By Michael Reyes
Published in Weird Tales #360 | 7,534 words
Image by Danielle Tunstall
It’s late July when I get the letter. Hand in my mailbox fishing around for the latest Netflix and Con Ed bill when I pull out a burgundy envelope with the name Robert Blake written on it in jagged script. Specialist Blake of 2-37 1st Armor Division … we were stationed in Freiburg ten years back, went to the Middle East together during the first year of the war. He’s been a distant memory since then. To the best of my knowledge completely out of circulation since the middle of the last decade. No family. No close friends. No trace of him on any social networking sites … last thing anybody heard was that he was out of the service and living in Rotterdam with some woman.
I walk upstairs to my cramped studio apartment. I turn on the lights, then collapse onto my green bean bag. I open the letter and the heavy scent of Paprika wafts out. It reminds me of Baghdad street vendor food and scorching Iraqi heat. I read –
Long time no hear. I’m back state side. Been living abroad this entire time. The sights I’ve seen … THE SIGHTS I’VE SEEN! In Wyoming now. Come on out to visit me. All expenses paid … because I’m independently wealthy! I’m not kidding. Will get you caught up when I see you. We can go backpacking in The Red Desert and take psychedelics. Trippy man …The Blue Bus is calling us! It’ll be fun. Just like old times in Amsterdam. Shrooms and William Burroughs’s Dream Machine! I got one. Lets make it happen!
P.S. If you’re wondering how I found you it’s because you’re easy to find.
P.P.S. My phone number is on the back of the letter along with something else. Turn it over.
I turn the gray construction paper over. On the top left hand corner is a stapled plane ticket. There’s a sharply drawn map of an area called the Kill Pecker Dunes in the middle of the paper. A small illustration of a smiley face with two devil horns on the bottom left hand corner and what looks like an inverted Ankh underneath it …
I place the letter down and go to my fridge to get a beer. I crack it; take a heavy swig – look the letter over again. Blake has always been a strange guy. Only time he ever seemed normal was when he was tripping. He was a great tank mechanic but kind of a space cadet at the same time. Never knew if you were going to get manic chatter or dead silence. We were born the same year on the same day, and we both loved 60’s Prog Rock and psychedelics, though my interests were just recreational … Blake’s were not. He read books about mind expansion and the occult; he believed psilocybin allowed access to other dimensions. We were the only soldiers from North of the Dixon line in our platoon. I think he was from Providence, Rhode Island. An interesting guy, kind of a head case, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy his company. We traveled around Holland with some buddies from our battalion the weekend before we deployed to Kuwait and partied like our lives depended on it. When I lined up in formation Monday morning I was still tripping hard enough to see indigo trails kissing the brow of our Brigade Commander as he called us to attention then sent us off to war.
I tap my bottle again and examine the inverted Ankh. I remember riding into Baghdad after a 22-hour convoy. The starving refugees … One young boy watched me sternly as I pointed my M-16 at the beggars, directing them away from my Hemmet … the silent child had a red inked tattoo of the inverted Ankh under his left eye …
I banish the memory, down the beer and light up a joint as I sink into my beanbag, all the while trying to visualize exactly where Wyoming is on the map. I can’t. Exhaling the smoke I decide I’m going to visit Blake and take mushrooms with him at a place called The Red Desert.
In between gulps of tasteless airline lasagna I think about the wasted years I’ve spent trying to create a life for myself back home. Nothing sticks, I go in and out of each day like a confused extra on a low budget movie set, knowing every second the camera will never roll long enough to capture me. No contact with family. They’ve frozen me in their minds in Class A uniform and put me out of their hearts after seeing what I’ve come back as. Maybe just because I’ve come back, guilty of fighting in a war that’s produced no summer blockbuster movies or ticker tape parades. It’s been menial jobs and one-night stands that shouldn’t have even gotten beyond bar bathrooms, friendships that rely on virtual status updates … I wouldn’t change any of it, though I don’t know why. I don’t know my mind that well any more. Sometimes it seems like I’m thinking someone else’s thoughts. My own name seems strange in my mouth so I no longer say it.
I finish the lasagna and sleep falls over me.
