I have learned first-hand that ancient creatures foul and furious lurk beyond our senses, as oblivious to us as we to them, awaiting only the focusing of perceptions for mutual recognition and the horrible consequences thereof. Once we see and are seen in turn, our only response is terror, and it was terror that I recognized in my friend Jeremy Reeves when I arrived at his workshop to hear about his observations of a particular blend of tobacco: From Beyond.
Where busy colleagues had once assisted him, Cornell & Diehl was now empty. "They disappeared three days ago," said Jeremy. "I believe we will not see them again." His eyes were darkly circled and he jumped at imperceptible sounds, looking over his shoulder as if to spy unseen barbed talons reaching from the strangely growing shadows.
I was appalled at his transformation, and alarmed at the sudden apprehension that engulfed me. Robust and confident only weeks before, he now scarcely filled the clothing that hung limply from his limbs. His once thick and impressive beard was patchy and stark-white, his smooth scalp was now tufted with sparse, coarse rivulets of hair dribbling across his skull, and his hands fidgeted and moved as if independent from his thoughts. Once resonant and baritone, his voice dryly rasped from his throat like rusted hinges protesting the effort.
Jeremy is among the most vital and energetic people I know, but something awful had happened. "You look bad," I said. "How about we step out for a vitamin or transfusion or something?"
"I've not slept for days and fear I am beyond help now. But there are greater concerns than my appearance to consider, perhaps the fate of our universe. And we can't leave anyway. It won't let us. Follow me."
What Jeremy wished of me, I couldn't guess, but he was intent on revealing some secret that was beyond the pitiable understanding of mere humans like ourselves. He sought to share his discovery but was frightened at the prospect, as if in disclosure he would risk both his soul and mine, yet he was powerless to remain silent, driven by some unseen provocation to confide a revelation of cosmic import.
A stainless steel blending table held a small mound of loose tobacco, and Jeremy led me to it. "Here it is," he said. "From Beyond, perhaps my greatest achievement. It was inspired by H.P. Lovecraft's work, and especially the short story of the same name. This tobacco is creamy and nuanced, with a distinct complexity that maintains long-term interest. It was quite popular at the 2019 Chicago pipe show, but I've discovered something about it, something bigger and more intense than anything I could have imagined. Step closer."
I somehow approached the tobacco, and though I knew it to be a delightful blend, my knees nearly locked in their desperation to carry me in any other direction, and I could feel every neuron firing panicked fight-or-flight signals. The walls of the room seemed to bend outward and my vision reeled with colors unimaginable, colors glowing sickly, green-but-not-green, yellow-but-not-yellow, the air around this exquisite tobacco bending the living light and coercing it to bleed into objects nearby, blurring their edges with somehow visible malignity. I could feel the radiating malevolence in throbbing waves, though it registered only in the back of my throat as a nauseously abhorrent pulsing as if a lump of meat had lodged behind my larynx and manifested a deranged heartbeat. A distant thrum in my ears pressured inward and compressed my brain as if imprisoning and prodding it, and my impression was that some malignity had attached itself to the tobacco and now sought to read my thoughts and turn them to its own use. My need to run was visceral, instinctive, my entire being pleading to leave my friend and save myself, but I remained, stupefied by fear, unable to indulge in self-preservation. I found my voice. "From Beyond. It's aptly named."
"I had no idea until recently just how apt."
"How is this possible?" I felt what seemed like a squelching tentacle stroke my back as if testing me for flavor, and I collapsed onto the floor with the conviction that I'd been transported into some excruciating night terror from which waking could be only a far-off dream.
Jeremy helped me to my feet. "It's the tobacco," he said. "It's From Beyond."
The walls of the workshop had receded, or at least they were less visible in the ghastly light, and the space gave the impression of vastness beyond rationality. The ceiling was no more, or was hopelessly high and obscured by churning air similar to angry clouds but living and writhing with translucent, eel-like forms. My limbs had stopped responding to the contractions of my muscles, which cramped under the inert tension.
