Scott Roche continues his Golden Age serial, The Curse of Azathoth’s Amulet, with Part Two! Told in the arch style of the Republic Serials of the ’30s and ’40s, there’s no telling where this is going until you get there … and it is HORRIBLE indeed.
It all went downhill for Doctor Taylor as soon as he visited the Ancestral Pueblo site just a few dozen miles from his home in Albuquerque. A colleague knew he’d been researching symbols used by the Anasazi, as they were known to some, and their relationship to other symbols used by equally ancient people groups the world over. There was no known connection between these groups, and it was thought by some that they spawned from a collective subconscious or from some other psychic network. Taylor, of course, believed all of this was complete hogwash. There had to be a better explanation. The desire for that better explanation was why he found himself in a kiva, a sort of pueblo holy site, that had only recently been discovered. Doctor Samson assured him that the site dated back to at least the eighth century BCE. That certainly wasn’t the oldest bit of evidence that had been found, but this was supposed to be in pristine condition.
His Honda Civic pulled into the parking lot just off of the road. According to his GPS, this was within a mile of the dig site. The sun would be going down in an hour, so he needed to hoof it. He’d take some pictures, make some notes, and be back in the car by sundown. The reason for the secrecy was the nature of the paper he was working on. If word got out about its content, there might be ridicule. It was possible he’d lose his position at UNM. If he could prove his theory, there would be accolades and at least three books to come out of it. Either way, no one else could know why he was here. He grabbed the holster that held his matching pistols to the small of his back and strapped it around his waist. There were plenty of crackpots in the world, and he believed in defending himself from them.
He got out of the Civic and faced the boiling heat. A New Mexico native, it didn’t bother him too much. His graying hair was plastered to his head in minutes and sweat stains bloomed on his khaki bush shirt. The low hiking boots he wore filled with sweat by the time he reached the dig. It had been a challenging walk up and down the hillocks and around scrub cactus. He made it though, and in good time. The dig was roped off with orange tape and metal rods. There was nothing of any immediate, monetary value, so there were no guards. He also knew thanks to his contacts that there would be no staff out at this hour.
He ducked under the orange tape and began walking down the dirt ramp into the dig site proper. The kiva had been found buried, ten feet down. They were going to put a gas station out here and when the relics started showing up construction ground to a halt. There was a lot of digging yet to do, but when Samson found the odd symbol, he knew who to call. Taylor had, in a moment of drunkenness, confided his findings to the archaeologist. The man understood the ramifications completely, but had no interest himself. He assured Taylor that the secret would stay with him.
Taylor’s cell phone showed him that he was near the virtual pin Samson left. He pulled the headset from one of the cargo pockets on his shorts and slipped it on, over slicked hair. A click of the switch and LEDs illuminated the dirt in front of him. The round dig had the typical configuration including a crude chimney that served as an air intake, a fire pit, and a small hole called a sipapu. They were all in a line. What made the smallest hole unique, if Samson was right, were the etchings around it. Soon, the light showed him what he was here to see.
It was hard to make out, but a dozen arms radiated out from the three inch diameter hole. He pulled a notebook from his back pocket. It was filled with sketches and chicken scratch that were the result of ten years of research. Everything was in short hand, and the drawings were taken from a much larger set of notebooks at home. This was his portable library where he reproduced key images and ideas. The arms and their configuration were a near perfect match to ones found in Peru, Tibet, England, and Russia. It was hardly exact, since they were all hand made, but the number, lines, and rough size were all as exact as human hands could make them. All of the examples he found dated as far back as the fifth century BCE. This would be the oldest yet.
His hands trembled as he lay the notebook beside it, open to the best drawing he had of the Russian example. It had been surrounded by petroglyphs that had nothing to do with languages spoken in Russia at the time. There were no such visible markings here, but perhaps once he took pictures and was able to manipulate them some would come to light. He pulled out a slim camera from his shirt pocket and began snapping shots.
A shadow moved through the circle of light cast by his headset. That wasn’t possible. Nothing had moved through the three feet of space between his head and the ground. He whipped his head around and saw nothing moving out there in the waning daylight. It was darker here in the hole thanks to the banks of dirt around its rim. He looked back at the sipapu to take a few more shots. When he did, he blinked rapidly. It was bigger. It looked bigger at any rate. It was closer to his book. He pulled up the recent shot, and there was no doubt. The diameter had increased. He took more pictures and watched it dilate as he did. The edges grew more defined.
