Murder! Intrigue! Spookiness from the sands! It’s the chilling third installment of the eldritch serial The Curse of Azathoth’s Amulet!
Dr. Taylor hated loose ends. He didn’t like them when it came to any aspect of his life. Most especially when it came to his research. Now that he would spend the rest of his life on the run, or at least as much time as he had before he’d be able to prove there were monstrous forces on the loose, he hated them even more. He drove the precise speed limit, in case there were any cops on the prowl. He didn’t want to give them an excuse to pull him over.
His first stop would be his office. He needed to get his notes and get rid of anything regarding his trip tonight. He couldn’t leave anything behind that would be a trail for someone to follow too quickly. There was no telling whether or not the creature who was posing as a human college student would have his precise description and his license plate number. Assuming they didn’t could be deadly. No, better to assume there were things worse than wolves at his door.
The parking lot outside his departmental offices weren’t exactly deserted. A few teachers’ assistants and one or two professors would be working as well as some of the year around staff who kept the wheels of academia greased. They had nothing to suspect him of and he needed to remember that. His brow had dried and cooled as he’d driven. He checked his reflection in the car’s makeup mirror. He didn’t look quite the wild man he felt he was. The amulet still hung from around his neck. He slid it under his shirt. It would give him the ability to see who his true enemies were. At least the non-human ones. After a quick finger comb of his graying hair, he stepped back out into the still oppressive night.
Both guns were still in their holster. He quickly untucked his shirt and draped it over them. There was a strict no-gun rule on campus. If we were caught, he’d be fired. He laughed at the thought. And what would killing students get him? Life in prison at least. Even though they weren’t truly students or fully human.
The lobby of his building was blessedly cool. He hurried through the halls, doing his best to avoid any prying eyes. Eventually, he made his way to his office. He unlocked the door, stepped in, and locked it back behind him without turning on the overhead lights. The door had an opaque window and the blinds on the window were down. A single desk lamp bulb gave him enough light to work by. He fired up his computer and logged in. There would be a time and date stamp showing someone had logged on to his PC. There was no way he knew of around that. It wouldn’t prove anything.
Once his desktop came up he went to the folders where he kept his research and his finger hovered over the delete key. He had backups at home and the original files on paper, but it felt like taking a step backwards. He pressed the key and when the knock on his door sounded, he nearly jumped out of his skin.
“Come on, Taylor you old sot. I saw you come in.” The voice was muffled but it was unmistakably Doctor Samson. He had a slight London accent, made softer by years in the Western US. There was another knock.
“Yes, yes. Hang on.” Samson wouldn’t just go away. He got up and unlocked the door, opening it. Now someone would know he was here. “What do you need?”
The man, easily taller by half a foot and with more muscles and hair than Taylor had, actually had a few years on him. The thick hair was nearly solid silver and tied back in a ponytail. His tee shirt, with some sort of pop-culture symbol Taylor had no clue about, stretched across pecs belonging to a much younger man. “Just wanted to check in on the trip you made tonight. You were going to the dig site, correct?”
Damnation. Samson had known he was going out there tonight. He nodded. “Come in. I was just typing up some notes.” Taylor stepped aside and let his colleague in.
Samson breezed past him. “It looks like you’re deleting more than typing.” Those dark blue eyes didn’t miss a thing, including which co-ed had a crush on him this semester.
The pistol was in Taylor’s hand before he realized it. “Sorry you saw that.”
Samson turned and looked down at the gun. “What are you on about and why are you pointing that at me?”
Shooting him here wasn’t a great option. People would come running. “I need you to sit in that chair and I need to think.” Pain lanced behind his left eye. It hurt to think. Taylor blinked and stared at Samson. The man was human, or he was able to hide his alien nature even from the amulet. “Sit or I will shoot you.”
Samson held up his hands. “Easy, friend.” He backed to the chair. “I won’t do anything funny. I just want to help you is all. You did go by the dig then?”
Taylor nodded. “And I found some things you won’t believe. That no one will believe. I need to go away for a while and be alone. Need to find some things out.”
“I can help you.”
“Help? You’re the reason I’m in this jam. You told me where to find the symbol and now…” Taylor’s voice was thick with sudden emotion. He was having second thoughts. Heat washed out from his chest. It started warm and soothing and then felt like someone was point a hair dryer at the center of his sternum. Hopelessness and despair followed.
“And now you must have it.” Samson emphasized the final word. “You do have the amulet, don’t you?” His eagerness was sharp.
Taylor couldn’t believe the question got asked. “How do you know about the amulet?”