I’m walking with Blake down a street in Amsterdam. We look at the naked prostitutes standing behind glass in the red light district. They press their bodies against the windows and call us; their voices sizzle, acid rain splashing across a rancid pool’s surface. I try to leap through the window of one whore with giant breasts, but Blake holds me back. He points at her cloven hooves and filthy goat legs, the fur caked in dry shit. I look up at her face and see a hexagonal hole … the eyes, nose and lips strung loosely along the edges of the opening. Blake pulls me away from the thing. He shows me a yellow metal box he’s carrying. Its covered with pictures of bizarre creatures … he tells me he’s learned all of their names. They’re his to command. The city pavement gives way to desert sand and I see a platoon lined up in formation a few yards away. We watch quietly.
They stand at attention for the tattooed Iraqi child as if he were their company commander … He raises and drops his left hand. The soldiers fall to the sand, begin slithering on their stomachs like snakes. They rip their clothes off while piling on top of each other, screaming joyfully as they mutilate one another. In this dream I see it all and understand everything–
The sands scream the insane song of a half broken flute. The blind anarchy of Azathoth, its black lunacy wailing for primal stillborn death across the other side of creation’s void.
The child has changed its face. The head of a dark-skinned man with the same tattoo under his eye sits on top of the small boy’s neck. He raises his hand and the mad soldiers rise … cheering loudly as they rip each other apart in an orgy of blood.
Blake shakes his head and laughs. He points feverishly to the box he’s gripping, speaking to me with words I can’t understand. He takes a weird egg-shaped black crystal out of the box and there’s a pleading look in his eyes. When he opens his mouth, again the name Nyarlathotep is sent plunging into my mind.
When I wake up, the plane is experiencing slight turbulence and I’m about to vomit. I fight the airline lasagna back down as thick drops of sweat cascade off my chin onto my clenched, bone-white hands. I blink heavily and feel a strange haze wrap itself around my mind. It coils behind my eyes as plane meets runway and I shake my head wearily as we set down in Rock Springs, Wyoming.
Under a dozen people at baggage claim. The airport employees who stare at me like I plan to burn their ranches down and make off with their steer titter totter around the place like mannequins undergoing electric shock therapy. I’m wearing a red Hawaiian shirt, green camouflage pants and desert-issued army boots. I reclaim my huge camping backpack; take a snack out from one of its pockets. I snap into a Slim Jim and wink at a petite blonde who passes by like a figure skater on sandpaper.
She blushes crimson, chucks a brown-toothed smile at me. I walk out of the airport feeling like a million bucks.
Blake’s waiting for me in front of a black Ford pickup truck. Looking younger than the last time I saw him, sandy blonde hair pushed back on top of his large head. His algae-green eyes flash brightly for a moment, his mouth does something close to a smile. We shake hands. He looks me up and down.
“Hey buddy. What’s up with the Hawaiian shirt? We ain’t in Honolulu. This is cowboy country.”
“Only clean shirt I have.”
“Good to see you’re still trying.”
“You couldn’t pick me up in a Benz? You said you were rich.”
“Lexus is in the shop.”
“You need to catch up on some sleep? There’s a hotel along the way that will put us up for nothing. I’m screwing the owner’s daughter. She’s podunk as hell.”
The strange nightmare flashes briefly. The name Nyarlathotep remains.
“No, that’s fine. I got some sleep.”
“A fucking Hawaiian shirt,” he says as he shakes his head and opens the driver’s door. I get into the passenger seat.
“There isn’t much sightseeing to do around here, so I guess we’ll be on our way.”
He hits the gas and we accelerate, on our way.
When Blake tells me how he made his fortune we’re pushing 70 on an empty stretch of I-90. We pass a herd of wild horses on a distant butte as they thunder along on parched red soil. The sagebrush hugging the edges of the road look like they crept out of a John Wayne movie still, and somewhere not too far I’m sure ghosts on the Oregon trail continue a spectral exodus past fierce Shoshone.
“Diaz? He was a Warrant Officer in HHC. Remember him? Short, gray- haired guy.”
“I ran into him in Amsterdam about a year after I left the army. Tells me he got a job working for a military contractor back in Iraq.”
I nod quietly as we roll on past an oil field. A hundred-foot-high derrick stands like a corrupt and solitary skyscraper in a land of dirt and open sky.
“At the time I wasn’t really doing much besides wasting the money in my savings account and living with some chick I wasn’t really all that into. Diaz tells me he can get me a job as a mechanic for the PMF. Tells me its big money. In a month I’m out of Holland and working for Stalwart Securities, back in Baghdad.”
Blake pauses, points at the glove compartment. “Want a shroom? I take a gnarled brown top out of a zip lock bag and devour it.
