By Luke Frostick
MY BROTHER BÜLENT was a troubled man. He spent his last few years shuffling round Istanbul, making enemies of any- body who cared to speak to him, hanging around in disreputable coffee shops and drinking far too much raki. It was no great surprise when news came through that he’d put the barrel of his Luger P08 in his mouth and pulled the trigger.
Before this ultimate farewell I’d said goodbye to him twice - first when he went to America to study at Miskatonic University, and then when he went off to fight in the Great War.
He was sent off to the east of Anatolia to fight the Russians for the Sultan and the Ottoman Empire. What he saw in the mountains left him a changed man and afterwards he was a constant nuisance. He had dark and conspiratorial ideas about
the war, the way it was run and the men who had orchestrated it. He would tell these stories round the table and frighten our elderly mother half to death. One could not have a rational conversation with him; his speech would descend into a series of rants about Enver Pasha or Colonel Hafiz Hakki Bey and their allegiance to dark powers set against the Prophet and the Turkish people.
He considered these men guilty of collusion with dark powers and insisted on pursuing them to lengths far beyond what most would call rational. He spent a considerable amount of time in prison for possessing illegal propaganda, meeting with dissident groups, and all manner of other infractions. He was denounced by two different imams for his “unnatural” speeches. I even heard it said that he was arrested in Germany trying to break into the house of Mehmet
Talaat Pasha, the ex grand vizier, an interior minister for the deposed Sultan. He made trouble for himself everywhere he went, asking questions about a war that everybody else wanted to forget.
No, it wasn’t a surprise when news of his suicide came through. A policeman came to my house to tell us of his death. I knew he had a room in an old Greek apartment block in Tarlabasi living with servants and destitute refugees from across the defunct Empire. I really didn’t want anything to do with him, but he was my brother, and after much pleading from my mother I agreed to go and deal with what little property might be left.
Standing in the grubby little apartment, I saw that there was not much to do. I gathered up what clothes he had, intending to donate them to a charity, and I put his old revolver in my handbag, intending to throw it into the Bosphorus.
I was expecting to find papers—he was the kind of man who was never without a notebook, and could often be found in the coffee shops of Taksim scribbling with a manic look in his eyes. Excluding the little bits and pieces that I found in his fireplace (I’ll include them below), the only writings left were on a few leafs of paper. No correspondences or anything of that nature; I doubt anybody called him friend in the last few years of his life. The papers that I did find mostly pertained to his time in the war late in 1915. I don’t know if they were left behind by accident or design, but I present them to you now to give some insight into the upset mind of the man whom I once called my brother.
The Caucasus Mountains have been likened to a fortress, and when I was there, they were a fortress, occupied by the Tsar’s army. That’s where my brave boys and I were sent. The plan, conceived by Envar Pasha, the Ottoman Minister of War, was simple: cross the mountains and take the city of Karz. The Pasha came personally to direct the army, removing the local commanders and putting his own men in charge. He believed that when his army crossed the hills the long-suffering local Muslim minorities would rebel against the Russian oppressors and we’d push all the way to the oil-rich Caspian. Knocking Russia out of the Great War, ensuring victory for the central powers and restoring the dignity of the Ottoman Empire.
I was a soldier in the X corps of the Third Army. We marched up into those mountains unaware of what awaited us. We expected the enemy Russian soldiers to be ferocious and numerous —but, instead, all we found were merciless mountains, frozen roads, wind- swept plateaus, snow and ice.
Our first objective was the railhead at Sarikamish. We would pin the enemy down and encircle them. With a large part of the Russian Caucasus army away fighting in the forests of Prussia, it was supposed to have been easy pickings. However, as we got closer the Russian border looked more and more impregnable.
I was fortunate I suppose, as a student in America I had gotten very used to the northwesterly winds. I had snow boots and a big great coat from those days to huddle inside as the snow enveloped us.
Most of the men were not so lucky. They wore summer uniforms and sandals in which they waded through the snowdrifts. The mountain trails quickly became slushy quagmires that horses, men, and artillery all had to be dragged through.
The supplies we were lugging around quickly ran out. The Third Army was stretched out over nine hundred miles with only one train line to resupply us, and we were quickly reduced to a meager diet of dried bread and olives.
