The City Above The Shelf

by Frederick Gero Heimbach

From the beginning we people have dwelt in a cloven world. Our god is the divider—it was he who sundered the dry land from the sea, the loathsome from the wholesome, the monsters from the people. By this he taught us the First Lesson: do not rejoin that which he has divided.

O Mighty One, Divider of Worlds: help me remember this Lesson! Do not punish me for my transgression! Number me among your followers!

***

None of this would have happened had I not fallen under the spell of Ayu. We were of the same hatching cohort but we were not companions, not at first. He was at once too strange and too popular. He had a reputation for seeking out all that is alien and repulsive. The Elders called him a rebel. They were right, but they did not know the half.

At the same time, Ayu was greatly favored by the Mighty One. He was strongest in games, fastest in the hunt, and cleverest in speech. He had no fear of sharks; he loved to taunt spearfish and dodge their deadly thrusts. His fins spread wide and shone with brilliant iridescence. His opinions dominated every group, and he was incapable of silence or hesitation. His curiosity was insatiable.

I believed Ayu to be uninterested in equitable companionship, being the type who attracts only sycophants and belligerents. I judged myself too strong for the former and too weak for the latter. I chose the third path: I avoided him.

So I was surprised the day he came to me and said, “Would you dare take the train to The Shelf?”

The Shelf!—that city of harsh light in the stagnant, fetid shallows; that place the Elders warned us not to visit. They spoke of it in low murmurs. Their dread achieved what their threats could not. In our ignorance, we youths weaved a mythology of horror and our fear of The Shelf grew.

As proof of his courage, Ayu showed me a pair of tickets. I figured he had stolen them. I despised his lawlessness even as I admired his cleverness. Fool that I was, I accepted his invitation. I was not nearly so immune to his influence as I supposed.

It was my first train ride. Ayu acted bored but the hypnotic rhythm of the train’s verdigris fins thrilled and hypnotized me as it eeled its way up into the shallow plain that gives The Shelf its name.

At midday we disembarked, and the train sped on without lingering. The station was empty except for us. We swam to a spot above the town to get a look. The Shelf was not small, but no one appeared to live there.

In those shallows we came perilously near the barrier which the Divider of Worlds has forbidden us to cross. Ayu boldly thrust his crown fin right through it, into the dry air. I cursed him and pulled him down, but he only laughed.

We descended to the main thoroughfare. All doors and windows were covered with skins. I told myself the heat of midday had driven everyone inside. It was uncomfortably hot, with so little water to block the sun.

Something about the place made me think it had suffered some great catastrophe. A green haze surrounded everything and the buildings were slimy with decay. The rot of the nearby shore infused everything with its reek.

I kept seeing a fluttering at the edge of my vision, but when I would turn, nothing would be there. Everything was closed, except the saloon. It was covered with a disheveled roof and its entrance was partly unblocked. I expected ever-bold Ayu to investigate it. Another building attracted him instead.

I would have wished to avoid it, that temple at the center of town. Something about its overly rigid geometry frightened me. Its windows were oddly shaped, square at the bottom and round on top, suggesting, in a way I could not explain, an arrogant blasphemy. Upon the solid wood door were carved symbols typical of temples, but with subtle alterations that suggested something perverse.

Of course Ayu knocked. He beat the temple door until someone answered.

The creature standing before us had the ugliest face I had ever seen, with sunken eyes and a snout that had collapsed in on itself. Everything about his body seemed atrophied—especially his fins and his short, scrawny legs. His age was unguessable, as he had the flabby weakness of children and the twisted deformity of age. His expression was uninviting but otherwise ambiguous.

“What do you seek?” said the wretch.

Ayu did not fail to surprise me with his answer. “We seek knowledge!”

The creature smiled, or grimaced—it was impossible to read that ruined face.

“The vicar knows this place and its history better than anyone. Perhaps he’ll talk to you. But, if he won’t, you can be sure no one will. In any case, you best leave on the next train.”

