“Why are you still here? The longer you loaf around, the more people will die.”
The bloated naked body of a man lay face down on the stainless steel table, its skin lumpy and discoloured. Dylan stared at the creases in the back of its neck, trying to figure out if the body was real. It looked like it was made of moulded resin – a movie prop, perhaps. He was too scared to touch it to find out.
Wilfred was placing red candles on the floor. So far he hadn’t said anything about the corpse.
Dylan turned to him. “Is it –?”
“Don’t go lily-livered on me, boy.”
He glanced back at the body. “I – uh –”
“Nothing in the Necromonicon is gained without a price.”
They were in the makeshift chapel, which was empty apart from the table, a single pew, a wall of storage boxes marked with the name of Wilfred’s shop and five coffins stacked in what was once the chancel. The coffins looked like they’d been piled there in a hurry. Two had broken panels and there was a trousered leg poking out of one of them, at the end of which was a mummified ankle and a foot in a black sock.
Dylan placed his hands on his head. “Who – is it?” he asked, though he didn’t really want to know.
“Nobody. A vagrant.”
His stomach turned over. “You didn’t …”
“I didn’t what?”
Dylan made stabbing gestures in the air.
Wilfred laughed at him. “Snyder works at the hospital.” He began lighting the candles.
Wilfred squinted at him. “He’s a snivelling codfish, with pretensions of being me.” He stood with an effort and a groan and stretched his back till it cracked. “Don’t just stand there. Come and light these things for me.”
Dylan accepted the matches.
“Snyder has somehow succeeded in making connections at all the funeral parlours in these parts. Lord knows how. No doubt by means nefarious, knowing that cowering cockroach.”
Dylan glanced again at the corpse. “Did he have to pay for it?”
“I paid for it. For silence. Far more expensive than an over-sized sack of guts. Now get to it and light those damn candles.”
“I’ve never seen a dead body.” Dylan went over and peered into the corpse’s face. It was a man of about forty, with fat cheeks, a splotchy complexion and dirty blond hair – a man who looked like he’d lived a hard or unhealthy life. “It’s hard to believe this used to be a man. It’s like a shell with the crab gone.” He had a sudden sickening thought of his father lying face down on a table like this – but Mike’s athletic build couldn’t have been farther from this obscenely obese vagrant. And his parents had been cremated, he reminded himself with a twitch of relief.
Unwilling to get any deeper into Wilfred’s bad books, he set about lighting the candles.
“Don’t move any of them or there’ll be hell to pay.”
“What are you planning to do with it? – with him?”
Wilfred pulled back his narrow shoulders. “I intend to summon Yog-Sothoth.”
“I read about that! Isn’t it some kind of ancient god?”
“Yog-Sothoth is the key.”
“Yog-Sothoth guards the gate.”
“Yog-Sothoth is the gate. Past, present and future all are one in Yog-Sothoth.”
Dylan watched Wilfred hobble towards the pew, on which sat a black leather bag with long handles. “Okay. Whatever. So what happens when it gets here?”
“Yog-Sothoth will reveal to me where the Great Old Ones broke through. But first: the spell.”
“Ooh, the spell! Cool bananas! Magic time!” Dylan glanced about. “Where’s the book? – the Necromonicon? I wanna see it. Is it the one in the picture?”
Opening his bag, Wilfred took out a pair of wire-rimmed glasses. He placed them on his nose, then pulled out and flicked open a notebook. He turned the page, turned another. “Patience, boy. All in good time.”
Dylan went up and peered over his shoulder. The notebook was scrawled from edge to edge with text and symbols. The left page was headed, ‘Orium’, the right page, ‘Sacrium’.
Wilfred shoved him away with surprising strength. “Get away from me, you infernal nuisance! Get back to those damn candles!” He turned and rummaged in his bag, then glanced around in a temper. “Where in hell did I put those marker pens?”
Kane pulled up in the parking spot outside Quorn Fine Arts and Antiquities, turned off the engine and leaned his elbow on the window. There was a ‘closed’ sign in the door.
Stepping out of the truck, he closed the door and went up to the shop, watching his reflection in the window as he approached: a tall, well-built figure in blue jeans and a light grey hoodie, someone you could see had the youth and strength to race into your burning house and emerge with the occupants slung over his shoulder; someone who would go to any lengths to protect his family from those bent on harming or corrupting them.
He placed his hand against the glass and peered inside. It was too dark to see anything beyond the lamps, books and small tables in the window, but it was quite obvious the shop was empty.
