Your Poisoned Dreams
Horror Stories - Cassiopeiapress Suspense
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YOUR POISONED DREAMS
by Michael Minnis
The castle is mine, but I do not want it. No matter, because no one now shall ever have it. Sunlight will touch it; and upon it moonlight will rest at night. In winter the castle will disappear beneath white, and the still pool into which water pours will become obsidian and unbreakable. But within its walls nothing will breathe or walk. I will not be there.
The castle will stand empty, and this is well.
That is because there is no escape for me. The villagers will not allow it, nor will fate. And why should there be? There was none for my friend or his servant, and none for the hunchback or the fowler. Only oblivion saved great-grandmother.
Oblivion, and poison.
I have taken a sufficient quantity of the latter to kill me – eventually. I do not know how long I have – a few hours, perhaps. Long enough, if I am fortunate, to allow me to wait until night falls, until the birds of the garden grow quiet and the fire dims and dies, to wait until my antagonist begins his nocturnal course.
Michael Minnis was born in Saginaw, Michigan in 1969. He has studied graphic design and creative writing. Eight Storys - in world first edition.
But all these stories have one thing in common: Lovecraft's conception of the incomprehensible cosmic entities finds its sentitive continuation also at the first decade of the 21st century.
Editor: Jörg Martin Munsonius
Complete eBook edition in 2013 by Edition Bärenklau, Germany
Please, address your suggestions, wishes and demands to:
All Stories © 2013 by Michael Minnis
Cover: Michael Minnis with Steve Mayer
Epilogue: Lars E. Menk, Jörg Martin Munsonius, Michael Minnis
A CassiopeiaPress E-Book
© 2013 by Alfred Bekker/CassiopeiaPress, Lengerich/Westfalen, Germany
RULES FOR MONSTERS
The first rule was this: if the monster sees you, sooner or later it will get you.
That, at least, was what Tommy believed.
Tommy was seven, almost eight. He still believed in monsters - at least in the one who lived across the street.
The monster lived in an abandoned house near the grammar school. The house was an ugly brick thing on a gloomy, barren lot. It had been empty for two or three years. Several of its tiny windows were broken. NO TRESPASSING read the sign on its door. It looked distinctly unpleasant.
The house was a bungalow, according to his mother.
“What’s a bungalow?” Tommy asked.
“It’s where bachelors live,” Mother replied, with slight disapproval.
Tommy didn’t like the sound of that word - bachelor. It sounded like a thing that might hide in the closet or under the basement stairs. So he did not ask for further explanation.
He wondered if the monster was a pervert. His friend Jonah said that perverts were everywhere. They tried to get you into their cars. They waited by the playground with their hands in their pockets, watching the kids play. Waiting, waiting. They were on the news all the time, getting into trouble for doing pervert things. But Tommy didn’t think the monster was a pervert because perverts always turned out to be people. Maybe they had bristly faces like his mother’s boyfriend, or maybe their hair stuck out in funny ways, but they were clearly people. And they always looked embarrassed when caught, as if they had wet themselves in front of everybody, like babies.
Since the monster was clearly not a person, Tommy decided it could not be a pervert, either.
He wasn’t sure what the monster was, really. It was not a dragon. It was not a vampire. All Tommy knew was that it had scared him badly.
He saw it one night in one of the bungalow’s windows. Jonah was over and Tommy’s older brother Mark was supposed to be babysitting them, but all Mark did was watch old horror movies on Channel 4 – hosted by “Doctor Bones” - and give Indian burns to anyone who dared bother him.
The monster had appeared during the commercials. Tommy had happened to glance outside. The headlights of an oncoming car briefly, starkly illuminated the bungalow, and there it was – the thing, the monster.
Actually, what he had seen at first was a human hand pressed against the glass. That wasn’t particularly terrifying. A little startling, strange, maybe. But then another hand appeared. And then another. And then a fourth. Five. They gathered numerous as flies on the glass and pressed restlessly against it - too many hands. How could so many people fit into one room? And what were they doing there, anyway? But there they were.
Then a sudden, eerie, reverberating noise had filled Tommy’s ears, the sound he imagined UFOs must make as they hovered overhead, but this was only the movie resuming. Doctor Bones was very fond of weird sound effects.
The movement of the hands stopped. They became very still. Then the car was past and it was gone, and Mark was telling Jonah to shut up because the best part of the movie was coming up.
It was a monster. Of course. He had just seen a monster.
Tommy could neither speak nor move. He had had nightmares like this – yes, very much like this, because no one else had seen the monster. They ate popcorn and watched TV as if nothing had happened.
“Wasn’t that something, kids?” Doctor Bones said in his gravelly, knowing, trademark voice. His face was painted white and black in the semblance of a skull. His eyes bulged like marbles, rather like the staring eyes that decorated the rings upon each of his black and white fingers and the iridescent band of his top hat.
“Seems as if Quartermass has his hands full, doesn’t it? And just what is wrong with astronaut Victor Carune? The good doctor wonders, he does. But enough chitchat. We now return to The Creeping Unknown...”
Something softly struck Tommy’s arm, startling him. He jumped.
“The hell are you staring at out there?” Mark asked.
