me, grammar and vocabulary fitting together almost before my father had finished explaining something. It was the meaning of the words what sometimes stumped me, references to things I had never experienced or seen. Father would then give me more books, many of them handwritten journals of dead people or private communications that could never be published anywhere. I spent many happy nights piecing together the bastardized broken descriptions of preliterate rituals and myths older than our moon.

I would also amuse myself with lonely games, particularly during the daylight hours when my father was teaching at Arkham University. My favorite activity was to carve small bone figurines from whatever was left of the materials my father would bring home for his experiments during cloudy, moonless nights. I usually shaped them after some archeological sketches, although the archeologists, specially the more "reputable" ones, were always wrong about the name and nature of the original.

I was proud of not being as ignorant as them. I was sure I knew the right names because when I played the rituals, alone in our windowless attic in the dead of noon, the following night my nightmares would be the right ones and even stranger than usual. By the time my body began to change I had learned enough from my dreams to understand what true change was.

* * *

One night, one of those when he hadn't left the book with me, a bad nightmare woke me up, and, for the first and only time, I went out of my room in the middle of the night, alone. I walked softly to the studio, thinking of taking the book and just hugging it for a while to make sure the next nightmare would be one of those that made my father smile.

When I entered the studio I saw him awake, writing furiously on the book. For a moment I felt betrayed — he had told me the stories were old! — but then I saw that the eyes in the painting of my grandfather looked dead, as if the artist had made a painting of a dead man instead of one who would never die, which was how it usually looked. Without any clear understanding of it, I intuited that my grandfather was dictating the story to my father, which meant the stories were as old and as real as he had told me.

I think I also knew he was taking dictation because of his face. He looked hurried and scared, as if afraid of what would happen if he missed a word.

I spent minutes looking at him, thinking what I've written here, but he never saw me, so I left.

* * *

Here I will write the end of this story. It describes what happened when my father took me down to the basement for the second and last time.

I had never been in there since the night he had killed my mother. I asked him if I could bring the book with us. "No," he told me, caressing the book's pale leather cover before leaving it on the table. "We should keep your mother out of it."

Neither of us said anything as we walked down the stairs.

"You'll be sixteen years old at midnight," he said as he unchained the basement door. Those weren't words in any of the rituals I had read or dreamed about, but I knew they were the beginning, or the end, of one.

"I'll be sixteen," I answered. When I was reading about a ritual, no matter how old or remote from human experience and capabilities of perception and action, I would often guess, with the certainty of clear memory, what would happen at each moment. The one we were in the middle of felt like that, only more so. Neither guess nor memory, I said and did the right things because I could not do otherwise.

The slab in the middle of the basement was empty, and the distance between the walls was infinite. It didn't take us long to reach the slab. I laid myself on it without needing to be told to.

My father looked over and past me, to the infinite space beyond the wall.

"She is here," he said, and I could almost feel the strain on his vocal cords as he spoke, slowly and painfully, in a language not made for them, or even for flesh.

"She has been taught," he said.

"She will be able to see your face when you approach her. She will be able to feel your touch when you kill her. She will be able to speak your name as she dies. I love her."

I knew what he would say next.

"Take the second, perfect sacrifice, and give me" my father. Those were the next words of the ritual, and the last ones pronounced by human lips I would ever hear.

"Unending death" I whispered, quickly and easily, for I had been speaking and singing to myself in such languages most of my life.

I don't know what his expression was when I did it. I was turned away, looking to the space beyond. I saw what came through. I remember every glowing point of darkness and infinitely curved spike. I remember enough to know that every description would be insufficient.

I turned my head to my father after the thing he had bargained with played its part of the amended ritual. Not a cell in his body had been touched or changed, but his eyes became as dead as the stones he fell on.

He was still breathing. The part of me who knew the words to all the rituals understood that he would remain breathing for centuries, kept away from sleep and from the insanity that sets minds free, neither moving nor talking nor closing his eyes until the end of that time.

The thing didn't leave. It just wasn't there anymore, and the basement was once again finite. From my point of view, that of a mole crawling through the damp tunnels of our illusion of linear time, he wouldn't come for me until my father's gift had been completely given.

From its point of view, the one that matched reality, it had already killed me, and it always had.

* * *

That's the end of the story. Having written so much in my private notes about terrible, malevolent pasts and the horrifying prospects of the future, it might seem strange that I have waited so long to write about my own.

The truth, that many-angled, awful thing, is that many blood-drenched decades have come and gone and I'm still afraid. My father is still breathing in the cradle-tomb I built in the basement, and although I grow older, I do it very slowly. Yet I expect no more happiness from the many days ahead of me than I've received from the many days behind: I have seen many wonders, but with fear, not awe, and I have done terrible things without guilt or elation.

I know more than even the Mad Arab ever did about the worlds and the places that aren't worlds, which means my soul is even more tainted than his, for knowledge of reality is knowledge of a dark, foul, and uncaring thing. I'd pray for the both of us if I didn't knew what gods are and feared their answer. And yet I would gladly accept a hell I know doesn't exist in exchange for the future I know awaits for me, settled as stone in the pitiful four-dimensional slice of reality we humans think it's the whole.

One day my father will die. Then I will die as well, and my death will be worse than his life.

This is the last page of this volume of my personal notes. Later tonight I will start yet another one. The process of sewing the blank pages together and bounding the covers is the closest I get to hope, and, among the minor graces of my long and unmerciful life, I count the fact that my father regrows his skin fast enough every time.