Carl Johnson sat in the yellow light of a dim desk lamp. A mostly ignored cigarette dangled between his trembling fingers like the weakest of security blankets. He took a nervous drag before crushing it out in the overflowing ashtray. Whiskey called to him from the half-empty bottle standing watch by the lamp. He felt a longing for the rot-gut liquor, for the numbness that it could bring. Johnson reached for it, but retracted his hand as if an angry rattlesnake were coiled around the bottle. Not even drunken stupor could save him from the things he had done. It would not dull the terror of the hideous thing that hunched in the darkness, barring his escape.
With a sneer, Johnson glared at the book on the table. That unholy junk-shop curiosity containing passages of arcane and forbidden knowledge more suited to be locked away in some damp, filth-ridden, cyclopean tomb and the delusional fantasies of mystics and madmen. Such objects were not supposed to exist, they could not exist. Not in a world where reason and logic held dominion. Meaningless fun was all it should have been. An imaginary conjuring. A tongue-in-cheek play of decadence and blasphemy, drunkenly stumbling through the unpronounceable incantations. It had been real. All too real. Johnson and his friends had called up a nameless beast from some tenebrous gulf. Ravenous from its sojourn, the thing had devoured his friends. Johnson knew that its hunger was not to be slaked. He would be next.
A shudder of fear, ancient and primal, slithered up his spine from the realization. It clawed at his frayed nerves with talons of razor sharp ice. Dark voices convicted him, rained curses of acid. Accusing phantoms swirled around his head threatening to drag him into the Pit.
The coppery smell of congealing blood saturated the stagnant air. A mere few feet separated Johnson from the pool of sticky gore. He could not bear to face the evidence of what he had done. From the first syllable of the spell, guttural murmurs had pried at his free will. They demanded sacrifice, blood and flesh. Johnson had tried to resist, but the influence was too strong. He felt the hunger, felt his lips curl into a sinister grin. He had been a passenger in his own body when he picked up the knife, shining like Excalibur in the candlelight. It had used his hands to extract its price.
Johnson shuddered at the sound of bones being pulverized by gnashing teeth. Each crunch was a nail driven through his skull.
“Do not call up what you cannot put down.”
Then: “Do not call up what you cannot put down.”
Johnson repeated in a raspy whisper the unheeded warning scrawled by an unsteady hand inside the front cover of the book. He wished he had listened to the warning rather than laughing at it. He wished that Lois had never spotted the black leather-bound tome at the bottom of a pile of used books. His wishes were the empty penance of a man condemned to death. All-consuming Hellfire seemed a more palatable end than the jaws of the ravenous thing in middle of the room.
The cacophony of the repugnant repast ended. A disquieting silence descended upon the darkened house. Johnson trembled violently. He knew his horrific end was coming. The knife! Perhaps there was a chance after all.
Desperation steeled Johnson’s nerves when he saw the glint of steel. His chair squeaked as he dove for the knife, drawing the creature’s attention. It rose. The first good look at the thing ripped away Johnson’s resolve and replaced it with stark terror.
The beast lumbered toward him, a hulking mass of multi-segmented arms ending in scorpion-like pincers and writhing tentacles that withdrew and sprouted from a central point like an amoeba’s pseudopodia. Four bilious eyes glared at him, radiating a harsh green-yellow light. An unseen mouth sounded an ominous hiss that was equal parts cicada song and fingernails scraping a chalkboard.
Johnson recoiled backward, slipping in the pool of blood. He flailed the blade in front of him in a desperate attempt to stave off the rapacious appendages. He felt resistance when the knife cut deeply into one of the undulating tentacles. The beast howled and drew back for a moment. Johnson saw his opportunity.
Glass shattered, tore fabric and skin when Johnson dove through the window. He rolled down the roof of the porch, landing in a heap in a flowerbed. He clawed his way across the dew-soaked lawn toward the side-walk and where his car was parked. He heard the terrible cry of the thing followed by the answer call of countless horrible voices. Johnson tried to pull himself up against the car but collapsed realizing his leg had been broken in the fall.
Johnson looked to the sky and saw the portal, gaping and radiant green; an open wound in the heavens. Countless amorphous, undulating forms rained down soundlessly across the city. He imagined them landing, crashing through roofs and windows. Tens of thousands meeting a grisly end upon jagged teeth. The city would be deluged in blood and it was all Johnson’s fault.
Adrenaline faded and the pain from his broken leg and countless lacerations rose in a crescendo of agony. Suffering that was far short of the crime he had committed against humanity. He saw a mockingbird alight on a branch hanging over him. It cocked its head and seemed to observe him for a moment, taking the dregs of Johnson’s sanity when it flew away. A dry chuckle escaped his blood-stained lips. The chuckle grew to riotous laughter. Massive silhouettes surrounded him, their eyes burning with unearthly fire.
Johnsons’s screams caused the pre-dawn birdsong to stutter only for a moment.