When the pages of his book fluttered, he dropped the camera. He snatched the precious book up before it got sucked into the void. He placed his hand over the hole and felt the movement of air. The sipapu stopped growing when it was large enough for him to insert his entire hand with ease. His blood ran cold. Should he?
Something in the hole winked at him. A flash of gold was picked up by his headlamp. He kept his eye on it, while he reached into one of his other pockets. He kept a set of nitrile gloves whenever he went into the field. You never knew what affect skin oils would have on an artifact. He snapped them on and reached into the hole with his left hand. The only drawback was that he couldn’t use touch very well to explore the opening.
There, there it was. He pinched it between his fingers and immediately something stung his finger sharply. He cursed and pulled his hand out. The amulet came with it. The golden object wasn’t heavy enough to be solid gold. It filled the palm of his hand and defied description. His eyes didn’t want to stare at it directly. Every time he tried to look, it would appear slightly different in his peripheral vision and then his mind would scream like a howler monkey. The one thing he was certain of was that there were no sharp edges. It couldn’t have been the amulet that got him. He pulled the glove off, using the nitrile as a barrier between skin and the artifact.
Only then did he examine the finger. There were four holes that looked for all the world like pin pricks set equidistant and pointed inwards. Very little blood beaded on his skin. As he examined the wounds closely, he saw that the edges were clean, like a hypodermic needle would deliver. When he looked back at the sipapu it had returned to its normal size. He grabbed his camera, his notebook, and the amulet. Each went into a different pocket. How had the hole grown and then shrunk again? The ground around it was as solid as any clay baked by the hellish furnace of this desert.
When he looked up to see how much time he had left, he was disturbed to see a dark sky. There was something else. The stars didn’t look right. He turned and rushed to the base of the ramp. Something up there moved. He wasn’t alone. He flattened his body and began belly crawling up the incline. He reached back with his right hand and freed one of the pistols. It would be a robber or some young person playing a trick. Damn kids wouldn’t respect a site like this even if they knew what it was. “Who’s up there? I’ve got a gun. I’m not afraid to use it.”
The only answer he got was a laugh. It reminded him of the high pitched screaming giggle his daughter used when the Tickle Me Susie game had moved away from fun and into too much stimulation. It was as if her laugh had been passed through one of his son’s distortion pedals and slowed down just a little. It made his flesh crawl and his ears want to withdraw into his body. He stopped crawling. “O God, O God, O R’lyeh.” He didn’t realize that the last syllable had become something like two.
He was no fighting man, but whatever it was, he needed to get home. He summoned the rags of courage he had and pulled the second gun. He came to his feet, but stayed in a crouch. After a few steps, he could see above the lip of the pit. It was a desert, but wholly unlike the one he had left behind. The weird starlight was bright enough to see by. There was even a sliver of a moon, but it was too far away and too purple to be the familiar moon of home.
“Where am I?” The wind carried with it a strong metallic odor. It was sour and unhealthy.
The laughter came again. It was closer and without the odd echo caused by the pit had a liquid quality.
He snapped off a shot from his right pistol. “Come on.”
Figures moved at the edge of his vision. They were the height of men, but moved in a disjointed fashion. Their legs weren’t hinged like any man’s. He couldn’t make out any clear features. They were the color of low fat milk, a bluish white. Their arms were boneless. The sounds definitely came from them.
He leveled his pistol and aimed at the closest. It was hard to look straight at them, but he squinted and pulled the trigger.
The thing screamed a high pitched wail. It went down into the gray dirt, flapping at the wound. Whatever they were, they could die.
He felt his pocket get hot. He holstered the left pistol and scrabbled at the flap. Once he pulled the amulet out, he could see it shine through the glove it was wrapped in. He shook the chain out and pulled it over his head. As it passed the level of his eyes, he could see more clearly. The land around him was visible for more than a hundred yards. He wished he couldn’t see the creatures, but he could. They looked more like men than he thought they would.
“Leave our land.” One of the creatures spoke to him. The words didn’t come to him through the air. They burned in his mind.
“Tell me how, and I will.” Taylor pointed the gun at it. “Or don’t, and I’ll kill every last one of you.” He didn’t know how to send his words back, but whether it understood him or could hear him in its mind, he wanted it to know he meant business.
“Go as you came. Leave the amulet. You will be safe.” The thing crept forward. All of them had moved closer.
“Stay back.” He fired his pistol at the leader’s feet. Dust puffed up.
