Bertha and the Abomination is a pen and ink drawing I started a few days prior to New Year’s Eve and finished up the other day. I started it on a morning where we got a snow storm of 10 – 12 inches of heavy wet snow and a layer of ice below it. The roads were so bad I called into work after barely getting out of my parking spot. The next day was the start of my long weekend, so I took advantage of the extra time off by starting on this drawing.
The idea came about after doing some old school paper and dice role play gaming that had some Lovecraftian influences. I did a lot of Dungeons and Dragons in my junior high years and beyond. One thing that stuck with me is the black and white illustrations of the settings and creatures. So, I drew upon those (pun?) and came up with this. The other motivation was my continuing interest in ‘abstract’ horror. That meaning atypical creatures that don’t fall in to the tropes of the horror genre and aren’t easily defined, hence the Abomination.
I like the way it came out, and I plan on doing a short series of drawings featuring Bertha (the name just came to mind while drawing her). With all those scars and funky hair she definetely has a story to her.
I finished this back in August, but it’s sat in the drawer since then, waiting. Sometimes ideas have to ferment. The title of this drawing is a bastardization of a line by Shakespeare, ‘My mistresses eyes are nothing like the sun.’ which I heard about a long time ago from the musician Sting who titled a song that way, and wrote that it was a line he used often when confronted by drunkards on the street. Essentially, it was a reference to the moon. Moon/lunacy … Anyways, the teen age Me thought it was clever and it stuck with me for all these years.
The original idea for this drawing started as a random sketch that I did a few years (?) ago. I’d always planned on using it, but like a lot of ideas it got put on the back burner, or fermented, until the time was right to do it. Better than the mental dust bin, I reckon.
I’m pleased with how it turned out, in particular the lighting and texture. It’s a continuation of the DegenerARTe idea I posted about awhile back, making art that goes beyond the figurative form into something that evades exact definition and is more of a nightmare-ish emotional evocation.
(Please be advised there’s a short scene toward the end that involves blood/gore).
“You sure you remember the way?” Javier said, as we approached my family’s cabin.
“Yeah,” I said heading into the dense woods. “Me and Al hiked to it last summer, for old times sake.”
An old community trail snaked its way through the woods behind our family’s cabin and after a half mile or so it connected to Columbine Ridge trail. This trail ran through the Nocturnus National Forest for nearly 20 miles before connecting to the Colorado trail, which cut across the entire state, but we wouldn’t be going that far.
Instead we took Columbine Ridge for five miles through rolling forested hills, lush meadows, and steep rocky climbs. Ordinarily, being out in the wilderness would’ve been a blissful departure from the banality of my suburban 9-5 lifestyle, but I couldn’t shake the sense of dread in my soul.
At the five mile mark we reached a junction with an old dirt road. It was barricaded with an old split rail fence and rusted metal signs that warned of the danger of mine shafts riddling the area, rock slides, limited cell phone coverage, and the other assorted dangers associated with the back country of Colorado. The old road was also overgrown with saplings and other hearty vegetation managed to get a foothold in the sandy soil. After a dozen yards the road became a ghost of a trail that proved challenging for us to follow.
After a few hours of steep climbs, and second guessing, we reached a ridge which sat above our destination. The Blue Bird Silver mine camp was once a bustling place but now it sat in a perpetual purgatory.
What remained of the 1880’s mining site was a long rectangular clapboard building constructed out of ponderosa and lodge pole pine. It’s windows were busted out long ago either by vandals or hail storms. Its wood shingle roof sagged from the weight of countless winter snow storms and torrential rains.
Across from it sat the entrance to the mine, long sealed off by the state with a thick steel plate and numerous warning signs that had long been bleached by the sun. Some rusted ore carts sat outside the entrance, amongst the scraggly scrub grass and a bit of old rail slithered its way past them only to end at the foot of a lumbering pile of slag.
