Today we are honored to present a never-before-published story by David Barker, co-author with Wilum H. Pugmire of the new collection In The Gulfs of Dream and Other Lovecraftian Tales, available from Dark Renaissance Books. This is a story that couldn’t fit into that collection, but is shared here for the readers of Shoggoth.net.
Andy Blake arrived at Rams Wood Park an hour early, a few minutes past noon. The walk from the parking lot to the bronze statue of the soldier where they were to meet—which couldn’t have been more than a hundred and fifty feet—left him winded, and it was with relief that he settled onto a bench near the statue and took from his knapsack a small volume he’d brought to pass the time: Appearances, Semblances and Apparitions, a collection of prose poems by his late friend, Daniel Hird.
Hird had lived only five blocks from the park, and many of his pieces were set there. It seemed like a fitting choice of reading material as he waited for the arrival of the other members for their reunion. The book was a limited edition issued by a local press, Three Horned Goat. Only two hundred and fifty copies had been printed. Hird was not well known but had enjoyed a small cult following, and the edition had sold out quickly. Andy never tired of telling anyone who would listen that his copy was personally inscribed to him by the author. Andy open the book to his favorite piece and began reading.
An unnamed something in the park that enjoys all the innocents who come and go each day. That is nourished by the mothers and toddlers, the grade school children, the teenagers, the young lovers, the married couples, the widows and widowers. Something sinister that feds on their presence, their abundant life energy.
Fifty feet away, two college-age boys were stringing a red nylon cord between two trees, at knee height. When it was suitably taut, they began taking turns walking tightrope. That seemed to be a popular fad these days, Andy mused. He would surely fall on his fat ass and break a hip if he tried such a stunt. He returned to his book.
It savors their beings, both as biological organisms and spiritual entities, and does so all the day long and far into the evening, from the first arrivals in the cool dawn until the last lingerers in the gray void of dusk.
This unnamed thing is ancient. As far as anyone knows, it has been here for centuries, from a time long before the park was mapped out and dedicated as a memorial to the War’s fallen heroes, and it will continue to infuse the park for centuries hence, until a time when people will no longer visit and the park will fall silent and still in shadowy dreams of a thousand overlapping lives.
A pair of girls about the same age as the boys—19 at the oldest—walked up and joined them. Andy couldn’t tell if they were already friends or if the guys had successfully picked up the girls with this tightrope ruse. After a few seconds of conversation which he could not make out, the girls tried their luck at balancing on the cord, followed by tentative first steps across its swaying expanse.
Lovely, thought Andy, watching the prettier of the two girls. Just perfect. So young, so fresh. Not an ounce of fat on her. And look at those breasts. My God! And that hair. But the thought only saddened him, and he resumed his reading.
The park is on the edge of town, hard against the base of a steep, lushly overgrown hillside. This sentient unnamed something lives up the steep hillside, among the tangle of berries and creepers and roots, a good distance beyond the gate in the fence that separates the park from the hillside.
Andy stole another glance at the redhead. She didn’t seem to notice he was watching her. Or maybe she was used to being ogled by old men. Her shorts couldn’t have been shorter. Back to Hird …
Children are warned by their parents never to go up that hillside, nor to wander through that gate, but children never listen, and over the years many a child has perished upon that slope. So many that the gate was given the appellation “The Child’s Gate” after the particularly disturbing loss of one little girl, but after a number of years the townsfolk forgot why it was called that, forgot the evil thing that had happened.
What would he give for just one night with her? His entire 401K account? Or, better yet, what would he give to be physically up to the challenge of such an opportunity? He sighed, and returned yet again to the book.
The unnamed something savors the children, from the youngest to those on the brink of adulthood. It loves them all, intensely, but its love is not kind nor is it soothing. And it especially loves the young ones foolish enough to linger after dusk when all others have left and there are no more echoes in the air, just the sighing of the wind in the high branches and the gurgling of water in the cold stream.
He closed the book, having decided to spend the remaining time staring shamelessly at the beautiful girl with her long red hair. If she were to see him naked, she would laugh at his fat belly, his man boobs. Of that, he had no doubt.
The warm sun felt good on his shoulders. Even though it was summer, there was a slight chill in the air that made the hair on his arms bristle. He reached into his backpack, dug out a water bottle, unscrewed the cap, and took a swallow. More and more these days, he had learned to take pleasure in the little things that are good in life, like sitting in the sun. That was about all he had left now: the little things. Finally, he understood why old men sit in the park.