“So I’m in Baghdad working as a mechanic but all the while I feel like I should be doing something a bit more active, you know? Diaz mentions the raids I went on in ’03 to management and in about six months time I’m organizing security convoys for puppet government people all over the country. Making good money. When I get sent to Tikrit a year later I’m told I’ll be doing something a bit more exciting then playing chauffeur for Hajji.”
I can feel the psilocybin begin to work its magic. The sun’s rays reflect strangely off of the silver sagebrush as Prickly Pear cactus grin at me. Bands of brown desert elk zoom past us at incredible speed, perhaps chased by the ancient spirit of some long dead predator. Serpentine clouds slither across the blue sky; a pale ghost moon hovers nearly as transparent as a spider web near the blunt sun’s radiance.
“Our boss gives us a list. He tells us the people on it made off with some very important artifacts when the museums were looted first year of the war. He wants us to get them back.”
“So you could return them to the museum –- ”
He laughs. “Fuck no. So they could be sold to personal collectors for millions of dollars. Stalwart Securities worked something out with C.P.A., who in turn worked something out with D.O.D. All the pieces were in place and everyone involved would come out with full bellies and clean as a whistle if we pulled it off. Most of the artifacts were swiped up by ass backwards-Iraqi peasants … they had no idea what they had and how much it was worth. The first five names on the list were like that. Easy. All we had to do was toss them a few dollars and they were more than happy to part with the pieces. Wasn’t like that with the last guy on the list, though …”
Blake pauses and reaches into the glove compartment. Pulls out a mushroom, nearly swallows it whole.
“Seyeed Mahmood. He lived in a heavily guarded two-story house close near Mosul. No simple payout – we had to rush his compound and kill all of his bodyguards. We tied him to a chair in his kitchen and beat him, but he wouldn’t tell us where the artifacts were. Turned the house upside down, eventually found a large door in the basement hidden behind a rotting armoire. Fucking place looked like a dungeon. There were weird symbols painted all over the walls. My teammate started dismantling the door and I saw something moving slowly out of the corner of my eye. It was a huge camel spider. It stopped walking and it kind of leered at me, then its mouth pincers started moving really fast, shit, it was surreal. The hairy bristles on its yellow body were a blur; it was gyrating really fast … I stomped the shit out of it. When the steel door fell I turned around and almost screamed … there were a dozen camel spiders nearly pressed up against my teammate’s back. I raised my rifle and they receded all at once into the shadows in one really quick motion …I wiped my eyes and when he said, ‘That should do it,’ the basement’s light bulb shattered. We turned on our flashlights, raised our M-4’s and walked through the darkness … Bright lights flashed on and we were in a large room with furniture that looked like it belonged in a castle. We couldn’t believe our eyes. Persian carpeting with a huge lacquered mahogany table in the center with all sorts of gemstones on it. All over the floor were half open chests with jewelry spilling out. There were gold crosses, coins and pendants … There were other stranger; older looking objects as well … some that had the weird glyphs from the basement wall on them. We found the items we were searching for quickly, they were near the entrance of the door next to a tapestry that depicted Jesus praying to his own image. It was by the blasphemous pictures of Mohammed that I found the really bizarre shit. A half open chest with a pentagram engraved on its top. Deformed figurines inside of it carved out of Red Jasper and Cinnabar … they weren’t human or animal but a combination of both and I could feel them staring at me with an intelligence that belonged to neither … a black music box that opened to show a leprous Jesus on a spinning inverted crucifix. There were old books that looked like they were bound in flesh with locks that would require keys I never even thought could exist. I found a yellow metal box covered with strange pictures …”
Blake stops himself short, glances at me and smirks. My eyes feel watery, my mind hazy.
After a moment he says: “My co workers and I decided this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to get rich and never look back. We’d return the artifacts we were ordered to, and split the rest. Figured it’d be best to kill Seyeed and burn the house down. We passed him in the kitchen as he watched us steal his fortune. There was a camel spider the size of a small rat perched on his shoulder. He didn’t seem to care. We spread gasoline all around the house. We started the blaze and when we passed by Seyeed once again he was …”
Blake stops. He twitches hard. “He was covered in them … There must have been over a hundred of those fucking things on him. They were biting and tearing … Seyyed didn’t scream. I shot him in the head. The spiders seemed to slide off of him onto the floor. We splashed gasoline all over his corpse, struck the match and left.”
Blake takes another shroom out of the glove box and munches on it.
“We’re almost there,” he says between chomps.
“So you guys got away with it?”
