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a story of the Cthulhu Mythos 2011 by Jim LaVigne The statement of Michael G. Handley, lately of Boston, Mass, as recorded December 3rd, 1938, at Danvers State Hospital for the Insane, Dr. L. F. Atterburn attending physician. I‟ve been asked to write this by the doctors here at dear old Danvers. Probably they think it will be therapeutic or something, but I doubt it. Likely it‟s a fat waste of time. But then who knows? Maybe somebody besides the doctors and record-keepers will read it. And maybe they‟ll even believe it. But again, probably not. Most likely, anyone who reads this will write it off as the rambling of a madman. If so, the foulness we thought we‟d exterminated down in the bayou will go on, polluting who knows how many innocent people, eventually infecting the entire living world. And I‟ll stay here in the empty room with the padded walls. That‟s just how things usually work. Now, don‟t get me wrong. I know that it‟s perfectly reasonable to think of me as insane. After all, people don‟t usually flip out like I did that day in the grocer‟s. They don‟t go berserk in the dairy section and fling foodstuffs all over the place. They don‟t scream and cry and go running out into the street and they certainly don‟t babble incoherently for hours on end about someone named Bessie. I know that. But then most people haven‟t seen what I‟ve seen. So what the hell, I‟ll tell you the story. Maybe it is just a fantasy, some elaborate tale my demented mind has invented out of thin air. But then again, maybe it‟s not. Maybe it‟s stone cold truth. I‟ll let you be the judge. The big Packard 443 barreled along the two-lane country road through the rain-lashed night, its frog headlights making a tunnel through the inky, moss-hung trees and swamps of the Louisiana bayou country. A major storm that would eventually be called the Big Okeechobee Hurricane had been ravaging Florida and the Gulf for two solid days and the levees were fit to burst. All in all, a rough night for traveling, but it was too late to turn back and the area was far too lonely and depopulated to hope for a motel or even the friendly lights of a roadside diner. Just us, the car, the rain, the narrow black road, and miles and miles of swamp. The date was September 19, 1928. There were four of us in the car, all employees—Agents, the boss liked to call us—of a Boston-based concern with the deliberately bland and anonymous name of the Montgomery Nash Professional Association. We were on our way home from a job. It had been a good one, for once; no one had gotten killed, no one had been forced to kill anyone or anything, no one had gone gibbering insane… Sure, Wong still had that nervous tic, and Florence really needed to see a doctor about the six-inch gash in her leg she‟d had to sew up herself. But I guess it tells you something about the nature of our work when I say that these were acceptable, even negligible damages. Yeah, it‟s that kind of work. Most people wouldn‟t even believe it could happen, and those of us who know it does wish to hell it wouldn‟t. Crazy, huh? Anyway, my name is Mike Handley and I‟m a mechanic. Engines and motors are my specialty, but if you need just about anything fixed or jury-rigged, I‟m your man. I also know a little about how to destroy things, having done a stint in the Army as a combat engineer. As to why I worked for Mr. Montgomery and Dr. Nash, chasing monsters and crazy cultists and unspeakable things from beyond and such, let‟s just say that all of us there had our reasons, but mine was simple: Facing a hellacious big tab to certain gambling concerns, I needed the money. Real bad. It was this or get my legs broke, and mad and impossible as the work often was, no one could say that it didn‟t pay. My comrades and I earned in a month what most working stiffs pulled down in a year.
Sitting with me in the back seat was Dr. Morton Webber, a taller, distinguished-looking sort of older guy in his usual tweed suit. He was a doctor of what they called parapsychology, the study of the paranormal. You know—ghosts and goblins, spooks and little men from Mars and all that sort of nutty stuff. Me, I always wondered what kind of self-respecting university would hand out degrees in things like that, but then I‟m just a humble grease monkey. What do I know? Anyway, the Doc knew all about the occult, all the hoodoo and so-called magic these nuts at MN all seemed to believe in. He didn‟t talk much and he wasn‟t much help in a fight, but damned if I hadn‟t seen him save the day, more than once, with his old books, gibberish chanting, and stinky chemicals. Engaged in a no-holds-barred wrestling match with the wheel of the Packard was Kurt Wong, a stocky fellow of Chinese descent with a face like a frying pan and a cynical, jaded kind of slant on life. I was never sure exactly what Wong‟s line of work actually was. He could handle just about any kind of gun and was good in a scrap. He could drive pretty well and he knew a lot of folks in the criminal fraternity. Maybe he would best be described as a crook of some sort. There were always folks like that around the office at MN; shady characters about whom one didn‟t ask too many questions. But whatever he was, I always got along with him just fine and considered him a pretty good Joe. Our sort-of leader on this trip was one Florence Gayle, a crackerjack nurse and a real looker—big blue eyes, great figure, and lips just made for kissing. Not that I knew anything about her lips—she tended to look at me and the rest of the men around MN as something just above pond scum—but I would‟ve been something less than an average red-blooded American boy if I hadn‟t noticed and made a few attempts at flirting. I say that she was the “sort-of” leader because we don‟t really have leaders at MN. Just those who stay sane (and alive) long enough to make decisions. But designated or not, Florence tended to lead. When the chips were down and the guns were going off and everyone was yelling at each other and some hideous monstrosity from another dimension was about to bite your head off, she always managed to keep her cool. All told, one hell of a gal. We weren‟t friends, exactly, or even acquaintances, but we were coworkers and comrades, having gone through a lot of violent, mind-shattering experiences with each other, and we liked and trusted each other. And at the time, despite the hurricane and the loneliness of our situation, we were happy enough just to be on the way home after a job well done. I remember we had the radio playing; Sophie Tucker doing her new one, The Man I Love, followed by a news report on the storm. We‟d been on the same deserted stretch for what seemed like hours when we came to a wooden bridge—one of a thousand like it we‟d already crossed—where the water had risen over the roadbed. Carefully, Wong nosed the big car across the sheets of water and the wood planking beneath and luckily it wasn‟t a long span, because just as we gained the other side, there was a terrible groaning, splintering noise and the whole shebang went splashing into the bayou. I was staring out the back window. “Mother of God!” I swore. “Did you see that? The whole damned bridge!” “Close one,” said Wong, shaking his head. The Doc looked stunned, sort of wide-eyed and shocked, and Florence scowled. “Too close,” she said. “We might have to stop. Look for shelter.” “Out here?” said Doc Webber. “Unlikely, at best, I‟m afraid.” “Well, we ain‟t stoppin‟ here,” I said, watching the last timbers of the bridge go careening into the water. “C‟mon Wong, get us to some higher ground!” He did, driving on into even stronger sheets of driven rain, and we motored along in tense silence for a few more miles. I had just spotted something—a light ahead—and had opened my mouth to say something when the car hit a bump in the road, there were several loud bangs from beneath our feet, and suddenly we were fishtailing wildly down the slick road. It probably didn‟t help that the rest of screamed like little kids on a playground, but Wong managed to get the big