He wouldn’t laugh if the situation were vice versa, with him seeing her naked. He would be wide eyed, speechless, slack jawed.
What he loved about that particular Hird piece was how it captured—or rather, hinted at—something he had always felt here. That there was some intelligent presence, some “spirit” if you will, that underlay the natural world, at least this part of it. A presence in the air. In the flowers. In the insects. In the bark chips along the trails. In the chilly shadows under the trees. He felt it every time he came here. He wasn’t sure if it was identical with the entity of which Hird wrote, and of which he had often spoken, or if perhaps the so-called “entity” were simply a temporary physical manifestation of that core spiritual energy that infused the park as a natural environment, a bit of wildness in the civilized sterility of the town. He could be sitting here, enjoying the sun, distracted by watching the kids play, or even more distracted taking in the young females walking the tightrope, and still he was always aware of that background energy. And damned if there wasn’t a malign feel to it. Like a sadness behind every joy, a horror spoiling every happiness. Hird knew about that, and wrote it as well as he could. For that, Andy considered him an unrecognized literary genius.
Perched on one foot half way between the two trees, her arms extended on either side of her, the redhead suddenly wobbled, lost her balance, tumbled to the grass, and instantly bounced back up, unscathed by the fall. That was youth, thought Andy. The ability to have an accident that at his age would put him in the hospital, and come up laughing, brushing grass clippings off her butt.
Forty years it had been since that night none of them would ever forget. Incredible that so much time had passed. For two years after what they all called “the incident” the Rugose Cones (that’s what the three of them called their H. P. Lovecraft fan club) hadn’t met at all, hadn’t even communicated. Then, they started having these annual reunions. The club itself was dead, never to be resurrected, but there was no reason why they couldn’t get together once a year for old times sake. They always met here, in this park, where it had happened. “The scene of the crime,” as Pete Jenkin always said. Someone would bring lunch (burgers in a sack and sodas) and they would reminisce, catch up on developments in each others lives, and ultimately end the day with dinner and drinks at a restaurant.
Forty years that had raced by and turned them into old men in poor health, burdened with more bad memories than good ones. In their sixties, past their prime. Not much to look forward to. Too much to look back on. “Older and wiser,” Pete always said. Yeah, sure they were. In a pig’s ass, mused Andy.
The pretty redhead was back up on the tightrope, the other girl, a rather plain brunette, having surrendered her turn to wander off towards the restroom. Andy reopened the book and pretended to be reading, but every few seconds he glanced up to watch the lovely girl. She was getting the hang of it, more sure of herself, with less wobbling back and forth than before.
Hird’s prose poem had been written before he had put a name to the thing in the park. By the time he had identified it, they all had gotten used to calling it “the nameless something in the park” and so they continued that practice. Besides, the prose poem was more effective with that vague wording, which made it more universal. And that’s the way it was eventually published.
“Of course she has a name,” Andy had said the first time they’d gathered in the park. “She’s none other than Shub-Niggurath!”
That had been in 1972. They were all about the age of the kids horsing around on the tightrope. Maybe a year or two older, at most. Incredibly young, it now seemed to him. They had had their whole lives ahead of them—a fact they never thought about back then, just as these kids didn’t think about it now. The world had been full of endless possibilities. Anything could happen. It was like a feast laid out before them.
“Black Goat with a thousand young!” Pete had chimed in.
“Bullshit,” said Stuart Johansen. “Not here, not on this continent, and certainly not in a small city park in Western Oregon. Shub-Niggurath would be in a cave in southern Arabia, building the great city where she will consummate her marriage to Hastur.”
“Why not here?” Andy argued. “What does she care of human geography? Wilderness is wilderness, whether it’s in Oregon or Arabia. Besides, I have it on good authority that she has recently revealed herself to a member of this hick community, no less.”
“Who’d you hear that from? Not that nutcase Hird,” Stuart interjected. “I wouldn’t believe a word he says. The guy’s a sociopath, not to be trusted.”
“He’s not a sociopath, Stu. He’s just been going through a rough time.”
“Yeah, since junior high.”
That got a big laugh from Pete.
“A rough period,” Andy continued, ignoring Stuart’s outburst. “I had coffee with him yesterday and we got to talking about the strange manifestations in the park. He’s well versed on that subject. Can recite the entire historical record. Well, I said something like ‘Nobody knows what entity is doing all this stuff’ and he said ‘Oh, without a doubt, it’s The Black Goat. A young woman told me about an encounter she had with that being just last week. She had stayed too late at the park—they always do, stupid girls—making out with her pimply boy friend, and after she parted company with him and was walking home down the path through the center of the park, out of the shadows, just like that, steps this woman, or rather, this female form. Tall, dark, beautiful, voluptuous, with wild hair and piercing eyes. She described the being to me in detail, and it was nothing natural, I’m sure of that. It had to be Shub-Niggurath,” said Hird. And why not? It fits all the evidence. The few living witnesses have all talked about a strange female humanoid entity with apparent supernatural powers.”