The creature closed the door with a boom. I turned away, but Ayu remained.

“You’re not—” I began.

“Go, Owoë. You’ve done well to come this far.”

His condescension infuriated me. I swam to the other side of the street. When I looked back, Ayu had already disappeared into the temple.

I waited there, drifting, for a long time. The heat and stench acted as a narcotic. I did catch glimpses of the folk of that town, but I half-suspected they were hallucinations. Even seen briefly, they were strange; they moved by kicking their legs opposite of one another. They were just as ugly as the person at the temple door. Some sported patches of fur in random spots. On others, paired bulges grew on their ventral sides like pendulous tumors.

I was never so glad as when the temple door opened. As Ayu came out, a single arm emerged from the interior gloom. I saw its sleeve, which despite its irregular decorations clearly belonged to that of a priest. A spasm of fear gripped me.

The priest’s claws had been filed down to flat nubs, contrary to all religious practice. Worse, he grasped at Ayu’s arm.

Ayu pivoted and took the revolting hand in his own. They pressed palms together. They touched one another, violating the express proscriptions of Lord Dagon.

The arm withdrew as if it were the tongue of that blasphemous temple. The door closed like a predator’s jaw.

On the train ride home, Ayu was oddly pensive. I wanted to know what he had seen and heard in the temple.

“They’re mixers,” he said at last.

“What do you mean?”

“They don’t hold to the Lessons, not the ones about keeping everything separate. They mix with—” and here, Ayu pointed up, meaning the people of the mountains.

Ayu’s insouciance shocked me. I wanted to quote the Lessons to him. I wanted to make him see his own perversity. Instead, I took the child’s way out. “Ayu,” I said, “you’ll be in big trouble if the Elders hear you talk like that.”

“Calm down. These people only trade a little with the Others.”

That obvious lie was the last thing he said. He closed his eyes and ignored me for the rest of the trip.

***

O Mighty One: let me not fall prey to lies! Help me to remain loyal to you!

***

I avoided Ayu after that, and not just because the Elders discourage exclusive companionship. I hated him. When time came for our cohort to attend its first Othering, however, he and I were assigned the same sponsor. It was not what I wanted, but I was glad for one thing: it showed the Elders knew nothing of our illicit trip.

During that time I was mainly preoccupied with anticipation of the Othering. My sponsoring Elder told me he had felt the same fear. His repeated assurances only increased my dread. My cohort mates had shared dark stories of those who failed to complete the initiation. Such rebels were exiled and never discussed, so rumor grew in the fertile muck of ignorance.

The Othering occurred at the darkest hour of night. The high priest led us to the holy temple, built over a sunken grotto of volcanic stone. We processed by green anglerfish lights past tall weeds that cast eerie, wavering shadows. We initiates followed the priests with the Elders at the end.

Inside the temple, my fear mounted. We formed a circle around the deep vent at the center. There, above that bottomless pit, chained to the stone altar, lay a writhing monster.

We were not given much light but we caught glimpses. The monster’s utterly alien way of moving told us it came from the mountains, up in the dry air. Indeed, it would have died had the high priest not enclosed its head in a verdigris box. I remember well, as the unsteady light fell upon it, seeing its thin limbs twitch, hearing its bizarre, muffled voice, and catching the first hint of its revolting odor.

I retched. My cohort mates moaned in fear or disgust. I heard Ayu, standing beside me in the circle, cursing softly. Even with the shock, I wondered how the monster had been caught, and if it had been lured with singing, as some claimed could be done.

“Youths!” cried the high priest, speaking with forced confidence. “What do you see before you? Is this a Person, the craftsmanship of Dagon?”

“No, it is no person,” we initiates replied. We had rehearsed the liturgy many times.

“Who are the people of Dagon?”

“We are!”

“What then is this creature?”

“It is a monster.”

“How shall we signify that this thing is wholly Other?”