“If they got caught, neither snitched because nothing came back to me. We brought what we were supposed to, got promotions and vacation time. I took my stuff to somebody I got hooked up with while I was on leave in Vienna. Cashed out at about 5 mill. I decided to keep a few artifacts, though … After I returned to work I found out the others never came back from vacation. I waited two months, then put in my final two weeks. Left Iraq for the last time.”
“Wow,” I say after a moment of silence, “that sounds like a bunch of bullshit. The whole story.”
Blake laughs. “But you know it isn’t, right?”
The haze coiled behind my eyes swirls around my mind. I nod at him quietly, but I say, “Camel spiders, huh? The size of rats? I’m not high enough to believe that. Multi-Millionaire? With your fucking Indiana Jones story. Please.”
He takes out his wallet and tosses it at me.
I pull out an American Express Centurion credit card. I laugh.
“I want to see a million-dollar bill. Then I’ll believe you.”
I toss his wallet into the backseat.
“Why did you move out here? You can live anywhere in the world.”
“This land is special. It has a certain energy.”
“Yeah. And I’m not just talking about the oil deposits. Ley lines. Spiritual energy.”
“We’re talking crystal magic and Deepak Chopra?”
“The dream machine we’re going to use is one of the artifacts I kept.”
He motions towards the back of the truck. “It’s Babylonian.”
“Is it in good enough condition to spin at 78 rpms on a record player?”
“Yeah. I’ve done it before. And let me tell you …. The shit you see …”
Blake trails off. He stares ahead blankly. After a moment –
“You have to see it for yourself. I’m pretty sure Burroughs and Gysin never saw anything like this. It’s going to be the most important thing you’ve ever seen in your entire life.”
When we first spot her she’s walking with great effort and it seems like she’s about to collapse. Her blonde ponytail swings lethargically over her ripped green backpack. Her face expresses neither surprise nor relief when we pull up next to her. She’s beautiful. Heart-shaped face and full lips, brows that arch over large electric blue eyes. She tells us her name is Trudy and her voice is smoky. Her Volkswagen broke down a few miles back, been wandering the desert for hours. Her eyes sparkle intensely, my pulse races. She was driving to Yellowstone to meet up with some friends. We tell her we’re going to the sand dunes to trip. She says wouldn’t mind tagging along if we drive her back into Rock Springs. Blake doesn’t seem to care if she comes or goes but I need Trudy to come along because the sweat on her smooth neck and her bright flashing eyes are making me ache. She jumps in the back of the Ford.
When we reach Boars Tusk on foot we’re covered in sweat and peaking. The jeep’s a mile back and it feels like we’ve been walking outside of time. Under clear blue sky we’ve meandered past butte and mesa, we’ve ambled down hills following dry steam beds, walked past weird spires and dwarf canyons. Drunk off the earthy perfume of sage, clumps of prickly pear and juniper look cartoonish to our dilated pupils. Ancient Boars Tusk dominates the landscape; Pleistocene aged volcanic neck raised 400 feet in the air. We drop our gear in exasperation in front of it and drink water. Trudy smiles at me. I smile back and as she drinks from her canteen a few feet in front of me I somehow feel her standing right behind me, blowing into my ear. She winks at me. I glance down at her backpack and see the name Mabel written on it. Her eyes change from violet to green back to blue. I’m about to ask her what her real name is, but I stop myself when I hear Blake laughing.
He picks up a bison’s skull and places it in front of his own. He’s a prophet whose God belongs to an older order. He wants to sacrifice me; I know it. I’m tripping hard and I realize I’m trapped. I don’t understand my own mind at all; someone else is thinking my thoughts for me. Did I want this to happen? The nightmares warned me but I still came … I look at the woman who calls herself Trudy. Her face has changed. No longer beautiful and alert, her eyes have slanted, become dull. Her skull has shrunken; become broader … Her face sags as she smiles at me uncomprehendingly. I look away. She’s not who she says she is. She’s a demon who haunts the desert. They’re planning to bring me to a place worse than death … Blake lowers the skull and glares at me. At that moment I feel like murdering them both. Reality is ripping apart and it’s his fault. I’m tripping hard but I force myself to take back my mind and the world it perceives …
“Let’s get to the sand dunes and set up camp,” I manage to say with great strain. They nod. Trudy’s blue eyes shine electrically, the symmetry’s returned to her face. Blake throws down the bison’s skull, then winks at me. We pick up our gear and head to the dunes.
