The short, stocky man from Massachusetts sighed uncomfortably. The dry, dusty air always made him cough and the sun always made him sweat. Sheriff McCauley, a ‘Lewis-and-Clark’er’ who made his way out to Bend years ago, was waiting for him on the steps leading up to the ranch door. James parked his Chevrolet in the grass to the side of his car and got out, fanning himself. “Afternoon Sheriff.”
“James. Good to see you again.” The sheriff moved to block James from entering the ranch. “You might wanna stay out here for a few minutes more, Matthew is still attending to the … bodies.”
He looked at the Sheriff questionably, “What happened boss?”
McCauley looked down at the ground and grimaced. “Well, the Washington family up the road came to my office this morning to report the deaths of the Johnson’s here. Apparently Mr. Washington came over to purchase some horses. He found the car out back and thought the family might be in danger so he entered only to find the bodies… angled and bent into some kind of satanic marking in the great room. He was so distraught that when he ran out, he left the door open. By the time we got here, only a few bones hadn’t been taken by the local wildlife. I’ll tell you what’s the strangest thing about it though… No blood. Anywhere. It’s as if every drop simply vanished. The bones are clean and polished. Like they’ve been sitting in the sun for years.”
James Alexander, shuddered and sat down in reflex. He took his handkerchief and wiped his face for a moment and panicked at the thought of some twisted cult operating out here in the middle of nowhere. He chose to be silent.
Matthew, a man only a few years younger than his boss, was carefully collecting the remains the scavengers had left behind. McCauley has had him doing most of the wild animal cleanup due to his years working with alligator victims in Louisiana. He had learned to be meticulous as scavengers can scatter pieces into every corner of a place. The eerie quiet of the house unsettled him more than the task at hand. As he was collecting a fingerbone which had found itself in the back of the fireplace, the clacking sound of wood on wood loudly reverberated through the house. Startled, Matthew tried to stand and slammed his head against the top of the fireplace. He immediately fell unconscious.
He came to moments later and found a stack of papers next to him. The last will and testament of Fixer Johnson. Matthew anxiously collected his box and the will then ran for the door. The door slammed shut behind him and the Sheriff quickly fastened the lock. Muffled voices came through the door. “I found this inside James. It should make your job a fair bit easier.”
The hairy ghul which was listening from the basement slid the hidden door open and came scuffling out. “Charity, they’ve gone. Are you sure about this? It didn’t work last time…”
“What didn’t work Pickman?” Charity asked as she followed. “They always come.”
“But last time, they ended up releasing G’thanha. The time before that they were devoured by the Dwellers of the Passageways. Every time we try we end up risking the attention of the Hounds. We haven’t even cleaned up from the last pass. What if they get lost?”
“We don’t really have a choice. I trust them. Look, we got the key fragment and we’ve located the scroll. Those prior attempts haven’t been a complete failure. Besides, we’re running out of time. Eventually, that will be me in that box.” Charity reminded him. “I’m scared too. We’ve lost a lot of battles, but we only need to win once.
I’ve recorded the message and placed the items for our soldiers to find.
Charity stopped sustaining the ritual keeping the spirits away and stepped outside with her friend. “Shall we?” she asked as her cane extended with a snap. He offered his arm and together they walked off into the desert.
James Alexander unlocked the door to his small office. “There aren’t enough chairs for everyone but if some of you are willing to stand then you should all fit.” Charity’s named inheritors stepped into the room. A nun from the midwest, a black WWI vet, an aeronautical engineer, an illusionist and … The former lady of the house?! A short woman in an expensive black dress entered the room, escorted by her butler. No. There’s some differences in the face. Perhaps they were sisters.
“I’m glad you could find a way here to claim your property. How familiar were you with Mr. Fixer Johnson?” The room stayed silent as people looked at each other curiously. “No-one? Well, he seemed to be familiar with you. He provided the contact information when he named you all in his will.” He pulled the will from a drawer in his desk and showed it to them. “Well, essentially, Mr. Johnson has left you with some property a little distance from the city. I need you all to sign this contract that says you have received the property and we can close this case. Before you do, we’ll head out to the property and I’ll fill you in on it’s history and building details when we get there.”
