the storms of widgeroo - a chaomage story
This was a short piece done as a companion to my novel, The Zombies of Widgeroo. That book was a loving mix of Lovecraft and a classic road novel written via my Discordian beliefs. Continuing the tone, this story is set hundreds of years after the events of that book.
I believe you’ve already read the files of Abernathy Jones, explorer of the Widgeroo Plains. You would then be fully aware of the belief that, at some time in our history, an army of zombies once knelt there for more than a hundred years. You no doubt have read the legends which speak of a man who summoned in that place the very gods and slew them as they appeared.
I wonder, then, were you as curious as I as to what happened to the bodies of these gods who were supposedly slaughtered on the Widgeroo Plains?
And what of the fabled zombies themselves who knelt there?
I read the reports of many archaeologists and my thirst for knowledge on this subject has been far from slaked.
I resolved to go to Widgeroo and see for myself. To feel the accursed land beneath my feet and perhaps, if I were lucky, to find some clue as to the true history of that mysterious place.
I set out in November, just as the weather was warming in the Southern Lands, and I found it no easy journey. Craw-wings refuse to fly near Widgeroo. Magic in that place is unreliable due to its close proximity to several large Telluric Curtains. Roads do not exist this far inland so the use of a steam engine was impossible and the many desert tracks seem to loop upon themselves many times as though they were formed by the mischievous wanderings of gypsy elves with an alien and malicious humour. Many times I found myself walking across ground I had covered before, seeing laid out before me print after print of my own boots.
I trekked for many weeks, often by light of the gibbous moon. To travel by daylight seemed insanity with the intolerable heat and the screaming of flies and other insects which stalked the desert in search of bodies to plunder of moisture. During the day I would sleep in whatever shade I might find, comfortably tucked inside my swag until nightfall. The cold nights were perfect for energetic activity, and I found the going to be more comfortable than if I’d maintained a daylight schedule.
Widgeroo often felt an endless distance away, almost as though it were a mirage, but I knew I was getting closer despite the attempts by those who had made these paths to turn me away or frustrate me until I gave up altogether. I found myself steeled by a resolve which quickly turned to fanaticism. I would tell myself I was getting closer, that I was nearly there.
Just one more dune.
One more dune.
But for my training in survival, I would have run out of water. I managed to remember the small cantrips needed to point me to fresh water and found the desert a surprising source of underground streams not too deep beneath the surface. The rumours of a vast inland sea close to Widgeroo seemed all the more true as I journeyed ever closer to the Plains themselves.
Three days before I reached the edge of the Widgeroo Plains, I was woken in the middle of the day by the sound of soft panting outside my swag, as though a dingo had paused to inspect the zipped opening.
I heard it claw lightly at the edges of the swag, and I shuddered at the thought of its canine fangs.
"Go away!" I cried, hopeful my voice might startle the beast into flight.
It paused, perhaps uncertain of what it had heard. I never thought such a beast might be more curious by my demand than afraid. Certainly it may never have seen such a thing as a swag, let alone a person, in the bleak emptiness of the desert. Perhaps it had the place to itself for so long it never knew of other creatures larger than a desert mouse or lost reptile.
In any case, I heard it shuffle away, claws scratching lightly along the sand as it went on its way.
Satisfied it would not bother me, I fell asleep once more.
The next day, however, I was woken once more by the sound of the dingo’s soft panting, and I cried once more; "Go away, I tell you!"
Perhaps this time I had less urgency in my tone. I had during the night satisfied myself that I was a man and this was a mere beast to be awed by my presence. I was confident that it would not dare to bother me.
This time, however, it gave a lot growl.
My heart fluttered like a bird in my chest and I am not ashamed to admit to a moderate fear spreading along the warm fluid pulsing through my limbs.
The dingo scratched once more at the opening of my swag and then trotted off, seemingly pleased it had asserted itself by growling at the intruder.
That night I checked for tracks of the animal, but found nothing in the sand outside my swag or even on the track leading toward Widgeroo. I believed then that the wind had merely shifted the sands and covered its prints. I gave it no more thought.
The day before I reached the edge of Widgeroo, it returned again.
This time it announced itself by scratching rabidly at the opening of my swag before leaping on top. Snuffling and snarling. Jaws snapping. I kicked in terror at the large form, its sharp nails digging into the cloth of the swag, but not far enough to reach my skin.
"Go away!" I screamed. "For Eris' sake, go away!"
Terror left my mind bereft of coherent thought. I couldn’t have uttered the most simplest of cantrips even if I’d thought to try.
