It has never been a lonely place.

The mountains are – for all its cold and unforgiving nature – never quite devoid of weary travellers or weathered mining folk or equally unfortunate wanderers. Lost souls, all of them. Recognising akin. Despising those reflections of themselves in that vast, cruel mirror; be it formed in the breath of flames or that in the refracted pane of windows, a drinking glass or simply the pooling black of bath water so high up.

His is a firefly with clipped wings, crushed atop the pestle and mortar of the immovable rock and snow-capped peaks of the town of Silas. 

Grimy snow squelched. The wind was white noise, blustering against the wooden tap-tap-tap and harsh crack of the sign outside as it slammed its splintered head against the wall of the tavern, again and again, until it was a marvel that there was anything left. Hastur wipes down the top of the counter, the wet rag grimy and tattered in hand. The wood still as burnished as ever, the passage of decay long since immortalised in every grain.

He is only ever the observer.

For there is a man at the tavern. Hastur’s tavern.

The rest of the late afternoon occupants – his regulars – barely glance up from where they nurse watered-down drinks, even as the man, the stranger, stumbles in. They do not see. They do not care to. They do not notice the man as his motions carry him over to the end of the furthest table, as he all but slumps onto the seat – the soles of his boots frayed and torn and tracking mud and crystal ice, the frost-gnawed blueness of his skin, hands stained dark and ugly, the strangeness of the light in his eyes nearly yellow in the flickering flames of candlelight.

The man doesn’t wave him over, but Hastur understands anyway.

The juices and alcohol leach his cleaning rags. The taps rattle, invisible chains groaning, as water trickles out. It is so very cold to the touch. Hastur mixes up another concoction. It’s not that complicated, given the lack of variety in his own stocks. He has long since gotten to use the smell – thick and oily, stinging like the fiercest salts against his bare palms, as he fixes up the drink. It’s a smell that steeps every floorboard, every breath, every choke of air in here. The alcohol he measures out carefully is a dark hue, warm and fluid and slow to drain.

The man mutters to himself, low and quiet. There is a flash of rusted teeth and blistered gums, lips and peeled and cracking, within a jaw that has forgotten how to hinge itself properly. 

The man speaks to a companion that only his uncanny eyes can see – a fixed point within the cradle of his own splintered ribs. It is a crooning voice, an almost musical lilt that are the low mournful notes of a lost song.

Hastur is no such fool to discount those words as solely the ravings of a mad man. He thinks of blinded eyes, wretched embers in the bitter dark, ashes, ashes, bits of broken pottery, and knows that there are things that exist far beyond the spectrum of human mortality. Far beyond the frailty that traps and confines so viciously.

The man accepts his drink, and Hastur hides a smile as the man’s face crumples up into a portrait of distress and disgust at the very first sip. The glass is cast aside quickly after that. It sits, abandoned, atop the wood, and the vile fluid within is cast perfectly in the dim, yellowing parchment light that swarms it so startlingly like a pack of ravenous flies. A meal is ordered; it is a choice between the thick sloppy-gruel or the hard-crusted bread as rough and firm as rock. Both are sampled, and forgotten eagerly.

There is no music tonight.

The piano that sits alone and forgotten is a relic of the bygone era. Every key stained with dust, and to claim it to be cherished is a laughable notion. It is an old habitant, and an even deader weight. But Hastur watches, as the man’s gaze drifts towards it, slow and lazy like a fog at sea, then as some deep and unfathomable emotion shudders through that wracked body. The man’s fingers shake, clench. Head tilted, still enraptured to a frequency that none other hear.

Hastur continues his work. He barely bats an eye when his motions match his mind, drifting, aloft, as the churning murmur of the nameless, faceless crowd is silenced, as the man makes his way to the piano. The tips of his own hands stained, he breathes in the strong whiff of alcohol and decades-old decay, alien skin bruised and battered by age and abuse, but that has never mattered because still, still he is only ever the observer in this story. The knee-jerk refusal, the bark of a command, the snarled words to tell the man to back down – it all blossoms within his throat a solitary death.

The man traces the piano keys, almost lovingly. The blood from those hands dripped through the cracks, as black as an arterial spray under moonlight, smearing against the once-ivory keys.

And then he begins to play what can only be called the notes of one’s own elegy.

The very thoughts in Hastur’s mind are interrupted by a low tremulous note, the beginning of a forgotten melody that spears him straight through the throat. The pitiful touch of a human invention that, for the first time in eons, has done what he has long since believed impossible. 

(to reconcile a cast-aside god with its skin)

For it is a simple melody, and it is ruthless in its own undoing.

Every note that befell the instrument was bittersweet and full of almost primordial yearning. It is the grasping, hungry fingers of an ache sticking themselves within his chest and prying open every rib of the cage that separated the pulsating pump of his being with the transcendence of what existed beyond it. It is the desperation of a long-forgotten grief so deep and dark that the very moment of its breaching the surface mind was the tumultuous storm that engorged itself on that yearning.

