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Yangtze Incident
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ISBN-10: 1-55404-792-7
ISBN-13: 
Genre: Supernatural/Horror/Suspense/Thriller
eBook Length: 124 Pages
Published: November 2010



From inside the flap

Shortly after Darryl was discharged from a mental healthcare center, he kills himself, leaving behind a wife, wealth, and a life as an anthropologist. Darryl was a passionate man. So very few of us achieve our dreams as he did. What could so easily and so quickly shatter a man’s soul?

Joel Curwen and Darryl Tilden have been inseparable since their days as students in the Phoenix University, and Joel takes it upon himself to investigate his friend’s untimely death. Darryl’s last anthropological project involved the study of Tibetan Nomads in one of the remotest and most inhospitable regions of the Tibetan Plateau. At the mouth of the Yangtze River in Shanghai, Joel Curwen boards a ship and travels across China picking up the trail of his dead friend. As he sails upstream, he learns that the many cities and villages that flank the river whisper of angry river spirits attacking boats. Survivors of such attacks tell stories that bear a shocking resemblance to the insane ravings of Darryl in the final moments preceding his suicide. It was as if madness became a widespread sickness and it was infecting people all along the Yangtze River.

But Joel Curwens resolve was not truly tested until he had come in contact with the Tibetan nomads Darryl had spent months living with. The nomads took him where they had taken his friend in a part of the world where vegetation can scarcely sustain life and there he learned that perhaps some secrets are better left in the dark.

Yangtze Incident (Excerpt)


One

It is hard for me to describe the events of the Yangtze incident in convincing detail. I have sat here in this chair for hours contemplating ways on how to begin. I guess it is the fear of being told I am crazy, or being shrugged off as a lying hoaxer eager for a moment of fame, that constrains me. Sometimes it is hard for even me to believe what happened; hard to believe that I am alive sitting at my desk in the safety of my home, expecting myself to just adapt and continue a normal life.

Well, there is no sense in writing about my discomposure. If it is a detailed account that you want, then it is a detailed account you will get, Mrs. Tilden, but I wish you had never mentioned your husband’s death to me. It was my decision to investigate the matter, yes, but the truth I discovered in Northwest Asia on the roof of the world is one that is hard to live with, and securing the normalcy of my old life seems inconceivably hopeless.

Your husband, Mrs. Tilden, was understandably insane. I am shocked to acknowledge that I am not in the padded room where he was kept, raving as he did of nightmarish experiences. For it is all true, Mrs. Tilden. Your husband may have been mad, but his ravings were very real.

When you first informed me of his condition, I didn’t believe it. Your husband was a very erudite man. I had known him for many years. We first met in Northern Arizona University when I was taking a course in Anthropology. The two of us use to engage in spirited and amusing debates with some of our fellow classmates who argued that anthropology was a white supremacy science. I remember the two of us staying up late drinking Cognac having scientific or philosophical discussions. I pursued a career in Biology, he a career in Anthropology. We shared a mutual interest in Cryptology, and in between jobs we went on excursions to unearth the truth behind myth, hoping to find the next extinct animal or something wholly unknown. Darryl Tilden was an intelligent, successful, and happily married man, not a person bound to someday find himself locked inside a mental healthcare facility.

The reason, Mrs. Tilden, you noticed a difference in him the day he returned from his study of the Drokpa tribes in Tibet is because what he experienced there was something I believe he did not wish to share with you, but could not altogether hide from you either. Just look at the effect it has had on me. My savings are slowly dwindling, and yet I am not at all eager to start looking for more work, nor have I any desire to contact any number of the eager employers that wish to hear from me. I imagine he felt as I feel -- that the world simply would not believe our stories -- and I believe that being alone with his secret is what eventually drove him insane.

I had just finished a one-year contract with the NMFS, and was ready to relax after seventy-nine deep-sea expeditions, when I got your letter. I went to his private studio where you said he had spent most of his time prior to being institutionalized. What I found in his private studio was shocking. The moment I opened the door and let myself in, I found that I was being stared at by hundreds of murderous eyes. Your husband had been quite busy sketching otherworldly beings.