Everyone seemed amenable to the idea and returned to their vehicles. James walked outside, wiping his face as he came out into the sun. And after stumbling about a bit while his eyes adjusted, found his car and started driving. The road quickly vanished into a trail of gravel as they left Bend and toured the ornate desert geography. What is that?! James wondered as they approached the final turn. He stopped his car and got out to see a young boy, only nine to ten years old, crying on the side of the road. The other cars came to a stop behind him. James leaned over and lifted the bicycle off of him while the nun, Margaret, ran to his side with a bag of medical supplies.
“Stand aside.” She said as she knelt down to examine the boy’s wounds. “I need a flat surface and some water to help him.”
“There’s water at the ranch.” James pointed down the road where the ranch stood amid a field of golden grass and red gravel. “I’ll take him in my car if you ride with me and tend to him.”
Margaret and James lifted the boy carefully into the backseat of the car and went as fast as the road would let them to the house. Margaret tried to ask the boy for his name and other details, but he was too upset to talk. James parked the car next to the patio and worked with Margaret to get the boy out safely while the other vehicles parked around the front of the property. Together they brought the boy into the home where he promptly vanished, leaving only bloodstains on James shirt.
Severely unnerved, Samuel the former WWI pilot, pulled his shotgun out from under his coat and held it down at an angle. “What?!” He shouted. Turning about, he pointed the gun at the solid wall where the door used to be. “Hey, what?!” he and the others ran to the wall and tried to feel around for seam or slit where the door would have been. Finding none, Samuel ran to a window nearby and drew the curtains aside, seeing only stars. Hypnotized by the vastness of eternity staring at him through the glass, Samuel stared deeper, until he saw some kind of sweeping motion between the stars. Terrified, he dropped the curtains and fell back into the room with a shout. Joshua, the stage magician, began to search the room and walls for hidden mirrors and ropes, convinced that a crafty illusionist was at work.
Margaret found an empty photo frame sitting next to a recliner, when she picked it up a cord pulled tight. Joshua followed the cable as it ran under the rug up along the fireplace and up to a small cube with a lens affixed to the front. He picked it up and turned it around so the lens faced the chimney. On the fireplace mantle there was also an ornate dagger, made with very expensive materials, sitting in a custom display.
The team then turned to James, who was sitting on the couch, mouth agape. Joshua put his finger in his face. “What’s happening here? Why did you bring us?”
James stared back “I don’t know. There was a family here, they died, they left the property to all of you. That’s all I know!”
Charity smiled and asked, “Did they did here?”
James stayed silent. A horrible sound came from the kitchen, as though someone was being gutted and burned alive. It only lasted for a short time, then stopped as suddenly as it began. Curiously, the group entered the kitchen and started to search around. The far wall had a fresh spray of blood on it and the smell of burning flesh lingered in the air. After a few minutes, Gavin found a hollow section of the floor, which, when pulled up revealed a bottle of blue wine. The label seemed to be printed in some type of Gaelic text and had a bottling date of 2048. A few of the individuals had a pull off the bottle, which had many layered flavors and sparkling notes of mysterious, unnameable fruits. Charity took a closer look at the bottle, working out the shape and flow of the label name. Although it appeared Gaelic, it was actually different in some aspects. Different enough that she couldn’t translate the name or the print on the back.
After searching the kitchen for any additional useful items, an apparition of a native man, stood at the stove, humming some kind of lullaby. A loud, sickening crunch of bone echoed through the room as a baseball bat, carried by the young boy that was severely injured, collided with his skull, sending his face into the frying pan on the stove. The man screamed terribly and fell backwards to the floor where the boy then pulled out a knife and drove it into the man’s stomach, spraying the walls with blood. The apparition then faded away. The frying pan sizzled as the flesh on it burned away, revealing a star with an eye at its center. The new grooves in the pan glowed a bright crimson. Charity recognized the symbol as an ancient ward against evil spirits and Joshua grabbed it, and held it firmly in his hands. They returned to the great room as the kitchen was too uncomfortable to be in.
Charity turned to her butler, Wilfred, and whispered something in his ear. He withdrew a bag and a book from his matron’s gear and handed her her supplies. “Please excuse me for a moment.” She went around the room, placing small totems and devices while lighting a bundle of sage. Confused and wanting to leave Charity to whatever crazy thing she was doing, the remaining team members, including Wilfred, went down the hall to the first bedroom, which was obviously the bedroom of a young boy. His baseball bat stood in the corner, covered in blood. The group started looking around to see what they could find in regards to the intense haunting they found themselves in.