A sandy trail cut through the scrub and prickly pear cactus, leading past the leaning outhouses and the surprisingly intact chicken coops. Beyond that lay our destination atop a slight hill, the Witch House.
It had been the home of the mine boss and his family during the silver boom. The single story house was constructed out of locally quarried sandstone, which given its high concentration of iron, had a reddish-brown color. It’s that color that inspired the name and it’s desolate location that inspired the name The Witch House – that and the fact we’d all been reading too many Tales From The Crypt comics.
The house had two towering chimneys made from smooth river rocks, and its battered roof once featured imported clay shingles but these days only a few stragglers held on. The most interesting feature of the house was the small pool of water that sat before its stone steps. Rumor had it that the mine boss had his miners catch cut throat trout and release them into the pool so that they would have a supply of fresh fish. These days it only held a thick layer of pine needles and dead leaves.
The front door had once been painted a brilliant shade of red, but time and the relentless weather had left it nearly stripped of its glory except for some vagrant patches. The door hung awkwardly from its rusted hinges and the slightest breeze caused it to swing back and forth.
The Witch House had long been our summer hangout, a place to escape our parents- since they didn’t know about it, as well as our base of exploration while bushwhacking through the area.
One summer, after watching one of those ridiculous ghost hunting shows, we slept overnight at the Witch House, telling our parents we were camping at a nearby site. I don’t know about ghosts, but we definitely had some encounters with the great horned owl and bats that made the place their home. None of us got much sleep that night and we never attempted an overnighter there again.
“It looks worse than I remember,” Javier said, between sips of water from his CamleBak.
“I’m surprised you remember anything, last time you were here you were curled up in your sleeping bag and you wouldn’t stop reciting the Lord’s prayer until you fell asleep.”
Javier scowled. “Goddamn owl.”
I tried not to choke on my laughter as I drank from my water bottle. It felt good to laugh, to remember simpler times, but the feeling was fleeting.
“C’mon, dude,” Javier said, heading down the ridge,”let’s find him and get outta here before that storm rolls in.”
Overhead a thick blanket of murky clouds in the west concealed the jagged summit of Ravens Peak and its snow-capped neighbors. A cold breeze swept through the valley, rustling the aspens and pines. Javier was right, a storm was brewing and the idea of getting caught in it was something we’d want to avoid.
As we headed up the trail to the Witch House, we spotted signs of other people passing through recently. Empty beers cans and greasy fast food bags littered the ground.
“Looks like Amelia and her groupies aren’t big on ‘packing in and packing out,” I said, fighting the urge to pick up the trash and stow it in my pack.
“Could be,” Javier said. “But we’ve been having a lot trouble with homeless people coming into the area and camping illegally. They leave their trash and needles all over.”
“Yeah, dude, the problems of Denver have found there way out here. We spend more time dealing with junkies more than anything else these days.”
I grimaced. It soured my heart to know that my little slice of paradise had become tainted by modern society.
The interior of the Witch House reeked of dust and every corner was choked with cobwebs. The once vibrant wallpapers were water-stained and peeling while the floor had nearly collapsed, allowing weeds and even a sapling to grow in the front room.
As we made our way through the house, a metallic rattling filled the air. Javier shot me a look and drew his service revolver. He pressed his index finger to his lips before creeping further into the house. I followed him, maintaining several feet between us. Every step we took resulted in a creak or groan from the old floor boards, eliminating any attempt at sneaking up on anyone else in the house.
A rancid stench nearly overwhelmed us when we drew within a few yards of the kitchen door. I tried unsuccessfully not to gag in disgust. We both attempted futility to filter the stench by covering our faces with our shirt collars, but the sour stench seeped through it. The closest description I can give the smell is that of an outhouse on a scorching summer day.
It seemed to bother Javier less than me, and he hastily made his way to kitchen door and cracked it open. He peered inside for a few moments before staggering back toward me. He turned to face me with wide eyes and his mouth a gape.
