And so it was that the Old Ones could no longer abide the horrors begat by Meknah-Re, He That Breaks Men's Souls Upon the Forge, and together they tore him limb from limb and cast his ichorous appendages far and wide, that they might never find each other again. His heart was discarded in the dunes of Shar-Harad to be devoured by the drifting sands. His tongue was cut out and weighted before it was thrown into the impossible depths of Lake Schwartherz. His entrails were left to freeze upon the plateau of Leng. His brain was burned and its ashes scattered amidst the scorched remains of Sarnath. His eyes were hurled into the cosmos where they linger still today, known by the heathen Dogons as the Invisible Twins of Sirius, that still glare enviously at us today. His manhood was cut from his flesh and mounted erect before the ruin of Lost Antigo, a warning to any that might dare to approach that damned place. It is said that there are still those who follow the God That Has Been Broken, and would gather up those cursed hunks of divine flesh and put them back together if they could. Should that day ever transpire, a terrible doom indeed will fall upon the world of man.
-Abdul al-Hazred, Necronomicon, Volume 6 ("On Dead Gods")
The motor-coach rumbled and shook as it clattered along a seldom-used dirt road cutting through the forests of central Massachusetts. I sat in the back row, alone (for none of my fellow passengers had remained aboard after the previous stop in Ixbridge), bundled in my coat against the chill autumn air. Ancient trees unmolested by the avarice of man passed by the window as I breathed a sigh and clutched dearly to my valise, looking down at my watch. A quarter of six, half an hour before sunset, and fifteen minutes to go before the bus would make its stop at the desolate, isolated hamlet of Ayrshire. I reached into my pocket and retrieved the telegram that had set me on this itinerary into the hinterlands of civilisation, reading again the short message I had received from Overwatch three days prior;
3RD OCT 1927
NO CONTACT FROM PROF EDDINGS SINCE 14TH AUG STOP
LAST KNOWN WHEREABOUTS GRAINGERS INN AYRSHIRE MASS STOP
MAY BE IN DANGER DUE TO NATURE OF RESEARCH STOP
LOCATE EDDINGS OR HIS REMAINS AND REPORT ASAP STOP
WE SECURE WE CONTAIN WE PROTECT
It had been some time since Bernard Eddings and I had crossed paths, and my heart had sunk when the Western Union man delivered his missive that grey Monday morning. Eddings was a Harvard man, as was I, though our shared time at that illustrious institution was short; I had only just arrived, a doe-eyed freshman who had been wooed to the college's renowned football team, when he was already well engaged in his postgraduate studies of regional folklore. We struck up an odd friendship of sorts when I sought out a tutor to aid me with my flagging marks in maths, and when several years later, after the war, he had found employment with the association I to this day still know only as 'the Foundation', he sought me out to offer me a position as well.
"Have you gone mad, Bernie?" I recall asking him when he first proffered the proposition. "I'm no scientist. I can't imagine what use I'd be to a bunch of eggheads and doctors in white coats unless you're in dire need of a test subject."
"There's more to the Foundation than just bleach-bare laboratories and musty old tomes, Reg," he replied to me. "You've heard of the G-Men that Hoover has been recruiting? We're looking for G-Men of our own. We need young men with a sharp mind, a keen eye, and the ability to go out into the field and get things done, clean, quick, and quiet. Men like you."
"So I am to be a secret agent?" I asked him. "I am sure you could find more qualified men than myself."
"You sell yourself short. You were in the war, weren't you?"
"Mostly in Belgium, yes."
"And I understand you were part of the military police unit that dealt with the depredations Dr. West unleashed against our own boys in Flanders."
I shuddered at the memory of the horrors I had seen in West's chthonic laboratory, the twisted mockeries of science to which the doctor's insane genius had given life. "Yes," I meekly responded.
"Then you've already seen the kind of things our Foundation has to deal with. The world is full of incomprehensible monstrosities lurking on the edges of logic itself, and we need men with the constitution to face them down and keep their senses. The fact that you made it out of West's den of nightmares alive and sane proves that you're the kind of man we need. Please tell me you'll come with me to Site 19 next week and talk to Jack about the position."
I hesitantly agreed, and it was scarcely two weeks later when the personnel director, that queerly-mannered man with a strange medallion around his neck and a look in his eyes that belied his youthful countenance, shook my hand and welcomed me as a Field Agent Candidate, and in the six years since then I have traveled from the majestic spires of New York City to the desolation of the Rub' al Khali and everywhere in between in the Foundation's service. Now I found myself scarcely two hundred miles from my own hometown, yet somehow farther away from any civilised place I recognized, in search of the man to whom I owed so much.