Under his bed, they found a box of gemstones, fossils and rocks collected from the river. The box also had unusual, highly advanced, ammunition casings and a small grey rectangle with metal bands. Gavin recognized the basic design as what could possibly be a battery but he had never seen one designed like this. In the boy’s dresser, they found a journal, detailing his thoughts over the last few years. His mother had him go panning for gold in the river that ran through their property. Over time, he had managed to find a fair bit of it, as well as a few other things that had washed down that he could keep. A couple of weeks ago, the boy found a golden skull in the river covered in gemstones and unusual inscriptions, when he brought it back home, his mother took it from him and buried it in the wall of the basement. That’s when the nightmares started.
The next few pages showed pictures that were drawn by the boy in clumsy strokes. A man in a headdress with a blade in one hand, dripping blood, and his parents dead at his feet. A man standing before a great doorway with a weird line drawn around it. People bowing to the man in the headdress. Some flying bee-like creature that seemed to be stabbing the man in the headdress while other people shot at him with guns. The man with the top of his head missing. Then there were some pictures of the valley from the mountains. The last page had a drawing of the young boy, who the journal identified as Charlie, standing over the bodies of his dead parents, with a knife in his hand. Then another picture of him eating the flesh from their bodies and finally cutting his own heart out.
When they put the journal down, Charlie was standing before them, staring at them with his baseball bat in his hand. Nervously the team backed away while they tried to determine what to do. Charlie then crushed his skull with repeated strikes of the baseball bat. When he had beat his head into a bloody pile on his neck, he dropped the bat. Stomach acid poured up through the neck would and sprayed across the floor, narrowly missing the team. The spine then ripped and grew out of the boy’s body, tendons and flesh wrapping around it, twisting it into a four foot tentacle with an eight inch fang, dripping acid.
Charlie’s tentacle swung out towards the team who dodged out of the way. Samuel fired his shotgun at Charlie, the rounds simply passed through punching holes in the wall. The holes bled darkness into the lamp light being cast by the oil lamps on the wall. Wilfred suddenly started shouting at Charlie, “You are being a very naughty child.” He pulled his belt from his pants and prepared to swing it at Charlie who backed off in terror into the corner of the room. An apparition of the mother suddenly manifested in the room and grabbed Charlie, carrying him through the wall in a flash of light.
The team ran from the room and back into the great room where they found Charity meditating. “There is something terrible here. Something growing from beneath and flooding this place with terrible, dark energy. Something I’ve never seen before. I believe it was manipulating the minds of the people that lived here. Whatever it is, it’s beneath the house, we need to find a way downstairs.”
Gavin, Samuel, Joshua and Margaret went into the final bedroom, searching for any last clues. As soon as they stepped in, a bitter, frigid cold filled the room, causing their skin to crack and bleed around the knuckles on their hands and around their eyes. They immediately ran back out of the room and tried to figure out what to do. Joshua wrapped himself up in blankets and coats, ready to tackle the cold, when Gavin took the frying pan and entered the room, bringing the temperature up to normal. The rest of the group entered the room and they took their time searching it.
On the bookshelf, Samuel found two books that stood out amongst the less unusual ranching and geology texts. Unaussprechlichen Kults, a black book covered in horrific carvings, authored by Friedrich Wilhelm von Junzt from 1839, and a copy of Nameless Cults, 1909. In a hidden cubby beneath another loose floorboard, they also found a thin, notebook sized piece of plastic attached to a decorated hood by a cable, a suit and some type of powder in a small vial.
Gavin noticed a trail of sunlight coming from the window, brushing aside the curtains, sunlight poured into the room. The mark from the frying pan was engraved on the glass and seemed to be keeping the spirit’s power at bay. He opened the window and climbed through. He heard the rattlesnakes before he saw all of them, then backed up against the wall as they formed a tight barrier around him just a few feet away. A glint of sunlight off of metal caught his eye and he, using the frying pan as a shield, moved towards the unusual construct of glass and metal. The rattlers stayed a few feet away, enraged but hesitant to come any closer to him.
The machine was a complex series of glass tubes, mirrors and metal pipes all coming together in a device connected to a classical turbine which Gavin recognized. He realized the device was generating power somehow and followed the cable coming out of it back to the house where it was connected to a large box with small lights decorating its surface. They all were glowing green. In the middle of the box was a dock, crafted specifically for another one of those batteries that he had found earlier, which he removed and pocketed, thinking it might be useful later. Turning around and noticing the distance the rattler’s were staying from him, he had another idea.
