The rumbling had stopped. People were out in the street with flashlights checking on damage. It was classified as a minor earthquake, and the news was assuring everyone that it wasn’t the “big one,” even though the epicenter was off the coast. Still, there was a sense of tension in the air, as everyone checked on their emergency supply kits and finally investigated earthquake insurance.
“Why’d it stop?” I asked Dr. Crane. We were walking to the building site where the original stone talisman had been found. Dr. Crane’s instruments, the function of which I did not understand, but which whirred and beeped and had flashing lights and looked kind of like the thing the Ghostbusters used to detect paranormal activity, were pointing him to the building site as a potential source where we might find other eldritch souvenirs.
“That was just Cthulhu rolling over in His sleep, so to speak. Come, we must get to the building site.”
“Ok, that brings up another question. Why’d you decide to teleport us six blocks from the building site?”
“To avoid suspicion,” Dr. Crane responded as we crossed the intersection of 60th and Belmont. An easy answer, but I nodded and went with it, because having to walk five blocks was so far down the list of our concerns that it wasn’t actually on the list.
Patients milled outside the medical center on the south side of the street while a crew checked the old brick structure for damage from the tremor. There were small cracks in the sidewalk that I wasn’t entirely sure had been there before. Then again, my mind wasn’t really focused on what was around me right now. My mind was worried about what was coming.
The building site was a gaping hole where old trees and a few houses had been razed. At 65th, Belmont was a winding tree-lined path up Mount Tabor, that dormant, forested volcano in the middle of the city that nobody was afraid of. Yet.
Wait, why’d I think that? I shook it off. My brain came up with the strangest things sometimes.
“You’re wondering if you should be afraid of Mount Tabor,” said Dr. Crane.
“I’m telepathic. A little. Sometimes. It comes and goes. Anyway, you should. But not for a good...oh…I’d say thousand years or so. Ghatanothoa is still quite asleep.”
“The…volcano god? Is here?? Under one of the most inconsequential calderas in the world?”
“Where would you hide if you wanted to be inconspicuous?”
“Good point,” I said. Then I shivered, despite the warm weather. The Pacific Northwest was apparently crawling with Elder Gods who would one day destroy everything. Madness crawled at the edges of my vision, full of worms, full of terror. I pushed it away. I wondered how long I had left before it consumed me.
It was after 9:00 pm and the building site looked deserted. A long, rectangular hole had been dug into the hillside, and piers poked out at regular intervals. Dr. Crane cut a hole in the fence with a knife he pulled out of his satchel. I wondered why he didn’t just teleport us in there.
“Do you want me to teleport you into one of those piers by accident? It’s not a precise science.”
He was a rather inconsistent person, I thought, but still, we were in.
Dr. Crane’s device pointed us to the southwest corner of the site. Dr. Crane donned a flashlight headband which he turned on, but it didn’t illuminate anything.
“Battery dead?” I said, like an idiot.
“No indeed, Mr. James. This device is working perfectly. It illuminates things beyond dimensions that you can see. I have been trained in its use. You have not. Thus, you see darkness where I see a whole world.”
The earth shook again. I dropped into a crouch and held on. One of the construction piers screeched and started to fall, headed directly for Dr. Crane. I leaped and tackled him out of the way, just like the movies. The pier crashed to the ground inches from my head.
The earth rolled and cracked. A fissure opened nearby, and we scrambled to avoid falling into it. Above the rumbling, a dread keening could be heard, a wail, somehow beyond hearing but in it, like the crying of the dead. The wailing became a chant, a warbling call, Ia! Ia! Ia!
Dr. Crane chanted back at the darkness, words I cannot even begin to transcribe, words in an ancient and terrible language, the tongue of the Elder Gods. He chanted while the Earth shook, while the keening wail of Ia! Ia! wrapped tentacles around my mind once more.
The shaking slowed, then stopped. The ground was fissured and cracked, the distant sound of car alarms, the beginnings of smoke sharp in my nose.
“What did you do?” I managed, after catching my breath.
“Hit the snooze button, so to speak,” said Dr. Crane. “It won’t last. Quick, we need to find that other stone.”
His device pointed us toward a fissure that had opened in the ground, from which a strange light was emanating, a light made of darkness yet fully visible.
“It’s activated,” said Dr. Crane. He crouched near the fissure and put a hand in, reaching. “Aha!” He pulled out his hand. A second stone, the same as the one I had given to the Shoggoth, radiated pure darkness, a malevolent light made of colors that weren’t of this world, that didn’t belong here.