I had never known him as an artist, which is why I asked you if you ever knew him to draw. You were so ignorant of the fact that I avoided answering you when you wanted to know why I was asking. He had made hundreds of attempts at capturing the essence of his insanity on paper, perfecting the freaks he had hung on every wall, while his experimental drawings were scattered all over the floor.

The Things he drew were deformed people, their profiles so awkwardly displaced that one could hardly regard them as anything but the morbid fancy of a disturbed individual. While one arm and hand may have looked like they belonged to a decrepit child, the other limb was so long and bulky that its owner seemed to painstakingly lug it around. In other drawings the crippled monstrosities seemed incapable of walking at all, propelling themselves forward with twisted, handless arms, dragging behind legs that appeared melted together. Their faces were contorted with agony and hatred, expressing tremendous pain together with a determination to kill.

It was utterly horrible, to walk into my friend’s room to see all these things on the wall. I think I just stood there perplexed for a while. Never would I have guessed Darryl Tilden to misplace himself in such a deranged world.

In the center of the room was a clay figure that all the images on the wall seem to surround. The clay was still wet, so he must have just finished it after his release from the institution and just before his suicide. The sculpture depicted a less shocking image -- perhaps it was because it obtained no countenance like the things on the wall, but more likely because it was so piebald in build that it seemed too unreal to be anything to fear. This faceless creature was mostly hidden under a large turtle shell; the only hints of its fleshy design were the multiple octopus arms that protruded from the shell’s opening.

After an hour of examining all the experimental drawings that lay on the floor, I ventured into Darryl’s bedroom. The bedroom looked normal, as modest as I remembered it being when he would invite me to his work studio to show me some exciting project he was engaged in. But I did find a diary on top the desk and the remains of numerous broken pencils. I brought the diary with me to use as a reference on my trip to Asia, but I lost it there. I’ll try to summarize from memory what it said.

It was obvious the diary was written after his return home. Most of it was your husband’s inability to remember the details of his trip and complaints about a growing frustration with himself. Evidently, he had suffered from some kind of amnesia and was unable to recall the last part of his fieldwork. He wrote that he would recount his trip to Asia in the hopes of somehow stirring his memory, and I read in clear detail how he went onboard a passenger and cargo junk ship along the Yangtze River. He dedicated some pages to the enchanting beauty of the Three Gorges and his objection to the dam being constructed there, for it will someday flood many ancient relics belonging to the ancient people of Ba. He described how he got to know some of the other passengers of the vessel and talked a lot about his friendly guide and translator, Xŭ Kun, and often complained how he remembered meeting Mr. Xŭ and doing field work with him, but was never able to remember how or when they departed, emphasizing that he must have lost his memory sometime during the end of his research. He wrote how he even remembered boarding a Chinese cruise ship on his return to Shanghai, convinced that his loss of memory was triggered sometime after his study of the Drokpa tribes on the edges of the Tibetan Plateau.

When reading Darryl’s written account of his trip, it was hard for me to link the sound man in the diary to the man that conceived the horrors depicted in the sketches in the room outside. .

He recounted his study of the Tibetan nomads, convinced that his memory loss was somehow related to them. There was some obscure event, which he could recall in fragments, where the nomads were taking him and his guide to so vast a height in a desolate steppe that it became a burden to breathe. However, he couldn’t recall where they led him and his translator or why. The only thing he brought with him from this remote region was a small bag of fossilized human teeth, which electron spin resonance dating determined to be close to a million years old.

He described the scratches and wounds all over his body, which he originally thought were the result of the cruise ship sinking; however, he later determined that the marks looked too deliberate to be accidental, especially the scratches around his chest and neck.

And he complained of being plagued by vivid dreams so real that he would wake up paralyzed in bed. He described one event where, after a dream, he awoke believing that something was hunting him in the dark and felt compelled to arm himself with a knife but was much too afraid of being heard sneaking to the kitchen to grab one. This was some time after he had made some discoveries and was regaining his memory, when you saw little of him, I believe. In his diary he said, "I can only be thankful that I was not in bed with my wife on this night, for my fear was so great I was prepared to strike at any living thing I heard move in the dark with me."