Holding the frying pan out as a shield, Gavin made his way around the front of the house, where he found the world as it originally was. Excited, he ran to his vehicle and almost flew inside. No matter how many times he tried to start it, the engine simply wouldn’t start. As he slammed his fists into the wheel with frustration, a reflection in the mirrors caught his attention. Turning around he saw a person, too heavily robed in a crimson-brown mix of rough cloth to identify, staring at him. In his hands he held a bridle, leading to what looked like were a family of horses, mashed together into a single creature. It’s spindly limbs, splayed out before it like the fangs of a spider danced nervously on the ground while it’s heads screamed and gnashed about blindly. Gavin ran from his car back into the house as words whispered in his and everyone else’s mind. “Release the spirit from beneath the house. Put an end to this madness.”
The door vanished behind Gavin as he came back into the house. Charity smiled at him. “We can’t leave until we’ve completed this moment.” Everyone took a seat around the great room and tried to figure out how to get beneath the house. Gavin took a look at the items collected from the hidden niche in the bedroom and realized that the notebook sized device they found had some very tiny screws in the back of the body. He utilized the path through the bedroom to retrieve his toolkit from his car and rushed back inside. He found a screwdriver that could work in a pinch and delicately opened the case of this strange device. Inside he found a green plate covered in a forest of strange components with rivers of silver flowing between them. In a tray tucked into an empty corner of the device, he found another battery, very similar to the one he had taken from outside. Sliding in the battery from his pocket, the device came to life with a chirp and a picture of a lock danced on it’s screen. Gavin closed the case loosely and showed the device to the group.
Charity felt along the case and pulled the hood up into her hands by the cable. “I think… I think this will fit me.” She slid the hood on, which was almost a perfect fit, and collapsed to the floor.
Charity was standing on an infinite blue grid, extending forever in every direction. Then she realized she could see clearly and brought her hand up to her mouth in shock. A fuzziness came over her lips and she realized she couldn’t feel her body like she was used to, that everything seemed mostly numb. Hanging in the sky were two extra large images, hovering in space. The first one, a painting that hovered just above the horizon, the other, a set of gears which seemed semi-translucent. She instinctively held her hand out towards the painting which flew to her so quickly that she ducked reflexively. The painting looked like an image of the Great Room they were in. She reached out towards it again and the painting began to animate. She saw the device which she had just plugged her mind into sliding into the empty picture frame on the end table and the wall behind the chair pulling away into a hidden area. A floating arrow pointed downward.
Reaching up to her head, she slid the hood off and the infinite grid vanished. She awoke in the real world with a start and pulled the hood from her physical head. Taking the device she made her way carefully to the empty photo frame and slid the device inside after pulling out the cable leading to the hood, which disconnected smoothly from the device. The screen flashed a few times and a voice echoed through the room. “Excuse me, but could you please re-orient my display device.” Joshua went over to the fireplace and rotated the small cube with a lens around until an apparition appeared in the center of the room. One that looked nearly identical to Charity, but significantly older. It turned about the room, smiling at everyone and began to speak.
“I have been programmed to deliver a message from Charity O’Banion to whomever found this device.” The apparition found Charity sitting on the couch, staring in disbelief. “Oh, hello My Lady. Do you wish to record a new message?”
Charity managed to cough out a “no” in response. “Tell us your message.”
The ghost made of light looked down towards the floor. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. You have been drafted. You would have been drafted anyway, but this way you might have a chance to stop that which already happened. If you succeed, it’ll never happen again and you’ll never have to do this in the first place. The warrior who will save us all has already turned to dust. There’s nothing you can do right now to change that, but if you all stick to the plan, it won’t matter.
I’ve been at this for the last few decades, though only fifteen years have passed in this world. There are terrible groups of people, worshipping terrible gods made flesh billions of years ago, and almost all of them are out to sacrifice the world to their deity for power and secrets or simply because they’re insane and think it would fun.” She looked up at the group and held her hand out. “The followers of the Great Goddess will be helpful to you when the time comes to pass but not right now. Don’t trust them, ever as they are driven by their own selfish motivations, but especially don’t trust them now.
“It’s name is Ghatanothoa. It was imprisoned here by beings from another world. It’s terribleness is so powerful, that merely seeing an image of the creature instantly mummifies the victim. Only they aren’t deceased. It was imprisoned beneath the ocean and in a fragment dimension, but it won’t be soon and when it escapes the world and all life upon it will be consumed.