Tommy wondered what he should say. Mark could be fairly merciless.
Mark offered his bowl.
It was probably a trick.
Mark gave Tommy an Indian burn instead. Then he put his protesting younger brother in a headlock and furiously rubbed the boy’s scalp until Mother suddenly stumped in through the front door, followed by her boyfriend, and said, “Goddammit, you two knock that off!”
The second rule: the monster can’t get you if you are with other people.
This was especially true at night.
Tommy had his own room. It looked out over the garage and fenced backyard, which was empty but for its single oak tree. Here in his room, the monster couldn’t see him.
Mark’s room was bigger and opposite Tommy’s; it faced the street and the abandoned bungalow. Despite this, Tommy decided that he would be safer with Mark, and with pillow and blanket in hand he padded carefully into his older brother’s room, toward the bunk bed.
But Mark was a light sleeper.
“Get out of here,” Mark said.
“I’ll sleep on the bottom. I won’t make a sound. I promise.”
“Don’t whine. Now go.”
“I can’t. I’m scared.”
Tommy sat down at Mark’s desk.
“No,” he said.
“Then go get Mom.”
“She’ll get mad.”
Mark sighed. “It was only a movie, Tommy. It wasn’t real.”
“That’s not it.”
“God, you are such a baby.”
“I am not.”
“I swear I’ll give you another Indian burn if you don’t leave.”
“I’ll yell if you do.”
Another sigh. Mark punched his pillow. Shadows danced across the walls and wood floor. Tommy traced the outlines of a model battleship with his finger. Mark was always putting models together, ships and tanks and fighter planes. Spaceships, too. Several of them graced the upper shelf of the desk. Tommy didn’t like them. They were strange, somehow threatening. It was too easy to imagine them hovering in dead silence over the house - gigantic, glowing, watching, waiting. He wondered if the monster across the street had arrived in a spaceship.
“So what is your freaking problem, then?” Mark asked.
“I think there’s a monster in the old house across the street,” Tommy replied.
“You mean the bungalow? Zeke the Geek’s house? Oh, come on...”
“There’s nothing there, Tommy,” Mark said patiently. “I know. I’ve been through it with Brad. We didn’t find anything. Nada. Nothing.”
“But, but, what about that thing? That other thing?”
“What other thing?”
“That thing under the house!”
“What? You mean the bunker? That old fall-out shelter?”
“What about it?”
“Maybe the monster lives there,” Tommy said.
Mark lapsed into thoughtful silence.
“Hmm,” he said. “You know...maybe you’re right.”
There was something in Mark’s tone that Tommy didn’t entirely trust. But he was compelled to listen, because Mark was twelve and knew much more about the world and what went on in it than he did.
“It would make sense,” Mark said. “Yeah, I could see where that would work. It’s a fall-out shelter, so it’s probably full of radioactive stuff.”
“What’s that?” Tommy asked.
“It’s goop they put in big drums that they bury underground. It glows in the dark. And if you get any of it on you, it turns you into a mutant, like the thing we saw in the movie.”
“Oh,” Tommy said, slightly unnerved. “What do they use it for?”
“They put it into nuclear bombs,” Mark replied. “Then if there’s a war, they drop these bombs on each other and everybody turns into mutants who eat anybody who isn’t a mutant...including little brothers.”
“Don’t, Mark, you’re scaring me.”
“Well, you asked, didn’t you, dumbass?”
Mark had a way of turning everything you said against you. It irritated Tommy, but at the moment there were more important matters.
“So can I sleep on the bottom? Please, Mark, I swear I’ll be quiet. I swear.”
Mark let Tommy squirm for several seconds before he replied, “Yeah, all right. But keep your trap shut. Don’t be having some gay-ass nightmare on me and wake up screaming.”
“Thanks,” Tommy replied.
With great relief Tommy clambered into the bottom bunk.
“I should pee on you,” Mark said.
Quiet fell. It was autumn, but still warm enough at night that Mark had propped his window slightly open. Through this crack stole the breeze and the burr of crickets. Tommy listened to them sing. Normally he liked them, liked their friendly, plaintive, reassuring voices. Now they just sounded mean. Sneaky and mean. He tried to ignore them. But his gaze returned again and again to the ghostly half-shape of the window where shadows danced. How easy it was to imagine innumerable stealthy fingers slipping themselves under the jamb, slowly, carefully sliding it up.
“Have you ever been in the shelter?”
“Couple times,” Mark replied.
“What was it like?”
“Well, it was dark, for one thing. There’s a lot of wires hanging around, so you have to watch out for them. And the walls are all wet and drippy, and there’s ladder rungs and vents and that kind of stuff. But it’s pretty big. There’s like two floors, but I think the bottom one’s half-flooded. I was in there with Brad and we only went through the top floor.”
“Because the bottom one’s half-flooded like I said, dumbass. And the air’s pretty bad down there. But we didn’t find much. Just junk. Old papers and chairs and that kind of crap.”
“No nuclear stuff?”
“Nothing you could make a monster with?” Tommy asked.
“What? No! Will you lay off, already? I told you it was just a movie. Now go to sleep before I really do pee on you.”
