In the dead of December, I found myself holed-up in my office at Columbia University. I’d just finished the final grading for the semester, and had turned to the book Jordan gifted to me several months earlier. Night had placed its hand on the city’s shoulder as I finished the last page. To my horror, I had just read The Princess of Mars, a wondrous work of pulp, and I had enjoyed it. Even though there was not another soul in the building, I locked it away in a drawer. Guilt gnawed at me over the pleasure I’d discovered. This was a secret that must remain buried.
With my secret secured, I shrugged on my overcoat, slipped on my galoshes, and pulled on a pair of leather gloves. After locking my office, I tromped down the stairwell to the exit. Wind rushed to greet me as I stepped outside. Bloated, gray clouds obscured the night sky, while freezing gusts whipped at my overcoat. The lush grass that carpeted the campus in the summer was now a lonesome arctic landscape. Hurriedly I plodded at a diagonal between the Buell and Kent buildings, heading toward 116th Street. I dreaded the walk to my apartment.
At seeing the snow covered Low Plaza, I remembered Jordan from the previous year. She stood in a silent snowfall, face turned to the heavens, waiting for snowflakes to melt on her tongue.
I’d progressed halfway across the campus when a shadow borne by the storm passed over me. Immediately, I sensed it. Halting, I listened to the huffing wind and scratching snow. I lifted my head, searching for a shape drifting in the sky. But a curtain of white limited visibility to mere feet.
Then my curiosity took hold. It didn’t seem possible for a shadow to pass over me in the thick gloom, unless it wasn’t a shadow but a living darkness, visible only to my Second Sight. Since the discovery of my ghastly ability, I’d learned to control it, to block out the apparitions. But I knew that some entities could push through reality, appearing visible to all. This one was in the process of crossing that threshold. The wind nipped, reminding me to ponder puzzles in a warmer locale.
I started forward, and as I did, a screeching sliced through the night. Leaning back, I glimpsed the creature I had sensed. It was sheathed in an unnatural blackness, hiding any real details, leaving only the silhouette against the clouds. Vast wings flapped, seemingly changing with each stroke. They protruded from a serpent-like form which effortless swam through the storm. My thoughts jumped to the idea of a dragon – which was ludicrous. Yet, it glided in a circle above just like the legendary monster, moving with and against the bitter wind, as though preparing to strike its prey.
Again I turned, facing the Kent building with its four fluted columns anchored in banks of snow, its high-arched windows dark and empty. The building was my closest retreat. However, I doors would be locked this late, and while I might enter through a window, their two-story height made it just as easy for anything else to follow.
Another screech carried through the wind. A twisting blackness glided across the snow, seeming to sprout arms as it went. Something monstrous surveyed me.
I started toward the Philosophy building from which I came. Pale sheets of snow hung in the caterwauling wind, as though attempting to hide the structure. Something beyond the tempest’s touch seized me, chilling bone and soul. The creature approached. I felt it descending in an ever-shrinking spiral.
Following my path through the nine inches of snow, I trudged ahead. Yelling was pointless. Any calls would be swallowed by the keening storm, and it was doubtful there was even anyone to hear them.
Without warning, the snow quilted earth beneath my feet jerked, sending me sprawling face first into the snow. I spit out a mouthful of the cold, and looked over my shoulder.
An impossible form stood behind me. Its shape twisting and shifting, wings melting into muscle and flesh, arms slithering outward. The former dragon had now transmogrified into an entirely difference creature. It towered in the blasting winds, an enormous, protruding head with long tentacles reaching from the sides of its mouth, exploring the space before it, surrounding a vicious mouth, round and crowded with fearsome teeth. It possessed two large eyes, where expected, and five smaller eyes, like those of a spiders, each scattered across the center of its vast forehead. They glistened, falling snow reflecting in them.
The long, snake-like body continued to shrivel, as though being absorbed by the massive torso. The creature easily towered twice my height. As it reshaped, it sat on its massive haunches, rippling with muscles. Two forearms, lengthy and ending with hateful claws, pressed into the snow. And most astonishingly, the midnight black color swirled, becoming a translucent, milky white as though it were camouflaging itself.
I don’t know how long I watched with perverse fascination. It seemed the creature held me spellbound. I had to forcibly pull my attention away from the grotesque sight. I pushed to me feet, and ran for the Philosophy building – the irony of fleeing to the refuge of philosophy did not escape me.
Once more it issued an unwholesome cry, a sound so inhuman, so unnatural that its blackness seeped into the marrow of my bones.
. . .