All of the things stopped moving as one. “You will be safe.”
Taylor took a step back. Something told him the creature was telling the truth, save for one part. He needed to keep the amulet. He looked down at the object that hung around his neck. He could see it clearly now. It looked every bit like the symbol that led him here; a simple disk made from beaten gold with several tentacles radiating out from it. The whole design wasn’t much larger than the palm of his hand. Maybe it was the key.
When he looked back up the creatures were closer. Their long hands stretched out towards him. They weren’t close enough to touch him, but it wouldn’t take much more for them to grab him and drag him off to their caves.
He aimed at the one to the left of the leader and fired twice. Holes appeared in its torso, and it went down, beating at them.
Other creatures moved to its aid. He turned and ran back down to the pit. The entire kiva looked as it must have when it was new. He made it back to the circle.
“You will pay for killing him.” The leader’s voice came down to him. They hadn’t followed. They were scared of his guns! “We will—”
Taylor ripped the amulet over his head, and the leader’s voice became the warbling screams. He’d no longer be able to understand them, but if there was any god in the universe, he wouldn’t have to. He put the amulet over the hole. He wasn’t sure what to do or say, and then he felt the pain radiate out from the puncture in his finger and through his body. His vision clouded for a moment and then cleared.
He stood and could immediately see he was back home. The kiva was little more than a hole in the ground. Watery daylight, soon to be extinguished, filtered down from above. He took a deep breath and smelled the clean, dry desert air. With a happy, shaky sigh, he holstered his pistol. He had no idea what had happened, but he’d have time to think it all through when he was back in his car and on the way home.
He’d walked two steps and then cursed himself. He should have taken pictures of that other place. No one would believe him about what happened here. Come tomorrow, he wasn’t sure he’d believe it. He did have the amulet. He knew it was wrong to take it, but if he didn’t he wouldn’t have any proof at all. He steeled himself. He’d take it and eventually get it to the right person. Once he’d written up his notes and examined it more closely himself.
He’d made it a third of the way up the ramp when he heard the crying.
“What do we do? There’s a crazy man down there, and he has a gun.” The young man’s voice was on the ragged edge of panic.
“We’ll call the cops. My phone doesn’t work out here, but we’ll get Richard into the car and get him to the hospital.”
Taylor shook his head. His brain refused to put the pieces together in the way that made the most sense. The amulet began to grow warm in his hand. It would tell him the truth. He put it on over his head and walked up the ramp the rest of the way. A half dozen young people stood far back from its lip. Well actually only four of them stood. Two lay bleeding into the dirt. When he squinted at them, they didn’t look quite right. There was a boneless quality about their movements. They weren’t human. They were pretending. He pulled both of his pistols.
“It’s him.” The thing that looked like a pretty Mexican girl pointed.
The rest of them leveled their eyes at him. “Look, Mister, I don’t know what’s wrong with you, but maybe you’ve been out in the sun too long. Just let us get our friend some help. We won’t tell anyone we saw you.” His voice had a desperate edge.
Taylor shook his head. “You’re not people. You want me to think you are, but you aren’t.” The amulet told him the truth. There were things on the Earth that looked like men. That moved like men. But they served a tentacled god in that other place. The amulet was made by the Ancestral Pueblos or someone like them to see through the lies. “You’ll turn me in or you’ll kill me.”
He pulled his other pistol and shot the Mexican girl right in her pretty face. She went down screaming. He heard that same warbling quality in her voice.
“No, don’t!” This young person, a boy with dark hair down to the middle of his back ran at Taylor, reaching for something at his belt.
Taylor shot him in the leg. When the boy went down, Taylor shot him in the chest. “Not human.” Or even if they were they’d been tainted by this place. He turned to the leader who had gotten down on his knees. “You won’t succeed. I’ll find the rest of your kind and send them back to where they came from.” He touched the amulet.
For a moment the boy on his knees became more real and then completely alien. “Please don’t kill me. I’ve got a fam—” The pistol popped and silenced him.
The sound of running feet alerted him to the last person. They’d run off. He ran after them. By the time he’d gotten to the parking lot, the car had already pealed out. It was a hundred yards down the road. They knew him. They knew who he was. It would only be a matter of time before they were hunting him. He needed to get back to his notes. Somehow he had to get the word out, make people believe what he’d seen.
Once he got his things, he would get his own family and take them somewhere safe. If there was any safe place left.
Stay tuned for the next chilling installment of “The Curse of Azathoth’s Amulet”!