H.P Lovecraft Theme Event - The Education of Wilson Mayfair
Wilson Mayfair stood in front of the surprisingly sad looking Hummelstown brownstone at 1890 Phillips Avenue. The brass plaque on the door clearly read “Davis, Driscoll, Reynolds, Cthulhu and Stein; Attorneys at Law”, but the shabby appearance of the building and the general decay of the neighborhood was completely out of keeping with the reputation of Arkham, Massachusetts’s most prominent law firm. The street was oddly quiet for the middle of the business day and there was a dampness and persistent hint of ichor, even though the sun shone brightly and it was many miles to the harbor. There was something disturbingly noisome about the appearance of the structure, Wilson thought; while his eyes reported the clean, square lines of modern architecture, his mind perceived impossible angles and primitive cyclopean scale, and without reason he began to form the obsessive idea that the building was actually not there at all, but was rather some maliciously disguised portal to eternal torment and damnation.
Pushing open the heavy wooden door and passing the threshold did nothing to relieve his sense of some eldritch influence; the lobby that greeted him was cavernous, with an unseemly opulence that wholly belied the building’s exterior appearance. Everywhere were fixtures of ambiguous metallic alloy with reflections of unnatural depth. Even the murky polished marble floor gave the impression one was suspended above an infinitely deep pit, with only the good graces of one’s host preventing a plunge into the bottomless void. Much of the furniture was made from curious squamous leather that seemed to slither away from the periphery of his vision as he moved past. The walls of the lobby were covered with oversized, brooding portraits of grimly visaged men with strangely familiar names like Erich Zann, Arthur Jermyn and Charles Dexter Ward. A massive chandelier comprised of some painfully reflective crystal hung like a lurking doom over the center of the lobby and its dancing refractions contributed to the impression that the floor was dissolving and might fall away at any moment. At the far end of the lobby, dwarfed by its surroundings, rested a heavy desk of polished black wood, behind which sat the receptionist.
Wilson approached slowly, trying to clear his head of the macabre and phantastic impressions. Surely it was nothing more than the anxiety of his first day on the job. Having just completed his second year at Miskatonic University’s Alhazred Law School, Wilson had been awarded one of the few highly coveted internships with Davis, Driscoll, Reynolds, Cthulhu and Stein, and a successful summer would virtually guarantee him an offer of a prestigious position following graduation; making a good first impression was critical.
“Hello, I’m Wilson Mayfair. I’m here to see Mr. Stein.”
The receptionist eyed him suspiciously. Wilson’s first fancy from a distance had been that the young lady was quite fetching, but upon close examination some clearly unusual familial traits became manifest. Her dark hair was lustrous, but seemed to sprout from entirely too far down her neck, a fact almost successfully concealed by its extraordinary length. Her deep brown eyes were piercing from a distance, but set too far apart, giving a decidedly ichthyic appearance. Her inviting smile revealed teeth that were at once brilliant white but asymmetrical, and Wilson had the distinct impression that there was another row of them growing behind. As she lay down her perfectly sharpened pencil and reached for the phone, Wilson noticed with uneasily concealed distress that all of her fingers, though beautifully manicured, were of the same length.
“I’ll inform Mr. Stein you are here. Please have a seat.”
The receptionist motioned him not to the plush, reptilian chesterfield, but to an uncomfortable looking oak high back chair against the wall to the left. Hanging above the chair in a massive and ornate gilded frame was a portrait of a man. The brass plaque on the wall below the picture read “Juan Romero”, but Wilson’s mind silently urged “Montezuma” upon his consciousness. Even when he was seated with his back to the picture, he had an acute sense that the man in the portrait had fixed him with an unhealthy leer. To break the spell, Wilson peered surreptitiously at the receptionist. There was definitely something alluring about her, even with her litany of minor deformations. Oddly, she held the incongruously modern phone to her ear, but seemed not to respond to, nor participate in, any conversation; in fact she seemed entranced. Viewing her, Wilson began to form a distinct impression that there were the vestiges of gills rippling along her pale, slender neck. Surely the Absinthe from the end-of-term party was still affecting his mind. He had thought to ask for a glass of water when he felt a presence beside him.
Abraham Stein was anything but what Wilson had expected. Though he was of average height, he was healthily solid and his youthful vigor surely belied his age. He had a thick, unruly shock of straw-colored hair and a gleaming smile. His eyes were crystal blue and every feature was perfectly proportioned. As Stein extended his powerful hand, Wilson could not escape the feeling he was being greeted by a perfectly crafted marionette under the control of some sinister force.
“Mr. Mayfair! I am extraordinarily pleased to finally make your acquaintance.” Stein shook his hand enthusiastically. “Professor Bhagobt has told me so many wonderful things about you. We are so gratified that you have chosen to spend your summer with us.”
“Thank you Mr. Stein. I’m grateful for the opportunity to be associated with such a prestigious group of attorneys. I hope I will be able to do my small part to contribute to your firm’s success during my tenure.”