Mark sounded serious, so Tommy did as he was told.
Mark lay awake long afterward, trying to recall anything he could about the old fallout shelter and the man who had built it. Zeke the Geek, who dug tirelessly beneath his basement, day after week after month, who had once owned most of the land on the other side of the road, who had sold it bit by bit to finance his obsession.
From the outside there was nothing to see of the shelter. It was only when you looked around that you found anything: a pair of half-hidden, badly rusted, hooded pipes designed to let air in and keep radiation out. There was a third that was a periscope, like the ones used on submarines. The secret way into the shelter was through the basement of the bungalow. There were also supposed to be two or three other entrances hidden in the woods, but no one so far had been able to find them.
Zeke the Geek, with his thick glasses and thinning hair, who mumbled to himself, who bought his clothing secondhand and his supplies in bulk. He was supposed to have a good government job like Mother did, though nobody knew quite what. Speculation was that he was with NASA; with the CIA; with the FBI; all of the above; a foreign spy; a scientist; a Satanist; a geneticist; and lastly, a possible pervert.
Two years ago Zeke had shown up at a school board meeting to complain about children trespassing on his property.
“From there it was EMPs, ICBMs, fallout, radiation,” Mother said as she had prepared dinner. “On and on and on. He wouldn’t shut up. You think he’d realize that the Cold War was over.”
“He built it because of the aliens,” Mark said.
Zeke was part of a UFO cult. The Hermetic Order of the Prophet Ezekiel. They were big on the East Coast. They believed in flying saucers. People out there simply called them Zekes, which was how Zeke the Geek had acquired his nickname. His real name was Daniel Cords.
The Zekes were mostly indistinguishable from other alien-worshipers. The aliens, they said, were far more advanced than humans. This was expected. They had inhabited Earth long before Man. Fair enough. But they weren’t friendly. Actually, they were fairly hostile. They wanted the Earth back, so they could pick up where they left off with their work.
“Genetic experiments. You know, combining things with other things,” Mark replied. “That’s what Zeke the Geek told us, anyway.”
A suspicious glance from Mother, but she continued cutting celery. “I thought I told you not to talk to him.”
“I know. Don’t worry, I was with friends. He was out digging, as usual. We just laughed at him when he was done talking and told him to go home and wrap some tinfoil around his head so the aliens couldn’t read his mind. He didn’t like that. Jeez, it was a long time ago!”
“So what do the aliens look like?”
“Nobody knows,” Mark said. “He didn’t say much about them. ‘Want to know what they’re like, go to Antarctica,’ is all Zeke ever said. But it’s supposed to come down to ‘genetic war,’ if they return.”
“Cheerful,” Mother replied, tending to the boiling potatoes.
Third rule: You have to get the monster before it gets you.
The bungalow squatted like a toad on its dry, narrow, yellow lot, as if waiting for the two boys. The lilac and choke cherry bushes that surrounded it were dead. Untrimmed firs had littered the yard with their cones. Among the debris were roof shingles as well, the work of repeated rains and hard winters. The back of the bungalow was even more nondescript than its front – bare but for a rusted screen door and nearby propane tank. There was little else besides a tiny clapboard garage and a steel drum propped up on cinderblocks. The latter had a square hole cut out of its side and was full of old ashes.
“Do you think he did experiments with that?” Tommy asked.
“No,” Jonah laughed. “That’s a barbecue.”
“Oh.” That didn’t seem particularly evil, but rather strangely ordinary.
Jonah kicked dust into the air. Tommy went to one of the windows and peered inside. Too dark. There was nothing to see but more dust and a dark line of dead houseflies upon the sill.
“The back door’s open, if you want to go in,” Jonah said.
“I thought that’s why we came here, isn’t it?”
“What, do you think your monster’s in there?”
“I don’t know. They don’t come out during the day, do they?”
“Don’t worry. I got my BB gun. It’s a ten-pump. And I also brought these, just in case.”
From his pocket Jonah produced a handful of firecrackers, cherry bombs and an expensive lighter.
“They’re from July,” he said. “Part of my stash. I’ve got a whole load of the stuff.”
“Wow,” Tommy said.
“Here, take some,” Jonah said. “Here’s the lighter. There. Now you’re my backup man, like the guy who throws grenades at the pillbox in the war movies. But if you light one, throw it quick. Don’t wait too long or it’ll blow your hand all to shit. I’m serious.”
“So what are you waiting for?” Jonah asked. “Are we gonna take a look at this monster of yours, or what?”
“I don’t know. Maybe we should get some of the other kids.”
“Oh, yeah, right. Like who? Your brother? Or, hey, how about Brad? Great idea.”
“Well, what? You know what Brad’s like. You want a cherry bomb stuck down your pants?”
“Then, come on. I got you covered,” Jonah said.
Tommy finally nodded and grasped the handle of the screen door. It felt wrong. It was not so much as what he was about to do, he’d done some bad things before, things that had made him wonder about himself, if he was really good or not – but the very feel of the corroded metal beneath his skin, that was wrong. He sensed quite clearly and without fear that the bungalow, this house with its cracked windows and dead flies and barren, sun-struck yard, should be left alone. Whatever was inside it should also be left alone. To open the door, to step inside, was inviting trouble. Serious, terrible trouble.