“Hot damn!” Pete said, licking his lips.
“If you believe the witnesses,” Stuart said.
“Why would they lie?” Andy asked. “And don’t get so excited, Peter. It’s not like we have a date with her, for crying out loud. We’re here to perform an occult ritual, to call her forth from the outer darkness, and to ask for her assistance in certain matters … social needs we have …’”
“Call a spade a spade,” Stuart said. “We’re asking her to help us get laid.”
Andy had been offended by the crudeness of that characterization. “It’s a ritual intended to increase our attractiveness to members of the opposite sex. After all, she is a fertility goddess.”
“We’re asking her to help us get some nooky.”
“Honestly, Stu. You can be so coarse. It’s a fertility ritual. We seek life mates, good women who will love and cherish us, and bear us healthy offspring.”
Hard to believe that had been four decades ago. It seemed like yesterday. Now Andy sat alone in the same park on a warm afternoon in mid-June, occupying a wrought iron bench situated along the central path, the same walkway where the young woman in Hird’s account had allegedly met Shub-Niggurath. On that night forty years ago they had performed the ritual after the last band of noisy children had abandoned the playground and the last car had exited the parking lot. They’d built a small fire in one of the barbeque pits and burned an offering to the nameless thing in the park, or, if you believed Hird, the Mother of All, Shub-Niggurath, the reclusive Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young. It had been a hell of a night. First, the innocent campfire, with the three of them sharing a couple bottles of wine and singing silly songs, the dead pigeon they’d burned as an offering stinking and smoking in the coals. Then, the apparition, the coming of the goddess—or whatever it was—followed by a night of mad revelry in the wooded hillside behind the park.
Andy was never really sure what had happened that night. He remembered only fragments of the experience, fleeing images. Drunken laughter. Feeling suddenly ill and disoriented. Running wildly, in a panic. Sweating and then vomiting. Panting, his heart pounding in his chest like it might burst. And then, just as suddenly, feeling better, ecstatic even. Tremendous energy coursing through his body like an electric current. Intense passion. Delirium and hallucinations. And waking just before sunrise early the next morning: sore, cold, his throat raw, his tongue dry, and a bitter taste in his mouth—the taste of ashes.
Nothing had been that same after that night. Their lives had changed, mostly for the worse.
Hird was found dead in his apartment ten days later, his throat cut ear to ear. His murder was never solved. There were no witnesses, few clues, not a single informant passing tips to the police. No plausible motive for homicide that anyone could think of.
That was just the start of their troubles. Stuart got himself a girlfriend, alright, and in a month she was pregnant. Unplanned. That was a game changer. He dropped out of college, abandoned his dream of a career as chemist, and got a factory job working swing shift.
Pete’s troubles started next. A bad car accident left him with back injuries that never fully healed. A well-meaning doctor prescribed a strong opiate to help Pete manage the pain, and before long he was a full blown addict to an endless succession of prescription medications. Pete was always on at least one drug, sometimes several at once. His work suffered, he was fired from one job after the other, and what little social life he’d had before quickly withered. During the worst of it, all Pete’s money and time went into getting and keeping high. All his old friends abandoned him. All, that is, except Stuart and Andy. They didn’t like what he was doing, what he’d become, but they found within their hearts the tolerance to accept him as he was—a damaged person. Not that any of them got together much any more, but if Pete phoned Stu or Andy late at night, they would pick up and listen to his sob story when nobody else would.
Andy’s troubles were less dramatic than Stu’s or Pete’s but just as damaging. A first marriage that started out good but slowly deteriorated, ending in divorce and child support payments for a son he hadn’t seen in years. There was nothing really wrong between them—they just bored each other and got tired of pretending otherwise. A second marriage that seemed like the real deal until he discovered she was sleeping with half the guys at her office. Another divorce, more child support for the daughter they had. He didn’t see that kid much, either. Two thirds of his income went to the upkeep of children that were essentially strangers to him. He tried not to be bitter, but swore off getting involved with another woman after the second marriage failed. He had enough misery without adding to it.