As to the dreams themselves, he could only remember partially. He wrote the only thing clear about them was the fear they instilled into his soul. Other partial images he drew, which explained all the drawings in the next room. However, nowhere in his diary did he explain the clay sculpture that took center stage in the large morbid display outside. He only implied at what it was in one entry in his diary, where he wrote that he had wakened from a dream that had given him a "sudden revelation." His hand was very shaky when writing this, and a lot of it was unintelligible. The pages were blurred as if he had been crying over them or sweating as he wrote. I guessed this was where so many pencils broke on the pages. There were holes and tears all over the paper where he had pressed too hard.

This revelation was the entire recollection of what had happened to him and the other passengers of the Chinese cruise ship the Golden Dragon, although none of it would make any sense to anyone, it being completely impossible. I understood that it was night and he was asleep in his room on the ship when cold, wet hands were placed around his neck and he opened his eyes to see his guide, Xŭ Kun, who your husband had talked so affectionately about, leering over him, trying to kill him. He somehow managed to fend him off and bashed a lamp over his head, which only momentarily disoriented the guide, who resumed his attack on your husband. Darryl ran out from his room into a chaotic hallway littered with the possessions of other guests, whose rooms had also been invaded. Some kind of siege had overtaken the ship. Screaming was heard in all directions. He mentioned that in many areas of the ship children were screaming for their parents, and many of the passengers had gone on a wild rampage and were attacking people at random. Once he had escaped his lunatic guide, he found himself pursued by other insane passengers; sometimes whole groups of people chased him. And those who were also like him trying to survive often mistook him as one of the aggressors and would either flee or brace themselves to fight. Many bodies lay strewn all over the boat -- the hallways, the balconies, the deck, even the bar -- some of which had been torn apart, saturating everything near in blood.

Then he described the things. The distorted, malformed, lurching monstrosities he had made so many sketches of. The following passage was your husband’s final revelation before he decided to take his own life. It was also how the diary ended. It is for this reason I had memorized it word for word. "I remember all too clearly now how they snatched children from the arms of their mothers, dragged people away screaming and taking them ... delivering them ... dear God ... now it is all too clear to me. The nomads, they warned me -- they tried to tell us. I’ve managed to release the spawn of Belial in that desolate, airless region ... now it will seek dominance, not just in the souls of men, but embody them. Will I ever be able to live with this? Do I deserve to live? No. If any one person is destined to be cast headfirst into the burning lake and suffer an eternity of undying flame, it is me, for surely I have doomed the earth."

On the next page in his diary, scratched on its surface in big, scrawling letters: "The ultimate in pernicious evil -- I can almost remember its likeness, can almost grasp ..."

And here it is where it ends, and where I suspect he began creating the clay sculpture. I believe, Mrs. Tilden, that your husband’s suicide was some time after he had constructed the sculpture upraised on a stool in the middle of that room of horror. The way he had it displayed, exalted on the stool in the center of the room, was symbolic of its prominence, establishing the other monstrosities as subordinate. I believe it was this creature that he referred to as "The spawn of Belial."

Of course I did not believe in the notion that your husband had unleashed some unspeakable evil (and I still don’t), but I also did not go to great lengths speculating on the meaning of that last passage, at first. My profession was in biology, and I knew for certain that this clay image could in no way represent an actual, living thing. The laws of nature could never in a million years of evolution combine so many incongruous parts on one body. Assuming this monster was of the Molluscan class Gastropoda, its shell lacks the whorls that expand to accommodate the growth of the creature as it ages, which could only mean the growth of the shell would be much like the growth of any skeletal creature, like a turtle. Assuming it was from the cephalopod class, as the hydrostatic arms indicate, how could it have a skeleton like a turtle? Even if the shell were borrowed from another creature, no creature in the ocean or river large enough to inhabit it would need it!

I presumed your husband interlaced the incident on the Yangtze River with the horrible dreams he was having in his struggle to regain his memory, but that did not mean something extraordinary had not in fact occurred, and I was inclined to further my investigation.