The train let me off a block from my apartment on the eastern fringe of the city. I clutched Hopley’s journal to my chest along with several other books on arcane languages that I thought might be useful to me. It was night, and the streetlights were shrouded with the kind of fog that streetlights get shrouded with in stories like these. It was exactly the kind of night where one might expect a mysterious figure to accost me about the stone artifact on my way home, and in fact, that is precisely what happened.
“Show me the stone,” said a figure in the shadows. He was wearing a hooded sweatshirt that said “Miskatonic” on it in collegiate lettering. I’d heard of the school, shrouded in legend though it was.
The figure moved toward me at an angle that didn’t make sense. It startled me, and I nearly dropped my books. Then the figure was in my face, and I realized he didn’t have one. A face. The sweatshirt’s hood was a black void, and I felt myself falling into it. I screamed. My scream disappeared into the sweatshirt’s hood.
“Show me the stone,” the figure repeated, the voice coming from somewhere in the blackness.
I turned and ran. It was the only thing I could think to do. I was amazed that it was even possible for me to run. I thought the creature had me in its thrall, but apparently not. So I ran.
A train arrived at the station heading in the other direction. I jumped on it, not daring to look behind me. Then I dared to look behind me.
A black void. The creature was right in front of me. As if it had never changed its position while I ran – just stuck to me like gum in a perm. It was there. Waiting. Silent.
“Show me the stone,” it said, and grabbed me. I screamed. A black whiteness clouded my vision, a color I couldn’t really describe if you asked me to, but it obscured the world for a moment. When my vision returned, I was back where this had all started, standing on the street corner, the creature in front of me, the void under its hood menacing, cold, empty in the way a grave shouldn’t be.
I shuffled my books under one arm and pulled the stone out with my other hand, the blackness where the figure’s face should be lulling me into hypnotic compliance.
The figure reached out and took…absorbed…the figure had the stone. Just like that. I had no control. I swear, if this was the moment when I failed, when it all went wrong, when the horror started, just know this. I had no control.
Then the worst thing of all happened. The voice – I couldn’t stop it. It said the words. It said the words on the stone. Out loud.
The stars…my god. What was wrong with the stars? They started moving. Overhead. Forming shapes and patterns. Was I the only one who noticed? What awful creatures had the power to move the stars?
Blackness took me. I wish something more had happened, but what else does the body do when faced with extreme stress and horror but simply let go of consciousness?
“Wake up,” said something very far away. I swam in darkness, a wet, slithering darkness, a darkness that…
I woke up.
I was lying on a bed in a concrete room with one dim bulb in the ceiling. A bearded man stood over me. He wore a professorial tweed suit and a look of concern on his face from which his brown hair receded as if in fear.
“Well you’ve done it,” he said.
“I’ve done what?” My voice seemed to come from somewhere else, my mouth disconnected from my consciousness.
“You gave the stone away.”
“Well it’s not like I had much of a choice,” I protested as I tried to sit up. The world swam away from me. I winced and forced unwilling consciousness to return.
“If you knew anything about those creatures, and you should, knowing what we do about your background and credentials, you’d have known how to prevent it getting the stone from you.”
“But those…those can’t be real. Those things exist in lore and legend. Ancient legend, only scraps of which still exist today.”
“You’re telling me the thing you saw with your own eyes can’t be real?” The man reached over and handed me a glass of what I could only hope was water. I sipped it, then drank it down, my mouth a desert.
“I’m telling you…” But I wasn’t sure what I was telling him. “I’m not sure what I’m telling you.”
“That you’re useless and stupid?”
“Very eloquently put, Mr. James.” The sarcasm dripped off the man like ichor.
He did have a point – I had just given the creature the stone. I was useless and stupid.
“Who are you, anyway?” I asked.
“I am Professor Erik Crane, most recently of Miskatonic University’s archaeology department. We look for things like the stone you lost for us. Such items – artifacts belonging to the Old Ones and the Deep Ones and even great Cthulhu Himself – have a peculiar quantum signal that is slightly out of phase with the rest of the known universe. That’s a gross oversimplification, of course, but the point is that over the past few decades we’ve developed methods to track down these artifacts and gather them for safekeeping in the University’s secure vault.”
Crane’s utterance of the name of that dread god of R’lyeh – He Who Lays dead but dreaming in his impossible fortress of nightmares under the sea – sent such shivers through me I worried my spine might spontaneously detach and run away. I had studied the Old Ones, of course, through the writings of Lovecraft and others, but always with the understanding that these were legends, myths, clever fictions at best. To now be faced with the reality…therein lay true madness. Still, asking the professor to repeat himself, to confirm, to reassure me that what he’d told me was indeed true – that seemed a waste of time. I let the knowledge wrap scaly tentacles around my mind, let it settle there, resisted the urge to rip my own head off my body and hurl it at the man.
“H….” Words. I needed words. I blinked at Dr. Crane.
“I can only assume you are about to ask how you can help me, Mr. James. And in fact, you can.”
He handed me Copley’s journal. I blinked at it. My mind was full of tentacles and static.
“We don’t have much time, Mr. James. Please come to your senses.”
I shook my head from side to side, slapped myself in the face, and let out a barbaric yawp. I blinked at Dr. Crane again and nodded slowly.
“I think…I think I have my senses.”
“Excellent news. Now. Please turn to the page with the etching of the stone.”
I did so. There was the symbol…the symbol of something I now knew to be as real as the sun, as real as the mattress upon which I was perched, as real as the mustache on Dr. Crane’s face. Ia! Ia! The chant came unbidden to mind.
“Tell me, Mr. James.”
“You know I also have a couple of doctorates, so… you can call me Dr. James. If you, you know, want to.”
“Is that so? Tell me, Mr. James, what Mr. Copley’s notes say about how to stop the Shoggoth that stole the stone from you.”
“That was a Shoggoth? I…I don’t know. I expected more tentacles.”
“Evolution, Mr. James.”
“Yes. Well, ok…according to Copley’s journal, I have to …find another stone to …sync with the stone that was stolen, and I can use the second stone to find the first one? Sounds too easy.”
“Ah,” I said, furrowing my brow. “I see. Then I have to find the first stone, throw it into the ocean, and say the incantation backward while facing away from the water.”
“And if you get the backwards incantation wrong?”
“It would be bad.”
“You should have thought of that before you said the incantation,” said Dr. Crane.
“I didn’t say that. The Shoggoth said it.”
“The Shoggoth made you say the incantation, my friend,” said Dr. Crane.
I remembered now. The void in the hooded sweatshirt…it had engulfed me…had pried my mouth open…had taken control of my lips. Had made it seem like the creature was saying the words, but in fact…it was me. I had said the incantation.
My mind began to crack. I whimpered. I mewled. But before I could get too far into my psychotic break, we were interrupted by a low rumble from outside.
“It has started,” said Dr. Crane.
“What has?” I managed.
“The ascension. That Shoggoth was the key to unlocking something much, much worse. A dread force that lives now…lives now…” The way he said “lives” filled me with a kind of terror that I cannot, even now, after all that has happened, begin to describe, “that lives now underneath the Cascadia Subduction Zone.”
“The…fault line that’s supposed to destroy half of the West Coast when it blows?”
“The very same! And through arcane means that no human can possibly understand, under the fault line lies R’lyeh itself, and it is beginning to rise. And with it…with it comes dread Cthulhu, the greatest and most terrible of the Elder Gods. The stars are right once more, my dear Mr. James, thanks to your incantation, and Cthulhu wakes from his horrible slumber and begins to rise!”
I think I screamed. The earth shook. Dr. Crane grabbed my arm, chanted something, and I found myself somewhere else.