The Quran tells us that hell is hot, but I tell you that it is cold. We marched as boldly as we could but the landscape stood against us, seemingly sentient— and somehow malevolent. We were blasted by the coldest of winds and no man made it through without frostbite. Some were burned so badly that they needed amputation, and without good doctors they died in the snow or under a butcher’s knife. At night we would make camp and the officers would take any houses or huts in the local villages for themselves, leaving the men to find what shelter they could out amongst the pines. We huddled together, each of us wondering if the man we clung to for warmth would die during the night—or if it would be us instead. We hadn’t even reached the mountains yet.
Before I went to sleep I would smoke one of my increasingly valuable cigarettes and look up at the sky. I was not a particularly religious man but in des- peration I would ask Allah, “Why am I here? Why have you inflicted such suffering on your people?” I would pray that we would retreat, abandon the campaign and return to Erzurum. Every night I would see only the blackness between the stars and listen to a foul, wordless voice on the wind. Every morning there would be only one order—advance!
On the twenty-sixth of December we got our first glimpse of the enemy. We had been marching for fourteen hours when a blizzard hit us, the wind and snow lashing our already frozen bodies. With the snows came the Russians, their rifles and machine guns firing from out of the wall of white. The sound of their gunfire had a kind of blasphemous rhythm quite at odds with the howling of the wind from the storm.
We returned fire as best we could. I heard tell that in the confusion other regiments ended up firing on their own comrades. I find it amazing that we were able to fire at all. The mechanisms of our rifles were frozen almost solid and our fingers so cold that it hurt to even touch the metal. As quickly as it had started, the firing ended and the Russians withdrew into the trees and snow.
We sank down into the snow trying to rest for a minute but the officers were amongst us getting us up onto our feet and marching again.
“Come on, lads,” they told us. “The storm’s breaking and the Russians are running. Push on, on your feet!” Some of us did. Some weren’t able to. They were left behind.
The officers were wrong about the storm breaking. We trudged onward into its renewed fury, and it took our men far more efficiently than any Russian sniper fire.
It took twenty-one hours to cross eight miles. The cold sunk into our bones, and even now I don’t think it will ever truly leave me. I listened as I trudged to the sound of our steps and the whipping of the wind. Above it all, entwined with it, was another sound soft like a lover breathing out, “Iä, iä, iä, iä...”
The 27th of December, 1914 is a day that I will never forget, a day that can’t be forgotten. The memory sits on me like a hangover that no amount of morphine can ease.
The storm had finally broken, the sky was clear, and the clean air stung our lungs with cold as we breathed it through our improvised scarfs. The officers got us into lines and gave the order—forward!
Up we marched, into the peaks of the Alahhakubah Mountains. The irony of that name has stuck in my mind, for God may be great but he certainly wasn’t watching us. That was the task of other powers.
Forward. A thinking man might ask why we followed that suicidal order, why we didn’t sit down, retreat, or kill our officers in mutiny. Numbness is the only answer I can give—we were numb to hunger, to cold, to fear of Cossack sabers. It was like we had fallen under a spell that reduced us to the level of goats. Looking back now, I wonder if that’s precisely what had happened.
We marched up into the snowy peaks. In more places than not, the march became a wade as the snows grew deeper and deeper. The wind was stiff and frozen. The higher we climbed, the more ferocious it became.
We marched in single file. I was in the rear, watching my comrades. Two columns of people could be seen: one slowly moving up the mountain, and one stationary. The farther up the mountain I looked, the fewer men could be seen in the moving column. I climbed past thousands of my fellows who’d simply collapsed to die in the snow, frozen rifles still clutched in their frostbitten hands. I sometimes regard them as the lucky ones, those who stopped and died with a little dignity, at least. The minds of others went before the frost took them. I passed men screaming to Allah, smashing their frozen fists to bloody pulp on the rocks, crying into banks of snow. I saw one man hunched with the barrel of his pistol between his teeth futilely trying to fire the frozen mechanism. Mad- ness, it seems, was no defense against the cold—they joined the second column soon enough.
After the war, I learned that ninety percent of our division had perished— 15,000 men. Wasted. Sacrificed, some might say—in hope of victory. I use that word, sacrificed, deliberately.
No. There was no victory for us. But was there something else—a purpose behind all that senseless death? Were we delivered up to those mountains as a feast?
During my time in comfortable studies and drawing rooms at university in Massachusetts, I had dabbled in the occult. It was quite in fashion at the time, and I was able to delight my fellow scholars by reading from the dread Necronomicon in its original Arabic. I thought it was just a lark at the time.
But as I climbed those mountains, I heard the words of the Necronomicon again. I heard it above the shrieks of the mad, the groans of the dying, the silence of the dead, and the wind that shivered with the words, “Iä! Iä! Shubb- Niggurath, Iä! Iä! Shubb-Niggurath.”