It’s near dusk. We’ve pitched a tent and made a campfire on an outcrop of vegetation. The low hum of the portable generator drones on as we sit around the circle of stones containing the fire. We feed sagebrush to it. Blake tells us we’re in between the continental divide, and the rain that falls here doesn’t flow to the Pacific or Atlantic oceans. It settles into the dirt and feeds the chthonic spirits that dwell deep under the oil reservoirs. He speaks about the special soils and waters that house a great race of beings called the Great Old Ones. The ground feels alive; it’s vibrating underneath me. I pick up a clump of it and it flows like mercury over my hand. I fling it at the fire.
Boars Tusk stands sentinel over the dunes as Blake tells us about a dimension once named Yuggoth, now something deemed less than a planet called Pluto. He talks about its ancient black cities of windowless towers, its fungoid gardens. At this point it hits me that there’s no turning back. There’s no escaping here.
Blake doesn’t look like himself any more. He seems taller, skinnier. His pupils are so dilated that his eyes seem to take up most of his face. Trudy whispers something to me but I can’t make it out. She moves closer and I see the name Dolores tattooed on her neck. She kisses me then sits on my lap.
Blake tells us that when Yuggoth entered the eighth sign 28 years ago the seeds were sown for the return of an older order. Tonight the stars are right for the messenger of the profoundest wisdom to usher in the Aeon of The Great Old Ones.
He shows us the ancient cylinder seal. Taupe-colored and a foot long, strange letters carved onto it. He walks into the tent and we follow.
Blake hangs a light bulb over the record player. He places the seal on the turntable, sets it to 78 rpm’s. I gaze into it and the weird letters dance. They transform into our faces; they smile then cry. I inhale heavily, then shudder as they break apart, the pieces of bone turning into blood-covered calcium comets racing past alien planets, diseased and dying in graveyard nebulae … past the skeletal remains of ancient space travelers sealed in meteor tombs forever sailing across a multiverse of realities and finding destitution in them all. An orgy of mad celestial spheres locked in an endless process of destruction and rebirth – I approach a blue planet, look onto its ancient Triassic seas teeming with a horrific race of creatures who dwell in ammonia and methane oceans across a swathe of ghost planets lost in the shadow memory of The Big Bang’s first exhalation. The seal spins faster and I’m sure they sense my presence across an impossible span of time – they want to rip my soul apart and feed on the primeval stardust that marks me as a being on the brighter side of the Big Bang. They reach towards me but I feel myself being pulled up into a collapsing sky … spit into the darkest stretch of space with only the sound of a broken flute. Lost in the center of absolute madness, Azathoth.
I feel a hand on my back. I force my eyes open, look away from the dream machine. I turn around to see the face of the Iraqi child. The record player stops. Blake takes his hand off my shoulder.
I’m completely sober now. Something’s seeped into this world because of us. I can feel it.
I look over at Trudy. Her thick lips are impossibly red and when she licks them, her blue eyes strike like lightning.
“You guys should get some sleep,” a frightening remoteness in his voice.
“What the hell just happened?”
“Everything that was supposed to.”
He takes out a small yellow box from his pocket.
“I’m going to sleep by the fire,” he says heavily. “Don’t disturb me. I’ll see you both in the morning.”
He walks out of the tent.
I turn toward her.
“My name isn’t Trudy. It’s Caroline.”
“Why did you lie about your name?”
Her raspy voice grows frail. Something in her eyes change.
“Were you really going to Yellowstone?”
She pulls in close to me. She shifts again. Her eyes turn black then hazel.
My head feels foggy.
“I just finished visiting my hometown. Table Rock. It’s a ghost town now. I wanted to see it one last time before the desert swallowed it. Afterwards, I drove up around this way and felt like leaving my car. I don’t remember why. It’s like a dream. I left the car and wandered around –- ”
“Were you waiting for us?”
“I was waiting for you.”
“I don’t understand.”
She grimaces violently and then stares at me with the expression of a very slow child. “I want to go back to the hotel with Mommy. He tricked me.”
I push myself away from her as I hear Blake chuckle outside of the tent. I wipe my eyes and when I open them Trudy’s naked.
“Just come to me. Stop asking questions.”
I crawl over to her on my knees.
“It’s OK,” she says as she kisses the side of my neck. She grins luridly and her eyes bulge. I can’t look away and she pulls me in completely. I can hear Blake speaking to someone outside the tent when she straddles me …
I wake up naked. There’s no tent around me and the sun’s beginning to set. I brush sand off, spring up, look around. The tent and gear have been scattered several feet away in every direction. I find my canteen and gulp down hot water. My stomach knots in fear.