sedan under control soon enough; it rolled to a grating halt and then we were all just sitting there looking at each other, breathing hard and listening to the pelting rain on the roof. “What the hell was that?” I finally said, clutching my chest. “What happened?” “Hit something,” said Wong, avuncular as ever. “Something in the road.” “No kidding!” I said. “But what? That sounded like we blew all the tires!” “Yeah, better have a look,” said Florence. She reached for her umbrella. “Come on.” Out in the rain, umbrella or no umbrella, it was like jumping fully clothed into a lake. Within seconds we were all soaked to the skin. I walked around the car to see what the trouble was, but a blind man could have spotted the fact that all four of the thick white wall tires were shredded like Swiss cheese. Whatever we‟d hit or run over had turned them into scrap rubber. Scanning the road and wiping rain from my face, I walked back a few yards and found the source of the trouble, a length of thick chain that had been studded every six inches or so with long, thick, ten-penny nails and lain across the road. A trap. Gathered around in the rain in a little group, we all looked at each other. “Who would do this?” Florence asked, saying what we were all thinking. “And why?” I looked around and then pointed. “Don‟t know,” I said, raising my voice over the rain and wind. “But look over there—there‟s a light!” They all saw it too, but nobody set off that way. Instead we all piled back into the car, squeezed some of the water from our clothes, and talked it over. “Well?” asked Doc Webber, looking a lot less scholarly all soaking wet. “What are we going to do?” “We could keep going,” I said. “Run on the rims. Be slow and it‟d ruin the wheels, but we‟d keep moving…” “Or,” said Florence, “we can go see what that light is. Of course, there‟s always the possibility…” she trailed off. “Possibility of what?” asked the Doc. “That whoever‟s got the light over there,” I explained, “is the same one who put that chain in the road.” “Maybe more than one,” said Wong. “Good point,” Florence said. “But the gist is the same: Whoever‟s out there could very well be the one who did it.” “But why?” wondered Doc Webber. “To what end?” I shrugged. “Rob us, maybe. Steal the car. Who knows? Lots of crazy, lawless hillbillies down here, Doc. Beat you up and rob you for a greenback dollar.” “I suppose so,” he said, scratching his chin like he always did when he was thinking. “Seems a bit extreme, though…” “I say,” said Wong, drawing his .45 from beneath his coat, “we should go pay „em a visit. Find out soon enough what‟s what.” We all thought it over for a little while. Finally I spoke up. “I vote we go see who‟s got the light. If they didn‟t set the trap, fine. And if they did? Well, then we‟ll just do like Wong said and have a little chat with „em. Either way, they might have a car or a truck—even a horse—we can use to get out of here. At least somewhere in out of the rain! Anyway, that‟s my vote.” Wong patted his pistol and nodded in agreement and the Doc shrugged apathetically, but Florence shook her head. “I don‟t know,” she said. “This whole setup is like something out of those pulp magazines you always read. The lonely house in the middle of nowhere, the dark and stormy night… Just a little too pat for me.” I shrugged at her. “I don‟t like it much either,” I said. “But what can we do? It‟s gotta be twenty miles to the nearest town. We can‟t make that on rims. And if we stay here, I‟d say there‟s a good chance we‟ll get washed away, car and all, by all that water. Remember that washed-out
bridge? Now, that light is up on a rise. It‟s not a big rise, not a hill, even, but it‟s higher than here! Looks like at least one building, too, something we could climb up on… I say we got no choice.” We gave the issue some more chin music, talking it over, but it boiled down to the same two unpleasant choices: Stay here and drown or go visit the kind of person or people who would weld ten-pennies to a logging chain and then sling it across the road at night. Finally, though, spurred along by the noticeably rising water around the ruined wheels of the Packard, we decided. Grabbing our gear—as much as we could comfortably carry, anyway—we climbed back out into the downpour and started toward the light. As we discovered soon enough, there was a sort of road, an overgrown but raised causeway sort of thing that led straight toward the light and what turned out to be three buildings and some rangy mangroves and willows. We hadn‟t gone ten steps along this raised path when Doc Webber stopped us and pointed to something next to the road. A mailbox, rusted with spots of peeled white paint, sat there on a wooden pole. The little flag on the side was bent sideways, the door on the front was ripped half off, and the whole thing leaned crazily to one side. A single word was written in crude block capitals: Gobler. There was no mail in it. After a wet slog of about a quarter mile the place came into better view and we could see that indeed, there were three buildings, a house, a barn, and another one-story shed. The whole joint looked overgrown, with vines and moss on the roofs and eaves and tall weeds in the yard and between the drooping willows. Almost deserted. But there was the light, a single bright bulb on a tall pole in the middle of the yard, and somehow I got the feeling that it wasn‟t nearly as uninhabited as it looked. The nearest structure was the barn and since the wide swinging doors were already open we headed for it and got in out of the rain. Like any barn, it smelled of animal crap and hay and old machines. It was dark in there, too, even darker than outside, and we all stopped to break out our battery-powered hand lamps before looking around. “Golly, what a mess!” said Florence, shining her light about. She wasn‟t exaggerating; there were piles of junk everywhere, thick cobwebs in all the corners, and a dense coat of dust over everything. Plus, now that we‟d had some time to notice it, there was another smell to the place, like a lizard or a snake. “Looks abandoned,” I said. “Like it hasn‟t been used in years.” “Maybe,” said Webber, leaning to peer at something on the dirt floor, “but then look at this.” We crowded around and had a look in the glow of our lights and saw right away what he was talking about. There were normal, human tracks, a confusion of them, but also a rather different pair of footprints in the dust. Recent, from the look of them, they were strangely shaped and thin, like the tracks of some large bird or reptile. Decidedly not human, and not left by any farm animal we could imagine. “What made those?” asked Wong bluntly. “Huh, Doc? Can you tell?” “Not sure,” said the Doc. “Could be a—“ But then he was interrupted, as there came an ear-splitting scream and the flap of something leathery and suddenly a big dark shape with an abnormally large head and massive wings was swooping down on us from the rafters. “Byakhee!” yelled Doc Webber, fumbling for something in his pockets. “Look out!” I had a glimpse of something big and ragged and toothy, something like a giant bug with fur and bat‟s wings, before both Wong and I opened up with our guns—he with his .45, me with my shotgun—and the place exploded in noise and flame. The creature, all seven feet of it, less the wings, was very fast and very hard to make out in the murky barn, causing our shots to go wild. For a moment we lost sight of it, somewhere up in the cobwebbed rafters, but then Florence gave a scream and we wheeled to see that the monster had come down from the shadows and now had her cornered, off to one side, and looked about ready to pounce on her like a dog on raw meat. She let out another scream, her eyes wild with terror, as the thing moved in for the kill.
