Written by guest author, Nick Kolakowski.
Night descended upon the town, and with it a pale mist spreading over the black waters of the bay. Clouds of insects buzzed through the cooling air. The lights in town clicked off, one by one, leaving only the antiseptic glow of the streetlamps along Main.
Two hundred yards offshore, a massive bug hummed too close to the surface—and met its doom when a huge fish burst from below, its scales glimmering in the moonlight, to swallow it down in one gulp. Back underwater, the fish snapped its tail, pleased (as far as a fish can feel pleasure) with its kill. It had only a second to revel in that feeling before something slammed into it from below, slicing it neatly in two. The fish’s halves drifted into a wide mouth lined with sharp teeth.
Elsewhere in the depths, fish and worms paused in their nocturnal circuits, sensing the enormous threat pushing through the water above them. Above the bay, even the insects disappeared, leaving a weird, sticky silence.
The creature approached the shore at incredible speed, churning a thick wake. When the lake shallowed, it found its feet and stood, sinking up to its shins in the wet sand. It was heavy, but its ample muscle allowed it to walk smoothly from water to land. It headed for the trees at a comfortable lope, not caring if anyone saw it.
Within a thick band of pines, it found a sandy trail, covered with dry needles, that led to a parking lot. A solitary car was parked in the furthest edge, its windows fogged over, creaking slightly on its springs. The creature’s stomachs rumbled. It approached, catching a glimpse of itself in the faint reflection of a side window—its many mouths, its many limbs, its impossibly bulbous torso—before the moonlight shifted just enough for it to see the pale bodies writhing in the back seat.
When it ripped open the door and reached inside, the boy on top of the girl screamed and raised his hands to protect himself. The creature seized the boy with a hand and a claw, then stuffed his head into the largest mouth on its torso. The kid screamed against its tongue as it brought its teeth down, severing his throat, the warm and salty rush of blood filling it with life.
The girl screamed and tried to scramble over the front seats. Still chewing, the creature wrapped a tentacle around her ankle. A minute later, it had swallowed her, too.
The creature was self-aware. It could hear the souls that lived inside it, all of whom had once owned their own bodies and destinies, but who now existed as components within its magnificence. Sometimes those souls sent images, as if trying to appeal to the creature’s sentimentality—cuddly babies and dogs, happy times in the sun, first kisses and warm meals. Please free us, they asked. We deserve more than this.
The joke was on them, because the creature lacked a single sentimental cell. It only wanted to feed, and to that end, it had absorbed and adapted any number of improvements from its friends along the bottom of the lake—crawlers and creepers gifted by evolution with fine tools such as serrated claws and sticky tentacles and bone-shattering teeth.
After finishing its meal, the creature looked down with its many eyes and realized its torso was crusted with shiny gore. Dropping onto its back, it closed its eyes and mouths and rolled in the sand for a few moments, until most of the mud and blood had sloughed off nicely.
Standing again, it wondered whether to do something with the car. Whenever it killed fishermen on the take, it took the trouble to ram a claw through the hull, sending the boat to the bottom. Let the humans assume that a few fishermen drifted out to the open ocean every year, lost forever in the abyss.
But disappearing a car would take too much time. Besides, the police would have any number of suspects to consider in the kids’ disappearance—an alligator, a drifter—without suspecting that something had come from the lake. In the meantime, the night was getting on, and there was much to do.
Wiping a mouth still caked with a bit of viscera, the creature turned toward town, its claws clicking softly in anticipation. Yes, the two kids had been a nice appetizer, but nowhere near the complete meal it craved.
Asadi, Suzi, Sam and John walk down the center of the main road, which was lit faintly by streetlamps at regular intervals. The white walls of the pharmacy, just ahead and to the right, gleamed in a way that reminded Asadi a little too much of a tomb. Exhaustion settled into his mind, reminding him of all the bad years back home, when men in black would ride down from the hills in pickup trucks and terrorize the village.
How much terror can anyone endure before they snap? Except insanity sounded like an escape hatch, a blissful release from reality. What if your mind bent and bent and bent but never broke, just kept filling up with fresh terrors?
That’s hell, he thought. It’s the very definition of hell.
On their left, they passed the squat box of the sheriff’s office. No lights on inside, which was a bit unusual. An SUV with the sheriff’s logo was parked beside the building. Asadi noted how it was an older vehicle, lacking the sleek hood and fender of that manufacturer’s recent models. Maybe the town didn’t have the tax revenue to upgrade their equipment.
“It’s a nice night, at least,” John said, snapping Asadi from his thoughts. “Sometimes I forget how nice this place can be. Clean air, wonderful landscape…”
“Weird creatures from underground,” Suzi said, and laughed without cheer. “Now that’s a perk you can’t find anywhere else.”
“We do what we can,” Sam said.
“Yes, we do,” John said. “I just hope it’s enough.”
