The Mouth of the Mountain
by Michael Gormley
October 27th, 1912
The luminescent moon shone brightly through the clouds as I descended my usual mountain path. When finally, the moon was admitted a gasp of air from the clouds, a ring of white light formed around it, and reverberated so viciously that my eyes became strained. My head pounded as brutally as the pulsations.
My evening strolls to the wooded top was a nightly adventure, and it was not until as of late that the trip had actually become adventurous. Prior to the past few weeks my late walks were nothing more than routine. After dinner, Edgar – my seven-year-old Weimaraner, a retired hunting dog – and I would head into the mountain’s path, blanketed by conifers and limber pines. The entrance to the woods was decorated with a few weeping willows that were now fading as the fall was coming to an abrupt end.
Within the last month or so, Edgar became violent. Not towards me, as I do not think he ever would, but more so to the intensifying moon.
Edgar was orphaned by his previous master, an esteemed hunter in the eastern states, from what I have learned. I also, unfortunately, had learned that Edgar was orphaned in a disturbing, almost fatal manner. It was not much for me to bring him back to health, since I did not do as much as I had before. Now being sixty-seven years old, I spent most of my prolonged days within the woods.
Edgar went through complex stages over the last few weeks. First, he was increasingly curious on our walks, mostly after the sun had set and the moon prowled behind the clouds. Then he became angry with the subtle sounds and critters in the brush. The week after, Edgar became disgruntled with myself for leaving him behind in our quaint cabin as I took my own walks in solitude. It was as if Edgar knew what lay in wait within the lush mountains behind our cabin. It was as if Edgar’s insightful perspective had made me curious as to know the same as him.
Other than the uneasy feeling of being alone after dusk in the wooded mountains, which I had been growing more accustomed to, it was not until that night that I felt uneased – I assumed it was the same feeling Edgar had experience a few weeks prior. Covert at first by the spontaneous migraine, the sense of dread veiled my thoughts.
Normal nights were dark by the time I had reached the top of the mountain, but this night was more somber than usual, even with the effulgent moon above.
I sat in the cold, dew covered grass. I could feel them crawling all over my body, like the distressing itch that shows on one during an over bearing and sticky night. It was the itch that even tossing off the sheets cannot cure. I could feel them crawling, a feeling so strong that I knew which had four legs, which had eight, or even more. I could feel their antennae brushing across my porous skin. I knew that they could taste my fear. Yet as hard as I tried – and the scratches that I had inflicted all the way down my arms would attest to my trial – could not remove them from my now violated body, let alone even see them.
I cannot recall the time spent running, tripping, and staggering down the root-full mountain path. As I broke the forest line, beyond the weeping willows, swaying in the breeze, – as if they laughed and mocked my fear – my body was free from whatever itching invaders had turned my body into their shelter. My pulsating head ceased its pounding. I could almost feel the sense of dread seeping from my body, but my fear was so great that I could not have been so certain. I was almost sure, however, because I felt lighter.
Edgar whimpered, like a stricken child cowering behind his mother, and found a corner of darkness when I erupted through the cabin door. I could tell he wanted to smell me, to again investigate the odd events that he had surely encountered weeks before I had, but he was too afraid. The smell of whatever was in the forest was on my clothes, and the eerie recognition had dazed him. I pitied Edgar – he had been through enough to have that fear – but I did not care.
I needed to wash away the darkness.
The fire was easier to light than ever. My clothes that I had worn into the woods burned easier than any kindling, and Edgar finally welcomed my return. As I sat on my torn sofa in front of the crackling fire, he licked my hand like I had been wounded. Before I even had the chance to plop my hand on his brown-speckled head, and scratch behind his ear in reassurance that we were both fine, I was fast asleep. I needed the rest for my journey back into the fateful forest tomorrow evening.
I awoke early after a foolproof sleep. I could not recall dreaming or, as I had half expected, recalled any nightmares. I was rested, and more so than I should have been.
Edgar was still asleep, breathing heavily from his heart palpitations – another side-effect caused by his abandonment, as I was told – in front of the still simmering and smoky fireplace. The stench from the burned clothes made my stomach turn, and I decided that there would be no breakfast this morning.
My day was restless. My mind turned and twisted as I attempted to pass the time with a novel from above my hearth. After I remained on the first page for an hour or so, I sealed the booked and it coughed a stagnant cloud of dust as it was slammed shut.
With the sun setting, I hesitantly dug out my Winchester Seventy-Three from the shed. I sat, loading it full of stale cartridges, and received the reaction that I had rightfully expected from Edgar. Again he found a dark corner of the house to hide and whine.
I had decided, almost fully subconsciously, that Edgar would again, after almost a full month now, rejoin me in the curious woods.
Therefore, the Seventy-Three would not.