“The Amulet of Azathoth, or so it’s called.” Samson had gone full on pedant. “I don’t know if it has a name given it by its creator. It’s said the same mad Arab who wrote the Book, made the pendant. It’s rumored to be able to help you see the truth. What do you see when you look at me?”
“A bag of hot shit.” Taylor winced as the words left his mouth. He wanted to shoot, but this was a person, not one of those creatures.
Samson chuckled. “Worse has been said of me. I sent you out there because I knew you’d find it, or at least deeply hoped you would. You know the secret of the markings. He wants you.”
Taylor took a step forward and tried to point the gun harder. “Who? Who wants me?”
“There are beings older than our solar system, older than the very galaxy we are spinning in. I’ve seen their signs, but I haven’t been able to make heads or tails of them. You’re different. The one whose name I dare not say wants you to show the world his truth.”
“I don’t like the way that sounds. Never been a religious man.”
Samson’s chuckled became a laugh. “You don’t have a choice. He’s chosen you. He will use you until he is done and then he will spit out your carcass like a shriveled bit of gum. But there will be such glory in it.” The man’s eyes were wide.
“You’re crazy. I’d always thought you were, but now I know you are.”
“Crazy?” Samson shook his head. “No, not crazy. I do see the cesspool this world has become. I study history. I see the greatness we achieved tens of thousands of years ago. We could reach across the cosmos. Now we can barely cross the street in our own celestial neighborhood.”
“That’s why when I told you the truth in that bar you didn’t…”
“Report you to the administration? You’re correct. I knew then you were on to something. You can usher in the new age. Bring him through and the world will be a better place for it.” Samson shrugged. “It will mean chaos and death beyond the dreams of any despot, but that’s a small price to pay for bringing humanity into its own again.”
“Chaos? Death?” Taylor shook his head. “I don’t want to kill anyone.” The pistol in his right hand clicked as the hammer fell on an empty chamber. He’d pulled the trigger without realizing it. He’d also failed to reload after killing those young people. Or the monsters wearing their flesh. “I just want the truth.”
“You’ll have that in spades. And don’t bother trying to kill me. It’s not my time y-.”
The pistol in his left hand went off with a flat crack. Samson’s head whipped back as the bullet kissed the spot just above the bridge of his nose. “Apparently it was.” Taylor whispered. He had more bullets for his gun in the car. He’d reload once he was done here. All of his files were destroyed. That wasn’t enough, though. Someone could still follow his trail. Worse than that, having learned what he had, someone could follow it in the other direction. He needed to use this amulet if for no other reason than to learn how to close the door Samson thought he was going to open. He’d killed and would kill again and again if it meant avoiding the chaos the digger had talked about.
He holstered the pistols and began piling papers up. He needed to start a modest fire at least. Something that would melt plastic and scorch the earth behind him. The container of hand sanitizer sang to him. He began squirting the papers liberally. Then he had an idea. He pushed the chair with its grisly contents to his desk, avoiding the gore and brain matter as best he could. Perhaps if the fire got hot enough they would mistake this body for his. It would buy him some time.
He rifled through the man’s pockets, finding a lighter and more importantly, keys. The now squishy mass of paper went into Samson’s lap. Taylor squirted a trail of the gelled alcohol to the door. He touched the lighter, a butane torch, to the makeshift fuse and watched a nearly invisible wash of destruction rush to the pyre. The papers went up in a hot ball of red and blue. Taylor watched, transfixed as the man made fabrics Samson wore added fuel to the flame. Soon there would be rendered fat and the wood of the chair itself to burn.
Taylor backed out of the office and nearly jumped as the first fire alarm went off. The shrill screech and flashing lights added aggravation to his headache. He put the lighter in his pocket and walked quickly towards the stairs. Whether he was the chosen one of some ancient god or just lucky, no one saw him leave. When he got to the parking lot, he began searching for the Land Rover Samson drove. The dark blue vehicle was hard to make out in the dark, but eventually he found the thing. The license plate proclaimed it “DOCSMSON” and the elaborate brush guards and brand new knobby tires showed he’d never used it for its intended purpose.
He climbed in, put it in gear and began the drive to his house. He slowed down when he realized that he hadn’t gotten the bullets for his guns, but when he heard the sirens of the oncoming fire engines, he knew he didn’t have time. With his own car in the faculty lot and Samson’s missing, that would aid the ruse, but his getting caught would mean his own end.
Some creatures feed on blood and revel in the screams of their prey. Scott Roche craves only caffeine and the clacking of keys. He pays his bills doing the grunt work no one else wants to take, bringing dead electronics back to life and working arcane wonders with software. His true passion is hammering out words that become anything from tales that terrify to futuristic worlds of wonder. All that and turning three children into a private mercenary army make for a life filled with adventure.