A Crown of Holly, a queer tale of mystery and supernatural horror

The following account along with its various accompanying notes, were retrieved from the last known premises of Professor Heather McElhinney, shortly after her disappearance. And also from notes and files compiled by journalist Jennifer Whately, shortly after hers.

The whereabouts of both remain unknown to this day.

Article Excerpts by Ms Whately are reproduced courtesy of the Arkham Evening Gazette

 

What led me initially to report on the disappearance of Heather McElhinney, was simple curiosity. But what compelled me to investigate further, was a fascination that evolved into something more akin to compulsion. Perhaps even obsession.

McElhinney was an archaeologist renowned not only for her capacity for insightful analysis and her rigorous methodology, but also for her consuming passion for mythology and ancient religion.

McElhinney travelled extensively to remote locations around the globe, seeking the most obscure sanctuaries and places of worship. Searching for the vestiges of the most ancient and esoteric belief systems, so that they might be preserved before fading forever from human knowledge. Retracing the threads of our superstitions and spiritual beliefs to their very genesis.

Heather McElhinney vanished almost a year after visiting a hitherto unknown sacred landmark, somewhere in the vicinity of a moribund remote rural settlement in the far northwest called Cochrane.

Recent reports indicate that Cochrane is no longer inhabited, and endures in an advanced state of dilapidation. This would seem to contradict communications at the time of McElhinney’s visit, in which she reports a community of some two hundred souls in residence.

Whatever the case, communication records and mobile electronic activities, most definitely place McElhinney in the vicinity of Cochrane, coincident with her dated account of events.

While the apparent lack of inhabitants today may seem rather curious, it is not inconceivable that the dissolution of a financially unsustainable community might occur abruptly. Although it is curious that no other towns or settlements in the region, report receiving any new residents formerly of Cochrane.

Opinion on McElhinney’s disappearance is divided. The majority consider the following transactions, to be indicative of a brilliant mind falling prey to some form of intellectual instability, characterized by paranoid delusion. It is speculated that perhaps delving too deeply, into the darkest shadows of humanity’s most obscure and secretive cults, led her into some form of psychological collapse.

Others I have talked to however, hint at a more mysterious solution. Maybe amongst the shadows of the graveyard of human mythology, Heather McElhinney found something unexpected. Maybe Heather McElhinney found something real.

The police did as much as they were able to find professor McElhinney, but there was so little for them to act upon. So little that made any sense. Their investigation soon hit a dead end and as far as I know her case remains open, but not actively under investigation.

When I contacted Heathers sister Emily, she was thrilled that someone somewhere was taking an active interest in Heathers disappearance. She was happy to send me a collection of various documents and papers that came into her possession, following her sisters’ disappearance.

But until Heather McElhinney’s whereabouts are discovered, what follows must necessarily remain something of a puzzle.

 

The following is a handwritten note found amongst professor McElhinney’s field notes and diaries.

 

 December 16 20–

With this message I caution the world. Beware the ancient and hidden places. And beware those who frequent those unholy environs. For there are those who lurk amongst us, who are not bound by time and space as we are. Those who are not entirely ensnared by the limits of our dimension.

There are those who remember still, the arcane secrets of greatest antiquity. Those who commune with beings of dire legend. Beings whose names are lost to all but the most faithful.

There are ancient powers which have receded into the earth and the air, far from the infection of modernity. And in hidden shrines there are those who speak with the elder gods, and maintain their sanctuaries on earth, just as they have done since the beginning of humanity.

And it is by murder most horrific that these timeless and eldritch beings are invoked. Grisly sacrifice by flame and by blade is the means of their unholy communion. The living flesh of their victims is the parchment upon which their sacrament of blood is written.

I offer this caution, perhaps with my parting breath. Beware the stones that stand erect in broad rings. Beware those whose heads are crowned in holly. Beware the sickle that reaps a bloody and sacrilegious harvest.

And beware the ancient horned one who wears a golden mask. For she is the highest acolyte of an eternal darkness beyond comprehension. A darkness that has within its power, the ability to drown our world in an ocean of horror.

I am already dead, I know that they are coming for me. I am somehow able to sense their murderous intent, even though they ascend the stairs in utter silence. But there’s something else.

I can feel the malign will that motivates their actions. I can feel the darkness. I can feel her.