Wong and I rushed to get a bead on the horrible critter, but it was too close to Florence to risk it; any shot we took might just as likely hit her as the monster. Madly, we jockeyed for position, but it was no use; the creature had her dead to rights and there was doodley squat we could do about it. Just then, as I was about to give up and just smack the thing‟s semblance of a head with the butt of my shotgun as a last resort, Doc Webber stepped up and, brandishing (as well as he could) some little thing like a piece of rock, gave a shout. “Hey!” he yelled at the beast. “Over here!” For whatever reason (maybe just Webber‟s voice, which was quite deep and what they call authoritative), the thing turned from Florence and faced the Doc. In the light of our lamps it was truly, profoundly horrible: Eyes like glowing embers, a mouth full of jagged, irregular teeth, skin like a rotting elephant, and several profusions of cilia or hair or antennae that stood out from its sinewy body like plant growth. The Doc had given it a name, but I was more than ready to settle for plain old monster. The real question was: Could we kill it before it killed us? Wong and I were about to unload on the thing again, it having moved away from Florence enough for a clear shot, but the Doc was too quick for us. Raising his hand with the rock in it, he shouted some stuff I didn‟t catch, something about Nodens and the Plain of Ultimate Chaos, and the monster suddenly cringed, like it had been smacked by an invisible backhand. Then it gathered itself up before leaping and flying right out the barn doors. Off into the night. In a matter of seconds and a batty flourish, the old barn was quiet again. We reeled in the sudden calm for a moment, then I swallowed the cotton in my mouth. “Christ, what was that?” I asked, going to Florence‟s side. “Some kind of giant rotten bat?” “No, it was a Byakhee,” said Doc Webber weakly, pale and sweating. “A summoned creature from Outside.” Checking her over, I saw that Florence was unharmed, but there was still a wild look in her eyes I didn‟t like and she didn‟t seem to hear me when I asked if she was OK. Gently, I took her by the shoulders and forced her to look into my eyes. “Listen to me,” I told her, trying to sound a lot calmer than I felt. “The thing is gone. Hear me? It‟s gone now, you‟re OK.” With what looked like a supreme effort, she shook herself and gave a big, all-over sigh. Her eyes refocused, losing some of their panicky gleam. She looked at me and shuddered. “I‟m alright,” she said, not very convincingly. “Just… rattled there for a second.” “Small wonder,” I said, patting her arm. “That thing would‟ve scared anybody! But like I said, it‟s gone.” “Thanks to the Doc,” said Wong. I turned to Webber myself and nodded gratefully. “Yeah, Doc,” I grinned at him, “that was a fancy piece of work! What‟d you use on it, anyway?” Webber held up his hand and showed us his secret weapon, a rock about the size of a silver dollar. I almost laughed. “A rock?” I said. “That did it? A damn piece of rock?” “Much more than that,” Webber said gravely. “And much more effective. This is an Elder Sign.” “Oh, one of those,” I said. I‟d heard about these things before; some kind of rock not native to planet Earth, kind of like soapstone, and carved with a weird symbol like a flaming eye. Personally I hadn‟t imagined that they were good for much, just more mumbo jumbo, but I had just come a long way toward becoming a believer. I clapped Webber on the back. “Whatever it is,” I told him, “it saved our butts. Especially Florence‟s. Wouldn‟t want anything to happen to that…” She smiled, kind of half-heartedly, at my lame attempt at whatever it was I was attempting, and nodded to the Doc.
“Yes, thanks,” she said. “But won‟t it come back? I mean, it isn‟t dead, is it?” “No, only banished,” Webber said. “And it will probably return. But not for at least a few hours, I should think.” “Good,” Florence nodded. Wong and I nodded, too. Good riddance, for Pete‟s sake! But then something occurred to me and I must have kind of slumped or looked worried, because Florence asked what was wrong. “Well,” I said, trying to put it right, “it‟s just that this kinda creature, monster, what have you, it isn‟t gonna just be hanging around in an old abandoned barn in the middle of nowhere for no reason, now is it? You said yourself it was summoned, right?” Webber nodded in agreement. Florence went sort of pale and Wong got busy reloading his gun. Me, I just had to keep flapping my gums “It‟s all something, like a plot,” I said, groping. “They laid the trap, they had this thing here in the barn…” “They who?” asked Wong. I shrugged and looked at the others. “These people who live here. The Goblers. It‟s their place, right? What the mailbox said. And besides, with all this noise, it‟s a cinch they know we‟re here.” We all shuddered. Or shivered. Me, I got this feeling like I‟d just been punched in the belly. This did not look good. These Goblers were obviously no friend to the waylaid traveler. In fact, anyone who would do this kind of thing and have some kind of otherworldly monster in their barn was more than likely something worse than unfriendly; more likely, they were violently insane. But then, we‟d faced more than our share of madmen and fanatical cultists. Of course, this was their home turf. They--whoever and however many of them there were--would have all the advantages of surprise and stealth. We could be about to blunder into God only knew what kind of a trap… I was about to tell the others about this train of thought, however unnerving, when finally Florence, who now looked a lot better, squared her shoulders, straightened her clothes, and took control. “Whoever they are,” she said, steel in her voice, “they‟re not going to mess with us. We stopped a summoning of Nyogtha, for God‟s sake! We killed that thing in Bridgeport, and we busted up that whole smuggling ring in Miami. We are not some dumb, fat tourists on our way from the Gulf. We are agents of Montgomery Nash. Whoever these Goblers are, they don‟t stand a chance.” It was a good speech. I almost let out a yell. But the gloom all around us, the latent stink from the monster, the slashing rain outside the wide barn doors… It did nothing to help. I shook off the gloom as best I could and nodded, enthusiastic-like. “You‟re right!” I said. Then some sort of better judgment, the feeling that maybe we‟d be better off as far from this place as we could get, and right away, took over and I couldn‟t help but say something. “Of course, we could just go back to the car and try to get out of here in the car. Or wait it out in the car. Or try walking out…” I trailed off. They were having none of it. Their faces said that we were in for the whole stake. I gave a grin I didn‟t feel. “But we‟re not gonna do that!” I managed, mock-heroically. “So? I guess let‟s go see who‟s at home at the old Gobler place, shall we?” Webber, his tweed suit spider-webbed, nodded hesitantly. Wong gave a frying pan grin and patted his .45, and Florence smiled grimly and waved for me to lead. “After you, mechanic,” she said. “And keep your eyes peeled.” The house was worse than the barn, in a way, because you could see where once it had been a fine old place. Built in the classic Saltbox style, with a few modifications, it sported a large veranda porch, overhung with moss and vines, lots of curlicue trim, also overhung, and above that the straight, pocked clapboard walls and narrow windows, all unlit, of a classic American farmhouse. There was a path beaten down through the weeds, leading right to the front
door, and that‟s where Florence went, up and onto the veranda and up to the glass-paned, fan-lighted, un-illuminated front door. I swallowed the knot in my throat and stepped up, too. In a show of bravado I in no way felt, I was about to reach out my stupid fist and rap on the door when Wong stopped me dead with a hiss. “Stop,” he whispered. “Trap.” I looked down. He was right; just before our feet was a tripwire, almost hidden in the foliage. Only the merest glint of its shadow—and our pal‟s sharp eyes—stood between us and what was probably not a cheery welcome. Carefully, Wong traced the wire, a filament that looked to me like a piano string, as it went along and then up and connected to a fireman‟s axe which had been artfully arranged in the foliage above the door. Anyone who came up too close to the door would have been chopped. “Nice,” I said, eyeing the setup. “Keeps away the salesmen real good!” Nobody laughed. I couldn‟t blame them. Wordlessly, Wong bent down and, with a few careful movements, disarmed the thing. For a moment we stood on the ramshackle porch. No one said anything or made a move. The house‟s front door, weathered gray and faintly green, as if it was diseased, stood there taunting us, its rusted knob daring us to enter. “Think we should knock?” I said, my voice only cracking a little. “Or just let ourselves in?” Again, nobody laughed. “No, I‟m serious,” I said. “Should we knock or not?” “Go ahead,” Florence said, withdrawing a .32 Police Special from her coat pocket. “See what happens.” I swallowed a knot the size of an apple, nodded, and then reached out with one fist and gave the sick-looking door a hearty shave-and-a-haircut. But the door was made of wood long degraded by weather and time, like knocking on cork, and the rain made such a racket on the ground and roof that there seemed little chance of anyone noticing my effort. “Maybe no one‟s home,” I said. “You know--maybe they went out or were evacuated or something.” “Maybe,” said Florence. “Only one way to find out.” I grimaced; to me, this whole setup looked like a big fat disaster just waiting to happen. Suddenly I felt a lot less courageous and the decrepit old house seemed a lot more spooky. All those dark windows, a few with broken panes, most half-obscured by vines and moss, staring at us… I won‟t lie: The cold shivers down my back had nothing to do with the rain. “Hey, look,” I said, standing between them and the door, “maybe we should re-think this. You know? After all, what are we doing here? All we want is some new tires or a tow truck, right? So we can get back in the car and get the hell out of this God-awful swamp.” They all nodded. “Of course,” said Florence. “What‟s your point?” “Well,” I said, rubbing the back of my neck, “it‟s just that so far I haven‟t seen either of those things around here. No tires or truck--not even a car or a tractor. And wouldn‟t stuff like that be in the barn? They aren‟t gonna keep stuff like that in the house, are they?” “Guess not,” said Florence. “But still…” “So why do we wanna go bustin‟ in here?” I asked. “Especially when they have little surprises like that axe just layin‟ around!” Florence frowned, thinking this over. Doc Webber seemed to agree with me, as he was nodding and eyeing the door like it was a poisonous snake, while Wong just gave his usual small shrug and waited. I was about to add some more weight to my argument, point out some more reasons why we shouldn‟t go into the house, but then something caught my eye and I stopped and waved the others to silence. “What is it?” hissed Florence. I shaded my eyes from the rain spray and peered into the darkness of the weed-grown yard. “Not sure,” I said. “Something moving, over there by that shed.”