Looking over at the tightrope, he saw the mousy brunette had returned and now she was poised mid way between the trees supporting the cord, her arms held out for balance, slender fingers sweeping the air like a swimmer treading water. She had a good enough figure, but her face was plain. Andy could see where this was headed. The stunning redhead would hook up with the better looking of the two guys, who oozed self-confidence and charm. The less attractive boy and girl would be too shy to make any plans to get together and would end up going their separate ways.
Stu was the first to arrive, moving up the sidewalk toward Andy at a glacial pace, taking a careful step, establishing balance with the cane, taking the next cautious step, swinging the cane forward and re-establishing his balance, always perilously close to a spill. Like Andy, he’d gained a lot of weight and his health was ruined.
“I’m coming, don’t rush me!” Stu yelled when he got within earshot of Andy.
“Nobody’s rushing you. Take all the time you need.” Andy welcomed the delay. It gave him a couple extra minutes to furtively ogle the redhead. You didn’t see a figure like that every day, and in those shorts to boot. It was worth a long look.
“I brought the binder!” Stu yelled.
“Great. I was hoping you would, old man.”
“Fuck you! Who you calling old? You’ve got one foot in the grave yourself, Andrew!”
“Don’t remind me.”
Andy could see the bulging three-ring binder tucked securely under Stu’s arm. It held every issue of The New Acolyte—the monthly amateur fanzine they’d published from the time they first formed as a group until the day they disbanded. Fifty-seven issues, all told. Andy loved seeing the Acolyte again, pouring over the articles for the zillionth time, studying the contrasty black-and-white photographs. Sure, it was a humble production, printed on a mimeograph machine for the first two years and then Xeroxed for the remaining numbers, but to him it was a classic publication, one that belonged under lock and key in a library archive. Stu was the only one of the three members that had kept his copies. Pete sold his collection long ago for drug money, and Andy’s copies got lost during one of the breakups with his wives—he was never sure which one. Truth be told, he would rather have the fanzines back than either of the wives, or both of them, for that matter. Re-reading them brought him more joy than either marriage had.
Finally Stuart was close enough that Andy had to shift his attention away from the pretty girl in the distance and to his old friend. Stu shuffled up the last few feet, huffing and puffing, and stuck out his sweaty hand—the one not clutching the binder. They shook, smiled at each other with something closer to grief than happiness in their eyes.
“Take a load off,” said Andy, gesturing to the empty space beside him on the bench.
“I thought you’d never ask!” Stu half sat, half collapsed on the bench, his considerable weight making the bench jump an inch under Andy.
“How you been?” asked Andy.
“Same old, same old.”
“Yeah, me too. Same old shit. It never gets better. We just get older.”
They exchanged woes, updated one another on their health issues. Stu was in the middle of a long story about an expensive series of heart tests the doc had put him through (“That greedy son of a bitch!”) when Andy spotted an elderly, emaciated man staggering chaotically toward them.
“Here comes Pete!”
“He’d better have lunch with him. It’s his turn this year.”
“That looks like a McDonald’s bag he’s carrying.”
“What about drinks?”
“Yeah, he’s got ’em.”
“Good. He better have straws, and plenty of napkins.”
“Hurry up, man. I’m starving!”
At a point about twenty feet from Andy and Stu, Pete let out a mirthful noise that was more squawk than laugh.
“What a sight for sorry eyes!” said Pete. “Two old dumbfucks sitting on a bench, each one fatter than the other.”
“You could use a little meat on your bones, junky.”
“Who you calling junky? I’m clean and sober three years this August. Nothing stronger than caffeine passes these lips.”
“Anything really good would kill you.”
“Yes, it probably would.”
Pete opened the fast food bag, took out cheeseburgers and fries for each of them, then handed out Cokes.
“You assholes owe me $12.”
Stu and Andy paid him.
“Don’t stick that money in your arm,” said Stu.
“It’s going to my landlord.”
“Good. So how you been?” asked Andy.
“Can’t complain,” said Pete.
“But you will,” said Stu.
“Well, sure I will, if you guys’ll listen.”
That’s how it went for the better part of the afternoon: exchanging inane banter, flipping through the binder, reminiscing about the good old days.
About 5 o’clock they left the park and went to a nice seafood restaurant. Nothing fancy, but the food was good, the service decent and the prices reasonable. If nothing else, it gave them plenty of opportunity to joke about Lovecraft’s fear of the deep.
“I’ll have the Innsmouth stir-fry,” Pete told the waitress. She gave him a blank stare.
