Dear Oswald - Nick Langen

Dear Oswald,

            The human eye is incapable of proper sight, did you know that? Every image, every strident tapestry of rebounding luminescence, is utterly inverted until the brain interprets it accordingly. Therefore, the marking of a sound, stable mind is the physiological rationalization and rectification of a world spun gyroscopically about. Alas, there is no doubt that I now suffer a delay in this process, dear friend, for I still have not yet made sense of that night.

            I know not what dank and necrophagous portal Kaspar Todgelb pried ajar, nor what contusions were inflicted upon his soul. There was a time when neither of us concerned ourselves with such petty thought. 'An artist is an artist,' we supposed, and as we sipped Moet from tulip glassware, his lurid visions bled through such strikingly ornate frames. Oswald, do you remember approaching me at the gallery? For I recall nothing of your arrival, nor our small talk, only the echoes of some lascivious brush groping against an involuntary canvas. Those… things… were not meant to be captured in any other environment than the periphery of the opiate addled mind, the merest suggestion is impossible to describe with any measure of accuracy, as you know. And yet they were immortalized, granted life from a man whose existence must have been fraught with the purest of nightmare.        

            There is no use in my trying to relay the blasphemous horror, the inconceivable loathsomeness, the moral fetor--but dear God, Oswald do you remember the faces? How they leered and gnashed their way through the mortal fibres of canvas, contorted with peals of epileptic laughter, their sacrilege etched into each pore? Kaspar Todgelb was not one for the blurred evanescence of dreams, no prismatic ephemera to imply fantasy, his mechanical dominion of ineffable fright was unfalteringly real, each and every texture accounted for. From the tenably rough-hewn woodlands to the pulpous rubberiness of viscera, his hand flinched not, his lines crisp and unbroken. And oh how we relished it!

            As those of a weaker disposition shuffled out the gallery, their countenances puckered with disgust and nausea, their mutterings incomprehensible and broken, their souls sticking to each other for warmth and protection against the ghastly visages that beset them, we remained. The newspapers spoke the following day of an art showing that had failed colossally, but we were rabid for that carnal churning of decay and impiety. Oswald, you are a man of science and repute, a student andmortician, unperturbed by death and harboring a passion for the arts; here it was that you could look past the entrails, the abyssal vehemence, the calamitous evils, and see an unparalleled command of colour, light, and shadow. As for myself, morbidity had never held me in its steely clasp, the unrelenting impermeability of shock had until that point been an emotion residing only in terrified and breathless recountings of implausible dreads. Oswald, I tell you this because only now can you understand the significance of my excited unease upon viewing those hellish scenes.

             We applied ourselves to the study of Kaspar, our vigor undiluted by the heinous infection of his brain. Our academics fell into disarray, our respective colleges sent us notices upon notices, great mounds of parchment wasted in a vain attempt to retrieve us from our fascination. Kaspar Todgelb, the elusive man, an eccentric immigrant of Germanic origin. To this day I wonder what is was he fled from, and if he found solace here? Surely not, for his aptitude with the brush only crystallized, his macabre visions heightened, his ardent slinging of devilish hues intensified with each passing year. His paintings, his peculiarity, his repulsiveness: we were bound by the great mystery of Kaspar, dear Oswald, and I still remember the thrill of the hunt.

            His reclusive nature made it nigh impossible to track him through conventional means, his vaporous character sifting through our outstretched palms and merging with the stratosphere. Ironically, it was astronomy that gave him away. Oswald, you madman, you genius, I nearly fainted when you made the connection! The works of Kaspar Todgelb were meticulously dated, almost rhythmic in production, and spawned in a profane doppelganger Earth; complete with an identical, perverse sky routinely swollen and fulgurous, sickeningly pregnant with malice. But in that great anti-heaven, there were stars, deadened and fading, but stars, navigational points nonetheless! It took months, Oswald, months! And we had nary a half second of relent, our ceaseless pursuit of cosmic cartography consumed us as we swept each and every one of those daemonic skies mapping and correlating with the date stamps.  His solitary, agoraphobic temperament necessitated an imprisoned existence, both in the realm of the intelligible and on the physical plane, thus his view of the marbled night remained stationary-- And this was reflected in his art!         