It had been just a glimpse, maybe just a trick of the light… I was about to say something to this effect when suddenly two men, armed with an axe and an axe handle, bounded from shadows and onto the porch. Dressed in patched, filthy overalls with no shirts, they were of a grotesque pair; Tall and lanky but doughy-looking, with long, greasy hair of a nondescript dark color, faces like rotten fruit now contorted in rage, eyes unevenly sized and located, like independent creatures, and liver-lipped mouths clustered with cracked yellow teeth. Human, of course, or something like it, but horribly deformed by disease or congenital defects to the point of monstrosity. At the time, though, we didn‟t have much time to think about it, as, deformed or not, they were obviously more than eager to kill us all. Before I could raise my twelve gauge, Wong got off a pair of shots at the first freak, the one with the axe, but the man was quick and neither shot hit home. Then Florence let loose, aiming at the other freak. One of her two quick shots struck the maniac in the shoulder, spinning him sideways and stopping him for the moment as he reacted to the piece of lead that had just entered his body. Behind us, Doc Webber was fumbling with something in his coat pockets, but I didn‟t really notice. Getting the shotgun up and aimed, I was about to give the axe-wielder both barrels when he let out a bestial kind of shout and brought the axe down, straight for my head. Giving a shout of my own, I dodged the blow, but the axe blade connected squarely with the barrels of my gun and knocked it from my hands. It thumped to the porch and I was now face to face, unarmed, with an axe-wielding madman. Suddenly it looked like what my sainted old mother always used to say was true: I really would come to a bad end… But then there were more gunshots, a whole flurry of them, and amid the flashes and bangs, the crazy man with the axe suddenly sprang a whole bunch of leaks. At least four bullets tore into him, punching out bits of meat and bone and spurts of blood, and in a fog of gun smoke and ear-splitting noise, he fell to the porch in a quivering, bloody heap. This had a most definitely pronounced effect on the other freak. Holding his upper arm, where blood oozed from the bullet wound, his axe handle hanging uselessly at his side, his mad, mismatched eyes glared at his fallen comrade (a brother?) for an instant in apparent disbelief and shock. Then, with a final hateful glare at us, he gave a weird, ululating yell and leapt over the porch‟s rotten balustrade. As quickly as he‟d appeared, he vanished back into the rain and darkness. For a moment we all kind of jittered in place, ready and waiting for any more deformed man-beasts to come at us from the shadows, but they didn‟t and after a few minutes we relaxed a bit, lowered our weapons, and took stock. I went over and looked down at the dead man. “Jesus, Doc,” I said over my shoulder. “What‟s the story on this damn guy?” “Looks inbred,” said Florence, at my side, reloading her .32. Doc Webber came over, kind of unsteadily, and peered down at the bullet-riddled, blood-splattered corpse while Wong kept watch. “I would say,” Webber intoned, “that this individual--and the other… gentleman who was just here--are deformed due to a combination of factors. Although it‟s hard to say which is the primary cause, I would say that this is a result of inbreeding, poor medical care and prevention, plain old backwoods ignorance, and… something else.” “Something else what?” I had to ask. “Huh?” Webber sniffed. “I‟m not sure,” he frowned. He knelt down next to the body, careful not to step in the pool of blood, and peered at it some more. Then he took a pocket knife from his hip pocket and opened it. With a couple of quick strokes, he slashed through what was left of the straps on the man‟s overalls. Then--shockingly, to me at least--he yanked the overalls down, all the way to the man‟s ankles. What was under the dead maniac‟s clothing made the rest of him seem almost normal. All of us took a quick, involuntary step backward. Personally, I about lost my lunch. Like slimy snakes or eels, a dozen or so tentacles sprouted from the man‟s crotch and entwined around his upper legs. Colored a horrible greenish-purple, like a bad bruise, they
twitched slightly in the open air, as with a life of their own, and then went limp and lay still on the soggy planks. Just above this profusion of nastiness was an eye, a big, glassy eyeball set into a greasy socket, right in the middle of the creature‟s abdomen. In the open air, it swiveled a little, the six-inch wide surface going milky and white. Slowly the lids came together, showing nasty pink eyelashes, and then the eye lay still and apparently dead. From the corpse there came a horrible, acrid stink, like burning hair and something rotten, and from the tentacles a seepage of some milky white fluid. “Sweet Jesus!” I cursed, one hand over my mouth and nose. We all took another step back. “What the holy hell is that?” “The Taint,” said Webber. “The result of contact with That Which Must Not Be Named.” Florence muttered something, her words lost in the handkerchief she‟d pressed to her face. I looked at the Doc and shook my head. “That Which who?” I asked, feeling light-headed and sort of disconnected. “Come again?” “A Great Old One,” said the Doc, his face stony, serious. “And a very powerful one at that…” I held up my other hand. I‟d heard enough. Doc and the other magic-believers at the Company talked about these things sometimes: Giant monsters from Outer Space, some kind of god-like beings just waiting around to bust loose and kill everything and everybody… All in all, some mighty unsettling stuff. Usually when they talk about it, I just get up and leave the room. But I couldn‟t do that, not at the moment, anyway, so I just got the Doc to put a lid on it and changed the subject. “OK, whatever,” I said, still staring at the abomination. “It doesn‟t matter, does it? We still need a tow or a set of new tires. And like I said, I‟m pretty sure we aren‟t gonna find ‟em inside this house.” Florence waved us a few steps across the porch, away from the stink and the sight of the thing, and nodded grimly at me. “So what are our options?” she asked. “We can just leave, try walking out or driving the car with no tires. Or we can stay and keep looking.” I nodded, peering into the bushes and weeds and shadows. “Sounds about right,” I had to agree. “And of the two, I favor the first option. Just turn our backs on this creepy joint and hoof it. To hell with them.” We hashed it over some more but between the foul dead thing lying there and the house itself looming over us, it didn‟t take long and soon enough we were retracing our steps, through the sheets of rain, across the weedy yard toward the road. If we felt relief at leaving the place behind (I know I did), it was quickly replaced by bitter disappointment, because when we got back to the road the car was no longer there. In fact, the road wasn‟t strictly speaking there, either. Black water, shot with white in the faster spots, had swept up and over the blacktop. From the look of it, it was at least waist deep and rising fast. Of the car there was no sign whatsoever. Either the murderous hicks had pushed it somewhere--or into the flood--or the water had simply picked it up and washed it away, out there in the rain-beaten landscape. Either way, it was gone. Our reactions varied, but nobody was any too happy about it. But after some swearing and stomping around, we more or less got a grip on ourselves and, with nowhere else to go, ran back to the farmstead, to the barn and into its dusty, cob-webbed confines. “Son of a bitch!” I cursed, shaking about a gallon of water from my coat. “Now what are we gonna do?” Doc Webber, shivering and sour-faced, just shrugged and walked around in aimless circles. Wong, his normally flat features creased in what looked like anger, said nothing. He took a rolled-up packet from his pocket, squatted down on the ground, unrolled the kit, and began