I am lost, my eternal soul forfeit. I implore you, do not come searching for me.

Do not go searching for her.

 

This rather puzzling and lurid communication, would seem to greatly reinforce the case for Professor McElhinney’s psychological collapse. However the question of her whereabouts, alive or otherwise still remains a mystery.

The following excerpts from McElhinney’s diary are likewise vivid in content, and although they shed little light on her ultimate fate, they do speak to the integrity of her psychological hygiene about the time of her vanishing.

 

Heather McElhinney

Diary entry for

January 7 2­­0–

I have to get this straight in my mind. It all seems too unreal, too utterly alien to exist in the world alongside our mundane reality.

Am I going insane? Have I fallen headlong into a fathomless well of mental illness and delusion?

My only desire is to return to that blessed time before I saw. Before discovered what horrors truly lurked within the darkness.

I’ve collected countless stories and visited innumerable sites. I’ve picked over the threadbare remnants of our most ancient superstitions, but I never expected to uncover anything truly rooted in reality. I never expected to be compelled to believe.

And I never expected even in my wildest imaginings, to behold anything so godly or so ghastly.

January 8 2­­0–

It can’t be real. It simply can’t. I feel like I’m losing my mind. I know the world. I know how it works. There is night and day, life and death. The sun is at the centre and the earth revolves around it. There is nothing else. There can’t be anything else.

It feels like reality is fading away. Dissolving in some preternatural darkness. And at the centre of that darkness, there is a presence. It’s her. I can feel her. I can feel her alien intelligence focussed on me. Reaching out. Stalking.

January 10 2­­0—

Maybe if I go over it step by step I can work out where my mind has failed. Analyse the whole story methodically. Maybe I can find the point where I fooled myself into believing that it could actually be real, maybe I could find my way back to blessed ignorance. A simple and worldly reality where She could not be real.

If I can find the doorway that led me into madness, maybe I can find my way back out again.

She simply cannot exist in reality.

She must not.

January 11 2­­0–

I remember creeping forwards step by agonizing step, I worked my way through the dense woods towards the circle. The wholesome and earthy scent of the forest had given way to a cloying foetor of degradation and decay.

The earth beneath my feet was growing increasingly muddy and sticky with noxious decomposing matter, as though the earth was fertilized with nutrient of some unspeakable origin.

Barely contained fear clawed at my chest for release. The slurping and squelching of my boots in the mud seemed to my terrified mind amplified and exaggerated. My heart pounded intolerably in my chest as I gradually made my way towards the great bonfire which roared in the clearing ahead. Its wild and wanton flames illuminating my awful destination.

The unutterably ancient stone circle which lay at the cursed heart of the forest was unlike any other I had seen before. The jagged and striated megaliths erupted from the earth like the fangs of some colossal beast.

A low murmuring chant became audible as I slowly crept closer and closer to my destination. Through the trees and dense undergrowth I made my way closer and closer until at last I was near enough to obtain a clear view of what I had suspected, but could not bring myself to believe.

The scene that was revealed before me confirmed all the fears I had convinced myself were pure fantasy and paranoia. The chanting grew more audible though the language was lost on me. The flames of the bonfire roared and raced heavenwards seeming to scorch the very air surrounding the clearing and tear and claw its heat at the sky.

Barely discernible at the heart of the flames were human forms lashed to thick posts. The incinerated rictus grins of their scorched skeletal forms seemed to stare directly at me, as if appealing for salvation for their damned, tormented souls.

Surrounding the conflagration I could see figures wearing strange animal masks representing horses, boars and goats bound tightly to the curious and ancient standing stones which had brought me to this place. This once magical but now unspeakably horrifying place, which so many months ago had spoken of ancient mystery and romance in what now seemed blind naivety.

Gathered about the scene I perceived the forms of people. Ordinary people, young and old thin and fat all naked save for masks fabricated from corn husks with wreaths of wild flowers worn as crowns. Their chanting became clearer to me now. Crom Cruach, Crom Cruach, they chanted over and over as if in invocation.

And then I saw it. The girl child, the spawn of ancient hidden horrors. A shining golden horned mask crowned with holly obscured the creatures face, but I knew this was youth which had so disturbed my mind and filled my heart with dread foreboding, with its ancient knowing eyes. I saw that the child’s hands, gory to the elbow with blood, she clutched a writhing squirming serpent and in the other a great golden sickle.