“What – what is it?” I said, already dreading his response, “did you see Al?”
Javier’s brow furrowed. “I-I d-don’t know who … or what it is. Or was.”
Before I could say anything, I heard it. At first I thought the thin raspy sound was the aspens rustling outside, but then I heard it again and it sent a frigid tremble down my spine. Someone was calling my name, a voice I knew too well.
“Al?” I said, reaching for the door.
Javier pushed me back. “You don’t wanta go in there dude!”
“The hell are you talking about,” I said, pushing him back. “Al’s in there, he needs our help!”
Javier tried to restrain me, but I evaded him. I pushed the door open and rushed into the kitchen. I fell flat on my back and got the wind knocked out of me after my first step. I laid there for a minute struggling to breathe. As I took a few breathes of the rancid air, I saw why I had slipped. The entire floor was coated with coagulated blood and bits of sinew. The sight was enough to cause bile to rise in my throat while my stomach flip-flopped.
Even worse was the mound of shredded flesh, broken bones, and mangled sinew and organs that laid a few feet away from me. The atrocity was almost incomprehensible, but a bit of skull and some locks of powder blue hair proved that it had once been a person.
The most curious thing, however, was the glint of metal in the center of the heap which was created by a triangular medallion attached to a fine silver chain. Engraved on the triangle were the same peculiar shapes associated with Amelia Pickman’s so-called college club.
I felt Javier’s hands under my shoulders as he tried to pull me to my feet. But my head swooned and darkness flooded the corners of my eyes. I was going to pass out; I knew it but couldn’t fight it. Blood had always been a phobia of mine, and this kitchen was too much. Much too much.
I heard Javier’s voice, but couldn’t make out his words. A moment later, the metallic rattling burst like a thunderclap. Then the pantry door swung open and a filthy hand reached out. A gaunt body lurched into the light to reveal itself as my brother.
Al took a step toward me, and reached out to me while saying something incoherent. But before I could decipher his words, the abyss of unconsciousness consumed me.
I woke to a knock at my door. It was Javier. He seemed irritated, and it looked like he’d slept in his street clothes. That is, if he’d slept at all last night. He told me that he was ‘officially’ off the case involving Al, thanks to the chief of police. He told Javier that he was ‘too close’ to the people involved and that that was a conflict of interest.
Javier also informed me that his partner, Johnson, was ‘officially’ on personal leave. However, Javier had overheard some doctors at the hospital saying that Johnson had had some type of psychotic break, and they’d never seen anything like it.
At the this point my journalistic instincts kicked in, and I decided to start using the audio recorder app on my phone from here on out. The following will be transcripts with my own thoughts/input, just in case something ever happens to the audio files.
“So, now what?” I said.
“The way I see it,” Javier said, pacing around the room, “we gotta find Al before the cops do. The two of us can convince him to turn himself in, I know it. But if the cops get him first, he’ll probably try and run and if that happens things will go bad real fast for him.”
“Okay, but won’t this cause problems for you? I mean, you’re supposed to be off the case.”
Javier shrugged. “After what happened at the cabin, anything the chief throws at me will pale in comparison.”
“What,” I said while contemplating the coffee maker that sat on the bedside table, “happened exactly?”
Javier exhaled deeply and practically fell onto a chair.
I dumped the coffee grounds into a filter. “You want some? You look like you’ve had a rough night.”
“Yeah,” Javier said, “that’d be great.”
As I filled the coffee maker with water, from the corner of my eye I could see his legs trembling. I’d always known Javier to be rock steady. Hell, one time when we were kids we encountered a mountain lion on one of our hikes. He’d kept his cool while me and Al practically crapped our pants. Thanks to his actions that day we avoided a confrontation with the big cat. Seeing him this rattled was unsettling, to say the least.
“I don’t even know what to believe anymore,” he said, “not after what that — that thing did to Johnson. I mean, he’s one of the toughest dude’s I’ve ever known. Served in Afghanistan, Iraq, and places you’d never heard of. A real bad hombre, ya dig?”