cleaning his pistol. Florence, shaking out her coat, looked around the old barn and frowned. “Well,” she said, “it narrows down our options, doesn‟t it? Now we have no choice.” I hung my head but then nodded. “Yeah,” I said. “We‟re stuck here.” For a moment I paced back and forth, thinking, before the old brain box clanked into motion and I turned to my coworkers. “What about the shed?” I said. “That other building. We haven‟t even looked at that.” Nobody perked up exactly, but they did all look at me and nod. I went with it. “It looks pretty big,” I said. “Who knows what might be in there…” They all nodded, but kind of vaguely, like they agreed on principle but were still not all that thrilled about exploring anything around here. Then Doc Webber, off to one side, brought our attention to something he‟d spotted among the junk. We clustered around, shining our lights, and found a pile of wooden crates, the kind used to ship vegetables and such, fairly neatly stacked and ready to use. On the end of each was a label, pasted on the splintery wooden slats, depicting a pastoral scene of rolling fields, and printed atop that, bold letters spelling “Gobler Farm Real Cheese”. I looked at the crates and scratched my head. “Huh, so they make cheese here,” I said. “So what? Big deal.” “Hmm, yes,” said the Doc, in that annoying, scholarly way. “But then where are the livestock? The cows or goats?” No one said anything. I finally shrugged. “Out in the fields somewhere?” I tried, groping. “Maybe in that shed?” Doc shook his head slowly. “I don‟t think so,” he said. “There is no sign of cows or goats anywhere. If they had livestock, they would need a barn. Or barns, not to mention milking equipment, stalls and feed and…” I cut him off, a nasty headache starting up behind my eyebrows. “OK, I get it,” I said. “But then I don‟t really care, either.” I looked at Florence. She had a thoughtful look on her face but gave a scowl and nodded at me. “You‟re right,” she said. “It‟s not important. At least, not insofar as we‟re concerned. Now. Let‟s go have a look at that shed.” And so, after some preparation--reloading guns, mainly--we headed back out into the deluge. If anything, it was raining even harder and I could only imagine what the road looked like now; likely more like a river. When we got up close to it, we soon saw that the building was a lot bigger than it had looked at first blush; most of it was buried, dug into a small berm, with only about the front quarter showing above ground. A single door, thick wood with rusted metal strapping and handle, represented the only egress and there were no windows. I reached the door first. After a second‟s hesitation, I looked at the others, all dripping and stone-faced, and then grabbed the handle and opened it. It was utterly dark within and I jabbed my light into the doorway and shone it about. There were objects, shadowy crates and big jugs and tools and implements of some kind, but nothing moving, so I stepped inside and pulled my shotgun out from under my coat. Moving nervously, the others followed and we all took a moment to dry off as best we could and shine our lights into the shadows. We were in a dank, stone-walled chamber of about fifteen square feet with one other door leading farther into the building. Most of it was taken up with the jugs and crates, but there were also a couple of work benches, some other junk… It was all pretty normal-looking, at least to me, the kind of stuff you might expect in a cheese-works, but there were two things that didn‟t seem normal at all: One, the terrible stink to the place, like rotten meat mixed with sour milk, and two, the weird, bubbling, slurping noise that came from somewhere deeper in the building. We all looked at each other. Florence was pale but stern-faced, and Webber was likewise obviously shaken but still steady. Wong, however, was off to one side of the room, over by some crates with his back to us, and now gave a little giggle of a laugh. Now, I‟d never heard Wong laugh, so maybe that was how he always sounded. Who knows? But in that place, with what
we‟re were facing, it was about the worst thing I‟d ever heard. Not a ha-ha, that‟s a good one, happy sort of laugh at all. No, more like one born of hysteria. A vicious cold shudder went down my back, all the way down to my knees, where it took hold and set my legs to shaking like the flu. I looked at Florence. She looked back and gave me that look that said “Uh oh, this is not good”. We turned to Wong. “Uh, hey buddy,” I said to his back. “You OK over there?” He let out that giggle again and then turned around slowly. In the glare of our lamps, his face was ghastly--strained and wet--and his eyes were like crazy dark pits with little dots of reflected light at the bottom. In one hand he held his pistol, loosely, as if he‟d forgotten it, and in the other a big wedge of yellowish, sweaty stuff that I took for cheese. “Cheese,” said Wong, drawing out the word. “Cheeeeese.” I patted the air in that useless, universal sign for “hey, take it easy, there, fella” and tried to sound calm and reasonable. “Yeah, sure looks like cheese, alright,” I said. “Now, why don‟t you just put it back and we‟ll all just…” But then, whether he‟d heard me or not, he raised the wedge of pale, moist stuff and took a great big bite. Around the gooey mass, he grinned madly and smacked his lips. “Mmmm, cheese…” he said. “Gobler Farm. Real Cheese.” I admit, at that point I was at a loss. Oh, I‟d seen comrades lose it before. In our line of work, facing creatures and phenomenon that most people don‟t even know or believe exist, it kind of came with the territory. I‟d seen strong men reduced to blubbering children and others transformed into blood-crazed maniacs. One time in Pittsburgh we even had an agent who totally flipped his lid and thought he was the Duke of Wellington. But this, Wong giggling and actually eating something that he‟d found just lying around in this God-forsaken, horrible place? I just didn‟t know what to do. Reflexively, I tightened my grip on my shotgun; I‟d also seen agents go crazy paranoid and shoot at the people they‟d thought of as friends just a minute earlier. “Hey, Wong…” I said softly, trying to ignore the smell and the bizarre slurping noise. And the terrible grin on the man‟s face and the gun in his hand. “You don‟t wanna eat that! I mean, if you‟re hungry, we got some stuff here…” I sort of trailed off. Wong chewed and swallowed, nodding at the wedge in his hand. If he was listening to me, there was no sign. Then he gave a sort of shudder, from head to toe, and slowly replaced the cheese on the bench where he‟d found it. He shuddered like that again and then just stood there with his back to us. “Uh, Wong?” said Florence. “Are you alright? Can we… help?” Slowly, Wong turned back to us and to our great relief we saw that the mad glint was gone from his eyes and that he looked his usual stoic, pan-faced self. Oh, he would bear watching from now on, but at least he wasn‟t overtly loony… With a mechanical kind of motion, he wiped the back of his hand over his mouth and gave another, less violent shudder. “Just… wondered,” he said thickly. “You know?” I shook my head. “No, what?” I said, eyeing him closely. “What did you wonder?” “How it tasted.” I felt a shudder of my own and my stomach did a somersault, but some sense of treacherous curiosity in me just had to ask. “So? How was it?” “Kind of gamey,” he said, frowning. “Not so good.” We all waited for a little while, letting Wong get himself together. No one said anything; we didn‟t really want to know why he‟d done that. Outside, the rain beat down in a steady roar, the individual drops no longer discernible, while inside, from beyond the metal door that led further into the building, came that incessant gloopy, suckling sound unlike anything I‟d ever heard. I looked over at Florence to see what we should do, but she gave me a “just wait” look
