|Illustration done by John Picacio for Millipede Press's art book Artists Inspired By H.P. Lovecraft|
There was no rhyme or reason for Oliver Bixby to ever begin to pursue the arcane arts of necromancy. His New-England born parents had roots extending all the way back to the Mayflower era and only immigrated to the Caicos Islands in the Caribbean after the conclusion of the American Revolution, as the British army and colonial Loyalists were forced out of the burgeoning new country. Luckily for the young Bixby his father, Frederick Bixby, the sole earner in the family had a preternatural ability for business and within a few years had acquired some land and began a small but profitable business exporting cotton to England’s faraway colonies. Over time, Frederick acquired more and more land and in turn his increased wealth allowed him to purchase newly arrived Africans as cheap labor to work his fields. By the time Ollie was born the Bixby estate had 100 slaves and expanded to the size of three plantations. Ollie’s mother, Abigail, was a unique woman, foregoing the teachings of the church and the rigid rules which bound women to their husbands, fathers, and sons, Abigail was quite the lone wolf. Her behavior, to say the least, would have driven most men to drink but Frederick loved his wife and never struck or argued with her. All in all, young Oliver had quite an ordinary life, relatively speaking.
When Ollie was just three he had witnessed a small uprising of slaves attempting to burn his family’s property. Frederick’s men were able to put down the rebellion before too much damage occurred, but what struck Ollie as shocking were the punishments his father inflicted on the perpetrators of the rebellion. Men, women, and children, 50 in total, branded on the face and their right hand chopped off like the Belgians had done to the Congolese Negroes. The cruelty sickened the young man so much he refused to talk to his father for several years.
Growing up on his parent’s plantation far away from Europe’s major hubs of culture and education Oliver was a self-taught boy. Frederick made sure to have a well-stocked library to feed Ollie’s young brain. As a supplement to the boy’s prodigious reading habit Abigail hired a Mulatto tutor for her boy. Winston, a tall dark-skinned man with a thick Creole accent, had the ability to speak five different languages, was versed in astronomy, biology, and chemistry, and, most important to Ollie’s future, a deep well of knowledge concerning the beliefs, folklore, and incantations of pagan Africa. When not engaged in teaching Oliver the tenets of the natural sciences Winston would take Oliver around the plantation to visit the Yoruban slaves. Unlike the slaves from the Horn of Africa or even the Anglicized Africans the Yorubans may have been chained up and treated like chattel, but they never lost their dignity or gave up their unique language and traditions.
In ancient Yoruba, you see, the people had no fear of death. It was said that a small number of wise old sages had the ability to challenge the barriers between life and death through special rituals and alchemic brews. Of course like all secret societies those foolish enough to try and steal the shaman’s secrets were imprisoned and their bodies used in grotesque religious rites while their minds were made to suffer the waking death.
Unbeknownst to Oliver until Winston took him on a tour around his father’s estate there lived a Yoruban shamaness who went by the name Moremi. Though told by Winston that she was a woman of 60 years of age Moremi looked no older than 35, the long streaks of gray hair on her head belying her youthful complexion. She had lived on the Bixby estate ever since Frederick’s first wave of expansion and had even been there during Ollie’s birth.
Moremi, goddess of death
According to Winston, Moremi had knowledge handed down from Elder Gods who came before the Christian one, ancient wisdom from the stars that our feeble brains call magic. Ollie was skeptical of her power, having been raised a Christian the boy still clung to the ignorant notion that man was the center of the universe. So to prove Moremi’s power Winston woke the boy up late one night and took him deep into the forest, west of Frederick’s cotton fields. When they managed to reach deep into the forest Ollie found a group of slaves standing in a circle chanting, around that inner circle were Africans sitting on the wet ground and banging on drums, and at the farthest end from Ollie and Winston stood Moremi standing on top of a rock. She began to speak and the revelers began chanting and drumming even louder. A figure slowly appeared out of the forest, one of Frederick’s field slaves, big, tall, and with a glazed look over his eyes the man moved towards the group as if being pulled on a string. The man eventually made his way inside the circle and then with a big yelp Moremi’s followers brandished sharp metallic shards and began stabbing the African. The man did not react though. He just bled and the drops soon became a puddle that quickly turned into a lake of blood. Ollie was in shock and tried to run toward the bleeding African but Winston held him back. Moremi’s followers were still not done with their pagan ceremony.
