25 Jun The Final Testament of Laurence Archer
“The Final Testament of Laurence Archer”Written by Seth Paul Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available
⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 14 minutes
“The throat is deep, and the mouth…is wide.”
These are the first words spoken to me by Dr. Laurence Archer, whom I found in a rather poor state when I came to visit him at his home in M_______. I had expected to arrive and be greeted in a jovial manner, as I had been accustomed to on my many frequent visits to his home. I often brought my wife with me, but he a lifelong bachelor, had only his dog Rafferty as company. This did not mean our visits were by any means dull, as he was capable of holding our attention long into the night.
But to begin here is to understate the importance of his place in my life, and to know less of the story than one should. I had been a medical student when I had met Laurence (long before the title of Doctor had been placed upon him), and we both studied greatly at H______ before we parted ways, I on a career in the psychoses, and he into biological medicine. He was more successful than I, as I found myself unable to cope with the pressures of my chosen field, and retreated instead into the world of business. Still, we had no opportunity to see each other, but we kept correspondence, and thus we kept each other apprised of our ways in life.
It was many years before he announced to me that he was leaving his medical practice out east and returning to his home city to work as a private physician for an elderly gentleman of great wealth. I worked this out to be Pembroke Armbruster, who lived in a gated manor not far from where I lived, and I soon learned that Laurence would take up his own residence within walking distance of our home.
It was a great joy when he first invited us to his new home, a sprawling, gothic edifice of great splendor, and though we had both aged noticeably in the time I had last seen him in person, he was still the same jovial, smiling fellow I remembered him to be, full of life and ideas. He absolutely adored my wife, and she him. At first, I will admit my concern that she eyed him in a way that was not unlike the way she once looked at me during our courtship, but Laurence would reassure me, privately, in later evenings that science was his first and only love, and that he remained uninterested in a relationship with another. Rafferty, a mutt who Laurence believed was a cocker spaniel/border terrier mix of some sort, was all he said he needed, mainly to wake him in the event of a burglary. I informed him burglaries were not common here, but regardless, the dog was a loveable scoundrel, even if not the most well-mannered creature. He would often approach the table and steal a piece of bread or meat if he was not watched carefully.
But what brings me to the day I found him began with a conversation he and I had during a dinner. My wife had unfortunately been taken ill with dropsy and was on bed rest with medicine from our personal physician and did not attend this particular visit.
Having a glass of wine with some splendidly cooked lamb and asparagus, Laurence swirled his drink and asked me, “Herbert, in order to speak with you on an important matter, I must go against my own code as a physician and break the confidentiality between doctor and patient. Would you go to your grave not telling a soul about what am I to tell you?”
(Now, for those of you of whom I relate this story, please understand at the time I agreed to his request; however, based on the events I am about to tell, know that I only divulge them to you due to the highly unusual and frightening items that are to come, and that only God may forgive me for not keeping my word.)
He placed down his drink, folded his hands, and breathed deeply. “I very nearly lost my patient today, Herbert. His heart arrested, and it took all of my skill as a doctor to bring him back.”
Well, then, my friend, what is the problem? You do yourself a disservice. Truly he is graced that you are there to watch him.
He pounded on the table. “But it was the time, Herbert. The time! He had been gone for twenty minutes. Twenty damn minutes! No breath, no pulse, and yet, he sits in his bed…and tells me he meant for it to happen!”
I blinked, stunned. His employer meant to kill himself? “He is suicidal? But what are you doing here? Should you not be…?”
“I have asked the police to remain with him the remainder of the night. They are under the belief that he is to be kept under watch for a potential second arrest and to contact me if it should happen. I did not tell them what he planned, partly for his own ego, and partly…because of what he told me.”
He stood, and moved to the window. “Do you recall, Herbert, in our studies together, the phenomenon of those who say they see a white light, and then return to their bodies?”
I did indeed, and told him so. As I said, I left the field of medicine, but this notion of a vision of the world to come after was regarded as a curiosity among our professors and colleagues. Some truly believed it was that of angels and loved ones leading them on to the path of heaven. It was a notion I remained agnostic about, but I did not doubt the sincerity of those who saw.
And in this, I knew, Laurence and I differed. He believed, as many who taught us did, that what these visions were was nothing more than the fancy of a dying brain, a last hurrah before descending into that endless night of death. Laurence was not a man who thought life continued in such a way, and it was rare that I did not see him vocal on the subject (though, as friends, he often gave me some leeway).