Between the sheriff’s office and the pharmacy, the road dipped into an incline, steep enough for Asadi to feel in his already-aching calves. What I need is a long shower, he thought. A long shower and the chance to sleep for a day or two, in a room with a very solid lock on the door—
In the darkness ahead of them, something crunched the gravel on the side of the road.
The creature’s first impulse was to stand behind a tree as the Guild members passed, its overwhelming need to feed blunted by the idea of fighting against humans who knew how to push back against forces beyond their small, puny world…
A voice filled its mind—deep, booming, alien. It was accompanied by an image of a figure, human-like, silhouetted by ghostly blue light. This figure wore a wide-brimmed hat.
Attack them, the voice ordered.
No, the creature replied. I am here to feed, not to fight.
It was impossible to see the man’s face—if it was indeed a man—but the creature could sense he was smiling. Are you a coward?
The creature offered an image in response: Its enormous bulk tearing from the woods, hands and tentacles and claws raised, tearing these humans apart before they could react, rending their limbs with bright splashes of blood, tearing into their soft, sweet viscera—
No, the figure replied. Clearly you are not.
There is easier prey out there, the creature told it.
I am sure. But kill these four, and I will grant you enormous power. You will be bigger, tougher, stronger than ever before. You have my word.
The creature, usually inclined to doubt, nonetheless trusted what this man told it. After all, he had pushed his thoughts into its mind. Who knew what other magic he was capable of?
The man sensed the creature’s agreement. We have a deal, then, he said. Just one request: Make it as messy as you can.
The smell that struck Asadi’s nostrils reminded him of mud and pennies, unpleasant enough to make him hold his breath. The breeze must have brought the stench from the lake—the same breeze making the trees rustle, right?
Except he couldn’t feel any wind on his lightly sweaty arms. The air was perfectly still.
“Hold on,” he said. “Something is very…”
Before he could finish the sentence, the trees bent forward, crushed beneath the weight of—well, Asadi’s brain couldn’t quite process it. In the half-light from the streetlamps, it looked like an enormous knot of humans balanced precariously on a pair of oversized legs, like a circus trick gone horribly wrong. And from that ton of flesh jabbed weirder limbs, giant red claws and translucent tentacles studded with pale white suckers.
On any other night, the sight might have tipped Asadi into full-on insanity. Not tonight, though—not after everything he’d seen. He was dimly aware of John yelling something and stepping forward, his hands raised, as if directing traffic. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Sam and Suzi sprinting across the road, toward the bulk of the pharmacy.
The creature in front of them seemed to have problems stopping its forward momentum, its feet skittering on the road as its body swayed precariously. Multiple mouths opened along its body, lips trembling, teeth gleaming, tongues wagging, and it unleashed a deep roar that made the pavement hum beneath Asadi’s feet.
“Not another one!” John roared back. Reaching beneath his coat, he drew an antique six-shooter and emptied the chamber into the beast, which reacted not at all to the bullets.
Asadi gripped John’s collar, his head twisting furiously as he looked for an ideal spot to run. The woods seemed promising, but this creature clearly had the ability to knock over trees if it built up enough speed. Glancing behind them, he noted the sheriff’s station. Why wasn’t there anyone inside? If they could break in, they could probably find some safe shelter until they figured out what to do…
Sam and Suzi were yanking at the pharmacy’s door, which was locked. The creature roared and charged across the street at them, no doubt figuring they were easy prey. Before it could reach them, though, Suzi gripped Sam’s collar and rushed them around the corner of the building, toward the dumpsters—
“No!” Asadi yelled. “You’ll be trapped!”
They must not have heard him, or else they didn’t think they had any other choice, because Sam lifted the flimsy plastic lid of the nearest dumpster, then gripped Suzi’s shirt to help her into the dumpster’s maw. Sam dove in after her, his feet disappearing just before the creature barreled into the dumpster at full force.
That should have been the end. The creature should have plunged through that lid and eaten them both. But something amazing happened: The creature’s weight smashed full-force into the dumpster’s metal side, denting it and tipping it over. The side with the lid was now flush against the pharmacy’s brick wall, protecting Sam and Suzi for the moment.
“Come on,” John said, running to the SUV parked beside the sheriff’s office. Glancing inside, he said, “Damn.”
“What?” Following John’s gaze, Asadi noted the fast-food wrappers in the vehicle’s center console, along with a lighter and a loose cigarette on the dashboard.
“No shotgun,” John said. “Not that bullets worked…”
“You thought that would work?” Asadi pointed at the pharmacy. “Against that… thing?”
“Bullets dipped in the ashes of Vi’hoth have managed to eliminate spectral beasts in the past,” John retorted, before his eyes widened. “Get down!”
They ducked behind the SUV. Pressing the side of his face to the pavement, Asadi could look between the wheels toward the road, where the creature was lumbering back toward the woods. Was it retreating? Asadi felt absurd hope. Why had it decided to charge them in the first place? Usually the monsters stuck to the shadows, relying more on stealth than brute force.
Perhaps something had ordered this creature to attack. But what? Or who?