“Ok, but how do I ‘sync’ it with the first one so we can track down the Shoggoth and stop all this?”
Dr. Crane handed me the stone. It pulled me in a direction.
“See? As the one who chanted the incantation, this talisman is guiding you, and only you, to the place where the final ritual must occur – the final joining of the stones and sacrifice that will finally awaken and summon dread Cthulhu.”
“I thought he was already summoned.”
“Don’t be thick. Cthulhu has been dreaming his dead sleep for eons. It takes more than a gentle prodding to wake Him.”
I nodded. I was a little suspicious of all of this – nothing seemed to quite fit together, but Dr. Crane seemed to know what he was talking about.
“Come,” said Dr. Crane, and teleported us.
I found myself staring at a turbulent sea, a strange glow coming from within. Haystack Rock stood silhouetted by lightning flashes, while thunder rolled at strange angles to reality. Hooded creatures stood in a circle, a strange symbol written in the sand in the middle. The stone in my hand burned and brightened its terrible colors. It pulled me toward the circle of hooded figures. I stumbled in that direction, terror constricting my mind. Dr. Crane followed behind me. I focused on the crunch of his footsteps in the sand, something concrete and real, a sound that I could use to keep my mind from flying apart.
One of the hooded figures turned to me, blackness where his face should be, a blackness I could only see in flashes of lightning. I stared into the darkness there, petrified, unable to move. The sea roiled and crashed, lit from within by a sinister glow.
The Shoggoth raised a black hand and curled a finger, beckoning me forward. I found myself clutching the second stone in a tight fist, my hand shaking with the effort. The stone burned there, burned my hand, and I whimpered. It raised my arm and pulled me forward. I stumbled toward the circle.
“The sacrifice begins! Ia! Ia! C’thulhu Fhtagn!” It was Dr. Crane’s voice I heard. “Let the great dark lord rise from His City of R’lyeh, to raze the world and build it anew!”
I stumbled toward the circle, my mind in tatters, whimpering and mewling, the skin on my hand burning from the stone talisman. The black hood of the Shoggoth enveloped my vision, blocking out the world, an impossible void into which I was forever falling. I could not call out, could not fight, could not stop myself falling inexorably forward, toward that sinister circle of Shoggoths, with their arcane and horrible symbols and their hideous chanting.
The sea churned and boiled, and I saw something rise from it, a cracking shudder breaking through arcane dimensions. A stone tower, its proportions impossible, its angles inconceivable, folding in and back and through itself in ways that M.C. Escher would call confusing, pierced the roiling foam. A horrible noise, like the crashing down of Heaven itself. Haystack Rock began to shake itself apart, coming down in a massive rockslide, as the tower rose, breaking through the sea and into the land. The earth shook, and I lurched forward, pulled by forces I could not understand, kept upright by dark magic. Suddenly I was lifted off the heaving sand, and I found myself floating toward the circle of Shoggoths.
I found myself in the middle of the circle, lying prostrate on the sand with my limbs at angles to the symbol drawn there. The stone rose from my hand and the Shoggoth took it. I saw the Shoggoth join the two stones together, and a piercing light blinded me.
I could not move. I swear, dear reader, if I could have stopped the ritual, if I could have killed myself or disrupted the incantations, if I could have destroyed the symbol on the sand, if I could have taken the stones and flung them into the sea, I would have. You must believe me. I had no control. None.
A silver knife, curved and jagged, flashed in the lightning, held in a Shoggoth’s hand. It plunged downward, into me, through me, into the sand. I screamed. I died.
And yet, I live. I live because I am the Symbol. I am the Symbol and the Sacrifice. I sit in this impossible stone parapet, overlooking the ruined city of Portland, in my eternal prison cell, and I write this story. In my head. Over and over again. I must tell what happened. I must. I look down at the pentagonal scar on my stomach, where they cut out my soul, where my humanity bled out of me, and I am numb. Dear reader, dear imaginary reader, out there in a reality that now exists only in the shreds of my mind, oh how I miss the world.
Outside my window, the Old Ones roam streets where once the great and weird people of Portland lived their tiny lives. I see the ruined face of Portlandia herself, that once great statue, lying prostrate on the ground as if in supplication to the Elder Gods, and I weep. I weep for you all. Ia! Ia! How I weep…