“Pembroke told me that, in those twenty minutes he lay on the floor, he had seen a vision. But it was not of white light, nor of angelic beings. No, he saw something of a much darker tone.”
He regaled me with Pembroke’s prophecy, of a dark hole, with walls like the inside of a vein, pulsating and red. Of cackling and catcalls, down deep inside of a void. Of beckoning shadows.
It was all so horrifying to hear, of a dying man seeing a fate beyond his worst imaginings.
“When Pembroke had finished, he asked for someone to whom he could confess, and a place where he could donate much of his wealth. He followed by saying, ‘They made me promise not to tell…but you know me. I cannot help myself.’” At that, Laurence chuckled. “You know my position, old friend, as do many. You know any priest in town would hang up the phone if I called. I simply gave him a gentle sedative so that he could rest before I contacted the authorities.”
“But you see how I am conflicted, Herbert! All of these cases of bright lights, happiness, warmth… but in all this time, not one that is documented of a place far, far worse? A different vision could mean, in fact, that the mind is traveling outside of the body to another place. If he has stood at the gates of Hell, then surely there might truly be something to investigate in all this!
I had never seen him so animated, so willing to cast aside his doubts. But then, of course, there was no need to believe he had changed his views…as he soon told me.
“If he indeed speaks true, then it can be replicated. There is a way to see this, and bring back knowledge from the point of death. I do not yet know the method, but rest assured, I will determine once and for all this place, be it madness, the heavens or hells, or another world, is something that science can see and even better, explain! Does that not intrigue you as well, to pull the reality from the words of fantasy?”
I must admit it did, but not to the degree he was now infatuated. I knew we all must face death at some point, but I hoped my visit was far distant, following a long and productive life. I had no desire to hasten it.
We talked about this topic for a short time after, but Laurence seemed to notice my hesitation in wanting to discuss it further. We ended the evening talking of more pleasant things.
It would not be long before he once again mentioned his new obsession in our letters, and at one point I did have to remind him that not long ago he believed such a thing was nonsense.
“I do not believe it,” he responded in his letters. “But I have to see it. If there is a way to do so, I will.”
Time went by, and I did not hear from my friend. The summer months fell into autumn, and a definitive chill filled the air, along with a dampness that again made my wife fall ill. I stayed at her side, but there was little that could be done by my hand; the doctor stated that perhaps I would be best occupied in other pursuits as she had her rest.
Not quite knowing what to do with myself, it struck me that perhaps I should visit my friend, and do so unexpectedly. I had still had not heard from him, and thought perhaps he could use some company. If he was suffering from some melancholy (a possibility, for he might have had a setback in his research), my face at his door might be just what he needed.
I arrived at his doorstep and knocked, but received no answer. However, his door was unlocked, and that was unusual. I heard Rafferty barking inside, as well as scampering on the hard floor. Spurred on by the dog’s franticness, I pushed my way in, to find him running towards me, leading me to his master, who had fallen to the floor, the door to his study open not far distant.
I rolled him to his back to find him pale, his breathing weak, but his eyes wide. He was cold with sweat. Whatever shock he had sustained, I need to act quickly to recover his wits.
And that was when he spoke those words to me.
He did in fact recover, looking warmer and more himself within an hour once I had provided blankets and a pillow on which to prop him, but he spoke little more than asking for drink, and thanking me for the aid I provided.
After some more time had passed, he became slightly more communicative, and bade me help him to his bed. I did so, but on our way I finally was able to take a look into his study. Due in part to my desire to help him, I had not glanced in there at all during my time there (my search for blankets and pillows led me to the sitting room, which was on the opposite end of the hall), but there I saw some sort of contraption, shaped rather like an electric chair. I would have said exactly like one but for some sort of monitoring device attached to it by wires.
Once I had gotten him settled, and his color returned in full, he motioned for me to sit near him.
“Herbert…I have done it!” There was triumph in his voice, but at the same time, there was something else…fear? Disappointment?
“You’ve seen the place Pembroke described? You have been there?”
“Yes! You saw my device, I take it? The chair in my study? Tell me, what time, what day is it?”
A little confused, I told him the time. At this, he grew slightly pale once more. I asked him his reasoning, but he shook his head.
“In a moment. But first, what are you doing here, my friend?”