            Our search was conducted in the loft-space accompanying an abandoned household. If I recall correctly, Oswald, it was the property of your acquaintance. The previous owner, the curator of the gallery that had brought you and I together, had inexplicably taken a leave of absence following the debacle that had ensued. We were careful so as not to disturb any personal antiquities, like spectres we floated through those halls leaving nary a stray eyelash. It was out of necessity, for where else could we accomplish our fanatical charting of celestial bodies unhindered by the public eye? As the mosaic of geo-positional accuracy came together, your fervent mutterings frantically enumerating constellations and distance formulae, at long last would we be able to pay obeisance to the painter-prophet of that horrid nether-kingdom.

            You and I, Oswald, we made the journey on your retching, effluvial motor which I remain hesitant to board. Our bundles of charted facts and mathematical ingenuity rode between us, a paper pontoon of zealous compulsion and half formed plans. To ensure their captivity, a devoted palm was to steady the documents throughout the duration of the ride. Given my aversion to the noisy modernity of automobile navigation, I was more than happy to lend a hand. North of Arkham, we came upon the curiousness of an uneasy rural landscape, the hills wavering and topographically improbable, the sparsely scattered houses in uniform aspects of age, squalor, and dilapidation. The inhabitants were of a uniquely reticent bent, gnarled elderly figures lurking on crumbling doorsteps or on the sloping, rock strewn meadows. As we pressed on, gorges and ravines of precarious depth intersected our path, the fractured ground joined by wooden bridges of dubious safety. Oswald, do you remember the damp, odorous fog that stretched through the marshland beyond the bridges? It was night by then, and unseen creatures joined with the raucous pulsating rhythms of urgently piping bullfrogs to create an orchestral conflagration-- the waltz-music for an abnormal profusion of fireflies.

            A gaunt barkeep of precise language and hoarse timbre in our destination of Blackmerrow graciously permitted us the use of two spare rooms, for their travelers were few in those days. I have seen my share of queer sights Oswald, as I am sure you know, but I cannot imagine you disagree on the matter of the oddity that was Blackmerrow. Each and every structural slope strained away from some unknown locality, every architectural angle crooked, every tree grew damnably near sideways with no nests to be seen amongst the boughs. It was through a porthole that I glimpsed this peculiar sight before exhaustion and fatigue induced a dreamless sleep on a comfortless mattress. There were rats scurrying through the walls, chattering to themselves.

            The bizarreness of Blackmerrow had much to do with the sun-absorbing quality of the earthen gambrel roofing, creating a sinuous eternal twilight. In the insistently unlit morning this effect was made all the more apparent, a colourless expanse of dark ponderous cobblestone and masonry, a jarring spectacle for those having traveled across the greenish- gray countryside. Oswald, I recall the incessant humidity made comic by your choice of thickly layered outerwear, your fondness for long coats getting the better of your common sense yet again. Conversing with the residents of Blackmerrow proved fruitful, though as aberrant as could be expected. When prompted with the request of great Kaspar's whereabouts, they merely pointed, their beaky noses unexplainably ploughing patterned furrows directed at their unadorned feet. None of those questioned made anything resembling eye contact, and amidst the opaque nacre of their downcast gazes, nothing stirred.