Silence. I walk around the camp and find my clothes. I dig my wristwatch out of my Hawaiian shirt’s pocket – 7:35 pm.
I’ve been asleep for over 18 hours.
No response. Still herds of Prong Horn observe me quietly from atop a butte.
The camp wasn’t struck. It was disturbed. I walk over to the stone circle where we set the fire and find Trudy’s Jansport. The names Kathy, Dolores, Bechard, Hiepacht, Zepar, and Mara are written on it. It’s half open and when I reach inside I pull out a naked Barbie doll, a thick black marker and picture of a young woman with Down syndrome standing next to what are probably her parents on a street with identical white split-level houses. I place everything down where I found it and see the shattered cylinder seal next to Blake’s rucksack a few feet up ahead. There’s a large hunting knife coated in blood as well. I grab the rucksack and drop all of its contents onto the ground. Blackened ears and fingers covered in purple tattoos fall out along with a stack of photographs bound together with rubber bands. I pick up the photos and see …
Me back in New York. Coming out of my apartment building, at work, buying groceries, on a date …
I shake my head in disbelief as I find photos of the woman with Down syndrome standing by a sign that says Yellow Stone National Park … another with her smiling, holding Blake’s hand in front of a motel called Rock Springs Lodge.
I hear sobbing coming from the direction of Boar’s Tusk. I drop the photos, pick up the hunting knife and follow.
He’s wheezing heavily, back propped up against its black volcanic neck. I stand in front of him and he looks past me without recognition. There are tears in his eyes. I put the knife next to his throat.
“What’s going on?” I stick the point of the knife into his neck lightly and break skin, draw blood.
“He had me, then denied me. I summoned him in preparation –- ”
“What are you talking about?”
I push the tip of the blade further in. He doesn’t react.
“A shade of Nyarlathotep; an echo of the Haunter. I summoned it through the dream machine for consul before using the trapezohedron to release its greater essence. It attacked me.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?“
“It raped me –- ”
I pull the blade away from his neck.
“I lost control of the unclean spirit I placed inside of the woman … and it stole the trapezohedron.”
“Why do you have those pictures of me?”
“I picked the wrong location for the process … It needs to be further southeast. The ley lines and stars that unlock the deluge are underneath and above a ghost town named Table Rock …”
My blood’s rising. I slap him hard.
“The ceremony needed three born on the same day in the same year during the same hour. You were born to be a part of this.”
“You stalked me. You set this all up –- ”
“I’ve summoned the Haunter twice before …and it’s given me knowledge in exchange for blood sacrifice. I fed it what it needed so it brought me here. It needs to be released on this soil under these stars to herald in the new Aeon.
“Who is she?”
“She’s a simple woman named Kathy. Her parents run a motel not too far from here. I befriended her family and took up residence. They didn’t care about her. She was their burden. Two nights ago I took her to the desert and placed a spirit of lust inside of her to seduce you. I commanded it to wait for us. For the ritual to be effective I needed both of you to physically consummate. Three in union, the cylinder seal lifted the veil, your penetration summoned the Shade; an avatar of Nyarlathotep, on this sphere to prepare for the final release of its greater essence . . . ” He spits blood. “I was an idiot to think I could be their liaison. They’ll come as annihilators. The spirit I placed in the woman plans to open it. I lost control of the Succubus after I was attacked. She drained you, then slithered onto me. I couldn’t command it. I stabbed her but she still drained me and traveled to Table Rock in a sandstorm. I woke before you and walked to Boars Tusk … I was wrong to think I could be their liaison …”
He stares at me with eyes that look like cracked glass.
“There’s still time to escape to a place in death. Come kill yourself with me.”
He stands up, nearly falls. I don’t help him.
“You caused all this. Can’t you stop it?”
“Not if she opens it. But I –- ”
“If we catch her I can cast the spirit out so she’s no longer compelled –- ”
I look at the thing once called Blake.
“I can try,” he wheezes.
He glances down at the ground and picks up a small lizard. He snaps its neck and puts it in his pocket.
“She’s going to have to open the trapezohedron during the first hour of nightfall. After that time the stars will shift and the opportunity will pass.”
I grip the hilt of the hunting knife tightly as we walk toward Table Rock, sky growing darker.