and I nodded and waited. Doc Webber was still poking around in the corners with his lamp. After a moment he came over to the three of us. “This appears,” he said quietly, “as anticipated, to be a cheese-producing concern. There are drying racks, vats for fermentation, cheesecloth in which to wrap the stuff, labels and crates for shipping… In short, all things one would need to produce and market cheese. All that its, save one.” It made my headache worse thinking about it, but I knew what he meant and nodded. “The cows,” I said. “Right? No cows or goats.” He nodded, glancing at Wong. “Indeed. To make cheese, one must have milk. And in lieu of cows or goats…” he let that peter out and shrugged. We all looked at Wong, but he seemed alright; if the idea that he‟d just eaten something like that, maybe something produced from who knew what, animal, vegetable, or mineral, upset him, he didn‟t show it. In fact, he even gave a little smile and patted his gun. “Only one way to find out,” he said, and looked over at the metal door. “Right?” I looked at Florence again. She was obviously thinking, taking this all in, and now seemed to decide. She nodded and dug her .32 from her pocket. “He‟s right,” she said. “And whatever‟s behind that door, I‟ll bet it‟s the source, one way or another.” “What, uh…” I stammered, glancing from the door to Doc Webber. “What do you think it is? I mean, it could just be some, you know, machine of some kind, couldn‟t it? Maybe some kind of animal?” But even I wasn‟t buying it. Disgusting, nauseating, the noise was not caused by any machine or animal and we all knew it. I sighed and brought up my gun. “OK, OK,” I said, feeling tired and scared and angry, all at once. “Let‟s just see what it is. Shall we?” They all nodded, none too enthusiastically, and clustered behind me as I went to the door. Up close, I saw that the handle was a simple lever mechanism and I could also feel a warmth radiating from its rust-pitted surface. Gingerly, I reached out and laid a hand on it. It was warm to the touch but not hot, like a greenhouse or a mild steam room. And then I had to go and turn the handle, pull the door open, and expose us all to something so vile and utterly repugnant that none of us would ever be the same. Wallowing in a huge, sticky vat of some congealing pink fluid was a nightmare made real, a great blob--ten feet wide, at least--of ever-shifting flesh, mottled pink and gray and purple, with several large, flabby tentacle-like pseudo-pods that flopped and convulsed over the vat‟s edges and onto the filthy dirt floor. A score of eyes, none of which matched or were coordinated, blinked and rotated and withdrew into the greater mass of flesh under our lamp light. Puckered, sphincter-like orifices served for mouths, also misaligned and uncoordinated, and other, less identifiable protrusions--ears, noses, hands?--oozed in and out of the greater blob fluidly, like wax under a blowtorch. A stink, so foul and strong that it was almost unimaginable, hit us like a fist and our heads and stomachs reeled in protest. Maybe worst of all, a modern milking apparatus, about a dozen cup-like things with tubes running away, was attached to a row of bloated teats along its front side, some white fluid spasmodically pumping from its loathsome bulk. On the side of the vat, someone had scrawled, using thick yellow paint, the word “Bessie”. I‟m pretty sure we all screamed. I know I did, and I remember hearing other people screaming too, so it‟s a distinct possibility. At any rate, once we‟d all screamed (or not), we each reacted differently. Doc Webber gave a weird groan, doubled over at the waist, and vomited on the ground at his feet. Florence babbled something about God, her eyes wide and wild. Her gun fell from limp fingers and her hands sort of fluttered up toward her mouth. Personally, I just stood there and shook like a leaf in a high wind, wanting nothing more than to simply run away and hide somewhere. It was Wong who finally shut out the horrible slurping, if not the sight of the thing, as he
let loose with every shell in his pistol, six in a row in quick succession, straight into the monster‟s slimy flanks. The noise was deafening in the enclosed space, and there was a sudden cloud of acrid smoke, but beyond that it didn‟t seem to make much of an impression on the thing in the vat. All “Bessie” did was hoot a little, like a big broken pipe organ, and quiver its rounded, slimy tentacles. Other than that, the bullets might as well have been jellybeans. Then we were all blasting away at the thing, yelling and shouting in a haze of smoke and fear and everything became kind of a blur, all mashed together and fuzzy like it was moving too fast. Suddenly Wong was screaming, digging in his duffel bag. Florence, having recovered it, kept squeezing the trigger of her .32, long after there were any bullets, and Doc Webber fell to his knees and clamped his hands over his eyes. As for yours truly, I tried my best to reload my twelve gauge but it felt like my hands were made of wood and the little circuits that connected my brain to my body had all but given up and headed south for the winter. In other words, I froze, stunned dumb and paralyzed at the whole foul scene. And the white stuff just kept pumping from the obscene breasts--slurp, burp, squish, splash. I‟m not sure, but I‟m fairly certain that at that point I was about two inches away from complete and utter, straitjacket-style insanity. Then a bright glare, a flower of orange flame, leapt up to my right and I saw that Wong had produced and ignited one of our standard little toys, a good old fashioned gasoline bomb. What the Bolsheviks over in Russia called a Molotov Cocktail, a glass bottle filled with gasoline and a rag stuffed in the top. With a savage, hoarse yell, Wong reared back and threw the flaming bottle at “Bessie” and was rewarded with a great, whooshing roar of flame as the bottle broke on some less mushy part of the monster, the rag ignited the gas within, and the whole room seemed to explode in an orange and yellow inferno. Out of sheer necessity--that of not being roasted alive--we all retreated from the chamber, back into the first room, coughing and weeping, and I managed to preserve enough of what was left of my mind to slam the metal door shut behind us. If we‟d thought the noise from in there had been bad before, now, made up of nerve-shredding screams and shrieks, it was much, much worse. Finally, though, the terrible screams tapered off and then dwindled to nothing. I took the fingers out of my ears and looked at the others. We were all more or less singed, with eyebrows and hair partly scorched and clothes grimed with soot, but otherwise the others looked as well as could be expected. All that is, but Wong. At first he just looked very pale, kind of sick, and then he fell to his knees, weeping and gagging, and obviously trying to make himself throw up. I didn‟t know what to say, let alone do. After all, what was I going to tell the poor guy? It‟s OK, all you did was eat some cheese made out of monster milk? Don‟t worry, it‟s probably not going to kill you? Hell, I was still in shock myself! After a moment, I found myself standing over him. “Hey, Wong,” I was saying, “it‟s gonna be alright. Hear me? We‟re gonna get out of this, you just watch…” and more along the same lines, none of it too convincing. Wong looked up, his face contorted and drool hanging from his chin. His eyes were wild all over again, wide and almost spinning with dread, as he spat out the words. “I… ate some of it!” he said, gagging again. “Some of that!” Again, I was at a loss. Luckily, Florence stepped up and took over. “Wong, get a grip on yourself,” she said, in a lot steadier voice than I would have thought possible. “Hear me? Don‟t let it get to you!” But Wong didn‟t seem to hear her. His face going slack, like a balloon deflating, he just sort of slumped over onto his side, and then curled up into himself, finally ending up in a tight ball on the filthy ground. To make a long story short, he‟d finally lost it. Gone around the bend, snapped his cap, however you said it, he was no longer sane. Not that I blamed him; who wouldn‟t be shook up after what we‟d just seen? But it wasn‟t going to make things any easier for us. Helplessly, I looked up from Wong and over to the Doc and Florence. “I think,” I said numbly, “that Mr. Wong has taken a little vacation…”
The others nodded, just as numbly. Wong just balled himself up tighter and rocked back and forth a little. “Yeah,” breathed Florence. “I think you‟re right. Well, at least he doesn‟t seem violent. What do you think, Doc? Is he going to get worse, maybe attack one of us?” Webber scowled and wiped soot (and one of his eyebrows) from his face. “I can‟t say for certain. I‟m not that sort of doctor. But if you want my opinion, I‟d say that he‟s probably harmless. Catatonic paralysis. All the same though, we might want to take his gun…” Well, after some hemming and hawing (discussion, you might have called it were we not all half-hysterical and thoroughly rattled), we finally left Wong there, disarmed, tied up good and tight but as comfortable as we could make him. We would, assuming that we survived, come back for him when we left. “So now what?” I wondered aloud, once Wong was trussed. “Should we see if that… thing in there is still alive? It looks like the fire‟s out.” No one seemed too keen on that notion. “I say leave it,” said Florence, shuddering. “There‟s nothing in there we can use.” Webber nodded eagerly. “I agree. Good riddance!” “Any idea what that thing is?” I asked--that old morbid curiosity again. “Or was?” With a frown, Doc looked at the still-smoking door. “Most likely a shoggoth. It‟s not of a typical kind, if