“The black goat of the woods with a thousand young,” I finished the chant, the words coming unbidden from be- tween my frozen lips.
We did make it to Sarikamish, but the fighting was almost over. Although they hadn’t had it as bad as us, the IX Corps had met far stiffer Russian resistance than they were expecting. The Russians were formidably dug in with artillery, winter gear and experienced mountaineers. The men of the IX pinned all their hopes on our men of the X Corps cutting off the town and reinforcing them. They weren’t to know that most of us were dead, and that those who remained could barely stand on their frostbitten feet. They weren’t to know that they, like us, were just a sacrifice to a bloodthirsty deity quite outside the grace of Allah.
I can’t recall the next few days in much detail. I think that memory has a cap for suffering and I had broken through mine. Our commanders pushed us on to take the fight to the Russians, who were by then well en- trenched in the town, the local villages and the forests around us. What little artillery we had dragged up the mountain roads was hopelessly outgunned by the Russians, and it quickly became clear that we hadn’t surrounded them. They were surrounding us.
In the snow with little more to think about than the cold and the guns of the Russians creeping closer, we waited for the mad orders of our officers— attack.
It was in those dark days before the beginning of the retreat on the 7th of January that I got to thinking. Although I hadn’t heard the voice again, I couldn’t forget it. It rattled around my mind like a stone in a shoe, causing me increasing anguish. I remembered the words I had read in Arkham—the stories of mass sacrifice to unthinking gods—and the conspiracy became clear to me. We were led into these mountains to be the consumed like the meat in some black iftar. I looked at our generals in a new light. The three Pashas in Istanbul, the Beys and Pashas in command of our troops—knowingly or not, they were all pawns in the cultists’ game.
In the snow, in the bitter cold, I made a promise to myself that I would survive. The Russians wouldn’t capture me, and I wouldn’t add my body to Shubb-Niggurath’s feast. I would re- turn to Istanbul. Suffering and death on the scale I’d witnessed had to have a reason. I vowed to return to Istanbul and reveal it for the entire world to see. And in revealing the truth, I would claim justice for my fallen friends, the brave boys of the X Corps.
That was the longest piece of writing that I found in Bülent’s apartment. I feel that it goes a long way toward explaining the way he saw the world. The next set of papers I retrieved from the fireplace. I don’t think that there is much information to be gleaned from them, but here they are, nonetheless:
Dark, winds, snow and ice an evocation.
led me to a meeting with a Greek by the name of Ambrus. He was supposed to have had access to Dolmabahçe
to pay will result
Bülent Bey, please do not write to the War Office again. We have been most tolerant with you. We will not be again in the future.
ritual of Hirs can bring a ruh emici onto our plain, what could a sacrifice of over ten thousand bring through
Impossible, the amount of equipment required to work on that scale would have been huge. I scoured those mountains for weeks and found nothing, not even the slightest sign that there had been any construction there. Besides, who would have built it? The Russians were occupying those hills, unless this was planned years in advance, unless
court hearing will be
Comrad Bülent, following your letter I was, like you, eager to prove collaboration between the tsarist pigs and the sultan’s minions but unfortunately dear
Mahzun the warlock has failed me, miserable goat
again, it is almost impossible for me to move around there anymore and if the police find either of us again we will be imprisoned. All the villages are full of CHP men looking for Armenian rebels. Anybody buying mountaineering gear will be arrested.
connection between Ahmet Fevzi Pasa and the siyah witch cult seems tenuous at best.
I think they are much like his mind, as he got closer to the end, like a shattered byzantine mosaic. He devoted his life to constantly chasing this amorphous theory of his, hoping that if it evolved enough he would be proven right. There was one more document left on his desk. I wasn’t going to include it with the others because it was in an envelope addressed to me. He clearly felt that he couldn’t send it and I doubt he ever thought I’d come to his dingy little room; he may well have hoped I’d stay away. I feel it is another important glimpse into the circumstances surrounding his death. It simply reads:
My dear sister,
I’m sorry for the trouble I must have caused you. I was wrong. My investigations have taken me to every corner of the world. I’ve seen things I never thought I’d see. I’ve spoken to cultists and devils, searching for proof that we died as a sacrifice to the Elder Gods, but I was wrong. There was never a cult up there with us in the mountains. We died for nothing.
This story first appeared in The Audient Void: A Journal of Weird Fiction and Dark Fantasy.