After taking a furtive look up and down the street, he stole into the narrow alley that ran down the right side of the shop. The alley led to a small courtyard, a graveyard for busted furniture, trash and empty packing boxes. At the rear of the courtyard was an ivy-covered garage with the door hanging off its hinges. Weeds as high as his knees grew from between the cracks in the paving.
Kane tried the back door. Locked. Next was the garage. As with the courtyard, the garage was packed with scraps of furniture, trash and empty boxes. There was no room for a car, and it seemed from all the dust and the cobwebs hanging from the ceiling and connecting all the junk that no one had been in here in months, perhaps years.
Turning back to the shop, he looked up at the second storey and saw there was a window. And it was open.
Scanning the scene with the eye of a firefighter, he knew that by climbing onto the fence and pulling himself up the drain pipe, he could make it to the window. There was a small ledge there, which would give him just enough of a footing to push the window all the way up and climb inside.
Within a few minutes, Kane had executed his plan and was entering the top floor of Waite’s shop.
He switched on his torch. Half the floor space was taken up by packing cases and items of furniture, some plastered with red ‘SOLD’ stickers. Against the far wall was a small kitchen, beside which stood a square table, two white plastic chairs and, a little further along, a closed door with a male/female sticker on it. To Kane’s left was a staircase that led to the shop floor below.
As he approached the head of the stairs, he heard a noise that made a shiver run down his spine. Rats, he thought with disgust, staring at a stack of crates, the source of the noise. More nasty, filthy rats. Unable to help himself, we went to see what they were doing.
The black thing that raised its head and yowled when the light hit it was no rat. It was a cat: a wild, skinny thing with green eyes, a long tail and matted hair. As Kane played his torch over it, the beast hissed and spat at him, flicking its tail from left to right, hitting the crates on either side. The cat was defending a treasure, a pile of meat and bones that used to be an animal – a bird, by the looks of it. There were feathers all over the place. Blood and guts had slipped and dripped down the crate and were pooling on the floor.
“Bon appétit,” he muttered, and turned back to the stairs.
Behind him, the cat returned to its meal. Crunching bones and chomping on bloody flesh, it purred like a machine, like it was the happiest cat on Earth.
Downstairs, the shop was dark and quiet. It reeked of mildew and dust, the kind of smell you’d expect from the house of a crazy pensioner who lived in flannel pyjamas and hoarded newspapers, magazines, bags of old clothes and boxes of accumulated junk. Junk was the right word, Kane thought as he flashed the light around the store. This was the type of rubbish that usually appeared on people’s verges – the stuff that was still there when the garbage truck came around.
Going behind the counter, he rifled through the drawers. Rubbish again. Not even interesting rubbish. Nothing that suggested zombies or monsters.
At the back of the store was a door that led to a tiny office. Inside the office was a rolltop desk, a brown leather swivel chair and built-in shelves loaded with books. On the wall above the desk was a message board with so many Post-it notes pinned to it that none of the cork was visible.
Kane switched on the desk lamp. Next to the grubby PC was an A4 sheet of paper, a things-to-do list. Shaking off the pen, he held it under the light.
Things to Do (it was headed):
- Ring Mr Stevens – delivery Thursday?
- London, Sunday 11am – St James Place – Augustine’s Globe, Louis XIV chair, books
- Snyder – chapel/Friday – reminder *Logan
- JS – transfer funds
- Slithium, antrebella, hooves, glim moss, salamander eyes – ring Mad Marvin
More indecipherable crap. Dropping the list on the keyboard, Kane saw that beneath it was a single sheet of notepaper, on which was written the words, ‘Cafe Merlot’, along with the restaurant’s address. Under that was his brother’s name: DYLAN GATES. The words were underlined so many times the pen had ripped through the page. When he lifted the notepaper and inspected the desk below, he saw the pen had scored deep cuts into the wood.
“Goddamn you, Dylan,” he said as he ran his finger over the marks, “what have you gotten yourself into?”
“You absolute imbecile!” snapped Wilfred. “Wrong again! The sign must be done precisely as I described! Can you possibly be any stupider?”
Wilfred and Dylan were standing on either side of the stainless steel table, hovering over the dead vagrant. The corpse was on its back, arms by its sides, and it was covered from head to toe with symbols from Wilfred’s notebook. Scattered on the floor, among the candles spewing yellow smoke, were half a dozen black marker pens.
“I’m trying!” yelled Dylan, squeezing his hands into fists. “We’ve done it a thousand times! It’s not working!”