A few of Moremi’s followers broke from the circle and went towards the forest where the bleeding African had come from. Ollie could hear a slight commotion and hard breathing before they finally came back carrying a wooden box. They carried it all the way to the bleeding African and then sat it upright. The lid was opened and Ollie almost threw up when he saw the decaying corpse of a woman inside. Winston held the boy by his shoulders though and made sure Oliver saw the true extent of Moremi’s power.
Jumping down from her stone perch Moremi skulked toward the bleeding African and the wooden casket. In one hand she began to wave a bouquet of herbs and wild plant life as the chorus of chants and drums grew louder. Then, the woman scooped up some of the blood on the ground and used it to paint herself and the dead woman. Ollie then saw the shamaness stick something into the corpse’s mouth followed by Moremi kissing the decaying body on the lips. The drummers soon began to beat faster until finally the decaying husk in the wooden box opened her eyes and began to shriek. Moremi’s followers, in turn, began to shriek also.
Winston looked at Oliver to see the boy’s reaction.
“Do you see Oliver? Death is no longer a choice we must face.”
Oliver didn’t say a word. He had no words to convey what he truly felt. From that day forth Oliver Bixby became obsessed with learning Moremi’s secrets.
The devil’s bargain
Studying biology and chemistry in various universities in Europe the young man learned about the new science of neurology, genetics, and immunology. His professors were astounded by the young man’s aptitude and Oliver quickly built a reputation as being almost equal to the wisest scholars of Greece or the Far East. Of course, his studies in the occult increased. By day the calm confident scholar was the toast of Europe while by night the alleyways and ghettos of Europe’s many ancient cities were sites of terrible crimes. Oliver needed fresh corpses for his experiments to reproduce Moremi’s power, but when dead bodies were not readily available the young man began to hunt for specimens.
Aside from the work in his lab, Oliver traveled endlessly to Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. In each new location he searched out the mystics, sages, and shamans and in each place he came to learn more and more about Moremi’s power. Those with the secret knowledge that Oliver craved always spoke of the Elder Gods, Yog-Sothoth, and Ryl’eh but even with the knowledge he accumulated he was no closer to recreating Moremi’s great miracle. At a great monetary cost, Oliver purchased a complete manuscript of the Necronomicon by the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred, but his skills at deciphering the text were insufficient. Even Winston, a polymath and expert in linguistics, could only decipher bits and pieces of the text.
For years Oliver toiled and paid a great cost to keep his nocturnal activities a secret from the law, but nonetheless after a few months, years if he was lucky, he would always have to move. Local constabularies and private detectives from five cities in three countries were looking for Oliver Bixby, Arthur Bazbee, Richard Rothby, and other such eloquent and cultured gentlemen. Winston was a great help in planning his escapes and assisting in his experiments but even he could not stop Scotland Yard’s detectives from snooping in on his activities. Sooner than later, Europe became far too dangerous for Oliver and Europe’s best doctor had to flee, leaving an innumerable number of unsolved murders in his wake.
Eventually, Oliver found a nice quiet residence in the swamps of Louisiana, a few miles from New Orleans. It was isolated allowing him the privacy to do his experiments; the surrounding bayou gave him the perfect dumping ground for all his failures and the close proximity to French New Orleans was the perfect hunting ground for specimens that would never be missed. The only drawback to his new home was the lack of a basement in which he could do his research within the comfort of darkness, and so Bixby ordered his slaves, acquired in an inheritance after his father’s death, to renovate his green house into a viable lab.
He worked there for a couple of years, ever mindful of the families living on the surrounding plantations. A few curious souls were met with a kind smile and some friendly conversation, but for the most part Oliver kept to himself. The only time he would venture out and even engage in anything remotely resembling human interaction was during Shrove Tuesday, a festival where penitents ask absolution for their souls by engaging in the most raucous downright degrading behavior. In an atmosphere like that Oliver felt at home with all the sinners who couldn’t quit their vices.