The dingo growled, and the sound of its low growl haunts me to this day. It wasn't a growl of warning, or of challenge, but of hunger. It hungered to slash and tear at my flesh, and I could see in my mind's eye the horrible fangs which hung inside its raw mouth.
I pulled the musket from my belt and aimed it through my swag at where I thought the savage beast might now be crouched and fired a round of plasma. The enchanted shot blasted through the swag and I heard a sharp yelp of pain before the beast took off at a terrific pace. I struggled to free myself from the swag with my gun held before me, my finger white on the trigger.
"Damn you!" I cried, pointing the musket this way and that in search of the fleeing beast which was by then nowhere to be found. "Where are you?"
Where it had hidden in this barren land, I do not know, but it was nowhere in sight.
Frustrated and afraid, I rolled up my swag and headed off. That night, I crossed onto the cursed plains of Widgeroo.
The plains themselves were different to the desert I had been wandering through. It was as though grass had been painted with precise uniformity onto the desert, forming an unnatural oasis where no oasis should be. The long strands of green rose up to my hips in places, and I often had to lift my legs quite high to make my way through to the centre of the plain. I knew this was the direction I needed to go, because I could see a large black shape in the middle of the grass.
However, the black shape turned out to be little more than a stone. Large, of course,but otherwise no more unnatural than the fact I was standing in an oasis in the middle of a demonic land.
I sat on the stone and tried to think about my next move. Somehow, in my arrogance, I had believed all the answers might just present themselves to me. That, on my arrival, a great tower might erupt from the land and reveal all its secret histories to me.
I was disappointed, and ready to weep at the very thought I had crossed this bleached land for nought.
And then I heard it - the soft drumming sound of waves. Heavy, and tumbling and unmistakable. Yet, the Jones papers were adamant no inland sea existed. They reported little more than a small patch of greenery surrounded on all sides by blinding desert. How could this be?
I rushed toward the source of the noise, absent of all senses in my desperation to discover something fresh - something new - in this mysterious place which had been picked over like the bones of carrion by vultures in their scores.
Sprinting over a small hill, I was witness to a sight I hesitate to call magical, but can only describe as something from a dream. A wide open expanse of water, the waves of which were tumbling gently onto the sand which reached through the grass like fingers into a glove.
I fell to my knees and my eyes were wide with disbelief. I had found the inland sea as told in all the legends of this place. It is said when Macintosh returned from another dimension, it was to this place. From here, he went to the plains of Widgeroo where he slew the Second Coming of the Capitalist Overlord and brought down the gods whom he murdered before stealing their power and ending the universe.
I breathed more wildly, as I realised it was here he had walked. I was standing where the gods themselves had exhaled their very last breaths!
Looking around, I searched for some sign, some token of their passage.
A part of me laughed bitterly, fully aware there had been hundreds who had visited this place. Many had searched, with more powerful magics and even a few who used ancient tools and mystical machinery to sweep this place of all its secrets. They had found little more than sand and dust. What hope, mocked the voice in my head, had such a feeble mage as I to find that which greater men had sought?
I slumped at the thought, lost to the sound of the gentle waves gliding up the beach.
The waves! Of course!
None of them had found this sea! That meant it must be almost seasonal. Perhaps it was a rare event. Perhaps it was not the place, but the time which mattered!
A frenzy of energy took my heart and a flash of light blinded me for a moment. It was then I noticed for the first time the storm clouds lashing the horizon. Lightning danced, slowly at first, then with more vigor. Thunder growled across the sky, making me shudder as I was reminded of the dingo which had savaged my swag.
I realised I should get out of the storm before it hit, and looking up the beach, I noticed some stones I hadn't noticed before. I resolved to pitch my swag among them to avoid much of the wind which had already begun to nip at my clothes. I was amazed at how quickly the storm seemed to approach, and even the waves had begun to show caps of white. I staggered toward the rocks, the energy which had filled me slowly sapping away as I realised I might not be able to explore as much as I had hoped in the next few hours.
I set up my swag, and quickly wriggled inside as the rain suddenly poured with the power of an opened tap.
Thunder continued to roll across the sky and the strange storm made the very ground shake and the sea outside thrash. It was as if the earth itself had upheaved and sought to rid itself of this cursed area altogether. I shivered in my swag, uncertain if because of the cold or thought of the land around me being so cursed the earth itself had suddenly come alive to destroy it.
Then, so faintly that at first I thought I must be imagining it, I heard it.
The soft panting of the dingo.
I gripped my musket and pointed it at the opening of the swag. My hands trembled so hard I could not keep it squarely aimed.
The dingo pawed at the swag, and I closed my eyes, sweat dripping down my brow and crawling down my cheek like glassy ants.
