They didn’t burn her. After all, it was an enlightened age—burning witches had long gone out of fashion. Instead, they threw bottles of gasoline through the windows of her hillside cottage and chased her down the dirt road into Magnolia Park, where a handful of teenage sweethearts were smooching under a flamingo-feather sky. There, they caught up with her and kicked her to death, her witch’s business drenching the grass alongside various liquids red and pus-pale. A brief police investigation concluded that, in the absence of eyewitnesses, no suspects could be determined. The good citizens of Carcosa had been careful, had worn canvas hoods over their faces. Like civilized people. It is unclear how many of the vigilantes actually believed that the woman that was buried one week later in a pauper’s grave was actually in cahoots with the Devil. In fact, it is unclear what she was even alleged to have done. Some said it involved a cauldron and a rental car, even those could tell no specifics. But whatever the mob’s reasons, none of them noticed that the woman—as glass was shattering in her upstairs bedroom, and lurid songs were rising at her front porch—grabbed one single object for her escape. A loose piece of granite from behind the kitchen stove, a keystone of sorts, though it was less key- than egg-shaped. At Magnolia Park, when her legs failed her and she writhed in the dirt waiting for the mob to catch up, the woman used her last remaining strength to press the stone down into the loose gravel, and when she bled out on that very spot, she implored it with her dying breath: “Grow.” Her blood touched gravel; the keystone quivered; and yet, no one in Carcosa took note of it—or even thought about the dead witch much—until the autumn rains. Philip Veratius was born and bred in Carcosa, lucky to be well into the third year of his marriage and still dizzy with bliss. He wore a tuxedo every day of the week and worked at the dockside bar owned by his husband, the smilax-haired Val Veratius. Val did not have a hand for business—just for the clarinet, and for looking fly in a wrinkled button-down shirt—, so it was Philip gliding from table to table, making small talk with the regulars, offering conspiratorial advice to tourists, keeping the books, and ordering supplies that would arrive by donkey cart in the backyard two days later. Not that Carcosa didn’t have well-maintained roads or cars to haul heavy loads, but the customers appreciated the old-timey flair of the Lighthouse by the docks. Val’s family had been fisherman moguls in the third generation. Philip’s were gamblers, which was, perhaps, where he got his otherworldly charm. Picture this: It is September, and the bay has turned slate-gray with rain. On one end of Carcosa, Philip wipes down plastic tables on the patio, carries jugs of mulled wine on a chipped tray, and smiles at the three locals who showed up. The sun is a melancholy haze behind clouds; Val plays the clarinet inside the Lighthouse to a gramophone recording of Billie Holiday. On the other end of down, strange things happen in Magnolia Park, unbeknownst to anyone. People walk with their heads held down, eye the day’s meagre catch from under black umbrellas, shake their heads, leave flowers on doorsteps, fold paper boats to race them through the gutters to the sea. The next morning, Philip and Val took a walk. The clouds had cleared; the grass was fragrant and their swooning smiles were reflected three-hundred-fold in puddles around them. A pair of seagulls cut through the blue overhead. They were walking hand in hand: Philipp full of tuxedoed grandezza, Val shy and beatific, a cigarette between his lips. Amber from the sun turned to emerald as it seeped through a canopy that hadn’t yet started turning color. Carcosa was a green town. It was one of the many reasons tourists flocked here every summer. Another were the beaches, a third a distinct feeling that here was a place untouched by the evils of the world, a Shire, lined by the lace tissue of the sea and inhabited by people who always had a smile and a wine jug to spare. Val nudged Philip and pointed to the left of the path. “You see that?” “Oh,” said Philip. “You think it’s some kind of art installation?” “Or a conservation project? I could see birds having a fabulous time in there.” “Or bumblebees?” “Or foxes!” They kissed and walked on towards where the fields turned into slopes and the charred ruins of the witch’s house were buried under a profusion of blackberry brambles, barely a story anymore with which to frighten children. Neither Philip nor Val looked back at the three-foot-tall cottage that had appeared in the middle of Magnolia Park. Its walls were an anthracite color, its widows parched and opaque. It did not have a door, and really, the whole structure was askance, narrower at the bottom, as if it had to squeeze out of a tiny hole and couldn’t wait to expand. September turned to October, and the rain turned to sleet. People preferred staying inside. The Lighthouse had its most quiet time of the year. It would