This is the span of eternity, and the heartbeat of a single second, that sinks deep within Hastur’s chest. His own failures and triumphs clawed at the barriers of his mind, bursting at the seams of the ruin of his own torn, exposed heart, his skin paper-thin and waxy, fluttering furiously to the stroke of every key that was played. Hastur was the fog and fractures and fragments, barely enough of a whole, and yet.


The man kept his eyes closed as he played.

The echoes knew loneliness. The dust motes were the dancers suspended upon the cold frost of every man’s breath, and every frozen lake of tears crusted shut. The walls rued the days they were ever granted ears, and the ground keened with the reverb as it passed along the vibrations of the very threads that seamed the earth shut beneath the town’s feet.

But it was the lanterns that knew true agony, the flames dashing their quivering yellow heads against scorched iron and seared wax, the shadows burnt into hiding, primal and afraid, of the white-hot embrace of coal-flaked embers.

The stumbling footsteps of the first few notes, quiet and unsteady, quickly picking up the momentum that forced it forwards. It spurred to the sound of madness. It deferred to the threat of lucidity. The gentle ebb of a cantabile, the distinct rasp of a eulogy, morose and broken; the pedal stretching to match the long exhalation of a human breath, the anguish of a creature carved from misshapen muck and writhing bodies of ash.

The man allowed the instinct of the music to take over, and the men were all the slaves of such an art. The overwhelming sensation of crude flesh and sinews against the piano keys was a phantom quiver against Hastur’s own fingertips, the melody the master of them all, even as it continued to roll like waves across the jagged expanse of a beach, on uneven shifting ground. The countermelody that wove and darted like a cornered animal blended to that of a bird with clipped wings, bound by gold, bound by the cruelty of adoration.

The melodic concerto that trailed was tender and painful to the touch. The subtle rush of drained water, the fleeting heat of the touch of another, the warmth dissipating like teary rain on a frozen winter’s morn. With bold strokes to that ivory, the man struck the keys in a jarring blare as the tune spiralled into an intense crescendo. The cresting and sloshing water filled the inside of his ears, and drowned the mind in the basin of his skull; it leaked from the faucets of his eyes, an ephemeral taut draw of a maelstrom across strung catgut.

Hastur could have laughed. He could have wept. He did not know if he did either.

That caged bird bled into the rabid pulsing heartbeat of a feral animal. It stalked the chambers of the night, the rustle and crunch and crack of branches and sodden foliage that were the carpet bell of warning beneath matted talon and paw. It was the fading flash of pity and sorrow, the thrill of the hunt of predator and prey personified in the mortal cycle of loss and gain, transient as it unwove the fibres of its own warbled self.

The contour was the crescent rise of earth and ozone beneath his tongue, self-proclaimed bedrock and a self-fashioned god, demanding the worship of rhythm and rhyme and untuned human voices in the low reverb of chorus and keening clicks, background percussions but so ever vital to that wretched song. It flowed, still the ocean, still the drowning ripples of an endless water. It burbled ceaselessly in the canvas of its own creation – bruises and cuts and grinded bone and threaded veins.

The song, after that eternity when it did end, was the pitiful scream of a radio cord yanked from its socket. The whirlwind drowned within its own arching sweep; a shadow consumed by the light and consuming that brilliance in turn, burning them both in a ragged chiaroscuro upon that piano. Hastur awoke to the ferocity of needles stabbing within the skin of his palm and throat, to the nonsensical ramblings of the crowd that had long since lost all sense of themselves, molten candles and tampered wicks. He himself alight at last.

He swipes the back of his hand against his face; he reaps the smear of moisture salted solid, heralded home.

The man does not seek the applause of an audience. He does not seek the undoing of one either. Instead, he sits, a shattered broken thing just like any other, that for the briefest of moments had brushed against the unnamed, squamous things that had existed far beyond their plane of reality. He is a worshipper helplessly chasing a god that was never meant for him; he is a blind man pursued by those same unknowable creatures. For whom, the winds croon to that man, do you seek? 

And the stranger answers, I do not know.

And Hastur does not say, but you have brought it home.

The man stands to his feet. He trembles with exhaustion, but that weakness is wholly eclipsed by the daze of awe and fear that glitters like falling stars in the endless emptiness of his eyes. The hunger that has sunken his gaze is momentarily satiated, but the yearning that puppets his soul is an ache that will never be fulfilled. He is a cast-out in every world, and it destroys him to understand this.

The man’s eyes skip past the mangled, empty blur of that of the crowd, and rests on Hastur like the wrong end of a claw. “Is there any room tonight?” He asks, and his lips do not move, his eyes do not blink, his chest does not rise and fall. His cheeks are gaunt, the vertices of a coffin.

Hastur pulls out a key and lays it atop the counter in the acceptance of an offering.

The stranger smiles. A broken smile stitched together by rags.

And submits.

Written By: Trishta

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