Finally, I could take no more, and as the beast pawed harder at the opening, I fired another shot and screamed for it to go away. It raced away, and I once more tore myself free of the swag and into the raging storm.
I felt the storm's fury, but the fear of this animal had ignited something inside me, fuelling a desperate rage. The hate I felt for it was now absolute. How dare this beast attack me! How could it hope to win against me? I had a gun! It had but paws and teeth.
It was an animal! I was a man! It had no right!
I stalked into the grass behind the beach, musket held before me, my hand now rock steady as the single purpose to kill this creature formed a cold ball of icy determination in my gut. I felt strong, powerful, and unstoppable.
"Show yourself!" I roared. "Come on! Get out here, and I'll blow your fucking head off, you dog!"
A black shape darted through the grass, and I fired at it. Enchanted plasma rounds glowing brightly as they sizzled through rain and, though they missed their target, they exploded with a satisfying thump into the ground.
I felt even more powerful, more alive, and more human than I had ever felt. There was an instant where I almost loved the beast for showing me this predatory side of my soul.
The yelp of the creature was clear through the wind and ceaseless rain, and I saw the black shape flit behind the rock in the centre of the Widgeroo plains.
I stalked it then, slowly and with care so as not to startle it. Keep it still, I thought. Keep it there, safe in its belief I cannot see where it is. Slowly I will approach, reach out and shoot the little bastard in the head.
I felt my mouth form a snarl and knew my eyes must be wild, but I was drunk on the thought of the fear I must be returning to this creature.
"I'm coming for you," I whispered.
I was sure I saw it then, crouched low in the grass, back toward me. Hunched over its paws. I couldn't quite be sure in the heavy rain, so I waited for a strike of lightning to illuminate the plains.
"Come on," I whispered so softly it could not hear.
I saw it trembling, swaying on its feet.
Its shape was weird, but I couldn't fasten onto any thought other than that I had only one chance to shoot it and be rid of the fear it had caused me for so many days. Vengeance was all I could muster at this time. Curiosity had fled me.
And then the lightning flashed and that instant became an eternity as the creature turned and I saw not a dingo but - impossibly - something more terrifying.
The thing had been human, once, but was now one of the undead. Its glowing green eyes blazed and I could see so clearly it clung tight to its right shoulder where the large hole caused by the enchanted plasma had torn clean through its body the day before.
I stepped back, gripping the musket tight in my fist, a cry of horror wrenched from my lips as it saw me and snarled with deepest loathing.
And fired again.
I fired so many times and each shot exploded another hole through its awful flesh. Each shot tore it apart more completely until finally it lay on the ground, panting. I fired again.
And again, this time aiming for its head.
It looked up at me, right at the end, green eyes burning like dying embers. I shot them both, terrified it might suddenly reach out and clasp my leg in its deathly grip.
But it died, finally. And my musket, spent of plasma, smoked in my hand.
I lowered it and dropped it to the ground, before kneeling, spent, beside the body of my tormentor.
Lightning flashed a crippled burst and a deafening crash of thunder clapped hard above my head like the cry of a doomed god. I looked upward, suddenly fearful, and then looked down at the shattered corpse.
It was, thankfully, still dead.
Rising to my feet, I turned to make my way back toward my camp when I saw it.
Small, and insignificant at first.
But then there were two.
And then four.
And then so many I could not count as thousands of eyes opened to glare malevolently at me. The next flash of lightning revealed my greatest nightmare come to life.
They covered the plains - the zombies of Widgeroo.
They had not left it. They had not been absorbed into the ground or been turned to dust. This was why none had found any proof of their existence before. They were still here and, like the sea, they were merely caught in some kind of seasonal rift which is opened only when it rains, or is split apart by thunder and lightning. I am still uncertain how it is caused, but I know in my heart that the storm is the key. The storm sets them free. To walk the land.
They glared at me, glowing eyes drilling into my soul. I screamed in terror, and ran through the grasses, their low growls following me as I fled. I could not look back, because I knew I would see their arms reaching for me, their fingers snatching at me, mouths snapping at air - starving for my flesh. I could hear the clicking of their teeth and the cracking of their joints as they came after me.
I ran and I ran.
I did not turn back.
You thought I was mad when I came here. Perhaps I was. I no longer care.
You smile at me as I tell you this, and when I tell you they are still chasing me, you laugh up your sleeve at me. I know you do, but I am indifferent to your mockery because I know they are there. They are still following me, their mouths opening and closing with terrible hunger. The click-clack of the teeth is endless.
They are even now right outside our door.
You just can't see them.
You see, they are waiting.
Waiting for the storms which set them free.