Dr. Taylor drove as long and as fast as he reasonably could. His eyes felt like they were made of sandpaper. His yawns threatened to crack his jaw and no amount of head shaking and skin pinching could keep him alert. The second time he drifted off, he recognized it was time to pull over. If he didn’t, he’d die in the resulting crash and all really would be lost.
He passed an exit that announced the presence of several hotel chains. The street he eventually found himself on was littered with the refuse of humanity. He pulled into a two story-hotel whose neon “Vacancy” sign had a burned out “Y”. The potholes were more like craters and there were only five cars he could see.
He parked and made his way to the office. The lobby smelled of damp and old cigarette smoke. The man behind the counter looked to be Mexican or perhaps Indian. Taylor wasn’t sure. His shirt was clean and hair neatly combed.
Safe behind Plexiglas, the clerk looked up from his magazine. “Can I help, you?” Indian, though the accent was slight.
Taylor squinted a bit and saw his host was free of any monstrous contamination. “I’d like a room, please?”
The exchange of cash for an actual key went smoothly and Taylor was able to give a false name.
Once back out in the fresh air, he felt like he was able to really breathe. The intense heat of the day had abated, but it was still quite warm. The room was plain enough, with one single bed, a dresser, a working TV, and an air conditioning unit that labored to reduce the temperature. He stripped down to his undershirt and boxers and finally fell into the bed. He was asleep in an instant.
The sound of people rutting in the room next door woke him up. The clock blinked twelve. Sunlight had yet to work its way into his room, but it wasn’t far off. He walked to the bathroom and relieved himself. When he saw his face in the mirror, he nearly screamed. He hadn’t been a young man in two decades, but the face that stared back at him was that of a walking corpse. Gray hair looked thinner. Bags under his eyes made it look like he’d gone two rounds with a heavyweight. His skin was far too thin, veins and capillaries showing through. The yellowish-green cast to it was decidedly unhealthy. He needed more than sleep.
“I need to get rid of this thing. It needs to be reburied or destroyed.” He didn’t think the latter was possible. If it was of supernatural origins or even a product of some long forgotten science, it was beyond his ability to unmake. Burying it was possible, strictly speaking, but then he would lose his only edge in the fight to come. The sob erupted from him. His family was dead. His job was gone. He had no life but this thing around his neck.
He reached up and grabbed the amulet. Pain flared from his hand, but he yanked and the chain stretched and snapped. He threw it onto the cracked counter and turned his back on it. Maybe with it off of him, he’d be able to get more sleep. Bone and soul deep fatigue filled him. His mind grew foggy. He stumbled back to the bed and fell into it before passing out again.
Loud banging on his door woke him up a second time. Light streamed in through the curtains. He sat up, and the words began to make sense.
“Sir, you need to let us in. Your car has been stolen.” The voice was foreign to him.
His car? Stolen? That would mean a premature end to his run. Taylor got up and opened the door.
The man who rushed him wore a hooded sweatshirt. He led with a fist that caught the old doctor on the point of his chin. He fell backwards and hit his head on something. The world exploded in brilliant stars and was followed by clinging blackness.
The third time he woke up was with a pounding headache. As he sat up, his stomach rebelled and threatened to empty itself of what little it held. Vertigo clawed at him. He had a concussion. Someone had invaded his room. He looked around through squinted eyes. Everything in the room had been upset. Drawers were pulled out. The few things he brought in were scattered about.
The amulet. He got up, moaning with the pain. Frantically, he searched the counter, not that there was much to search. It wasn’t there. The person had stolen it. He fell to his knees and cried out to a god he wasn’t sure he still believed in. He pounded his chest and ripped at his clothes. If they took it and used it, then all he sacrificed would be for nothing. Trying to shake off the fear and sorrow, he stood and wet his face in the sink. Cold water and the colder realization that his stupidity at not checking through the peephole could cause the end of the world brought back his tattered sanity.
He dressed and didn’t bother cleaning up. The only possession missing was the amulet. They hadn’t taken his keys, and he’d left the guns in the car. He tried hurrying out to the parking lot but moving too fast made the nausea worse. The morning’s hot air simultaneously dried his face of the water and made him start to sweat.
He got into the already warm SUV and cranked up the engine. Once he made sure his guns were in fact present as were all of his papers, he pulled out of the parking lot. As he pulled into traffic, he heard a voice in his head.
“I will lead you to where it is. Follow my directions, and you will reclaim the amulet.”
“Samson?” Was the man speaking to him from beyond the grave?
“No,” the voice continued. “I have used his memory to make my voice more pleasing.”
Taylor trembled at the thought that any being capable of such an act would think the voice of a dead colleague would be pleasing. “You will forgive me if I think myself even more mad for hearing you.”
“You can choose to think yourself as mad as you like, if you but follow my instructions. Continue on this roadway and turn as I tell you. Only this way will you recover what little left in this life that matters to you anymore.”
The slightly archaic way of speaking and clumsy structure made him think this person, if it wasn’t his own deranged mind, wasn’t a speaker of English. He decided to play along for now. “Lead on. Perhaps in the meantime you can tell me who you are and how you know such things?”
“I am the creator of the Amulet of Azathoth. My consciousness was to remain trapped in my creation in the alien world you discovered it in. It was a hellishness of my own making. Now I must guide you to it and stop those forces who would use it. Turn left here.”
Taylor turned as instructed. The streets were moderately busy. “More warning, if you can give it. Please, tell me more.”
“It was I who drive you to keep it and to hasten away from the lands of men. I intended at that point to tell you the amulet’s true purpose, to seal off our world from the one you visited. The Old Ones have used me to thin the barriers. I worked in secret and planned to use this to undo my own work. Much to my horror they found me out. It has been centuries or longer since I’ve become a prisoner. In that time they have insinuated their agents into many parts of your world. We are coming to the point where the culmination of their work will open the floodgates.”
“So they simply wanted me to continue running around, chasing my own tail until they could do what they needed to? Why didn’t you make yourself known sooner?” His voice cracked and he struggled to contain his emotions along with his sanity.
“You have only been in possession of the amulet for a short time. It has taken me that long to find my way to speak to you.”
“Now that they have it, how long until they complete their plan?” He took a few more turns as instructed.
The voice was silent for a minute or more.
Taylor thought the whole conversation was just one more example of his increasing madness.
Finally, the creator spoke again. “Perhaps forty-eight hours. No less than thirty-six. You must find it well before that, though. It will take some time to get somewhere safe and seal the gates before then. If you don’t find it in twelve hours or less, then the world and perhaps the universe itself will be lost.”
Taylor banged on the steering wheel. “Am I close enough to catch them?”
“Keep following my orders. They will at least not gain ground. I can sense the amulet across vast distances. They cannot lose us. They can only delay us.”
He drove on through the heat of the day, trying to make all of this make sense. He didn’t think it ever would. But he knew he needed to capture the amulet one way or another. Once he’d managed re-taking it, he would try and figure out what to do. In the meantime the clock was ticking to the end of reality.
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.