She looked sorrowfully at the floor again. “It’s our fault that this is happening. We didn’t mean to. Sometimes a Run just goes sour and you find yourself having to run away. Sometimes there’s side effects to running away.” Looking back up to the group before her. “Don’t tell anyone about the plan. They don’t know it’s happening and they might interfere. Hide the commlink in the basement. You’ll see where. You won’t need it anymore, but I have a task for some other people who will be by here later. Don’t leave home without your key. Enjoy the wine, that’s a gift from me to you. If the bedroom is overwhelming you, light a fire in the fireplace. It’s been enhanced.”
She went silent and a solemn expression came over her face. “He’s not my son anymore. Something else is wearing his form as a skin. Please… Please… Put him down. The dagger on the mantle should do the job.” She turned towards Charity and with the sudden vibrance of life cried out to her. “I’m so sorry, but there’s only conclusion to this night. It’s already happened. It will happen. It’s always happening. But if the plan succeeds, it will never happen again.” With that, the life left the apparition which started speaking in a monotone voice. “The conclusion of the recording has a program attached. Performing operation.” The far wall slid open and a rough stairwell leading into the basement could be seen. The apparition faded away noiselessly and silence hung in the air.
Joshua grabbed the dagger from the mantle and the entire group, including James, prepared to face whatever lay beneath them. As they started going down the steps, a terrible wind came up around them. The tools on the wall struggled with their mounts, trying to free themselves and a miserable scream echoed from the walls. The team hit the bottom of the stairs as Charlie manifested. Extending a hand, a knife flew from the wall and into the throat of James Alexander, Esq. taking him out of the fight. Margaret launched herself at his body and tore his shirt open, plunging a scalpel into a spot below the wound, allowing air to pass into James lungs. Joshua threw the dagger at Charlie, which flew just over his shoulder. Samuel ran over to the dagger and picked it up, getting ready to strike, while the rest of the group reached the bottom of the stairs.
Another knife flew from the workbench and struck the wall behind Gavin and Charity, sticking into the boards. It tried to pull itself free but couldn’t. Charity noticed a space behind the boards and motioned for Gavin to help her pry the boards off. Charlie manifested his baseball bat and swung at Margaret who dodged out of the way. The bat crushed James’s skull, spraying brain matter and bone across the floor. Samuel struck charlie with the blade, plunging it into his back. Charity and Gavin managed to free the boards. She reached inside and grabbed a skull, made of gold and overlaid with sigils and gemstones. Two large pink crystals sat in the skulls eyes and stared deeply into Charity’s being. All of reality seemed to diminish into a tiny point in the distance and she felt herself drifting into the Aether.
Samuel fired his shotgun, blowing Charlie’s head wide open. This time, no tentacle came writhing out and the body hit the floor, dissolving into a pool of black ichor and neon green bile. The team took a breath of relief and looked over to Charity who was staring into the skull. Without warning, she plunged the skull over and over into her head until she had completely destroyed the bone and tissues inside. Violently, she shoved the skull into the mass of flesh protruding from the top of her neck which quickly wrapped itself around the donor organ. With a scream of pain and the crunch of bone, Charity’s body twisted and reshaped itself until a middle aged man was standing in her place. He reached into the cubby and pulled a jagged purple crystal from inside. Wilfred got in his way and ripped the crystal from his hand and Gavin pulled his firearm out, ready to destroy this creature.
The being that was once Charity ran up the stairs and out of the house. The group followed through the doorway leading out, their firearms at the ready. In the twilight of sunset, they watched as a group of shadowy torsos ripped from the ground and pulled themselves to the party at a fantastic speed. They ran back inside, but it was too late, the disembodied shadows broke through the windows and began tearing at their flesh until they all passed out.
While they slept, they dreamt of a futuristic society losing children to an ancient one, caverns which travelled through time and alien creatures who steal the brains of their victims. They dreamed of a fight with a powerful sorcerer, who was quickly overwhelmed by the firepower of a group, and of his mind being placed in a skull identical to the one which Charity had taken by. That skull was lost on an ancient mountain, trapped within a glacier for eons.
They awoke to an incredibly awful smell. As though the morgue had caught flame and filled the room with its smoke. When they opened their eyes, a creature could be seen hobbling about the room. Gibbering to itself. It keeps extending its arms, poking their bodies with it’s long, gnarled, fingers covered in dirt and mold. “Wakey, wakey, eggs… and bac-ey… The Lady said you would be awake by now!” It shouted in a high-pitched, gravelly tone with a slight Boston accent.