I explained to him his lack of letters, and how I felt a visit would be the best thing for his spirits and mine. He smiled and nodded.
“Indeed, in recent times I have not been as good a friend as I would like. But you must understand, once I had stumbled upon the very nature of my machine, I could not but help giving it my all. I do apologize, and hope in the future to send word to you. But I am glad you happened along when you did…even now, my senses do not feel as if they have fully recovered.”
Even so, he regaled me with his tale.
“My machine is a finely tuned instrument, capable of sending the user a brief electrical current designed to immobilize the senses, slow the body, and drive it just to the edge of death itself. It took some time to get it right, but on my last effort, I saw!
“First it was that realm of white light, of beckoning hands, of voices from my past. They urged me prudence, to either come with them or return to earth. At that, I shouted, wishing to see the realm of darkness, to know full well that if they were truly heaven, then they should have the power to show me hell as well!”
Herbert paused in his recollection. “And that, they did.” He paused once more to take a small sip from his drink. “They tried to tell me, but I could not stop myself. I was at the mouth of the darkness. I saw the red-lined walls, just like the throat of a large animal, pulsing, diseased, swimming with shapes just below the surface of the taut skin. The yawning darkness beyond, with its wailing and cacophony, stood ahead, bending down into an infinite abyss. And then, beyond the calls, something came crawling up from the darkness, and took hold of me.”
He shook. “I saw some things on the other side, Herbert. Things no one should see, even those who live lives of utter cruelty and depravity. They did things to me…or whatever part of me traveled there. Tortured, imprisoned, experimented on…at one point, they put something inside of me, laughing all the way.”
He swallowed and pulled the covers further over himself. “I asked you the date, Herbert, because while it appears less than an hour passed here, I was aware of their work for days. Weeks. At one point, I believed it had been the better part of a year. Whatever that realm is, time flows differently there. And they are relentless in their pursuits.”
He took hold of my hand, launching it quickly out from under the sheets, grabbing it with an icy grip. “Do not use that machine, Herbert. Under no circumstances should you seek the knowledge that I have had. Only I should know more. There are consequences for what I have done, surely. I will report to you more once I have…”
“No, Laurence! You have suffered enough as it is! I cannot bear to see you in this state once again! Stay away from that machine, at least until you are much recovered!”
He looked at me, and nodded. “The key to my study is in my bedside table. Please, take it with you, once you have locked the door. And thank you for your concern. But I do tell you, I am afraid this may have just begun.”
I did as he asked, and assured that he would suffer no more that evening, I returned home to my wife.
Life became uneventful for another week. Laurence responded twice to me in letters, both to reassure me that he was well and remaining away from his machine. Then, nothing once more.
I grew concerned, and believed that I should once more go to visit, until I received a note, exactly seven days after I had last visited him.
Herbert, my dear friend!
It is with good news that I inform you that you should come by immediately. My recovery has been speedy, and I wish for us to have dinner once more. I believe it is in our interests to destroy the machine, and I will require you to bring the key so we can do the work together. Please, hurry, for I wish for it to trouble me no more!
Encouraged by this new letter, I went to his home straight away, and knocked upon the door. From within, I heard him call.
“Herbert? Is that you?”
“Yes, my friend. I just received your letter.”
“Excellent! Please come in and make yourself welcome. I have a few things to attend to in my bedroom. If you would please go to the sitting room, I shall meet you there shortly!”
I heard his footsteps retreat, and let myself into the house. I went to the sitting room and settled in.
The fall was coming on quickly, and the room had developed a bit of a chill. I would have thought Laurence would have started a fire himself, but considering his spirits, perhaps he simply hadn’t noticed.
I bent down to begin work at the fireplace, and had started a fine fire with it, when I found the paper.
It had been crumpled and browned at the edges, but had been flung into the fireplace with such force that it had survived the last fire that had been placed there. I used the poker to retrieve it, as throwing what was clearly manuscript paper into the fire was not something Laurence did out of habit.
I uncurled the paper. It was in Laurence’s unmistakable script.
I had written a letter earlier, but it appears to have never reached you. In it, I said goodbye. Believe me, I had to try.
I have not been well the last few days. The world is a different place to me. Everywhere is reminding me I am not who I used to be.