that‟s even possible, but it‟s probably been adapted to its… purpose specially.” “So…” I said, struggling. I felt stupid, like I‟d been hit on the head, and thinking was tough. “These Gobler freaks created that thing? Just to give milk? To make cheese?” “Apparently, yes,” said Webber. Then the big question. “Why?” I asked, fully aware of the answer. “Why would they do that?” But neither of them said anything. I might as well have asked why people did anything like this; why would people kill each other? Why do we make war or commit heinous crimes like rape and torture? Why did evil people commit evil? It was a question with no answer, a philosophical question, and as far as we were concerned, at that time and place, it mattered not a whit. After a moment‟s realizing this, I nodded at them, shouldered my gun, and tried for a smile. “Well, we aren‟t licked yet,” I said. “And we just killed their cash cow, right? No more cheese is comin‟ out of this place for a while!” Florence smiled, sort of, more like a grimace, but nodded resolutely. Webber, looking worried, mumbled something affirmative. “Yeah,” said Florence. “And now let‟s get out of here. The smell from that thing is starting to get to me.” And so, leaving Wong with a lamp, we pushed open the heavy wooden outer door and looked out into the night. The rain had let up some, only steady at the moment, and it was lighter out, but this was only because the angry clouds overhead had begun to send down great forked bolts of lightning. With earth-shaking booms of thunder, they stabbed down in brilliant white-blue streaks, lighting up the farmstead around us in brief flashes like photographs. As we peered out into this, smoke drifting past us into the wind, I concentrated on the house, just across the way, and in one of the brighter flashes, spotted something about it we hadn‟t noticed, a sort of lean-to attached to the rear of the building. Like the rest of the house, it was covered in vines and moss and needed a coat of paint, but it seemed sturdy enough. I pointed it out to the others. “What do you think?” I said, shielding my eyes. “Could be a car in there…” They more or less shrugged, as if to say “why not”, and I led the way through the weeds and brambles to the back of the house. The lean-to was, as hoped, a carport. And an apparently occupied one, at that; muddy tracks, definitely those of an automobile, led up to a closed garage door. Unfortunately, it was also locked up tight, with a stout padlock on the swing-out door and no windows or other doors. Even the unpainted clapboards were a little stouter, as if this was the
one place kept at least partially maintained. “We have to get in there!” I said, shouting, interrupted only a little by the crashing booms of thunder. “I‟m going to shoot the lock off!” The others nodded and stepped back a few paces. I took aim with my twelve gauge, squeezed both triggers, and blew the lock and a chunk of the door into shreds. Quickly, I reloaded with two new shells from my hip pocket. Then I reached down and pulled the door out, up, and open. Inside, it was dark, of course, but our lights showed that, as hoped, there was a car. It was a Ford Model T, manufactured in 1911 most likely, one of the originals, and in fairly beat-up condition; evidently the Goblers didn‟t take any better care of their vehicles than they did the rest of their farm. Leaving Florence on guard at the door, staring out into the flash-photo lightning and rain for any sign of trouble, Doc Webber and I went in and had a look. As noted, the Ford was beat-up, with lots of dents in the quaint old chassis and barbed wire and baling twine holding other parts together, but it seemed intact, at least, and as if it had been used in the not too distant past. Setting my shotgun against a wall, I went around to the front of the car and found what I‟ d expected, an old-fashioned hand crank starter, set just under the radiator grill. I looked at Webber. “Should I start it?” I asked. “As in right now?” He considered and then frowned. “I suppose so,” he said. “We have to see if it runs, after all. And from the look of it, it might not…” “Huh, yeah,” I said. I grabbed the crank with both hands and gritted my teeth; from experience I knew that these things were a bugger to start and dangerous to boot. Later models had a magneto starter, but with these old boys if you weren‟t careful the crank could backlash and either break your wrists or tear your thumbs off. “OK, here goes,” I said, and gave it a good hard turn, but nothing happened. I tried again, and again nothing happened. Twice more, with the same result, and I swore and gave up. “What‟s the matter?” asked Doc. “What‟s wrong with it?” I resisted the urge to glare at him or say something sarcastic and instead went around to the engine compartment, undid some baling wire fasteners, and raised the sliding tin engine cover. Playing my light over the engine, a very simple old four cylinder version, my gut fell as I immediately saw the source of the trouble. I swore again and let the lid fall back. “What is it?” hissed Doc Webber. “Is it wrecked?” “No,” I said bitterly. “But it might as well be. It‟s got no spark plugs.” “So… You can‟t fix it? Jury-rig it somehow?” I looked at him. “It‟s not a matter of fixing it,” I said. “There are no spark plugs. And it won‟t run without ‟em. Get me?” “Hmm, yes,” he said, professor-like. He looked around with his lamp at the rest of the interior of the lean-to garage. “But what if they‟re here somewhere?” We had a look, but it was a small space and in a matter of a minute we could see that there were no spare plugs just lying around. There were three fifty-gallon drums of kerosene--those old Models Ts ran just fine on the stuff--and some rusty tools on a oil-spattered workbench, but not much else. “No soap, Doc,” I said dejectedly. He scowled that scowl of his and nodded. After a moment, we went over to Florence and told her about the car. “Nuts!” she said, about her strongest oath. “Wouldn‟t you know it? Well, give me a minute to think…” I guess we all thought about things. I can‟t speak for the others, but personally I was pondering a hot meal, a cold drink, and a warm bed and not a whole hell of a lot else. Anyway, I was standing there wool-gathering when I started to notice that I wasn‟t feeling all that well. In fact, now that I started to pay attention to it, I was feeling downright rotten. Feverish, nauseous, weak-kneed and bone-deep tired, it was like I‟d suddenly contracted a nasty flu bug. That, or I‟d
been hit by a truck. I wiped my forehead and looked at the others, and it wasn‟t just the eerie artificial light from our lamps that made them look sick. It was obvious that they felt as bad as I did. I swallowed bile and gave a helpless shrug that turned into a shiver. “Is it just me,” I said, “or do you two feel kind of… sick?” They nodded and shivered. “Yes, it just came on,” said Florence, feeling her own throat. “Like a virus, some kind of bacteria…” “No,” said Webber harshly. “It‟s not illness, it‟s the Taint. Only conjecture, of course, but I would say that somehow this whole place is… infused with it. Perhaps through years of arcane summonings, it has built up here. I can‟t be sure, but I have read of such things.” My stomach clenched like a catcher‟s mitt and I groaned. “Oh, great,” I said acidly. “That‟s all we need! But can you tell me this, Doc? Is this it, as bad as it gets? Or is it, you know, gonna get worse?” “I would say,” he said darkly, “that the longer we stay here, the worse it will get. What the end result would be, whether or not it could kill us, I cannot say.” “Wonderful,” said Florence, white as a sheet and sweating. “We‟re being slowly poisoned. Just wonderful… And we can‟t stay here and we can‟t get away. Think about it: Even if we could get this old jalopy running, we can‟t go anywhere. The road‟s out!” It was as near to losing her head as I‟d ever seen and it kind of sobered me up. Trying my best to get a grip on the shakes and the churning in my guts, I patted her on the shoulder. “Hey, don‟t lose hope,” I said, trying for a smile that probably looked more like a sneer. “We‟ll get out of this.” “How?” she almost wailed. I had to admit, nothing came to mind. Things looked pretty grim and at the moment all I wanted to do was to lay down somewhere and quietly expire, but I bucked up one more time and thrashed my brain into gear. Think, I told myself. There’s got to be some way out of this horrible place! Then it hit me. “The cheese vat!” I said. They looked at me like I‟d just spoken in Swahili. I