"What am I seeing?" I asked. "This light, this dread, this space, it's parallel-dimension grotesquery. It's Lovecraftian." I looked at the mound of tobacco, and though I knew it to be motionless, it seemed to squirm and coil, twitch and uncoil, writhing in and out of visibility. "I suspect that we may die here today, Jeremy. We have to put this tobacco in a jar or a tin or a nuclear reactor. I can feel it observing us."
"I've tried. Look." Jeremy reached for the tobacco, his fingers poised to remove a pinch, but they passed through it as if holographic. I gasped and tried it myself. Tingling cold radiated up my arm when I reached into the mound, but my fingers too passed through, unable to touch a single strand. I felt the tabletop and it too was discorporate, my hand passing through it for a two-foot radius around the tobacco.
"It's getting worse," said Jeremy. "More intense every day. There's a passage from Lovecraft's short story, 'He': '... all the world is but the smoke of our intellects; past the bidding of the vulgar, but by the wise to be puffed out and drawn in like any cloud of prime Virginia tobacco.' We need wisdom now. We'll soon be overrun, and I fear it will spread to the rest of the world if we don't stop it. Try not to move more than is essential. My missing colleagues did not know to stay still. I heard their screams but found no sign of them, and hope they only fled. When we're this close to the tobacco, when we can see and sense things, they can see us too. The things in the void are attracted to movement. We've opened a door to a hideous world in which we are without hope. "
... all the world is but the smoke of our intellects; past the bidding of the vulgar, but by the wise to be puffed out and drawn in like any cloud of prime Virginia tobacco.
"We have to figure this out fast. I don't understand how such an exceptional tobacco can be so ... I mean, it's evil, right? We're agreed on that?"
"I've been retracing my steps," said Jeremy. "I've constructed and discarded hypothesis after hypothesis. Perhaps the blend is so elevated in excellence that it attracts evil influences, like with opposing electromagnetic fields."
"Opposites attract, right. Tell me how you developed this tobacco. Start from the beginning. What exactly is it?"
Talking about tobacco always animates Jeremy, even when he's worn and weary, and as he spoke he was more like his old self. It gave me some trace of hope.
"It's actually a blend that I created to be my impression of a very old tin of Dunhill Nightcap that I have — I don't know exactly how old, but it has a painted top, so probably from the '80s. Nightcap is a pretty stout blend, partly owing to the presence of a sturdy backbone of Perique. But the Virginia tobaccos they used also were in the upper nicotine range for their category. A lot of the time in older tins you don't have much nicotine, it mellows and loses a bit of its strength. This old tin was delicious and definitely strong. Every time I've smoked Nightcap it's been this way: very stout."
A leathery flying creature wobbled through the air and fluttered at Jeremy, mewling and diving, its fangs dripping with some pungent venom whose droplets sizzled on the floor as they spattered. Jeremy slapped it away and it tumbled into the dark. I began surveying the perimeter of our glowing pocket of light, ready to defend myself. Even through the terror, I was impressed that Jeremy had been able to replicate Nightcap, not as it was originally manufactured, but as it tastes when well-aged.
It's actually a blend that I created to be my impression of a very old tin of Dunhill Nightcap that I have — I don't know exactly how old, but it has a painted top, so probably from the '80s.
"The Virginias and the Perique both have their part to play. I incorporated a certain amount of dark air-cured tobacco that would nestle in nicely with the Perique, which is also dark air-cured but barrel-aged, and the air-cured would lend the Perique a little more of a kick to bolster the low-nicotine Latakia."
"So that's how you found that balance," I said, and batted away a swollen and veiny eye stalk that had slithered between us. "I've always thought it was remarkable."
"Thanks, it took some time to define that equilibrium. The Latakia provides a lot of flavor, but everything in the blend is providing flavor, and I think one of the reasons that Nightcap is so popular is because it's as strong as it is flavorsome. It's typical that Latakia is very pronounced in flavor, and it may give the impression of strength because of that, but it's thin on the nicotine side. So the Perique helps, and this is real, 100 percent St. James Perique, not a Green River composite."