The horror child made its way in turn to each bound sacrifice, there the chanter would slice open the throat of the helpless struggling victim, and harvest in a shallow golden dish the pulsing flowing life blood of the doomed sacrifice. Having gathered a sufficient amount they knelt before the child and offered the dish for the creature to drink. And it did drink, deeply. The horrible dark red liquid dribbling down its chin and running down its chest.

What happened next tore away what few shreds of sanity still remained in my shattered mind. The child turned and the horned golden mask crowned with holly seemed to stare directly at me. All sense and caution were incinerated to ash under the gaze of that beautifully golden and horrifyingly empty eyed mask.

I ran, my god I ran. Stumbling and tripping blindly over tree roots and rocks, careening headlong into unseen obstacles I ran until bloody and bruised, my clothing torn and tattered, I at last found my car. Though my hands were trembling uncontrollably I found my keys and managed to start the car. I stamped my boot hard to the accelerator and steered my vehicle as well as I could along the narrow dirt road through the dense woods.

At last I found the main road that led to the highway. Finally with images of the horrifying scene still burning in my ravaged brain I parked at a rest stop. With my hands still clutching the steering wheel, my heart pounding and my blood still racing and running hot with panic, I screamed. I screamed until at last, my mind and body overloaded with terror, I passed into blessed unconsciousness.

 

This was the last entry in Heather McElhinney’s diary. And to date, the last trace of her existence.

Those closest to her are the most puzzled by this content. Everyone who truly knew McElhinney describe her as the most analytical, and precise intellect they have ever encountered. Which truth is borne out by her lengthy and distinguished career as a widely respected scholar.

Perhaps these accounts are the product of a profoundly disturbed mind, or perhaps there is some other explanation. It is not inconceivable that McElhinney fell prey to some isolated and murderous cult, perhaps this narrative is the product of a mind poisoned with some form of hallucinogenic drug.

We can only speculate on the professor’s fate until she herself reappears, and presents the full story herself.

 

On a final note I will include a communication sent to Ms Whately by the Federal Department of Geology and Land Use.

 

To Ms Jennifer Whateley

Thank you for your most intriguing enquiry. Until now the department had no record whatsoever, of the anomalous geological structures within the area indicated. However, due to the remarkable nature of the structures described and the association of Professor McElhinney with the area, I dug a little deeper than others associated with this case.

Contacts at the Department of indigenous Land Titles, did have some rather old and obscure references to unusual geological formations near Cochrane. What’s more they had a rough idea of where the structures might be found.

Long story short, I have a cousin in the Bureau of Wildlife and Fisheries who owed me a massive favour. She took a chopper out to survey the location, and she found the site.

She sent me some images which I have enclosed in the attached file. The structures are most remarkable and would appear to be fabricated by human hands. I’ve never seen anything like it.

The images were taken from the air and are a little indistinct, but Tamara (my cousin) reported indications of recent human activity. Specifically she said that the ground within the circle was scorched bare, in a regular pattern indicative of a large bonfire.

But there’s more. Holly said that the stones were stained with some kind of dark material. I know this sounds mad but, she said it looked like someone had spattered the structures with dark crimson or black paint.

I have forwarded these images, together with the material you sent me, and our subsequent communications to the federal police. Including Professor McElhinney’s rather astonishing account. I doubt they will take any action. The location is rather remote and investigation would require significant resources.

Besides which, and I hope you won’t mind me saying but I suspect they would find Professor McElhinney’s report rather far fetched.

 

And lastly I will include the last known entry in Jennifer Whately’s files concerning the case. What meaning might derived from its content, is left entirely to reader discretion.

 

Professor McElhinney’s disappearance remains a mystery to this day, and one can only speculate on her current whereabouts. And I must, to my embarrassment confess to arriving at some rather fanciful suppositions on the matter.

For I have wondered, perhaps in her delving’s into the world of the occult, she stumbled upon something truly supernatural. And further I must confess to having occupied myself too wholeheartedly, into the resolution of this mystery.

For my sleep has become rather disturbed of late, and my dreams haunted by vague and shadowy figures.

One of who is a horned female figure, a child wearing a golden mask. Her head crowned with a wreath of holly.

 

The End
Thank you for reading

Whippoorwill X

 

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