shook my head and tried again. “That big tub thing in the shed! The one Bessie was sitting in.” “What about it?” Florence asked indulgently. “We could use it as a boat,” I explained, holding myself with both arms against the waves of shivering. “Flip it over, find something to use as paddles, and just… float away from here.” They seemed to think it over, none too avidly. Taken with the notion as I was, though, I forged ahead. “No, it could work,” I said. “After all, it‟s that or we stay here, right? Ask me, we have got to get out of here, and now, before we get so sick we can‟t anymore! And since we can‟t walk out or drive out, we need a boat. What do you think?” Well, that started another round of what you might call discussion, each of us with a different idea about what we should do, until finally, getting sicker every minute, we decided that we‟d better do something while we still could. To this end, we first went to check on the road, just to make sure that the water hadn‟t receded, but found that, to the contrary, it had risen, all the way up to the Gobler‟s mailbox. So that was out. Then we trooped back up to the farm and over to the shed. There was still some lingering smoke in the cellar-like building, but the smell had dissipated quite a bit. Wong was still there, of course, and seemed about the same: Totally incoherent. I had to wonder if he wasn‟t the lucky one. Then we girded our loins, so to speak, and opened the door to the milking room. A fresh blast of stink and wisps of smoke greeted us, but nothing stirred under the beams of our lamps. Bessie was still in its vat and it was obviously dead. Motionless, it had been charred in places and in others appeared to have burst from internal pressure. I have to admit, I didn‟t give it a lot of thought. As long as it was dead. “OK,” I said, gagging a little, both from the Taint and the smell, “first we have to get that
thing out of there. Dump it out.” They agreed, in theory, but no one rushed to the task. Finally, though, after some more figurative loin-girdling, we did what we had to do. I won‟t go into the actual deed, the sounds and smells that came from the thing as we lifted one side of the vat and slid it onto the floor, but believe me, it was nasty. When we were done, though, having lugged the vat outside and flipped it over, we had just what I‟d hoped for, a serviceable (if not exactly seaworthy) boat. Some old boards and a shovel from the shed would serve as paddles. Now all we had to do was shove it down the drive and into the water. “Well?” I said, once we were done. “What about it? I say we grab Wong from in there and get the hell out of here!” They agreed, but Florence was staring at the house. I went to her and gave her a nudge. “Hey, beautiful,” I said, lamely jocular. “What say we blow this popsicle stand?” She nodded stiffly, but kept staring at the house. “Yeah,” she said, a hint of steel in her voice. “But not quite yet.” I didn‟t argue with her and neither did Doc Webber; something in her tone told us that it would have been useless, anyway. Instead, we followed her as she splashed across the yard toward the house. Here, she went into the carport lean-to and straight to the drums of kerosene and it dawned on me what she had in mind. Sure, the rain would slow it down some, but there was a lot of kerosene here, and the old house must be dry as tinder… I gave Florence a grin and helped her open the first drum. Well, to be brief, we doused the whole place. Barn, shed, house, we weren‟t taking any chances. Then we moved our vat boat down to the edge of the water (even closer now) and made it secure to a tree. Next, we went and got Wong and carried him down to the vat and lowered him in. Finally, we went back to the farm buildings and, with three simple kitchen matches, torched the whole rotten place. As anticipated, the rain kept the fires from getting really big, at least on the outside, but it was plain from the smoke and flickering light that the interiors were going up like kindle sticks. Sick as I felt, I couldn‟t help but cheer a little. “Yeah, take that!” I yelled at the house. “Burn, you god-damn maniacs!” Doc Webber and Florence chimed in, shaking fists and looking just a little less sick and beat-up and shell-shocked. Yeah, nauseous and dead tired as we were, it felt damned good. Finally we were fighting back, for real! But then we heard the voice and, like a slap to the face, it shut us right the hell up. And then sent us running for our lives. It was a human voice, or at least it was speaking English, but it was so distorted and bizarre that even now I‟m hard put to say that it wasn‟t something less—or more—than that. Clotted, choked, wet and shrill at the same time, emanating from the house, it cut through the night like a siren, plain to hear. To this day, the mere memory of it makes me want to puke, and I hope very much to never know the true form of its foul source. “After „em boys!” the voice shrieked and bubbled. “They done kilt Bessie an‟ Clyde, an‟ they‟s tryin‟ to burn us out! But oh, no! We Gobler‟s is tough! We survived the War o‟ Northern Aggression, an‟ we got the Great One on our side! Ain‟t no Yankees gonna shift us from our land an‟ our livelihood, not no how! Now! Go get „em boys! Make your mama proud an‟ show them Yankees what they get for tanglin‟ with the Goblers!” There was more along the same lines, but by that time we were down to the water‟s edge and not paying attention. All we knew was that she—whatever she was—was exhorting someone to get us. And we most certainly did not want to be got. Frantically, the light from the smoldering house lending an eerie orange glow to the water‟s surface, we climbed into the vat and shoved off into the roiling black torrent. The current was strong, but aimless, turning in eddies and waves against itself, and we soon had to use our makeshift paddles to make headway. It was hard work, especially in our condition, but we were
half-crazed with fear and went at it like Odysseus fleeing the Cyclops. And then they came for us. At first I thought they were snakes. Big water moccasins maybe, the biggest ever, dozens of them all splashing up out of the black water, curling over the sides of the vat, grasping at our paddles, but then I saw that they had neither eyes nor mouths. No, not snakes. Tentacles. Slimy, constantly writhing, three-inch wide tentacles, all groping and grasping at the vat, at the paddles. At us. Well, maybe it‟s a blessing that I don‟t remember anything much after that. I‟d probably be even more crazy. At any rate, they tell me that I pretty much lost it that point. Apparently I just curled up in the bottom of the vat, down next to Wong, and, for the next couple of hours was about as aware of my surroundings as your average house plant. It was Doc Webber who saved us, him and his Elder Sign. He and Florence have never gotten too specific about how it all played out, understandably, but I gather that the tentacles—whether individual creatures or part of some larger monstrosity—reacted to the Doc‟s little hunk of rock in the best possible way: They quit trying to grab us, slithered back into the water, and vanished. And didn‟t come back. The next thing I knew, it was daytime, we were long gone from the farm, and the rain was down to a sprinkle. After a long walk and a rescue by some kindly sheriff‟s deputies in a real boat, we eventually made it back to civilization. And from there, the rest of our lives. Even Wong went on to have a relatively normal existence, at least until the Taint set in and he started to decay from the inside out… But even those of us who didn‟t eat any of the cheese--that nasty, sweaty, peculiarly non-specific cheese (was it Cheddar? Colby? Swiss? the Goblers never specified)-well, none of us would ever be anything close to the same. So that‟s about it. Sorry if I‟m not the best writer, but I was trained in the use of wrenches and dynamite, not verbs and punctuation. But at least now, learned doctors and dear readers, you know why this guy named Mike Handley ended up as a guest here at august, noble Danvers Asylum. You now know why I went screaming from the grocery that day, ten years after the fact. And why you--all of you--might want to check for yourself the next time you casually buy some cheese for your larder. Because there, in the bright lights of the store, amid the mundane shoppers and clerks and gaudy, banal displays, was a round of white cheese, emblazoned with a label of an idyllic farm scene, reading Gobler Farm Real Cheese.
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