They entered the bungalow.
“Woo,” Jonah said. “Scary. A washroom. Here, gimme the lighter.”
He peered into the outdated washer and dryer.
“Anything?” Tommy asked.
“Nah. Just spiders. Be cool if there was a skull. Or a human head.”
They entered what passed for the bungalow’s cramped kitchen. Nothing interesting or ominous was here. The cupboards were empty. So were the cabinets except for an old ant trap. Likewise the refrigerator, though a blackish-green growth of mold inside it held the boys’ interest for several moments. Plaster had sifted down from the stained, discolored ceiling onto the buckled linoleum and crunched dryly underfoot. Wet dog smell were the words that came to Tommy’s mind when he sniffed the stale, currentless air.
The living room was equally prosaic. Dust the boys stirred up drifted in the muted, angled light that filtered through the windows. Here in total there were: an empty bookcase, a brass lamp without shade, an ugly fireplace of cheap bricks surmounted by an equally cheap clock, the front door, several little black holes where fixtures had once existed and from which bare wiring now protruded. Also, in a corner, several white plastic buckets, a shovel, and a stack of bricks, most of this being laced with cobwebs.
“Boy,” Jonah said. “This guy didn’t have shit.”
“He probably spent most of it on the shelter,” Tommy said.
“You wanna see it? It’s under the basement.”
“Let’s see the bedroom first,” Tommy said.
“We should check out the upstairs first.”
Jonah sighed. “All right. Fine.”
The bedroom was down a short hallway. There was noticeably less light here. And the odd smell was worse, more acidic. What they found beside the bed frame provided something of an answer - a dead opossum gone far into desiccation. It was hardly more than a skeleton, the head little more than a skull frozen in a snarl. This did not overly bother the boys. There was worse on television. What bothered them was the strange position of the animal’s remains; it was obvious that its back had been broken, that it had been twisted nearly in half. Tommy turned pale and Jonah lost a little of his bravado. They jumped slightly when a speeding car rushed past on the street outside.
“Wow,” Jonah said. “Something got it good.”
“Do you think it was the monster?” Tommy asked.
“I don’t know. Could be.”
“Maybe it was a wild animal.”
Jonah considered this comforting idea. “No. No, I don’t think so.”
A small closet faced the foot of the bed frame. Inside, its dimensions were roughly those of an upright coffin. There were hangers and barely enough space for anything else. At the bottom of the closet was a clutter of cans and bottles: varnish, turpentine, and paint.
“What’s that?” Tommy asked.
“It’s paint, dumbass, what do you -”
Jonah gingerly retrieved the object. It was a bone; a jawbone, to be specific, though it appeared very old and was missing half of its teeth.
“Wow!” Jonah said. “There’s our skull.”
“Do you think it’s an animal?” Tommy asked.
“I’m not sure. Wanna see it?”
“Could’ve been a homeless person. Or maybe even a kid,” Tommy said.
“Kids don’t have teeth like that,” Tommy said.
Tommy touched one of the jaw’s canines, and then touched his own experimentally. His weren’t as long or as sharp as those of the jaw.
“Huh. I guess you’re right,” he said. “Maybe it was a coyote.”
“There aren’t any coyotes around here,” Tommy replied.
“Oh, OK, but you say there’s a monster, right? Well? Right?”
“You saw it, too!”
Jonah shrugged. He tossed the jawbone to Tommy, who just managed to catch it.
“God, you are such a girl,” Jonah said.
“Shut up,” Tommy said. He handled the bone with mild disgust, but was interested enough to inspect it more closely than Jonah had. It certainly was strange. He thought of what Mark had said about genes and radiation and mutants.
“The back teeth have fillings.”
“What? Shut up,” Jonah said.
Tommy was right. The two remaining molars were filled with tarnished silver. These teeth, too, seemed unnaturally large and well worn, edged with black.
“Animals don’t have fillings,” Tommy said.
“And monsters do?” Jonah asked.
“Maybe we should just put it back.”
Again, Jonah shrugged, feigning indifference. But when he put the jawbone back into the closet with the paint cans and varnish and turpentine, he carefully buried it under a pile of dirty rags.
The basement was hardly larger than the closet; a full-grown man’s head would have almost touched the rafters of the ceiling, which was festooned with the work of countless spiders. Tommy shuddered in disgust. Dead husks and bits and other tiny fragments dangled from the webs, too close to their heads. Insects, obviously, though some were disturbingly unfamiliar to him. Some seemed overlarge. Some seemed curiously assembled. Or they had eight legs, or ten, or twelve instead of six. Or none at all. The worst of them was the size of a baby’s curled fist, spiny like a flea, and pitch black but for a ring of five simple eyes, red as beads of blood, on what might have been its back. Or its head. It was difficult to tell. It hung high up in the webs like a discarded Halloween mask.
The tiny, grimy basement windows provided just enough light for them to discover the trapdoor to the shelter. It was circular and of steel, and made Tommy think of submarines.
The portal proved unexpectedly easy to open. Below, iron rungs trailed off into darkness. A current of cooler air brushed their faces and made the lighter’s flame flicker and dance.
