The Tree on Shoggoth Hill

book

The Journal of Professor Arnold Guthridge, St Aidan’s College

Monday, May 14th 1900.

There is a scrap of arcane writing hidden away in the bowels of a certain college (that I choose not to name). It is of unknown origin and written in English upon what appears to be parchment but legend has it that it is, in fact, human skin, it is only a fragment of a much larger manuscript but certain scholars suggest that the illustrations are reminiscent of a far more infamous tome and over time it has garnered the appellation the Oxford Necromicon.

Having studied the text at length I became enthused at an illustration that some have suggested might be a representation of the entity Yog-Sothoth but I had seen this twisted mass of tentacles and cilia before, they did not belong to a mythical demi-god but resembled the entangled roots of a large old tree that surmounted nearby Saggoth Hill, I had visited it as a youth and it had left such an impression upon me as to ignite a desire to learn more about secrets of the uncanny, ancient world. The hill was not a day’s journey from the college, what secrets might these gnarled tendrils hold?

****

Having made my plans I set out with my beloved Evelyn to the very place on Wednesday, arriving as dusk fell. We lodged at old coaching inn called The Blood and Pig taking a room there with Evelyn masquerading as my wife as she is wont to do on such occasions (she still insists on remaining unmarried despite my many entreaties).

As we dined together in the bar, a ruddy-faced man who styled himself a local historian engaged us in conversation. Barnes (to my shame I never found out the man’s first name) related how our destination was once known as Shoggoth Hill, making the very hairs on my neck stand up at this unexpected link to the Necronomicon. A rustic gentleman overhearing our conversation muttered darkly about sheep going missing on occasion and how few sensible folk would venture near there after dark.

I of course, became all the more determined to visit this legendary tree-topped mound even though Evelyn, as she and I lay together that night, reminded me of our first meeting and of what danger the unknown could bring.

****

Nonetheless the next morning we set off for the hilltop on foot, accompanied by our enthusiastic amateur historian, and as we approached the summit saw the outline silhouetted against the skyline. It was so large as to resemble a copse rather than an individual tree.

Achieving our goal we reached the bole with its intricately interlaced and visible root structure and the excitement I had felt as a youth returned. The tree had become more gnarled and twisted since last I saw it so Barnes and I examined it most carefully while Evelyn studied the sketch I had made of the page, it was then that my beloved companion called to me urgently, having noticed the illustration showed a conjunction of roots forming a diamond shape clearly marked with the appellation “Portal”. There was also a sigil which could be interpreted as be aware, although Evelyn suggested beware might be the more correct interpretation.

The historian and I, eager to pursue the path of knowledge, quickly found the diamond pattern in the roots which upon close examination, proved to have formed around a protruding, palm-sized stone of exactly the same shape. I was unable to prise it from the hard-packed earth but on clearing the tendrils around it, found it would rotate freely. Having tried turning it to all points of the compass without effect, Barnes suggested pressing down after turning it.

With the longest points of the diamond aligned west-east the stone could be pushed in slightly so I applied more pressure. It resisted stiffly at first but eventually yielded with the stone sinking slowly into the exposed earth. There was a loud click followed by the sound of falling earth and a large depression appeared in the twisted root mass followed by a foetid smell that assaulted our nostrils. Upon pulling apart the surrounding tendrils even further we exposed a round aperture in the ground large enough to admit a man. I was all for going down this overlarge rabbit hole immediately but both Evelyn and Barnes spoke against it, for darkness was falling. Common sense forced me to agree, so, retiring to the inn, I sent word to St Aidan’s for tools, ropes and torches to be sent at the earliest opportunity, the adventure was afoot!

****

The very next day, young Fenwick arrived driving a horse-cart containing all that I had requested for the venture, including the new Misell flashlights along with oil lanterns, ropes and provisions. He had even brought several sticks of dynamite in the belief they might be useful for clearing the way below.

Thus prepared, we set forth I, in my role as expedition leader and having fastened a rope securely about my waist, clambered through first to discover an easily negotiable if somewhat loose, slope of debris leading down into a large chamber. Barnes came next followed by Evelyn, who insisted on accompanying us. She had chosen not to wear a corset beneath her upper garments and had on a pair of snugly fitting cycling pantaloons with high laced boots to enable her to explore with greater ease. The historian was clearly taken aback by her appearance and spent a great deal of time regarding her as she descended. Evelyn was quite sharp with Barnes upon spotting his attention and he hastily apologised stating he was merely concerned for her well being during her descent. He seemed to be a gentleman, so I am inclined to believe him. Even I am not sure a lady should wear trousers but would never say as much to Evie.

Young Fenwick, I had instructed to stay above ground to assist our ascent if necessary.

****

We made our way from the chamber down a slanting tunnel, that appeared to have been melted through the very bedrock, before finally arriving at our destination, a cavernous high ceilinged circular space  that stretched out of the range of our flashlights in all directions. Discerning that we stood on a ledge some ten or so feet away from a steep drop into darkness, it was decided we explore the circumference of the chamber first and leaving one of the oil lamps alight at the tunnel entrance Barnes went to the right while Evelyn and I set off to the left (or clockwise and widdershins if you will). After walking a short distance we discovered the first of many ramps leading down into the gloom, but we decided to leave the exploration of them until we re-joined our companion.