“Impatient whelp! If you do the sign correctly, it will work! Concentrate while I repeat the spell.”
Wilfred closed his eyes and began the chant:
“Per Adonai Eloim, Adonai Jehova, Adonai Sabaoth, Metraton On Agla Mathon, verbum pythonicum, mysterium salamandrae, conventus sylvorum, antra gnomorum, daemonia Coeli God, Almonsin, Gibor, Jehosua, Evam, Zariatnatmik, veni, veni, veni!”
His eyes sprang open and he stared expectantly at the corpse. His face creased into a scowl. Dylan, his head down, was playing with his phone.
“Why aren’t you making the sign of Gor?”
Dylan opened a spam email about a sale at an online shoe store. “You’ve been saying that spell for two hours,” he sighed, scrolling through the message. “Hey, they’re pretty cool!” he cried. “What do you think, boss?” He raised his phone. “Maybe you should buy them to replace the ones you got blood all over.”
“That’s how long it takes.”
“That’s how long it takes.”
“How long what takes?”
“The blasted spell!”
“Oh right: that.” He went back to his phone. “Why?”
“What do you mean, ‘Why’?”
“Why does the stupid thing take so long?”
“Because if it was simple, every simpleton would be doing it. Now put that thing away and make the blasted sign!”
He watched while Dylan, shaking his head, slipped the phone back into his pocket. He made a half-hearted sign of Gor over the body.
“You’ve got to wait till I say the spell!”
The minutes ticked by. Wilfred chanted. Dylan made the sign of Gor. He was cold and bored and his arms were getting tired. This was the first time they’d attempted a spell from the Necromonicon and he’d expected a lot more from it. Maybe the book was a dud. He was gathering the nerve to call it a night when one of the dogs began howling like a wolf. The next moment, a flash of lightning lit up the cracks between the shutters, quickly followed by a thunderous boom that shook the building, dislodging dust and cobwebs from the ceiling.
“DIES MIES JESCHET BOENE DOESEF DOUVEMA ENITEMAUS!” screeched Wilfred, his eyes on the ceiling.
The shutters rattled furiously. Both dogs were now barking and yelping in a frenzy. A door banged over and over again as wind sped around the building. Suddenly a shutter broke loose and the chill wind came bursting into the nave, hitting Dylan like a wave of ice. Shivering with cold and fear, he stood rooted to the spot, unable to pull his eyes away from Wilfred, who was charged with electricity, running up and down the length of the table chanting, “DIES MIES JESCHET BOENE DOESEF DOUVEMA ENITEMAUS!”
Suddenly he stopped. “Behold!” he cried, spreading his arms over the corpse. “The Messenger doth appear! Look! Look! Look!” Resting his hands on its stomach, he turned his round face to Dylan with boyish glee. “It’s here!”
To Dylan’s surprise, the corpse was moving; or rather, something inside its bloated belly was moving. Fascinated by the trembling flesh, he leaned in for a closer look. All of a sudden, the dead man gave out a loud farting noise, and at the same time bubbles of air escaped from its mouth, moving its lips, making it seem like it was trying to talk.
A foul smell flew up Dylan’s nose, making him gag, stagger back and cough so hard he almost threw up.
“Christ!” he cried, his hand over his nose. “What’s happening?”
Wilfred was unaffected by the stench. Ignoring Dylan’s question, he moved his mouth close to the corpse’s ear and murmured, “My friend, you have acquitted yourself admirably. Now it is time to unlock the gate.”
Standing erect, he chanted:
“Na’ai-ka’ulh-mi’groh-Yog-Sothoth-a’reyh – Yah! Na’ai-ka’ulh-mi’groh-Yog-Sothoth-a’reyh – Yah!”
The corpse twitched. Wilfred, encouraged, raised his arms and chanted faster:
“Na’ai-ka’ulh-mi’groh-Yog-Sothoth-a’reyh – Yah! Na’ai-ka’ulh-mi’groh-Yog-Sothoth-a’reyh – Yah! Na’ai-ka’ulh-mi’groh-Yog-Sothoth-a’reyh – Yah!”
The wind went on racing through the chapel, rattling the eaves, blowing dust and yellow smoke throughout the room and into Dylan’s eyes and mouth. Outside a deeper sound rumbled, shaking the air, getting louder by the second. Something was coming. The dogs knew it and had increased their frantic barking and howling.
Leaving the corpse, Dylan ran to the window and tried to secure the slamming shutter. It pulled with uncommon strength at his hand, refusing to close. It seemed to have a life of its own, a part in this insane ritual.