When we see It sitting on top of the truck’s hood it stares at us lethargically like a lizard tanning itself on a rock. Its giant head rests impossibly on the neck of a small child’s body and though its face is vaguely human, the huge eyes have no iris and the way it positions itself is monstrous. It sits on its knees and absurdly long legs stretch back and curve, hanging over its head like two scorpion stingers. Its long black toenails are as sharp as knives and it flexes them rapidly, rubbing them lightly across its coarse white fur. The penis above its naval is erect, the slit underneath open and pulsating …
Its mouth opens and a grotesquely large tongue rolls out. It swings rapidly in every direction. The sound of ripping fabric and a muffled thunderclap boom behind the thing.
The creature bellows horrifically, and then its mucous voice is in our heads.
“Pledge. Appease Azathoth.”
Flesh is invisibly ripped from the palm of my hand. I scream.
I begin walking toward it, knife in hand.
“Don’t!” Blake shrieks.
I’m a few inches away from the hood. I stare down at the soil and see the outline of an open book.
I want to place my bleeding palm down. The urge is stronger than hunger.
I’m struggling –-
The creature’s tongue wraps around my arm and I slice it. It comes off and lands on the dirt. A huge thunderclap booms and It’s no longer on the hood. There’s only burnt sagebrush where its tongue writhed a moment before.
“I can feel its children moving in me,” Blake screeches. Blood pours out of his mouth and his stomach swells.
I toss him into the truck’s backseat. He hands me the keys and I start it up, hit the gas, and speed off toward the highway.
We’re pushing 80 when the GPS goes black. The Red Desert begins to resemble Iraq. I shake my head hard and I-50 comes back into focus.
“Keep your mind here with me,” Blake rattles, “or you’ll be off somewhere you don’t belong.”
We pass oil derrick after oil derrick and I can’t stop my mind from roaming back toward the Middle East. I feel things grow thinner again … something snaps. I’m driving on a dirt road near the Tigris River. I stop the truck … trying to regain my senses.
“Keep driving!” I close my eyes, prepared to keep them that way until absolute darkness engulfs me.
“Mister, Mister, give me food.” I open my eyes. A dozen Iraqi children are gathered around the Ford. They put their small dirty hands up to their mouths to punctuate their demands.
I snap out of it, accelerate … as the truck moves they turn monstrous. They throw their bodies against the Ford. I hit 60 and can’t shake them. From the rearview mirror I see their faces tearing and peeling off. One launches itself into the passenger side window. The truck swerves dangerously from left to right and its almost completely inside of the truck now as the others chuck their small bodies at the side of the Ford in full stride; bouncing off and getting back up, bouncing off and getting back up –-
Blake leaps forward and he’s wrestling with the thing, when I manage to steady the wheel and grab the knife off the dashboard – he yanks it out of my hand, stabs the creature square in its skeletal face –
It tumbles out of the window.
I look forward and the Iraqi child with the inverted Ankh is glaring at me in the middle of the highway. I accelerate. He disappears and drifts away like smoke. We crash into a sign that reads, “Table Rock Road.” I press down hard on the brakes … look into the rearview mirror. The swarm of dead children has disappeared. There’s an empty gas station fifty feet in front of us.
“We’re here.” Blake throws up and the smell of blood fills the truck.
The sun is beginning to dip below the horizon as we pull into town. Underneath the decay and grime, an ideal suburban street frozen in its Eighties Reagan-era glory. Lonely pieces of tumbleweed flitter across the cracked concrete as the dry wind pushes them past smashed windows and decrepit doors hanging off their hinges. We drive on past a sand-covered playground; sagebrush chokes a rusty swing set and a metallic slide has a hole the size of a bowling ball in it.
We see a skinny brown horse pacing back and forth in front of a very dilapidated house. It stops moving once it sees us.
Blake manages to sit up, wiping blood from his mouth.
“Are we going to have to search every building to find her?” I ask.
“No. The spirit in her will be compelled to find us so it can feed.”
The horse ambles toward the truck. It starts jerking its head from left to right. We stare transfixed. It rears up on its hind legs and whinnies as its head rattles like a Diamondback’s tail. Front to back left to right, impossibly fast. It leans back, then lurches forward, all the while doing this weird dance. I put the truck in reverse. The horse abruptly stops after we hear a fearsome tear. Its head lashes violently one last time then slides off its neck and lands onto the concrete. At that moment we see her materialize in front of the broken down house.
“She’s carrying the trapezohedron,” Blake says.