During his third year attending the Shrove festivities he caught the attention of a young brunette. To Oliver she was nothing special but she hounded him with questions about his past and the queer doings on his property. In different circumstances he would have just walked away or lured her back to his lab, but she kept at him with questions that he couldn’t get away from her grasp.
“I think I know what you do there alone in your place Mr. Oliver.”
Bixby grinned in response to her statement.
“Everyone says you’re a doctor, but I’ve never seen any sick people at your place.”
“Well, young lady…”
“Well, Isabella, My area of expertise is not the treatment of the sick and infirmed. I am engaged in research that might allow the doctors you talk about to save more lives.”
“And the bodies you keep like a butterfly collector, are they for your research?”
Oliver began to survey the crowd, believing her appearance to be a trap laid out by officials out to get him.
“Bodies? Young girl whatever do you mean about the bodies?”
The young woman took a few steps back from Oliver and then dived into the mass of celebrants. Oliver chased after her, pushing through the bodies, but she seemed to be controlling the hunt. Bobbing in and out of stalls and alleyways the young woman calling herself Isabella led Oliver to the backdoor of an abandoned factory.
Inside the dilapidated building Oliver crept, ever careful to not give away his position to the young woman. Then, suddenly he heard whimpering that soon grew louder to become definite sobs. Oliver followed the distress signal and came upon a dark haired woman bound by several yards of hemp cord.
“The tart thought she was something special. Dumb cow didn’t realize she was just a pair of lips stuck on a nice face.”
Bixby turned around to face Isabella who had a cruel smile on her face.
“Why show me this woman?”
Isabella walked towards Bixby, brushing past him, and then crouched next to the bound woman.
“A little present for you.”
“I don’t have any interest in damsels, Miss.”
“Don’t worry. It ain’t for your pleasure, but your research Mr. Oliver. Torture her, cut her to pieces, disfigure the hag.”
“You’ve got the wrong impression about me Miss.”
Annoyed at Bixby’s reticence at accepting her gift, Isabella pulls a small pocketknife from a tiny satchel attached to her dress belt and slashes the bound woman’s cheek.
“I ain’t affiliated with the law. And I don’t have time for this ludicrous dance. Take the gift.”
Bixby looked Isabella in the eyes, trying to understand her motives, and found a dark abyss, a woman unencumbered with morality and a Sadean to boot.
Bixby grabbed the bound and quivering woman by her shoulders while Isabella took her by the feet and took her away. Hidden in the darkness and lost in the maddening crowd Oliver Bixby found a partner who never asked questions and loved him for the man he was, a cruel hypocrite who hid behind his intelligence.
A romance blossoms
They were inseparable, Oliver Bixby and his young bride, Isabella Guillory. The newspapers wrote of their elegant but simple wedding and the honeymoon in South America that the couple went to. The reality though was that Bixby and his young bride were running from the authorities. Scotland Yard and a few private investigators were hot on Bixby’s trail and the wedding and cover story of an overseas voyage was hatched in hopes to throw the authorities off their trail.
Bixby and Isabella moved north, deeper into the swamps. The killings continued though their hunting grounds were quite paltry compared to New Orleans, and though Oliver had made some headway perfecting his serum all the innocents he tortured and killed never did stay alive long enough to justify the bloodshed. For Isabella she enjoyed the freedom afforded by Oliver who never judged her bottomless well of hatred. She disliked the beautiful, the kind, the cruel, the ugly, the living, and the dead. Bixby, capable of the same hatreds, saw someone frail and unloved. He did his best to care for her. And their relationship turned from that of criminal and accomplice to something more “normal”. He began to dote on her.
On Sundays, they had picnics and Isabella even convinced Oliver to go on little daytrips far outside their usual territory. Even Winston’s demeanor changed. Though the man had always had a very formal way of carrying himself he seemed less serious and even though the brutal murders continued all three seemed happy.
By the time the sweltering heat of summer had finally died down tragedy struck Isabella. At first, she had come down with a slight fever and terrible cough. Oliver did his best to care for her yet her condition only seemed to worsen. The color of her skin turned from a rosy pink to a sickly gray. Her vibrant blue eyes eventually became vacant of color.