fill up again closer to Christmas, but now, Philip spent many an afternoon cooking ragout only for his husband, measuring rosemary and chili flakes, nutmeg, red pepper, and bay leaves like an alchemist about to create gold. Val tried out some of his own compositions, soft and melancholy, the tunes intertwining with the smells from the kitchen and curling into shapes that made one’s stomach grow warm. They drank tea and read newspaper articles to one another; they spent lazy mornings playing boardgames, staring at the miasma outside, having sex. In Magnolia Park, a homeless woman seeking shelter from the wet and the cold came across a one-story cottage with windows big enough to crawl through. She smashed one using a Jameson bottle, thanked whoever had left this structure abandoned, and was never seen again. On Halloween, Philipp baked pumpkin pies, and Val practiced the soundtracks of well-known horror movies to play to kids when they came knocking. No little vampire or Spiderman or werewolf or mermaid or wizard left their porch empty-handed. However, the trick-or-treaters threw a whole carton of eggs at the walls of the new house in Magnolia Park where no one opened even though an orange light was clearly on behind a second-floor window. But they did not complain. Even in a town like Carcosa, there would always be killjoys, and the Veratius’s pie was delicious enough to make up for any loss. November came as a slew of bone-dry, steely blue days. Old Lady Samuels filed a complaint with the Major’s office, inquiring which buffoon had signed off on the construction of private property in the historic Magnolia Park. The Major, after a period of puzzled investigation, replied that no building permit in Magnolia Park had been granted, that the anthracite house with the asphalt grounds and the outcrop in the back must have been illegally placed. He promised that the city would file suit, as well as initiate demolition, as soon as the party responsible could be determined. Only that proved to be easier said than done, and after some more puzzled investigation came biting cold, came snow, came Christmas and New Year, and none of the festive people were much bothered by what festered under the piling white. In spring, Magnolia Park was half covered under a three-wing structure whose top floors blotted out the sun and kept the eponymous trees from blossoming that year. Antennas jutted into the shy blue sky at irregular intervals. Widows were perfectly opaque, except for one just under the roof of the central wing, which pulsed orange like a cyclops’s eye. The previously well-kept lawns, the whopping willows and gazeboes had been replaced by malformed slabs of asphalt, as if it had bubbled up from the ground and then hardened. The Major had his team dig through building permits and zoning decisions. He asked a local housing magnate what his company would charge to demolish the aberration at once, and swallowed drily when the magnate named his best offer. The police were called to drill open the door, only to stand about with vacant expressions when no door could be found. When the Major called in Carcosa’s voluntary firefighters, they shrugged and responded that setting things on fire was not what they’d signed up for. Someone—one of the Carcosa’s famed vigilantes, most likely—brought a ladder, smashed a second-story window with a baseball bat, and climbed in with a flashlight in one hand and a pistol in the other. Down in the asphalted yard, a crowd of onlookers waited. They waited longer. When they had waited a full hour, a second vigilante followed the first, climbed through the window, and disappeared. One moment of silence. Two moments of silence. Then: a falsetto scream—a crashing sound—and the bang of black shutters, which had appeared in front of the smashed window as if from thin air. Closed, they reminded the onlookers of lips. The crowd quickly, uneasily, dispersed. Some claimed they had heard chewing sounds form inside the house. Others murmured that Magnolia Park had never been that important to begin with. One woman brought a gallon of gasoline and poured it along the walls of the strange house, but when she lit it on fire, all that achieved was bathing the anthracite walls in an infernal glow and preventing other people from approaching the windows. The earth grumbled. Night fell, and the Major sweated in his bed. Philipp and Val took an evening walk, but turned back when they saw the wall of black, and the flames. “What the hell?” “This town isn’t what it used to be anymore, no?” Val shook his head, sadly. The expression in his eyes could mean everything and nothing. Most likely, however, it meant fear. Things moved quickly from there on, fertilized by the disappearances and the gasoline stink. The next morning, an asphalt road had half surrounded Carcosa, and the building had grown a fourth wing that protruded from Magnolia Park into the adjacent soccer field. Two days later, it had expanded over the locker rooms and the stainless-steel guard rails, cut the access road neatly in two, and