Glancing over his shoulder, he saw that Wilfred was now flagging, struggling to continue the chant. Sweat streamed down his face, his limbs trembled, he stopped and leant on the table for support. But after a brief rest, he raised his head, raised his hands and started up the chant again, pausing every so often to place his ear against the dead man’s stomach and make sure that whatever was happening in there was still happening.
Surely he can’t keep this up, thought Dylan. He’ll have a heart attack if this goes on much longer.
But on went the chanting. Wilfred was like a man possessed. Veins bulged in his forehead; his beady eyes shone with mania. He seemed to have forgotten Dylan was there.
When the corpse emitted a long burp from its dead lips, Wilfred jumped and yelped with glee.
Then the unbelievable happened. The body sat bolt upright, the dead man’s eyelids flew open. For a few seconds the eyes stared ahead in stark terror; then the muscles relaxed and the corpse fell back and returned to its lifeless state. The wind died, the banging and rumbling stopped, the dogs went quiet. All was still, apart from the dust falling from the ceiling and Wilfred panting and nodding his head over the prostrate figure.
Dylan felt like he’d awoken from a nightmare. He was reminded of his grandfather’s stories of LSD-induced visions and wondered whether that’s what had just happened. Had Wilfred spiked his drink? Then he remembered he hadn’t drunk anything since arriving at the farm.
“Is it …?” he began, stepping closer.
The corpse started moving again, silencing him. At first it looked like a bunch of snakes were squirming together in the dead man’s belly, then, very quickly, the movements became violent. The black symbols Wilfred had drawn on it began to smoke and bubble, burning into its skin like brands. To his horror, Dylan heard noises that sounded like bones cracking and organs bursting.
He backed away, his mind reeling with dread at the thought of what might happen next. When his back hit against the wall, he stopped and gaped at what was happening on the table.
The corpse was getting fatter, inflating like a balloon. Whatever was growing inside it squirmed and struggled like it was impatient to break free. As the body grew larger and rounder, the crunching and bursting noises subsided until all Dylan could hear was an awful squelching sound that made him think of jellyfish.
Before long, the corpse was an impossible size, unrecognisable from the man it had once been: a gigantic leathery egg.
All this time, Wilfred had been murmuring to himself, his eyes squeezed shut. His hands were pressed against his chest and he was holding onto a charm, a charm that, until now, had been hanging on a chain behind his shirt.
The inflation slowed. For a while the thing lay rocking from side to side. Then it stopped. Wilfred opened his eyes.
The corpse jerked. Suddenly it shuddered violently and almost rolled off the table. Wilfred put out his hands to steady it, and the next moment a curved talon broke through the skin where the man’s sternum would have been. The talon turned in a half circle, dragged itself down the skin, clinked as it met the metal of the table. The skin peeled like a banana and was shucked away, revealing something huge and red that bucked and writhed and began to unfurl.
Before Dylan could see what it was, the thing flopped onto the floor on the other side of the table.
Wilfred rushed around to investigate, while Dylan, his hands pressed against the wall, listened to whatever was scrambling about in the darkness. He could tell from the ecstatic look on Wilfred’s face that the old man wasn’t disappointed with the results of his labours.
Soon enough, the creature rose to its full height and Dylan could see what had impressed the wizard. It was garnet-red and hairy, the size of a small horse – but more than anything it resembled a bloated, bloody wasp, with eight bony legs that ended in curved claws. In place of a face the monster had a ragged mouth that exploded with squirming red tentacles. A series of black spines ran down the length of its bony body, which ended in a long tail. As Dylan watched in awe and horror, the creature extended four leathery black wings and flapped them to shake out the creases. Its mouthful of tentacles quivered and it released an unearthly screech that was unlike anything Dylan had ever heard before. The noise propelled him to the door, where he stood panting and rubbing the smoke and dust from his eyes.
Wilfred, however, was standing up to the beast like a superhero or a sacrifice. Holding out the charm – which Dylan now saw was a talisman in the shape of a beetle – he cried, “Submit! Submit! I command it! Stand down!”
The thing screeched at him, lurched to the side and launched itself at the window where Dylan had battled the shutter. The opening was too small for it to squeeze through, but that didn’t stop it from trying. After a few seconds spent battering the wall with its body, making the whole chapel shudder and creak, it suddenly changed tactics and began ripping away the wood with its claws.
“Stop! Stop!” cried Wilfred, holding up the talisman, to no avail.