A presence has entered my life. I believed I was alone when I returned to our world. But I came back…I came back haunted. Sometimes I find myself, unaware of how I got there, standing in front of my study door. More and more it feels as if something inside me wants me to disappear, to use me for nefarious purposes. One of these days, I do not think I will be coming back.
Herbert, when you get this letter, please know this may be the last time I speak to you as a friend. And as a friend, please ignore any requests to come and visit me. Knowing what I know, I would not do such a thing to you. Please, for the love of God, or whoever runs this universe, that whatever would invite you back to this house IS NO LONGER ME!
Here, the letter trailed off into unintelligible scrawling, and strange symbols. There was also something brown, something not the work of a fire, dotting its surface.
Madness, I thought. He has descended into madness. He is experiencing a mania of some sort, and needs medication to handle it.
He was still in his bedroom, as far as I knew. I ran for it, hoping that he was still in a mood amenable to seeking a doctor’s touch.
I opened the bedroom door, and to this day I wish I had not.
I had been in such a state that I had not considered that Rafferty had not come to greet me on my entrance. I know now why, as his poor body had been rendered into such a state that to describe what had been done with it would be unsympathetic to whoever hears these words. Know simply that what remained of the corpse had been placed in an ungodly ritual manner around the room, with candles placed on some of the parts to make some sort of star symbol, connected by chalk. I can only hope now that the soul of that poor creature has gone to where all good dogs go.
As for the other inhabitant, I can only agree with the letter that whatever wore the body of Laurence Archer, it was no longer my friend. It turned to face me as I approached the door.
The eyes had been ripped from their sockets, but instead of empty holes, there were dark orbs, with a white dot that flickered and flamed in their middle. His mouth had been torn to reveal his red, raw jaws and teeth, although some had become longer, sharper, much like the claws that now capped his fingers. His clothes ill fit, like the creature was fighting to burst through them.
It pointed to its handiwork, and if its red mouth still contained lips, it would have smiled, I am sure.
“Herbert? I have got something you have to see!”
To hear Laurence’s perfectly normal voice emerge from that creature, saying my name, was almost worse than the carnage before me.
I shut the door as the monstrosity threw itself against the wood, pounding and trying to turn the doorknob. I knew my efforts to contain the beast would be fruitless before too long, as the door opened inwards, and I had no key to lock it from this side.
A key. I reached into my pocket and felt the key there. What did it want with that machine, which lay locked within the study? I began to feel that whatever malevolent purpose this thing had, it should never have the chance to use it.
The banging on the door became more frantic, and the thing called out to me, pleading, still speaking in Laurence’s voice. “Please, Herbert! I am well now! We must go to my study together!”
I reached next to me for an end table, which was of fairly sturdy construction, and wedged it under the door handle. The knob was now having difficulty turning, but I knew I would not have much time before it escaped, and would have me with it.
I smelled a faint wisp of smoke. In its haste, the creature must have knocked over a candle in the room. With that, I had the inspiration for what I must do.
Returning down to the sitting room, I lit the letter in the fireplace, wrapped it around the poker, and began lighting the curtains in the room. The fabric went quickly.
I went to several other rooms, lighting what I could before the paper gave out, so that the house would have no chance but to remain alight.
I escaped out the front door just as I heard the sound of splintering wood from within. I ran down the front steps and called for the fire brigade, knowing all too well that the house would be unsalvageable by the time they arrived. One passer-by heard my calls and went to find them.
I looked back up at the edifice, crushed with the memories with my friend that I had had within those walls, to be only memories forevermore.
At a window, I saw a shape, pounding on the glass, before the flames engulfed the room, and it was gone.
The police asked questions, but I answered them all very convincingly…mainly because the truth can be very subjective. He was my good friend, and the fire started purely by accident. I had tried to rescue him (which was true, before I knew the truth), but by the time I was able to do so, it was too late.
There was no reason to question my reputation, as I was a respected doctor. No other questions were raised, and to this day I carry that knowledge with me.
But understand me, that the most important thing has happened…the chair, and the ability to see into worlds beyond our own, was destroyed that day, and the creature that had taken my dear Laurence with it.
At least, that is my hope. I still do wonder about what a journey he had been on; there is a morbid curiosity to see it myself. But thankfully, with the company of my wife, those remain simple flights of fancy.
Still, it is with trepidation that I wonder if, when I someday leave this earth, it will be with joy, or via a dark throat, beckoning me forward.
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available