“He means the fried shrimp. I’ll take the salmon, with brown rice and a green salad,” said Andy.
“Me, too—salmon,” said Stu.
Stu and Andy split a bottle of white wine. Pete, true to his word, had a Coke.
“A toast,” said Andy, raising his glass. “To us, such as we are.”
“Hear, hear!” said Pete. “Survivors. The worse for wear, but that beats the alternative.”
They clinked glasses all around.
“Pathetic old Lovecraftians is what we are,” mumbled Stu.
“Not pathetic,” argued Andy. “Experienced. Older but wiser. Still young at heart, I hope.”
“Wizened would be closer to the truth,” said Stu. “And there isn’t a young heart between the three of us. Not in the cardiological sense.”
“My heart’s not too bad,” said Pete. “For an ex-doper.”
“You’re lucky to be alive,” said Stu.
There was a lull in the conversation. They all knew what the others were thinking, but nobody wanted to be the one to bring it up. The event. The ritual. The apparition. What really happened that night. Every year they talked about it at dinner, and every year they disagreed. Even about the basic plot line, let alone what it meant. All anyone could agree on was that it was a turning point in their lives, a defining moment.
Andy broke the silence.
“So what did she look like to you?” he said, looking first at Stu and then at Pete.
“I don’t want to talk about that shit again,” said Pete. “It’s all water under the bridge. Dead and buried. What’s done is done. Forget about it, for crying out loud.”
The subject and its associated memories clearly made Pete uncomfortable.
“There’s not that much to it,” said Stu, ever the cynic. “You’re always trying to make a big mystical deal out of it, Andrew, but there’s no mystery there. She was just some tripped out hippie chick that showed us a good time in the park.”
“What?” said Andy, feigning surprise although he’d heard this theory every year from Stuart. “What about our visions—or hallucinations, if you don’t believe they were true visions. What about the paranormal manifestations we all witnessed?”
“Paranormal, my ass. We were drunk, and a little high from the weed …”
“Weed? There was no weed there that night.”
“Or from the smoke, from whatever noxious fumes came off that burning pigeon. And what about the ritual? It was a classic case of hypnotic suggestion. All the mumbo jumbo talk, the incantations, and the wine, and the smoke. It wouldn’t take much to make a person in that situation believe something paranormal had happened.”
“It did happen. I know, Stuart. I was there!” insisted Andy.
“Well, so was I and all I saw was the three of us getting drunk and weirded out by all that baloney you were feeding us from your Book of Spells or whatever it was, and then the spaced-out chick shows up and wants to party. It’s no great mystery, Andrew. We ‘got it on with her,’ as the hippies used to say.”
“Well, yes, we did—but who or what in the world was she? What did you see, Stuart?”
“I’m sure I was in no state to be a reliable witness …”
“What did you actually see?”
“… and my senses were obviously deranged …”
“What did it look like?”
Stu rolled his eyes, took a long sip of wine and let it slowly trickle down his throat.
“Okay, Andrew. Okay. You got me there. I do not agree that it has any validity whatsoever, that it really means anything, but I did seem to ‘see’ something out of the ordinary. I’ll admit that much.”
“And can you describe it for us?”
“It was—Jesus, this is ridiculous—it appeared to be a sort of amorphous dark cloud, a black cloud, just, well, suspended in the air. That’s what it looked like. And then, things, body parts, came out of the cloud.”
“Ah, Christ,” protested Pete. “I’m not listening to this shit. I’m hitting the john and you guys better be on a different topic when I get back.” He stood up and shambled off.
“Things came out of it? Body parts? Like what, exactly?” asked Andy, although he knew the answer. He’d seen them himself.
“Legs. A lot of legs.”
“No. You know damned well they were goats’ legs.”
“With hooves, right?”
“And what else came out of the cloud?” asked Andy.
“Tentacles. I guess that’s what you’d call them. Like an octopus has. Or maybe they were elephant’s trunks. Hell, I don’t know. Long ropey things with mouths on the end. And then the cloud sort of coalesced into a human form, a female form, and it had three curled rams’ horns growing out of its—her—head, and about a hundred pointy breasts hanging on its chest. A monstrosity is what it was. And it began to move rhythmically, to dance, and there was something about it that was maddening, that drove us utterly wild. We all succumbed to it. You know the rest. A bacchanal ensued. An Dionysian orgy, if you will. If you believe what your senses told you. We may have all just passed out from the wine and dreamed it all up.”
“Thank you, Stu. Thanks for admitting it, that you saw it too. Pete just won’t own up to it. He can’t deal with it. Sometimes I wonder if that’s what drove him to the drugs—his inability to face the reality of what happened to us.”