“We shall eat it,” we said, although some voices wavered. For the first time, I began to wonder why it was so important to train ourselves to regard these creatures as the Other, when they were so clearly monsters.

The high priest unsheathed the claws of his right hand, untrimmed since birth and reserved for holy sacrifice. Their discoloration in the dim light gave them an awful majesty. Another priest yanked the box off the monster’s head, releasing a bubble of air. The monster gurgled as water rushed into its mouth.

The high priest slashed open the monster’s belly with his claws. His methodical strokes cut the monster apart. Its struggles were brief. The water thickened with blood and I understood why we had been commanded to fast.

The other priests unsheathed their claws. They were expert butchers. They harvested the monster’s soft flesh from its bones. They pushed the offal off the altar to sink into the pit, to feed godspawn. They collected the meat pieces and stood before my fellow initiates in an inner circle, facing out toward us.

“Eat the Other!” came the high priest’s loud voice. With all the blood in the water, it was impossible to see.

“Eat the Other!” repeated the priests. “It is food and no person.”

Why would anyone think this horror was a person? As I thought this, our sponsor quietly approached Ayu and me from behind. He grasped me by the neck—a rare instance where touching was permitted—and pushed me firmly forward. He did the same to Ayu. I heard Ayu groan in horrified anticipation.

The sponsor pressed his claw into the hollow place behind my jaw. My mouth popped open against my will. The priest pushed the flesh into my mouth. The same happened to all the initiates simultaneously. Sponsors closed our jaws with firm hands. I gagged and struggled, but my sponsor did not let go. Beside me, Ayu was strangely compliant.

As my body struggled, the revolting flesh slid back and my instinct to swallow took over. I ate the monster. In so doing, by the power of Dagon, it was transformed from creature into food. It became Other.

Priests waved the blood away and raised their lights. The high priest looked us over, long and hard. Having determined the initiation’s purpose was achieved, he recited the closing prayer. I barely heard it. We initiates replied with a final word of holy assent. We filed out of the temple.

Elders gathered around us, offering their congratulations. I wanted only to find Ayu. For once, I craved his glib confidence.

Out of the blood-infused temple, the water was clear, although there was no light. I would not have found Ayu had I not heard him moaning.

He was hiding behind a rock. I smeared some anglerfish paste on my palm and held it up for light. I saw Ayu bent over. I pulled him up by his crown fin and saw the blood trailing out of his gaping mouth.

He had not eaten the Other. With unimaginable self-control, he had held the spongy, warm, loathsome meat under his tongue through the final minutes, waiting until he could spew it out, unseen by Elders or priests. Unseen by anyone but me.

***

O Great Dagon, Divider of Worlds! Save me from rebellion and every evil!

***

Ayu had put me in an intolerable position. I was obliged to denounce him before the Elders. Knowing his talent for persuasion, however, he might talk his way out of it—maybe even put the suspicion back on me.

I needed proof. I began following Ayu. If his illicit wanderings were habitual, I could bring an Elder to catch him in the act.

I found out how he got his train tickets. When he stole one, I stole one too. I followed him back to The Shelf.

I kept to a different train car, out of sight. When he disembarked, he swam up and away toward the shallows. I followed. The evening sun’s light diminished faster than our ascent. In the shallows, night was tinted by a strange, silvery glow, but it was easy to stay unnoticed.

Again, Ayu reached that boundary between water and air about which the priests’ admonitions were strongest. Ayu continued on into the extreme shallows, crawling unnaturally along the sandy bottom. Using his hands, he pushed himself right out of water and into the dry air.

“No, Ayu!” I shouted. I went as far as I dared. The wavering boundary reflected the weak light in confusing ways and I could not see where Ayu had gone.

I did not know what to do. I had no proof of Ayu’s wrongdoing I could show to the Elders. I was burning with an indignant curiosity: what business could Ayu possibly have up in the mountains? I told myself I must expose Ayu, that I must lead him back home. Those were lies. I see now I was simply obeying the old impulse to follow him.