“Maybe you should go first,” Jonah said.
“I’ll cover you.” He made a business of full cocking his BB gun.
Tommy hesitated. Then he had an idea. From his pocket he retrieved one of the firecrackers.
“What’re you doing?” Jonah asked.
Tommy lit the firecracker and threw it down the shaft. There was a pause, and then a sharp bang that echoed up out of the depths.
“What the hell did you do that for?”
“Like in the war movies,” Tommy said. “You know, where they throw a grenade into the room before they go in.”
“God, you are such a retard, sometimes,” Jonah said. “Well, what are you waiting for? Go!”
“Hold on!” Tommy replied as he started downward. The metal rungs were cold and slightly damp to the touch. All he needed to do now was slip and fall, though it didn’t seem too far to the bottom. Maybe ten feet or so.
The floor was concrete, unlike the packed dirt of the basement. The walls were of whitewashed cinderblocks. Strange as it seemed, he found what he saw of the shelter so far less ominous than the house above. It was certainly better kept.
“Dark as hell down here,” Jonah said when he appeared.
Ahead was another blast door, as formidable as the first. It opened just as easily, and in eerie silence, into a narrow hallway empty but for a row of unlit fluorescent lights and a security camera overhead, a second at the end of the hallway.
Jonah nudged Tommy. “Hey, watch this. Neeee-yurt!”
He slowly gave the finger to the camera. Tommy laughed. Then he had an unpleasant thought. “What would you do if it moved all of a sudden?”
This time, they didn’t laugh.
The room at the end of the hallway was very dark, impersonal but unexceptional. A metal desk, office chair, framed corkboard, another security camera – a file cabinet provided momentary mystery until the boys discovered their inability to read engineering blueprints.
Several stacked, moldering cardboard boxes only provided more of the same. There was an old computer on the desk, but it had been stripped of its functioning parts some time ago.
“Do you think anyone’s watching us?” Tommy asked. He felt the need to whisper in such surroundings.
“What? No,” Jonah replied.
“My brother said he once saw that periscope up top moving around, like it was watching stuff.”
“Quit it, OK? You’re creeping me out.”
There was another office, hardly larger than the first. Jonah said that it looked like it might have been an armory at some point. See? He pointed out the empty gun racks on the walls. Zeke had obviously been expecting something big to happen. Too bad there weren’t any guns around.
Beyond the second door was another room, larger than the first two. Here was something rather more interesting: maps – on the walls, and attached to two large tables.
Tommy scrutinized the maps. They were faded, beginning to yellow, and rather resembled the ones the weatherman used on television, in being that they didn’t convey much information to Tommy’s mind. He didn’t see his town on any of them, or his state. In fact, he couldn’t find anything familiar on several of them. They seemed to be maps of other places that had names he could not pronounce, names that gave him an inexplicable chill even though he did not understand them.
“Come on,” Jonah said. “We’re looking for your monster, remember?”
“Have you ever heard of some of these places?”
“No. Who cares? Come on, there’s a door -”
Jonah was frozen in place.
Jonah wouldn’t answer, so Tommy followed his gaze to the aforementioned door. A thin whistle of air escaped his lips when he saw that its knob was slowly moving. With fumbling fingers he lit one of the firecrackers.
The door slowly opened. Tommy threw the firecracker into the gaping space beyond. There was a sharp bang followed by a cry, and something rushed out of the darkness toward him, knocking him to the floor.
“You fucking faggot,” it said, and with relief and growing dismay Tommy realized it was Brad. Then the glare of a flashlight blinded Tommy.
“It’s just your pussy little brother and one of his friends,” Brad said.
“I figured it was,” Mark replied. He pulled Tommy to his feet and made some business of dusting him off.
“Gimme that,” Brad said, grasping for the lighter.
“Leave him alone.”
“What are you two doing down here?” Tommy asked, after his fear and astonishment had begun to settle.
“Making out,” Brad replied.
“I’d believe it,” Jonah said.
“Knock it off,” Mark said. “God, it was a firecracker. You act like you got shot in the ass or something.”
The younger boys found this somewhat amusing. Brad was a tough kid, a mean kid with dull, lidded eyes who had already been held back once for failing nearly all his courses last year, but he still deferred to Mark – most of the time.
“Yeah, that’s what he would’ve done,” Brad said, indicating Jonah, and then taking his BB gun. “Gimme that!”
“Don’t, Brad!” Jonah said.
Jonah waited for Mark to intervene, but Mark did nothing.
Brad fired a pellet into the computer screen, which bloomed in a sudden spiderweb of cracks. He cocked the gun again and fired at a metal file cabinet. The pellet ricocheted around the room, making the boys flinch.
“Don’t use up all the BBs!” Jonah said.
“Don’t use up all the BBs!” Brad replied in a mocking falsetto.
“So what are you two doing down here?” Tommy asked.
“Screwin’ around,” Mark said. “What’re you doing down here?”
Before Tommy could conjure an acceptable lie, Jonah said, “He says there’s a monster down here.”
“Oh my God!” Brad exclaimed, and laughed. “You pussy!”