She smiles at me.
“Stop staring into her eyes.”
I avert my gaze.
“The sun’s going down. We have to grab her.”
She walks into the house and leaves the door open behind her.
Blake spits into his hand.
“Close your eyes.”
I don’t blink.
“Try to trust me. Please …”
Something in his voice moves me. I’m reminded of the friend I once had many years ago. I catch déjà vu and see the hidden karmic thread laid bare –- I try not to understand as I close my eyes. He spits and rubs his saliva over my eyelids. He chants briefly in a voice that doesn’t sound like his own.
“She won’t fascinate you as much now.”
We both get out of the truck and walk past the headless horse. The legs of its shadow kick at us. Blake picks up its head and takes the dead lizard out of his pocket. He drops it.
“I was going to use the lizard to trap the spirit, but the horse’s head will be better.” I nod absently at that as we enter the house, hot desert wind pushing us forward.
The thick scent of lilac disguising decay: still bright enough to make out a staircase leading up to a second floor, some dusty half broken furniture in the large living room.
My heart’s thudding in my chest. Framed pictures on a bureau. I pick one up to see Kathy standing with her sullen parents in front of this house. I place the frame face down and I’m instantaneously hit with a surge of arousal. She’s inches away from me.
Her huge blue eyes try to pull me but I back away. Her face morphs, the feeling disappears.
I stare at her uncomprehending face. I can’t hurt her … she looks so lost. Her eyes suddenly spark electric blue again …the same pull, more intense than ever. I can’t help myself – I’m on top of her, kissing her mouth, rolling my tongue over her jagged teeth. She’s ripping my pants off, desperately trying to feed –
I hear Blake chanting loudly behind me.
My legs get weak. She’s killing me … I fall backwards, still holding onto her hands. I yank and she tumbles forward, lands hard on her chest.
I jump onto her back and pull her head up. Blake takes the horse’s head, places it next to hers and chants. The horse’s face become animate, its eye-color changes from brown to electric blue. Blake hurls it across the living room. Kathy sits up and starts to sob. She rocks back and forth, crawls into a tight ball, then goes silent.
For a moment there is an absolute stillness as darkness descends upon Table Rock.
I notice the small yellow box lying next to the couch a moment after Blake does. He shakes violently and screams like he’s splintering in half. I know at that moment the person once called Robert Blake is now completely gone. It scrambles toward the couch and picks up the box. Rips the top open, takes the trapezohedron out, gazes into it …
I feel it rip into this world. The heavy thud of flapping wings above the house as certain as the panicked heart beating in my chest …
Blake begins to jerk about violently and he drops the trapezohedron … His stomach swells and he begins to give birth to his children. The camel spiders cascade out of his mouth by the dozens … he picks them up and tries to shove them back in. Blake drops and hundreds of the disgusting things pour out of his carcass. My mind nearly breaks as the smell of the Haunter infiltrates the house … the beating wings growing louder all the while.
I need to close the box –
I rush over to Blake as the camel spiders crunch under foot.
I need to close the box –
I grab the filthy thing from his hand but … I can’t help myself …
I look into the black stone and see …
Nyarlathotep, the Crawling Chaos, whom in antique and shadowy Khem took the form of man along with all of the infernal domains of the Great Old Ones. I feel them stirring from their long sleep. Umr At-Tawil The Ancient One, Hastur The Unspeakable, his wife Shub-Niggurath, Cthulhu Lord Of Rlyeh and Yog-Sothoth The Lurker At The Threshold all awaken as I struggle to know my own mind but can’t, it’s no longer mine as the deafening sound of Azathoth’s flute reverberates through my center … The beating of its wings becomes the thud of my heartbeat, its madness my overpowering logic. I drop the trapezohedron and sprint past Blake’s corpse and poor, lost Kathy. I burst out of the house running at a full tilt, as the beating of its wings grow louder. There’s a great thunderclap, a huge tear of fabric as the moon’s light fades from the sky completely. I run until I collapse near the town’s deserted road. I stare up at the now alien sky. The stars blotted out with a hatred nurtured on the other side of creation … The others will appear soon now, after this Messenger. I screw my eyes tight and chant an empty prayer to a lesser god as final darkness descends on Table Rock Road.
Michael Reyes lives in New York, where he writes fiction and plays. He is an Iraq War vet and he currently works at a bookstore. His short story “The Priest of Stillwell Avenue” was recently published in 31 More Nights of Halloween by Rainstorm Press.