Follow him I did. I crossed the boundary and entered dry air. My gills sealed instinctively and my nostril slits opened for the first time.

I lay by the water for a while, panting. The world of dry air felt strange and wrong. The light came from a pale disk floating high in a dark void that arched above the world. The dry air flowed around my body more capriciously, but less forcefully, than water. It made the branches of plants twitch rather than wave in the natural way.

Where the sandy ground rose, a line disturbed its smooth surface. The line led to a figure moving on its feet with a hideous awkwardness toward higher ground.

It was indeed Ayu. He progressed in strange lurches, supported on one foot, then the other. His hands were quite useless but they stroked the air anyway.

I tried to imitate him, but I fell repeatedly. This could not be Ayu’s first venture above the barrier. He could move upright because he had practiced.

I slid myself forward on my stomach with my dorsal fin folded flat, but it was useless. I found I could move best on both knees and claws. I was slower than Ayu, but I followed him.

The ground leveled out. I saw lights before me, coming from the windows of buildings. This place was like a town except more spread out. The squat buildings had very flat sides and none were more than two stories high. The doorways were right next to the ground. It was as if the force of gravity pulled harder here.

The nearest building stood taller than the others. Its dark roof rose in a ridge, giving it the silhouette of an ax. Before it stood a tower with a top like a sharpened claw. It culminated in a single symbol of two bars, one vertical and one horizontal.

I looked dumbfounded upon this harsh and menacing building. Its windows were of the shape I had seen in The Shelf, but it lacked the riot of blasphemous signs. Its one crossed symbol filled me with dread.

Unknown objects like puffs of squid ink glided silently overhead, blocking the light. The slow rhythm of dim light and darkness mocked my dry, painful eyes.

Ayu kept moving, one foot at a time. I followed. Leading Ayu out of this place was my only thought.

Out of sheer recklessness, he approached a small building close to the temple. No resident was in sight. Ayu went right up to a window. From out of it a yellow light flickered. I saw him gape as he looked within, his eager eyes lit by the glow.

I was minutes behind him, and did not attempt to hide myself. When I drew close, I tried to speak, to tell him to come away. My voice was muffled by the air.

“You came! You really came!” He was excited but not much surprised. “I knew you would want to come!”

“No,” I said, struggling to speak.

“Stand up and watch,” said Ayu. I pulled myself to my feet and reached out for balance.

“Be careful! You’ll break it.” He meant the transparent sheet like ice that covered the window. I gripped the wall instead and looked in.

The hideous person I had seen in The Shelf was the hint, the mere suggestion, of what I saw therein. Two creatures stood in clear, yellow light. Their skin was white as sand in midday. Patches of golden fur covered their heads. On one, it hung long and free, while on the other it clung to the face. Their bodies lacked warts and were covered by confusing patches of color. They moved about on their feet as Ayu did, but with a jarring confidence.

The light came from shiny, bulbous contrivances set high in the room. They hurt my eyes when I looked directly at them. The scene was clear and sharp in the dry air, more vivid than a nightmare.

The monsters had no snout to speak of, only a small notch jutting from their face like an inverted sponge. Their mouths were red like wounds, and small, so I wondered how they captured their prey. Their tiny, revolting eyes, like discolored pearls, sat so close together they practically touched. Their fingers were long and exposed, with no webbing at all.

I tried to speak, to howl at the sight of these alien creatures, but my voice was weak in the air. Although light cut like a knife, sound carried poorly.

The monster with fur on its face went to another room. We went to the other window to watch. The room was mostly filled with a flat rectangle of unknown purpose.

“They will lie together,” said Ayu. He spoke with a kind of awe. “I saw them do so once, when the window was not completely covered.”

That, I think, was the moment Ayu no longer merely shocked me but began to be an object of my wrath.