“Of that I have no doubt. Please follow me and I’ll introduce you to our staff. Of course you have met Aurelia. She is the principle upon which we are all organized.” Wilson was puzzled by the statement, but his attention was drawn back to the receptionist. She was no longer holding the phone, but simply stared at him with the blankness of infinity in her eyes. He felt an inexplicably empty longing despite the unnatural appearance of the woman. He suddenly realized he had been devoting entirely too much effort to his studies.
“Let us proceed to the inner sanctum, Mr. Mayfair.” Stein smiled benevolently and indicated a door behind the receptionist’s desk which Wilson had somehow escaped his noticed. Wilson could not decide if the frame of the door was tilted to the left or the right, or perhaps twisted like a helix; the handsome oak door seemed to transmogrify as it swung upon its hinges, passing through a maddening sequence of dimensions until it stood fully open revealing a narrow, wood-paneled hallway that appeared to spiral away in the distance.
Stein patiently waited for Wilson to proceed. He seemed to have no cognizance of the building’s bizarre architecture or of Wilson’s rising anxiety. “The intern’s offices are here at the end of the hallway to the left. Our partners’ offices are to the far end of the hall. The breakroom is here on the right.” Stein motioned Wilson into the first space in the entire building that appeared normal. There was a spotless ceramic double sink surrounded by an immaculate rose marble countertop supplemented by a plethora of modern accessories, including a sparkling stainless steel cappuccino machine. Wilson silently breathed a sigh of relief; perhaps, he thought, he was just over-worked and stressed by the new circumstances. His heartbeat had almost returned to a regular rhythm when he discerned a hint of salt water lurking beneath the scented smell of the disinfectant.
“You are to be the recipient of a great honor today”, Stein unexpectedly began as they returned to the corridor, suddenly urging Wilson rapidly down the hallway. Stein’s face had taken on a somnambular appearance, belying his abrupt exigency. Wilson began feeling faint, his mind unable to reconcile the sense of a whirling vortex with his eyes’ report of the perfectly level wooden floor. Stein stared fixedly ahead, but Wilson imagined he heard ‘Cthulhu’ repeated metrically as they raced forward. Stein’s grip strengthened until Wilson felt a scream of pain forming, but some uncanny force prevented it passing his lips. Wilson was on the verge of unconsciousness, when everything abruptly stopped.
Stein was looking at him with a mixture of humor and paternal concern as they stood before an innocuous seeming door nearly at the end of the maddening hallway. If not for the small brass plate which read simply “Cthulhu”, it might have been mistaken for a janitor’s closet. Though it was eerily quiet, Wilson’s head was still reeling.
“I see you have guessed the nature of your honor, Mr. Mayfair. I can see how excited you are, as well you should be. Mr. Cthulhu never troubles himself with interns. In fact, he seldom even has time for me.” While Stein’s expression remained jovial, Wilson thought he heard a saddened inflection in his host’s voice. “You should indeed be excited and gratified. Mr. Cthulhu is a most impressive man. Most impressive.” Stein’s voice trailed off as he opened the door. Wilson had anticipated that Stein would precede him into the room, but he held back, as if fearful to cross the threshold.
“Please go in,” motioned Stein. “Cthulhu awaits you.”
Wilson slowly entered the room, first passing through a short, dimly lit hallway which appeared to be upholstered in some tough hide, like rhinoceros or elephant skin. Wilson thought how thoroughly unprofessional it was to have such poor lighting; in fact, it probably violated standards for workplace safety. The hallway terminated in an incongruously immense moldering stone arch which opened into what seemed a massive subterranean chamber, dank and unhealthy. Wilson was seized by an unfathomable dread and at that moment would have abandoned his education, career and all he held dear just to be elsewhere, but his feet defied him and continued carrying him through the enormous opening.
Certainly I am now completely mad, thought Wilson. The humble brownstone could not contain such a space as this. He had no recollection of having descended, yet his mind felt the unimaginable weight of the earth pressing on him from above and a blanket formed of the eons of moisture seeping into the cavern assaulted him on all sides. In the gloom, he was able to discern shapes slowly resolving themselves, looming structures like the cyclopean cities of some alien civilization. He tried to focus his eyes in the murky expanse and saw, bookshelves!
“I knew your father, Mr. Mayfair.”
The voice came from everywhere and nowhere. It was a calm, even tone which soothed Wilson’s ears, but reverberated in his chest. He took a further step forward and found himself standing in a cluttered, archaic office space bereft of any element of modern technology and insufficiently illuminated by a solitary banker’s lamp on the simple wooden desk, behind which sat a lumpy little man in a frayed suit with a worn fedora pulled low on his forehead, his eyes concealed by dark, horn-rimmed glasses. The man’s skin was waxy and seemed too large for his frame, hanging in folds about his chin and neck. Wilson could not determine if a smile or grimace played upon the man’s face.
“You knew my father, sir?”
“Oh, yes, very well. Please Mr. Mayfair, have a seat.” The man motioned him to a plush wing chair covered in a voluptuous, soft green leather. Wilson sat automatically, feeling like he was in the midst of an opium induced hallucinatory dream.