Tommy’s cheeks began to burn. He waited for similar disapproval or allotted punishment from his older brother, but none was coming.
“Shut up, Brad,” Mark said.
“What? Oh, come on! He’s being a total dumbass -”
“Yeah? And you’re supposed to be in the seventh grade this year.”
Brad lapsed into his usual sullen silence, his face the unreadable one he wore whenever a teacher or principal saw fit to lecture him on his behavior.
“So you think something’s down here?” Mark asked.
Tommy shrugged. “Maybe.”
“He might be right, you know,” Mark said.
“There’s weird stuff out there. Look at the Loch Ness Monster. Or UFOs. Science can’t explain everything. And this guy was obviously up to something. I mean, he didn’t build it just to have somewhere to stick his ping pong table, right?”
“So what does this monster look like, kid?” Brad asked.
Reluctantly, Tommy described what he had seen at the window of the bungalow. Mark listened patiently. Brad rolled his eyes.
“Fucking pussy,” he said. “What a load of shit.”
“It isn’t shit, Brad,” Tommy said.
“I say we look for it,” Mark said at length. “I say we try the second level.”
“What? Oh, come on!” Brad exclaimed.
“You scared?” Mark asked.
“No. Are you?”
The debate settled into uneasy quiet. Each boy, however reluctantly, stood his ground and searched for signs of fear in the others’ eyes.
The second level was rather worse than the first. The air was dank, stuffy, and closer here. The walls were wet, shedding paint, beaded with runnels of moisture. From the ceiling, at intervals, dangled black, monstrous, jungle-like tangles of old wiring. In the shifting, uncertain gleam of the flashlight and lighter they glistened and dripped and seemed disturbingly organic. Mold and fungus and other filth that had proliferated in the dark covered much of it. Stains and residue on the walls suggested that at some point the entire level had been at least partially flooded. There was water, still – puddles in corners, the occasional disturbing, cavernous drip of it from somewhere unseen, an echoing sound that made the boys’ skin creep. But there were four of them now, and so they were inclined to be braver – or less likely to run away, at least.
Of chief interest to the boys was a large laboratory, if it could be called that. They had frankly expected more, something with chains and dials and electrodes, something worthy of Frankenstein. What was present was scarcely more sophisticated than the equipment Mark used at school, and in much worse condition. There was an old television upon a tall metal stand, its screen opaque with dust, beneath it a VCR. There were shelves of beakers, Bunsen burners, test tubes, scales, various bottled suspicious-looking liquids, and other stored paraphernalia – charcoal, reagents, sodas, hydrochloric acid, nitric acid – all curiously filmed and stained. There were discarded instruments such as forceps and thermometers and syringes that the boys picked up and examined and threw away again.
“Smells like shit down here,” Brad said.
Thin light crawled over the floors and walls. A defunct wall clock provided another target for the BB gun.
“Brad!” Jonah said.
“Shut your piehole,” Brad replied. “God, you are such a pussy, you now that? Puss, puss, puss.”
The unsteady nimbus of the flashlight revealed yet more shelves, heavy with books, scientific journals, thick binders and reams of moldering paper.
Mark examined the journals and loose notes. Jonah and Brad disputed ownership of the BB gun. Tommy waited patiently.
Passport to Magonia, Jacques Vallee. Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies, Carl Jung. Enigmas and Mysteries, Colin Wilson. The Golden Bough, George Fraser.
Among the loose notes were a number of old, grainy photocopies of old, grainy, black-and-white photographs of what appeared to be UFOs. They were almost disturbingly prosaic. Under this clutter, Mark found a pile of equally old, yellowing documents.
AMERICA NEEDS A SPACE AGE PRESIDENT – VOTE FOR GABRIEL GREEN. This ad sponsored by The Amalgamated Flying Saucer Clubs of America, read one.
NATIONAL INVESTIGATIONS COMMITTEE ON AERIAL PHENOMENA: REPORT ON UNIDENTIFIED FLYING OBJECTS, read another. Mark pored briefly over the dry questions and terse answers.
NUMBER OF OBJECT(S): One.
DID THE OBJECT(S) CHANGE SHAPE? Yes.
DID THE OBJECT(S) CHANGE COLOR? Yes.
Object moved at great speed and appeared ‘organic’ in nature.
“Come on, Brad, gimme it.”
“Puss-puss want his widdle gun back?”
Beneath the documents was a pair of videocassettes.
TEST - PROTO-SHOGGOTH #1, TEST - PROTO-SHOGGOTH #2, they were titled respectively.
Puzzled, Mark pocketed them both.
Brad and Jonah continued arguing. Mark thumbed through old papers. Tommy seemed forgotten for the moment. The others didn’t seem afraid, so why was he? And if he said anything...
In a far corner, beneath a trestle table, was a large glass tank of some sort, its sides heavily discolored.
Puzzled, intrigued, he approached it, strained to see through the smudged glass. What he saw, was pinkish in color. Beige-brownish and pink, a promiscuous jumble of things piled and heaped within. Skin, was what he thought, but skin split so should bleed, shouldn’t it? He should not be able to seen the brown and purple of what lay beneath, should he?
The atavistic fear returned, stronger now.