“Or didn’t happen,” said Stu, draining his glass and pouring them both another.
They had taken Stu’s blue Ford pickup to the restaurant. Pete no longer drove these days, having lost his license for having too many DUI convictions. Pete’s sister had given him a ride to the fast food restaurant and then the park earlier in the day, and Stu would give him a lift back home after dropping Andy off at the park. Andy’s car, a twelve year old Chrysler sedan with a bashed in trunk, was the last one in the lot when they let him out there at 10:30.
“Now don’t go meeting up with any goat girls,” joked Pete.
“Yeah, stay away from the barbeque pit. I hear it’s dicey this time of night,” said Stu.
“Don’t worry, I’ll be home in ten minutes, and in my pj’s in fifteen.”
“Don’t go hitting the bars looking for love,” added Pete, laughing at his own wit.
“Love wouldn’t recognize me if she found me,” said Andy, generously going along with Pete’s dumb humor.
“She’d mistake you for Death warmed over, buddy,” said Stu.
“Yeah, yeah. Get the hell out of here, you idiots.”
Pete and Stu waved goodbye as they drove off.
Andy fumbled with his keys, got the car door unlocked and open, but then had a different idea.
He didn’t get inside. He closed the door and stood beside the car with his hands in his pockets.
He could really feel it now that the park was empty of people. The sentient presence. How had Hird put it? Andy still had the book in his pocket but he didn’t need to look it up. He knew the lines by heart.
The emptiness at the heart of all things. She is the fecundity of the Void.
Without knowing why, he was walking towards the picnic area, stopping now and then to pick up twigs that would make good kindling. He had a small armful by the time he reached the barbeque pit. Using the twigs and a few larger piece of firewood left behind by the last people to use the pit, Andy built a fire and lit it with a cheap plastic lighter he’d picked up that morning.
Soon he had a good blaze going. The fire itself was pleasant, but being there alone in the park, late at night, vulnerable, made him nervous. He really should have gone home, but resolved to stay just a little while longer. Why, he wondered? Out of a misguided nostalgia for that terrifying night long ago, the night of the occult ritual and its bizarre aftermath? Or was it a morbid curiosity about what could happen if he pressed his luck and stayed? Was he simply trying to prove to himself that it was perfectly safe being there after dark, alone with the sentient presence, and that nothing bad would happen?
Was he daring Shub-Niggurath to come forth and show herself?
The wood smoke smelled good—a rich, pungent aroma reminiscent of countless beach parties, cook outs and campfires.
He liked the crackling and popping of the flames, the shifting of the wood as it crumbled into chunks of glowing ember and ash.
Something caught his eye, far off to his right, toward the fence. A shadowy form, motionless in the deep patch of blackness near the Child’s Gate.
No. It couldn’t be. No way. But it sure looked like her. The beautiful young red haired girl he’d watched earlier in the day as she played on the tightrope with her friends. Where were the others, the brunette girl and the two young men? They were nowhere to be seen. She seemed to be alone, and although it was hard to tell for certain, he had the definite feeling she was turned toward him, that she was, in fact, staring right at him.
He stared back, scaring himself with his audacity as he did so. He should get in his car, lock the doors, and get the hell out of there. But he didn’t. He just stood and watched her, studying her dark form for any sign of movement.
She did not move, but what he did detect was a sort of roiling appearance in the dark air around her. As if small portions of the darkness were coagulating, condensing and coming to life, and emerging from the hillside woods. A great many smaller forms began to be noticeable around her larger form. They were a half or a third of her size.
Her thousand dark young. Her million favored ones. Her worshipers.
Andy remembered the children. All the kids who had been lost, all who had disappeared in the park over the years. Now they were gathered together around her. Her children. They, too, seemed to be staring at him.
Silently beckoning him.
He knew it was foolish, very foolish, but Andy got up from the rock he was sitting on and walked away from the fire. Carefully, slowly, he walked across the dark lawn towards the radiant figure of the woman. And still she did not move. She waited for him.
She wasn’t impatient. She had all the time in the world.
His heart was heavy with excitement, and sorrow, as he neared the Child’s Gate. It was thrown wide open. They were all a short distance behind it. A multitude. Already he could feel the electricity emanating from her vaporous form. His senses were reeling and he felt joyously, deliciously deranged, just as he had that on that night long ago.
With no sense of remorse, and no shame, Andy passed through the Gate, and then, finally, they all moved toward him.