As we progressed it was spotted that the walls had carvings of a disturbing almost non-Euclidean aspect. Evelyn found them particularly unsettling and while catching her breath played her flashlight along the floor to spot grooves running along it in the fashion of tram tracks. I conjectured they were perhaps used to guide some form of cart in prehistoric times but Evelyn pointed out how unlikely this was, and that our ancestors could not have built something of such a scale on the ground above, let alone the cyclopean vault above our heads. There was as yet no sign of Barnes so we continued along the perimeter, our footsteps echoing upon the stone. Occasionally we would glance back to see the reassuring glimmer of the lantern we had left as a marker.

I noticed something new in the wall markings, we had come across a long line of strange hieroglyphs and inscriptions in an uncanny script, the like of which neither of us as scholars had encountered before. They were drawn with such strange artistry as to give an impression that no human hand was behind their creation, and I have to admit that the cursed Necronomicon sprang into my mind once more. Evelyn, with a cry of surprise, pointed out engraved figures that could only represent living beings, each had a barrel-shaped body with five equispaced wings and branching tentacles. Each stood upon five prehensile legs while a five armed head had upon each limb, a single eye along with some sort of tube and other feelers or cilia!

Imagine my feeling of shock, horror and overwhelming excitement at being the first to discover evidence of creatures from antediluvian times, the circular nature of the cavernous room became apparent as the engravings, rather in the manner of a cartoon from the Punch magazine showed the beings entering and leaving a vessel which appeared like a saucer in one frame yet shaped like a cigar in another, we were in a subterranean dock for an ancient ship of the stars!

While I was busy searching the domed roof, with my inadequate torch for some kind of opening mechanism, Evelyn found a map of the globe with a diagram showing a large city in the Antarctic Circle, but before we could give it much study, Barnes voice rang out from the darkness below.

The historian had not shown our reticence upon discovering a ramp and had  immediately descended to explore a small portion of the lower floor some thirty feet or so below and upon spotting our lights, he had ventured across to attract our attention. There was a ramp not too far away so we joined him somewhat hesitantly, walking down the gently curving slope to a surprisingly smooth floor.

I related our discoveries and Barnes, determined not to be outdone, took us to a spot where an oily black puddle with a noisome stench lay, to ask what I thought it might be.

A greenish bubble came to its surface to burst with a tek! The noise pulled at my memory of that accursed tome once again, bringing the word Shoggoth to the forefront of my mind!

Barnes bent down to examine the puddle closely and before I could shout a warning it stretched out a tendril to attach itself to his hand, the man cried in terror as it more of the oily black slime swarmed up his arm then began slowly covering the rest of his struggling body, his screams not ending until it had swallowed up his head.  Evelyn had secreted her Webley in her pantaloons and drawing it, emptied all of the pistol’s bullets into the awful mass that was engulfing our poor companion. I knew bullets were of no use against this creature, created as a servant to a highly advanced race. The thing had obviously been left behind when its masters left and was in a state of dormancy for lack of nourishment until it had absorbed Barnes. The nauseating mass formed into a man-sized column while several bubble-like eyes formed at the head level and said (if such a word could be used to describe the awful noise) Tekili-li?

I shouted at Evelyn to run and we set off for the nearest ramp as fast as possible and I can honestly say her choice of garments for our venture proved most fortuitous as she reached the ramp well before me. The noisome thing had initially seemed confused by our presence but had gathered whatever it used for its senses and was slithering rapidly after us, ululating as it came as we raced around the perimeter. Evelyn reached the tunnel slightly ahead of me and with great presence of mind threw the lit lantern at the odious creature, which had nearly caught us up. The lamp smashed, spreading burning oil over it and with a cry of Tekili-li it plunged fierily over the ledge. Hearing a splash below I realised there must be water down there, the monstrosity had used it to quench the flames!

We ran uphill as fast as possible to the scree climb, our lungs bursting and began climbing the rope, I confess that when we reached the top poor Evelyn was flagging and I had no recourse but to manhandle my dearest in a most ungentlemanly fashion as Fenwick, alerted to our distress, pulled her to safety.

Behind us the eldritch ululating sounded once more as the abomination oozed along the tunnel to seek us out! I at once determined the foul creature could not be allowed to reach the outside world so calling to young Fenwick, who was bringing water for Evelyn, bade him pass me the dynamite. After lighting the fuse and dropping the explosive into the darkness we all retired quickly downhill to the cart, the phrase Tekili-li echoed once more from the entrance only to be drowned out by the roar of the detonation. The hilltop lifted slightly into the air then fell back again. Saggoth Hill now had a flattened summit and there was no sign of either tree or passage to the underground chamber. The Shoggoth was now hopefully buried under tons of rock and earth.

As Fenwick drove us back to Oxford and with Evelyn snugged up against me in the back of the cart, a worrying thought came into my mind. The rustic type had mentioned sheep often disappearing from the surrounding area, was one of the monsters already at large in the countryside?

A.Guthridge (Emeritus, St Aidan’s)

© Kyt Wright 2020.