Passing away in the middle of the night, Oliver regretted having not been there to hear her breathe her last breath or comfort her as she passed from this world to the next. She had worshipped his intelligence, his dedication to his work, and even as she lay in her bed, weak, and at the point of no return she never did curse him. She merely let the spirit leave her body and wished her husband and partner in crime a little more time.
No madness as painful as love
Bixby torched the home he had lived in with Isabelle. Burned everything she touched into char and then left with Winston. First for the Caribbean to settle some family matters and then to South America, his supposed honeymoon spot, in search of some mysterious plant that the natives chewed or smoked and which gave them supposed stamina and a metaphysical third eye. His search yielded no results though and soon the exhausted duo made their way to Tangiers in hopes of recuperating.
The heat of Tangiers did nothing for either man’s health. Oliver merely toiled in his makeshift laboratory, hidden deep within the ancient catacombs that lay underneath the city while Winston, being the dutiful mentor and friend, looked after Bixby. Winston’s North African contacts had spoken of a sect of ancient sages holed up in the mountains.
Apparently they had originally come from somewhere in the Middle East but the turmoil in that part of the world had forced many of that region’s occultists to make the journey west. The ones living in the outskirts of Tangiers though were not mere magicians. They had, according to rumors, discovered through the aid of certain alchemic brews the secret of life and death. One of the wise old sages was even supposedly over 150 years old. Of course, this was all conjecture and rumor but with no other prospects Winston convinced Bixby to make the journey to the desert mountains in search of these holy men.
Four days and four nights they traversed the cliffs and rocky ledges near and around Cape Sartel looking for their supposed “wise men” and Bixby, who had already lost interest in the matter by the end of the second night, only continued further due to Winston’s enthusiasm and narrow-minded belief that their magi had answers to questions he needed answering. For Bixby, he could care less about his original goal. Bringing back the dead was now just a pretense to his new goal to bring back Isabelle, even if for a brief moment. He had no cares about anything except for that and if Winston’s supposed magi could help him do that then he would find them and make them give him the knowledge needed to accomplish his task.
Finally, on the fourth night when the sky was at its darkest Bixby spotted smoke coming from a cave overlooking the beach. The smoke floated in the air in long thin wisps and the two men had trouble following the trail but eventually they found their way to a shallow outcropping of rock. Sitting around a dying fire were three men, Winston’s magi, bathed in darkness except for the tiny embers glowing from a tobacco pipe that the three men passed around.
“A disciple comes to see us brothers.”
“Another one seeks guidance but these mortals who seek us never do listen to common sense.”
Bixby snickered, “I come to see and hear with my very own senses you three esteemed wise men. I have been told of your powers and want answers not insults.”
The three bristled at Bixby’s insolence.
“Man should mind their place.”
“Are you not men? Has your confidence in your ability blinded you to your place within this mortal realm.”
The three laughed at Bixby’s brazen attitude.
“Give me what I want or I will take it. I have no fear of gods, be they from this realm or the next.”
“You who dares to spit in death’s face. You who tortures the innocent. You who sacrificed love for glory. You, Oliver Bixby, are a foul creature.”
Bixby, who had restrained himself from acting on his rage, made a quick charge for the huddled old men and raised his fist to them when suddenly one of the elders spoke.
“Know your place!!”
“Moremi may have had a fondness for you but we have none.”
Bixby chortled at the elder’s courage.
“I come here not to challenge any of you. As I said I come for answers. I need…No, I must ask your assistance in breaching the thin membrane that separates our realm. I must speak to someone.”
The man furthest from Oliver took a few puffs from their tobacco pipe and then, with his right hand reached into the dying campfire to pull out a greenish black chunk of rock glowing a sickly yellow color. The elder broke a tiny piece off and placed the alien rock into the tobacco chamber of his pipe and began to smoke it.