I nodded and handed him a piping hot cup of coffee. I had learned long ago as a journalist that sometimes it was best to just shut up and let the other person do all the talking.
“But that thing broke him like he was nothing, ya know? It just came out of nowhere and was in front of him and then those things came out of its head and they — they …” Javier’s voice cracked.
“It’s alright man, you don’t have to,” I said, placing a hand on his shaky shoulder.
He looked up at me, his eyes full of fire. “No, I gotta tell you! I gotta get it outta my head. All night its been going ‘round and ‘round, not letting me sleep. I know if I tell anyone at the department they’ll be shipping me off to the nut house with Johnson, but I ain’t crazy, dude. I fuckin’ swear I ain’t!”
I sat down beside him. “I know you’re not, Javier.”
He took a few gulps of coffee and sighed. “That thing did something to Johnson. Those tendrils or whatever covered its head, they latched onto his face and head. I swear they even went into his ears and eyes. Johnson flailed like he was having a convulsion or something. I couldn’t fire, cause I was afraid I’d hit him. Somehow, I managed to pull Johnson free from it, but it was too late.”
“Johnson can bench press more than anyone on the force, hell more than anyone in town, but after that thing got a hold of him he was weaker than a newborn baby.”
“Damn,” I said, shaking my head.. “So, what’s the connection between this thing and Al and his girlfriend’s group.”
Javier gulped down the last of his coffee. “Don’t know, but there’s a connection, for sure cause this thing wore some type of amulet that bore the same strange shapes that Amelia Pickman’s group has used in their graffiti around town.”
I frowned. It all seemed ridiculous, things like this don’t happen in real life. But I couldn’t deny what I’d seen outside the cabin, twice now. Was it all a trick? Someone could’ve been wearing a mask that looked like the creature. The basement would’ve been dimly lit at best when Javier and Johnson were down there and confronted this supposed creature. Panic and bad lightning could’ve fooled Javier. Johnson could’ve been drugged by his assailant, God knows Eldritch Falls is notorious for its hallucinogenic drugs. There had to be a logical explanation for this so-called creature, but that didn’t make it any less dangerous.
“We need to find Al, pronto,” I said. “Then we’ll get some answers and hopefully stop this from getting worse.”
“You got any ideas where he might be?” Javier said. “His car’s still at the cabin and all records indicate that Amelia and her groupies don’t got vehicles. And it ain’t like we got Uber, rental cars, or even a bus route out here, so he’s gotta be in the area.”
I rubbed the back of my neck. “Yeah, but your not going to like it.”
“I ain’t exactly been enjoying myself.”
“Fair enough,” I said, “as far as I can figure, he’d go to the Witch House if he were trying to lay low.”
Javier’s jaw dropped. “You fuckin’ serious, dude?”
“Then we’ll swing by my place, and pick up some gear, cause it’s gonna be a helluva trip.”
May 17th, 2021
It’s been a long day, but I better get it all down (or at least what I remember) in case I need it – someone else does.
The drive up to the cabin was quicker than normal, maybe cause I didn’t have my wife’s backseat driving and whining kids to contend with. Either way, it was a welcomed reprieve from the stress of work and home. Driving through St. Vrain Canyon and Estes Park has always been a favorite. So many memories of camping trips in the summer, snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National park in the winter, and family weekends spent at our family cabin.
I don’t remember the last time I’d been up here, not since Mom got cancer. A couple years, maybe? It’s an odd thing to be up here without her.
When I got up here, the first thing that struck me was the fact that Al’s treasured Land Cruiser was sitting in the drive. Hope surged through my road weary mind. Maybe he was just sleeping off a bender, and I could sober him up enough so that he could get his proverbial shit together enough to send those chapters to his agent.