I became aware of a skittering sound approaching and looked down to see a rat-like thing the size of a dog with a tail resembling that of a possum but with razor-sharp protuberances along its length. Jeremy reached out with his foot and kicked it away, and it cried out and whipped its tail at me as it flew. It did not draw blood, but it cleaved a surgical incision in the leg of my jeans from which immediately spread a black, tar-like substance. I used my pocket knife to remove the pants leg and threw it a few feet away, where it roiled and bubbled on the floor, and soon oozed away from us with amoebic mobility, fading from view as it squelched into the shadows.
"It was a struggle to find the optimum flavors; I was really working with my components to find what piece of the puzzle was missing. It took some time; I think I worked on the blend for a couple of months before finding my eureka moment. It's rich and smoky and has a profound Perique character. It has a little sweetness dancing in and out, but the sweetness is dark. There is very little to the sort of upper register of the flavors. It's very dark and very dense. It tastes like nighttime. It tastes like shadows in the woods."
From Beyond is a crossover blend, an addendum to The Old Ones series but released as a Small Batch offering because of the rarity of its components. "The Old Ones series comprises all sorts of odd flavor pairings, unconventional in one way or another," said Jeremy. "Their inspiration is in the writings of H.P. Lovecraft. He was a pretty strange sort of character with a really strange vision of the world and its possibilities. He had a fantastic way of storytelling and a fantastic voice for telling horrifying stories. I'm a fan of his writings, and Matthew Johnson, the director of C&D, is as well, so the Old Ones series was born of a mutual appreciation of Lovecraft's work. We wanted to create pipe tobaccos that were simultaneously as pleasurable and strange as we found his writing to be."
"It appears you've succeeded in excess."
"That's for sure. We've obviously gone too far." A tongue, forked like a snake's and as wide as a sidewalk, uncurled from the living sky and licked Jeremy from knee to scalp, leaving his left side dripping with slime. He wiped his face with his other sleeve. "I thought the name From Beyond worked nicely because it was using available ingredients to recreate a flavor of tobacco that was tinned several decades ago. I was enjoying that tin and trying to use current tobaccos to get the flavor as close to what I was experiencing as possible."
"Who do you think would be interested in this blend, Jeremy, leaving aside its unfortunate interdimensional attributes?"
"I imagine anybody who likes old Dunhill blends, and anyone who likes blends like Bayou Night or Quiet Nights would probably enjoy this. But I also think people who are more occasional Latakia smokers might find it especially good after a meal. That's when I smoke it most: evenings after dinner."
The Old Ones series was born of a mutual appreciation of Lovecraft's work. We wanted to create pipe tobaccos that were simultaneously as pleasurable and strange as we found his writing to be.
"Despite its flavorsome profile, there may be complaints if it opens portals to other dimensions populated by monsters. We have to understand these phenomena before the release date. That's soon, right?"
"Tuesday, September 21. We have little time."
"How do you suppose it's doing this, how has it tapped into these other dimensions?"
"I've been working on that. I think it's such a fantastic, creamy, flavorful tobacco, so wonderfully balanced, that it opens itself to evil influences, and more important, I think it's a matter of specific proportions."
"Proportions?" I noticed that a deep, rhythmic, seismic pounding was approaching, vibrating the floor as if a gigantic primordial beast were lumbering toward us. "I don't understand."
"My grandad told me a story when I was young," said Jeremy. "He read an article in a science magazine about these physicists experimenting with geometric shapes, adding pieces and changing the shape until it just suddenly disappeared. It vanished when the last piece was placed, and it was surmised that the shape and the proportions of the different elements had transported it to another dimension. It fascinated my grandad and he tried to call the magazine to contact the author. The magazine did not exist. He was told it never existed. He said, 'That's impossible, I have a copy here.' The same day, two black-suited men arrived at his door, saying they were census takers. When they left, the magazine was gone. He was never able to find it again and no evidence exists. I think that somehow, in From Beyond, I happened upon another set of proportions that also opened a portal."
The ground was rumbling, the rhythm of gigantic approaching creatures roiling beneath us like tectonic plates in motion. "So you think the cause of this mayhem is a combination of the exact tobaccos you've chosen in the exact proportions you've developed?"