When I last spoke to Professor Eddings this past June, he was embarking on a sabbatical of sorts, in pursuit of that labour which has been his passion for as long as I have known him. Since his boyhood in Arkham, the Professor has been fascinated by the weird and unique folklore and religious practices that arise from time to time in the backwoods of Massachusetts. His thesis on the history of Dagon-worship among the islanders of Dukes County remains the authoritative work on the subject and earned him the academic moniker by which his fellow researchers (and I) respectfully title him, and his annotations on the Arkham copy of the Arab's tome have proven invaluable in our dealings with a certain pair of Sumerians. I had bade the Professor good-bye as he embarked alone on a tour of the more isolated communities of our state, in search of new and unknown cults and factions to be studied and catalogued, and had followed with great interest his despatches from Innsmouth, Newcastle, and Hadley's Fork. His ultimate post to Site 19 had come from Ayrshire, a place I had had difficulty even locating on the surveyors' maps, saying that he intended to stay a week or two and study a peculiar Pentecostalist church he had heard rumours of. That, of course, was nearly two months past, and no letter nor telegram nor telephone call from the Professor had been received.
Ayrshire, as I learned while poring over the books at Arkham Library yesterday morn, lay some hundred miles or so to the west, nestled on the northeast shore of Chatham Lake and surrounded on all sides by the ancient and virgin woods. In the middle of the nineteenth century, the town had been called home by a population of as many as three thousand, and boasted a mill and a rail line to Boston. The war, so the newspapers said, had dealt a hard blow to the town's economy in the past decade; with so many of the town's young men having journeyed across the ocean never to return, the mill had closed, the trains ran westward less and less often, and of its former population perhaps three or four hundred remained. Seeking transport to the village was as difficult as finding it on the map - the rail line had been covered by a mudslide during the recent rains and was not expected to be cleared before the first snowfall, no paved roads lead there, and I could find no map nor guide thorough enough to allow me to motor into the woods on my own. It was only after enquiring with half the bus companies in the state that I found a small coach line that operated a single daily trip passing through Ayrshire on its way to Amherst, and now I found myself approaching that destination.
"Next stop - Ayrshire!" the driver shouted, waking me from my reverie as the coach rounded a bend and came into sight of an old dilapidated house. The streets of Ayrshire were at least paved, but they were in dire need of maintenance, no motor cars or lorries were to be seen, and the ride to the city centre felt no less turbulent than the previous several hours had been. The bus rolled past row after row of houses and shops and churches that looked as if they had not known habitation in years; it seemed we passed fifteen abandoned ramshackles for every house that stood in a state of repair, and I wondered if the Professor's rumours and the Census reports had been false and we had in fact driven into a ghost town. In the distance, near the lakeshore, hulked the ruins of the old mill, silent and still, towering ominously over the dwellings that once had housed its workers. Though the sun's amber gloaming already grew dim behind the treeline, the electric lamps that lined the kerbs remained dark, and the only lights I espied in the curtained windows flickered and gyred as if cast by a candle rather than from a bulb. The bus slowed to a stop at the edge of the town common, a small overgrown park at the corner of First and Washington, and the door rolled open as I rose, valise in hand, and strode to the front.
"Thank you, my good man," I said to the driver, and handed him a dollar for his trouble.
"You're very welcome," the driver said, "but are you sure you wouldn't rather stay on and head for Amherst? I've heard queer things of this town, and the older I get, the queerer the tales grow. This is no place for tourists to go a-gawkin'."
"I am not here for pleasure, I assure you," I responded. "I am seeking out an old acquaintance of mine. Perhaps you recall an older fellow who stopped here about two months ago?"
"Ayuh," the driver said. "He didn't want to share his business and I didn't care to pry. If he ever left here, he must have hitched a ride on a flying carpet, because I certainly didn't pick him up."
"Then perhaps I shall enquire at the local rug-maker's. Do you perchance know the way to Grainger's Inn?"
"Five blocks west down Washington. I'd make haste if I were you - I've heard tell it's not wise for visitors to be seen on the streets of Ayrshire after dark."
I nodded and smiled as I turned away and stepped off the coach. The air smelled rich, yet stagnant, full of memories and regret, as I disembarked onto the sidewalk. The motor-coach pulled away, seeming to double its speed as it made for the edge of town, and a quiet I have not heard since my visit to the ruins of Ib fell over the deserted streets. I fancied that a pair of eyes watched me suspiciously from the second storey window of a collapsing edifice on the other side of the green, but I saw nor heard a single soul other than myself, nor even the cry of a bird or the chirrup of a cricket, as I turned and made my way east through the empty roads of Ayrshire.
It was two blocks from the stop, as I stood in the middle of a deserted street, the coach surely having put a mile or more between myself and any hope of evacuation for the next twenty-four hours, that the sun dipped below the horizon in the west.
It was from somewhere behind me that the first scream echoed out.