Once inside, I found the place to be in immaculate condition. For all his faults, Al was big on tidiness and cleanliness. Okay, he pushed it to the point that it was a compulsion for him, but there are worse things in life. I remember when we were growing up he would spend Saturday mornings cleaning and reorganizing his room – for fun. Yeah …
I searched the place for him, but alas he wasn’t here. However, there were clear signs that he’d been here recently. Reciepts from take-out food, clean dishes in the dish rack, and a newspaper with yesterday’s date. Maybe he’d rode his mountain bike into town, Eldritch Falls was only ten miles down the road. He’d done this often enough in the past. Or maybe he’d gone on a hike, a common interest we shared even to this day. There were plenty of trail heads within walking distance from the cabin.
I figured I’d wait. It was still early in the day when I arrived, and I didn’t need to be back to work for a few days. My wife wasn’t happy I’d taken off, but she could handle the kids herself. Besides, she was always sticking me with domestic responsibilities every other weekend when she went to the casinos in Black Hawk with her girl friends.
As I waited I took a look around the living room for something to read. The cabin didn’t have a TV and the only radio was an old transistor that rarely worked. On the coffee table were an assortment of trail guides and maps. I picked up one of the books, and flipped through it. That’s when I saw something that made my skin crawl.
Someone, apparently Al, had scrawled on the map of the surrounding area (Nocturnus National Forest). At first I thought it was merely his typical cramped handwriting but at second glance I realized they were not words – or at least not ones that I recognized. The shapes were made of strange angles and curves that were unlike any form of writing I’d seen before. On the bottom corner of the page someone had written a date, May 20, 2021.
I flipped through the rest of the books, but found nothing in them nor did the maps contain any strange scrawling like the first book. What the hell was Al up to?
When I tossed down the last book, I noticed something odd about the table. It appeared to have some deep scratches on it, and when I cleared the books away I discovered someone had carved more strange shapes into the table.
Why would he do this to the table?
It took me a few minutes, but I soon realized that not only had someone, most likely Al, d carved into the table but there also deep red stains along the edge of them. Was that blood?
Before I could even put my thoughts together, someone banged on the front door – nearly scaring the shit out of me. The figure at the door wore a weather stained hooded gray robe which concealed the wearer’s face in deep shadow.
The Stranger pressed the palm of its hand to the window pane, revealing a bloody wound on its palm that matched those I’d seen earlier.
I staggered backward, nearly tripping over the table. My heart jack hammered and my mind raced. Should I grab the old shotgun that hung above the mantel, or just run out the back door get the hell out of here?
The Stranger said nothing and lowered its bloody hand from the window, leaving behind a gory symbol on the glass.
What happened next, and I’m not sure if it was just a trick of my fatigued mind, or not – but I swear the Stranger seemed to dissolve into a billowing cloud of smoke which was swept away by the wind.
I tried the perfectly logical thing – and got in my car with the intentions of getting the hell out of here. I figured I’d get into town and report the incident to the local cops. But my car wouldn’t start. I grabbed my battery jumper from my trunk, and assumed I’d simply jump start it. But the jumper was completely dead, despite the fact I recharge it on a regular basis.
So, I figured my next option was taking Al’s car, but much to my chagrin the tank was bone dry.
I figured my best option was to walk into town, there was plenty of daylight left. I grabbed some granola bars and Gatorade from my car before leaving, and walked for about two hours before taking a break. That’s where I am now, about half way to town – I guess. I’m about to set out, again. I figure I’ll make it town by dusk.
I had this piece of odd shaped board downstairs that I decided to keep as the long rectangle and just draw on, since it wasn’t worth cutting down to some smaller pieces. A rather odd shape to draw on, but I figured, why not? I did the main figure with my Boston Safety pen and some .30 mm Rapidograph technical pen for the smaller details. I used my old Blick Studio alcohol markers and some Amsterdam acrylic ink for the gray tones. I hadn’t used the Amsterdam (‘Neutral Gray’) before but I liked the way it turned out. I also liked the matte quality of it.