“My father died when I was very young. He was lost at sea, actually. I never really knew him. You were involved in marine commerce, sir?”
“Lost at sea. Very tragic, Mr. Mayfair. Yes, you might say I have some experience at sea-faring. Your father was a prideful man. I met him briefly before he died, but it wasn’t death that crushed him, it was the unbearable weight of his own pride. I often ask myself where you get this impulse, Mr. Mayfair.”
“No, not you, young man. Your race; human beings.” The man gestured towards Wilson with a disturbingly claw-like hand.
“I’m not sure I understand, sir.”
“That is most likely Mr. Mayfair; very likely, but why have you chosen to pursue the law?”
Wilson was beginning to recover his composure, despite the surreal and horrific conditions of the interview. He was strangely drawn in by the man’s frank tone of indifference. “If the truth be known Mr. Cthulhu…” At the intonation of the name the man visibly shuddered, as if with sensual pleasure, “…I enjoy a good argument. I come from humble means and wish to pursue a career which affords me both prestige and material success. I do not want my children to repeat my circumstances.” Wilson could sense the man’s eyes examining him, although they were concealed by darkness and the fleshy, misshapen face betrayed no feeling.
“Gratification of ego and material gain. Very good, Mr. Mayfair. These are the only pure motives of man. It is better to confront your truth than varnish it with false doctrine, wouldn’t you say? In any event, this is the root of my antipathy to the Elder Gods and, by extension, humanity itself. To lie to others is a strategy; to lie to one’s self is madness, and madness is something I know well.”
Wilson was confused by the man’s references, but he felt the utmost cordiality was required by the circumstances. “Well, sir; I’m not a religious man, but I certainly understand the human capacity for self-deception.”
“Then, Mr. Mayfair, what would you say would be the most fatal harm that could be inflicted on a civilization? What would be the first brick in the foundation of human doom?”
Wilson had no idea where this conversation was going. The man passively awaited a response.
“A disease; some powerful virus, perhaps. Some unrecoverable damage to the food supply”
Wilson felt more than heard the laugh. It rolled through his head like a sarcastic shriek of terror. The uniform wall of bookshelves and the rows of antiquated books behind the man began to recede from his view as if he were moving rapidly away, but he felt and heard nothing. The man’s shadow began to grow and spread across the desk and over the faint lamp, merging with the darkness.
“An example of reasoning unto the obvious, Mr. Mayfair. I was hoping for better, but you are young.” A vast field of unfamiliar stars now filled the void behind the man, but his shadow had begun to block out even this. “The answer is loss of equity; the death of fairness. You can starve a people until they eat one another, Mr. Mayfair, but that will only ensure their physical demise, not their moral destruction. You can incinerate a civilization and all its works, but it will remain eternally lodged in the fabric of time with whatever merit it has achieved, but destroy faith in the moral order and you destroy meaning itself.”
Wilson fancied he saw the expansive outline of a pair of great, leathery black wings and felt the frigid thrust of air against his damp face as they flapped. The man was slumped back in the chair, lifeless, while a barely perceptible wriggle of ephemeral tentacles slurped voraciously around him and his voice arrived from every direction. The palpable sense of dread was returning to Wilson’s becalmed mind.
“You see, Mr. Mayfair, if you annihilate a culture’s faith in ultimate justice, you consume their soul and all that remains is the hollow shell of arrogant presumption; monuments to nothingness. We lawyers can twist the law into an unrecognizable farce, calculated to serve the interests of the powerful, until any thought of justice passes from this earth. I have escaped my watery exile and I shall have my revenge against the Elder Gods through the moral evisceration of their fragile human playthings. I shall prove to the humans that good and evil are smoke and shadows and that the Universe is beyond even indifference. They shall learn that the horror embodied in me is the only salvation against the horror of the ultimate truth!”
As the last word rumbled through his consciousness, Wilson found he sat in the comfortable green leather chair again, now before the small, bespeckled man behind the modest desk in a diminutive, simple office lined with rows of aged books, lit by clean, professional fluorescent tubes.
“And so that’s why Davis, Driscoll, Reynolds, Cthulhu and Stein have been here in Arkham for over 50 years now. I trust you will have a true adventure with us this summer, Mr. Mayfair. Before I forget, here’s the key to the executive washroom. Where has the afternoon gone? Please turn right back down the hallway. I have asked Aurelia to wait to show you out. I hope you don’t mind if I don’t shake your hand; I have a skin condition.”
A confounded Wilson found himself back in the hallway, which appeared completely normal in all respects. He traced his steps back to the heavy door that led to the lobby, and found it to be comprised of four 90 degree angles. Passing through the door, he saw Aurelia, now somehow hauntingly sad and beautiful.
“Good night, Mr. Mayfair. I’ll show you to your office in the morning.”
Wilson thanked her and turned to leave, looking back one final time to find her fixing him with an inviting smile. Wilson thought to say something, but for the briefest moment he was sure that he saw the shadow of some rope-like thing wriggling beneath the desk and heard a moist sucking sound that nearly turned his stomach.