In time, the second monster joined the first. We had to duck down as it covered the window with a skin. We could see no more.

“They stretch out their bodies upon the flat place,” said Ayu. “They touch one another to make their young. It is samlag.”

Many questions confused my mind. Who told him this? How dare they touch, when that is forbidden? Where had Ayu heard that unpronounceable word? He spoke it by blowing air through his mouth, not by using his vocal membrane.

Despite these questions, I blurted out, “Where is the gestation hollow?” There was nothing in the room like the great sandy bowl in which we people go by the thousands to vomit our eggs, and where, after the change, we return to fertilize them.

“They lay no eggs. They are like the dolphins. Each youth grows within the belly of its mor. When it is mature, it crawls out.”

I knew nothing of dolphins or their habits. They had always disgusted me, and now I knew why.

“Ayu, how can you speak of such abominations?”

“Because—” Ayu paused, lowered his head, then spoke again. “—they have the nattvard.”

Again, he spoke the alien word with the breath of his mouth. This was monster talk.

Enraged, I struck the window. The transparent barrier shattered like ice.

The monsters roared. Ayu fled. I followed him as best I could.

We found a small building with a huge door and hid ourselves in there, behind a contrivance set upon four circles. The thing had a healthy metal snout in front. A flat rectangle covered its back and I wondered if the monsters did samlag upon it also.

We stayed there, hidden, not daring to move. The whole town had woken with violent noise. The monsters spoke rapidly in their rasping language as they searched about. Ayu signaled for silence but I did not need him telling me what to do.

We waited for what seemed like forever. In time, the town quieted. Sleep was impossible.

Daylight came. We were startled by the chiming of great brazen gongs. We heard voices, calmer now, as the monsters emerged from their homes. Soon there was quiet again.

Then came a moment that I will never forget, a moment of insane terror. A distant wailing, or keening, like nothing that should ever be heard, disturbed the air. It was the monsters, wailing in unison. In its combinations of tones and rhythms, it expressed all the contempt which perversity has for the normal. It was unmistakably religious, but blasphemous, as if every possible insult to Dagon were compressed into three cacophonous minutes.

“Come!” said Ayu. “The nattvard has begun!” A kind of sick joy came over his face.

It was perfectly safe for us to go out. All residents of that hideous town had gone to their temple. In the glaring light of day, its walls were the whitest of white and its roof was a deep red.

Ayu opened the temple’s wooden door with great stealth and went in. I was more afraid to leave him than to run.

The walls inside were also white. Beyond the entryway, through a second portal, the main room repeated the shape of the windows, having flat sides and a rounded top. The walls were strangely unadorned. I saw only one bare symbol, the vertical and horizontal bars, at the far end.

The monsters were resting themselves upon brown wooden benches. In the front of the room I saw two priests, wrapped in skins decorated with that wicked symbol. They stood by what must have been an altar, but there was no pit below it and no blood stains anywhere.

No one noticed us as we lay low and quiet in the small room in the back.

One of the priests, who appeared old and stiff, was lecturing the crowd in barbarous squawks and hisses. Ayu grew restless and opened a doorway to the side. A rising series of flat surfaces led upward. Ayu began climbing them.

I was glad to get away from the monsters and I followed him, careful not to fall. We emerged onto a ledge overlooking the main room.

I stopped, startled to see a lone monster, an old one, seated before a great contrivance made of silvery metal tubes in a decorated wood case. I turned to flee, but Ayu stopped me and made me look at the monster again. It was sleeping.

The priest finished speaking. All the monsters rose to their hind legs while the priests busied themselves around the altar.

Nattvard!” hissed Ayu. He was happy—happy! A murderous rage rose up in me.

The priest spoke the words of an unholy rite. As it emphasized certain words, their hideous sound burned into my memory:

Detta är min lekamen, som varder utgiven för eder!

The priest held up a pale wafer while speaking. Then, as the throng of monsters came forward, it placed wafers in their mouths.