They had found it.
This was the monster’s lair; he knew this with sickening certainty. Here was its food. Yes, it must live here, in chill and water and darkness, creeping, crawling, squirming, flopping. The clutter in the tank was its food.
He had to tell the others, but found himself rooted to the spot and unable to utter a sound.
What must it look like? A giant snake? An octopus? Or nothing at all but a shape, a wet cluster of eyes like the ones on Doctor Bones’ fingers, upon the iridescent band of his tall hat –
He thought of the hands pressed against the window.
Tommy would have yelled for Mark, had not a forest of clutching hands on long arms suddenly burst forth from the filthy tank and clasped themselves over his face and mouth.
Mark decided that enough was enough. The air was bad down here. It had given him a headache. And he was getting the creeps, as well – his skin was clammy, prickled, the blood far below the surface.
He checked his watch.
“Where’s Tommy?” he asked.
Something tugged at his sleeve. He jumped and said the worst word he knew, was immensely relieved to see that it was only his little brother and not some...well...creature.
“Come on,” he said to the others. “Let’s go. We’ve been down here long enough already.”
“What? You scared?” Brad asked.
“No. Me and the squirt are gonna be eating pretty soon, and if we’re late I’ll get in trouble.”
“Mommy’s good widdle boy!” Brad said.
“Least my Mom ain’t out hookin’,” Mark replied.
Jonah laughed. Brad pushed him.
“Faggot,” he said.
Dinner was pork chops, diced broccoli, and potatoes au gratin.
Tomorrow was Sunday, which meant church for the boys. Around ten-thirty or so they were both in their rooms, in bed.
Beside Mark’s bunk was a heating vent through which he could hear most of what went on downstairs, and he listened carefully. The television burred on in an unintelligible monotone. Then, the telephone rang and Mother spoke to someone with easy familiarity – probably his aunt Ruby, from the sound of it. When she talked to her boyfriend she became giggly and girlish and frankly embarrassing.
The telephone conversation ended. Then, finally – at long last – the television was quiet. Footsteps, on the stairs. Mark feigned innocent sleep. The door to his room squeaked open – Mother always checked on the two boys before going to bed – and clicked shut.
He waited for ten, perhaps fifteen minutes. It generally didn’t take Mother long to fall asleep and then she was dead to the world.
Outside in the hallway tree-shadows danced, sliding up and down the walls. Mark picked his path with knowledge and skill, carefully avoiding the floorboards and stair risers that protested if stepped on. Tucked under one arm was TEST - PROTO-SHOGGOTH #1, TEST - PROTO-SHOGGOTH #2.
In the living room, he adjusted the television’s volume. The VCR, despite his best efforts, was as noisy as ever and went through a battery of clicks, clunks, and whirring before it decided it was ready to accept a tape.
Wind buffeted the house, made him glance uneasily upward. They had emerged from the shelter to find that the afternoon had become restless and shifting, each window of the dark house framing turbulent gray. Their earlier bravado was gone. Even Brad was silent, Tommy almost unnaturally so. Mark, meanwhile, could not help but feel that something was different now. Something was not entirely right, was at work in secret behind the walls and corners of the house.
Plaster, dust, warped wood, a hole in the ground and dead flies in the windowsill, that’s all there was –
No, there was something else -
There was a soft thump on the roof, making them all jump.
“What was that?” Jonah asked.
“Just a pine cone,” Mark replied.
The first tape proved a disappointment. Static and nothing else. Mark sighed, yet felt a slight twinge of relief.
On the second tape was a man sitting in a room, but the picture jumped and rolled and wavered so that Mark could not clearly see him. Even when still, the subject was mostly in silhouette, back-lit by a window. Whoever had made the tape had known little about using video cameras. But Mark recognized the slight drawl of the hesitant voice. It was Daniel Cords. Zeke the Geek.
He was in mid-sentence. Mark adjusted the volume, but he could understand little of what Zeke was saying.
First experiment – trial – just wouldn’t – sure ain’t easy – need to – proper books.
Zeke’s tone was conversational if tinged with mild regret, that of a man who has undertaken a project that is somewhat beyond him.
The picture jumped wildly. When it stopped, Zeke was wiping the lenses of his glasses with his shirt. When he spoke again, it was surprisingly clear.
“But I suppose that’s the way it is, as usual,” he said. “I suppose some people will get the wrong idea. They always do. And they probably won’t like what they see. Well, neither did I, even though I did work hard on it. Heck, I even thought about killing it, at first. But it’s all about genetic war, folks, like I said before. It’s either the aliens or us. Genetic war.”
The picture rolled again, and the screen briefly went black. Zeke reappeared. This time, he was in the laboratory, sitting at a table with his hands folded before him, earnest and immensely patient. Mark half-expected the man to tell him that he had just discovered Jesus, or a new way to reduce credit card debt.
“Now, a lot of people would consider what I’m saying as crazy talk,” Zeke said. “And they would consider some of my ideas, well, the same. OK. Fine. Now, do I look like a mad scientist to you, I ask? Is my hair sticking out in all directions? Do I have some hunchback running around, doing my bidding?
“Well, I sure as hell don’t see any.