I spent the last hour before dusk contemplating, and in more ways fighting with my conscious, about my decision to be accompanied by Edgar. He had sensed the darkness, the queer happenings of the woods almost a full month prior to my odd experience (and for all that I knew) he understood them but was not granted the ability to properly communicate to me his knowledge.
Edgar would join me.
That night, as the sun was bleeding over the horizon-line in a cast of dark orange, Edgar and I – unfortunately without the sound reassurance of my Seventy-Three – set out toward the mountain path.
The air was brisk and cool, nipping at my skin through my plaid jacket. We approached the entrance to the mountain path, and I could see Edgar shivering with each step. I wanted to believe it was from the chill in the air, but I knew that he felt the same fear as I.
The entrance seemed to fold in on itself more than normal, and the branches hung over the opening like large, rotten teeth, waiting for us to feed its appetite.
Edgar and I obliged the woods. We entered through the mountain’s starved mouth – hesitantly, I will admit – yet I did not feel anything unusual other than the goosebumps rising on my arms and the back of my exposed neck.
Fight through the depths of your will, Edgar. I need you by my side.
I did not even receive the slightest amount of recognition from my companion, but with me, he trudged on.
With no issue, we reached the mountain top and gazed out upon the forest’s canopy. The leaves were almost gone, granted the pines still held their beauty. The mountain peak was empty, and the grass duller and dead than the night before. I sat beside Edgar – who panted happily – and together we watched the radiant moon rise high into the sky.
How frivolous was I? To justify my hallucinations on my mentally unstable canine companion.
Another restful night had passed, and the day had gone by just as flawlessly. Edgar and I had gone into town for errands. I returned to mount my Seventy-Three above the hearth.
It wasn’t until 5 PM that I had realized I still had not eaten since the night before. Anxious to return to our now normal nightly walks, I scarfed down my dinner and allowed Edgar to indulge himself in my scraps as I laced my boots.
The mouth of the forest was again more closed than the nights before, yet I no longer felt any apprehension.
I entered through the mouth yet again, this time Edgar trotting ahead of me. He held a spirited walk. I had not seen that in months.
The moon was already high, tucked again behind the clouds, and as I gazed through the breaches in the canopy, a strong sense of anger filled my soul.
I looked again to Edgar, who gained some ground on me as he continued his carefree trot.
This angered me; exceedingly.
The bizarre size of my voice caused Edgar to leap an entire foot off the hardened ground, and with that he was seated by my side. His head was lowered in anticipation of the strike he so justifiably assumed, but his eyes were raised up to meet mine.
I could feel the very distinct dread from within his hazel eyes, as if his entire soul was pouring itself out to me. I am not sure what heinous thoughts crossed my mind in my anger, or maybe I just did not want to believe them.
I walked on past Edgar.
My stomach was an endless pit, filling expeditiously with malicious hatred towards these woods, towards Edgar, and towards that damned, reverberating moon.
The peak of the mountain brought back the uneasy itch over the entirety of my body, anger rising.
Less than a full twenty-four hours prior, Edgar and I gazed upon the stars, sitting in the grass before me. At that moment it would not have been possible – even if I had contained half of the anger inside of me – since the ground in front of my fully conscious eyes were filched by three slate-grey stones, as large as the ones of Stonehenge.
Two lay fallen, with another laying perfectly across the others. The curious structure stood no higher than my dinner table, but the stones were too large to have been placed by human hands, at least within one day.
I reached out with my left hand, trembling, unaware of any consequences, and ran my calloused fingers against the stone top. It was smoother than even the most polished garnet, or even coated wood.
The hundreds of legs again crawled over my body, sent into an immense frenzy as I brushed the stone.
Four legs I could feel on one, eight on another. There were countless limbs traversing my helpless body, yet I still could not find them. I tore at my jacket and shirt until they were ripped from me in miniscule pieces at my feet.
I felt the legs on my chest but still could not see them with my own eyes.
Again, I scratched and clawed, but they would not cease their incessant hurrying. From deep within my pants pocket I pulled my whittling knife and hacked across my chest. The blood ran wild like the steam coursing down the mountain’s path, but it did not wash away the legs.
I tried my arms, and again, the blood poured, but the insects – or whatever they were in their visual absence – remained.
Edgar’s delicate whimper broke my concentration and ended my irrational slashing.
Had I not told him to heel?
In the midst of licking the recently inflicted wounds on my left arm, I grew more disgusted with the mongrel.
I hacked at him.
Edgar had lived an unfortunate life, but a lucky life at that. Blind in my hatred for these woods, for Edgar, and for the moon, I missed him with my scarlet blade.
As quickly as my hatred had consumed me, I brought back the handle of my small knife onto Edgar’s fragile spine, and with an agonizing yelp he bolted back down towards the mouth of the mountain.
I felt no guilt, only uncontrollable rage, and I too bolted after the mutt.