It was an obscene parody of the most sacred rite of all. My vocal membrane vibrated as I muttered one of the Imprecations of Dagon.

The monster next to us stirred. Its tiny, loathsome eyes opened and fixed upon us. It let loose a shriek.

I did not hesitate. I lunged and caught its head in my mouth. Its weak neck snapped. The disturbance was over almost before it began.

The noise caused great confusion among the monsters. Ayu and I ducked out of sight. We went down to the exit as fast as our clumsy feet could carry us.

Once we were in the entryway, the old priest saw us. “Draugen!” it cried. Then it seemed to change its mind and cried “Näcken” repeatedly. The monsters hollered and fled to the front of the room.

They saw me as a fearsome warrior of Dagon. That made me glad, for the guilt of crossing the barrier weighed heavily upon me. I shouted, “Dagon crushes your god in his teeth and feasts upon him!”

The older priest tried to rouse the monsters into action. It kept shouting, “Döda dem!” Some of the monsters threw objects at us, but most were too afraid.

Ayu and I fled. I was clumsy, and fell repeatedly. Had the monsters not hesitated, we would have been caught. We dared not make for the water. We would have to hide and trust to the mercy of Dagon. We had broken the First Lesson, so I had little hope in that.

Our previous hiding place was too far away. We went instead to the window I had broken. We pushed aside the temporary covering and eeled our way in.

We crawled under the flat thing, the samlag thing. There we waited, trying to calm our panting breath.

The monsters shouted as they searched for us, giving us clues as to their progress. The unnatural pounding of their hind legs upon dry ground was itself a thing to set one’s teeth on edge. The noises would grow louder, then softer, as the monsters moved through the town.

“Ayu!” I said at last. “What have you done?”

To this he had nothing to say.

I continued. “You learned the blasphemous language. You broke the First Lesson. You have betrayed Dagon!”

For a long time, Ayu would not look at me. Finally, he turned to speak. He neither denied my accusation, nor blasphemed Dagon. Instead, he said something I did not expect, nor could understand.

“Owoë, I’ve seen something. Something … I can’t describe.”

That was idiotic. So much of this place was indescribable. But his pleading look made me wait.

“And I’ll bet,” he said, “You have seen it too. The first time, I was floating high above our city and the people receded to mere dots. I saw the undulations of the great weeds in the current, fading to pale green in the distance, and the world became filled with a—I don’t know. It’s like every object was transformed into a perfect copy of itself. The world is surrounded by … something. Maybe it’s magic. Maybe ‘sacred’ is the word.”

He continued. “In those times, I feel an emotion. Maybe it’s fear. It’s not like the fear we have of Dagon—although it is!—but it’s something … else. Do you know what I mean? I think you do! It’s the thing you fear, but want—I don’t know—to swim inside of. You want it to swallow you. You want it to touch you—”

I barked my contempt but he pressed on.

“It’s not disgusting. I had the same feeling as I watched the two creatures lie next to one another. Yes, I’ve come to this town before—many times! They are not monsters, they are not disgusting. They have something, a living thing, between them—”

“That’s filth!” I said. I could hear monstrous voices approaching outside.

“It’s real. You hear it in silence. You see it in the dark. These creatures have it, and I want it!”

I gagged and retched though my stomach was empty. Ayu was lost forever.

“And today, when they made the nattvard in the temple, I saw it again. Didn’t you? You must have. It is the Other—who is not Other!”

I struck Ayu. He struck back. We continued our fight even as we clawed our way out from under the flat thing. At that moment, the door opened. Ayu and I turned to face the monsters.

It was the younger priest, still wearing the clothing of its office. Another monster stood behind it and brandished a rod of blackened iron. They were the same monsters from the previous night. We had invaded their home and they would kill us.

Ayu got on his feet. He bent his legs to lower himself before the monsters. He stretched forth his hands, palms up.