"Yes: genuine St. James Perique, Eastern North Carolina Red Virginias from 2017, Bright Canadian Virginias from 2017, Cypriot Latakia, Turkish Izmir from 2018, and Greek Basma from 2019, all in precise ratios."
"Wait, are you saying that we need to change the proportions?"
"What?" said Jeremy, alarmed. "Absolutely not. We're not changing this recipe; it's exactly right. We need to find something else, and we can't touch the tobacco, anyway; it's in another plane of existence. What's odd is that we've made this blend before and nothing like this has happened. We're missing something."
We both thought for a moment and an idea occurred to me. "How long has this tobacco been sitting out?"
"I don't know what day today is, but probably a week. It's just a sample I was working with, and I left it too long because I was called away for the weekend. When I got back, it was like this; I couldn't move it."
"The tobacco has been sitting out, so it's been gradually drying, and bizarre activity has increased as it has continued to dry. What if the missing puzzle piece is humidity?"
... Genuine St. James Perique, Eastern North Carolina Red Virginias from 2017, Bright Canadian Virginias from 2017, Cypriot Latakia, Turkish Izmir from 2018, and Greek Basma from 2019.
Jeremy raised his head, and life reentered his eyes. "That's the variable I was missing! Moisture content! It must have been gradually losing humidity, and like a key in a lock, when that level was low enough it turned the tumbler and opened a rift between dimensions. I couldn't feel the tobacco because it's no longer on this plane, so I didn't think about humidity. But how do we add moisture if we can't touch it?"
"It must be on the other side of the portal, which seems to be this table."
Jeremy reached his hand into the void surrounding the tobacco. "I have to go through," he said. He grabbed a spray bottle of distilled water.
"I'm going too," I said.
"No, you have to stay here and pull me out when the portal begins to close. I'll put just my head and arms through." The rumbling of approaching doom was now dominating the space around and beneath us, and wild screeches punctuated the reverberation, screeches that we recognized through our enhanced senses as parasitic birds flapping in the near distance, growing closer. We had perhaps seconds before our deaths would be before us. Jeremy plunged his head and torso through the portal.
He was motionless. I felt around the perimeter of the portal and noted that it was quickly contracting. Jeremy must have found the tobacco on the other side and started misting it, but he would soon be trapped, half in this world and half in the other. Just before the portal closed I grabbed his belt and pulled him back through. The spray bottle in his hand was sliced cleanly in half by the resolidified stainless steel.
As we both fell to the floor, the artificial lighting flickered and came back on, and the noxious odors, distant roars, and squelching echoes of monsters from beyond were extinguished. Now only the savory and pleasurable scent of From Beyond reached our senses, easing the horror we had just survived. We were in the Cornell & Diehl blending room as we had always known it.
"What was on the other side?" I asked.
Jeremy shook his head. "I can't talk about it. It was horrible beyond description and I was nearly incapacitated by terror. It was ... no, I think I'll never be able to describe it. I think I'll never want to."
It's very dark and very dense. It tastes like nighttime. It tastes like shadows in the woods.
I noted that Jeremy's physical appearance was already improving. Our first instinct was to load our pipes directly from the blending table and share a smoke, and no smoke has been more enjoyable, no accompanying peacefulness more welcome. Perhaps the contrast with our harrowing experience heightened our appreciation, but we agreed that the blend was superb. And it did wonders for Jeremy. After a day, he was his usual dynamic self. Few experiences are as restorative as a good smoke.
This delicious, potentially monstrous tobacco will soon be unleashed on the world and we can only hope that everyone will keep it appropriately humidified, not only to preserve its satisfying flavor profile but to avert a universal cataclysm. Should any become too dry, its superlative flavor will be affected, as with all tobaccos, and that would be a tragic waste of exceptional tobacco. In addition, its proportions in conjunction with an inadequate moisture level may once again open a portal and our entire dimension of existence could implode into a gruesome hellscape that will devour humanity and sweep Earth from its orbit. But it's a smoking experience that's worth that risk. From Beyond is too enjoyable to deprive ourselves of, even to save the world.