The descent detached from my mind all recollection of the assemblage of legs, from the woods, and from the migraine that pounded in unison with the pulsating moon. But not, this time, from Edgar.
Breaking through the mouth of the mountain felt as if I had reached the surface, still alive, after an impossible and tedious swim from the ocean depths.
A crackling of thunder rolled through the air as a drizzle fell upon my aching head, already soaked from my perspiration. Lightning ripped apart the gloomy clouds above and seemed to reach the ground, possibly closer to my unoccupied cabin.
Had Edgar gone back? More importantly, would Edgar ever return to me? Another corrupt master in his poor life.
I had spent the following day on my porch waiting for Edgar. I did not call for him. I did not want him to hear my traitorous voice. Frankly, I did not want to hear it either.
Heavy rain fell from the sky all day, splashing upon the porch. The pattering was soothing, but it did not put my mind at ease, and it did not help that the sky remained a dull grey for the remainder of the day.
Until the sun was setting I had not recalled smashing my whittling knife into Edgar’s back, only my vile language and anger. The chances were high that he remained in the wicked woods, injured or expired on the ground. I had done nothing but merely sit on the porch, listening to the now annoying rain. I would go back through the mountain’s mouth.
I would rescue Edgar again.
The willows at the mountain’s jaw – as I had come to expect – drooped ever so slightly more than the night before. On this night, dull and gloomy – like the relationship had turned between Edgar and myself – the pelting rain crashed upon me, the woods whispered to me. It was not as if I heard the voices clearly, but I could feel that I was anxiously invited in.
I was hesitant, but I entered through the mouth of the mountain. I would not return without Edgar in my arms.
Looking up through the sporadic breaches in the canopy top – for the last time I had hoped– again, I felt the moon absorb my soul, filling me with irreversible emotion. Thankfully, I prayed that I was correct in my gratitude, it was not the rage returning.
Twenty-seven years ago, I lost my wife commencing my decision to relocate to my cottage in the hills. For nearly twenty-seven years, until I fostered Edgar, I lived in my remote homestead – peacefully I would add – no less than ten miles from the nearest town.
In that, I never felt more alone than in my ascent to the mountain plateau.
With each step growing ever so wearisome I began to sob. Initially, I assumed that it was in the dreadful reality of Edgar’s situation. I also decided, more than that, it was from the desire to see my wife again. I remembered the moon, pumping its white light in unison with my escalating heartbeat. The forest was the causation of my isolation and seclusion.
I was alone.
A distant, muffled yelp came from the mountain, breaking my mind out of its daunting state of inconsistency.
I began to run, my legs felt heavier with each step. In the likes of my mind, I again blamed these woods. I walked this path an inordinate amount of times to becoming sluggish on that night of all.
I should have been blinded as I broke out into the mountain plateau, for still stood those stones. A fog had settled there, and I could barely see even my knees.
Around the enigmatic stones, at least two-handful of sable-like figures stood, shrouded by the fog, all facing the stones. Human in size, still I could not make out any distinctive features other than their inverse knees, pointed backwards as they stood.
Their rhythmic chanting in unison filled the night and echoed off of the peak.
Dum nalag Ro
Dum nalag Nath
Dum nalag RoNath
With deficient reason I stood listening, growing more careful with each repetition as the chant mesmerized me. It was an odd language in which I never heard. Somehow, as if they wanted me to comprehend – which was the more frightful matter, knowing I had been noticed – the elementary word “follower” materialized in my mind.
With that word, I knew. What it was specifically I could not be certain, but beyond any reasonable doubt I knew.
Each step closer to the stones abated my heartbeat. Each step sucked more of the emotional pressure from my tainted soul.
With each step closer that I had taken, those fearsome figures, with their satiric knees took equally attentive steps away from the stones, still deep in chant. Still in precise unison.
As they regressed, and their shadowy forms faded into the mist – I saw him.
I saw Edgar, suspended to a grand pine by splintered, detached branches, two pierced through his withered ribcage.
I wanted to blame myself for Edgar’s demise. I wanted to blame the monster that I had become, but I knew the adverse truth. It was these poisonous woods that were to blame.
The pain I felt was none, and the absence of my guilt was resolute, because that is what the celestial moon had decided for me on that night.
I laid down on the stone table, staring up into the night sky, now clear of all its rain clouds. The pulse of the moon had almost wholly subsided, and I assumed that my heart would match its pace yet again.
This was my peaceful confinement.
The sky blackened and the moon faded as the menacing branches folded in over me, fingertips of the wicked woods. Closing my eyes, I hoped that I would soon again have Edgar by my side.
The gradual pulse of the shimmering moon finally ended.
Michael Gormley is a student at Cleveland State University. Born and raised in Ohio, Michael resides roughly an hour outside of Cleveland. Writing in the genres of horror, thriller, and science-fiction, Michael traverses the ideas and phenomenons that are associated with human emotions.