Before long, the creature had ripped a hole in the wall large enough for it to squeeze through. Twisting its wasp-like body, dragging itself outside, it started climbing up the side of the chapel.
Wilfred rushed after it. He poked his head through the hole, still holding out the talisman.
“Damnation, it’s climbing all the way to the roof.” He turned to Dylan, who was still at the door. “Get out there!” he yelled, waving his arms at him. “Get after it!”
He peered through the hole again. “Come back!” he shouted, shaking the talisman at the thing.
Pulling his head in, he rushed past Dylan and out the door. Dylan stumbled after him and together they watched as the beast dragged itself up to the peaked roof, where it stood silhouetted against the night sky, the tiles it had dislodged in its climb dropping to the ground with a clatter.
“What’s it doing?” asked Dylan.
“It can’t fly on wet wings,” Wilfred murmured to himself. “They need to dry.”
He was right. The creature’s wings were stretched wide on either side of its body, glistening in the light of the gibbous moon. Like a baby bird it seemed uncertain of its ability to fly, though eager to try. One by one it lifted its bony legs, shook the moisture from its wings, stretched its dark-red body towards the stars.
All of a sudden the rotten tiles broke away underfoot, and with a screech the thing slipped and scrambled and tumbled down the roof, fell through the air and dropped with a thump to the ground. With tiles raining down, it clambered to its feet and bounded away, screaming like a banshee, still flapping its wings.
Wilfred grabbed Dylan’s arm hard, pulling him down. “Go after it!” he roared in his ear.
“What?” cried Dylan, jerking his arm away. “Do I look stupid? That’s a god! I’m not chasing after a god!”
Wilfred threw up his hands. “How can you be so –? That’s not Yog-Sothoth, you fish-brained dolt! It’s a Messenger! Now go bring it back!”
Dylan stepped back. “Are you insane? What do you expect me to do with it?”
“Do what I’m paying you for. Now get!”
“You’re not paying me anything.”
Dylan placed his hands on his head, trying to figure out exactly what Wilfred was expecting him to do. “I’m supposed to catch that thing and drag it back here?”
Wilfred was tapping the talisman against his palm. Shaking his head in annoyance, he glanced up and saw Dylan was still there. “Get!” he barked.
Dylan slipped his hand into his pocket and stroked his phone, trying to gather the nerve to pull it out and call the police. He knew Wilfred would never let him do that, but he also knew the monster was out of control, obviously dangerous, and needed to be caught.
Dropping the talisman, Wilfred stared at him as if he could read his thoughts. “Very well,” he grunted. “You’re a fish-brained, hog-livered titmouse, but … have it your way. When you find it, put it down with the powder of Vraith, like I showed you. We’ll have to raise another.” He flicked the talisman. “After I find out how to make this useless scrap of metal work.” Turning around, he placed his hands on his hips and huffed at the busted chapel. “What a damn mess. Next time, I’ll get Snyder to build a cage. Hell and damnation, I’ll need another corpse!”
Dylan wracked his brain, trying to remember the Vraith thing. When Wilfred explained it to him, he’d only half attended.
“Why are you still here?” cried Wilfred, shoving him towards his car. “The longer you loaf around, the more people will die.”
“Die? What do you mean, die?”
“What do you think I mean? The Messenger has to eat to grow. How else did you think it fulfils its purpose?” His eyes opened wide and he hit the palm of his hand against his forehead. “Of course! That’s why it took off. I should have had offerings. Why didn’t you remind me to have offal at hand?”
Dylan felt a creeping dread about what he’d gotten himself into. He glanced over his shoulder at the chapel, where the stretched skin of a dead man lay on a mortuary table, his insides having come to life and run off to eat people. With a shaky voice, not really sure he wanted to know, he asked, “What’s its purpose?”
Wilfred sneered at him. “What did you think was the purpose of the Messenger?”
“I thought you wanted to ask it things.”
“Ah, my young friend,” Wilfred cackled, “the bounds of your imbecility are limitless.”
As usual, his insults went right over Dylan’s head. “I didn’t think people were gonna die.”
“They wouldn’t have had to, if this damned talisman had worked like that fool said it would. But they will … and they are. Being devoured right now, if our friend is doing its job. So get yourself after it.”
Dylan stared helplessly at him. “I – uh –”
Wilfred squinted at him.
“I need …”
“Well? What is it?”
Dylan squirmed. “We’ve been here for … I need to, um …”
“Spit it out!”
He nodded at the farmhouse. “Can I go bathroom first?”