the main building had sprouted a halo of chicken-razor-wire. Police and firefighters alike were desperately searching for equipment to cut through it, while the local housing magnate raised his initial price estimate by 250 percent. Someone emptied the barrel of his hunting rifle into one of the house’s top floor windows with no discernible effect. The asphalt road reached the sea on the other side of Carcosa and transformed into a weir, on which tawny gas flares licked from open anthracite pipes. Some people got into their cars and left Carcosa at once. Others congregated at the Lighthouse and drank more beer than ever before on a Wednesday afternoon. Val reached for his clarinet and found that his lips were too parched to play. There was something in the air, a whiff of soot and despondence, that made words dry up in one’s throat. The Major called the regional Capital and asked for a delivery of dynamite. “We hear you, we hear you—but you’ll need to wait a week or so. The last three trucks headed for your city, groceries and office supplies, just came back and reported the road was interrupted. Some kind of brick and chicken-razor-wire barricade?” “Fix it, please,” the Major whispered, realizing that, for the first time on a sunny day in late March, there was no sunlight gushing through the window and on his office desk. “And hurry.” The fire department had disappeared one morning. In its place stood a circular building with anthracite walls, a silo of sorts. In what had once been Magnolia Park, chimneys puffed cigar smoke into the early April sky. Ships stayed in the harbor because the bay was studded with vast concrete spikes. At the Lighthouse, Philip Veratius was running out of beer. Old Lady Samuels came back from shopping at the department store one morning, furious because there had been no onions and no fresh tomatoes on the shelves, no chicken tenders at the meat counter, and only yesterday’s bread at the baker’s. She opened her door, not realizing that the back of her house was overgrown with an anthracite substance and all its windows had become opaque. There was the rustling of shopping bags, a whelp, and the sound of Old Lady Samuels’s door falling shop. Then nothing, except the coughing of a furnace a few blocks away. A wildflower garden, flattened by asphalt. The Major’s office, devoured by a cube of dark concrete fifteen stories high and easily as wide, with cables coming off its roof like gorgon hair. A public swimming pool, its water blacker than tar. At the Lighthouse, the last of the last were holding out: those who had been too slow or too stubborn to leave Carcosa because it was closed off by faceless housing blocks and chicken-razor-wire walls. They were eating baked beans and drinking what was left at the bottom of liquor crates. In a relentless loop, Val Veratius played Radiohead on his clarinet. Philip sat at the bar, his tuxedo ruffled, glancing at his husband, leaden with love. A few people were playing cards, the stakes quickly growing preposterously high. The sky outside was black save for a single orange lode star, glowering down. The ground of Carcosa was tremoring from new buildings bursting into the air. “Do you think this is hell?” Val asked when he finally took a break from his playing. Two of the customers had stepped outside and not come back. It was drizzling, and in the evening haze, darkness was thickening into a physical force. “No way.” Philip smiled wearily. “Hell doesn’t have the Lighthouse.” “Hell doesn’t have us,” Val smiled. “Right. What could we have done to deserve it?” “Right … We’re way too cute.” Water splashed in the harbor, slick with oil and exhaust fumes. In the span of a few months, Carcosa had grown from a picturesque seaside town into whatever this was: the anthracite towers, the vicious, vast cubes, the smokestacks and antennas and spiderwebbing cables, the wire walls, the weirs, the squares of smooth asphalt. There was a lighthouse by the harbor front, tall enough to stab the sky. Its orange eye, however, was looking away from the sea. A fiery cone: aimed over indifferent roofs at a hillside where, before a heap of blackberry brambles, the spread of New Carcosa had stopped. A whisper. The wail of a clarinet. Then just pounding.
About the Author Andrin Albrecht grew up in Switzerland, studied English in Zurich, Colorado, and Singapore, and is currently trying to write a PhD on American postmodernism in Jena (Germany). They have published English as well as German poetry, short fiction, and academic writing in a variety of journals, and have moreover composed music for short films, theater performances, and local orchestras. They are also particularly fond of snakes, mango, and Italian autumn skies. About the Artist Viggo Krejberg is a 21 Year Old Chicago based Artist and Animator. He attributes his work to being heavily inspired by artists such as Junji Ito, Bryan Lee O'Malley, and Ian Worthington. Updates on his art & current projects can be found on his Twitter @VKrejberg.
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