Nattvard,” he said.

The monsters opened their mouths, but no words came out. Ayu had thrown them into confusion.

Nattvard.

The priest clenched its hand into a knobby fist and raised it to strike Ayu. The other monster restrained it and spoke in soft tones. The priest hesitated.

Nattvard,” said Ayu a final time, soft and pleading.

The priest raised its hand, but this time it was open and gentle. It traced the dread symbol of vertical and horizontal lines as it intoned words from its blasphemous liturgy:

Herren Jesus Kristus välsigne dig—”

Ayu watched, eyes bright with worshipful anticipation. His betrayal pierced me like a swordfish.

I struck Ayu without warning at the base of his skull. It was against all the laws but I acted without regret. He fell forward, unconscious.

“Dagon help me!” I shouted. The monsters leaped back. I swung at them, gouging deep marks in the door. They fled the house. I knew they would summon the others, and that I had seconds to make my escape.

“Dagon, help me defeat your enemies!” I called.

Dagon answered with an inspiration. I knew what to do.

I rolled Ayu onto his back. He came partly awake. I looked into his monster eyes, but they held no hate.

I slashed open his chest. I sank my teeth into his still-beating heart, and made a meal of the Other that had once been Ayu.

With blood dripping down my chest, with bellows of incoherent despair, I made for the water. The monsters wasted precious time arming themselves with iron tools. I believe they were more afraid of me than I of them. They caught up to me at the ridge above the water’s edge. I turned and shouted the name of my god at them. The old priest replied with some unknown blasphemy. Seeing I was leaving their world, they made no attempt to stop me. I slid and fell my way down the sand and then—wonderful, delicious escape!—I sank into the water where I most assuredly belonged.

***

I returned home. Of course I never told anyone what happened to Ayu. People assumed a shark got him. I said nothing about crossing the barrier.

Life goes on. I have found renewed fervor in my practice of religion. When the next cohort was ready for initiation, I eagerly volunteered to act as a sponsor. When I clamped shut the mouth of my initiate, I may have squeezed his jaws more firmly, and said the words, “Swallow it!” more insistently than was needful, but the youth could not possibly understand the stakes as I did.

In every way I have acted as a devout follower of our god. The priests have commended me before the people, but I take no comfort. I work and work so as to present myself before the altar as a perfect devotee, but the pollution of the visit to the dry land surrounds me like a bloody cloud and nothing I do will dissipate it.

And there are things that come to me in my dreams. I see the round, pallid wafer and the uplifted hand of the monstrous priest. I see the symbols on the temple in The Shelf, and in my nightmares they writhe and rearrange, spelling out ever-changing blasphemies. I hear those noxious words pronounced by the old priest. My imagination even conjures monsters lying upon one another in samlag, their alien bodies crossed horizontal upon vertical. And then, if I have not by that time woken in screams, I see the young priest’s hand extend to feed me the wafer and clamp my jaw shut, whereby, contrariwise to all that is right, the Other is impossibly transformed into that which is Not Other. And all the while I hear the voice of Ayu, which my dreamer’s ear can never shut out, murmuring with sweet seduction that hideous, hideous word: “Nattvard! … Nattvard! … Nattvard!



Frederick Gero Heimbach lives a pulp fiction life and takes notes. His family lives with him, warily, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Look for his novel The Devil's Dictum at Amazon and his short fiction in recent issues of Analog Science Fiction and Fact and Cirsova Magazine. He can be found on the internet and other realms of dubious corporeality as Fredösphere. He was the editor of the Protecting Project Pulp Podcast throughout its run.

Fans of H.P. Lovecraft will easily see the inspiration “The City Above The Shelf” gets from “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” and may draw from this story the lesson that, in the ambiguous, neither-both zone of the uncanny, the sublime and the horrible lie side by side, so close as to almost touch. Other readers, however, may prefer the much more concrete conclusion that Lutherans Are Evil and leave it at that.


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