The elder’s eyes became glazed and the color in his skin began to slowly seep out of him, as if his essence were being drained out from his body and nourishing the very ground his feet were planted on. A soft murmur escaped from his lips and then in a hypnotic trance he began to chant:
كما ولدوا في مدن رجل من الدم والعظام من الآلهة القديمة. كما كان الرجل مرة واحدة خادم القديمة. عالم أعلاه، عالم أدناه، عالم الغرب من الأحلام والكوابيس شرق فليكن الآن، في الوقت الحاضر، فتحت نافذة على واحدة من العديد من العوالم السفلى التي تخفي في الظل حتى أن هذا الرجل يستطيع أن يتحدث لمن له تشتهيه.
Bixby observed the trio, familiar with the ancient occult rituals of this area, and feeling a heavy weight within himself allowed the cloud of mental fog to overtake him till finally Oliver Bixby slept, passed out on the ground like a lifeless mannequin.
Into the black heart
The sky burned a yellowish green and orange color. Cicada-like sounds invaded the space around him. Yet the only thing that Bixby could notice was the strong smell of lilacs when he finally awoke. Opening his eyes he was dumbstruck at the fertile valley he now found himself in. Winston and the three magi were gone, but it did not matter. Alone in this foreign land he had no fear and began to wander aimlessly through the alien landscape.
Aside from the luminously colored sky there seemed to be nothing that was too foreign about this dimension. The plant life looked familiar, the sparse fauna he observed did not seem to contradict his knowledge of known biology, but the sickening sweet smell of lilacs would not escape his nostrils. Proceeding further and further through the fields of pink and dark violet flowers Bixby noticed fat green caterpillar-like bugs crawling on petals, stems, and fallen branches. Kneeling down to pick up one of these furry insectoids he eventually notices that it not only had a prodigious spiny fur covering all over its back but that, as it chewed on a stray leaf, it had what seemed to be small little incisors and a rudimentary mouth on each of its prolegs. Bixby discovered this fact as the bug traversed the distance from his fingers to his hand and left a path of tiny red dots along his hand.
Further along in his exploration a forest of tall redwoods housed red magpies that at first seemed to be following him but later Bixby realized the birds were actually leading him to a specific location, a small hill littered with an overgrowth of shrubbery and clouds of what seemed liked locusts at first but after careful inspection he realized they were butterflies. Thousands of them, each with a different pattern and design on their wings, and as Bixby moved closer toward them they swarmed around him and the smell of lilacs that had never left Bixby’s nostrils now pervaded every pore and cell of his body.
Bixby tried to escape the swarm and smell but they followed him. He began to get sick and began to wretch and vomit. As he opened his mouth though a few of the butterflies began to fly into his throat causing him to choke. Then suddenly he began to hear screams. The noise seemed to be surrounding him and even coming directly from inside his head. Bixby thought he was merely hallucinating and did his best to escape the swarm while also trying to shovel out the butterflies that had attempted to make their way down his throat.
“Rip the wretches throat!”
“Stole my heart. Stole my life.”
“Why should we suffer in darkness?”
“Drag him to hell.”
“Torture! Torture the arrogant sod.”
Crying. Moaning. Laughing. Screaming. It would not quit and Bixby became more and more agitated till finally he began to flail his arms and run down the hill and into a dark patch of forest.
Inside these woods Bixby bumbled his way through a crowd of gnarled old trees who were already half dead. Scrapping his arms, legs, face, and body on the bark and branches it was a miracle that he still had the stamina to keep going even as his clothing and skin became scratched and bloodied. Eventually though, Bixby surrendered to his predicament and fell face forward onto the ground, but their would be no respite for him. The soft ground he fell upon soon began to swallow the man up. It was a bog that Bixby found himself in but before he could realize it he was already sinking deeper into the ground. Struggling and squirming to get out the entire ordeal became even more protracted as the mud and muck begin to work like a vacuum and suck him deeper in until finally he took his last breath and was swallowed up by the wet earth.
No more Oliver Bixby, or at least nothing of the soul that was Oliver Bixby still existed. The elder gods who had chosen him needed him no more. He fulfilled his part in their wicked game. Of course, the vessel from time to time would appear on earth. It looked and sounded like the poor boy but nothing of Oliver Bixby was there anymore. Extinguished from the earth and all planes of reality. A memory of a man that showed such promise.