“Look...all I’m asking for is a little understanding, that’s - ”
An abrupt cut, and now the camera was outside surveying the house, front and back, and its grounds. It was a windy day. Mark jerked when Zeke spoke again.
“Yep. This is where history is being made. This...is where...it happened.”
The wind whined thinly.
“Face it,” Zeke said. “Sooner or later, it’s going to happen. We humans as a race are not prepared for it. And our technology will not help us. Our weapons will not help us.
“We, as a life form, must change.”
The camera followed the upward progress of a great bare tree into the sky. And then it was underground again, moving among the ranked, polished paraphernalia of the laboratory.
“OK, OK,” Zeke said. He sounded both eager and nervous to Mark. “OK, then. Like I said, I’ve been working on things and – goddammit, you gotta be kidding me. The battery light’s flashing. Unbelievable. Great. That’s just great. Well, all right then. OK. It looks as if I’m running out of time here, folks, so I’ll be getting to the important stuff now.”
The camera slowly approached a large glass tank that lay under a trestle table. Mark strained to see what was inside, but the glass was too grimy.
“OK. OK, then. I should warn you, now, that you might not like what you see next. Combining humans and shoggoths is never pretty. In fact, it’s fairly dangerous. Look at the trouble the original shoggoths caused their masters, tearing their heads off and all. Destroying their city in Antarctica. But, like I said, that’ll happen. I’m sure the first caveman who discovered fire burned himself pretty damned good, too.”
Within the tank something shifted. The movement was like that of a python – slow, but suggestive of great power.
“Sluggish,” Zeke said. He tapped the glass. When this did not produce the desired result, he tapped it again harder.
What followed was chaos, the sudden spring of a trap door spider. There was a great, inexplicable, fleshy fumbling and flopping. Zeke yelled. The camera spun wildly out of control and fell to the ground.
The nauseating racket continued. There was a rueful, knowing chuckle, and then the camera was righted again.
“Hoo,” Zeke said, gasping. “Wow. Gotta watch them things. Proto-shoggoths are like that. Here, let me focus. Still can’t believe the battery’s just about gone, goddammit.”
From the tank blindly writhed and clutched a mad conglomeration of human arms – ten, twenty, perhaps even thirty or more. They grasped at the lip of the tank and the legs of the trestle table. The hub to which they were attached bulged obscenely into view, filling like a lung, only for a moment – but long enough that Mark saw the glistening viscera within the deep, bloodless rents, pulsing with mindless life. From the wrack an enormous, glazed eye surfaced. It glared madly at the camera, and then mercifully subsided. The arms continued their desperate groping for several horrible moments, and then they, too, sullenly, finally withdrew behind the smeared glass.
Zeke was still slightly out of breath.
“Yeah...like I said, you gotta watch them things. It’s not quite strong enough to get out of the tank, yet. At least I don’t think it is, anyway.
“But, you’ve still gotta be careful because if it gets hold of you good, it’ll infect you, like cancer. It’ll make your cells into its cells. At least that’s what I think this particular one does. I’ve seen it do it to some of the other lab animals. The books aren’t too clear about it, though, because they don’t deal too much with shoggoths. Heck, some of them claim they don’t even exist. And they hardly mention proto-shoggoths at all. The Hermetic Order sure as hell doesn’t. Well, here’s proof otherwise. It may not be perfect, but it’s a start.
“Anyway, as I was saying - ”
It was a very long time before Mark so much as dared move.
Tommy, by contrast, was restless. He alternated between chill and fever. His sheets were soaked with sweat.
He could not entirely recall what had happened that day, something that had involved Jonah, possibly Mark. There had been dark and damp and clutching hands at the end of it, and then release. There had been a house, too, and a large rusting steel drum with a square hole cut into that Jonah said was a barbecue. There had been paint cans and a skull and a thing hanging in webs and the sense that something was watching and waiting, watching and waiting for its moment, something that lived between the walls and under the floors and came to the windows at night. Then they were outside, the wind blowing hard and the trees nodding knowingly to one another. Tommy had heard voices speaking, outside and within his head.
One of the outside voices said something about dinner. One of the inside voices – which didn’t laugh like those outside – muttered nonsense: e’yahh, y’haaa, y’haaa, ngghhh’yaaa it went, droning, sonorous, more sensation and pulse than syllable, welling up from the parched earth, filtering down from the dead sky above. E’yahh, y’haaa, y’haaa, ngghhh’yaaa.
His body had felt curious, coiled, full of terrible desires. It took a great deal to keep from throttling the soft, weak creature beside him.
To calm himself, he had silently recited the rules for monsters: You have to get the monster before it gets you. The monster can’t get you if you are with other people.
If the monster sees you, sooner or later it will get you.
Dinner was pork chops, diced broccoli, and potatoes au gratin, but he sensed better things were soon to be had.
Within him now was the overmastering urge to return to the parent mass, to the countless arms in their narrow resting-place.
At long last, he thrust the sheets back. Already, catastrophic changes had overcome his body. He stretched and threaded outward onto the cold wood floor and then out into the hall, groping blindly with impossible arms, his flesh and viscera no longer bound to the random, scattered bones left behind.