The creature turned on its heel and, loosing another roar, charged at the dumpsters. It smashed into the one hiding Suzi and Sam, denting it again but failing to flip it over. For good measure, the creature slapped at it with hands and claws and tentacles, but couldn’t seem to get the leverage it needed to twist the heavy dumpster away from the wall.
“I saw this before, years ago,” John said. “Maybe it’s the same damn creature. We couldn’t kill it last time.”
Another hit on that dumpster, Asadi realized, and Sam and Suzi would be dead. There were no weapons in the SUV, and they didn’t have a hope in hell of battling this thing with their bare fists. No, they needed something bigger.
Asadi remembered bad days from his childhood. The men in black ordering families to stand outside their homes, terrorizing them. Except one day when Abul-Jamal, the village’s craziest bastard, finally had enough of these dogs sticking AK-47s in their faces. Abul-Jamal had managed to sneak up to the pickups, and then…
“Give me your pistol,” Asadi said.
“I know. When I’m doing this, open the gas tank.” Asadi stripped off his shirt. “Stuff this in there, but leave the tail dangling out.”
“Wait, what are we doing?” John said, but handed the weapon over.
Rising to a crouch, Asadi slammed the butt one, two, three times into the SUV’s passenger-side window until it shattered. As he expected, the vehicle’s alarm went off immediately, with a wail that felt like nails slamming into the meat of his brain.
Down the incline, the creature turned to stare at them with its many eyes. Farther down main, lights clicked on—people awakening to hellish noise, no doubt wondering what was going on.
Reaching across the seats, Asadi disengaged the emergency brake. Backing out of the SUV, he yelled to John, who had finished stuffing the cloth into the gas tank, “Get behind and push.”
John did as ordered, and the SUV began to roll forward, slowly at first but gaining speed. Asadi placed one hand on the wheel and twisted it as hard as it could, trying to judge the angle of the turn. The creature filled the windshield, its hands bunching into fists, its tentacles slapping at the cold night air.
This is a stupid plan, Asadi thought. They shotAbul-Jamal when he tried this. But what choice do we have?
As he ducked out of the SUV, Asadi grabbed the lighter off the dashboard. Jogging alongside the vehicle, he flicked the lighter open and triggered the flame, then lit the shirt poking from the gas tank.
Ahead of them, the creature roared and charged at the oncoming SUV. Maybe it meant to sidestep the vehicle as it passed. Or maybe it intended to jump over it like an Olympic athlete. Had it succeeded in either of those plans, it would have slaughtered Asadi and John in moments.
Instead, it only managed to take a few steps before the SUV’s front bumper plowed into it, knocking it onto its back. Grabbing John by the elbow, Asadi ran as hard as he could.
With a dull thump, the SUV’s gas tank exploded. Flames leapt high, consuming the interior, boiling the paint. The creature, its feet trapped beneath the chassis, screamed with all its mouths as the fire consumed its flesh.
Bullets might not work, Asadi thought as he walked toward the flaming meat-pyre, but most of the creatures in this town have the same vulnerability: fire. The most primal danger there is, no matter what world you come from. Consuming, purifying everything in its wake. He pictured Abul-Jamal dying in the dust of his village square, but smiling in the light and heat of the pickup truck burning to its axles after he did the same trick with an old scarf.
“Good thinking,” John called out. “Fire always works.”
The fire brought witnesses—residents from as far as a few miles away, drawn by the smell of smoke, by the glimpse of flames through their windows, by the frantic phone calls from friends. Sam and Suzi, having crawled from the dumpster, managed to repel those lookie-loos by standing in the middle of the road and waving their arms.
“That won’t hold them back for long,” Asadi told John, wondering why the police hadn’t shown up. Where had they gone?
“Sam and Suzi are telling them it’s an exploded car. Which isn’t that far from the truth, I guess. Cops are another matter…” John nodded to their right, toward the road beyond the sheriff’s station, where another official car had appeared, its lights flashing.
Asadi tensed. Could they talk their way out of this one?
But the SUV stopped fifty yards away. The cops inside staring at them through the windshield, unmoving, like mannequins. That wasn’t the creepiest thing that Asadi had seen tonight, but it was pretty close.
“I’m going to go talk to them, see what’s up,” John said. “Keep a watch on me.”
Asadi walked over to the smoking hulk still pinned beneath the car. The flames had burned away its arms and flippers, reduced its torso to bone and charcoal. One of its mouths was still intact, though, along with a single eye whose gaze locked on Asadi as he approached.
“What…goes…into the bay…” the creature rasped.
Asadi knelt. “What goes?”
“One way…or another…”
The creature’s mouth tried to smile, blackened lips peeling back from sharp teeth, but its flesh was already dissolving around the edges, running clear, turning to water that spilled across the pavement, smelling of the bay and dead things.
Asadi stepped away from the growing puddle, disgusted. What a night. What an awful night. What other horrors might it have in store?
Read episode 11 right here: The Leucrocotta, written by Red Lagoe ($5 and higher tier patrons only)