            The house of Kaspar Todgelb was unlike any other. Its wildly careening neighbors must have balked at the aura of malaise that saturated the ailing grounds. The abode was moderate in dimension but elaborate in conception: Georgian balustrades, vaulted arches, ivied brick, columnar supports-- all in varying stages of disrepair. Great tattered cloth obscured the French-casement style windows, though whose vision this was meant to obstruct was uncertain. At its zenith, the domicile must have been a picturesque source of envy, wholly disparate from the scene of livid filth splayed in front of our eyes. Oswald, as I recall, you offered to recommend the man a cleaning service before we had even knocked on the dense wooden doors, which limply swung open upon impact. A yawning vertigo of inexorable fear overthrew previous senses as a palatable scent of decay slithered from the innards of the residence. What a dreadful stench, Oswald, it defiles my nose even now! Retrospectively, I question why it was we plumbed those depths, for surely no sane man would dare tread farther than the grimly cracked doorstep. Was it the subtle whisperings embedded in the noxious fumes? Some dead pagan god luring us forth with his decomposed musings? We could not tear ourselves away from the grisly acuteness of Kaspar's artistry, is it too far to assume we could not wrench ourselves from the doorway alcove of that looming residence for the same reason? But my pen hand grows weary, I tire of this speculation. Whatever the inspiration, we marched down that ophidian gullet, a dark putrescence miring each footfall.

            Ruined postlapsarian corridors of saggy decrepitude tunneled through that maniacal fortress. Our kerosene lanterns made us little more than those swamp-entombed fireflies buzzing about, submerged in transcendent gloom. You had grown oh so very quiet Oswald, perhaps you heard something that evaded my own perception. Thin tendrils of chilled air streaked against our faces, and though we stumbled from the dizzying nasal violations, we never once considered steadying ourselves with the bare, bleached-bone walls. I was unable to shake the thought that there was a distinction between human sense and this labyrinth that enveloped us, as though we stood on the seam of the cosmos itself. A thin veil of eggshell frailty separated the knowable from the warped miasma of otherworldly demented horrors, a soap bubble that we now prodded with each tremulous footstep. Great eldritch landscapes and forests composed of concepts repressed out of the mechanisms of the brain fluttered across those pale walls. It is the greatest mercy of all languages spanning the globe that there are not yet words to encompass a fractional scintilla of these atrocities, the closest in quality being the tumescent howls of mentally ill patients. There were no paintings, for the whole of that place was caked in the unholy grotesqueness of such power, it seared through my eyelids and corneas directly to the soul -- this was not vision as we have come to understand sight, not some illusion borne by the sun, no reflections or interpretations occluding true reality. Devoid of limiting facilitators, a scorched, anarchic charnel- pitted wasteland of human debris and Cyclopian architecture floated just beyond our infantile reach, from which spindly creatures that wove nightmare cast their blackened leathern threads like extradimensional anglers. This infernal reverie is the last of my memory, Oswald. My mind remains hermetically sealed beyond that point, despite my best attempts to breach the barricade. As I have written to you, I still have not yet made sense of that night in the house of Kaspar Todgelb, and whether I wish to remember, or to simply be grateful for my amnesiac cocoon, arrests me every moment, waking or otherwise.

            I regained consciousness, painful, throbbing, consciousness ensconced fetally in the pew of a church, Oswald, can you believe that? Myself, in a church? Later a physician would proclaim my condition a medical anomaly, that my ribs had been cracked but without any external wounding. Between you and I, I believe it to be the product of my near bursting heart during the tortures of the unremembered agony. Oswald, I once told you I feared that there was no God or Providence, no spiritual current flowing beneath the feet of humanity. I now fear that there is, and Its fully incomprehensible waters may someday spring forth from my mental dam, drowning what remains of my sanity. For this reason I dare not rap upon the condemned, inaccessible back-quarter of my mind.  The men of that church, they kindly clothed and fed me. For days I did not speak. Your automobile waited outside, though I remember not how I arrived. Where were you? For that question I walk to the doorstep of my amnesia and bellow with rage; you have been lost to me, Oswald, so very lost. I write this letter to the address of Kaspar Todgelb (whatever entity he is), the last known location of you, my dear friend. I have searched, walked the winding cobble paths of Blackmerrow, but all trace of that house has vanished like breath in the cold air. If you are still in those dolorous, paralytic corridors, buzzing about like some forlorn firefly, soar straight and bright. I will never stop looking.  

Please, please come back.

-Charles Maughlin